Updated: Jun 8
It can be quite easy to dismiss how the power of thought can influence our lives if we care to consider it. More often than not, our actions and behaviors are influenced even controlled by our emotions, by learned attitudes and beliefs instilled into our psyche by our environments and life experiences.
Our thoughts really can influence so much of our lives, and our behaviors. Most of the time our thoughts, attitudes & beliefs fuel positive behaviors. Unfortunately, they can also result in negative behaviors, derived from distorted and negative thoughts and beliefs, which can lead to major problems in our lives.
This is the core truth of the Thinking for a Change program, thinking affects our behaviors and by altering our thinking we can alter our behaviors. Of course, this requires first knowing our thinking is suspect, recognizing risks when they occur, and being able to alter our thinking so that our behaviors result in better outcomes.
The concept of changing our behaviors by altering our thinking is where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) comes in as the essential engine driving the Thinking for a Change program. CBT is an evidence-based, therapeutic which has been around for decades and is backed by significant research. It is an approach that has been applied to a wide range of therapeutic interventions from treating substance use disorders and other cognitive and mental health issues. The brainchild of the psychiatrist, Aaron Beck, he considered that his patients had patterns of automatic negative thoughts about everything from themselves and the world. Although initially based on the cognitive aspect of CBT, research quickly expanded to include the connections between thought and behavior.
CBT offers the chance to recognize and change the distorted thinking that is causing problems in our lives. Many negative thoughts and behaviors are driven by mental health issues and substance abuse issues and/or comorbidity. But the truth is, as demonstrated by the Thinking for a Change program, CBT can effectively aid anyone whose lives have been disrupted by negative actions whether as an aid to personal development or as an aid to decrease recidivism.
Of course, Thinking for a Change is specifically aimed at offenders in the criminal justice system who are more than not likely to attend the course because they are court mandated to do so. This does not downplay the effectiveness of the program but rather highlights the fact that some elements in their thinking and thought processes led to negative behaviors which resulted in legal issues, ranging from DUI's to more serious offenses.
We know that in the moment everyone has the capacity to act on their first instinct, to hear the ancient flight or fight instinct in our brain and not hear the voice of reason, to weigh the consequences of our actions. In Thinking for a Change we recognize that everyone has the option to fight but we provide skills that fill their “empty pockets” to give them a choice. By teaching them to recognize the connections between their thinking and their behaviors in the past, can be revolutionary.
Because Thinking for a Change is CBT based, the lessons teach clients to better recognize the negative cycles that they got themselves trapped in, and how the Social and Problem Solving skills allied with Cognitive Self Change, taught on the course can break the conflict cycle before it starts. By empowering clients who have struggled with negative thoughts and resultant negative consequences, to not only recognize the risks in their thinking but to identify new thinking can be entirely positive for their future lives. To help them recognize that their thoughts and beliefs which have become automatic do not have to be permanent.
As a facilitator I constantly remind the clients that by changing our thinking we can change our behaviors and I hope that after 25 lessons, they get it. Of course their will always clients who attend the group and do the bare minimum to graduate, fair enough I can all but demonstrate and facilitate the curriculum and plant seeds. But there are always few that I can see truly get it, and the power of cognitive thought is that if your understand what it can do for you, then it can be life changing.