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The Court Case

When we are experiencing distressing thoughts, it can cause us to feel scared, upset, frustrated, or even angry. However, just because we experience a distressing thought, it does not always mean that it reflects the reality of the situation and it does not always mean the thought is true.

That is why it can be helpful to reflect and find evidence for and against the thought to gain a more balanced and realistic thought. One way it can be helpful to do this is using the 'court room' metaphor and taking your distressing thought to court to be put on trial.

The Accused:

First, it is important to identify the thought that it causing you to feel distressed. Remember, you are not putting yourself on trial but your thought. It can be helpful to identify this thought by asking yourself questions such as "What is the worst thing that could happen?" and "What does this say about me?". Once you have identified the distressing thought, it is now time to put that thought on trial.

Example: Ben has sent a text message to his boss informing them of his unavailability for the upcoming month. He is now feeling anxious, as it has now been five hours since he sent the text message and he has not yet received a response. Ben is feeling distressed and thinking that he must have annoyed or made his boss mad and this is why they have not responded.

The Defence:

Once you have identified the distressing thought, it is now important to look at the evidence for this thought on trial. Ask yourself the following questions;

  • What kind of evidence is there for this thought?
  • Is this evidence based on facts or is it based on thoughts or feelings?
  • What is telling you this thought is true?

Example: This thought is based on Ben's assumption that his boss is mad or annoyed at him because he has not yet responded to Ben's text message. Aside from this, Ben has no actual proof or confirmation of this thought being true.

The Prosecution:

Now, it is time to examine and explore the evidence for this thought not being true. Ask yourself the following questions;

  • What evidence tells you that this thought is not true?
  • How do you think this evidence would sound to someone else?
  • Is there any other alternative explanation?

Example: Some of the evidence for this thought not being true is that Ben has not said anything in the text that was rude or offensive and therefore logically he does not know what his boss might be feeling. In addition, Ben also knows that in the past his boss sometimes takes a long time to respond to text messages. Therefore, some of the alternative reasons his boss has not yet responded could be that his boss has simply not seen the message or has been too busy to respond. Thus, it is possible that Ben jumped to conclusions without first taking into evidence that does not support his thought.

Summing up:

Now that you have explored both the evidence for and against the thought, it is now time to assess your evidence and find a closing statement that is realistic, based on facts, rational, and balanced.

Example: Ben has explored both the evidence for and against his thought and has come to the following conclusion. Although there is a chance that Ben's boss might be angry or annoyed at him, this seems unlikely, as Ben did not say anything that should have been considered offensive. In addition, Ben knows his boss has a history of replying late. Given the evidence, it seems unlikely that Ben's boss is annoyed or angry but probably just has not seen the message or has not had time to respond.

IF you would like to find out more about challenging thoughts or would like some additional mental health support, please contact LETSS at 1800 013 755 or start a web chat via www.letss.org.au

*Based on The Court Case from getselfhelp.co.uk* https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/CourtCase.htm 

(Image from Unsplash by Aditya Joshi)

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