A CBT behavioural experiment is designed to test your unhelpful underlying assumptions and replace them with healthy alternatives. Behavioural experiments are amongst the most powerful techniques in cognitive behavioural therapy. They can challenge your unhelpful underlying assumptions in the real world as opposed to just theoretically. In this video I will explain what is a behavioural experiment and share a step by step approach to conduct a successful one. Let’s start by looking at an example: Chris has social anxiety, he rarely attends social events and when he does, he sits in the corner by himself, doesn’t talk to others and avoids making eye contact. As a consequence Chris doesn’t make new friends and has never had a partner.

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🔵 CHAPTERS

0:00 What is a behavioural experiment?
1:04 Step 1
1:59 Step 2
4:15 Step 3
4:46 Step 4
5:38 Step 5
6:15 Step 6

🔵 STEP ONE: WRITE DOWN THE UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION YOU ARE TESTING

Underlying assumptions operate just under the surface of automatic thoughts and can be identified via if.. then.. statements. The key is to chose the underlying assumption that blocks treatment and maintains the problem. For Chris this is the underlying assumption: ‘If I initiate a conversation then I will be rejected’.

🔵 STEP TWO: DESIGN BEHAVIOURAL EXPERIMENTS TO TEST THE UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION

With his CBT therapist Chris created a hierarchy of behavioural experiments from least anxiety providing to most anxiety provoking. Chris added the following to his hierarchy:

☐ Saying hello to a work colleague
☐ Going for coffee with a friend
☐ Making one comment during a work meeting
☐ Having lunch and making small talk with colleagues

🔵 STEP THREE: REPEAT EACH BEHAVIOURAL EXPERIMENT A NUMBER OF TIMES

Repeating a behavioural experiment once is not enough. Chris decides to repeat his CBT behavioural experiment 5 times.

🔵 STEP FOUR: RECORD THE OUTCOME OF THE EXPERIMENT

Every day Chris recorded the outcome on his worksheet. Chris expected to be rejected if he initiated small talk but he found that people become more friendly towards him which is the opposite of what he expected.The results of his first behaviour experiment challenged the underling assumption.

🔵 STEP FIVE: RECORD WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM THE EXPERIMENT

Chris’ first behavioural experiment didn’t support his prediction that he would be rejected if he initiates a conversation. On his worksheet Chris wrote: ‘Even though I was anxious nothing supported my prediction that I would be rejected. Two colleagues seemed to enjoy talking with me’. Chris started to form a new underlying assumption: ‘If I initiate a conversation then other people with be friendly towards me’.

🔵 STEP SIX: IDENTIFY FOLLOW UP EXPERIMENTS IF NEEDED

Chris and his CBT therapist revisited his initial hierarchy and completed the step by step process with the second item on his list ‘going for a coffee with a friend’. Chris’s hierarchy paves the way to developing an ongoing action plan for change. Behavioural experiments are one of the most powerful methods for producing cognitive, affective and behavioural change.

🔵 ABOUT TERESA LEWIS

Teresa Lewis is the founder and Director of Lewis Psychology and a Senior Accredited psychotherapist with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (MBACP Snr. Accred). Qualified in 1995, Teresa has been providing counselling and psychotherapy treatment for nearly 30 years. Teresa holds a masters degree in counselling and psychotherapy and is a qualified EMDR Practitioner having completed training accredited with EMDR Europe. Teresa is also a qualified adult educator and an accredited Mindfulness teacher  As a recognised expert in her field Teresa is frequently asked to conduct editorial reviews and endorse counselling and psychotherapy books for international publishing houses. 

☐ Email Teresa at: teresa.lewispsy@gmail.com
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🔵 GRAPHICS AND THUMBNAIL

Thumbnail and B-Roll graphics by Teresa Lewis. B-Roll video is used in strict compliance with the appropriate permissions and licenses required from Pexels.com in accordance with the YouTube Partner Program, Community guidelines and YouTube terms of service.

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