Healing Program: Module 5 - Reframing Difficult Thoughts with Insight and Kindness Part 1

Download the '3-Column Reframing Worksheet'   Click here

Module 5 - Reframing Difficult Thoughts with Insight and Kindness Part 1

Meditation – Thoughts are like Clouds (8 min)
Thought Reframing Talk (31 min)
Thought Reframing Group (26 min)
Thought Reframing Pearls (8min)
Home Program (see exercises below)
Meditation – Basic Meditation (5 min)

Meditation – Thoughts are like Clouds

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Thought Reframing Talk

This talk shows how our thoughts affect how we feel. By using a reframing technique based on Dr. David Byrne’s classic book, Feeling Good, we can work with our most distressing thoughts.

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Thought Reframing Group

Six retreat participants work through their automatic and distressing thoughts.

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Thought Reframing Pearls

Members from other small groups share their insights about reframing.

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Home Program

Exercise - By Yourself

  1. Review and think about the main points of the lecture:
    • Your thoughts about a situation are separate from the situation itself. The map is not the territory!
    • Distressing and distorted thoughts trigger negative emotions and moods.
    • You can learn to reframe your thoughts with wisdom and kindness.
    • When you change your thoughts, you can change how you feel.

  2. Think about the last time you were upset. What thoughts went through your mind at that time? Write these thoughts down, without judgment or editing. Examples: “My husband is such an idiot.” “I can’t believe I was so stupid.” “I am too weak to get through this.”
  3. Think about how these specific thoughts create emotional reactions and moods. For example, thinking “My husband is such an idiot” arouses anger and helplessness. Beside the thoughts you wrote down in question 2, write down the feelings they tend to arouse.
  4. Write down other examples of distressing thoughts people might have and the emotions that these thoughts might arouse.
  5. Look at the distressing thoughts from questions 3 and 4 and ask yourself: To what degree is each thought an exaggeration? See if you can come up with some other examples of exaggerated and distorted thoughts. (See the list of ten cognitive distortions from David Burns’ book Feeling Good listed below.)

Exercise - With Others

After spending some time with this material alone, share it with someone you trust, or engage several others in a group discussion by sharing your examples.

Meditation – Basic Meditation

Homework: Practice between the modules!

  1. Every day practice a meditation or the body scan. You can follow any of the meditations from the modules above, or any other meditation practice that works for you.
  2. Each day be mindful of your stress levels and the distressing thoughts that come up when you feel upset. At the end of the day, reflect back over a particularly distressing moment and write down:
    • a neutral description of the situation;
    • the distressing thoughts that arose in your mind as you confronted the situation;
    • the emotions that followed the distressing thoughts.
  3. Each night, write in your journal about a positive experience you were grateful for that day.


Situation 1: After coming home from chemotherapy I collapsed on the couch.
Distressing Thought: ‘I am such a wimp, I am useless to my family, I can’t cope with this.’
Emotion: Depression, frustration 

Situation 2: My husband argued with me about what my doctor suggested.
Distressing Thought: ‘They are ganging up on me, nobody understands me. I am all alone.’
Emotion: Anger, sadness

Now look at the distressing thoughts that you wrote down and review the list of ten cognitive distortions (see below). Note all the ways this thought might be out of whack and write down all the names of the types of distortions that fit that thought.

Download the '3-Column Reframing Worksheet'   Click here


Definitions of Cognitive Distortions



You see things in black-and-white categories.  If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.



You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.



You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that colours the entire beaker of water.



You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other.  In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.



You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.




Mind reading. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.




The Fortune Teller Error. You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.



You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”



You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are : “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”



You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.



This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attack a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behaviour rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a goddam louse.” Mislabelling involves describing an event with language that is highly coloured and emotionally loaded.



You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.




Extra Reading

To learn more about reframing please read the following chapters from our book Healing and Cancer: Integrating science, wisdom, and compassion in reclaiming wholeness. These chapters re-explain the reframing idea and use multiple examples of how to reframe common distressing thoughts.

Chapter 24 – Introduction to reframing distressing thoughts with insight and kindness

Chapter 25 - Working through "I can’t do it"

Chapter 26 - Eileen - Drawing on spiritual strength

Chapter 27  – Reframing for the cancer hero

Chapter 29 -  Reframing you are supposed to stay positive