Distorted Thinking Cards

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy offers great wisdom and structure. I use many aspects of this evidence based therapeutic approach in my practice. Understanding and examining cognitive distortions is one of the distinct features of this approach. In order to make the discussion of distorted thinking more enjoyable and engaging, I developed a set of cards listing each of the 15 common distorted thinking patterns. I also made a set of the 12 actions that can be taken to untangle a distorted perception. I call these cards, Distorted Thinking Builders and Busters.


Clients love examining these cards as they learn about the various distorted thinking patterns. I let clients know that these are habits most humans fall into at various times. These are distortions are traps that most of us can get ensnared in if we aren’t paying attention. With clients I read each card and discuss how the pattern plays out. I ask them how often they might get caught in the distorted thinking pattern and then lay the card out accordingly. If they trip on a distorted patten often I lay the card close to them. If they don’t get caught in the pattern I put the card far away from them. In the end we look at how many of the common distortions they get tripped up by and how many they successfully avoid.

Doing this kind of activity gives me an active and engaging way to work with this topic. The kinesthetic layout seems to help clients be invested in the exploration and get a visual sense of what needs attention. I usually identify the three most frequently used distorted patterns and suggest they look for these in the days ahead. I might have them write down the names of the patterns and post this in a place where they will encounter it often during the week. This attention to self-observation is one of the first steps in interrupting the habit.

After identifying the unhealthy patterns of thinking, I will look through the Distortion Buster cards and see if we can identify together the method that would help the client reset themselves to more rational thinking after engaging in distorted thinking. We might look specifically at an incident from their recent past and apply distortion busting techniques to see how these might actually play out in their own familiar experiences. This retroactive learning is often the most potent way to integrate new material.

A fun additional activity I enjoy playing with my clients is to take one of the 8 Scenario cards and practice building and busting distorted thinking for the character in the scenario. This is usually a playful way to show how easy it is to twist thinking in such a way as to cause emotional distress. The busting cards can then be applied to the character in the scenario to bring him or her back to a state of emotional balance and calm.

If you need a clever, playful, and effective way to teach others about cognitive distortions you might find my Distorted Thinking Building and Busting cards to be a useful tool. The set is available on my products page. You can also read a bit more about the set by downloading this flyer.