CBT works best when it focuses on specifics rather than generalities. For example, knowing your mood gets worse when you think particlar thoughts, or knowing that you are anxious when you are with other people rather than on your own, means these particular issues can be targeted. As well as focusing on problems, having good records is essential if we want to know whether the changes we are making are helpful - good data gathering lets us know immediately whether the changes we are making are helpful.
CBT isn't just about thinking, it is also about doing. Sometimes you might want to be doing more activity generally, or maybe you want to do more or less of something specific - either way it is essential to monitor what you are doing. Having collected good data means you will be in a better position to assess whether changes you make are successful or not.
Types of data gathering
Data gathering in CBT can be done in lots of different ways.
- Symptom records can monitor the presence or absence of symptoms over days and weeks.
- Activity diaries can be used to record different types of activity and cross-reference with mood.
- Thought records can be used to record patterns of thinking.
You can use the data gathering tools below or make your own
- Fill in diaries at least daily - it can be hard to remember the specifics of what we did 3 days ago!
- Be specific. E.g. "I walked around the park for 1 hour" instead of "Went for a walk"
- Try colour-coding what you do into categories such as 'work', 'fun' or 'socialising' so that you will be able to see at a glance what you spend most of your time doing
- As well as recording what activities you did, you can also record how these made you feel. For example if your problem is depression then it may be helpful to record how much enjoyment you got from different activities
- Data is no good on its own. Spend some time to sit down and analyse the data in your diaries. Look for patterns. Notice whether something you do (or don't do) makes you feel a certain way.