Dispute Distortion

One strategy for mitigating the effects of our “automatic” negative thinking is to go beyond identifying a cognitive distortion and actively dispute or discredit the distortion. Ellis’ research into the irrational beliefs underlying many of our strongest emotional responses provides some direction for people seeking to change their cognitive habits. Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), a precursor to cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), developed out of Ellis’ work and provides us with a number of useful tools for disputing such distortions.

One of the most powerful tools in REBT is the concept of self-compassion. It is not always easy to exercise self-compassion in the busy, stressful world of health care. Caregivers are trained to show compassion toward patients; however, the mindsets we adopt can make it challenging to show compassion to ourselves. When we are learning in such an environment, it can be especially hard to forgo being critical of ourselves for making mistakes and stop focusing on our shortcomings.

How much compassion do you routinely show yourself? Take the Self-Compassion Quiz, developed by educational psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff.  Learn more about Dr. Kristin Neff’s research on self-compassion.


The double standard is another strategy used to dispute some cognitive distortions. It involves taking the automatic thought(s) and applying the irrational premise, logic, and conclusion to the same situation with another person. Where we might show compassion and provide more generous rationales to explain another person’s behavior, we aren’t always so kind to ourselves. The double standard technique highlights the irrationality behind our thinking by asking us to consider whether we are treating ourselves as we would others.


Ellis developed the “ABC” question-and-answer framework for understanding the etiology of irrational thinking in order to help people cultivate a more rational approach to negative events.  The process begins with the identification of an Activating event and the irrational Belief underlying it, then moves to examine the Consequences of imposing those beliefs on the person experiencing them. Some practicing psychologists have added a “D” and “E” as well:  Disputing the irrational belief involves you asking yourself a series of questions (e.g. Why should that belief necessarily be thought of as true or accurate?)–then answering those questions.  Finally, more Effective and rational thoughts are developed and substituted for the irrational belief.