Changing Core Beliefs using CBT

Core Beliefs are absolute statements about the self, others or the world and the future which were often learned in childhood and are treated as if they are absolute facts. We all have core beliefs, some negative and some positive, but gaving very strong negative core beliefs can leading to low self-esteem , personality disorders , relationship problems and other problems in living.

Examples of negative core beliefs are:
"I am useless", "Others are dangerous", "The future is hopeless".

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has developed numerous ways of helping you modify unhelpful core beliefs. Follow this link to read more on how to identify core beliefs using such techniques as the downward arrow.

Ten ways to help change core beliefs in CBT

1)Prejudice Metaphor (Padesky, 1993)

The idea is that having a negative core belief about oneself is like being prejudiced against self.

First of all, think of a person with a prejudice, that  you don't agree with

Hypothetical Example: my grandmother who thinks that black people are inferior.

Next, ask you yourself how would they react to information they would tend to conform with their prejudice

My grandmother laps up articles in the press about blacks who get into trouble, suggesting it proves her views.

How would a prejudiced person deal with information which appears to contradict it?

She tends to say that black people who do well do so because they are favoured. She pointed out that Barack Obama was of mixed origin!

What can we learn from what you've told me so far?

The way people deal with new information tends to reinforce prejudices

How easy would it be to change the person in your example's prejudice?

Very difficult. She wouldn't want to change it, she's quite invested in the view, and as we've seen she systematically distorts new information to prevent the view being changed.

What would need to happen for the person to change?

They would have to see a strong rationale for changing. They would have to be vigilant. They would probably need someone to help them see their blind spots. They would expect to have to take a quite a long time to change and need to work hard at it. In particular they would have to look for evidence that contradicted their view and not discount it so readily.

How does this relate to you and negative core beliefs?

Maybe I have a prejudice against myself. I'll have to work hard at changing them, and therapy is the perfect setting for me to undertake this.

2)Historical Core Belief log

Has this core belief been 100% true in the past? A good way of doing this is to do a timeline of the client's life. Remember that the instances where it does appear to be true are likely to be more salient (point 1). So it's important to ask

8)Pros and Cons
-what are the pros and cons of holding the old core beliefs to be true

9)Look into origins of old core belief
-when did you first start to feel this way?
-Restructuring old memories and images
-what are the credentials of the person who gave you the old core belief

10)Role Play
Can role play old and new core beliefs
Can do it as in two-chair gestalt work - dialogue with each other
Can also extend to historical role play (what you would like to say to person who gave you old core belief)

Read On

Identifying and Modifying Core Beliefs – Presentation by Woo and Worrell

Christine Padesky - on prejudice metaphor (1993) and changing core beliefs and schemas (1994)

Melanie Fennell - Overcoming Low Self-esteem (paperback)


Core Beliefs, CBT, Continuum method, low self-esteem