What are thought monitoring records used in CBT?

In this blog, we will answer the pertinent question of what is thought monitoring and also explore its applications in everyday life.

What are thought monitoring records used in CBT?

Self-monitoring records

Thought-challenging records

Disorder-specific thought records

The Simple Thought Monitoring Record

What is Thought monitoring?

Thought monitoring or recording is a technique in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This technique involves recording our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors associated with a particular event or situation. Because of its effectiveness, this process is a very important part of CBT. The reason behind it is that it is an excellent and resourceful way of collecting data that helps us in identifying the ‘negative automatic thoughts’ (NAT) that form the core of all the problematic behavior, according to CBT. The measurement tool (record sheet) utilized to record this important data consists of just three columns (situation, feelings, and thoughts).

The need for Thoughts monitoring in CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a systematic approach for dealing with behavioral issues and mental health disorders. It is a very structured and evidence-based treatment method. According to CBT, our behavior, emotions, and thoughts are interlinked and can influence each other. Therefore to change maladaptive behaviors that lead to problems we first need to deal with the root cause of the problem and that is the negative automatic thoughts. These negative automatic thoughts or NAT pop up in our mind automatically and hence it is named ‘Negative Automatic Thoughts’. These NATs are manifested due to the deeply ingratiated negative core beliefs within us. Thoughts such as “I am worthless”, ” I am unlovable” are just some of the many examples of highly dangerous and toxic NATs.

But these NATs are prone to bias as we as humans can be partial and inaccurate about our judgment of events and situations. In such cases thought records or thought monitoring tools are very useful. They help us keep an unbiased account of the situation that occurred and also the emotions and feelings generated as a consequence of that event. They are also a great measure to evaluate the collected data and restructure the maladaptive thought processes.

According to the cognitive model of Beck, the events are not the real influencing factors on our behavior rather it is their interpretation that is responsible for its impact on our behavior. These interpretations consist of or appraisals, thoughts, or cognitions that influence our emotions and behavior. So it is necessary to understand these interpretations and assess them without any biases. Since the interpretation of the event is prone to biases and misconceptions by recording these interpretations we get the opportunity of looking at the documented records and reviewing them in a critical and impartial manner.   

The Types of Thought Records

Thought records are found in multiple formats and designed based on the requirements and skills and abilities of the client. 

Self-monitoring records

These records help in collecting and recording all information about our thoughts, ideas, as well as the occurred events in our lives that trigger our emotions and also our response to those events. 

The reason behind self-monitoring is to provide a first-person account of the happenings in the lives of the person that can be assessed and analyzed with the help of the therapist. 

These records help in identifying automatic thoughts, understanding the relationship between events and cognitions as well as between thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. 

Thought-challenging records

With these types of records, clients are helped to dispute their negative technique. 

For instance, in the 7 column format of the thought challenging record (one of the many formats found in the thought challenging records) clients are made to assess the evidence that supports as well as negates a particular thought. It is done to help clients recognize the biases in their thought processes.

Disorder-specific thought records

They are used to gather relevant information about a specific condition. For example, clients suffering from anger issues might be asked to make records regarding the thoughts that trigger their anger or people with social anxiety might be encouraged to encouraged focus on the reasons behind their social anxiety. 

The Simple Thought Monitoring Record

It is a cognitive restructuring worksheet. Cognitive restructuring is the systematic reconstruction of maladaptive thoughts and behaviors into adaptive thoughts and behaviors. 

The objective of cognitive restructuring is not just to generate positive and happy thoughts to replace the negative thoughts with them. Rather it aims to eradicate the biases and help the person think rationally. There are various ways to develop cognitive restructuring skills and one of them is thought monitoring or ‘thought record’. 

This record sheet helps the clients to understand and identify the negative automatic thoughts in their minds that lead to changes in their emotions and behavior. 

This record sheet consists of just three columns. The three columns are




This is one of the most effective and easiest ways to learn the skill of cognitive restructuring.

How to record your thoughts?

It is very important to understand the process of recording thoughts. As we learned earlier our inter[retation of the situation leads to the development of faulty cognitions and ideas which further go on to negatively affect our emotional state and behavior. The process of thought recording is explained with some tips below:

It is important to understand the impact of Negative automatic thoughts on our feelings and behavior. Therefore we should be careful; in the recollection and documentation of the event. The process of recording starts with the Situation. 

1st Column -Situation:

The entries made are done retrospectively (after the event has passed) hence it is necessary to be careful with the recollection and recording of the event to avoid misinformation. The entries in the situation section focus on particular parts of the event that stood out or made an impact on their emotional state. To help the client recall such important parts the therapist can help by asking probing questions such as 

What were you feeling when that incident happened?

Did you notice anything peculiar about that situation?

What were you doing and thinking when that incident occurred?

2nd Column-Emotions or feelings.

Thought records help in distinguishing the feelings and thoughts of the client. More often clients find it hard to be able to tell the difference between the two. So there’s an interesting and helpful tip that can help people in telling the two apart.


Emotions and feelings can be described in just one word.

E.g. Afraid, Sad, Angry, Disgusted, Disappointed, etc.

For thoughts, we typically need more than just one word to be able to express them properly

E.g. I am not good enough, I am a failure, They hate me, etc

To help identify emotions the therapist may ask the following prompting questions:

  • How did you feel at that moment?
  • How did your body react at that moment?
  • Try to think of one word that describes the emotion
  • How strong was the feeling on a scale from 0 to 100?

3rd Column-Thoughts

The negative automatic thoughts are recorded in the thoughts column. They are often expressed in verbal outbursts when people feel overwhelmed. (E.g. I am pathetic, I can never succeed, etc) But they can also occur in the form of sudden visual imagery. For example, people might get a sudden vision of being laughed at or made fun of. Or it could also occur in the form of memories that involuntarily pop into your head. E.g. Being criticized by the teacher in front of the whole class  

Questions to ask for such instances are

What was going through your mind as you started to feel that way?

What was the first thing you thought about when that occurred?

The answer to these questions could be either words, phrases, sentences, or even an image or memory.  If the recollection to leads to an image the client could be asked to ponder and reflect on that image and its significance to them. 

For example,

If a client has an image of being alone in a huge space then it may have a hidden meaning of being afraid to be left alone or being isolated. 


In this article, we reviewed the various types of thoughts records and how they help in recording important information and data that is necessary to help in the process of CBT.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why You Should Journal every day?

To improve practice it is important to write it. By journaling every day you can hone your writing skills and practice the art of writing. The use of a journal also helps in expressing your thoughts and ideas in an articulate manner which in turn helps in developing your communication skills. It also helps in purging out unnecessary and negative thoughts.

Should I date my journal?

It is completely voluntary to date your journal but doing so helps in keeping track of your entries. This also makes things convenient and information easily accessible in case you want to go back to a specific event that you recorded on a particular day.

How do you start a thought log?

Following are some tips in starting a log

Column 1- Date and approximate time of occurrence.  Try to recall the situation and your actions during that time and jot it down.

Column 2-Jot down the emotion you experienced during the situation or event and try to express it in one single word such as happy, sad, angry, etc. 

Column 3- Try to recollect your thoughts during that particular situation and note it down.

What is a CBT thought log?

Thought records are like the Swiss Army knife of CBT. They help with assessing the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and as a tool for clients to record their own experiences.

How do I fill out a CBT thought record?

Following are a few easy steps that help in recording thoughts. 

  • Identification of the thought that needs to be dealt with and noting it the sheet
  • Rating the thought based on its impact
  • Making a list of all the reasons that are the favor of that thought and might suggest the thought be true. 
  • Now make another list with all the reasons that challenge and dispute that thought
  • Next read both the lists carefully and loudly if possible and think slowly and carefully about the mentioned reasons in both the lists
  • Now think if there’s another alternative way to look at the situation given all the evidence
  • Write down the new thought that was generated due to thinking about an alternative perspective
  • The final step would be to rate the new thought and to ask yourself on a scale of 1-10 how strongly do you believe in the previous thought and the newly formulated thought. 
  • What was your conclusion?


CBT thought records. Psychology Tools. (n.d.). Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.psychologytools.com/professional/techniques/thought-records/

Simple thought monitoring record. Psychology Tools. (2021, December 8). Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/simple-thought-monitoring-record/