What is the Downward Arrow Technique?

What is the Downward Arrow Technique, how does it work and how can it improve your life?

The Downward Arrow Technique is another important skill used within the framework of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This skill is very practical, simple and effective in helping the client get to the root of their negative thoughts and unhealthy beliefs about themselves. Key areas to be explored in this article are listed below.

* What is the downward arrow technique
* Practical examples
* Benefits of this technique

What is the Downward Arrow Technique in CBT?

The Downward Arrow Technique is a very useful skill which can help the client take their common or casual thoughts captive. It is also a helpful means of uncovering one’s core beliefs (for more information on Core Beliefs see part nine). To begin this method you first need to identify a situation which provokes an unhealthy emotion such as depression or guilt. Next to uncover your NAT (Negative Automatic Thought) ask what this situation says about you, others and/or the world around you. Keep asking yourself the same question until you get to an absolute or conclusive statement.

Practical Examples of CBT Skills

Wilding & Milne (2008) provide an excellent practical example of using the downward arrow technique to get to the casual thought at the root of a client’s problem. Client A is struggling to get the work done that is required for his presentation. Why does that matter? Below down the arrow the answer may be that if it isn’t successful the (other) client may be lost. Why does that matter? Below down the arrow may be that this would mean not meeting department targets. Why does that matter? Below you might get to the root; the thought that client A would be held responsible and subsequently lose his job.

Another example is offered by Briers (2009) where Dinah’s son’s birthday cake has risen unevenly. What does that matter? The overreaction or NAT at the beginning of the downward arrow is that this means everything’s ruined, next comes this matters because it wasn’t supposed to happen/unplanned, this means she’s messed up.This matters to Dinah because she believes that it’s down to her to make sure that everything is perfect, next she believes that people will be disappointed in her and finally this in turn means to her that she won’t be loved. Thus, the downward arrow technique brought Dinah from being upset over the cake not being perfect to the core belief that unless she does every single thing 100% perfect she won’t be loved.

Key Benefits of Downward Arrow Technique

The main benefits of this CBT technique are that it is a very simple but extremely effective tool which gets right to the core of the problem in a quick time-frame. This in turn means that the CBT therapist can begin helping the client to face his or her main issues relatively early on in therapy, whether the illness be depression, anxiety, anorexia, acute stress or bipolar disorder.

Briers, S. (2009) Brilliant CBT Harlow: Pearson Education
Wilding, C. & Milne, A. (2008) Teach yourself CBT London: Hodder education
Wilson, R. & Branch, R. (2006) CBT For Dummies Chichester: John Wiley & Sons



One thought on “What is the Downward Arrow Technique?

  1. Pingback: Greatness Leadership Coaching

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