Setting the Agenda in session

A frequent question I’m asked by clinicians who are not cognitive therapists is why we set agendas toward the beginning of sessions with patients. They often think that doing so will result in their missing out on important information. I tell them that we’ve found the opposite to be generally true.

We ask patients, “What problems do you want my help in solving today?” and guide them into naming the problems (as opposed to giving us a full description at that moment). Then we ask them to prioritize the problems and let us know roughly about how much of the session they’d like to devote to each one. When clinicians don’t set agendas, they deprive the patient of the opportunity to think through what is most important to them to spend time on in session.

-Judith S. Beck, Ph.D.

2 replies
  1. murray taylor
    murray taylor says:

    Dear doctor,

    I am a student of meditation (zen), in the NT of Australia. Recently, through my developing of awareness and mental insight, esp upon myself, I have come to realise that my self talk is quite negative and has become a factor in my maintaining work or university studies.

    My question is this….my parents had and continually have, a negative self talk mentality. I need to know is it possible to change my inherited and inappropriate self talk after 20 years of it being developed as a habit? I do not know if I have also developed social anxiety disorder but my sensitivity and self talk do not help the matter of self talk.

    I would like your feedback on this serious question please.

    Kind regards

    M. Taylor

  2. CT Today
    CT Today says:

    Dear M. Taylor, 

    Cognitive Therapy can certainly be used to help with longstanding problems like negative thinking. You may want to look at David Burns’s book, Feeling Good, which provides a great introduction to how to use Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

    We unfortunately cannot offer specific therapeutic advice, but if you would like further assistance, you could seek treatment with Cognitive Therapists in Australia (certified by the Academy of Cognitive Therapy). Best of luck to you.


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