Cognitive Distortions in the Voice Studio

One of my favorite books of late was written by David D. Burns, MD. Burns is a professor emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He popularized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.

The book has been helpful to me in life, as well as with students to identify what Burns has termed “Cognitive Distortions“. I thought I would share them here. Alerting yourself to them in yourself and in your students is one of the great things a teacher can to do help students become aware of distorted thinking.

  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking: You look at things in absolutes, black and white. “This is the only way to sing this music.” “I can’t study singing and keep a day job at the same time.””I can either be a mom or a singer.””I can get married or have a singing career.”
  2. Overgeneralization: You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. “If I had only been able to win that competition I would have been successful by now.””If I just knew how to sing properly, I wouldn’t have to be still taking lessons.”
  3. Mental Filter: You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives. “I can’t believe that I didn’t get the high note in that phrase. Now the whole song is ruined.” “I don’t even know why I try: that piece sucked!”
  4. Discounting the positives: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities “don’t count.” “The first part went great, but who cares, all anyone noticed was when I went up on my words.”
  5. Jumping to conclusions: (A) Mind reading – you assume that people are reacting negatively to you when there’s no definite evidence for this; “My teacher hates my voice and thinks I suck at singing, I just know it.” (B) Fortune Telling – you arbitrarily predict things will turn out badly. “I know that my audition is going to suck.””I know that this coach is going to ream me out for how I sing this.”
  6. Magnification or Minimalization: You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance inappropriately. “I am never going to be a singer ever.””I am never going to get a technique of singing that makes me feel free and easy in singing, I’m just not good enough.””
  7. Emotional Reasoning: You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot, so I really must be one.” Or “I don’t feel like doing this, so I’ll put it off.”“I feel terrible about how I sang today, so I must be a terrible singer.”
  8. “Should Statements”: You criticize yourself or other people with “Shoulds” or “Shouldn’ts,””Musts,””Oughts,””Have tos” are similar offenders. “I should really be farther along in my singing, technique, musicianship, career, life, etc etc.”
  9. Labeling: You identify with your shortcomings. Instead of saying, “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a jerk,” or “a fool” or “a loser.” “I am just a second-rate singer””I’m just an avocational singer, I’m not good enough to compete with other singers.” “I am a mezzo, soprano, tenor, baritone, bass-baritone, etc.”
  10. Personalization and Blame: You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that your own attitudes and behavior might contribute to a problem. “It’s all my fault for not being able to sing that well.” “My teacher wants to rework something on my voice, it’s all my fault for not being where I should be.” “It’s my old coaches fault that I failed to learn Italian diction very well.”

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