Downward Arrow Technique worksheet

What is the theory behind this worksheet?

This worksheet is based on a CBT approach, meant to uncover negative and unhealthy thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that cause harmful, negative behaviors and emotions in order to change them into rational and healthy thoughts (Mohamadian et al., 2018).

How will the worksheet help

The following worksheet will help you familiarize yourself with the downward arrow technique used in cognitive behavioral therapy by identifying your negative automatic thoughts and seeing how they evolve in order to restructure them.

How to use this worksheet

The downward arrow technique is very difficult to complete by yourself since it can produce high levels of emotional distress and will involve you in accessing your deepest fears. This is why we recommend it to do it with the guidance of a therapist.

Downward Arrow Technique worksheet

To start the exercise, bring one of your most painful negative automatic thoughts to your awareness. Scan your body while you hold the thought in awareness and notice the impact that your thought has on you at an emotional and physiological level. Focusing on your feeling, ask yourself: – “If this thought were true what would it say or mean about me?” Repeat this questioning process with each progressive thought that your mind produces until you find yourself repeating earlier thoughts. 

When your thoughts become most painful or aversive you are likely to be approaching a belief. Beliefs are judgmental unconditional statements about the self or others beginning with the word “I” or “others”. For example, “I am bad”, “I am worthless”, “I am stupid”, “I am weak”, “Others cannot be trusted” (Beck, 2011).

See the following example and try to replicate it on your own negative automatic thoughts. 

Continue until you reach core belief.


Beck, J. S. (2020). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond. Guilford Publications.

Mohamadian, F., Bagheri, M., Hashemi, M. S., & Komeili Sani, H. (2018). The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Depression and Anxiety among Patients with Thalassemia: a Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Caring Sciences, 7(4), 219–224.

You can download this worksheet here.

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