Automatic Thought Record

Understand the role of Automatic Thought Records in managing impulsive behaviors — identifying & challenging impulsive thoughts and improving overall mental health.

By Telita Montales on Apr 08, 2024.

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What is an Automatic Thought Record?

An Automatic Thought Record (ATR) provides a structured methodology to identify, analyze, and challenge negative and unhelpful thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Automatic thoughts are reactions or judgments to specific situations that pop into our minds without consciously realizing it, significantly influencing our emotional responses.

The theory behind CBT(Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) posits that our thoughts and actions heavily impact how we feel. Consequently, changing our thought patterns can significantly improve our emotional well-being and overall perspective on life. However, much of our thinking happens quickly and automatically, especially the unfair, biased, or negative variety — leaving us feeling down without even realizing why. That's where ATR and CBT come into play. By using CBT Thought Records, we can capture and identify these negative automatic thoughts.

By regularly using an Automatic Thought Record, individuals can uncover cognitive distortions or biases contributing to distressing emotions or unhelpful behavior. It is an essential part of the self-help CBT techniques, aiding in developing a profound understanding of one's thoughts and their effects on emotions and actions.

Printable Automatic Thought Record

Download this Automatic Thought Record so your clients can better identify and manage their impulsive thoughts.

How does it work?

An Automatic Thought Record (ATR) involves a series of systematic steps, as follows:

Step 1: Identify the situation 

First, you must identify what triggered unpleasant feelings. This might involve a conversation, an event, or a scenario that incites discomfort or distress. The more detailed and accurate this description, the better the understanding of the emotional response.

Step 2: Identify emotions 

Note the emotions experienced during the situation. These could range from sadness, anxiety, or anger to happiness, excitement, or relief. It's important to describe these emotions explicitly and rate their intensity on a scale from 0 to 100.

Step 3: Identify automatic thoughts 

Record the automatic thoughts that occurred in the situation. These are immediate, unfiltered reactions or judgments to the situation, which often go unnoticed but significantly influence our feelings and behaviors.

Step 4: Evidence supporting the thoughts 

List the facts that support these thoughts. This is the evidence that the mind uses to validate automatic thoughts, whether accurate or not.

Step 5: Evidence against the thoughts 

Challenge automatic thoughts by listing the facts that contradict them. This can include counter-examples, different perspectives, or instances where the automatic thought was proven wrong.

Step 6: Balanced thoughts 

Create a balanced, more rational thought process. This thought should consider supporting and contradicting evidence, resulting in a more accurate and less distorted view of the situation.

Step 7: Rate emotions 

Rate the intensity of your emotions again. This allows you to see if and how your emotions have changed after this process.

Use a printable Automatic Thought Records format to maintain these records conveniently. The ultimate goal is to challenge and change cognitive distortions or biases, leading to a more balanced and rational outlook on life.

Automatic Thought Records Example (sample)

Let's say the situation involves being overlooked for a promotion at work. The immediate automatic thought might be, "I'm not good enough," leading to sadness and frustration. An Automatic Thought Record would involve:

  • Capturing this scenario
  • Its associated thoughts and feelings
  • Analyzing the thoughts for validity

By reassessing these thoughts, one could arrive at a balanced thought like, "While I'm disappointed about the promotion, this doesn't define my value. There will be other opportunities." 

To provide a clear understanding of how Automatic Thought Records (ATR) work, Carepatron has designed a comprehensive example for users. This sample case guides you through a realistic situation, demonstrating how to effectively fill out each step of the ATR, from identifying the triggering situation to developing a balanced thought. Utilizing this example can help you familiarize yourself with the process and make it easier to apply it in your circumstances.

Download this Automatic Thought Record Example:

Automatic Thought Records Example (sample)

When would you use this Template?

The Automatic Thought Record (ATR) template, deeply rooted in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) principles, is a versatile and invaluable tool for a wide range of professional disciplines and personal scenarios, especially in addressing negative thinking, cognitive distortions, and managing negative emotions. Its applications include:

Mental health professionals

These experts utilize the ATR as a core component of Cognitive Therapy to aid clients grappling with various mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and stress-related disorders. It helps in making negative automatic thoughts visible, identifying cognitive distortions, and working towards altering dysfunctional thought patterns.

Educational settings

In academic environments, the ATR is an effective tool for helping students manage anxiety, stress, and cope with social situations or difficult circumstances in school. It offers a practical way for young individuals to understand and manage their feelings and thoughts, promoting better emotional well-being.

Life coaches

Life coaches employ the ATR to assist clients in overcoming self-limiting beliefs and negative thought patterns that could impede personal or professional growth. The focus is on identifying and restructuring thoughts that hinder progress, thereby fostering a more positive and proactive mindset.

Self-help and personal development

Individuals seeking self-improvement tools find the ATR particularly beneficial for personal development or coping with emotional difficulties. It's a practical method for individuals to become aware of their thought processes and work towards improving self-esteem and emotional health in various situations, be it a new job, relationship challenges, or personal goals.

General application in everyday life

The ATR is useful whenever a person notices repetitive, negative, or unhelpful thoughts that impact mood or daily functioning. This could be during high-stress moments, challenging interpersonal interactions, or when dealing with feelings of low self-esteem. It serves as a method to record, identify, and examine these thoughts in a structured way.

The goal of the ATR is to facilitate cognitive restructuring. This process, often referenced in works by renowned therapists like Aaron Beck and published by Guilford Press, involves understanding, challenging, and eventually transforming harmful thought patterns into more balanced, rational, and neutral thoughts.

This transformation is crucial in managing feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, and improving overall mental health. The ATR, thus, is a fundamental tool in both professional therapy settings and personal self-care practices, adaptable to various situations and needs.


Using the Free Automatic Thought Record offers several benefits:

Increased self-awareness

The Automatic Thought Record facilitates a deeper level of self-awareness by regularly tracking and analyzing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This enhanced consciousness empowers individuals to recognize and understand their unique patterns of thinking, particularly the negative or unhelpful thoughts that can profoundly affect their mental state. Such keen self-awareness is a stepping stone toward self-growth and personal development.

Enhanced emotional management

Automatic Thought Records offer a systematic way to identify and examine the emotional responses linked to specific thoughts. Individuals can reduce distress and react more effectively in challenging situations by actively managing these emotions.

Cognitive restructuring

The Automatic Thought Record is a practical tool for cognitive restructuring, a critical Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) process. This technique involves identifying, challenging, and altering detrimental thoughts, paving the way for more balanced, rational, and positive thinking patterns. This process can significantly alleviate emotional distress and improve adaptive behaviors.

Improved mental health

Consistent use of the Automatic Thought Record promotes overall mental health and emotional well-being. Over time, individuals can notice a significant decrease in the frequency and intensity of negative thoughts and emotions. This, in turn, can lead to improved mood, enhanced resilience, better stress management, and an overall positive outlook on life.

Skill acquisition

The Automatic Thought Record provides immediate relief and equips individuals with lifelong skills. By practicing and mastering the steps involved in filling out the record, individuals learn a practical method of coping with negative thought patterns that can be applied independently.


As a free resource, the Automatic Thought Record is readily accessible to anyone. This affordability and accessibility make it a versatile tool for those who want to manage their mental health proactively, whether independently or under professional guidance.

Why use Carepatron as your Automatic Thought recording app?

The journey towards mental wellness is a path of exploration, reflection, and understanding. For this journey, you need an intuitive, secure tool designed with a deep understanding of your needs. This is where Carepatron, as your Automatic Thought recording software, excels.

Carepatron is more than just a platform—it's a companion in your journey toward improved mental health. We offer an easy-to-use, robust, and reliable Automatic Thought Record app with simplicity and effectiveness at your fingertips. Whether you're a mental health professional assisting clients or someone keen on understanding and transforming your thought patterns, Carepatron provides a seamless experience in maintaining, updating, and accessing your thought records.

User-friendly interface: Our design ethos prioritizes user experience, ensuring you spend more time exploring and reshaping your thoughts, and less time navigating the software. Our platform requires no training, enabling you to focus on the transformative process of cognitive restructuring rather than complicated software mechanisms.

Commitment to security and privacy: Meeting worldwide security requirements, including HIPAA, GDPR, and HITRUST, Carepatron ensures your work remains safe, secure, and confidential.

Collaborative capabilities: Our platform facilitates seamless communication and the exchange of ideas, enhancing the therapeutic process. This collaborative environment can be particularly beneficial in telehealth settings.

Trusted worldwide: Supporting a global community of users, Carepatron continuously strives to deliver a beautiful, efficient, and enriching experience every day — making it a preferred choice for mental health management

Choosing Carepatron as your Automatic Thought Record app means embracing a robust aid to navigate the path of cognitive restructuring and managing mental health effectively.

Sign up today and start your journey towards mental wellness with confidence and ease.

Clinical documentation software benefit
What is an Automatic Thought Record in cognitive behavioral therapy?
What is an Automatic Thought Record in cognitive behavioral therapy?

Commonly asked questions

What is an Automatic Thought Record in cognitive behavioral therapy?

An Automatic Thought Record (ATR) is a fundamental tool in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) used to identify, examine, and challenge negative automatic thoughts. These thoughts often occur spontaneously in response to a specific situation and can contribute to negative emotions like anxiety and depression. By recording these thoughts, individuals can become more aware of their thinking patterns and feelings, especially in difficult situations such as facing a new job or social interactions. The ATR helps in transforming unhelpful automatic thoughts into more positive or neutral ones, thereby improving self-esteem and reducing depressive symptoms.

How can thought records help in managing negative thinking and emotions?

Thought records in CBT are practical ways of paying attention to one's thought processes, particularly in managing negative thinking and emotions. By systematically recording thoughts in specific situations, individuals can identify cognitive distortions and dysfunctional thought patterns.

This process involves noting the situation, the automatic negative thoughts, the emotions felt, and the cognitive distortions involved. By challenging these thoughts and replacing them with more helpful perspectives, one can alleviate feelings of anger, anxiety, and depression.

What are the steps involved in completing a thought record?

Completing a thought record involves several key steps: First, identify the situation that triggered the negative thoughts. Next, record the automatic thoughts and emotions that arise, focusing on their intensity and impact. Then, examine these thoughts for cognitive distortions and challenge their validity. Finally, replace them with more helpful, positive behaviors or thoughts. Regular practice of this process can make it second nature, helping to manage anxiety disorders and improve overall mental health.

What role do cognitive distortions play in negative automatic thoughts?

Cognitive distortions are irrational thought patterns that can contribute to negative automatic thoughts. These distortions, identified by cognitive therapy pioneers like Aaron Beck, manifest in many forms, such as overgeneralization, catastrophizing, or black-and-white thinking.

They can distort reality and lead to increased anxiety and depression. By recognizing and challenging these distortions through thought records, individuals can develop a more realistic and balanced perspective, thereby reducing the intensity of negative emotions and thoughts.

How can one use thought records to improve self-esteem and handle difficult situations?

Thought records can be particularly useful in improving self-esteem and handling difficult situations. By identifying and examining the negative automatic thoughts that often accompany challenging circumstances, individuals can gain insight into their thinking patterns.

This process enables them to challenge and alter these thoughts, leading to more neutral or positive thinking. As a result, they can respond to challenging situations, like a new job or social scenarios, in a more helpful and confident manner. Thought records thus serve as a powerful tool in behavior therapy to transform the way individuals perceive and react to their environment.

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