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Downward arrow technique

Downward arrow technique is a technique which contains a series of questions used by a therapist to understand one’s core beliefs. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, identifying core beliefs are vital to give proper treatment to the patient. In practically, uncovering core beliefs is too hard. That is where the downward arrow technique comes to play.

What are the core beliefs?

The word “core” explains the core beliefs that come from our deep. Beliefs explain how to believe in something, someone, or the assumptions we have on something, someone. So, core beliefs mean the assumptions about someone or something which comes from our core/our deep. Core belfies decide how we think, behave, and interact with someone. When we have unhealthy core beliefs about ourselves, it causes depression, stress, and even suicide. So, identifying core beliefs are more vital to treat a person with a mental health condition.

Some people have healthy core beliefs that can make them successful. So, core beliefs are all about how we think about ourselves, others, and the world. According to them, we decide how we should interact with everything. Here are some examples of core beliefs.

  • I cannot do anything
  • I will never give up
  • All people are untrustworthy.
  • No one loves me and cares about me.

Likewise, core beliefs come in many faces.

What is cognitive-behavioural therapy? (CBT)

CBT is used to uncover the negative and unhealthy thoughts, beliefs, attitudes that cause harmful, negative behaviours and emotions. Then CBT changes them. CBT uses many techniques like games, relaxations, and role-plays, to change one’s negative thought patterns to more realistic and healthy ones. CBT treatments effectively identify and help people who have specific mental issues like addiction, depression, stress, phobias, anxiety, addiction, etc.

In CBT, the therapist plays an active role. To make a CBT session successful, there should be a good understating of the patient’s core beliefs, attitudes that changed their behaviors and thinking. With proper knowledge, the therapist can choose the appropriate treatments to help the person.

What is the downward arrow technique?

The downward arrow technique is a series of questions asked from a person to uncover his/her core beliefs. Even after many CBT sessions, most of the client’s core beliefs may not be discovered if a therapist doesn’t use the downward arrow technique. When the downward arrow technique is used, the therapist will identify many automated thoughts and core beliefs hidden before. Here the therapist doesn’t need to spend time with the client asking questions. He/she can give a question form to fill by the client when he is at home.

But before that, the therapist must know well about the clients and the issues he/she has. Furthermore, this technique should be used with care since the client may get upset when he finds his negative core benefits. Here are steps that a therapist can use to implement the downward arrow technique effectively.

How to use the downward arrow technique?

Identify the type of patient.

First, there should be a good understanding between therapist and patient. This requires a few sessions, and sometimes there will be no need for using this technique. Here, a therapist can conclude what treatment types can be used in the future for the particular patient.

Get ready

Now you know the basics about the patient. So, now you should have an idea about the intermediate benefits that you expect from the patient. When you have a clear objective, you will be ready when the patient releases his/her core beliefs.

Ask questions

Okay, now we are trying to go to the deep using different questions. The therapist must form some structured, and most questions will be unstructured. Structured question will guide the patient to a specific situation. The patient’s responses to that particular situation decide the next question s you are going to ask. Go deeper and deeper to uncover the core belief.

Example situation

Here is an example of a boy with depression who will attend his new college next month.

  • Thought – It will be worse when I moved to a new college.
  • Question – What does it mean?
  • Belief- It means students will again bully me.
  • Question – Why do you think that students will bully you?
  • Core belief – Because people are malicious

The therapist must go to the deep by asking the question again and again about a particular situation. Finally, core beliefs will be exposed.


This article is to give a basic idea of the downward arrow technique. There are more in-depth strategies than this. Also, therapists don’t use this technique in the first place. They identify the patient first and concludes the treatments required. Also, identifying core beliefs only helps with selecting the best treatment. So, finding core beliefs is not the final solution. It’s only an aid for the final solution.

There are many pdfs available on the internet, which deeply explain about downward arrow technique and CBT. Explore them if you need more details than these. See you soon in a new article.


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