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Bob Stahn
Mar 02, 2010

Sinister and Dexter

Sinister and Dexter? It is actually a name that I have given a cognitive exercise that I have found very useful in my clinical practice. It helps my client to be able to better dispute faulty beliefs. The exercise starts by drawing a line from the top of a page to the bottom. At the top of right side I label “Right” and above the left side I write “Left.” I review with my client that there are several synonyms for the word “right” and then I write a few of them near the column heading of “Right” (i.e., correct, true, etc.). I then write the opposites of the synonyms near the “Left” heading (i.e., wrong, false, etc.).

Next I inquire if my client is familiar with the word for “right” in Latin. In big lettering I write the word “Dexter” on the right side. Then I ask about the word for “left” in Latin. After the client’s response, I write the word “Sinister” in large letters above the left column. Most clients are surprised to learn that “Sinister” means what it does. (The inference is that if something is not accurate, then it is sinister.)

I ask my client for a faulty belief he or she has been struggling with lately then I write it in the “Sinister” column under the heading. For example, “Other people control how I feel.” Then I ask for thoughts that will dispute that faulty belief. For example, “Others cannot control what I feel.” Then I ask for another and my client may say, “I get to choose for myself” and “Others may influence what I think, but I control what I think.” “What I feel is the direct result of what I think. It is not the result of what others say or do.” We continue to add accurate declarations to the Dexter side until we run out of true statements we can think of.

I then give the paper to my client with a homework assignment to keep this paper in an obvious place and add to the Dexter side as often as any appropriate thoughts come to mind. (Some of the papers return to me with an additional paper attached because my client has done his or her homework very well and has run out of writing space on the first one.) Also, I ask my client to review the Dexter thoughts several times each day.

I also give my client a little spiral notebook inviting him or her to “write the ‘right’ on the right” and “have the ‘left’ left on the left.” One of the benefits of a pocket-sized notebook is that the Dexter thoughts can carried in a pocket or purse and it can be easily accessed and reviewed while standing in a line or waiting at a stoplight.

By often reviewing the Dexter thoughts, the Sinister thoughts will gradually lose convincing power. Before long the Dexter thoughts will have taken root so well that the client will look at the Sinister thought and say, “I can’t believe that I used to believe that thought to be true!”

This exercise can be used with any faulty belief. I work with my clients to identify their issues and then their associated faulty beliefs. After this introduction my client can dispute unlimited Sinister thoughts without my help. By giving my client this tool, I help him or her become more independent. He or she will progress as much as he or she devotes energy to using the exercise. He or she gets to choose which gets more credibility in his or her life—Sinister or Dexter?

Bob Stahn has a general counseling practice. He specializes in relationship counseling and most recently PTSD and trauma.

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