The Stop! Technique and Controlling Obsessive Thoughts

Businesswoman showing her wedding ring with stop gesture
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The Stop! Technique, or thought-stopping, is common in cognitive-behavioral therapy. The clinician teaches the technique to the client, who can use it to stop racing thoughts or obsessive worrying.

In this technique, when the obsessive or racing thoughts begin, the client says, clearly and distinctly, "Stop!" This then allows the client to substitute a new, healthier thought.

Many therapists encourage the client to, at first, yell out the "Stop!" This helps focus the attention on the word and away from the obsessive thought. Later, the client will be able to mentally yell the word to themselves without needing to say it aloud.

Does the Stop! Technique Really Work?

While some therapists and group therapy programs promote the Stop! Technique as effective, results of a 2010 study by a group of Yale psychologists disagree.

One study found an association between thought-stopping strategies and greater depression and anxiety, not less.

The psychologists found an association between anxiety reduction and other strategies including, cognitive restructuring, acceptance, and problem-solving techniques.

The Stop! Technique DIY

Do you have repetitive negative thoughts swirling around in your psyche you'd like to get rid of? You might be having irrational feelings of jealousy, or maybe you experience negative self-talk that undermines your self-confidence.

You don't need a trained clinician to apply the Stop! Technique although some people may require professional assistance. If you're helping your child, explain that the two of you are going to try something to help alleviate their negative thoughts.

You can have a shot a doing it yourself by following these four steps:

  1. Say "Stop!" when you experience a recurring thought, either aloud or to yourself.
  2. Negate the bad thought in a positive way, by exchanging the negative thought for a positive one. Replace "I cannot..." or "I will not..." with "I can..." or "I will..."
  3. Take a deep breath, or learn a breathing relaxation technique, to help you relax instead of feeling anxiety, and say the peaceful thought out loud or in your mind repeatedly until the bad thought disappears.
  4. Complete these steps every time you notice the recurring thought.

Stress Inoculation Training, PTSD, and the Stop! Technique

Stress inoculation training (SIT), along with cognitive behavior therapy, is particularly successful at preventing the development of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This technique also speeds up the recovery for female victims of sexual violence with PTSD, according to information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Stop! Technique is one of a variety of coping skills taught during SIT. Other coping skills include:

Adjustment Disorders After Cancer and the Stop! Technique

Most patients can adjust to their lives after the rigors of cancer treatment, but unfortunately, some don't and develop adjustment disorders, including agoraphobia, social phobia, (social anxiety disorder) or specific phobia. A patient with adjustment disorders experiences anxiety and other emotional problems that are more severe than expected and cause problems for them at home or work.

The Stop! Technique is one component of a treatment plan that can help improve the quality of life for patients with adjustment disorders after cancer treatment.

Adjustment disorders before, during and after cancer treatment can be complex mental issues which require professional guidance for successful treatment.

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