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Workshop 6

Regret: A Cognitive Behavioral Approach

Robert Leahy, Weill Cornell Medical College, USA

Although regret is a central element in depression, procrastination, indecision, self-criticism, worry, rumination, and avoidance, it has received little attention in the CBT literature. In contrast, regret has been a focus in decision theory and research indicating that when people make decisions they often anticipate the possibility of post-decision regret and, therefore, attempt to minimize this experience. Regret is not always a negative process. Insufficient regret processes result in impulsive behaviour and failure to learn from past decisions. During manic episodes there is underutilization of anticipatory regret. We will view regret as a self-regulatory process where too much regret or too little regret may be problematic. Although people often believe that they will more likely regret taking new action, research indicates over time there is greater regret for actions not taken. Affective forecasting-that is, overprediction of emotion following events in the future-often contributes to anticipatory regret, with predictions leading to beliefs in greater impact of events than is warranted by the facts. In addition, some decision makers have idealized beliefs about decisions, rejecting ambivalence as an inevitable part of the trade-offs underlying decision-making under uncertainty. Specific decision styles are more likely to contribute to regret, including maximization, emotional perfectionism, intolerance of uncertainty, and overvaluation of "more" information rather than relevant information. In this presentation we will examine how regret is linked to hindsight bias, maximization rather than satisfaction strategies, intolerance of uncertainty, rejection of ambivalence, refusal to accept trade-offs, excessive information demands, and ruminative processes. Specific techniques will be elaborated to balance regret with acceptance, future utility, and flexibility to enhance more pragmatic decision processes, reverse ruminative focus on the past, and replace self-criticism with adaptive self-correction.

 Key learning objectives 

  1. Identify the role of anticipatory and retrospective regret in decision making
  2. Understand how regret impacts procrastination, risk aversion, indecision, rumination, and self-criticism;
  3. Explain how to assist clients in accepting uncertainty and risk in order to make more pragmatic and effective decisions;
  4. Describe how to assist clients in reducing post-decision regret, self-criticism and rumination and accept trade-offs in making decisions while enhancing satisfaction with imperfect outcomes.

Robert L. Leahy was educated at Yale University (BA, MS, MPHIL, PHD) and is the Founder and Director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in NYC, Clinical Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Past-President of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, The Academy of Cognitive Therapy, and The International Association of Cognitive Therapy. He is the recipient of the Aaron T. Beck Award for outstanding contributions in CBT. Leahy is the author of 29 books and is a frequent keynote speaker and presenter of workshops worldwide. His new book, If Only..Finding Freedom from Regret will be published by Guilford books this summer

Key References

Bell, D.E. (1982). Regret in decision making under uncertainty. Operations Research, 30, 961-981.

Leahy, R.L. (2022) If Only…Finding Freedom from Regret

Leahy, R.L. (2015). Emotional Schema Therapy: A practitioner's guide. New York: Guilford.

Leahy, R.L. (2017). Cognitive therapy techniques (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford.

Roese, N. J., & Summerville, A. (2005). What we regret most … and why. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1273–1285. doi:10.1177/0146167205274693

Zeelenberg, M., & Pieters, R. (2007). A Theory of Regret Regulation. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 17(1), 3–18.

Zeelenberg, M., van den Bos, K., van Dijk, E., & Pieters, R. (2002). The Inaction Effect in the Psychology of Regret. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(3), 314–327.

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