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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Stopping a Runaway Train


According to one source, “The train of thought or track of thought refers to the interconnection in the sequence of ideas expressed during a connected discourse or thought, as well as the sequence itself, especially in discussion how this sequence leads from one idea to another.”


This idiomatic expression uses metaphorical imagery related to a train—railroad cars moved as a unit by a locomotive or by integral motors—when describing thoughts in motion. For many people, their train of thought tends to run away. Describing the process of a runaway train, one source states:


A runaway train is a type of railroad incident in which unattended rolling stock is accidentally allowed to roll onto the main line, a moving train loses enough braking power to be unable to stop in safety, or a train operates at unsafe speeds due to loss of operator control. If the uncontrolled rolling stock derails or hits another train, it will result in a train wreck.


When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I find it necessary to stop runaway trains of thought before a client’s train of thought derails the psychotherapeutic process. This requires comfort on my part when interrupting others.


As well, it involves discomfort for clients who maintain unhelpful beliefs about being interrupted. On page 54 of The REBT Therapist’s Pocket Companion, REBT practitioners are encouraged to interrupt clients who ramble and digress from discussed points, though to do so with tact and sensitivity.


For instance, if a client is rambling down the tracks in a session and I foresee a potential derailment of the work we’re doing, I don’t abruptly say, “Hey, stick to the topic!” That untactful approach would likely generate further unproductive beliefs which would then need to be immediately addressed.


Rather, I may say something along the lines of, “Oh my, I think I lost track of what you were saying. Why don’t we see if we can find where the conversation was derailed?” This sensitive approach is arguably less threatening and more appropriate for reengaging an important topic within the session.


Page 55 of The REBT Therapist’s Pocket Companion invites REBT practitioners to be “sufficient and clear” in how we speak with clients. This is an important consideration in order to maintain a healthy therapeutic alliance.


By clearly identifying the point in a discussion at which I got lost, and then joining with the client to find a solution (i.e., “Why don’t we see if we can find where the conversation was derailed?”), the process of getting back on track and helping a person resolve problems can continue down the rail line.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW





Dryden, W. and Neenan, M. (2003). The REBT Therapist’s Pocket Companion. Albert Ellis Institute. ISBN 0-917476-26-3. Library of Congress Control Number: 20031044378

Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, September 8). Fair use. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, October 12). Get better. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC [Official website]. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, September 19). Life coaching. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, March 25). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2024, January 11). Therapeutic alliance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Runaway train. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Train of thought. Retrieved from

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