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Beck's cognitive therapy

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This article is about Beck's Cognitive Therapy. For the main category of psychotherapy, see Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Cognitive Therapy (CT) is a type of psychotherapy developed by American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. CT is one of the therapeutic approaches within the larger group of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBT) and was first expounded by Beck in the 1960s.


Cognitive therapy seeks to help the client overcome difficulties by identifying and changing dysfunctional thinking, behavior, and emotional responses. This involves helping clients developing skills for modifying beliefs, identifying distorted thinking, relating to others in different ways, and changing behaviors[1]. Treatment is based on collaboration between client and therapist and on testing beliefs. Therapy may consist of testing the assumptions which one makes and identifying how certain of one's usually-unquestioned thoughts are distorted, unrealistic and unhelpful. Once those thoughts have been challenged, one's feelings about the subject matter of those thoughts are easier subject to change. Beck initially focused on depression and developed a list of "errors" in thinking that he proposed could maintain depression, including arbitrary inference, selective abstraction, over-generalization, and magnification (of negatives) and minimization (of positives).

A simple example may illustrate the principle of how CT works: Having made a mistake at work, a person may believe, "I'm useless and can't do anything right at work." Strongly believing this, in turn, tends to worsen his mood. The problem may be worsened further if the individual reacts by avoiding activities and then behaviorally confirming his negative belief to himself. As a result, an adaptive response and further constructive consequence becomes unlikely, which reinforces the original belief of being "useless." In therapy, the latter example could be identified as a self-fulfilling prophecy or "problem cycle," and the efforts of the therapist and client would be directed at working together to change it. This is done by addressing the way the client thinks and behaves in response to similar situations and by developing more flexible ways to think and respond, including reducing the avoidance of activities. If, as a result, the client escapes the negative thought patterns and dysfunctional behaviors, the feelings of depression may, over time, be relieved. The client may then become more active, succeed and respond more adaptively more often, and further reduce or cope with his negative feelings.

Historical development

Becoming disillusioned with long-term psychodynamic approaches based on gaining insight into unconscious emotions and drives, Beck came to the conclusion that the way in which his clients perceived and interpreted and attributed meaning—a process known scientifically as cognition—in their daily lives was a key to therapy.[2] Albert Ellis was working on similar ideas from a different perspective, in developing his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

Beck outlined his approach in Depression: Causes and Treatment in 1967. He later expanded his focus to include anxiety disorders, in Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders in 1976, and other disorders and problems.[3] He also introduced a focus on the underlying "schema"—the fundamental underlying ways in which people process information—whether about the self, the world or the future.

The new cognitive approach came into conflict with the behaviourism ascendant at the time, which denied that talk of mental causes was scientific or meaningful, rather than simply assessing stimuli and behavioural responses. However, the 1970s saw a general "cognitive revolution" in psychology. Behavioral modification techniques and cognitive therapy techniques became joined together, giving rise to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Although Cognitive therapy has always included some behavioral components, advocates of Beck's particular approach seek to maintain and establish its integrity as a distinct clearly-standardized kind of cognitive behavioral therapy.[4]

Cognitive therapy and depression

According to Beck’s theory of the etiology of depression, depressed people acquire a negative schema of the world in childhood and adolescence; children and adolescents who suffer from depression acquire this negative schema earlier. Depressed people acquire such schemas through a loss of a parent, rejection by peers, criticism from teachers or parents, the depressive attitude of a parent and other negative events. When the person with such schemas encounters a situation that resembles in some way, even remotely, the conditions in which the original schema was learned, the negative schemas of the person are activated.[5]

Beck also included a negative triad in his theory. A negative triad is made up of the negative schemas and cognitive biases of the person. A cognitive bias is a view of the world. Depressed people, according to this theory, have views such as “I never do a good job.” A negative schema helps give rise to the cognitive bias, and the cognitive bias helps fuel the negative schema. This is the negative triad. Also, Beck proposed that depressed people often have the following cognitive biases: arbitrary inference, selective abstraction, overgeneralization, magnification and minimization. These cognitive biases are quick to make negative, generalized, and personal inferences of the self, thus fueling the negative schema.[6]

Methods of CT

Cognitive restructuring:

  • Evaluating validity of client's thoughts and beliefs
  • Assessing what the client expects, predicts
  • Assessing client's attributions for causes of events [7]

==Cognitive therapy

See also


  1. Questions and Answers about Cognitive Therapy by Judith S. Beck. Retrieved from
  2. "A Pragmatic Man and His No-Nonsense Therapy" by Erica Goode New York Times January 11 2000
  3. "An Application of Beck's Cognitive Therapy to General Anger Reduction" - Abstract of paper published in Cognitive Therapy and Research Volume 24, Number 6, December 2000, pp. 689-697(9)
  4. Why Distinguish Between Cognitive Therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy - The Beck Institute Newsletter, February 2001
  5. Gerald C. Davison, John M. Neale, Abnormal Psychology, 8th edition, pages 247-250. 2001, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  6. Gerald C. Davison, John M. Neale, Abnormal Psychology, 8th edition, pages 247-250. 2001, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  7. Think Good-Feel Good: A Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Workbook for Children and Young People by Paul Stallard

External links

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