The Basics of Cognitive Theory in Relation to the Development of Abnormal Behavior

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Nicole Maloney

18th October 2011

Approved……………

Explain the basics of cognitive theory in relation to the development of abnormal behavior. Use Aaron T. Beck and Albert Ellis as theorists for reference.

If you believe the saying 'Perception is everything,' then you may well be a cognitivist.  According to the cognitive perspective, people engage in abnormal behavior because of particular thoughts and behaviors that are often based upon their false assumptions. Cognitives believe that without these thought processes, we could have no emotions and no behavior and would therefore not function.  In other words, thoughts always come before any feeling and before any action. Aaron T. Beck and Albert Ellis are major proponents of the cognitive view. Beck emphasizes the cognitive triad in depressed patients (having a negative view of themselves, the world, and their future) while Ellis focuses on common irrational beliefs that must be overcome (e.g., “Everyone must love me”). Beck and Ellis independently developed the therapy that later became known as Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT. Cognitive therapy (CT), often labeled as the generic term cognitive behavior therapy, (CBT) has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms and relapse rates, with or without medication, in a wide variety of psychiatric disorders (Beck, 2005). Wright (2006) describes Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as a pragmatic, action-oriented treatment approach that has become a widely used psychotherapy for major mental disorders. He further states that the CBT methods were initially developed for depression and anxiety disorders and later they were modified for many other conditions, including personality disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse; they have also been adapted for use as an adjunct to medication in the management of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Aaron T. Beck was trained in Freudian psychoanalysis and became dissatisfied with the lack of empirical support for Freudian ideas. In his work with depressed patients, Beck found that people who were depressed reported streams of negative thoughts that seemed to appear spontaneous. Beck called these cognitions automatic thoughts. These thoughts are based on general, over arching core beliefs, called schemas (or schemata) that the person has about oneself, the world, and the future. (Stefan, 2011) According to Wright, the theoretical structure and basic method for CBT as outlined by Aaron Beck in a classic series of papers published in the 1960s and then elaborated in a treatment manual for depression, focused primarily on pathology in information processing styles in patients with depression or anxiety, but he also incorporated behavioral methods to activate patients, reverse helplessness, and counter avoidance. As CBT matured, contributions from behavior therapy research and studies of cognitive processes in mental disorders enriched the clinical practice of this form of psychotherapy. Beck’s reason for developing his treatment method was to help patients identify and evaluate their thoughts and higher order beliefs so that they can think more realistically, behave more functionally, and feel better psychologically. Even though Albert Ellis was more of a therapist than a theorist, his interpretation of cognitive theory has gained a great deal of notability over the past twenty plus years.  On the surface, his model is quite simple and often described as the A-B-C process.  In his article Christopher, states that “According to Ellis, we experience Activating Events (A) everyday that prompts us to look at, interpret, or otherwise think about what is occurring.  Our interpretation of these events results in specific Beliefs (B) about the event, the world and our role in the event.  Once we develop this belief, we experience Emotional Consequences (E) based solely on our belief”. Similarly to Beck’s Ellis’s...
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