Aaron Beck & Cognitive Therapy: Theory & Concept

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Aaron Beck is the known as the father of cognitive therapy which was originally designed to treat depression. Study the theory and concept of cognitive therapy, and cognitive therapy results. Updated: 09/14/2021

A Way to Address Depression

Almost everyone has had a time when they have felt down or had thoughts that could make them feel badly about their life. When we're depressed, our thoughts can be extremely negative and distort our view of reality. One way to resolve our negative thoughts when we are depressed is using cognitive therapy, a form of psychotherapy developed by psychiatrist Aaron Beck that focuses on altering faulty thinking patterns.

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  • 0:00 A Way To Address Depression
  • 0:25 Who Is Aaron Beck?
  • 0:50 What Is Cognitive Therapy?
  • 2:05 Beck's Cognitive Distortions
  • 5:05 Cognitive Therapy Results
  • 5:57 Lesson Summary
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Who Is Aaron Beck?

Aaron Beck (1921- ) is considered the father of cognitive therapy. Beck developed cognitive therapy with the belief that a person's experiences result in cognitions or thoughts. These cognitions are connected with schemas, which are core beliefs developed from early life, to create our view of the world and determine our emotional states and behaviors. Beck believed disorders are maintained by negative attitudes and distorted thinking.

What Is Cognitive Therapy?

Cognitive therapy was originally designed for the treatment of depression and later extended to treat other mental health disorders including anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, sexual dysfunction, body dysmorphic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse. It has been found to be useful as a short-term therapy and a long-term treatment model for adults, children, adolescents, and groups.

Cognitive therapy is based on the belief that what we think influences how we feel, behave, and react to our environment. In fact, studies show that our emotional difficulties can be traced to our beliefs regarding our experiences. The goal of cognitive therapy is to identify and alter our distorted or negative beliefs in order to improve our behaviors and lives. Cognitive therapists believe that clients' distorted thinking about themselves, the world, and the future is the main cause of their experiences of depression as displayed in the figure below.


In cognitive therapy, clients learn about the connection between their emotional responses and automatic thoughts, which are surface-level cognitions; schemas, which we mentioned before; and cognitive distortions, which are biases in thinking. For example, thinking 'I am worthless' might cause you to feel sad. We'll look at Beck's cognitive distortions now:

1) All-or-Nothing Thinking

You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

2) Overgeneralization

You see a single negative event as a never- ending pattern of defeat.

3) Mental Filter

You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire cup of water.

4) Disqualifying the Positive

You reject positive experiences by insisting they 'don't count' for some reason or other. In this way, you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.

5) Jumping to Conclusions

You make a negative interpretation though there are no definite facts that convincingly support conclusion. Beck identified two different ways that you could jump to conclusions:

Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and you don't bother to check this out.

The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.

6) Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization

You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow's imperfections). This is also called the 'binocular trick.'

7) Emotional Reasoning

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