Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.
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.
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.
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
You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: 'I feel it, therefore it must be true.'
8) 'Should' Statements
You try to motivate yourself with 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts,' as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. 'Musts' and 'oughts' are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct 'should' statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration and resentment.
9) Labeling and Mislabeling
This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: 'I'm a loser.' When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: 'He's a louse.' Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.
You make an arbitrary decision that in order to accept yourself as worthy, okay, or to simply feel good about yourself, you have to perform in a certain way, usually most or all the time.
Cognitive Therapy Results
In time, clients learn the errors in their thinking and learn to challenge whether these automatic thoughts are true through behavioral assignments including daily records of thoughts, behavior rehearsal, social skills training, and relaxation.
Once clients are able to identify their negative thought patterns and test whether their beliefs are true, they gain evidence that either supports or disproves their negative beliefs. These specific skills are learned in a time-limited, supportive, and collaborative relationship with the therapist. In cognitive therapy, the patient works collaboratively with the therapist to set treatment goals and assign homework. Eventually the patient is encouraged to use the skills learned in therapy in their day-to-day experiences, even after treatment has ended. Research supports this approach to treatment usually within a 12 to 16 week format.
Cognitive therapy is a type of therapy based on the belief that what we think influences how we feel, behave, and react to our environment. It's one of the most widely used fields of psychotherapy. It was originally designed for the treatment of depression, but has since been found effective in treating a number of other disorders. The positive effects of cognitive therapy are attributed to patients' ability to alter distorted thinking patterns using behavioral techniques.
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