Assessing the Cognitive Model in Psychology: Strengths and Weaknesses

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  • 0:07 Cognitive Model
  • 0:31 Strengths
  • 2:40 Limitations
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

The cognitive model of abnormality blames a person's thoughts for their psychological problems. But what makes it better than other psychological models? In this lesson, we'll look at the strengths and limitations of the cognitive model.

Cognitive Model

Fran has trouble sleeping at night. Everything's fine until she goes to climb into bed. Then, all of a sudden, her thoughts start racing and she starts worrying that she won't be able to fall asleep. The thoughts about her insomnia only get worse as the night wears on, and pretty soon she's worked herself into such a state that she couldn't even sleep if she wanted to.

Fran's anxiety is a type of psychological issue. Abnormal psychology is the study of abnormal thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.

There are many ways to approach abnormality. One psychologist might say that Fran's problem is biological, that there's some problem with the wiring in her brain that is keeping her awake. Another psychologist might point to her childhood and say that something happened to her that is subconsciously affecting her now.

The cognitive model of abnormal psychology says that the cause of psychological disorders is faulty thinking. To them, the anxiety keeping Fran awake at night is due to her thought process. When she gets ready for bed, she already starts thinking about how she might not be able to fall asleep. This in turn leads to more worry and more negative thoughts, which end up causing her insomnia.

The cognitive model is a popular one in psychology. Let's look closer at some of the strengths and limitations of the cognitive model.


What makes cognition a good model when compared to another model? There are several strengths that the cognitive model has. First of all, cognitive therapy, which aims to change the thought patterns of patients in order to help them deal with mental illness, has a high success rate. Patients who are treated with the cognitive model seem to do better than those who are treated with some of the other psychological models. This is particularly true of patients suffering from anxiety disorders and impulse control issues.

Another strength of the cognitive model is that numerous studies have shown that people suffering from mental illness have faulty thought patterns. People with eating disorders, for example, are often stuck in unhealthy cycles of thoughts about food. And Fran has negative thought patterns about her insomnia: even before she tries to go to bed every night, she begins thinking about how she will struggle to do so.

Finally, cognitive therapy is about empowering the client to take charge of his or her thoughts and change them. Unlike prescribing a drug, cognitive therapy depends upon and encourages clients to take control and be a major part of their own treatment.

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