Behavioral and Cognitive Assessments: Purpose, Process, & Limitations

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  • 0:05 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • 1:49 The Five Areas Model
  • 4:29 Benefits & Limitations
  • 5:55 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.

Sometimes, faulty thought and behavior patterns cause psychological problems. To uncover the cause of the problems, some psychologists use cognitive and behavioral assessments. We'll look closer at those types of assessments and how they are used.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Vincent has a problem. His wife recently left him for another man. He's feeling angry and depressed and isn't sure what to do about it. At his best friend's urging, he's gone to see a therapist.

Imagine that you are Vincent's psychologist. How should you treat Vincent? How do you help him move beyond the pain and anger of his wife's desertion?

There are many ways to approach mental health problems. One approach is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT for short, which says that by changing a person's thoughts and behaviors, you can change their feelings as well.

At the heart of CBT is the belief that many psychological disorders are caused by unhealthy thoughts and behavior patterns. For example, perhaps Vincent is having a hard time moving on because he keeps coming back to destructive thoughts, like, 'I was a bad husband,' and 'I'll never find another woman as good as her.' If you can get Vincent to stop thinking these things, you could help him move on.

But, before you can treat Vincent's thoughts and behaviors, you have to know what his thoughts and behaviors are. Cognitive behavioral assessments seek to understand what problems plague a patient and what underlying thoughts or behaviors might be causing or worsening the problems.

Often, cognitive behavioral assessments are done in a combination of forms. Worksheets that ask clients to rate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are often the first step of a cognitive behavioral assessment. Afterwards, the mental health professional might ask the patient questions to help them get a larger picture of their behaviors and thought patterns.

The Five Areas Model

It seems pretty simple. Vincent's wife left him; he thinks it's his fault; and he's depressed. That's a pretty straightforward view of Vincent's problems. But, in real life, there are many different elements that go into a person's problems, and people are often very complicated.

In order to assess and treat patients' problems, cognitive behavioral therapists often look at five areas of a person's situation. The five areas are:

1. Life situation. This includes the patient's relationships and practical problems. For example, Vincent's wife has left him for another man. That is his life situation.

2. Altered thinking. How has the life situation changed the way the patient thinks? Vincent's thoughts about it being his fault and never finding another woman are thoughts that have been informed by his life situation. If his wife hadn't left him, he wouldn't be having those thoughts.

3. Altered emotions. How has the life situation changed the way the patient feels? Vincent is feeling depressed and angry. Again, these are a product of the life situation (the fact that his wife has left him).

4. Altered physical symptoms. How has the life situation changed the way the patient physically feels? For example, is Vincent feeling more tired than he used to? Is he sleeping for many more hours every night? Or, is the opposite true? Is he having trouble sleeping? These are physical symptoms that can be traced back to the life situation of his wife's desertion.

5. Altered behaviors. How has the situation changed the way the person acts? Maybe because he is having trouble sleeping, Vincent begins drinking a lot of alcohol at night. Maybe he's started avoiding his family and friends because he feels depressed and angry. Maybe he's sleeping around to deal with his emotions and to blank out the thought that he might never find another woman. All of these are examples of altered behaviors.

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