Cognitive Psychotherapy: Types & Techniques

Instructor: Nathan Kilgore

Nathan has taught college Psychology, Sociology, English, and Communications and has a master's degree in education.

Cognitive psychotherapy is a type of psychotherapy developed primarily by Dr. Aaron Beck in the 1960's. It was founded on the theory that our thinking and thoughts determine our feelings and emotions, and is used in treatments administered by psychologists and mental health professionals.

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy, also commonly known as talk therapy, is a type of treatment used by mental health professionals to combat mental disorders. Psychotherapy typically occurs between an individual and a psychologist, but can also take place in a small group setting. The role of the psychologist is to be objective and neutral so that a safe environment can be established. This safe environment is purposed to enable the patient to express their emotions, explain their thinking, and talk through their challenges.

Through the application of psychotherapy, psychologists are able to help people develop healthy thinking and behavior. For example, a person may find psychotherapy helpful if they are grieving the loss of a loved one, experiencing recurring depression, or finding themselves overwhelmed by obsessive worry.

Typically, mental disorders are treated either by medication, therapy, or a combination of both. Psychotherapy is considered the non-medicinal approach to treating mental disorders, although sometimes medication is used in conjunction with psychotherapy. There are also many types or styles of psychotherapy. A psychologist may use a combination of therapeutic styles, or, they may use one particular type of therapy. Generally, all psychotherapy types are aimed to identify problems and suggest solutions for optimal mental health.

Cognitive Psychotherapy

Cognitive therapy (CT) is a form of psychotherapy that was established by Dr. Aaron Beck in the 1960's during his time as a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. CT is based on the premise that how we think influences how we feel. Another way of saying this is that our thoughts determine our emotions. Therefore, in cognitive psychotherapy, a person's undesired or unwanted emotions are alleviated by challenging (and ultimately changing) their unproductive thinking patterns.

For example, let's imagine that a man named Tom struggles with feeling depressed. Tom's chief complaint is feeling hopeless about his future and that everything in life seems meaningless. The things that Tom used to do for fun and enjoyment, he no longer has interest. Cognitive psychotherapy would likely aim to uncover Tom's thoughts 'behind' his depression. Remember, cognitive psychotherapy has as its premise that how we think influences how we feel. Therefore, to control unwanted emotions, cognitive psychotherapy works to correct they type of thinking that leads to experiencing negative or depressed emotions. This type of thinking is sometimes called incorrect, illogical, or inaccurate.

Let's look at this situation with Tom a little deeper. Tom explains that he is depressed because his wife has left him and she wants a divorce. Consequently, Tom concludes that he will never be happy again. Tom also begins to think to himself, 'If my wife doesn't want me, nobody ever will want to be married to me.' The more Tom pictures his bleak future, the more Tom becomes determined that his best days are behind him. Although it would be considered expected or normal for someone to be discouraged by a divorce, Tom's conclusions aren't all logical or true. For example, it isn't a logical or a correct conclusion for Tom to think that, 'because my wife doesn't want to be with me, nobody ever will want to be married to me.' Tom's therapist would likely challenge such illogical or incorrect thinking, and encourage Tom to envision happy and healthy days ahead.

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