Beck’s Cognitive Therapy
Cognitive therapy is a widely-used short-term psychotherapy based on the cognitive model of human psychology, which holds that thoughts, feelings and behaviors are connected. By altering unhelpful thinking patterns, problematic behavior patterns and distressing emotional reactions, individuals can move toward healing from difficulties.
Aaron Beck, the pioneer of cognitive therapy and renowned psychologist in his own right, was born in Providence, Rhode Island. After graduating high school in 1938, he went on to earn his medical degree from Yale University.
He pursued a career in psychiatrist and eventually joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, remaining there until 1992 when he retired from active teaching. Throughout this time, he continued his research and published books about mental disorders for readers to enjoy.
In his later years, Beck began focusing on anxiety and depression as research areas. He developed a series of treatments for these conditions that each targeted specific dysfunctional beliefs and maladaptive behavioral strategies. After conducting randomized controlled trials, he disseminated his treatments in the literature so others could study, practice and refine them (Beck, 2019).
The initial interview, usually lasting an hour or more, is the foundation of any patient’s treatment plan. During this time, the therapist builds rapport with the patient and helps him or her feel secure sharing personal information with them. Afterward, they take notes on problems encountered and create an initial treatment plan. Furthermore, they introduce techniques and tools which may aid in recognizing core issues as well as ways to address those core ones.
During an interview, patients are asked to describe the problems they are dealing with and how they affect their life. Furthermore, they should explain the connection between symptoms and one’s social, family, or work lives.
Next, a therapist conducts the initial session of cognitive therapy, which involves an extensive exploration of the patient’s thought patterns and emotions – both negative and positive. The therapist then pinpoints the thought distortions causing the patient’s issue and works to correct them.
Beck explains that people form their distorted thinking by processing information from an internal, unconscious psychological structure known as the “schema.” These schemas contain memories and thoughts about events in the past, present or future; when this system becomes dysfunctional, these memories and thoughts become negative feelings and behaviors.
A therapist can identify the schemas causing a patient’s problem by studying their thoughts and beliefs, as well as their reactions to these thoughts and feelings. For instance, if someone is depressed or anxious, their thoughts are likely to be negative and focused on feelings of guilt or self-blame.