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Aaron Beck's Cognitive Therapy

Aaron Beck's Cognitive Therapy

June 20, 2022

The cognitive psychology It is a branch of psychology that deals with the processes through which the individual obtains knowledge of the world and becomes aware of its environment, as well as its results.

Cognitive models pay special attention to cognitions, understanding them in a broad sense to ideas, personal constructs, beliefs, images, attributions of meaning or meaning, expectations ... and that's why it studies the basic processes such as memory, attention, the formation of concepts, the processing of information, the resolution of conflicts , etc.

Cognitive psychology and cognitive therapy in context

Modern cognitive psychology has been formed under the influence of related disciplines, such as the treatment of information, artificial intelligence and the science of language. But this branch of psychology is not only an experimental approach, but has been put into practice in different areas: learning, social psychology or psychotherapy. The latter is called cognitive therapy .


It is important to establish a difference between cognitive psychology Y cognitive psychotherapy, because although both are related, the most outstanding authors of cognitive psychology made their main developments far from psychotherapeutic centers. Instead, cognitive psychotherapy designed specific methods (treatments) from some cognitive psychology developments (cognitive science), as clinical researchers soon saw the utility of these principles to be applied to different people with different problems to improve their quality of life, solve human problems and treat mental disorders.

The pioneers in cognitive therapy: Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis

The pioneers in using the bases of cognitive science systematically for the treatment of psychological disorders were psychologists Albert Ellis Y Aaron Beck . The first called his model of therapeutic application "Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy" (TREC) and the second called his method of therapy "Cognitive Therapy ”.


It is important to emphasize that there are different models of cognitive therapy, and these are two of the most known due to their great practical use. Cognitive therapy is not "technical", but applied science, reason why usually they consist of a more or less defined method to achieve some objectives according to their theoretical approach of departure.

Aaron Beck's model focuses, basically, on automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions, and Albert Ellis Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy focuses mainly on irrational beliefs. Between both there are similarities, but also differences, for example: Beck's Cognitive Therapy is based on collaborative empiricism; instead, Ellis uses Socratic dialogue or debate as the main therapeutic tool .

Aaron Beck's Cognitive Therapy

The main idea of ​​Cognitive Therapy is that people suffer from the interpretation they make of events and not by these in themselves . Therefore, Aaron Beck, interested in the treatment of depression, developed a model for the treatment of this pathology that later extended to other disorders.


Beck's model, and also Ellis's, they are an important part of the strategies that are used within the cognitive-behavioral therapy Well, through the cognitive restructuring, an individual is able to modify the way of interpretation and subjective evaluation of the facts and situations that he / she lives, and in this way he / she is encouraged to alter the disordered thinking schemes and see himself and the world of more realistic and adaptive way.

This type of cognitive (or cognitive-behavioral) therapies are called "relational therapies or cognitive restructuring", but there are also other types of cognitive therapies such as: training therapies for coping and managing situations or therapies. Problem resolution.

The cognitive organization according to Beck's model

The model proposed by Beck states that in a situation, individuals do not respond automatically, but before emitting an emotional or behavioral response they perceive, classify, interpret, evaluate and assign meaning to the stimulus according to their previous assumptions or cognitive schemes (also called nuclear beliefs).

Cognitive schemes

In Beck's theory, lThe cognitive processes are the mechanisms of codification, storage and retrieval of existing information in cognitive structures (schemes).Therefore, cognitive processes are included: perception, attention, memory and interpretation. In the processing of information errors can occur in any of its phases that result in an alteration or distortion in the assessment and interpretation of the facts, what the author calls "cognitive distortions".

The cognitive structures of information organization in memory are the schemes, which represent the set of previous experiences and act as molds that direct attention, influence the interpretation of events and facilitate recall.

For Beck, "schemes are stable cognitive patterns that are the basis of the regularity of interpretations of reality. People use their schemes to locate, code, differentiate and attribute meanings to the world's data. " In other words, the schemes are subjective mental constructions, more or less stable, that act as filters when perceiving the world by the individual .

The schemes come largely from previous learning experiences (in general, early) and can remain dormant until activated by a significant event that interacts with them. This is one of the most important concepts contributed by cognitive psychology, and although it was originally introduced by Frederick Bartlett to refer to processes related to memory in the social context, and was also used, among others, by Jean Piaget in the educational field, Beck (together with Ellis) introduced him in the psychotherapeutic field.

The beliefs

The beliefs they are the contents of the schemes, and they are the direct result of the relationship between reality and these. They are everything that you believe in, they are like internal maps that allow us to make sense of the world, are built and generalized through experience .

Beck distinguishes two types of beliefs:

  • Central or nuclear beliefs : They are presented as absolute, lasting and global propositions about oneself, others or the world. For example, "I am incompetent." They represent the deepest cognitive level, are difficult to change, give a sense of identity and are idiosyncratic.
  • Peripheral beliefs : They are influenced by nuclear, therefore, are located between them and cognitive products or automatic thoughts. Consist of attitudes, rules and assumptions (or assumptions). Therefore, they influence the way of seeing the situation, and that vision influences how an individual feels, acts or thinks.

Cognitive products

The cognitive products they refer to the thoughts and images that result from the interaction of the information provided by the situation, the schemas and beliefs and the cognitive processes . The contents of cognitive products tend to be more easily accessible to consciousness than schemas and cognitive processes.

The explanatory model of Beck's depression

For Beck, psychological disorders derive from cognitive distortions (errors in cognitive processes), which are wrong ways of thinking that appear in the form of automatic thoughts (cognitive products) in certain situations, and that cause negative emotional states and inappropriate behaviors. So, These cognitive distortions are caused by irrational beliefs or personal assumptions learned in the past , that unconsciously condition the perception and interpretation of the past, present and future.

People suffering from depression become vulnerable to certain situations, and it is important to understand that in this theory it is not suggested that cognitions are the cause of depression or other emotional disorder, what is really postulated is the primacy of symptoms: the activation of negative schemas and the consequent cognitive distortions would be the first link in the chain of depressive symptoms.

The cognitive triad in people with depression

When a person faces a certain situation, the scheme is the basis for transforming the data into cognitions. Since the schemes that are activated in a certain situation will determine how the person responds, in people who suffer from a depressive disorder will activate inappropriate schemes.

So, The first depressive symptom is the activation of cognitive schemes related to the vision of oneself, the world and the future . People with negative schemas or a tendency to make errors of processing will be more prone to suffer from depressive disorders.

The cognitive triad it refers to three characteristic schemes that induce the depressed individual to perceive himself, the world and the future from a negative point of view. Of these three cognitive patterns derive the rest of depressive symptoms that suffers.

The characteristic scheme suffered by depressed people, which Beck calls the depressive triad, consists of a negative view of:

  • Itself : People who suffer from depression are often considered deficient and useless.They attribute the mistakes they make to a physical, mental or moral defect of their own, and think that others will reject them.
  • Of the world : They feel like they are socially defeated and do not live up to the demands, nor do they have the capacity to overcome obstacles.
  • From the future : The person suffering from depression thinks that this situation can not be modified, so it will always remain that way.

Cognitive distortions

The negative schemas activated in depressive individuals they are led to commit a series of errors in the processing of information that facilitate biases and allow the depressed to maintain the validity of their beliefs. Beck listed a series of cognitive distortions, are the following:

  • Selective abstraction : it is about paying attention to only one aspect or detail of the situation. The positive aspects are often ignored, giving more importance to the negative aspects.
  • Dichotomous thinking : events are valued in an extreme way: good / bad, white / black, all / nothing, etc.
  • Arbitrary inference : it consists in drawing conclusions from a situation that is not supported by the facts, even when the evidence is contrary to the conclusion.
  • Overgeneralization : consists in extracting without sufficient base a general conclusion of a particular event.
  • Magnification and Minimization : tendency to exaggerate the negatives of a situation, an event or an own quality and to minimize the positive.
  • Personalization : refers to the habit of relating the facts of the environment with oneself, showing susceptibility.
  • Catastrophic vision : anticipate events and, among the different options, think that the worst will always happen.
  • You should It consists in maintaining rigid and demanding rules about how things should happen.
  • Global labels : consists of putting global labels on ourselves or on others without taking into account other nuances.
  • Culpability : it consists of attributing to oneself or to others all responsibility for events, ignoring other factors that contribute to them.

Automatic thoughts

Therefore, when activating these characteristic schemes of depressive persons, the cognitive products will be maladaptive and negative .

The automatic thoughts they are the internal dialogues, thoughts or images that appear in a given situation, and patients usually consider them true statements not distorted. These show a series of characteristics and are the following:

  • They are specific messages or propositions referring to a specific situation
  • They will always be believed, regardless of whether they are irrational or not
  • They are learned
  • They enter spontaneously into consciousness, dramatizing and exaggerating the negative of the situation
  • They are not easy to detect or control, because they appear in the flow of internal dialogue

What is Cognitive Therapy? (Beckian Therapy) (June 2022).


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