Aaron Beck Cognitive Therapy

the cognitive psychology it is a branch of psychology which deals with the processes by which the individual acquires knowledge of the world and becomes aware of his environment as well as of its results.

Cognitive models pay particular attention to cognitions, including them in the broad sense of ideas, personal constructions, beliefs, images, attributions of meaning or significance, expectations … and therefore studies basic processes such as memory, attention, concept formation, information processing, conflict resolution, etc.

Cognitive psychology and cognitive therapy in context

Modern cognitive psychology was formed under the influence of related disciplines, such as information processing, 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 fields: learning, social psychology or psychotherapy. The latter is called cognitive therapy.

It is important to distinguish between cognitive psychology and cognitive psychotherapy, because although the two are related, the most prominent authors of cognitive psychology have moved their major developments away from psychotherapeutic centers. In contrast, cognitive psychotherapy devised specific methods (treatments) based on certain developments in cognitive psychology (cognitive science), as clinical researchers quickly saw the usefulness of these principles in their application to different people with different problems. to improve their quality of life, solve human problems and treat mental disorders.

Pioneers of Cognitive Therapy: Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis

The pioneers in the systematic use of the basics of cognitive science for the treatment of psychological disorders were psychologists. Albert Ellis I Aaron Beck. The first called its therapeutic application model “Rational Emotional Behavioral Therapy” (TREC) and the second called its method of therapy “Cognitive therapy“.

It is important to note that there are different models of cognitive therapy, and these are two of the best known for their great practical utility. Cognitive therapies are not “techniques”, but applied sciences, so they generally consist of a more or less defined method to achieve goals depending on their initial theoretical approach.

Aaron Beck’s model primarily focuses on automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions, and Albert Ellis’ rational emotional behavior therapy primarily focuses on irrational beliefs. There are similarities between the two, but also differences, for example: Beck’s cognitive therapy is based on collaborative empiricism; instead, Ellis uses Socratic dialogue or debate as his primary therapeutic tool.

Aaron Beck Cognitive Therapy

The main idea of ​​cognitive therapy is that people suffer for their interpretation of events and not for themselves. Therefore, Aaron Beck, interested in the treatment of depression, developed a model for the treatment of this pathology which then spread to other disorders.

Beck’s model, as well as Ellis’s, they are an important part of the strategies used in cognitive behavioral therapy therefore, through cognitive restructuring, an individual is able to modify the way of interpretation and subjective evaluation of the facts and situations that he experiences, and is thus stimulated to modify the disordered patterns of thought and to see and see the world in a more realistic way. and adaptively.

This type of cognitive (or cognitive-behavioral) therapy is called “relational or cognitive restructuring therapy”, but there are also other types of cognitive therapy such as: training therapies to cope and manage situations or therapies problem solving.

Cognitive organization according to Beck’s model

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

Cognitive patterns

In Beck’s theory, lcognitive processes are the mechanisms for encoding, storing and retrieving information existing in cognitive structures (Diagrams). Therefore, they are part of cognitive processes: perception, attention, memory and interpretation. In the processing of information, they can produce errors in any of their phases which result in an alteration or a distortion in the evaluation and interpretation of the facts, what the author calls “distortions”. cognitive ”.

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

For Beck, “schemas are stable cognitive models which form the basis of the regularity of interpretations of reality. People use their schemas to locate, encode, differentiate and assign meanings to the data of the world ”. In other words, the diagrams are subjective mental constructions, more or less stable, which act as filters during the perception of the world by the individual.

Patterns come largely from previous (usually early) learning experiences and can remain dormant until triggered by a significant event interacting with them. It is one of the most important concepts provided by cognitive psychology, and although it was originally introduced by Frederick Bartlett to refer to memory-related processes in the social context, it has also been used, between others, by Jean Piaget in the field. education, Beck (with Ellis) introduced him to the field of psychotherapy.


Beliefs are the content of patterns and are the direct result of the relationship between reality and them. They are everything we believe in, they are like internal maps that allow us to make sense of the world, are constructed and generalized by 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, convey a sense of identity, and are idiosyncratic.
  • peripheral beliefs: They are influenced by nuclear power, so they are located between them and cognitive products or automatic thoughts. They consist of attitudes, rules and assumptions (or assumptions). Therefore, they influence the way we see the situation, and this point of view influences the way an individual feels, acts or thinks.

Cognitive products

Cognitive products refer to thoughts and images that result from the interaction of information provided by the situation, patterns and beliefs, and cognitive processes. The content of cognitive products is generally more readily accessible to consciousness than cognitive patterns and processes.

Beck’s explanatory model of depression

For Beck, psychological disorders are the result of cognitive distortions (errors in cognitive processes), which are bad ways of thinking that appear as automatic thoughts (cognitive products) in certain situations, and that cause negative emotional states and disorders. inappropriate behavior. Therefore, these cognitive distortions are caused by irrational beliefs or personal assumptions learned in the past, Which unconsciously condition the perception and interpretation of the past, present and future.

People with depression become vulnerable to certain situations, and it is important to understand that this theory does not suggest that cognition is the cause of depression. depression or other emotional disorder, what is actually postulated is the primacy of symptoms: the activation of negative patterns and the cognitive distortions that result from it would be the first link in the chain of depressive symptoms.

The cognitive triad in people with depression

When a person is faced with a certain situation, the diagram is the basis for transforming data into cognitions. Because the patterns that are activated in a given situation will determine how that person reacts, in people with depressive disorder, inappropriate patterns will be activated.

Therefore, the first depressive symptom is the activation of cognitive patterns related to his vision, the world and the future. People with negative tendencies or a tendency to make treatment errors will be more likely to suffer from depressive disorders.

the cognitive triad it refers to three characteristic patterns which cause the depressed individual to perceive himself, the world and the future from a negative point of view. From these three cognitive models derive the rest of the depressive symptoms from which he suffers.

The characteristic pattern from which depressed people suffer, and which Beck calls the depressive triad, consists of a negative view of:

  • himself: People with depression often find it deficient and unnecessary. They attribute the mistakes they make to a physical, mental or moral fault of their own and believe that others will reject them.
  • Of the world: They feel socially defeated and are not up to the demands, nor do they have the capacity to overcome obstacles.
  • From the future: The person with depression thinks that this cannot be changed, so they will always be.

cognitive distortions

Negative patterns activated in depressed people they lead them to make a series of errors in the processing of the information provided by the prejudices and allow people with depression to maintain the validity of their beliefs. Beck listed a number of cognitive distortions, they are as follows:

  • 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 extremely popular: good / bad, white / black, all / nothing, etc.
  • arbitrary inference: It consists of drawing conclusions from a situation that are not supported by the facts, even when the evidence is contrary to the conclusion.
  • over-generalization: It consists in drawing without sufficient basis a general conclusion on a particular fact.
  • Magnification and minimization: Tendency to exaggerate the negatives of a situation, event or its own quality and to downplay the positive.
  • customization: Refers to the habit of relating the facts of the environment to oneself, to be sensitive.
  • catastrophic vision: Advance events and, among the various options, think that the worst will always happen.
  • you should: It is about maintaining rigid and demanding rules about how things should be.
  • global labels: It consists in putting global labels on ourselves or on others without taking into account other nuances.
  • guilt: It consists in attributing to oneself or to others all the responsibility for events, ignoring the other factors that contribute to it.

automatic thoughts

Therefore, by activating these characteristic patterns of depressed people, cognitive products will be inappropriate and negative.

Automatic thoughts are the internal dialogues, thoughts, or images that appear when faced with a given situation, and patients often view them as true, undistorted statements. These have a number of features and are as follows:

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

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