Lewinsohn’s behavioral theory of depression

If we think of depression as one of the most serious and common mental disorders in the world, we will realize that it is a problem that must be tackled.

And for this part of the solution, you have to analyze the problem and try to disentangle the causes. In this sense, many authors throughout history have attempted to generate hypotheses and theories about the origin of depression.

At the psychological level, one of the best known is Lewinsohn’s behavioral theory of depression, Which we will discuss in the next lines.

    Depression: a brief description of the problem

    In order to understand Lewinsohn’s behavioral theory of depression, we must first understand the type of problem this author’s theory seeks to explain: depression.

    It is understood as depression one of the main mood disorders (And one of the most common mental problems in the world) which is characterized by the persistence for most of the day and most days of at least two weeks of sad mood and / or the presence of anhedonia (loss of the ability to experience pleasure and satisfaction), as well as other symptoms such as hopelessness, passivity, problems sleeping, loss of appetite and weight, loss of sexual libido or thoughts death and suicide.

    It is also common for clinophilia or a tendency to stay bedridden and inactive. The person is usually unable to see able to get out of this situationOften with constant ruminations of an aversive kind and seeing himself, the world and the future as something hostile and negative.

    Depression is a disorder that generates great discomfort and is deeply disabling In all areas. At a socio-relational level, it is common for depressed people to gradually isolate themselves, and although initially the environment tends to show long-term support and understanding, there may be distancing from the person. . For work and academics, it is perceived a great loss of output.

    There are many theories that attempt to explain the causes that can lead to depression, including Lewinsohn’s behavioral theory of depression. Let’s see what it is.

    Lewinsohn’s behavioral theory of depression

    Lewinsohn’s Behavioral Theory of Depression is one of the leading theories in the field of psychology that seeks to explain why depression occurs. This theory starts from the behaviorist current, By focusing on the explanation of depression from the association and conditioning processes related to the conduct of behaviors and the consequences of these actions.

    Specifically, Lewinsohn’s behavioral theory of depression states that the main cause of depression is the existence of a lack of reinforcement of the pipes issued by the subject in most aspects of his life.

    This implies that the actions that the person performs they do not imply gratification or satisfaction in most areasSomething that will ultimately lead to less and less behavior. As a result, the subject will gradually become more and more passive and over time most of the symptoms of depression will appear.

    The fact of not seeing in a contingent way that the actions that he performs imply or result in something positive that prompts him to repeat it, especially in contexts where the person would expect to obtain them, will generate that the rots activity level. Furthermore, cognitively, the person may begin to experience emotions such as guilt, low self-esteem and negative thoughts derived from attributing this lack of reinforcement to internal and stable elements.

    Explanation of the causes

    The reasons why this reinforcement may not occur may be multiple, and in this theory it is considered that they may be both environmental and dispositional.

    On the one hand, we can find that the environment or environment surrounding the subject does not sufficiently reinforce in itself (for example a cold or even hostile environment to the subject’s actions), that the person does not have sufficient skills to obtain them or has difficulties in doing so (especially at the social level), or that the subject’s perception of what he finds reinforcing may be biased.

    In addition, depression would not start from scratch: as Lewinsohn proposed in a reformulation of his original theory, at the onset of depressions there is usually a triggering event that changes the person’s usual behavior and from which begins a decrease in reinforcement (and later in subject activity).

    Negative expectations and negative feelings towards oneself also appear, generating deep discomfort and affectation in different vital areas. A sequence of causes would be established which would eventually lead to less and less activity and strengthening and the emergence of depression.

    Risk and protective factors

    Lewinsohn’s theory also analyzes the existence of certain factors that can facilitate or slow down the onset of depression: risk factors and protective factors.

    In the first case, being very often in aversive situations, A precarious socio-economic situation, acting as a caregiver (especially in the case of young children), having previously suffered from depression, having low self-esteem and being a woman are considered to be factors that may increase the likelihood of suffer from depression.

    On the other hand, frequent exposure to positive situations, perceived as competent, high self-esteem and a good social support network are protective factors, which makes it difficult for depression to appear.

      Why is the depressive state maintained?

      In addition to providing an explanatory framework that can guide us in establishing the causes of depression, Lewinsohn’s theory it aims to explain the mechanisms by which it is maintained over time.

      Also from a behavioral point of view, the author states that in the first moments after the onset of depression, it is common for the patient to receive understanding and attention from the surroundings and the environment, so that his condition is strengthened assuming an improvement in his situation.

      However, this implies that the discomfort is potentiated transforming the subject’s behaviors into something that generates positive stimulation (The attention received), with which it remains in force.

      On the other hand, when the environment stops paying attention to the subject, he begins to receive a less positive stimulation, which favors on the other hand the maintenance of a depressive behavior to the lack of reinforcement of the behavior which motivated the appearance of the depression. .

      Bibliographical references:

      • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
      • Belloch, A .; Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2002). Manual of Psychopathology, vol. I. McGraw-Hill. Madrid.
      • Lewinsohn, PM, Gotlib, IH and Hautzinger, M. (1997). Behavioral treatment of unipolar depression. In VE Cavall (ed.), Handbook for the Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Psychological Disorders, vol. 1 (pages 493-541). Madrid: 21st century
      • Vázquez, FL, Muñoz, RF, Becoña, I. (2000). Depression: diagnosis, theoretical models and treatment at the end of the 20th century. Behavioral Psychology, 8 (3): 417-449.

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