Cognitive Theory – Depression

Cognition is all forms of knowing and awareness, such as perceiving, conceiving, remembering, reasoning, judging, imagining, and problem solving. Along with affect (any experience of feeling or emotion) and conation(being proactive), it is one of the three traditionally identified components of the mind. In cognitive theory, negative thoughts and beliefs are seen as major causes of depression. Pessimistic and self-critical thoughts can torture a person with depression. The negative triad of depression includes a negative view of oneself, the world, and the future. The negative triad is associated with the schema or belief an individual develops through experience in childhood. Some of the early life experiences that shape a child’s negative belief system are loss of parents, social rejection, parenting, abandonment, any form of abuse (sexual, economic, physical, emotional, mental, etc.), domestic violence, neglect, bullying, and discrimination.

Aaron Beck was an American psychologist who emphasized that thinking patterns that develop in childhood or early experiences lead to a long-lasting belief system or cognitive schema that shapes an individual’s view of themselves, the world, and others. The schemas are different from conscious thoughts. Schemas are the underlying set of beliefs that enables the person to make sense out of the experiences that he or she goes through. These beliefs remain out of awareness; they are potential and are activated when the individual encounters a stressful situation.

A tendency to process information in a negative way is known as a cognitive bias. People with depression overly pay attention to the negative statements that they receive and play the incident again and again in their minds. Depressed people tend to remember the negative information more than the positive information; this leads to habitual thoughts in reacting to stimuli and automatic negative thoughts. These automatic thoughts are processed negatively, which results in emotional distress.

Cognitive therapy is aimed at altering and rationalizing negative thinking patterns. The therapist helps the individual challenge the beliefs that they have developed over the years. For example. When the client says, “I am useless and fit for nothing because anything I do ends in failure,” The therapist will ask for evidence that fully supports the statement made by the client. The therapist will also look for evidence that contradicts the statement. In cognitive therapy, the client is thought to be aware, monitor their self-talk, challenge distorted beliefs, and learn strategies to promote realistic and positive assumptions about themselves, the world, and others.

Cognitive restructuring is a method that is used to help people change the way they think. The clients are encouraged to engage in positive events, such as social events, creative activities, or physical activities.

Daily monitoring can be done by the individuals using cognitive therapy. For example:
Date/Time Situation Negative emotion Automatic Thought Alternative thought After considering the alternative thought note the emotion felt
Tuesday afternoon I made a mistake on an assignment and the teacher insulted me in-front of other teachers. Embarrassed, sad and  ashamed I always mess up everything I do. I am not good in anything.  I am learning the new methods and mistakes are common. I can do a better job next time as I know the right way to do. Relief



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