Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders

By Tess Thompson

Cognition is the psychological result of perception, learning, and reasoning. Cognitive therapy is among various other psychotherapies used for treating emotional disorders, focusing on treating errors in the thinking process. The emphasis is on helping the patient to be more positive. Mental attitude depends mostly on the thinking process, and cognitive therapy attempts to change faulty and unrealistic thinking by influencing emotions and behavior.

Among philosophical studies of the causation of diseases, Beck’s cognitive theory of depression is regarded as the most verified. His theory states that bias towards negative interpretation is the basic cause of emotional disorders, including depression. It further states that the negative bias is acquired due to a negative internal representation (schema) of the world that is primarily formed during the process of growing up. The primary causes behind the acquisition of this negative bias are loss of parent/s, excessive criticism by parents or teachers, rejection of peers, and other serious negative life events. The negative bias is activated when a person comes across events that may resemble (even remotely) the event that initially led to the formation of the schema. Negative schemas are strongly related to a cognitive bias; the former leads to the latter while the latter fuels the former. Cognitive biases such as arbitrary inferences, selective abstraction, and over-generalization-- along with a tendency to highlight negatives and underplay positives-- ends up fueling the originally formed negative schema.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is thus based on the inference that an optimistic view of life can change the negative influence of life events. A positive mental attitude can work as a balance to the negative stimulation of events like death, financial loss, or other negative events that may activate the existing schema.

This does make imminent sense, because it is our thoughts that give rise to negative emotions and cause emotional reaction. For example, grief is the direct outcome of our worry about the future and the problems that we are likely to face due to the changed circumstance. Negative thoughts or a cognitive bias towards negativity is liable to produce prolonged sadness and sorrow that may ultimately overwhelm and lead to clinical depression.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps the affected individual to realize that his/her perception of the external stimuli is distorted. The therapist is trained in understanding the feelings of other people and how to identify with the various individuals. The efforts of the therapist are directed towards explaining to the patient how certain perceptions are not appropriate or real. The therapist also tries to impress the positivity that can be derived from events that appear to be extremely negative. Once this is accomplished, the patient is then taught that it is possible to control opinions and thoughts to eventually attain the ability to check emotional responses.


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