Cognitive Therapy




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Current Studies


* Attention Bias Modification for Transdiagnostic Anxiety

Assessment Only:

* Emotion/Physiology

* Emotion Regulation in Depression Study


What is Cognitive Therapy?

     Cognitive Therapy is a term used to describe a type of psychotherapy which is structured, often short-term, and oriented toward problem-solving.  Unlike some other forms of psychotherapy, cognitive therapy is also designed to be a collaborative effort between the patient and the therapist.  The therapist's goal is to train the patient in the skills and knowledge needed to become independently capable of learning how to manage his or her mood.  This kind of talk therapy was originally developed as a means of treating the symptoms of depression, and was based on the observation of Aaron Beck, M.D.  When people became clinically depressed, their thinking was often biased by a negative outlook on themselves, their interactions with others, and their view of their future.  Dr. Beck, one of the founders of this cognitive approach, discovered that he could help people gain control of their mood disorder by guiding them to spot the kinds of thinking that were associated with feeling depressed and testing for errors in thinking.

   In many instances, Dr. Beck found that his depressed patients were likely to repeatedly perceive themselves, their experiences and their future options in distorted, negative ways.  For example, it is common for depressed patients to view their efforts in all or nothing terms, as either 'perfect" or "terrible".  Patients are also prone to "catastrophizing", which is making guesses about what might happen in the near future and treating these hunches as if the worst had already occurred.  They also frequently feel overwhelmed by problems, viewing them as impossible to tackle.  They often see such stresses as measures of their inadequacy and as judgments against their worth.

    It was found that once such negative perceptions and conclusions were identified, they could be evaluated as to whether they were truly accurate or distorted, as well as whether they were helpful to the person's mood or likely to worsen their mood.  Unlike the notion of "just think positive thoughts", Dr. Beck showed people how to identify and test their negative thinking with facts so as to focus on problem solving in a step by step fashion and those beliefs that promote healthy actions and feeling happy again.

    As Dr. Beck trained his patients and ultimately trained other therapists in how to benefit from this inquiry into the thinking and actions that promote healthy mood, Cognitive Therapy has become a major therapeutic tool in the management of depressive disorders.

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This website was last updated 05/09/2014.

 2005 Mood Disorders Treatment and Research Program (MDTRP), Department of Psychiatry, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC), UPMC Health System