The cognitive approach to
The cognitive approach to psychopathology deals with how people deal with and cope with
the world around them. It emphasises that cognitive distortions e.g. dysfunctional thought
processes and the absence of sufficient thinking and planning may be the root for many psychological
disorders. Cognitive distortions are as followed:
Cognitive distortions refer to the internal organisation of information. For example, most
people think of dogs as pets, they are able to do tricks, a good source of companionship. But
for people who are afraid of dogs, they view dogs from one direction, objects of fear.
Cognitive content is the material the person is processing. We may focus on the negative
aspects of the situation or focus on the positive.
Cognitive product is the conclusions that people come to when they have processed all the
information. For example, someone might conclude that they are not liked by someone.
Beck and Ellis were concerned to how little we paid attention to the underlying cognitive processes
while approaching a treatment for a psychological disorder. So they developed the cognitive
approach to psychopathology as a combination of behaviourism and cognitive models of abnormality.
The approach as some basic assumptions:
Behaviour is heavily influenced by schemata. Schemata are organised systems of knowledge
that humans use to understand and interpret the world. Many of the schemata relate to how
we see ourselves, for example, `I am confident' or `I am good at relationships'.
Schemata develop on early experience. Traumatic experiences early in life may cause the
development of negative schemata, vice versa.
Negative schemata, when activated lead to negative automatic thoughts (NATs). NAT, in
the cognitive approach to depression negative schemata lead to NATs.
Negative automatic thoughts are unconscious and rapid responses to certain situations. They can be
identified as cognitive biases. Cognitive biases: in the cognitive approach to abnormality, biases are
irrational thoughts that can lead to depression. They include behaviours that maximise failures and
minimise success. These biases stop people from focusing on the positive side of life and reinforce
negative views. Here are some examples of these biases:
Minimisation: the bias towards minimising success in life. E.g. saying that an excellent exam
result is down to luck on the day.
Maximisation: This is the bias where someone maximises the importance of trivial failures.
E.g. failing to complete a Sudoku is a sign of general stupidity.
Selective abstraction: This is a bias focusing on only the negative aspects of life and ignoring
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All or nothing thinking: this is where someone thinks you are either a complete success or a
complete failure and there is nothing in between. So you are either a success or a failure,
instead of not being good at some things and okay at others.
A clear example of the cognitive approach is Beck's (1979) model of depression. It involves three
A negative view of one's self i.e. `I am undeserving'.
A negative view of the world, i.e.
But therapies based on the cognitive approach can be effective for anxiety disorders and
The idea of the schemata is quite vague and lacks detail. It is also not clear how irrational
thoughts should be defined.
This approach takes in no account of the biological or genetic factors of psychopathology. But
does emphasise the role of cognitive factors.
Sometimes depression can lead to faulty thinking, not the other way round.