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Beck's cognitive theory of depression
Beck's cognitive theory of depression is a model which suggests that depression is the
result of an individual having an overly negative interpretation of the world around them.
This negative interpretation of the world may be due to past childhood experiences
which included mistreatment, such as abuse, neglect, criticism and rejection. These
forms of mistreatment may result in the individual developing negative schemas (a
negative view of the world). These negative schemas lead to the individual creating
negative biases towards negative thinking consequently resulting in them becoming
depressed and they are constantly seeing the world in a negative way. This aspect of
beck's theory has been supported by the fact that there is a significant link between
negative thinking and depression which has been found in many research studies.
However, many psychologists argue that there may be a link between negative thinking
and depression, but it is difficult to establish cause and effect between the two. This is
because depressed individuals are generally more negative in the way in which they think
compared to non-depressed individuals; but it is not known whether the depressed
individual was negative in their thinking before they were depressed, or after. However,
this does support Beck's idea that depressed individuals are overly negative in the way in
which they think.
Beck identified cognitive biases which individuals have that lead to them becoming
depressed. These include overgeneralisation; this is where an individual sees a single
incident as a global event. For example, an individual may fail an exam and think that
they will fail at everything else. Another cognitive bias is magnification; this is where an
individual exaggerates a certain incident. For example, they may accidentally scratch
their car and think that they are a terrible driver, even if it was not their fault. Another
cognitive bias which Beck suggested is personalisation; this is where an individual blames
themselves for a negative event which was not their fault. For example, if an individual
gets divorced, they may think that it was entirely their fault, when in reality, it was not.
These cognitive biases show a strong link between depression and negative, faulty
thinking and therefore support Beck's theory of depression.
Beck also identified a negative triad; this is where depressed individuals held negative
biases and schemas of their self, the world and their future. However, this has led some
psychologists to argue that the process of thinking in depressed individuals has been
explained, but the disorder has not been explained. Some psychologists also argue that
this theory is simplistic and deterministic in the sense that it has over simplified the
theory of depression; Beck's theory is also seen to be reductionist as it fails to
acknowledge that other factors, apart from cognitive ones, may be the cause of
depression. This therefore goes against Beck's theory that cognitive factors were the
only ones to influence depression.
Although there is little research evidence provided by Beck, the idea of Cognitive
behavioural therapy supports his theory of depression. This is because the therapy uses
cognitive methods to treat depression. Also, research has found that Cognitive
Behavioural therapy is as effective in treating depression as anti-depressants; this
supports the fact that depression is a cognitive disorder, just as Beck claimed.