The cognitive approach to explaining depression - Beck's theory

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  • Beck's cognitive theory of Depression
    • Faulty information processing
      • E.g: focusing on the fact that another person won £10 million rather than you winning £1 million
      • When depressed we look at the negatives rather than positives
      • Tend to blow problems out of proportion and think in black and white terms
    • Negative self-schemas
      • A schema is a 'package' of ideas and information developed from experience
      • Self-schema is a package of information we have about ourselves
      • Act as a mental framework for interpretation of sensory information
      • We use schemas to interpret the world, if we have a negative self-schema we interpret ourselves in a negative way
    • The negative triad
      • Person develops a dysfunctional view of themselves because of three types of automatic negative thinking
      • a) Negative view of the world
        • "The world is a cold hard place"
        • Creates the impression that there is no hope anywhere
      • b) Negative view of the future
        • "There isn't much chance the economy will get better"
        • Creates the impression that there is no hope anywhere
      • c) Negative view of the self
        • "I am a failure"
        • Enhances any existing depressive feelings because they confirm the existing emotions of low self-esteem
    • Aaron Beck (1967) suggested a cognitive approach to explaining why some people are more vulnerable to depression than others
    • In particular, it is a person's cognitions that create this vulnerability
    • Evaluation
      • It has good supporting evidence
        • Grazioli and Terry (2000) assessed 65 pregnant women for cognitive vulnerability and depression before and after birth
        • Found that women judged to have high cognitive vulnerability were more likely to suffer with post-natal depression
        • Clark and Beck (1999) reviewed research on the topic and concluded there was solid support for cognitive vulnerability factors
        • Cognitions can be seen before depression, suggesting Beck may be right about cognition causing depression
      • It has practical application in CBT
        • Cognitive aspects can be identified and challenged
        • Components of the negative triad
        • Therapist can encourage patient to test whether they are true
        • Translates well into successful therapy
      • It doesn't explain all aspects of depression
        • Some patients are angry
        • Some suffer hallucinations and delusions
        • Cotard syndrome (delusion that they are zombies)
        • Beck cannot easily explain these aspects of depression


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