Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Self-Administered Optimism Training: Mechanisms of Change in a Minimally Supervised Psychoeducational Intervention

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Self-Administered Optimism Training: Mechanisms of Change in a Minimally Supervised Psychoeducational Intervention

Article excerpt

Pessimistic explanatory style is a robust predictor of future depressive symptoms. There were 112 college students with a pessimistic explanatory style identified from a larger screening sample. Participants were randomly assigned to Self-Administered Optimism Training or a no-treatment control group. Participants assigned to SOT received 10 minutes of instruction regarding self-monitoring of how they assigned causes to events in their lives and "brainstorming" alternate causes, and then sent off to record daily diaries that captured this information every day for 28 days. The SOT participants demonstrated significant drops in pessimism in three separate but related assessments. Further, findings indicated a significant correlation between cognitive change and depression symptom change for the SOT group but not the control group. Although preliminary in nature, findings from the current study demonstrate the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of an inexpensive, prophylactic treatment for depression that utilizes a minimum of therapist contact.

Keywords: cognitive therapy; explanatory style; prevention

Cognitive diathesis-stress theories of depression (Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978; Beck, 1967) have advanced our understanding of the etiology, maintenance, and treatment of depression. These theories posit that individuals who adopt a depressogenic view of the world are vulnerable to depression when confronted with negative life events. Specifically, vulnerability for depression in Beck's (1967) theory is associated with dysfunctional attitudes and negative schema regarding the self, world, and future. Similarly, the reformulated learned helplessness theory (Abramson et al., 1978) and hopelessness theory (Abramson, Metalsky, & Alloy, 1989) conceptualize risk for depression in terms of a depressogenic or pessimistic explanatory style (the tendency to view negative events as arising from stable, global, and internal causes). The current investigation sought to evaluate the efficacy of an intervention designed to reduce pessimistic explanatory style and thereby reduce a hypothesized vulnerability for depression. Given that this intervention involved little actual therapist contact (only 10 minutes of instruction), we also sought to determine the efficacy of an intervention that is largely independent of nonspecific treatment effects such as the therapeutic alliance and empathy. Prior to a detailed discussion of the intervention itself, it is first necessary to understand the mechanism of risk for depression that it attempts to interrupt, the various theoretical permutations of the depressogenic cognitive style.

Beck's Theory and Cognitive Therapy

Beck's (1967, 1987) theory posits that depressed affect is heavily influenced by recurrent automatic thoughts with negative content. These thoughts arise from deeply held dysfunctional beliefs or schemas. When these schemas have content relating to the self, world, and future they are referred to as a negative cognitive triad, such as "If I ever fail, no one will love me," and these schemas become activated when a negative life event, such as failing an important test, primes these beliefs. Beck identified that schemas and automatic thoughts, and the depressed affect that results from them, tend to be self-perpetuating as the depressed person both attends more to negative events in their lives and interprets events that occur after the onset of the depressed mood negatively in light of their own dysfunctional cognitions.

Beck's cognitive therapy of depression (CT; Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979) is one of the most empirically validated and efficacious treatments (Blackburn & Moorhead, 2001; DeRubeis & Crits-Cristoph, 1998). One of the primary mechanisms by which CT is proposed to effect change is by teaching depressed individuals to analytically monitor their own negative thoughts, independently of their current mood state, in such a way that they can identify and challenge the source of these thoughts. …

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