Started by Aaron Beck in the 1960s, cognitive therapy is a form of psychotherapy. It deals with assisting individuals with issues associated with emotions and behavior that are unhealthy from a mental health perspective. The cognitive therapist will work with the individual to identify areas of thinking that are causing the individual to feel unwell. The therapist will then work with the patient to develop ways to change these behaviors through relating to others in different ways.
A cognitive therapist will use a collaborative approach with the patient. The first step will be to ask questions of the patient in order to understand the root cause of what is bothering the patient. Then the therapist will test the individual's beliefs to see if they are distorted or unrealistic. From there, the therapist will challenge the distorted thoughts to address how this thinking can change.
Part of Beck's work was linked to depression. He developed a list that demonstrated negativity in thoughts that led to a depressive state. Many individuals were found to exhibit similar behaviors in that they generalized certain situations, magnified negative interactions and minimized positive scenarios. All of these ways of thinking led to the situation requiring assistance from a therapist.
The discussion between patient and cognitive therapist deals with underlying feelings and thinking. Once these feelings are expressed out loud, the therapist can work to break these feelings down and find a way to change them. The therapist works with the patient to develop new ways of thinking that assist in turning the negative or unrealistic thoughts into ones that reflect a more accurate form of reality. Another area that the therapist looks at is reducing avoidance of the underlying issue because, if avoided, the issue will return in the end.
Beck noted that an essential aspect of therapy was to understand how a patient perceived and subsequently responded to information in their daily lives. This is very important in the treatment stage, as it leads to providing assistance that will foster sustainable results over the long term. Relating aspects back to an individual's daily life is the key element to cognition.
Beck wrote a series of books that highlighted depression and treatment through cognitive therapy. These books were published in the late 1970s and highlighted the symptoms and treatment of a number of disorders and issues.
Cognitive therapy is similar to other forms of therapy including rational emotive therapy (RET -- now sometimes called rational emotive behavior therapy, or REBT), developed by Albert Ellis.
Prior to the works of Ellis and Beck, much of the thinking behind psychotherapy was based on science versus emotion. Behavioral treatment grew in popularity in the 1970s and there was then a movement toward cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy evolved and came together with behavior-modification techniques to form cognitive-behavioral therapy.
As popularity for cognitive therapy techniques grew, three major forms evolved – cognitive therapy, rational emotive therapy (RET) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive therapy is rooted in the belief that depression is a result of issues within a patient's mindset, as described above. A cognitive therapist will identify these distortions and develop methods to change this line of thinking. In contrast, rational emotive therapy (RET) uses the concept of irrational thought as the foundation for the origin of most problems. In this case, the therapist will work with the individual to come to the realization that the thinking is unrealistic and, sometimes, irrational, with the hope of eliminating the faulty thinking. Currently, CBT is the most popular form of cognitive therapy. By merging the behavioral and cognitive sides of therapy, the patient will receive a holistic approach to therapy that will benefit his or her overall well-being. A lot of emphasis is placed on understanding the root cause of the patient's issues and working with the patient to change these behaviors for long-term mental health.