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Dr. Aaron Beck’s Theory for Cognitive Therapy

Because Dr. Aaron Beck’s therapy targeted cognitive processes, he called his technique “Cognitive Therapy“. He defined several elements that form its theoretical foundation, as follows:

Automatic thoughts are fast, reactive assumptions or conclusions that individuals make in response to internal and external events. Without intervention, they can go unnoticed or unchecked, making them seem true or at least plausible.

Negative beliefs (or “schemas”) that encompass automatic thoughts encode negative, dysfunctional assumptions about the world—making them more deeply rooted in everyday cognition.

Negative beliefs: A self-reinforcing triad 

In a breakthrough, Dr. Beck defined a “self-reinforcing triad” of negative beliefs. Three categories of negative beliefs are mutually reinforcing to maintain status quo and prevent positive change. They concern the: 

Self: Prone to failure

World: Adverse and critical

Future: Containing failure

Dr. Beck concluded automatic thoughts produced by negative beliefs are inherently illogical. They may involve: 

    • Overemphasizing an event’s significance or its consequences 
    • Taking as fact a feeling or emotion 
    • Drawing unevidenced assumptions about an event
    • Cherry-picking evidence that confirms negative beliefs

Learn more about Cognitive Therapies offered at CFI…



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