The fact is that Aaron Beck, a psychologist, and professor, has developed a cognitive therapy that demonstrates great efficacy for the treatment of depression. In addition, when their ideas have been adapted to other problems of psychological therapy they have also shown a high degree of effectiveness.

Aaron Beck says that, “if our thinking is simple and clear, we are better equipped to achieve our goals.” Is it possible that we get too complicated on many occasions? It may be, or maybe it is that our worldview is distorted almost unintentionally, right?

The Cognitive Therapy and Aaron Beck

We can establish cognitive therapy as a psychological branch that deals with studying and knowing the processes by which the individual becomes aware of the world and its environment, as well as the results of it.

In this way, a cognitive model puts special attention on beliefs, meanings, expectations, ideas … That is, on the filters we use to perceive reality or the mechanisms we use to work with this information and with which we have stored in our brains.

Thus, the role played by memory, the formation of concepts, attention, the resolution of conflicts, the processing of information is very important and this is reflected in the different cognitive models.

Aaron Beck has been a pioneer in this type of therapy. Others like Albert Ellis have also developed similar models. However, Beck focuses on the study of cognitive distortions, while Ellis opts for irrational beliefs.

It is not easy to define Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy. However, we will try to make a complete and understandable summary. In this sense, the psychologist bases his model on the personal suffering of an individual by the particular interpretation of the events, but not of these in themselves. Hence, Beck showed great interest in how this interpretation plays an important role in depression.

To treat depression and other disorders, Beck proposes a cognitive restructuring. We talk about getting the patient to be able to modify the models he uses to interpret. For this reason, he studies the situations experienced and the subjective evaluation of the facts.

Once the schemes with which the individual works are known, in therapy they are worked on so that they lose rigidity. Through this treatment, the patient sees himself and finds schemes to see the world and his environment in a way that is more beneficial to his mental health.

“Cognitive therapy seeks to alleviate psychological tensions by correcting misconceptions and self-cues. By correcting erroneous beliefs, we can lower excessive reactions “

Important details of Beck’s cognitive therapy

The model proposed by Beck argues that before a situation, individuals do not respond automatically but before emitting an emotional or behavioral response they perceive, classify, interpret, evaluate and assign to the stimulus based on their previous assumptions or cognitive schemes (also called nuclear beliefs).

To fully develop Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy would be a work, extensive and in need of nuances, that would exceed the pretensions of this article. However, we can summarize some of its most important points.

  • The cognitive organization: In the Beck model, the individual issues an interpreted and evaluated response to a situation, so that we do not act automatically. What Beck says is that behind the vast majority of our behaviors there is a particular style of processing information – based on our cognitive schemes – that has a great influence on this behavior.
  • Cognitive schemes: These refer to the structures that contain the mechanisms of coding, storage, and retrieval of information. Here memory, interpretation, perception, and attention are included. That is, how do you perceive something concrete and how do you interpret it?
  • Beliefs: For Beck, cognitive schemes are essentially composed of beliefs. We would say that they are maps that allow each individual to see the world, make sense of it and build structures through experience. Some are nuclear, absolute, identity and lasting; others, on the other hand, are peripheral and encompass all those that arise from the circumstances and the emotional state of the person at that particular moment.
  • Cognitive products: Beck refers to those thoughts that result from the interaction with the information that a specific situation provides. Also interact in this case beliefs, schemas and cognitive organization itself. That is, how the individual acts according to their way of being and seeing the world.

Aaron Beck and Theory of depression

The cognitive model structured by Beck is a model originally designed for depression. Precisely for that reason, it has been in the framework of this where more has been developed.

Beck’s model aims to explain the origin of depression and highlight the influence of the type of information processing that we do in the emergence of this, beyond the circumstantials events. You can see a scheme of this model below.

Theory of depression

In the scheme, you can see how the cognitive schemes, of which we spoke earlier, act as seeds of depression. These schemes, which come into play because of the need that imposes the stress of working mentally quickly, would produce the cognitive biases that would have a great influence on the processing of information.

In addition, it would be these that finally would configure a triple negative vision – about oneself, with respect to the environment and about the future – that would precipitate the depression.

“If our thinking is bogged down by distorted symbolic meanings, illogical reasoning, and erroneous interpretations, we become, in truth, blind and deaf”

-Aaron Beck-


Cognitive Triad

One of the central concepts of Beck’s theory is the Cognitive Triad. As the author describes: “consists of three main cognitive patterns that induce the patient to consider himself, his future and his experiences in an idiosyncratic way”.

  • Consideration towards oneself: It consists of the negative view that the patient has of himself. Everything that negative happens to him he attributes to himself and, in this way, confirms his clumsiness and inability to face life. The patient is also underestimated, criticized and feels useless. He is convinced that he does not have the necessary elements to achieve happiness.
  • Your experiences: The patient tends to interpret what happens to him in a negative way. Think that the world only puts obstacles impossible to overcome. Despite being able to interpret the situations in a positive way, the patient tends to interpret everything in the worst possible way, almost as a way of confabulating the world against him.
  • The future: The patient’s vision of his future is negative. Every project he undertake will think that it is destined to fail.

The importance of Beck

The importance of the model proposed by Beck transcends the descriptive. So this way of understanding depression has given rise to a particular way of treating it. A way that is based precisely on the work, schemes, biases and cognitive triad so that the same person, in the same circumstances, can leave the pit without hope that always surrounds the depression.

On the other hand, and for our day to day, the Beck model can always be a great starting point to start any personal transformation. Think that on many occasions we can’t choose the circumstances in which we have to develop, but we can choose how we process the information that comes from those circumstances and the behaviors that we issue in response.


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