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Cognitive Perspective & Depression


Cognitive perspective, in the context of psychology and depression treatment, refers to the set of techniques and research models that emphasize the brain's learning and behavioral process. It is used alone or alongside medications to treat depression by understanding the motivations behind depressed behavior.


The cognitive perspective emerged as a direct response to the Pavlovian model of psychology as being purely reactive. Pavlov, in his famous experiments with dogs, showed that their behavior could be understood and modified by training them to react to a stimulus. Behavior was therefore simply a response to life's events.

In contrast, the cognitive perspective views behavior as inherently part of the cognitive process, whereby action is taken not simply as a knee-jerk response to events, but as a result of deliberate thought processes. In this, it has its roots in the early Enlightenment work of David Hume and John Locke. Just as they argued that a person was defined by their life experiences, and that these experienced would influence future behavior, modern proponents of the cognitive perspective see life experience as actively shaping the way we process information, make mental representations, and establish beliefs about the future.

Early Emotive Therapy

Among the earliest use of the cognitive perspective as a therapeutic model came in the 1970s, when Albert Ellis started promoting rational emotive therapy. As a combination of methods not entirely unlike today's cognitive behavioral therapy, emotive therapy involved changing a person's self-destructive beliefs into positive ones. It was thought that these beliefs were the primary reasons behind most psychological disorders, and that by confronting them on a fundamental level, such diseases could be cured.

The method employed by Ellis was called the ABC model, and examine the activating event, its associate belief, and the consequences, negative or positive, or that belief. Following this model, it was possible, Ellis argued, to show how thought processes could, if inappropriate, cause pathological symptoms like depression.

Cognitive Therapy

Around the same time Ellis was formulating his ABC, a psychologist named Aaron Beck developed what he called cognitive therapy, which asserted that depression and anxiety were caused by certain anxiety-promoting thinking patterns. His solution was to encourage the patient's own examination of those patterns using the Socratic teaching method. By providing no answers, but instead drawing them out of the person using repetitive questioning, the Socratic method helped patients to see for themselves where many of their self-destructive tendencies came from.


Modern cognitive behavioral therapy owes much to the work of Ellis and Beck, and seeks to improve patients lives by helping them identify root causes of depression in their own thought processes, and then replace those with more constructive thoughts. In this way, we are defined more by how we think than by how we react to the world.

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