Cognitive Therapy was originated by psychiatrist Aaron Beck in the 1960s to solve mental problems — clinical depression initially — that in his opinion traditional psychiatry had been unable to successfully treat. This theory of mental disorders focused on the kind of thoughts — or cognitions — that people who compulsively pick their fingers suffer from — “errors” in thought such as:
- Selective Abstraction — For example when a man arbitrarily focuses on one explanation for why he fights with his wife, a reason that may be barely related with his larger marital difficulties, while ignoring more foundational problems with the relationship
- Arbitrary Inference — For example when a woman is passed over for a job promotion and automatically attributes it to sexism in the workplace, without considering other possible explanations
- Over Generalization — “All or nothing” thinking of the kind that says “I’m a failure at everything”, or “I won the game this time, but is was pure luck” or “The teacher said she liked my essay, but she was just being nice”.
Although Cognitive Therapy, together with Behavioral Modification Therapy, is a common ancestor of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — it was for many years in competition with Behavioral Therapists who believed that Beck’s focus on people’s thoughts was useless in treating depression and other illnesses.
The complex interplay of thoughts and behavior — together with emotions — finally won out as the preferred psychotherapeutic treatment for things like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or the so-called spectrum of OCDs like Impulse Control Disorder, Self-Injury, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
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