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The Cognitive Model

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The main idea of the cognitive model is that it’s the individuals way of thinking that creates the disorder (abnormality), and that it’s the distorted and irrational thinking that is the cause rather than maladaptive behaviour Warren and Zgourides (1991) describe that it was the ‘must’ thoughts of these individuals that create the disorder, for example ‘I must perform well otherwise it will be awful’.

Kovacs and Beck (1978) underlined some key ideas of the cognitive model, they said that ‘from commonplace processes such as faulty learning, making incorrect inferences on the basis of inadequate or incorrect information, not distinguishing adequately between imagination and reality’. From this we are able to create a bond between behaviourists and cognitive approaches to define abnormality.

It is assumed by the cognitive model that it is patients’ experiences that cause the distorted and irrational thinking, for example patients’ whom may of have diseases, such as bronchitis (serious respiratory disease), may create a panic disorder and greatly exaggerate their internal physiological state (e.g. fast heart rate)- Verburg et al., 1995.

Following from this another assumption of the cognitive model is that distorted thinking is maintained within a patient because he/she is unable to put their biases of reality of reality to the test, in other words ‘face their fears’. An example of this is social phobics that seem to avoid social situations as they have excessive fears about the opinions of others. The way for social phobics to over come this disorder is for them to face their fears and put themselves in a social situation so that they are able to put there ideas to the test, and over come their phobias.

This suggests that to overcome abnormal behaviour we have to alter the faulty thinking that has caused it. To do this we have to replace the irrational thinking, with rational thinking. The common steps to do this by cognitive therapy were explained by Beck & Weishaar (1989). ‘Cognitive therapy consists of highly specific learning experiences designed to teach patients. 1. To monitor their negative, automatic thoughts (cognitions); 2. To recognize the connections between cognition, affect, and behaviour. 3. To examine the evidence for and against distorted automatic thoughts; 4. To substitute more reality-oriented interpretations for these biased cognitions; and 5. To learn to identify and alter the beliefs that predisposes them to distort their experiences’.

A technique made to make the patients thoughts more positive and rational is called cognitive reconstruction. The therapist may ask questions to the patient about their beliefs, and their beliefs in a realistic situation to identify how out of place those beliefs really are. Also Meichembaum’s (1976) stress inoculation training is also used as an example of cognitive therapy.

The most dynamic and well-respected cognitive therapist is Aaron Beck. He is best known for his work on developing cognitive theories for negative and unrealistic beliefs of depressed clients. His theory of abnormality is the cognitive triad; this is created by the individuals’ beliefs about themselves, the future and the world around them. Most clients see themselves as inadequate and worthless, and that the way they are could never create them happiness in the future, concluding that they will be stuck in their ‘worthless’ situation forever.

Beck et al. (1979) said that the first stage of cognitive therapy (collaborative empiricism- involves the therapist and the client to agree to the identified problem of the disorder and produce goals for the therapy. The client’s beliefs are then tested by the therapist or by the client interacting in some forms of behaviour between each session. For this it is hoped that the client will realize his/her faults in thinking, and their irrational and unrealistic thoughts.

The cognitive model is very helpful in defining abnormality, as distorted and irrational beliefs are very common between patients that have mental disorders, and is central to overcoming anxiety and depression disorders (Beck & Clark 1988). However like most abnormality definitions it seems to be very limited to the number of mental disorders that it is able to cure, one reason for this is that it identifies only with internal, mental factors and the power of their own thinking. Furthermore this theory may seem to aggressive to clients as it assumes that it’s the clients fault for their disorder and clients could fine this stressful or not accept responsibility. Also some of the beliefs that a client may have could be desirable to their current lifestyle, and if tampered with may do the patient more harm than good. Also the cognitive approach ignores genetic factors altogether and barely any attention is paid to the social and interpersonal factors, also of the individuals life experiences that could help to create a mental disorder.

It seems that all the models of abnormality are practically correct and co-inside with certain disorders, but for us to have a complete understanding of abnormality we need to merge information from all the models to get a greater understanding (multi-dimensional approach).

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