The way we think, the way we process the information from our environment and turn it into our own mental schemes, conditions us when it comes to feeling and acting. Such is the weight of our thoughts that the generation of distorted ideas can lead to some kind of psychological condition such as anxiety or depression.

This fact was the driving force behind the creation of the different types of cognitive therapies . Thanks to them, the patient can learn effective skills and strategies that help him/her to modify the way he/she thinks and, therefore, the way he/she feels and behaves.

What is cognitive therapy?

The term “cognitive” refers to the person’s thinking processes, which include attention, learning, planning, judgment and decision making . Cognitive therapy, therefore, is a type of psychological therapy that considers that some mental and emotional disorders or conditions are closely linked to cognitive processes.

This means that, according to the theories that frame the different types of cognitive therapies, people suffer and develop psychological conditions because of the way they interpret the environment and the events that occur to them and not because of the nature of these events themselves.

Therefore, the mission of psychological intervention through cognitive therapy is that the patient is able to find flexible, functional and adaptive interpretations of the life events he or she experiences.

Other interpretations of cognitive therapy describe it as the practical implementation of cognitive psychology, which supports a psychological conception in relation to different mental processes and from an intrapsychic point of view. In other words, it is understood that there are a number of different elements within each person’s mind that make it different from others.

Main types of cognitive therapy

The choice of one type of cognitive therapy over another is often subject to the recognition of the different needs of the patient. The different types of cognitive therapy are only intervention techniques, but form a whole network of applied science that can take different forms depending on the objectives to be achieved.

Throughout the history of psychology, different types of cognitive therapies have been developed. However, there are two that stand out above the rest, these are Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy, which emphasizes automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions; and Albert Ellis’ rational behavioral-emotive therapy, in which irrational ideas are worked on.

Both cognitive therapies encompass a whole set of therapeutic techniques and strategies, as well as a methodology that distinguishes them. But always following a scientific and rigorous method.

1. A. Beck’s Cognitive Therapy (TC)

Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy is a type of psychotherapy, developed in the 1960s, by American-born psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. This type of therapy is based on the cognitive model, which states that thoughts, feelings and behaviours are closely connected and therefore people can overcome their difficulties and achieve their goals by identifying and changing useless or incorrect thoughts.

To achieve such a modification, the patient must work in collaboration with the therapist to develop all kinds of skills to identify the distorted thoughts and beliefs and then modify them.

In the early days of Beck’s cognitive therapy, he focused on the treatment of depression by developing a list of mental errors or cognitive distortions that lead to depressed mood . These included arbitrary inference, selective abstraction, excessive generalization or amplification of negative thoughts and minimization of positive ones.

However, with the advance in the practice and research of this type of therapy it has been observed that it can become extremely effective in the treatment of many other psychological and mental disorders among which we find:

  • Addictions.
  • Anxiety disorder .
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Phobias.
  • Low self-esteem .
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Weight loss.

Method: cognitive restructuring

The way in which the professional gets the person to learn and practice these skills independently is known as cognitive restructuring.

Cognitive restructuring consists of an intervention technique in which the patient identifies and questions his irrational or maladaptive thoughts , known as cognitive distortions. Steps to carry out cognitive restructuring include

  • Identification of problematic thoughts .
  • Identification of the cognitive distortions within these thoughts
  • Questioning, using the Socratic method, of these distortions.
  • Development of a rational argument for these distorted thoughts.

2. Ellis Rational-Emotive-Behavioral Therapy (ERT)

Halfway between cognitive therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy is Ellis’ rational-emotive-behavioral therapy. This was first presented in 1950 by the American psychotherapist and psychologist Albert Ellis, who was inspired by the teachings of different Greek, Roman and Asian philosophers to develop this type of cognitive therapy.

Also known as rational therapy or rational emotional therapy, it consists of an active, philosophical and empirical direction therapy that focuses on the resolution of emotional and behavioral problems and disturbances; and whose objective is to make the patient lead a happier and more satisfactory life.

One of the fundamental premises of the TREC is that the emotional changes that people experience are not due to the very circumstances that provoke them , but to the way in which the views of these circumstances are constructed through the use of language, beliefs and meanings.

In the TREC, the patient learns and begins to apply this premise through the A-B-C-D-E-F model of psychological disturbance and change. The A-B-C model holds that it is not adversity (A) that causes the emotional consequences (C), but also the irrational thoughts that the person (B) creates in relation to adversity. Adversity can be understood as both an external situation and an internal thought, feeling, or other event.

Thanks to this type of therapy, the person can identify and understand the illogical or erroneous interpretations and assumptions that he or she makes and thus question them (D). Finally, the creation (E) of healthier ways of thinking leads people to new feelings (F) and behaviours more appropriate to the circumstance (A) being addressed in therapy.

Through the use of various methods and cognitive activities based on Socratic dialogue and debate, the patient can achieve a new way of processing information; that is, a much more favourable, constructive and emotional way of thinking.

Relationship to cognitive-behavioral therapy

If we consider the name, we can deduce that cognitive therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy have certain common aspects. Traditionally, a difference is made between both types of therapy, taking into account the level of inference and the theoretical starting framework, either cognitive or behavioral.

The classical cognitive current supports the idea that within the cognitive and thought processes we find an explanation for our behaviour. On the other hand, according to the behavioural approach, the motives or reasons for our behaviour can only be supported by the environment and not by cognitive arguments. Therefore, both have different starting points.

However, the premises of the cognitive-behavioural approach establish that there is an intimate relationship between behaviour and cognition. It is based on the idea that cognition, behaviour and affect or emotion are interrelated, and that by making a change in any of the three we will also manage to modify the other two aspects of the person.