Cognitive School

Cognitive School

Cognitive psychology is the most popular school of psychology today.  Cognitive psychologists focus on our thinking patterns.  They are concerned with how our mind processing information and the schemas we form (see Piaget).  Unlike other schools of psychology, cognitive psychologists use the scientific method to analyze thought patterns.  If you break up with your significant other and go into a great depression, the cognitive therapist would say that you have learned somewhere along the line to act depressed when you end a relationship (you have a schema for a breakup).  They would focus on changing your schema to get you out of the funk.  They might say things like "there are other fish in the sea" or "you will find somebody better".  If they can change the way you view a situation (your schema) then they help you function more efficiently in society.  If you think about it, we are all cognitive therapists.  We all give advice to our friends by trying to change their perspective of a dire situation.

Cognitive Therapies

As cognitive therapists locate the cause of psychological problems in the way people think, their methods of therapy concentrate on changing these unhealthy thought patterns.  Cognitive therapy is quite often combative (aggressive) as therapists challenge the irrational thinking patterns of their clients.  In other words, the therapist often give advice using strong words in an attempt to break the unreasonable thoughts of the client.

The two most famous cognitive therapists are Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck.



  • Albert Ellis created what we know as Rational Emotive Therapy (REBT).  Therapists employing REBT look to expose and confront the dysfunctional thoughts of their clients.  For instance, someone suffering from a social phobia (speaking in public) might voice concern over being publicly embarrassed when giving a class presentation.  By using REBT, a therapist would question both the likelihood of such embarrassment occurring and the impact that would result.  The therapist’s goal would be to show the client that not only that his or her failure an unlikely occurrence but that, even if it did occur, it would not be such a big deal.

  • Aaron Beck is the biggest guy in this field and he created Cognitive Therapy, a process most often used to treat depression.  This method involves trying to get clients to engage in pursuits that will bring them success.  He is often quoted as saying "we have to take the dark sunglasses of depression off and see the world for the bight, wonderful place it is".  Beck explains depression using the cognitive triad, people’s beliefs about themselves, their worlds, and their futures.  People suffering from depression often have irrationally negative beliefs about all three of these areas.  Cognitive therapy aims to make these beliefs more positive.