Since the conception of the psychological field, a researcher’s primary goal has been the understanding of the human brain and the motives or impulses behind a person’s actions. Many psychologists have had theories about what motivates an individual to act in a certain way, or to make certain decisions. Sometimes they are not even conscious of the decision being made because, in a way, their surroundings have trained them to expect a certain outcome. Cognitive behavioral theory is the culmination of the work of many psychologists and psychiatrists who have attempted to understand the human brain, as well as how to manipulate our actions over the years. For instance, Aaron T. Beck’s used of cognitive behavioral therapy used methods of early 20th century behavioral therapists and 1960’s cognitive therapists. Ivan Pavlov is best known during this time for manipulating the reactions of animals. Most famously, he is remembered for training a dog to salivate on command by ringing a bell, feeding it a treat, and recording it salivation. Before long, the dog would salivate once the bell was rung, simply expecting a treat. This feat gave the psychiatric world proof that not only could reactions be manipulated, but our mind’s expectations could be changed, as well. Cognitive behavioral therapy began to change as discoveries like this were made. . Stephen Bandura attempted to show the world, through his social learning theory, that people do not only learn from their surroundings, but also from one another. They observe each other and their environment, learning what to expect and how to act. Bandura’s theory has been called the bridge that connects social and cognitive theories . Early cognitive approaches helped the theory progress toward helping neurotic disorders, but did little when treating milder cases, such as depression, or the later discovered ADHD . B.F. Skinners radical behaviorism was losing luster due in part to the fact that cognition was being better understood thanks to Ellis and Beck. Cognition had been rejected previously, but the progressive psychiatric crowd had begun to accept what Pavlov had seemed to know all along: Cognitive behavioral theory was a viable treatment. Ellis and Beck both used behavioral interventions; Ellis preferred rational therapy while Beck preferred free association during psychoanalysis. Ellis experienced some success, but Beck found that patients reported thoughts on the edge of consciousness they were not aware of when they were having a normal conversation. The result was an emotional reaction that came from cognitions, and it was an enormous break for the theory. Ellis called the reactions “automatic thoughts .
Many concepts have gone into the initial foundation and stabilization of the cognitive behavioral theory. For example, the cognitive structure, or the way we function in life based on past experiences is important to the theory. The cognitive structure, or our schemata, as it is sometimes referred to, insists that we rely on our past experiences to make future judgments . For instance, if an individual is used to failing or succeeding, they may continue to feel used to failing or succeeding and may create what is known as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” in order to make this structure true. More importantly, if an example has been set for the individual, or if they feel inadequate without an initial feeling or without an example being set, they are more likely to instill a core belief based on this relevant childhood data. This cognitive conceptualization will lead to conditioning, or the assumption, that the individual is good enough or not good enough, that they will succeed or not .
Ellis’s ABC model is also a concept established within the cognitive behavioral theory. A stands for the antecedent, or the preceding thought. Typically, this is a thought that pops into one’s head without the conscious efforts of the individual. It is caused by relevant childhood data, linked to the maladaptive schema discussed in the previous paragraph. B stands for the individual’s belief that he or she is good enough or not good enough despite comments they may receive in contrary of their core beliefs. Again, this is linked to a maladaptive schema since comments are often disregarded as false; the individual normally believes their core beliefs based on their relevant childhood data. C stands for the consequences of whatever actions may come from the resulting beliefs. If the individual believes they are bad, despite comments, the consequences will likely be negative. In contrast, if the individual believes they are good, despite comments, the consequences will be positive .
The family members involved in the case study could all be subject to the cognitive behavioral therapy. All but the small girl, Maria, have maladaptive tendencies which leave them open to negative consequences under the ABC model, though the father, Roman, and his mother Gabriella are perhaps slightly better adjusted than the rest. However, the son, Juan, is the center of the case study. The family’s emotional maladaptive habits, as well as his paternal relative’s lack of drive for education and the disconnection he experienced with his mother and his maternal grandparents during his youth are the root of his relevant childhood data. He experienced an immediate disconnection with his mother, due to her severe post-partum depression. Shortly after his birth, his father was called away to manage the family store due to a death in the family. This left Juan with his grandmother, who proved important to him, but did not support him as a family should support him. As Juan entered school, he found it difficult to concentrate and was often disruptive. Later he was diagnosed with ADHD. Medicine was prescribed, but even his father gave up on his private education, calling it a waste of time. All of these things slowly led to Juan’s core belief centering on him being a failure. His mother never said unkind things to him, but his grandmother was the only one that urged him to stay in school. The only place he found comfort and happiness was with his friends who were in a gang. School also came very easy to his younger sister, Maria. Juan’s coping strategy was to find something he was good at, as well. In this case, it was art. However, because he was not good in school, he put his talents to use on the street, tagging for his gang and getting into trouble. Being accepted by the gang helps him cope with his beliefs that he is not going anywhere in school, because according to the case study, he truly believes he will wind up dead or in prison before he is 21. It would explain the situations in which he appears to go looking for trouble, skipping school, and engaging in gang activity.
Ellis’ ABC model can also be used to assess Juan in the case study. Juan’s antecedent, or preceding thought, is usually a negative one. Based on his actions, it will likely be something negative about himself or his own actions. He stops himself from trying at anything by telling himself he will never succeed anyway. The case study quotes him as saying his sister got the brains in the family, while he got the looks. Defamation of character like this is common in individuals who expect to fail . Juan’s belief is that he is not good enough. This belief is also based on his actions, as well as his thoughts. It could be because he has received more negative critiques from schools than help, or it could be that his father called his education a waste of money and sent him to public school. Watching his younger sister, somebody he knows he shares genetics with, may also influence his actions. It could be possible that he believes if it is not as easy for him as it is for Maria, he should not try at all, that there is another path for him. Negating trying to succeed as his sister has, or already having decided to fail means he must take another course of action. Because his antecedent is so negative, so are his actions. He chooses to get involved with the Latin Kings, a drug smuggling gang, and use his artistic talents to tag the gangs mark all over town. C, the consequences of his actions, will likely begin with expulsion. He is bad in school because he does not bother to try. He is moved forward though he had low-test scores, simply because the teachers move him forward. This also provides him with little incentive to try. During the time of the case study, he attended just enough days of school to not be expelled, primarily at the request of his grandmother. If he is not expelled, he will most likely be killed or imprisoned, ending up a lifetime criminal with the gang he has become involved with. Essentially, from a young age he has seen that school was difficult for him and he received little praise while his younger sister received trophies, certificates, and nice comments. He began to believe he was not good enough. The consequence of this was a lifetime of not trying, and asserting himself as the perpetual underdog.
While cognitive behavioral theory has proved to help many people struggling with small and large issues, as well as helped us understand them, there are still holes in it. For example, cognitive behavioral theory focuses on the assumption that an individual is having distorted thoughts, and changing is similar to a correct or incorrect worldview, otherwise known as positivism. The idea of positivism within cognitive behavioral theory attempts to cleave an individual’s thoughts down to right and wrong, without acknowledging that each of us experiences abstract though, and we base what is right and wrong solely on what has happened to us. Much like cognitive schema, we judge the world around us based on what we have seen. While many of us have seen the same things concerning the “right” worldview and the “wrong” worldview i.e. laws, some do not see the world that way and to insist they must change simply because their thoughts are wrong may not be allowing the individual the cognitive space they need to heal or think. Fundamentally, one cannot change a core belief by suffocating it . Similarly, despite Ellis’ antecedent thought, or Beck’s “Automatic Thought,” which are both unconscious and reflexive based on experience or unawareness, the emphasis of the theory is still placed on conscious though, rather than unconscious thought . It is difficult to understand why because so much of our relevant childhood data would be cloaked in our subconscious, something that Pavlov would have appreciated. For cognitive theory to focus so desperately on conscious thought in order to change primary processes makes no sense. Juan, for example, probably has little idea of why he feels the way he does about his schoolwork or himself, but if he were guided into automatic thought or his antecedent thoughts were analyzed, one gets a better idea of why he is acting the way he does.
In sum, the cognitive behavioral theory was groundbreaking with its several concepts, but it still has a lot of ground to cover. Ideas such as maladaptive schema and Ellis’ ABC model are of use to individuals who are suffering from lesser problems like low self-esteem, ADHD, and possibly depression, like Juan in the case study. Other concepts concerning CBT can be of service to those suffering for disorders that are more neurotic. Despite how much the concepts help, there are still several issues with cognitive behavioral theory. It should focus less on positivism. Juan is a prime example that sometimes a right and wrong worldview are not the issue, but instead simply how we feel about ourselves and where we fit into the world. The theory should also focus more on unconscious though. Ellis and Beck have both showed us how powerful unconscious thought can be when surmising the actions of an individual and attempting to understand how they are feeling.
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