Cognitive Therapy is based upon the principle that the way we perceive situations influences how we feel about them. It involves learning how to identify and replace distorted thoughts and beliefs, ultimately changing the associated habitual behaviour towards them. It is usually focussed on the 'here and now' and is a problem-solving orientated treatment.
Cognitive Therapy was first developed in the 20th Century by American psychiatrist Aaron Beck who realised what usually held his clients back most were negative thoughts and beliefs such as "I'm stupid" or 'I can't do that". Beck initially focused on depression and developed a 'list of errors' in thinking, which he believed could maintain depression. The list included errors such as magnification (of negatives), minimisation (of positives) and over-generalisation.
Albert Ellis, another therapist,came to similar conclusions about his clients' negative beliefs and their tendencies to 'castastrophise' or 'awfulise'. Ellis's work also became known as a form of Cognitive Therapy, now referred to as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). When individuals are distressed they often cannot recognise that their thoughts are distorted, so Cognitive Therapy helps them to identify these thoughts and reassess them. For example, if an individual makes a small mistake they may think "I'm useless, I can't do anything right." Strongly believing believing this may cause them to avoid the activity where they made a mistake which leads to confirmation of this belief. Addressing these thoughts, and reassessing them can lead to more flexible ways of thinking, allowing the individual to feel more positive, be less likely to avoid situations and be able to challenge their negative beliefs.
The cognitive approach came into conflict with the behavioural approach at the time, which focused solely on assessing stimuli and behavioural responses to it. However, during the 1970's behavioural techniques and cognitive techniques joined forces to create Cognitive Behavioural Therapy