This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 13 table of contents.

Beck's Therapy for Depression

Aaron Beck, director of the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, is widely described as a cognitive behavior therapist. Like Ellis, Beck was trained in traditional psychoanalysis but became disillusioned with it and began developing his own therapy in 1959. Like Ellis, Beck's therapy is built around the idea of eliminating irrational self-talk and encouraging realistic evaluations of situations.

What is Beck's theory of depression?

How is it supported by the findings of Carver and Ganellen?

In Beck's theory, trouble occurs when a person sees things both negatively and inaccurately. An unrealistically negative or depressed world view becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It becomes a reality in which a person dwells, even though it is the person's creation. Beck treats the person's thoughts as behaviors that can be changed. That is why he categorizes his therapy as a cognitive behavior therapy.

Carver and Ganellen (1983) identified patterns of thinking which seem to aggravate the problems of chronically unhappy people:

1. They try to meet impossible standards.

2. They are too harsh on themselves in particular cases of failure.

3. They overgeneralize, allowing particular failures to make them feel worthless.

How does Beck approach therapy for depression?

Beck's therapy is very similar to that of Albert Ellis. Damaging thoughts are challenged firmly. Following is an excerpt from a treatment session by Beck (1976, p.250) that sounds just like it came from Ellis.

Client: I have to give a talk before my class tomorrow and I'm scared stiff.

Therapist: What are you afraid of?

Client: I think I'll make a fool of myself.

Therapist: Suppose you do... Why is that so bad?

Client: I'll never live it down.

Therapist: "Never" is a long time... Now look here, suppose they ridicule you. Do you die from it?

Client: Of course not.

Therapist: Suppose they decide you're the worst public speaker that ever lived... Will this ruin your future career?

Client: No... But it would be nice to be a good speaker.

Therapist: Sure it would be nice. But if you flubbed it, would your parents or your wife disown you?

Client: No.... They're very sympathetic.

Therapist: Well, what would be so awful about it?

Client: I would feel pretty bad.

Therapist: For how long?

Client: For about a day or two.

Therapist: And then what?

Client: Then I'd be Okay.

Therapist: So you're scaring yourself just as if your life hangs in the balance.

Having exposed the errors of the client's thinking, the cognitive behavior therapist turns to confidence-building activities, shaped through behavior rehearsal or imagined success situations. Negative thoughts and self-perceptions are challenged when they arise. More realistic and positive perceptions are suggested to replace them.

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