Individual Differences


Cognitive Therapy & Personality

Last updated:
21 Oct 2003

The clinical applications of the cognitive information-processing model have been very significant. Examples:

1. Beck’s therapeutic approach: Aaron Beck a former disillusioned psychoanalyst developed a cognitive approach therapy. His work uses the idea of cognitive restructuring or reframing. His therapy is best known for treatment of depression. In Beck’s view, people need to put aside their faulty schemas and to build new ones. They need to cast aside their self-defeating, negative thoughts and substitute positive self-talk i.e. cognitive restructuring or reframing. They should also focus on information in the present situations rather than rely on their preconceptions. He used the term cognitive triad to refer to negative thinking about three important aspects of life = the self, the world and the future.


Clients may be asked to write down their negative thoughts as follows:

1. Briefly describe an upsetting situation
2. Identify the emotions associated with it.
3. List the corresponding automatic thoughts.
4. Provide rational responses to the dysfunctional ideation.
(Bedrosian & Beck, 1980, p. 142)

Or a refinement of this, called reattribution training, aims to correct negative attributional styles (A.T. Beck, Rush, Shaw, et al., 1979). Patients are taught to explain their difficulties to themselves in more constructive ways e.g. “It wasn’t my fault it was the circumstances”; “It’s not my whole personality that’s messed up it’s just that I’m no good with strangers”.

There are several other therapeutic techniques within the cognitive framework and many have been found to help people move toward more effective self-management.

2. Self-Regulation:
One of the leading theorists in this area is Fred Kanfer (Kanfer & Busmeyer, 1982; Kanfer & Schefft, 1988). Kanfer (believes that much human behaviour isn’t well-monitored, rather it occurs automatically in response to certain cues. Therapy is partly an effort to break down this automaticity. The person needs to think about things more and monitor what’s going on in any given situation. Obviously it would be a problem to monitor our behaviour for the rest of our lives so the idea is to make the “new and better” responses, the automatic ones.

Kanfer believes that the way to get these new and better automatic responses is to create different schemas and that this can be done through things such as role-playing, and imagery.

The cognitive self-regulation perspective views therapy as a dynamic feedback system with a hierarchy of goals. People in therapy are taught to use feedback from decisions they’ve put into practice to make further decisions and then monitor the effects of behaviour change. The aim is to make the client a better problem-solver.