COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY – The cognitive treatment of emotional disorders

Cognitive Psychology

it is based on experimental investigations and has profoundly influenced psychotherapy and clinical psychology in recent decades.

It is necessary to provide a definition of the cognitive system.

The term cognition refers to those functions that allow the body to collect information from its environment, to analyze it, evaluate it, transform it and then use it to act in the surrounding world. In finalistic and evolutionary terms, cognition allows you to adapt the organism’s behavior to the needs of the environment or to modify the environment according to your needs. The analysis of cognitive functions, which are: perception, intelligence, reasoning, judgment, short and long-term memory, internal representations, language, thought, can be conducted on a structural level when one wants to explain the “modalities” of functioning, or “dynamic” level when you want to explain the reasons for a certain functioning.

So by cognitive system we mean both the whole range of functions and mechanisms that allow you to process thoughts, and the content of the thoughts themselves.

The premise underlying cognitive theories and cognitive psychology inherent in emotional disorders is that a dysfunction results from the personal interpretation of individual events. The behaviors and emergence of symptoms associated with these personal interpretations also contribute to maintaining the emotional problem itself.

One of the most important approaches of cognitive psychology is based on the principle that “irrational thoughts” are the source of emotional disturbance and its behavioral consequences. Irrational thoughts essentially consist of imperatives (“I have to”), commands and assumptions that lead to illogical elaborations of emotional disturbances. These beliefs are often reinforced by society or by the relational system in which the person suffering from it is inserted. These beliefs and assumptions then become relatively stable representations of the consciousness stored in the memory system and are called “schemes”. The term “scheme” indicates a structure which, once activated, influences the process of processing information by modeling the interpretations of experiences and conditioning behavior.

Cognitive therapy focuses on the patient’s symptomatological problem; the symptom it brings to the session. The treatment is inspired by an empirical collaborative approach in which patient and therapist work together, driven by a scientific mentality, with the aim of solving the concrete aspects of the problem. It is therefore assumed that man is a fundamentally rational being. In this model the concept of unconscious is not foreseenwhich is considered a non-scientific theoretical construct and therefore simply does not exist. Continuous monitoring of the patient’s symptoms is a way to verify the hypotheses regarding the factors that favor the maintenance of the patient’s problems and to evaluate the effects of therapeutic interventions. Simple experiments, in the form of behavioral strategies, are used as a means of making the patient understand the cognitive approach and to test dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs. The exercises to be performed at home are an essential part of the treatment, in fact, patients are encouraged to perform specific tasks between one therapeutic session and another.

In cognitive psychology, therapy is a conceptually guided treatment, in accordance with the therapist’s assessment of the case. A wide range of cognitive, interpersonal, behavioral techniques are used for this purpose; many of these techniques are commonly used in other clinical areas but are only used here if they are justified, within the cognitive conceptualization of cases, as adequate and useful tools. These procedures are often proposed for specific purposes and modified in order to maximize cognitive changes at the level of beliefs or judgments.

It is possible to consider cognitive therapy as an educational process, where new information is proposed in a didactic way, even if the main way of presentation remains that of the Socratic method, that is to say a series of questions aimed at probing understanding and understanding. patient experience and to reshape his interpretations and beliefs. Socratic dialogue has the advantage of establishing an atmosphere of collaboration and allows to reach a detailed knowledge of the patient’s “internal reality”, the first, fundamental goal towards the effective modification of mental contents.

Classical cognitive therapy consists of 10-15 sessions on a weekly basis, the initial sessions of a cognitive psychology treatment must be dedicated to evaluating and conceptualising the case, formalizing the relationship with the therapist and introducing the cognitive model. As the treatment progresses, the emphasis shifts to the modification of the behaviors and knowledge involved in maintaining the disorder. In the initial phase, attention is focused on the symptoms that the therapy aims to alleviate. Once the symptoms are alleviated, the treatment can focus on the underlying causes, conceptualized as risk factors as they predispose to possible relapses. The conclusion of the work follows a gradual trend, as the completion of the weekly sessions are followed by some maintenance sessions more diluted over time. Longitudinal checks are also recommended 6-12 months after the end of the treatment, to ensure that the therapeutic benefits are maintained over time. This as a purely theoretical approach since, obviously, the specificity of the individual factors, the possible chronicity of the disorder, thedue  to any secondary benefits on the primary ailment, it may require changes to the proposed scheme which also cannot be applied on complex and organic problems.

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