Beck’s Cognitive Triad
One of the most influential theories of depression is Aaron Beck’s (1987) cognitive theory. According to this theory, vulnerability to depression develops during childhood when basic beliefs about the self are formulated. Beck says that basic beliefs about the self are person’s self-schemas.
Negative self-schemas have little influence until they are activated by the threat that accompanies significant life stressors. When a person suffers a loss in the arena that he or she values most, negative self-schemas become activated. In line with the negative-schemas the person’s thinking and interpretation of events becomes distorted, producing what Beck terms “automatic thoughts”. Soon the person begins to see neutral or even pleasant events in a negative light. As a consequence of these cognitive processes, the person begins to experience sadness and other symptoms of depression, including loss of motivation and interest in activities.
Beck and his colleagues (1979) identified several cognitive distortions or “thinking errors” that characterize how depressed people process information. These cognitive distortions make it difficult for depressed people to make realistic judgments about events, often causing them to ignore positive feedback, which in turn perpetuates their depression. This style leads to what Beck and his colleagues (1979) refer to as primitive modes of organizing reality. Ultimately the thinking of depressed person is characterized by a cognitive triad of automatic, repetitive and negative thoughts about the self, the world and the future. Depressed individuals see themselves as inadequate and therefore, worthless; they perceive the world’s demands as overwhelming and they dread that the future will bring nothing but more of the same.