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Description: You know what Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is, don’t you? It is, perhaps the most widely used approach to therapy taken by psychologists treating clients with depression, anxiety and many other symptoms of mental illness or the lack of wellbeing. I suspect you also know something of what CBT involves: The challenging of irrational, overgeneralized thought or beliefs and the use of faulty reasoning. Lots of research data has been collected on the impact of CBT and it reasonable strongly shows that CBT seems to work at reducing the symptoms of mental illness and getting folks back on track. So, CBT works. However, if you had to come up with a clear account of HOW CBT works, would you be able to do so? Would it surprise you to hear that there are quite a few psychologist/researchers suggesting that psychology and psychological research has not come close to reasonable answering this very question of HOW CBT works? Think about that for a minute and then read the article linked below for an overview of this CBT theory critical perspective.

Source: CBT is wrong in how it understands mental illness, Sahanika Ratnayake, The Conversation.

Date: March 1, 2022

Image by brenkee from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, how did the arguments regarding the “how it works” of CBT land with you? Pragmatically we could say, it works so who cares why but that does not, I believe, sit well with what we are about when we conduct research into human function, mental illness and wellbeing. The author of the article, quite appropriately I believe, points out the ethical implication of this situation. However, the article ends at that point without opening a discussion of possible avenues of theoretic and empirical work that might fix this lack of a solid theory regarding how CBT works. Of course, more research is needed BUT before that can happen effectively, perhaps more theory work is needed. THAT is something interesting to think or speculate about!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is CBT?
  2. What does CBT involve and how does it work (produce the positive results it is consistently shown to produce)?
  3. Where or how do you think we should start work on the task of coming up with a new theory for how CBT works?

References (Read Further):

APA (2017) What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy? American Psychological Association. Link

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases: Biases in judgments reveal some heuristics of thinking under uncertainty. science, 185(4157), 1124-1131. Link

Alloy, L. B., & Abramson, L. Y. (1979). Judgment of contingency in depressed and nondepressed students: Sadder but wiser? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 108(4), 441–485. Link

Owen, G. S., Cutting, J., & David, A. S. (2007). Are people with schizophrenia more logical than healthy volunteers? The British Journal of Psychiatry, 191(5), 453-454. Link

Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford University Press. Book Review

Leder, G. (2017). Know thyself? Questioning the theoretical foundations of cognitive behavioral therapy. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 8(2), 391-410. Link

Wheelahan, L. (2009). The problem with CBT (and why constructivism makes things worse). Journal of education and work, 22(3), 227-242. Link

Gipps, R. G. (2013). Cognitive behavior therapy: a philosophical appraisal. The Oxford handbook of philosophy and psychiatry, 1-24. Link