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The cognitive model of abnormality blames a person’s thoughts for their psychological problems. But what makes it better than other psychological models? In this lesson, we’ll look at the strengths and limitations of the cognitive model.

Cognitive Model

Fran has trouble sleeping at night. Everything’s fine until she goes to climb into bed.

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Then, all of a sudden, her thoughts start racing and she starts worrying that she won’t be able to fall asleep. The thoughts about her insomnia only get worse as the night wears on, and pretty soon she’s worked herself into such a state that she couldn’t even sleep if she wanted to.Fran’s anxiety is a type of psychological issue. Abnormal psychology is the study of abnormal thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.There are many ways to approach abnormality. One psychologist might say that Fran’s problem is biological, that there’s some problem with the wiring in her brain that is keeping her awake. Another psychologist might point to her childhood and say that something happened to her that is subconsciously affecting her now.

The cognitive model of abnormal psychology says that the cause of psychological disorders is faulty thinking. To them, the anxiety keeping Fran awake at night is due to her thought process. When she gets ready for bed, she already starts thinking about how she might not be able to fall asleep.

This in turn leads to more worry and more negative thoughts, which end up causing her insomnia.The cognitive model is a popular one in psychology. Let’s look closer at some of the strengths and limitations of the cognitive model.

Strengths

What makes cognition a good model when compared to another model? There are several strengths that the cognitive model has.

First of all, cognitive therapy, which aims to change the thought patterns of patients in order to help them deal with mental illness, has a high success rate. Patients who are treated with the cognitive model seem to do better than those who are treated with some of the other psychological models. This is particularly true of patients suffering from anxiety disorders and impulse control issues.Another strength of the cognitive model is that numerous studies have shown that people suffering from mental illness have faulty thought patterns. People with eating disorders, for example, are often stuck in unhealthy cycles of thoughts about food.

And Fran has negative thought patterns about her insomnia: even before she tries to go to bed every night, she begins thinking about how she will struggle to do so.Finally, cognitive therapy is about empowering the client to take charge of his or her thoughts and change them. Unlike prescribing a drug, cognitive therapy depends upon and encourages clients to take control and be a major part of their own treatment.

Limitations

Despite the many benefits, there are some limitations of the cognitive model, though. For one thing, the model assumes that cognitive thoughts are the cause of mental illness as opposed to a symptom. There is evidence that people with psychological disorders have faulty thought patterns; however, there’s no way to tell whether those thought patterns are causing the disorder or whether they are caused by the disorder. It’s kind of like a chicken-and-egg scenario: there’s no way to know which came first.Another problem with the cognitive model is that there is no way to scientifically record a person’s thoughts.

A behavioral therapist can observe a person’s behaviors, and a neuropsychologist can look at a brain scan, but a person’s thoughts are internal and can’t be measured. The closest a cognitive therapist can come to measuring the thoughts of her client is to ask the client what they are thinking. However, a patient might lie, either deliberately or without even realizing that they are not accurately representing their own thoughts.Finally, the very thing that makes cognitive therapy empowering can, for some people, also make it seem like they are being blamed for their psychological disorders. Because cognitive therapy puts the onus on the patient to change his or her thoughts, if the treatment is not successful, it can lead to a patient feeling like a failure.

Lesson Summary

The cognitive model of abnormal psychology says that faulty thought patterns are the cause of mental illness.

There are several benefits to this model, including the high success rate of treatment, the fact that studies have shown that people with mental illness have faulty thought patterns, and the empowering nature of the treatment. However, there are also limitations to the cognitive model, including the fact that there is no way to know whether faulty cognition is the cause or a symptom of mental illness, there is no way to scientifically observe a person’s thoughts, and it can appear to place blame on the patient if the treatment is not successful.

Learning Outcomes

When this lesson is complete, you should be able to:

  • Describe the cognitive model of abnormal psychology
  • Summarize the benefits of using the cognitive model in mental health treatment
  • Recognize the drawbacks of the cognitive model

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