Behaviorist and Cognitive Theory essay

Behavioristand Cognitive Theory

Behavioristand Cognitive Theory

Differenttheories have been devised with reference to explaining how learningoccurs. Behaviorist and cognitive are some of the oldest theories tohave been devised explaining how the learning process takes place.The behaviorist approach was the main theory in psychology between1920 and 1950. Unlike the cognitive approach, the theory is moreconcerned with behavior than thinking. The development of theapproach by John Watson was purely based on the notion ofconditioning. Today, behaviorism is associated with the studies ofB.F Skinner. According to the theory, a person’s behavior isdetermined by the environment, and new behavior is acquired throughoperant conditioning (McLeod, 2007). This paper explains thedevelopment of the two learning theories (Behaviorist and Cognitive),as well as the emerging of the cognitive-behavioral and itsapplication today.

Thecognitive theory, however, emphasizes more on human thinking and theeffect on behavior. In the second half of the twentieth-century, thecognitive approach became more popular than the behavioral theory.Unlike the behaviorist approach, the cognitive theory considers theinternal thinking process when explaining behavior. The approachclaims that thinking processes and patterns can be changed if anindividual is able to distinguish between harmful and correcttendencies. Key premises of the theory are that behavior iscontrolled by individuals, though as opposed to other factors likegenetics. Also, it states that the outcome of an individual’s lifeor process can be controlled through the process of cognitivelearning.

Despitetheir theoretical differences, both theories are occasionally mergedtogether in various therapeutic applications to form thecognitive-behavioral approach. The Cognitive-behavioral theoryincorporates both the cognitive and behaviorist approaches. Thetherapeutic approach is gaining popularity and is being applied to avariety of problems. The cognitive-behavioral theory is based on thenotion that cognition, emotion, and behavior are all associated witheach other. According to the theory, cognition plays a crucial rolein changes in behavior. For instance, negative and unrealisticthoughts can cause misery, and the affected person’s interpretationof situations is also affected. In turn, the distress can haveadverse effects on their responses to the situation.

Cognitive-behavioraltherapy is based on the premise that mental and psychologicaldistress are occasioned by cognitive factors. Maladaptive cognitionsare often credited with the development of emotional distress andbehavioral problems (Hofmann et al, 2012). Beck (1970) outlines thesemaladaptive cognitions as thoughts and perspectives about the world,the future, and the self. These perspectives establish particular(positive or negative) thoughts in specific situations.Cognitive-behavioral therapy seeks to improve the emotionalwell-being and general functioning of an individual by isolatingthoughts, emotions, and feelings associated with psychologicaldisturbance. Subsequently, the therapy targets these behaviors,behaviors and feelings and through critical analysis tries to changethem to more positive or desired outcomes.

Thecognitive-behavioral theory is currently being used as a therapeutictool in treating anxiety disorders in Youth. It has proven to be veryefficacious in the treatment of anxiety disorders in both childrenand adolescents. Often, anxiety disorders are the most commondiagnosis of comorbidity disorders in both children and adults(Seligman &amp Ollendick, 2011). Anxiety disorders are commonlydeveloped in the late stages of adolescence or early adulthood(Kessler et al, 2005). According to Seligman and Ollendick (2011),cognitive-behavioral therapy for child anxiety disorders wasdeveloped from Mary Cover Jones work. Being a student of John Watson,Mary used behavioral principles to treat anxiety in children. Due tothe success of Mary’s modeling and exposure approach, behavioraltreatment became popular. Further development of the cognitive theoryby Beck saw the merger of cognitive and behavioral therapyapproaches. Cognitive- behavioral therapy employs a skill-buildingmethod, and therapeutic sessions are used as steps in the learningprocess. Patients become active participants who collaborate in thetherapeutic approach. Their participation ensures ease of testing andchallenging maladaptive cognitions and also the modification ofmaladaptive behaviors (Hoffman et al., 2012).

Whiletreating anxiety, cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to changemaladaptive thinking processes and patterns by initiating learningwhich produces positive outcomes. The treatment effectively reducesthe symptoms, improves functioning and the remission of the disorder(Hoffman et al, 2012). To achieve its goals, a cognitive-behavioraltherapy first identifies the root cause of the disorder, but up to apoint of possible intervention and treatment. More emphasis is put onaddressing the factors that maintain the disorder as opposed tounderstanding the root cause of the comorbidity (Seligman &ampOllendick, 2011).

Inconclusion, various scholars have contributed to the development ofboth the behavioral and cognitive theories. The eventual integrationof both approaches has made cognitive-behavioral therapy a populartherapeutic tool for treating various psychological disorders. Moderncognitive-behavioral therapy refers to a wide range of interventionsthat combine a variety of emotion-focused, behavioral and cognitivetechniques (Hoffman et al., 2012). Considerable research has beenconducted to ascertain the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapyin treating anxiety. The research claims that two out of threechildren can successfully be cured of their anxiety using thecognitive-behavioral approach. Also, the collective empirical datafrom the research implies that cognitive-behavioral therapy is theonly evidence-based psychological treatment to date (Seligman &ampOllendick, 2011). Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used in varioussettings like schools and outpatient and inpatient clinics to treatchildren with anxiety.


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Hofmann,S., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I., Sawyer, A., &amp Fang, A. (2012). TheEfficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review ofMeta-analyses.&nbspCognitiveTherapy and Research,&nbsp36(5),427-440.

Kessler,R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., &ampWalters, E. E. (2005). Lifetimeprevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in theNational Comorbidity Survey Replication.Archives of general psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602.

McLeod,S. (2007). BehavioristApproach.&nbspRetrievedAugust,&nbsp19,2014.

Seligman,L. D., &amp Ollendick, T. H. (2011). Cognitive-behavioraltherapy for anxiety disorders in youth.Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 20(2),217-238.

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