Cognitive therapy is a form of psychotherapy that pays primary attention to cognition in seeking the causes of a person's mental disorder and the possible route to its remedy. That is, the way in which a person construes the worldÑthe set of perceptions and belief systems involved in the patient's efforts to understand and deal with life's problemsÑis taken to be the underlying determinant of the emotions and behaviors exhibited in the process.
The idea that a person's beliefs and manner of thinking are important influences on behavior is hardly unique to cognitive therapy. Its difference from other therapeutic programs such as client-centered therapy and psychoanalysis lies in its emphasis on the primary importance of cognition. What might lie buried in the unconscious is of secondary or perhaps no real interest to the therapist, who instead tries to attack thought and belief systems that are found to be faulty and to help the patient to develop better cognitive processes.
Important precedents to the cognitive approach include the work of such figures as Alfred Adler and Jean Piaget, who emphasized the importance to behavior of faulty belief systems and other cognitive factors. Various nonpsychologists have also long advocated self-improvement programs based on one form of self-programming or another. The various current forms of cognitive therapy, however, mainly evolved during the 1970s. Among the leading practitioners are Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis (who calls his process rational-emotive therapy), and Donald Meichenbaum (who calls his process self-instructional therapy). The major criticism of any of these approachesÑas of all approaches to mental disordersÑis that their procedures, to be most fully effective, should try to exhibit as broad and profound an appreciation as possible of the complexities of human mentality.