3. Cognitive specificity
Essential concept: The really helpful idea to get hold of about cognitive specificity is
that different cognitive themes are associated with different problem areas – for
example, the theme of loss and defeat is associated with depression, while danger and
threat is associated with anxiety. Equally, these themes of appraisal are associated
with different types of emotion and behaviour, as discussed in 1.) above. This has
been an important idea in CBT because it has allowed therapists to focus on certain
types of cognition known to be active in specific problem areas. The examination of
different types of cognitive themes also allows researchers and therapists to determine
likely useful starting points for intervention strategies. The cognitive specificity
concept should, however, be regarded as a useful starting point rather than an end
point. Therapists should never assume that any clients will show a particular type of
theme in their cognitive systems, but rather be aware that their cognitive systems may
be unique to them. Understanding can, however, be aided by knowing likely
cognitive themes that may trouble them.
Classic early statement:
Beck, A.T. (1976) Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. Harmondsworth:
Penguin, pp. 47–101.
More recent summary:
Clark, D.A. & Steer, R.A. (1996) The empirical status of the cognitive model of
anxiety and depression, in P. Salkovskis (ed.) The frontiers of cognitive therapy. New
York: Guilford Press, pp. 75–96.