How might cognitive theorists George Kelly, Aaron T. Beck, and Albert Ellis respond to this potential client's question and why: "I have been a patient of Dr. Steve Smith, who is a psychoanalyst....

How might cognitive theorists George Kelly, Aaron T. Beck, and Albert Ellis respond to this potential client's question and why:

"I have been a patient of Dr. Steve Smith, who is a psychoanalyst. He feels that I need three years of therapy to explore my defense mechanisms (He said I need to regress back to my childhood repressions, whatever that means.). I am feeling depressed and have even thought of committing suicide. I feel that no matter what I do, I'm just a complete failure. Can you help me, or should I stay with Dr. Smith?"

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To answer this question, what you first want to do is get a thorough understanding of the cognitive theories that psychologists George Kelly, Aaron T. Beck, and Albert Ellis developed. A cognitive theory is a theory used to try and understand human behavior through the thinking process. The word cognitive comes from the Latin root word cognit, meaning to know, and refers to our "process of knowing, perceiving, remembering, etc." (Random House Dictionary). Cognitive theory argues that actions stem from our perceptions. While we are limited in space, below are a few ideas to help get you started on understanding cognitive theories.

George Kelly developed his theory based on his idea that all of the world's people are like "naive scientists" who view and understand the world through their own unique lens, or through their own "systems of construction." By "construction," we are referring to the ways in which we construe, or interpret, or explain, our experiences and the events of the world. Kelly referred to the way that we construe our experiences as our "construct system." More importantly, since Kelly saw people as "naive scientists," meaning scientists who presently lack "experience, judgement, or information," he also saw people as being capable of misconstruing, meaning misinterpreting, their experiences based on their own relative perception (Random House Dictionary). Furthermore, Kelly theorized that people were capable of changing their behavior by changing the ways that they see the world, and changing their perceptions would in turn change the way they feel about the world, interact with the world, and would even change the way that others react to the individuals in question. Kelly also saw constructs, or interpretations, as being dichotomous, meaning dual in nature. For example, if one were to interpret something as being pretty, then that implies that an opposite interpretation also exists, which would be ugly. Kelly saw that when individuals had a "disordered construct system," meaning that they felt very confused about how they saw themselves and the world, then their opposite interpretation becomes unperceived by themselves and others. For example, let's say that a smart person sees himself/herself as stupid. It's the construction that he/she is stupid that is being made visible to both that person and the world; therefore, the construction of being intelligent becomes hidden and can surface if the person changes his/her perception.

If we are to look at your client's question, we notice that the client states he/she feels like a "complete failure." If the client went to see George Kelly rather than Dr. Smith, Kelly would say that the client's real problem is his/her perception of himself/herself as being a "complete failure." It's the perception of being a failure that is causing anxiety and depression. Kelly would argue that if the client can learn to see himself/herself as successful or as being able to be successful, then he/she will actually begin being successful, and the depression and anxiety will be resolved.

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