Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) across all disorders involves helping the patient to recognize and change long standing and firmly held dysfunctional beliefs and then supporting the patient in changing persistent and well established maintaining factors (e.g., safety seeking behaviour) (Salkovskis 1991). To achieve this requires that the patient be able to think about what is happening to them in different ways to those they have previously used, and adopt new ways of reacting in terms of both understanding and behaving. We believe that to do so require significant levels of (cognitive) flexibility. Concepts of cognitive or psychological flexibility do consistently appear within the literature of clinical psychology, anticipated to play a significant role in the maintenance or even the development of different emotional problems (e.g. Hayes et al. 2006, Johnco et al. 2012; Tchanturia et al. 2011). Historically, the concept of cognitive flexibility has received most research attention within the neuropsychological literature, in which it has been viewed and studied as an attentional set shifting ability as a part of a broader term of executive functions (e.g. Kuels et al. 2004). As such most definitions of cognitive flexibility include the notion of shifting cognitive set as a basic premise, but the nature of the shifting is not always explicitly stated or defined. Thus, no detailed theory of the role of cognitive flexibility as a maintaining (or aetiological) factor of emotional problems has been developed. With outset in cognitive behavioural theory and therapy processes, we propose a theory for the role of cognitive flexibility within emotional problems. We believe that cognitive flexibility of the type required to make sense of situations previously regarded as dangerous in a less threatening way needs to be considered as a multilevel process. These components range from neuropsychological to cognitive and behavioural features, in which each component can be more (or less) important to the development and/or maintenance of emotional problems. The proposed components of cognitive flexibility and their role in maintenance and development of emotional problems will be presented at the symposium. An overview of empirical findings from different fields within psychology that can be linked to each of the theoretically proposed components of cognitive flexibility will be provided and implications for research, theoretical development and treatment will be discussed.
Main Research Area:
43rd Annual Congress of the European Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, 2013