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"Sad is How I Am!" Treating Dysthymia in Children and Adults
Dysthymia continuing education MFT CEUs

Section 31
Simon Speaks Out Against Beck & Burns
by Julian L. Simon

CEU Question 31 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Depression
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Beck’s original version of Cognitive Therapy has the sufferer “Start by Building Self-Esteem.” Excellent advice, but not very systematic. Neither "‘self-esteem" nor "negative thought" is a precise theoretical term. Focusing on your negative self-comparisons is a better method -- clear-cut and systematic -- for achieving the aim Beck sets. But there are also other paths to overcoming depression that are part of the overall approach given here.

Beck focuses on the depressive’s actual state of affairs, and his distorted perceptions of that actual state. Self-Comparisons Analysis agrees that such distortions, which lead to negative self-comparisons and a rotten Mood Ratio, are (together with a sense of helplessness) a frequent cause of sadness and depression. But Beck’s exclusive focus on distortion keeps them from seeing the deductively-consistent inner logic of many depressives, and accepting as valid such issues as which goals should be chosen. It has also distracted their attention from the role of helplessness in disabling the purposeful activities which sufferers might otherwise undertake to change the actual state and, thereby, avoid the negative self-comparisons.

Beck’s view of depression as “paradoxical” is not helpful, I believe. Underlying this view is a comparison of the depressed person to a perfectly logical individual with full information about the present and future of the person’s external and mental situation, like the model of the perfectly rational consumer in economics. A better model for therapeutic purposes is an individual with limited analytic capacity, only partial information, and a set of conflicting desires. Given these inescapable constraints, it is inevitable that the person’s mental behavior will not take full advantage of all opportunities for personal welfare, and will proceed in a manner which is quite dysfunctional with respect to some goals. With this view of the individual, we may try to help the individual reach a higher level of satisfaction, as judged by the individual, but recognizing that this is done by means of trade-offs as well as improvements in thinking processes. Seen this way, there are no paradoxes.

Burns nicely summarizes Beck’s approach as follows: “The first principle of cognitive therapy is that all your moods are created by your ‘cognitions.’” Self-Comparisons Analysis makes this proposition more specific: Moods are caused by a particular type of cognition, self-comparisons, in conjunction with such general attitudes as feeling helpless. Burns says “The second principle is that when you are feeling depressed, your thoughts are dominated by a pervasive negativity.” Self-Comparisons Analysis also makes this proposition more specific; it replaces "negativity" with negative self-comparisons, in conjunction with feeling helpless.

According to Burns, “The third principle is...that the negative thoughts...nearly always contain gross distortions.” I argue that depressed thinking is not always best characterized as distorted. Another difference between Beck’s and my point of view is that he makes the concept of loss central to his theory of depression. It is true, as he says, that “many life situations can be interpreted as a loss” and that loss and negative self-comparisons often can be logically translated one into the other without too much conceptual strain. But many sadness-causing situations must be bent and massaged in order to be interpreted as losses; consider, for example, the tennis player who again and again seeks matches with better players and then is pained at the outcome. It seems to me that most situations can be interpreted more naturally and more fruitfully as negative self-comparisons. Furthermore, this concept points more clearly to a variety of ways that one’s thinking can change to overcome depression than does the more limited concept of loss.

It is also relevant that the concept of comparison is fundamental in perception and in the production of new thoughts. It, therefore, is more likely to link up logically with other branches of theory than is a less basic concept. Hence, this more basic concept would seem preferable on the grounds of potential fruitfulness.

Adapted from Good Mood: The New Psychology of Overcoming Depression. Simon, Julian L. Open Court Publishing Company: Illinois. 1993.

“Personal Reflection” Journaling Activity #11
The preceding section was “Simon Speaks Out Against Beck and Burns.” Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section of the Manual in your practice.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bird, B. M., & Jonnson, M. R. (2020). Have a seat: Supervisee perspectives on using chair-based role plays in clinical supervision. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 30(1), 25–35.

Fernández-Theoduloz, G., Paz, V., Nicolaisen-Sobesky, E., Pérez, A., Buunk, A. P., Cabana, Á., & Gradin, V. B. (2019). Social avoidance in depression: A study using a social decision-making task. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(3), 234–244.

Greenberg, J., Datta, T., Shapero, B. G., Sevinc, G., Mischoulon, D., & Lazar, S. W. (2018). Compassionate hearts protect against wandering minds: Self-compassion moderates the effect of mind-wandering on depression. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 5(3), 155–169. 

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 31:
Julian Simon argues that depressed thinking is not always best characterized as what? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test

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