Depression's 3 Core Beliefs

November 28, 2023

Depression's 3 Core Beliefs

Cognitive therapy, the foundation of modern psychotherapy, was developed by Aaron T. Beck. Beck, a psychiatrist, initially began studying patients with depression to prove Freud's theories. However, during his research, he discovered that patients with depression exhibited patterns that did not align with Freudian theories. Beck found that these patients developed three key thoughts, which he called the cognitive triad of depression, a revelation that became foundational in modern psychotherapy. So, what are these three essential thoughts that patients with depression have? Let's take a closer look.

Core Thoughts of Depression: Cognitive Triad

People with depression have automatic and seemingly uncontrollable negative thoughts about themselves, their environment, and the future. This negative viewpoint on one's self, environment, and future is known as the cognitive triad of depression.

First, Negative Views about Self

This represents pessimistic thinking about oneself. Such thoughts may include:

  • "I am a worthless person."
  • "I am hopeless and incapable."
  • "I am unlovable."
  • "I am bound to fail."

Second, Negative Views about the World or Environment

This represents negative thinking about one's surroundings and the world at large. Such thoughts may include:

  • "Life is a series of hardships."
  • "People are selfish."
  • "Nobody truly cares about me."
  • "Everyone will ultimately lose in this endless competition."

Third, Negative Views about the Future

This represents pessimistic thinking about one's (or the world’s) future. Such thoughts may include:

  • "There is no hope for the future."
  • "The world is only going to get worse."
  • "I will ultimately fail."
  • "I will end up a beggar, living on the streets."

Why These Key Thoughts Occur

Why do these thoughts occur? Why do people suffering from depression have such thoughts? To understand this, it's necessary to comprehend the structure of thoughts. People each have a type of schema (referred to as a 'thought map' in distancing) in their minds. A schema refers to a set of thought structures. When a person undergoes a pivotal experience, it forms a core belief, and this core belief then creates specific perspectives about self, environment, and the future.

The issue is that, in depression, these perspectives are often significantly biased. Cognitive therapy aims to review these skewed perspectives and help individuals to more flexibly accept diverse information from the world. While it's not possible to distance oneself from one's schema overnight, with systematic efforts gradually, distancing becomes possible. Cognitive therapy is known to have more sustainable and long-term effects than medication therapy because it involves examining one's foundational thought structures and practicing distancing from them.

Are you feeling depressed? Do you have the three types of thoughts described above? If so, don't hesitate to seek help. These thoughts aren't inherent features of who you are. They aren't you. You can free yourself from these thoughts. If you can understand this and apply it in practice, you can move towards a new life.


Beck, A. T., Rush, A. J., Shaw, B. F., & Emery, G. (1987). Cognitive therapy of depression. Guilford Publications.

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