"Atmosphere", a precursor of "cognitive schemas": Tracing tacit phenomenological influences on cognitive behaviour therapy

Document Type

Journal Article


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Psychology and Social Science




Becerra, R. (2004). “Atmosphere”, a Precursor of “Cognitive Schemas”: Tracing Tacit Phenomenological Influences on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, 4(1).


Whilst individuals deal with divergent sorts of stimuli from the environment, they also tend to display some regularity in the way they respond to related patterns. These consistent responses can be conceptualised as cognitive schemas. A paramount component of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is the notion of cognitive schemas as they are a favoured point of therapeutic intervention. CBT as articulated by Beck in the 1960s owes intellectual acknowledgment to Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger and their notions of “atmosphere” and “clearing” respectively. This essay explores the notion of cognitive schema and atmosphere as applied to emotional pathology. It suggests that the well-known influence that phenomenology had on existential psychology could be extended to empirical clinical psychology, like CBT. The strategy adopted in this paper is to use Dreyfus’ ontological and epistemological distinction in psychopathology and then make a similar distinction, albeit using different terminology, in the CBT tradition. Some empirical findings from the literature are examined which render support to the existence of cognitive schemas and their crucial contributory role in the aetiology and maintenance of emotional disorders. It is noted that some of the features of these cognitive schemas were espoused well before Beck by Merleau-Ponty and the phenomenological-existential tradition.




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