In Brief

High school psychology teachers can boost students' learning and self-esteem by tapping the tenets of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), asserted CBT pioneer Aaron T. Beck, MD, at a 2005 APA Annual Convention session sponsored by APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS).

In the session, Beck offered participants a primer on CBT, which emphasizes problem-solving, identifying irrational thoughts and teaching people to think more constructively and is often used to treat depression.

CBT techniques can be particularly useful for high school teachers because teenagers often fall prey to distorted thinking, noted Beck and fellow panelists Debra Park, a psychology teacher at West Deptford High School in Westville, N.J., and Frank Farley, PhD, of Temple University in Philadelphia.

For example, many teens tend to emotionally overreact to situations at home, with their peers and in the classroom, said Park, a former TOPSS chair. One such emotional reaction--or cognitive distortion, as these thoughts are named in CBT--is overgeneralization, or the idea that "a friend is rejecting me, so nobody likes me," explained Beck.

Overgeneralization and other destructive thoughts can fill some students with so much anxiety, despair and anger that they can't focus in class, noted panelists. Indeed, the five emotions that CBT centers on--anxiety, anger, sadness, joy and shame--drive many of the problems teachers cope with in today's high schools, noted Park. Anger is particularly problematic, added Park, who said many high schools are now offering anger-management courses for students.

High school psychology teachers, she and Farley pointed out, would be wise to look to Beck's model to better understand their students' thinking, help their students navigate their emotions, stay focused on academics and keep their perspective.