Aaron T. Beck dies at 100 in Philadelphia


Dr. Aaron T Beck was a groundbreaking psychotherapist.

Who was Aaron T. Beck?

This great doctor was widely regarded as the father of cognitive therapy. He died on Monday at his Philadelphia home aged 100. Beck’s work revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of depression and other psychological disorders. Beck developed the field of cognitive-behavioral therapy which is a clinical form of psychotherapy. He did so at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s. It prompts patients to focus on distortions in their day-to-day thinking, rather than on conflicts buried in childhood. He developed this treatment after he found out that his depressed patients frequently experienced distorted negative ideas. He dubbed these thoughts as “automatic thoughts”.

What is the cognitive theory?

Other treatment procedures delve deep into a patient’s childhood and search for hidden internal conflicts. But not this. Cognitive therapy says turning around a self-disparaging inner monologue is key to solving many psychological problems. He played the idea with an anti-Freudian maxim: “There’s more to the surface than meets the eye.” Beck discovered that patients who learn to recognize the faulty logic of their negative automatic thoughts could learn to overcome their fears. They could also think more rationally, which diminished their anxiety and improved their mood. These negative thoughts were: – “I will always be a failure” or “no one likes me”. He found that results endured long after therapy was finished. This happened as patients learned to confront those thoughts on their own.

How did the cognitive theory work?

As a young psychologist, he conducted experiments disproving the Freudian theory. This theory stated that people were depressed because they somehow needed to suffer. He concluded that depression didn’t come from masochism, as Freud believed. However, it came from low self-worth. Cognitive therapy sessions follow a strict format. It always includes setting goals for the session and homework assignments. Besides depression, it has been used to treat conditions including bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, social phobia, and drug abuse. Beck’s pragmatic view of psychotherapy had its skeptics. Some psychologists called cognitive therapy superficial and little more than a morale booster. However, it became required training for psychiatry residents.

What are the achievements of Beck?

Beck always responded to critics with data from his research. He published much of his work in his own journal, Cognitive Therapy, and Research. The great doctor did this partly because other mental health professionals disregarded his findings. He wrote or co-wrote 17 books and published more than 500 articles. But this was not the end. He received honors for his work including the Heinz Award for the Human Condition in 2001, the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research in 2006, and the Sarnat Award from the Institute of Medicine. American Psychologist magazine in 1982 named Beck one of the 10 most influential psychotherapists ever. In 2005 and 2014, he engaged in public and private dialogues with the Dalai Lama. They concluded that CBT and Buddhism have much in common.

How did Beck die and who did he leave behind?

He died peacefully early in the morning, according to the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Beck is no more but his wife of more than 70 years is alive. She is the former state Judge Phyllis Beck. Along with her survived their three other children, 10 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.

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