Aaron Temkin Beck is an American psychiatrist and the father of cognitive therapy—the most empirically supported form of psychotherapy to date. Beck was born on July 21, 1921, in Providence, Rhode Island. He attended Brown University, majoring in English and political science. Beck graduated magna cum laude in 1942. He attended Yale Medical School and attained his M.D. in 1946. In 1954, Beck joined the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania. He also serves as director of the Center for the Treatment and Prevention of Suicide, President of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, and Honorary President of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. Beck has published over 450 research articles and more than 17 books. He is listed among the 10 individuals who shaped American psychiatry and is considered one of the five most influential psychotherapists of all time.
In the 1960s, Beck was interested in validating various psychoanalytic concepts to make them more accessible to the scientific community. He made depression the focus of his research. Rather than finding evidence supportive of the psychoanalytic formulation that depression was a result of anger turned inward, Beck instead documented themes of rejection, defeat, deprivation, and sensitivity to failure in the thoughts and dreams of depressed individuals. Beck also noticed that depressed mood was typically preceded by very rapid negative thoughts and that by helping people to become aware of these thoughts, test their validity, and modify unhelpful cognitions, their depression would improve. This research spawned the beginning developments of cognitive therapy.
Cognitive therapy was originally developed for the treatment of depression but has now been applied successfully to a number of psychiatric conditions, including anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, personality disorders, substance abuse and dependence, bipolar disorder, couples therapy, and crisis management. The main assumptions underlying cognitive therapy are that cognition affects behavior, cognition may be monitored and altered, and helping individuals to alter the way that they interpret information can effect long-term change on their emotional and behavioral functioning and prevent the recurrence of psychopathology.
In addition to his contributions to the development and validation of cognitive theory and therapy, Beck has also firmly established himself in the area of test construction. Along with his colleagues, Beck has developed some of the most well-known and frequently utilized self-report instruments available for research and practice. The most popular of these measures is the Beck Depression Inventory-II, which assesses the severity of depressive symptoms.
Beck’s theory, research, and practice have garnered tremendous support in both the scholarly and therapeutic communities. Although they originated in attempts to understand psychopathology and personality problems, Beck’s theory and therapeutic approach also have important implications for understanding everyday normative psychological functioning and for counseling psychology.
- Beck, A. T. (2005). The current state of cognitive therapy: A 40-year retrospective. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 953-959.
- Dozois, D. J. A., Frewen, P. A., & Covin, R. (2006). Cognitive theories. In M. Hersen & J. C. Thomas (Series Eds.), J. C. Thomas & D. L. Segal (Vol. Eds.), Comprehensive handbook of personality and psychopathology: Volume 1. Personality and everyday functioning (pp. 173-191). New York: Wiley.
- Academy of Cognitive Therapy: http://www.academyofct.org