ABCT Presidential Address


Saturday, November 19 | 6:15 PM – 7:30 PM

CBT for the Public Good: Why We Need to Be More Comfortable Using Someone Else’s Toothbrush


Presented By:
Laura D. Seligman, Ph.D., ABPP, Department of Psychological Science, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley



The alleviation of human suffering or, put differently, the enhancement of health and well-being, is at the core of ABCT’s mission. As we gather for the first time in 3 years due to a pandemic and a response that could be described as a very public and dramatic failed behavior change effort, we must ask ourselves how are we doing as a field. ABCT has its roots in a treatment that purported to offer optimism not evidenced in the prevailing methods of the time; optimism borne out of the promise to help people change behavior through the reliance on experimental psychology. I would argue that given these foundations, the work of cognitive behaviorists has the potential for broad and meaningful impact—impact that has not been fully realized. I will discuss the factors that I believe must be addressed for us to realize this potential, factors that include aligning the contingencies in our field with those that best serve the public good, a renewed focus on theory, and a reorientation toward collaboration and an iterative process over proprietary branding and novelty. Most importantly, however, we need to reacquaint ourselves with transparency and scientific debate with those who can challenge us so that we move steadily towards truth and ensure that the impact we do have will be a positive one.

About the Presenter:

Dr. Seligman is a Professor in the Department of Psychological Science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and a board-certified clinical psychologist. Prior to moving to Texas, Dr. Seligman served as a Professor and Director of Clinical Training at the University of Toledo. She became President of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies after serving for 6 years at the co-Chair of ABCT’s Women’s Issues in Behavior Therapy Special Interest Group and as co-Chair of ABCT’s Task Force to Promote Equity, Access, and Inclusion. Her research, primarily in the area of childhood internalizing disorders and women’s professional development, has been sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the United States Department of Education, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


Long-term Goal:  To be better equipped to engage in high impact and ethical work in the attendee’s work setting. 



  1. Review the areas in which CBT could have broader impact and the importance of doing so.
  2. Discuss factors that may be impeding our progress.
  3. Discuss the factors that are necessary to ensure that the impact of CBT is a positive one.


At the end of this session the learner will be able to:

  1. Discuss the relative merits of hypothesis testing and theory development.
  2. Identify the historical factors that have led to negative outcomes in behavioral research.
  3. Describe the situational factors that encourage or discourage high impact science.


Recommended readings:

Foa, E. B., & Kozak, M. J. (1997). Beyond the efficacy ceiling? Cognitive behavior therapy in search of theory. Behavior Therapy, 28(4), 601-611.

Robinaugh, D. J., Haslbeck, J. M. B., Ryan, O., Fried, E. I., & Waldorp, L. J. (2021). Invisible Hands and Fine Calipers: A Call to Use Formal Theory as a Toolkit for Theory Construction. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 16(4), 725-743.

Spector-Bagdady, K., & Lombardo, P. A. (2013). Something of an Adventure’: Postwar NIH Research Ethos and the Guatemala STD Experiments. The Journal of law, medicine & ethics, Spector-Bagdady, Kayte, and Paul A Lombardo. “‘Something of an Adventure’: Postwar NIH Research Ethos and the Guatemala STD Experiments.” The Journal of law, medicine & ethics 41.3 (2013): 697–710. Web., 697-710.

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