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Joel L. Becker
Featured Therapist Interview
After being introduced to psychology during my extraordinary liberal arts education at Hobart College in Geneva, New York, I went to the University of Georgia for my doctorate. At that time, UGA’s clinical program was one of the first to be completely behavioral in orientation. This was my exposure to first wave CBT and has formed the basis for my thinking as a scientist practitioner. I went on to do my internship as a Clinical Fellow in Psychology at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Mental Health Center, where I learned about psychodynamic approaches to clinical work. I returned to the CBT world with the introduction of Cognitive Therapy in the late 1970’s (2nd wave). Since then I have kept abreast of the developments of 3rd wave (ACT, DBT, MBCT, IBCT, etc.) and 4th wave (Compassion-Focused, Process-Based, Meditative/Spiritual, Positive Psychology) through attending ABCT conventions and continuing education. Currently I am the Clinical Director of Cognitive Behavior Associates in Beverly Hills and am a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychology at UCLA. At our practice I (we) see individuals, couples, and families from ages 5 and up. I specialize in the treatment of Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Insomnia, Adult ADD, and Couples Issues. I have a special interest in SGM (sexual and gender minority) clients. As I have aged, my interest and expertise in working with older individuals has expanded. To read more, see my practice’s website: www.cognitivebehaviorassociates.com
What are your personal strengths as a clinician?
I think the ability to think and use principles/mechanisms of behavior change and then draw from the various brands of CBT to provide an integrative and unique treatment plan for each individual.
What tips can you offer to colleagues just opening a practice?
Focus on offering the highest quality of care and the community and clients will respect you and send referrals your way. I am an advocate for a “customer-based approach to client hood”-a subject I researched for my dissertation and was shown to increase positive outcomes.
How do you remind patients of their strengths during the therapy process?
I use many strategies from positive psychology to change the attentional focus from the negative to the positive. I use Albert Ellis’ formulation re: “self esteem” as a way to have clients have unconditional regard for themselves. Behaviors can be judged but “holding oneself in esteem” is not conditional. Integrating this humanistic and existential notion is very powerful. I sometimes use the “I AM” experience as described by Rollo May as a way to help clients be stronger. Dr. May used an example of a client with panic attacks who described themselves as “I am an illegitimate child.” When Dr. May pointed out that they were no longer a child and it was the circumstances of their birth that was being described as illegitimate (a term that we no longer even use or think), the client was left with “I AM.” The client reported back to Dr. May that for the first time they had the thought “I am there therefore I have the right to be.” I have been described as a CBT clinician with an Existential/Humanistic philosophical bent-I did my master’s thesis based on the work of Victor Frankel’s focus on meaning in life. ACT’s emphasis on values has brought me back to this important variable in clinical work.
Are you involved in other types of activities in addition to your private practice?
I am currently a Clinical Professor in the Psychology Department at UCLA where I supervise advanced graduate students and teach an occasional class. This activity ensures that I keep my pulse on what is happening in CBT. I supervise based on mechanisms of change and ensure that my students are scientist practitioners. I am active in ABCT, which I consider to be my primary professional organization. I am particularly active in the SGM SIG (I was chairperson in the 80’s) and previously was chair of the Professional Issues Committee. I am on the membership committee of A-CBT and am concerned about the qualifications of persons who describe themselves as CBTers. I founded and currently direct the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Institute (an APA-accredited continuing education sponsor). We offer a wide variety of courses, including underlying principles from the science of psychology as they relate to therapy; new approaches (all waves); and working with specific populations and addressing cultural issues in treatment.
Who are your mentors?
My mentors are the scientists in academic settings who research and disseminate findings for our use as clinicians. I would also credit my graduate students, over the last 40 years, with creating the necessity for me to continue to be current and be aware of the newest developments in CBT. They have helped me to be sensitive to numerous clinical issues with minoritized populations.
When not practicing CBT, what do you do for fun?
I am an avid fan of the visual arts. I both make art and enjoy visiting museums and galleries (I owned a gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, for a number of years). I love to cook and have a hobby of growing succulents.
Where do you see the field of the behavioral therapies going over the next 3-5 years?
My hope lies in research on dissemination. I see CBT approaches gaining more support and familiarity with the general public and medical community. As always CBT will continue to include empirically supported treatments under its umbrella.
How long have you been a member of ABCT?
I have been a member of ABCT since 1979 (42 years).
How has ABCT helped you professionally?
By being an active member and attending the annual convention I have expanded my network and increased my referral base. In addition, I have acquired a great deal of my continuing education through ABCT.
What services do you consider the most valuable from ABCT?
The annual convention and my participation in special interest groups.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions!