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Psychology Loses a Pioneer​

It is with great sadness that I inform you that Aaron T. Beck, MD has passed away at the age of 100.  He died peacefully in his home surrounded by his family.

Dr. Beck, widely considered the father of cognitive therapy, was the driving force behind two major revolutions in psychotherapy, beginning in the 1960s.  The first of these was the recognition that conscious cognitive processes can drive emotional and behavioral responses, and that a therapy overtly targeting those cognitive processes can result in diminished depression, anxiety, and other reactions.

The second revolution was the insight that, like pharmaceutical treatment, psychological treatments can be quantified and studied. This idea stood in contrast with the zeitgeist of the times, wherein psychological processes (and, by extension, the treatments thereof) were thought to lie outside the domain of science.  By conducting large randomized controlled trials of cognitive therapy for depression, Dr. Beck launched an unprecedented movement toward the identification of empirically supported psychological treatments. In 1982 American Psychologist named Dr. Beck as one of most influential figures in the history of the field.

Dr. Beck, along with his daughter Judith, founded the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in 1994, with the aim of training CBT practitioners around the world.   As ABCT members, most of us work in some combination of psychological treatment, clinical research, and training.

Dr. Beck’s work is evident across all of these domains, and the field owes him a debt of gratitude. In a coming issue of the Behavior Therapist, we will have a more formal obituary celebrating Dr. Beck’s life and accomplishments.  In the meantime, however, I encourage all of our members to take a moment to reflect on the tremendous works of this pioneer of CBT.

David Tolin, ABCT President

Related Information

What Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of treatment that is based firmly on research findings.  It places emphasis on changing your cognitions (thoughts) or behaviors (actions) in order to effect change in how you feel. These approaches help people in achieving specific changes or goals.

Changes or goals might involve:

A way of acting: like smoking less or being more outgoing;
A way of feeling: like helping a person to be less scared, less depressed, or less anxious;
A way of thinking: like learning to problem-solve or get rid of self-defeating thoughts;
A way of dealing with physical or medical problems: like reducing back pain or helping a person stick to a doctor’s suggestions.

Cognitive behavioral therapists usually focus more on the current situation and its solution, rather than the past. They concentrate on a person’s views and beliefs about their life. CBT is an effective treatment for individuals, parents, children, couples, and families. The goal of CBT is to help people improve and gain more control over their lives by changing behaviors that don’t work well to ones that do.

How to Get Help

If you are looking for help, either for yourself or someone else, you may be tempted to call someone who advertises in a local publication or who comes up from a search of the Internet. You may, or may not, find a competent therapist in this manner. It is wise to check on the credentials of a psychotherapist. It is expected that competent therapists hold advanced academic degrees. They should be listed as members of professional organizations, such as the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the American Psychological Association. Of course, they should be licensed to practice in your state. You can find competent specialists who are affiliated with local universities or mental health facilities or who are listed on the websites of professional organizations. You may, of course, visit our website ( and click on “Find a CBT Therapist”

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) is an interdisciplinary organization committed to the advancement of a scientific approach to the understanding and amelioration of problems of the human condition. These aims are achieved through the investigation and application of behavioral, cognitive, and other evidence-based principles to assessment, prevention, and treatment.

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