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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

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