Aaron Beck is probably best known for pioneering the use of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) — that commonly used modern psychotherapy technique known the world over. He revolutionized psychotherapy in general, by turning toward science — and replicable data — to validate the efficacy of his new therapeutic techniques he pioneered in CBT. He had to, because before Beck came along, studying why psychotherapy worked was done generally only through narrative case reports in the scientific literature. Often interesting and sometimes entertaining, but they completely lacked scientific data outside of subjective observations by the professional.
Beck, on the other hand, hand to actually invent the tests to help measure whether his new therapy was working or not. Hence the psychological tests that carry his name, such as the Beck Depression Inventory and the Beck Anxiety Inventory. With a reliable, standardized and scientific way to measure a person’s subjective feelings of depression, he could then determine whether his cognitive behavioral techniques worked. And what he found changed the world of psychotherapy forever.
Most therapists today use an approach based upon CBT, or identify with a less structured approach called eclectic that almost always employs techniques that come from cognitive behavioral therapy and its related research. CBT is a robust, proven and very effective treatment approach for many mental disorders, including the big ones like depression and anxiety. And virtually every study on CBT has shown its effectiveness in conjunction with or without psychiatric medications.
Beck is now a professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. One of the things you may not know about Beck is that he was — like most of his colleagues at the time — trained as a psychoanalytic analyst at the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Institute. It’s fascinating to learn that one man’s disenchantment with the tools and techniques available at the time led him to found a whole new type of psychotherapy — one that focuses on our thoughts (especially our negative thoughts) — and techniques employed to help us change them. Beck’s CBT is now taught as a standard therapeutic technique in every graduate program in psychology.
The article is an interesting history into Aaron Beck and presents his contributions in the context of history. It’s a long one — over 5,400 words — but it’s worth the read if you’d like to learn more about Aaron Beck in a way that is far more interesting and personal than a Wikipedia entry.
Read the full article: The Doctor Is IN: Aaron Beck