Architect of Cognitive Therapy, Aaron T. Beck, Dies at 100
Aaron T. Beck, M.D., widely regarded as the father of cognitive behavioral therapy, died Monday at the age of 100. Beck was president emeritus of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which he co-founded with his daughter Judith Beck, Ph.D., professor emeritus in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.
Though Beck was trained in Freudian psychoanalysis, his work as a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s prompted him to deeply consider the day-to-day thoughts and motivations of his patients, aside from the subconscious childhood trauma. He called these internal messages "automatic thoughts," beliefs held without critical thought, and posited that these thoughts gave rise to self-criticism and defeatism.
To overcome automatic thoughts, Beck encouraged his patients to actively challenge them. This could mean intentionally acting in a way that ran counter to their held beliefs or self-surveilling for evidence that disproved them. These practices, both with a therapist and in independent work, created an internal dialogue that Beck found improved a patient's mood.
"He took a hundred years of dogma, found that it didn't hold up, and invented something brief, lasting and effective to put in its place. He basically saved psychotherapy from itself," said Steven Hollon of Vanderbilt University to the New York Times.
Beck, along with psychologist Albert Ellis who worked independently, laid the framework for what is now known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—over his life, Beck wrote or co-wrote 22 books in all, three with daughter Judith. The American Psychologist, journal of the American Psychological Association, called Beck "one of the five most influential psychotherapists of all time."
He is survived by his wife, Judge Phyllis W. Beck, four children, 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.