Aaron T. Beck, MD
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Aaron T. Beck, MD

Aaron Temkin Beck (born July 18, 1921) is an American psychiatrist and a professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. He is widely regarded as the father of cognitive therapy, and his pioneering theories are widely used in the treatment of clinical depression. Beck also developed self-report measures of depression and anxiety including Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Beck Hopelessness Scale, Beck Scale for Suicidal Ideation (BSS), Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), and Beck Youth Inventories. He is the President Emeritus of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy and the Honorary President of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, which certifies qualified cognitive therapists.

Beck's work at the University of Pennsylvania inspired Dr. Martin Seligman to refine his own cognitive techniques and exercises and later work on learned helplessness.

Aaron T. Beck, M.D., is the President Emeritus of the non-profit Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, and University Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Psychopathology Research Unit (PRU), which is the parent organization of the Center for the Treatment and Prevention of Suicide.

Beck developed cognitive therapy in the early 1960s as a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. He had previously studied and practiced psychoanalysis. A researcher and scientist at heart, Beck designed and carried out a number of experiments to test psychoanalytic concepts of depression. Fully expecting research would validate these fundamental precepts, he was surprised to find the opposite. This research led him to begin to look for other ways of conceptualizing depression. Working with depressed patients, he found that they experienced streams of negative thoughts that seemed to pop up spontaneously. He termed these cognitions “automatic thoughts,” and discovered that their content fell into three categories: negative ideas about themselves, the world and the future. Beck (1997) explains people accept these thoughts as valid and don't take time to reflect. He began helping patients identify and evaluate these thoughts and found that by doing so, patients were able to think more realistically, which led them to feel better emotionally and behave more functionally. Beck (1997) discovered key ideas in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, he explains different disorders were associated with different types of distorted thinking. Distorted thinking has a negative effect on our behavior no matter what type of disorder (Beck, 1997). Beck (1997) explains that successful interventions will educate a person to understand and become aware of their distorted thinking and how to challenge its effects. Beck (1997) discovered that frequent negative automatic thoughts reveal a persons core beliefs. He explains core beliefs are formed over lifelong experiences; we “feel” these beliefs to be true.

Since that time, Beck and his colleagues worldwide have researched the efficacy of this form of psychotherapy in treating a wide variety of disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, drug abuse, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and many medical conditions with psychological components. Some of his most recent work has focused on cognitive therapy for schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and for patients who are repeat suicide attempters. Beck has published over 540 articles and authored or co-authored twenty-two books.He has been named one of the “Americans in history who shaped the face of American Psychiatry” and one of the “five most influential psychotherapists of all time” by The American Psychologist (July 1989). Dr. Beck is the Honorary President of the non-profit Academy of Cognitive Therapy, an organization of over 500 cognitive therapists worldwide. As part of its mission, the Academy supports continuing education and research in cognitive therapy, provides a valuable resource in cognitive therapy for professionals and the public at large, and actively works towards the identification and certification of clinicians skilled in cognitive therapy. Among his many activities, Beck is currently involved in a number of research studies at Penn, and conducts biweekly Case Conferences at Beck Institute for area psychiatric residents, graduate students, and mental health professionals. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.

Beck is noted for his research in psychotherapy, psychopathology, suicide, and psychometrics, which led to his creation of cognitive therapy, for which he received the 2006 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), one of the most widely used instruments for measuring depression severity. Beck is also known for his creation of the Beck Hopelessness Scale and the Beck Anxiety Inventory, and has founded the Beck Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in which his daughter, Dr. Judith Beck, works. Cognitive therapy has also been applied with success to individuals with anxiety disorders, schizophrenia , and many other disorders. In recent years, cognitive therapy has been disseminated outside academic settings, including throughout the United Kingdom, and in a program developed by Dr. Beck and the City of Philadelphia.


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