Aaron Beck: Biography of the Creator of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

On Monday November 1, one of the most important figures in clinical psychology passed away: Aaron Temkin Beck. This American psychiatrist is considered to be the inventor of cognitive therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy., being his fundamental scientific discoveries for the therapeutic approach to depression.

Beck’s figure is widely known in all psychology schools, including his cognitive therapy and depression and anxiety surveys, psychometric tests widely used in the objective assessment of these disorders.

As a tribute and to honor his silhouette, we will talk about the life of this researcher through a biography of Aaron T. Beck in summary form.

    A brief biography of Aaron T. Beck

    Aaron Temkin Beck was and continues to be one of the most influential psychiatrists in the history of psychology and psychiatry. His last name gives his name to one of the best-known therapies in the world of clinical psychology, Beck’s Cognitive Therapy, a treatment that incorporates information processing approaches while taking into account the patient’s behavior. .

    The first years

    Aaron Temkin Beck was born in Providence, Rhode Island (United States) on July 18, 1921, to a Russian Jewish immigrant family, being the youngest of three surviving children.

    Beck’s childhood was marked by an overprotective mother, who lost one of her daughters, an event that plunged her into a deep depression and obsessed with fear of losing another son made her almost always stay above young Aaron. Beck himself would admit years later that he felt like some sort of replacement for his sister and that he felt his mother was disappointed that he wasn’t a girl.

    At the age of seven, Beck broke an arm while playing at leisure. The fractured bone eventually became infected and progressed to generalized sepsis (infection of the blood), causing him to stay in the hospital for a long time. Because of this, little Aaron lost the chance to enter second grade. Beck would later admit that he was feeling “stupid” at the time, believing he was not smart enough.

    Beck was missed by his friends and didn’t like being on a course behind him at all. To solve this problem, he asked his older brothers to take charge of him and, with his eagerness and determination, little Aaron not only was he able to study again with his friends, but he also ended up upgrading to a higher course than expected for his age..

      University education

      Young Aaron discovered he was smarter than he thought, marking a psychological turning point in his life and would prove himself a few years later when it came time to enter college.

      Beck graduated from his Hope High School class and in the fall of 1938 managed to enter the prestigious Brown University.. He graduated with honors in 1942 and later did so at the Yale School of Medicine in 1946.

      Aaron T. Beck developed several phobias throughout his childhood. One was blood and wounds, which he himself attributed to his unpleasant experience with surgery after breaking his arm as a child. His experience of the event was very traumatic because, according to him, the surgeon began to make the incision before the anesthesia took effect.

      His phobia of blood was an obstacle to his training as a doctor. During his training for this profession, Beck had to deal with the anxiety and dizziness he experienced while helping with operations. Surprisingly, he was able to overcome his phobia of blood by gradually exposing himself to the instruments and sounds of the operating room, and keep busy while helping with surgery.

      Beck also suffered from a phobia of fear of suffocation, apparently caused by a severe case of whooping cough, chronic childhood asthma, and an older brother who made the ‘joke’ of putting a pillow over his face. .

      In addition, he exhibited a phobia in the tunnels, a feeling of tightness in the chest and difficulty in breathing while going through a tunnel. He is known to have developed a certain fear of heights and of speaking in public.

      Despite his many phobias, Beck managed to overcome them through the same approach his well-known therapy was going to be formed: Beck’s Cognitive Therapy. He himself maintained that he was able to overcome these fears by working on them cognitively.

      Aaron T. Beck too was based on his own experiences while writing his first book on depressive disorders, published in 1967 and titled “Diagnosis and Management of Depression”. By this time, Beck was slightly depressed, but he himself viewed writing the book as a kind of self-treatment.

      Over time, Aaron T. Beck decided to specialize in neurology because he was attracted by the degree of precision required of practitioners of this specialty. While completing the required internship in psychiatry, he became interested in some of the recent discoveries in the treatment of mental disorders, which is why he decided to become a psychotherapist.

        Private life

        In 1950, Aaron T. Beck married Phyllis W. Beck with whom he had four children: Roy, Judith (Dan), Dan and Alice, who would give him eight grandchildren.

        Among his descendants the most notorious is his daughter Judith S. Beck, influential cognitive-behavioral therapist and current president of the Beck Institute, an institution that promotes cognitive-behavioral treatments. Father and daughter founded the institute together in 1994, of which Aaron T. Beck served as president emeritus.

        The last years and death

        At the time of his death, Aaron T. Beck was Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. He died on November 1, 2021 at his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the age of 100.

          Beck and the cognitive approach in the treatment of depression

          From the start, Aaron T. Beck’s intention was to study psychiatry. However, during his psychiatric training he became interested in the psychoanalytic approach and his particular way of understanding psychological disorders. For that, he spent the first part of his career studying and doing research in psychoanalysis, especially the way he treated depression.

          However, after several years of acquiring knowledge and practice in psychoanalytic therapy, Aaron T. Beck realized that this approach lacked scientific rigor, nor the structure or empirical evidence that he wanted. As a result, he shifted his interest towards the cognitive approach, and his research on depression intensified after doing work in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, where he would establish a clinic specializing in this disorder. .

          Aaron T. Beck found that their depressed patients often expressed spontaneous negative thoughts about themselves and their surroundings.. When these thoughts occurred to him, patients saw them as valid and realistic, and it was difficult for them to question them on their own. For this reason, Beck has focused on helping patients identify these automatic negative thoughts and replace them with more objective ones.

          Aaron T. Beck discovered that in order to get effective treatment for any psychological problem, there was a need to educate patients about their negative thought patterns. This therapeutic approach was what would over time be called cognitive behavioral therapy.

          In the first cognitive model of depression, Beck incorporated three specific concepts:

          • The cognitive triad
          • Stable models or thought models
          • Cognitive errors or faulty information processing

          According to the author, the cognitive triad includes a depressed person’s view of themselves, their current experiences and the future, which leads him to view experiences or interactions with others as defeats or failures, even to think so for herself. The patient sees the future as full of difficulties, frustration and deprivation. So, in this triad, we can identify the following aspects:

          • Negative self-vision
          • Negative view of the world
          • Negative vision of the future

          According to Beck, this triad of negative cognitive patterns it causes emotional disturbances and loss of energy and motivation characteristic of clinical depression. As a result, this psychiatrist devised a type of therapy aimed at identifying these distortions in patient thinking.

          Aaron T. Beck also designed tests to measure whether his new therapy was working or not. For this reason, we can find psychological evidence that bears his surname, and is the most widely used the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and the Beck Anxiety Inventory. These tests are reliable, standardized, and objective ways of measuring depression and anxiety, tests that have helped Beck show that his therapy was working.

          Through his cognitive theory of depression and the tools he shaped to assess it, Beck was instrumental in forever changing the world of psychotherapy.

          The importance of this researcher for psychology

          Beck’s cognitive therapy is one of the most powerful therapeutic methods available, extensively tested in over 400 clinical trials. This treatment has been shown to be effective for a wide variety of disorders such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder, substance abuse, and personality disorders.

          Beck has the honor of being the only psychiatrist to have published articles in both APAs, both in the journal of the American Psychiatric Association and in the American Psychological Association. His contributions to behavioral science and the treatment of mental disorders are of such caliber that the American Psychologist Journal has named him one of its five most influential psychologists of all time. Over 600 articles and 25 books are written by Aaron T. Beck.

          This psychologist he was named one of the most influential people in mental health, and one of the ten most influential people in American psychiatry. Its cognitive behavioral therapy is so important in the world that it is taught as a therapeutic technique in virtually every psychology faculty around the world. Beck has received numerous awards for his work, including five honorary degrees, the Lienhard Award from the American National Institute of Medicine for his development of cognitive therapy, in addition to receiving the Kennedy Award for Community Health.

          His work at the University of Pennsylvania was an inspiration to American psychologist and writer Martin Seligman, who, through Beck’s work, refined his own cognitive techniques that he would use to work on learned impotence.

          Bibliographical references

          • Beck, AT (1967). Diagnosis and management of depression. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-7674-9
          • Beck, AT (1972). Depression: causes and treatment. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-7652-7
          • Beck, AT (1975). Cognitive therapy and emotional disorders. Madison, Connecticut: International Universities Press, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8236-0990-1
          • Beck, AT, Emery, G. and Greenberg, RL (2005). Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective. New York, NY: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00587-1
          • Beck, AT, rector, NA, Stolar, N. and Grant, P. (2008). Schizophrenia: cognitive theory, research and therapy. New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1-60623-018-3

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