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Remembering Dr. Aaron T. Beck, Creator of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Those of us who are veterans of mental health counseling, psychiatry, and therapy are likely familiar with the abbreviation CBT, which stands for cognitive behavioral therapy. This form of therapy, known for its intentional, thought-monitoring process of thinking that alters behavior over time, was created by psychiatrist Dr. Aaron T. Beck.

On Nov. 1, Beck passed away at age 100.

Beck was trained in the late 1950s in Freudian analysis, a kind of psychoanalysis developed by Sigmund Freud which analyzes both the conscious and unconscious decisions each individual makes based on what Freud believed to be psychological drives. Beck decided to take Freud’s psychoanalysis methods and transform them into a kind of thought-process analysis that patients could do to help themselves both during a session and in daily life.

He believed that his patients’ unconscious minds would generate “automatic thoughts” that helped goad on the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental illnesses and syndromes, and that given enough self-training and patience, patients could undermine these false assumptions of self and replace them with solid evidence instead.

For example, a patient with depression may have internalized a pattern of thought such as “I am unlovable.” Beck’s therapy would encourage the patient to analyze this thought, pull from practical evidence like how the patients’ friends, family, and perhaps even pets loved them, so the individual is very much lovable. With time, patience and dedicated processing, patients saw marks of improvement in their mood and outlook on life.

Beck wrote about his new therapy for patients in a book published in 1979, and psychology as we know it today has never been the same since.

Since its creation, CBT has been used on a global scale by millions of psychiatrists and therapists.

As explained by Seth Gillihan, Ph.D., in a Psychology Today article entitled “Why Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?”, CBT has been used for centuries under different names. Mindfulness could even be one term for some of the benefits that CBT brings to patients. Gillihan writes how CBT’s structure and system are not unlike an exercise program that individuals perform to get well over time. “Repeated and focused practice is an integral part of CBT,” Gillihan says.

CBT may not be the right program for everyone, but millions have been helped by it every day.

The loss of such a great doctor is certainly one felt by many — both patients and doctors alike.

Image by Wikimedia Commons.

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