American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck, considered the father of cognitive therapy, an approach developed in the 1960s that revolutionized psychotherapy, died this Monday (1st) at the age of 100.
Beck died at his home in Philadelphia, in the northeastern United States, according to a statement from his daughter, Judith Beck, president of the Beck Institute, an organization that has trained thousands of professionals who practice cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
“My father has dedicated his life to developing and testing treatments to improve the lives of countless people around the world who face health problems,” he says. “It really transformed the field of mental health.”
Unlike psychoanalysis, developed by Sigmund Freud, which emphasizes the role of the unconscious and encourages patients to delve into their memories, cognitive therapy focuses on the present.
In his early years as a psychiatrist, Beck noted that his patients often expressed negative thoughts such as “I am unable to…” which he called “automatic thoughts.”
Cognitive therapy encourages patients to change the way they see certain situations and identify these “automatic thoughts” to overcome them. It then invites them to test these modified beliefs in everyday life.
This approach is now the most widely practiced therapeutic method in the world, used to treat depression, anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders and other psychiatric problems.
Previously, “the idea was that if you sat down and said ‘ah, ah,’ somehow the secrets would come to light,” Beck told the New York Times in 2000. “And we were exhausted just by the impotence of it.”
“I think, ultimately, I’m a pragmatist,” he continued in the same interview. “And if it doesn’t work, I don’t.”
Beck was born in July 1921 in Providence, Rhode Island. He studied at Brown University and Yale University, and has authored about 20 books.
With his daughter, Judith, he founded the Beck Institute in 1994, which has since trained more than 25,000 mental health professionals in 130 countries in cognitive-behavioral therapy.
According to the institute, more than 2,000 studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT.