Aaron T. Beck

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Aaron T. Beck
Born Aaron Temkin Beck
(1921-07-18) July 18, 1921 (age 95)
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
Residence Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Psychiatrist
Institutions University of Pennsylvania, Center for the Treatment and Prevention of Suicide
Alma mater Brown University, Yale Medical School
Known for his research on psychotherapy, psychopathology, suicide, and psychometrics
Influenced Martin Seligman, Judith S. Beck
Notable awards Grawemeyer Award in Psychology (2004)
Lasker Award (2006)
Spouse Phyllis W. Beck (m. 1950)

Aaron Temkin Beck (born July 18, 1921) is an American psychiatrist who is professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.[1][2] He is regarded as the father of cognitive therapy,[1][2] and his pioneering theories are widely used in the treatment of clinical depression. Beck also developed self-report measures of depression and anxiety, notably the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) which became one of the most widely used instruments for measuring depression severity.[3]

Beck is noted for his research in psychotherapy, psychopathology, suicide, and psychometrics. He has published more than 600 professional journal articles, and authored or co-authored 25 books.[4] 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"[5] by The American Psychologist in July 1989. His work at the University of Pennsylvania inspired Martin Seligman to refine his own cognitive techniques and later work on learned helplessness.[6]

Beck is currently the President Emeritus of the non-profit Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy which he set up with his daughter in 1994.[7]

Background and personal life[edit]

Beck was born in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, the youngest child of four siblings to Russian Jewish immigrants. Beck was married in 1950 to the Honorable Phyllis W. Beck, who was the first woman judge on the appellate court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.[8] They have four adult children, Roy, Judy, Dan, and Alice.[9] Beck's daughter, Judith S. Beck, Ph.D., is a prominent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) educator and clinician, who wrote the basic text in the field. She is President of the non-profit Beck Institute.[10]


Beck attended Brown University, graduating magna cum laude in 1942.[11] At Brown he was elected a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, was an associate editor of The Brown Daily Herald, and received the Francis Wayland Scholarship, William Gaston Prize for Excellence in Oratory, and Philo Sherman Bennett Essay Award.[9] Beck attended Yale Medical School, graduating with an M.D. in 1946.


Early placements[edit]

After completing his medical internships and residencies from 1946 to 1950 (including at the , Beck became Fellow in psychiatry at the Austen Riggs Center, a private mental hospital in the mountains of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, until 1952. At that time it was a center of ego psychology and cross-disciplinary work between psychiatrists and psychologists.

He then completed military service as assistant chief of neuropsychiatry at Valley Forge Army Hospital in the United States Military.[12] He then became an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) in 1954.[12]


Beck's first foray into research was with Leon Saul at Penn, a psychoanalyst known for unusual methods such as therapy by telephone or setting homework, and who had developed inventory questionnaires to quantify ego processes in the manifest (non-hidden) content of dreams. Beck and a graduate student developed a new inventory they used to assess 'masochistic' hostility in dreams, published in 1959. Developing the work with NIMH funding, Beck came up with what he would call the Beck Depression Inventory, which he published in 1961 and soon started to market.[13]

Beck developed cognitive therapy in the early 1960s as a psychiatrist at Penn. He had previously studied and practiced psychoanalysis. As a researcher and scientist, Beck designed and performed 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.

Cognitive therapy[edit]

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. He stated that such cognitions were interrelated as the cognitive triad. Limited time spent reflecting on automatic thoughts would lead patients to treat them as valid.[14]

Beck 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.[14] He discovered key ideas in CBT, explaining that different disorders were associated with different types of distorted thinking.[14] Distorted thinking has a negative effect on our behaviour no matter what type of disorder, he found.[14] Beck explained that successful interventions will educate a person to understand and become aware of their distorted thinking, and how to challenge its effects.[14] He discovered that frequent negative automatic thoughts reveal a person's core beliefs. He explained that core beliefs are formed over lifelong experiences; we “feel” these beliefs to be true.[14]

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 other medical conditions with psychological components. Cognitive therapy has also been applied with success to individuals with anxiety disorders, schizophrenia,[15] and many other medical and psychiatric disorders. Some of Beck's most recent work has focused on cognitive therapy for schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and for patients who have had recurrent suicide attempts.

However, some mental health professionals have opposed Beck's cognitive models and resulting therapies as too mechanistic and fragmented. From within the CBT community itself, one line of research using component analyses or dismantling studies has found that the addition of cognitive strategies often fails to show superior efficacy over behavioral strategies alone, and sometimes attempts to challenge thoughts can have a rebound effect. Moreover, although Beck's work was presented as a far more scientific and experimentally-based development than psychoanalysis (while being less reductive than behaviourism), Beck's theories did not particularly tie into the general findings and models of cognitive psychology or neuroscience developing at that time; his key principles were actually derived from personal clinical observations and interpretations in the therapy office. And although there have been many cognitive models developed for different mental disorders and hundreds outcome studies on the effectiveness of CBT - relatively easier because of the narrow, time-limited and manualized nature of the treatment - there has been much less focus on experimentally proving the supposed active mechanisms, which in some cases the predicted causal relationships have not been found such as between dysfunctional attitudes and outcomes.[16]

Notable events[edit]

The American Psychoanalytic Institute rejected Beck's membership application, "on the grounds that his mere desire to conduct scientific studies signaled that he’d been improperly analyzed", a decision that still makes him angry.[17]


Beck is the Honorary President of the non-profit Academy of Cognitive Therapy, an organization of more than 750 cognitive therapists, worldwide. Beck is also involved in research studies at Penn, and conducts biweekly Case Conferences at Beck Institute for area psychiatric residents, graduate students, and mental health professionals.[18] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.[19]

Beck is the founder and President Emeritus of the non-profit Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, and the director of the Psychopathology Research Unit (PRU), which is the parent organization of the Center for the Treatment and Prevention of Suicide.[4] In 1986, he was a visiting scientist at Oxford University.[1]

He has been professor emeritus at Penn since 1992,[4] and an adjunct professor at both Temple University and University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.[1]

In recent years, cognitive therapy has been disseminated outside academic settings, including throughout the United Kingdom, and in a program developed by Beck and the City of Philadelphia.[20] Beck is the Honorary President of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy,[21] which certifies knowledge and competence as a cognitive therapist.


As well as the Beck Depression Inventory, he developed the Beck Hopelessness Scale,[22] Beck Scale for Suicidal Ideation (BSS), Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), and Beck Youth Inventories.[23]

Beck collaborated with psychologist Maria Kovacs in the development of the Children's Depression Inventory, which used the BDI as a model.[24][25]

Selected awards and honors[edit]

Beck has received honorary degrees from Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Assumption College, and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.[9][27][28]


Selected books[edit]

  • Beck, A.T. (1967). The diagnosis and management of depression. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-7674-4
  • Beck, A.T. (1972). Depression: Causes and treatment. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-7652-7
  • Beck, A.T. (1975). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8236-0990-1
  • Beck, A.T., Rush, A.J., Shaw, B.F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-000-7
  • Beck, A.T. (1989). Love is never enough: How couples can overcome misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, and solve relationship problems through cognitive therapy. New York, NY: Harper Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-06-091604-6
  • Scott, J., Williams, J.M., & Beck, A.T. (1989). Cognitive therapy in clinical practice: An illustrative casebook. New York, NY & London, England: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-00518-3
  • Alford, B.A., & Beck, A.T. (1998). The integrative power of cognitive therapy. New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-396-4
  • Beck, A.T. (1999). Prisoners of hate: The cognitive basis of anger, hostility, and violence. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-019377-8
  • Clark, D.A., & Beck, A.T. (1999). Scientific foundations of cognitive theory and therapy of depression. New York, NY: Wiley. ISBN 0-471-18970-7
  • Beck, A.T., Freeman, A., & Davis, D.D. (2003). Cognitive therapy of personality disorders. New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-856-7
  • Wright, J.H., Thase, M.E., Beck, A.T., & Ludgate, J.W. (2003). Cognitive therapy with inpatients: Developing a cognitive milieu. New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-890-3
  • Winterowd, C., Beck, A.T., & Gruener, D. (2003). Cognitive therapy with chronic pain patients. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8261-4595-7
  • Beck, A.T., Emery, G., & Greenberg, R.L. (2005). Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective. New York, NY: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00587-X
  • Beck, A.T., Rector, N.A., Stolar, N., & Grant, P. (2008). Schizophrenia: Cognitive theory, research, and therapy. New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1-60623-018-3
  • Clark, D.A., & Beck, A.T. (2010). Cognitive therapy of anxiety disorders: Science and practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1-60623-434-1

Selected Articles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e 2004 - Aaron Beck, The Grawemeyer Awards, Louisville, KY: University of Louisville/Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 2009, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Aaron Beck bio, The Heinz Awards Undated, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  3. ^ Beck, A.T.; Ward, C.H.; Mendelson, M.; Mock, J.; Erbaugh, J. (June 1961). "An inventory for measuring depression". Archives of General Psychiatry 4 (6): 561–571. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1961.01710120031004. PMID 13688369. 
  4. ^ a b c Aaron T. Beck, M.D., Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Department of Psychiatry, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 2014, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  5. ^ Talbott, J.A. (2002). Dix Personalité Qui Ont Changé le Visage de la Psychiatric Américaine. L’Information Psychiatrique, 78 (7), 667–675.
  6. ^ Hirtz, R. (1999). Martin Seligman's journey: From learned helplessness to learned happiness, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, January/February 1999, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  7. ^ About Beck Institute: Leadership, Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Bala Cynwyd, PA: Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 2014, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  8. ^ Faculty detail: Hon. Phyllis W. Beck's bio, Marino Legal, New York, NY: Marino Legal, 2014, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  9. ^ a b c Aaron T. Beck, M.D., Aaron T. Beck Psychopathology Research Center, Philadelphia, PA: Aaron T. Beck Psychopathology Research Center, 2014, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  10. ^ Beck Institute leadership, Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Bala Cynwyd, PA: Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 2014, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  11. ^ Aaron T(emkin) Beck. Contemporary Authors Online (Detroit, Michigan: Gale). 2004. 
  12. ^ a b [1], 'University of Pennsylvania',Retrieved 5 January 2015.
  13. ^ The "Splendid Isolation" of Aaron T. Beck. Rosner RI, Isis (journal). 2014 Dec;105(4):734-58. PMID 25665381
  14. ^ a b c d e f Beck, Aaron (1996). "The Past and the future of Cognitive Therapy" (pdf). Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research 6 (4): 276–284. PMC 3330473. PMID 9292441. Retrieved June 7, 2011. 
  15. ^ Successful therapy for cognitive deficits, Schizophrenia.com, 10 September 2004, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  16. ^ Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies: Achievements and Challenges Brandon A. Gaudiano, Evid Based Ment Health. 2008 Feb; 11(1): 5–7. doi: 10.1136/ebmh.11.1.5 PMCID: PMC3673298 NIHMSID: NIHMS474811
  17. ^ Smith, Daniel B. (Autumn 2009). "The doctor is in". The American Scholar (Phi Beta Kappa Society). Archived from the original on October 8, 2009. Retrieved October 22, 2009. 
  18. ^ About Beck Institute - Facilities, Beck Institute of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Bala Cynwyd, PA: Beck Institute of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 2014, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  19. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  20. ^ Academic partnerships, Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Unknown date.
  21. ^ Academy of Cognitive Therapy, Academy of Cognitive Therapy, Philadelphia, PA: Academy of Cognitive Therapy, 2014, Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  22. ^ Beck A.T. (1988). Beck Hopelessness Scale. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.
  23. ^ "Beck Scales for Adults and Children" Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  24. ^ Kovacs, M. (1992). Children's Depression Inventory. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems, Inc.
  25. ^ Kovacs, M., & Beck, A.T. (1977). "An empirical-clinical approach toward a definition of childhood depression." In Schulterbrandt, J.G., & Raskin, A. (Eds.). Depression in children: Diagnosis, treatment, and concept models. New York, NY: Raven.
  26. ^ a b c d e "Awards and Honors" (pdf). Penn Psychiatry Perspective (11): 9–10. 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2011. 
  27. ^ "Beck research: Biography". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  28. ^ "Yale awards nine honorary degrees at 2012 graduation". New Haven, CT: Yale University. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 

External links[edit]