A Biography of Aaron T. Beck, M.D.
A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Aaron T. Beck had an interest in the vagaries of human nature as far back as he can remember. However, he did not pursue this interest until later in his professional career. At Brown University, he was associate editor of the Brown Daily Herald and received a number of honors and awards, including Phi Beta Kappa, the Francis Wayland Scholarship, the Bennet Essay Award, and the Gaston Prize for Oratory. After graduating magna cum laude in 1942, he embarked on a career in medicine at Yale Medical School graduating in 1946. He served a rotating internship, followed by a residency in pathology at the Rhode Island Hospital. Although initially interested in psychiatry, a residency in neurology at the Cushing Veterans Administration Hospital in Framingham, MA, required rotation in psychiatry intrigued him with some of the more recent developments in the field. He spent two years as a fellow at Austin Riggs Center at Stockbridge where he acquired substantial experience in conducting long-term psychotherapy. The Korean War shifted Beck's area of work to the Valley Forge Army Hospital where he was Assistant Chief of Neuropsychiatry.
Dr. Beck joined the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pennsylvania in 1954 and is currently University Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry. He initially conducted research into the psychoanalytic theories of depression. He developed a different theoretical-clinical approach that he labeled cognitive therapy. Since 1959 he has directed funded research investigations of the psychopathology of depression, suicide, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, alcoholism, drug abuse, personality disorders, and schizophrenia and of cognitive therapy of these disorders. His current work focuses on disseminating empirically tested cognitive therapy treatments into community settings to investigate the efficacy and effectiveness of these therapies when implemented in real-world settings. He has developed the Beck Initiative, an innovative collaborative relationship with the City of Philadelphia's Department of Mental Health/Mental Retardation Services to train community therapists to conduct cognitive therapy. In addition, he is investigating cognitive therapy treatment for schizophrenia. He has published over 540 articles and authored or co-authored twenty-two books.
Dr. Beck has been a member or consultant for several review panels of the National Institute of Mental Health, served on the editorial boards of many journals, and lectured throughout the world. He was a visiting scientist of the Medical Research Council at Oxford and is a visiting fellow of Wolfson College and has been a Visiting Professor at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. He is a member of The Institute of Medicine. He has received awards from numerous professional organizations. He is the recipient of the Albert Lasker Clincial Medical Research Award, the Heinz Award for “The Human Condition” and The Sarnat Award and Lienhard Award from The Institute of Medicine. Beck has been awarded four honorary degrees, from Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, Assumption College, and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He has been listed as one of the “10 individuals who shaped the face of American Psychiatry” and the most influential psychotherapist among American psychologists.
Beck has been married for 59 years and has four children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Click here for Dr. Beck’s research areas of interest.
Recognition of Beck’s work includes the following citations:
TRANSLATED EXCERPT FROM Dix Personnalité Qui Ont Changé le Visage de la Psychiatric Américaine (Ten Personalities who have changed the face of American Psychiatry)*
“These ten persons are landmarks in the construction and development of North American psychiatry”: B. Rush, D. Dix, J.M. Galt, S.W. Mitchell, C.W. Beers, T. Salmon, A. Meyer, L. Stein, A. Beck, E. Kandell
Aaron Beck (1921- ) “The Father of Cognitive Behavior Therapy”
In the United States, in the Fifties and Sixties, the dominant theoretical point of view was still psychoanalysis. His research in the effectiveness of cognitive therapy on personality disorders, depression and suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction and anxiety and panic took a completely different direction for American Psychiatry. Contrary to psychoanalysis and many other of the short therapies, he based his treatment on his research. He wrote a manual, established an institute for the training in cognitive therapy for various professionals, and he made his conclusions accessible to the public. That appears normal now, but in the 1950’s and 1960’s in the United States, it was revolutionary.
What is his heritage? He is the father of the most popular effective and teachable new psychotherapy in the United States.
*Talbott, J.A. (2002). Dix Personalité Qui Ont Changé le Visage de la Psychiatric Américaine. L’Information Psychiatrique, 78(7), 667-675.
Institute of Medicine - National Academy of Sciences - 1997 (Senior Member)
“You have almost single-handedly restored the relevance of psychotherapy. Your cognitive therapy is the fastest growing form of psychotherapy and has influenced the treatment of psychiatric disorders throughout the world.”
Kenneth I Shine, M.D.
Institute of Medicine
National Academy of Sciences
For more information about Dr. Beck's life, read his biography Aaron T. Beck by Marjorie E. Weishaar.
NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship with Dr. Aaron T. Beck. Click here for information.