Sunday, November 7, 2021

Aaron Beck, R. I. P.

Aaron Beck died last week. Founder of what is now called cognitive behavioral therapy, Beck had trained in Freudian psychoanalysis. Then, upon discovering that it was not working to help his patients, he tried something radical and new. It became CBT-- now considered one of the most effective forms of therapy.

Beck lived in Philadelphia, and the best obituary comes to us from the Philadelphia Enquirer. It opens with the story about how he broke with Freud.

Aaron Beck liked to tell a story about how he came to reject psychoanalysis and revolutionize how talk therapy for mental disorders was conducted in the United States and much of the world.

Like other psychiatrists in the mid-20th century, Dr. Beck was trained in Freudian concepts, including the idea that depression was the result of anger turned inward. In what would become a lifelong pattern, he decided in the late 1950s to test that idea more scientifically. He found little evidence that his patients were angry inside, but they did suffer from negative, irrational thinking about themselves.

He told of a psychoanalysis patient who was worried that her stories about her sexual experiences were boring him. They definitely were not. He began asking other patients what they were thinking and found that they, too, were feeding themselves a diet of negative thoughts. They saw themselves as failures in love and life.

Beck did not try to help them to discover why they were thinking what they were thinking. He offered a technique to correct their thinking, to learn new mental habits. The basic theory comes originally from Aristotle; it suggests that the best way to overcome a bad habit is, not to try to understand or control it, but to replace it with a good habit. It sounds simple; it is not as easy as it sounds.

Dr. Beck, who died Monday at his Rittenhouse Square condominium at the age of 100, wondered if it wouldn’t be better for patients to learn to think more logically and accurately in the present than to spend countless billable hours analyzing childhood slights. Cognitive therapy — now known as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) — was born.

Aaron Beck, R. I. P. 

1 comment:

Angel charls said...
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