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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Aaron Beck's Legacy Goes Beyond CBT

The legendary psychiatrist Aaron Beck passed away at the age of 100.

Slicata on Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
Source: Slicata on Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

A few nights ago, the legendary psychiatrist Aaron Temkin Beck passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 100. Tim, as his friends and family affectionally called him, lived a full life well-lived.

Remarkably, Tim worked all the way up until his death. To many, he is most known for his work in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which is a structured, present-oriented psychotherapy that has been scientifically tested and found to be effective in more than 2,000 studies for the treatment of many different health and mental health conditions. When implemented correctly, CBT can help individuals get better and stay better in a brief period of time.

Personally, he was a dear mentor and friend of mine. I used to live in the building next door to him in Philadelphia and we'd have tuna sandwiches together on Sundays at his place and discuss humanistic psychology and how to treat patients as humans first. He was always so encouraging of my work, and I enjoyed our discussions about his life and work immensely. I will miss his bow tie, fist bumps, and a sharp mind, which lasted all the way until the end.

Not many people know this, but Tim’s work was much more than the seminal work he did pioneering CBT. Tim was recently working on a new form of psychotherapy with his colleagues Ellen Inverso and Paul Grant called "Recovery-Oriented Cognitive Therapy,” which deeply humanizes psychiatric patients.

Guided by Tim’s cognitive model, Recovery-Oriented Cognitive Therapy (CT-R) is an evidence-based practice that provides concrete, actionable steps to promote recovery and resiliency. Originally developed to empower individuals given a diagnosis of schizophrenia, Recovery-Oriented Cognitive Therapy applies broadly to individuals experiencing extensive behavioral, social, and physical health challenges.

It is a highly collaborative, person-centered, and strengths-based approach, as it is focused on developing and strengthening positive beliefs of purpose, hope, efficacy, empowerment and belonging. The approach is specially formulated and effective for individuals (i) who have a history of feeling disconnected and distrustful of service providers, (ii) who are not help-seeking, or (iii) who experience challenges that impede action towards aspirations. The reach of Recovery-Oriented Cognitive Therapy extends to mental health professionals across all disciplines, families and loved ones, and peers with lived experience.

In 1994, Tim and his daughter, Dr. Judith S. Beck, founded Beck Institute as a 501(c)3 nonprofit with the mission of improving lives worldwide through excellence and innovation in Cognitive Behavior Therapy training, practice, and research. In 2019, Beck Institute opened the Beck Institute Center for Recovery-Oriented Cognitive Therapy to train professionals and staff who work with individuals given a diagnosis of a serious mental health condition, such as schizophrenia.

In my last in-person meeting with him just before the pandemic hit, I handed him a microphone and asked if he would talk about what research he was most excited about these days and whether he could give any advice to young psychologists. You can listen to our conversation here.

RIP, Tim.