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6 Min Read

The legacy of Dr Aaron Beck – the ‘father of CBT’

4 Nov 2021

Dr Aaron Beck, the highly respected and pioneering neurologist who developed CBT treatment, died this week at the age of 100. Before he conceived the cognitive therapy approach in the 1960s, there had been no evidence-based treatment for people with mental health difficulties. The research and development he undertook over seven decades has helped countless patients around the world, transformed the field of mental health, and remains at the heart of the everything ieso does.


Having begun to study psychoanalytic therapy, which included examining the dreams of depressed patients, Dr Beck formed a hypothesis that depression comes about from ‘faulty thinking’ – and that this thinking can be changed! This remains one of the cornerstones of our cognitive understanding of depression, and of CBT as a whole. He tested out this hypothesis in treatment, and rather than being in psychoanalytic therapy for years his patients started to get better after just a few months.


Today, CBT is one of the most practised and well-researched forms of therapy worldwide, and is recommended in the UK by the NHS and NICE. A very scientific approach in itself, the treatment involves therapists and patients working together to understand a problem, create hypotheses around the problem, and use evidence and experiments to test the theories and help the patient move forward. While it’s often used to treat depression and anxiety, CBT has also been found to be effective in addressing other conditions such as schizophrenia and substance misuse.


Dr Beck has been a source of great inspiration to mental health practitioners around the world. He has written or co-written more than 600 books on CBT, and in 1994 he co-founded the Beck Institute with his daughter, Dr Judith Beck, to provide training to therapists.


The ongoing research carried out at the Institute ensures that the CBT approach is always evolving. ieso follows this example, sharing Dr Beck’s dedication to improving the lives of people facing mental health difficulties through widening access to high quality, highly effective therapy.


“For ieso, Dr Beck is a true figurehead,” says Stephen Freer, ieso’s Chief Clinical Officer. “Like him, and his colleagues at the Beck Institute, we’re constantly learning from our patients, and using what we learn to improve our services. In fact, ieso’s Therapist Insight Model, which uses deep learning to investigate which components of online CBT work most effectively, is referred to affectionately as ‘Tim’ –which is how Dr Beck was known to his friends.”


Dr Aaron Beck has had a significant impact and influence on many of ieso’s therapists –on both a personal and professional level.


“CBT has given me my whole career,” says psychological therapist Joanne Adams. “I’m privileged to have had the opportunity to learn about CBT, initially as a practitioner of guided self-help based on CBT principles and then as a therapist delivering CBT to patients with depression and anxiety disorders. The approach allows me to help people to help themselves; it’s important to me to do therapy with people, not to people. From a development perspective, there’s so much to learn that the growing will never stop. I know CBT has saved some of my own patients’ lives – and this is thanks to the creativity and dedication of Dr Aaron Beck.”


Jennifer Gentile, Senior Vice President of ieso’s Research and Clinical Innovation in the US, met Dr Beck in person at a training event a few years ago.


“Being around Dr Beck made you feel like you had important things to say,” she remembers. “He modelled how to really listen to a patient: he treated every individual with respect, was curious about their unique experience and didn’t put them into a box. He showed how to use true guided discovery – not knowing what direction he was taking with a patient, but helping them discover an ‘aha’ moment.


“As a therapist CBT helps me in a very concrete way to help people achieve the lives they want to achieve. Thankfully, Dr Beck’s teaching will live on through all the students he taught – including supervisors and teachers of CBT. He firmly believed in the value of supervision, and that we need to care for our therapists to help them care for our patients. He has built an amazing legacy which has a global impact.”


Incredibly, Dr Beck was still working until very shortly before he died, and according to his daughter he remained “passionate about continuing his life’s work of alleviating human suffering through the development of evidence-based psychological therapies”. If you want to learn more about this remarkable man and his work, you can read his obituary here.

ieso reflects on the legacy of Dr Aaron Beck, the highly respected and pioneering neurologist who developed CBT treatment, who died this week at the age of 100