Aaron T. Beck, the father of cognitive therapy, turns 100 this month! Beck transformed the way psychiatric conditions are treated when he began to challenge the prevailing viewpoint that depression derived from subconscious, misplaced anger towards others. Instead, Beck noticed, depressed people harbor conscious, unrealistic negative perceptions about themselves. This mismatch led him to develop the theory and practice of cognitive therapy.
Instead of asking patients to lie on a couch and make free associations, Beck invited them to sit up and discuss their thoughts and feelings. During these sessions, he would help patients identify and interrogate their negative thoughts. By giving them an active role in therapy, Beck gave his patients tools that they could use in their everyday lives to handle challenges to their emotional well-being.
By discovering a previously unrecognized aspect of mental illness, and developing a therapy based on his observations, Beck has relieved untold amounts of suffering and has made large, lasting impacts on millions of people’s lives.