For the development of cognitive therapy, which has transformed the understanding and treatment of many psychiatric conditions, including depression, suicidal behavior, generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and eating disorders.
The 2006 Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research honors a scientist who transformed the understanding and treatment of a wide range of psychiatric conditions. By realizing that unrealistic negative self-perceptions foster such disturbances and then teaching patients to identify and challenge these distorted thoughts, Aaron T. Beck developed the theory and practice of cognitive therapy. He then subjected this strategy — which defied conventional Freudian principles — to unprecedented rigorous tests. In so doing, he demonstrated its effectiveness and established a new standard for the field of psychotherapy.
Cognitive therapy has proven as effective as medication in alleviating depression and even more effective in reducing relapse and recurrence. Beck and his trainees at the University of Pennsylvania have adapted cognitive therapy to a wide range of other psychiatric disorders. Its power derives in part from the fact that patients assume an active role in their recovery; as a result, they carry tools away from the therapist’s office with which they can handle subsequent experiences that threaten their emotional well-being. In addition to conceiving cognitive therapy and showing that it works, Beck devised a number of simple yet sophisticated instruments for assessing the severity of psychiatric symptoms. These tools include the Beck Depression Inventory, Beck Cognitive Insight Scale, and Beck Suicide Intent Scale. They have helped researchers make seminal additions to our understanding of various psychiatric problems and improved suicide classification, assessment, prediction, and prevention. By discovering a previously unrecognized aspect of many mental illnesses and inventing a therapy based on his observations, Beck has made a huge impact on untold numbers of people, relieving immeasurable amounts of suffering.
Award presentation by Huda Zoghbi
By the end of the 19th century, the discoveries of medical pioneers such as Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch had led us into the era of modern medicine. They understood disease to be caused by some physical disturbance rather than evil spirits or an imbalance of the humours. This was not just an advance for those suffering from illnesses that wiped out whole townships, but it also spelled progress for the insane. Neurologists began to show that brain diseases such as syphilis or tumors could produce bizarre changes in personality. Even if treatments were slow to come, the insane could be viewed with more compassion, as suffering actual brain damage rather than demonic possession.
Acceptance remarks by Aaron T. Beck
Acceptance remarks, 2006 Lasker Awards Ceremony
Thank you, Dr. Zoghbi, for a wonderful introduction and the Awards Committee for this unique honor.
As the Great Bard once suggested: “All of life is a drama — or the illusion of such.” Fortunately, the main players in the First Act of my professional drama are here today. My drama started with a (surprising, to me) observation — which Dr. Zoghbi described as my “Eureka experience.” At that time, there was regrettably no professional with whom I could discuss this apparent “revelation.” Fortunately, I was able to share my ideas with my wife, Phyllis, en route to becoming a judge. She acknowledged that it had logic — but what is the evidence?
Interview With Aaron Beck