Father of Cognitive Therapy Awarded Highest Medical Honor
> 9/18/2006 10:57:50 AM

Dr. Aaron T. Beck, who in the 1960's pioneered Cognitive Behavior Therapy as a variation on Freudian psychoanalysis, received one of this year's five historic research awards from the Lasker Foundation. Many recognize the organization, started in 1946 by famed philanthropist Mary Lasker, as the nation's most prestigious medical research advocacy group, and 71 past Lasker recipients went on to win Nobel Prizes in medicine and physiology.

Beck, who currently serves as professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted rigorous research under the widely held Freudian hypothesis that inverted anger serves as the source of depression, but his study's conclusions challenged that assertion and permanently altered the fundamentals of psychotherapy. Where Freud believed depressive thoughts and behaviors to be a by-product of related emotional lulls, Beck stipulated that initial thought patterns create depressive tendencies that only further encourage self-fulfilling fears and dismissals. His approach focused on emotional and cognitive states as well as their related behaviors, combining psychopharmacology and personal therapy to gradually alter a patient's negative responses to outside stimuli and reshape his or her self-opinion.

Well after the time of its inception, many medical professionals still discounted the cognitive method, and Beck published the work almost exclusively in his own Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy. Some of his most significant contributions to mental health treatment came in the field of suicide prevention. After a lengthy debate over the efficacy of antidepressants in preventing suicide, his research indicated that the most effective way to dissuade potential victims was through traditional talk therapy, finding that the chances of death by suicide among severely depressed individuals decreased by nearly half when tempered with an intensive therapy schedule. Beck also created a series of scales for measuring a patient's mental stability in the form of individual, timed surveys on topics from anxiety and hoplessness to suicidal ideation and disruptive behavior. In addition to his own revolutionary work, Beck founded an esteemed institute for research and training in the field.

Though he has yet to garner the iconic status of Freud or Fromm, Beck's influence extends to millions of patients for whom medication and regular therapy help allieviate the symptoms of depression and its related disorders and, in the best cases, eliminate it from their lives. A man wholly devoted to improving public health and awareness, Beck is among this century's most important psychiatrists, changing the nature of treatments worldwide over the last fifty years. The award could not have gone to a more deserving individual.    

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