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Aaron T Beck, father of cognitive therapy dies

The American psychiatrist transformed the field of mental health with his approach to it

 US psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck is  considered the father of cognitive therapy
 US psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck is  considered the father of cognitive therapy (AFP)

American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck considered the father of cognitive therapy -- an approach developed in the 1960s that revolutionised the field of psychotherapy -- died Monday at age 100. According to a statement from his daughter Judith Beck, he died at his home in Philadelphia, the president of the Beck Institute, an organisation of thousands of professionals practising cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT. "My father dedicated his life to the development and testing of treatments to improve the lives of countless people throughout the world facing health and mental health challenges," she said. "He truly transformed the field of mental health."

Contrary to the psychoanalysis developed by Sigmund Freud -- which emphasised the role of the subconscious and encouraged patients to delve into their memories -- cognitive therapy is concerned with the present.

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Throughout his early years as a psychiatrist, Beck noticed that his patients frequently expressed negative thoughts, such as "I am incapable of...", which he called "automatic thoughts."

Cognitive therapy directs patients to change the way they look at certain situations and identify those "automatic thoughts" to overcome them. They are then invited to test out those modified beliefs in everyday life. More than 2000 studies have demonstrated the efficacy of CBT, according to the institute.

That approach is now the most widely-practised therapy method worldwide, used to treat depression, anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders and other psychiatric problems.

"The idea was that if you sat back and listened and said 'Ah-hah,' somehow secrets would come out," Beck told The New York Times in 2000, speaking about earlier psychotherapy methods.

"And you would get exhausted just from the helplessness of it."

"I think I am ultimately a pragmatist," he said during the same interview. "And if it doesn't work, I don't do it."

Beck was born in July 1921 in Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated from Brown University and Yale University and wrote or co-wrote some 20 books.

He and his daughter Judith Beck founded the Beck Institute in 1994, which has since trained more than 25,000 mental health professionals in 130 countries in cognitive behavioural therapy.

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