Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Beck’s Legacy That Could Change Your Life

It was one year ago in the month of July that Aaron Beck, MD, the founder of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) passed away. I write this blog post as a memorial to one of the great minds of our times and to acknowledge the tremendous impact Dr.Beck had on the field of psychotherapy.

Dr Beck pioneered the model for what is known today as empirically validated psychological treatment when he published his book in 1977 titled “Cognitive Therapy for Depression”. This was the first time a new method of psychotherapy with a complex set of interventions (cognitive, behavioral and emotional components) was introduced with such clarity. The book not only outlined a detailed treatment protocol manual but also included research that had been carried out to test and establish that it was a treatment that worked.

Since then, CBT has become the most extensively studied form of psychotherapy. Today, CBT is recognized as a primary method for treating generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, insomnia and other disorders. To put it simply, it improves one’s life.

Why Therapists find CBT advantageous:

1.    The scientific basis of CBT gives therapists the confidence to use a method that has been established as being effective. The rationale of CBT is based on models and theories that have been tested and proven. In addition the CBT protocols for treatment have also been tested out by a large number of research studies. In fact, CBT is currently the most researched form of psychotherapy.
2.    There is nothing vague or mysterious about applying CBT. The CBT protocols for different disorders clearly outline the strategies and rationale so that therapists have a good understanding and know how to proceed with therapy starting from their training period.
3.    Therapists work in collaboration with patients which makes it a more amenable process for therapists. There is a sharing of responsibility which is very necessary for progress and more likely to lead to improved outcomes.
4.    Therapists can be certified as cognitive behavior therapists through a process of evaluation by esteemed organizations like the Academy of Cognitive Therapy and the American Board of Professional Psychology. This allows psychotherapists to establish their proficiency as well trained Cognitive Behavior Therapists.
Why Clients find CBT advantageous:

1.    Therapists partner with their clients and work collaboratively with them. Clients therefore find themselves being able to ask questions with ease and also talk about what would work better for them or not work for them. This increases the comfort level for clients. It also allows for therapy to be tailored and individualized so that it works well for clients.
2.    Clients learn a lot of different strategies and skills that they learn to apply on their own over time. In the long run, this will allow clients to become their own therapists and apply these skills and strategies as and when needed at any point later in life.
3.    Clients develop a lot of clarity regarding their psychological difficulties/disorders and also the basis of all the strategies and skills they are learning to apply. This is because psychoeducation is integral to CBT.
4.    Problems that clients identify as causing them distress in their present day life are tackled in therapy directly. Therapists and clients typically work together to help move clients towards their valued goals.
5.    Cognitive restructuring is a skill that clients are helped to develop. This helps clients to identify unhelpful thoughts that are invalid and to modify them so that they are balanced and no longer distorted. This helps in improving their mood and behavior. More importantly the maladaptive underlying beliefs that trigger the dysfunctional thoughts are also identified and modified so that such thoughts occur less frequently. As Beck put it “Cognitive therapy seeks to alleviate psychological tensions by correcting misconceptions. By correcting erroneous beliefs, we can end the overreactions. “
6.    Cognitive Behavior Therapy has been found to prevent relapse of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety because it brings about long lasting changes in the thinking patterns and underlying beliefs of clients. In addition, they also develop skills and strategies that clients can apply for the rest of their lives as and when needed and prevent relapse.

Closing Thoughts

There are many reasons why CBT is the treatment of choice, especially for depression and anxiety disorders. Today CBT is the first-line treatment for many psychological disorders as noted by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines and American Psychological Association.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy has evolved and improved over time and this is likely to continue as researchers and clinicians find ways to improve efficacy and also tackle more complex and challenging mental health problems. Dr. Aaron Beck’s legacy lives on and how!

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