Legendary psychiatrist Aaron Beck dies at 100

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Dr Aaron T. Beck (Courtesy of MoonLoop Photography, c / o of the Beck Institute)

Dr. Aaron T. Beck, who revolutionized the field of psychiatry, lived in Philadelphia and was a long-time member of the Beth Hillel-Beth El Temple in Wynnewood, died Nov. 1 at his home.

Born July 18, 1921, he turned 100 earlier this year.

Beck is known to have developed a psychiatric focus on the daily behaviors of patients. This went against Freud’s emphasis on childhood trauma.

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“My major finding was that patients didn’t really report what was important to them – how they interpreted or misinterpreted situations. People would be trained to make the corrections, ”he said in a 2017 Jewish Exponent article.“ Some of the behaviors that they recognized and were able to correct included depression, anxiety, suicide and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But, until recently, neither I nor my students had researched schizophrenia, which supposedly would not respond to psychotherapy.

The Beck Depression Inventory, a 21-item self-inventory, was developed in 1961 and remains a leading test for measuring the severity of depression.

A few years ago, Medscape noted that Beck had written over 600 scientific papers and 25 books and ranked him as the fourth most influential physician in the past century.

“The father of cognitive therapy, Dr. Aaron Temkin Beck is considered one of the most influential psychotherapists in history and a pioneer in the field of mental health,” the publication writes. “Dr. Beck’s early work on psychoanalytic theories of depression led to his development of cognitive therapy, a new theoretical and clinical direction,” based on the theory that maladaptive thoughts cause psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, which in turn cause or exacerbate symptoms. ‘”

Originally from Providence, Rhode Island, Beck moved to Wynnewood in the mid-1950s to work at Valley Forge Military Hospital. He spent much of his career at the University of Pennsylvania, ending as Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine and as Director of the Aaron T. Beck Psychopathology Research Center.

Beck is also credited with founding the Beck Initiative in conjunction with City of Philadelphia agencies. The initiative is a partnership between academic researchers and clinicians and the city’s behavioral health care system that ensures consumers have access to effective mental health care.

At Beck’s funeral on November 3 at Beth Hillel-Beth El, his children praised their patriarch, known to those close to them as Tim.

The oldest son Roy Beck said he spoke to his father often, including every day from April 2020 until his death.

In his 90s, Tim told his son he was reading a biography of Union President and Army General Ulysses S. Grant.

“He said he didn’t know enough about that time,” Roy Beck said.

Later, Roy Beck said his father was working on a piece of paper at the time of his death, despite being bedridden and too weak to move on his own.

“Most of the time, when I asked him how his day was going, he would say, ‘I had a good day,'” recalls Roy Beck.

“I never retired because I love what I do,” Aaron Beck said in the 2017 Exponent article. “I am constantly on the lookout for new discoveries and applications. So there was no phase in my professional career where I wasn’t working on something new.

Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Alice Beck Dubow said she went to lunch with her father several years ago and began discussing one of Dr Beck’s patients at Norristown State Hospital . The patient, who was suffering from schizophrenia, assaulted an assistant and was incarcerated.

Dr Beck argued to his youngest child that every day the patient passed behind bars would erode the progress they had made. Her daughter said a crime had been committed.

The psychiatrist saw his daughter’s point, but he was still upset.

Years later, Beck Dubow realized his father was right.

“There should have been extra care,” she said, adding that “it nurtured my intellectual development.”

Dr Aaron T. Beck (Courtesy of James J. Craig, c / o Beck Institute)

Dr Judy Beck followed his father into the field of cognitive behavioral therapy, with him founding the Beck Institute at Bala Cynwyd in 1994.

Later in life, she noticed that he was particularly interested in a disease he had neglected: schizophrenia.

Aaron Beck acknowledged that his usual therapeutic approach – focusing on a patient’s negative habits and opinions – doesn’t work with schizophrenic patients. Instead, he had to motivate them to focus on the times when they were at their best.

People with schizophrenia suffer from a feeling of disconnection. It was essential to make them feel that they could use their strengths to connect, said Judy Beck.

His father even told him that he may have made a mistake with cognitive behavioral therapy, his life’s work. Maybe he should have focused on people’s strengths from the start.

“It demonstrated its flexibility,” she said.

Son Dan Beck had no intention of speaking at his father’s funeral. He didn’t think he could sum up a 65-year-old relationship in a matter of minutes. But on the morning of the service he walked around Wynnewood and it came to him.

Dan Beck remembers that given his father’s status, his young friends imagined his house as a bustling intellectual salon. But when they came, they didn’t find Freud himself arguing with Aaron Beck in the living room,
he said.

Instead, the Becks were just a normal Philadelphia family. They even went to Wildwood every August for walks on the boardwalk.

Dan Beck’s first memory with his father was singing “Oh Danny Boy” to him, throwing him in the air and catching him. The son broke every time. Now he is doing the same with his children.

During a difficult time in his 30s, Dan Beck often sought advice from his father.

“He said, ‘Just write down three things you want to do today, and while you’re doing them cross them out,’” Dan recalls. “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow it will work.

“He was right,” Dan Beck said. “Tomorrow it worked. “

Aaron Beck is survived by his wife, Phyllis; the children Roy, Judith, Daniel and Alice; 10 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

[email protected]; 215-832-0740


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