Dr. Aaron T. Beck's recent win of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation's prestigious medical prize for his groundbreaking work in developing cognitive therapy has significant meaning for me on several levels.
First, I grew up hearing about the wonders of the Lasker Foundation and its commitment to medicine through my father, an ophthalmologist, and his very close friendship with Col. Luke Quinn, a health care lobbyist in Washington who worked closely with Mary Lasker in promoting research into eye disease and blindness.
Second, the award is rarely given to psychiatrists. Third, as a psychiatrist who started his career using and developing short-term therapy techniques, I have been deeply influenced by Dr. Beck's work. In fact, it was a powerful force in many of the techniques I developed, used, and taught in my own short-term psychotherapy program for 20 years at New York University Medical Center-Bellevue Hospital.
Dr. Beck is one of many great thinkers, innovators, and clinicians in psychiatry and psychology, such as Albert Ellis, Ph.D., Dr. Frederick "Fritz" Perls, and Carl Rogers, Ph.D. All of these pioneers made substantial contributions to the processes of rethinking maladaptive behaviors, ideas, and perceptions, and they added more effective skills in living more emotionally comfortable lives through talk psychotherapy.
In my work using my learning, philosophizing, and action techniques, in which a cognitive therapeutic approach is applied in varying degrees through learning, philosophizing, and action--depending on the problem to be addressed--I have been able to help people achieve therapeutic goals efficiently and thoughtfully.
All this good work has moved us away from the traditional open-ended, intellectually driven psychoanalytical theories that had such a lock on talk therapy throughout most of the 20th century.
From the time of his 1909 Clark University lectures in Worcester, Mass., Freud's influence not only dominated psychiatry and psychology but intellectualism in education, child rearing, and environmental issues in the United States. This influence slowed and at times actively rebuked many problem-solving, behaviorally oriented treatments that were developed.
As the story goes, Dr. Beck set out in the 1950s to prove psychoanalytic theory valid. As the story continues, he was not able to validate psychoanalytic theory and began to formulate a cognitive style on how people thought and processed information.
He realized that the way in which people thought had a great influence on their emotions, feelings, and behaviors. …