Aaron Beck

Photo: Jim Harrison

Aaron Beck

Human Condition
7th Heinz Awards - 2001

Dr. Aaron Beck received the 7th Heinz Award in the Human Condition category for his pioneering breakthrough in developing cognitive therapy as an effective treatment of psychological disorders in millions of individuals suffering mental and behavioral health challenges. Dr. Beck is the founder of the fastest growing, most extensively studied form of psychotherapy in America.

Presently the University Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Beck is world renowned as the “father of cognitive therapy.” He was trained as a psychiatrist in the 1940s and ‘50s when the prevailing treatments for mental disorders were either medication or psychoanalytic therapy. He felt that neither of these approaches was conducive to helping people learn to help themselves, to develop confidence and hope, and to effect enduring positive change.

Dr. Beck’s early research into the psychology of depression prompted him to develop a treatment that would help patients understand and deal with their psychological problems. This research led to significant advances in the treatment not only of depression, but also of anxiety, panic and eating disorders, phobias and suicidality as well. More recently, this treatment has been applied successfully to address substance abuse and schizophrenia.

Cognitive therapists believe that psychological disorders are based in part on distorted outlooks, which can be adjusted if a patient recognizes his errors in thinking. By identifying self-defeating thoughts in emotional, psychological and behavioral disorders, cognitive therapists can offer patients immediate treatment, unlike more traditional therapies that take much longer to have perceptible impact. In fact, cognitive therapy is the only psychotherapy to have had over 200 clinical trials or outcome studies indicating its effectiveness.

Dr. Beck’s cognitive therapy has brought relief to millions of patients and sparked a revolution in psychotherapy. His courageous and brilliant research, practice, teaching and mentorship have resulted in the training of thousands of mental health professionals who are making significant advances in helping people who suffer the ill effects of stress and emotional disorders. Over the years, mental health professionals from around the world have gravitated to Dr. Beck and, more recently, to the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research in Philadelphia, seeking a new direction for their life’s work.

Dr. Beck’s contributions to his field have also influenced other mental health disciplines as well, including psychiatric social work, nursing and counseling.

Note: This profile was written at the time of the awards’ presentation.

Aaron Beck passed away on November 1, 2021.

It’s not the problem that’s the problem, but how we see the problem that is the problem.”

— Aaron Beck


Aaron Beck, Heinz Awardee speech, 2001 Heinz Awards presentation, Folger Theatre