Aaron Beck Theory – His Contribution To Psychology
Updated December 17, 2018
Reviewer Tiffany Howard, LPC, LCADC
There are a lot of individuals in history that have studied mental health and developed theories based off of their studies. One of these individuals is Aaron T. Beck. He is known as the father of Cognitive Therapy. Beck took a different approach to therapy for his depressed patients, and it opened the door to a new way of doing things. He has been named one of the "Americans in history which shaped the face of American Psychiatry" as well as one of the "five most influential psychotherapists of all time." He has made a lasting impact on the mental health world through his work.
Aaron Beck Psychology Contribution
Aaron T. Beck contributed to the growth of cognitive psychology in many ways. His theory opened the door for many new ideas in the world of psychology. From his original theory, many other theories have been created by other professionals in the field. But, it all started with the work of Aaron Beck.
What Is Cognitive Therapy?
Before we dive into the beliefs and details of the Aaron Beck Theory, it's important to understand what cognitive theory means. Through his work, Beck became convinced of the impact that thoughts had on an individual. He developed a cognitive therapy which focuses on the way a person is thinking. It deals with people's thoughts and behaviors and the impact that they have on that person. Instead of focusing on working back to a person's past and childhood, cognitive therapy focuses on the thoughts that the person is having at present.
During his work as a psychiatrist, Beck began to see that his depressed patients tended to have negative thoughts. This is what set him on the path to discovering how a person's thoughts impact their behavior.
Beck believed that if you could challenge the person's negative thinking, and replace it with better thoughts, you could have a positive impact on the health of the individual. While this work started with depressed patients, he found it to be successful in helping many other issues as well. For example, cognitive therapy is now used to help eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, anger, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
What Was The Difference?
It's not that people didn't know that people with depression had negative thoughts, it is what order they came in. Beck believed that when someone was allowing their thoughts to be negative, it led to depression. He believed that thoughts, feelings, and behavior were all linked together. When someone thought negatively, they then felt bad, which causes them to behave poorly. Then, it becomes a cycle. When the person acts poorly, they have negative outcomes to situations which causes them to have more negative thoughts.
Beck saw that the way to break this cycle was actually by changing the thoughts before focusing on changing the behavior. He believed that if a person is working on correcting their thoughts, they would eventually see that their feelings and behavior would change because of it.
How It Works
Beck also believed that people that were depressed tended to look around at their surroundings to pick out the things that back up what their negative thoughts were telling them. So, instead of seeing anything good that was happening around them they only focused on the negative. To change that behavior, you have to change the original thought that leads to it.
His theory was based on the idea that these negative thoughts were automatic for his clients. They were not choosing to think them, but they were also not choosing to challenge the thought to see if it was true. They were thinking about whatever thought came into their head. Beck believed that people more likely to struggle with depression had different thoughts than those that did not. Therefore, he concluded that if you change the thoughts, you change the behavior as well.
The first step in changing your thinking is to discover what negative and wrong thoughts you are having. Then, cognitive therapy works to help identify thought patterns that are established in a person's mind. These patterns lead to distorted thoughts that lead to undesirable feelings and behaviors. When the patterns and thoughts have been identified the individual than learns the skills to change the thoughts.
Clients that are undergoing cognitive therapy are taught how to identify the difference between their thoughts and reality. They learn how important their thoughts are and to monitor them. Therapy will also include receiving homework that challenges the beliefs and behaviors of the client. For example, it may require that the client put themselves into a social situation that they would normally avoid. As they do the homework, they focus on putting their new skills into practice.
Dysfunctional Belief Themes
Beck believed that there were three main types of dysfunctional beliefs, or thoughts, which depressed people experience. In fact, he believed that these thoughts dominated the thinking of someone struggling with depression.
- "I am defective or inadequate." When people are depressed, they tend to personalize everything that happens to them. They believe that the reason that negative things happen to them is that they are inadequate or defective. So, instead of seeing that there may be an outside cause of a situation, they internalize the situation. It happened because there is something wrong with them.
- " All of my experiences result in defeats or failure." This type of thinking keeps someone struggling with depression in the state for even longer. They do not want to try something new or try to get the help they need because they fail at everything they do. If they are going to fail anyway, then why even try would be a question they would ask themselves.
- "The future is hopeless." Beck believed that when someone was suffering from depression that they were consumed with the thought that the future is hopeless. When you look at the first two types of thoughts, it will make sense why someone would think this way after a while.
Beck called these three types of dysfunctional thoughts the Negative Cognitive Triad. His theory is that if someone has these three types of thinking they are likely to experience depression or already be depressed.
Beck Depression Inventory
Aaron T Beck also created the Beck Depression Inventory. The inventory is a simple questionnaire that individuals can use to evaluate 21 different items that can lead to depression. These items include things like guilt, work difficulty, insomnia, change in body image, loss of libido, pessimism, self-dislike, sense of failure, and mood.
A person goes through the questionnaire chooses how they are feeling for each area and receives a score. You are determining what range your answer is to the question. Here is an example:
0 - I don't feel disappointed in myself
1 - I am disappointed in myself
2 - I am disgusted with myself
3 - I hate myself
After they have completed each section, they add up their points to see which range they fall into. The lower the score indicates that the person is experiencing normal feelings. And, higher scores indicate that it would be wise for the person to seek help from a professional because they could be suffering from severe depression. Individuals can use this to determine if they are suffering from a problem with depression. It is a reliable tool to help people realize that they may need help. However, it should not be used for self-diagnosis, simply a resource to assist in the process.
The Lasting Impact Of Aaron Beck
Without the work of Aaron Beck, so many people might not have received the treatment that they needed to become well. His theory was not only effective but powerful. When individuals are taught the skills that they need to control their thinking, they become responsible for their mental health. They learn that on days when they are struggling, they have the power to make a positive change in their thought process.
However, there are some that criticize the ideas of Aaron Beck. These people believe that the theory ignores the fact that a depressed person may be experiencing legitimately difficult situations in life. They don't believe that teaching that is simply controlling thoughts is enough to the right every situation. There are many forms of therapy, and sometimes it is a combination of them that is the answer for a person.
Seek Help If Needed
Regardless of what your belief is on the theory, the main point of each theory is that the client receives the help that they need. If you are struggling through difficult times and find yourself struggling with your thoughts and mental health, it's time to speak to a professional and experienced therapist. Aaron Beck's theory was not designed for people to take the challenge on alone. You can work on changing your thoughts, but it is still wise to speak with a trained professional. There is even online therapist available that makes getting the help that you need fast and convenient.