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Epictetus, the ancient Greek, is probably best remembered for reminding us that….. it’s not what happens to us, but how we think about what happens to us that causes us to feel the way we do. Though much of CBT theory is drawn from ancient and contemporary philosophy as well as drawing on some Buddhist principles, CBT as we know it today is primarily derived from the work of two prominent twentieth century American Psychotherapists Dr Albert Ellis (1913 - 2007) and Dr Aaron T Beck (1921 - ).

Albert Ellis, generally considered to be the ‘grandfather’ of the cognitive revolutionary paradigm shift in psychotherapy and the founder of cognitive-behavioral therapies, was inspired by the work of Karen Horney, Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm and Harry Stack Sullivan.

Having trained as a clinical psychologist, Ellis worked as a psychoanalyst. Over time he became increasingly dissatisfied with his clinical experiences of psychoanalysis. He began formulating a therapeutic model that largely focused on identifying and changing what he described as the client’s negative beliefs by demonstrating their rigid, black and white and self-defeatist qualities.

This model of therapy was originally known as Rational Therapy (RT). Through its long development, its named changed several times and finally became Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Prior to his death, a survey by ‘Psychology Today’ named him the ‘greatest living psychologist’. He founded the Albert Ellis Institute in Manhattan which continues today as a training institute and psychological clinic.

Aaron T. Beck was a psychiatrist and, similarly to Ellis, a psychoanalyst who was unhappy with the progress many of his clients made using the psychoanalytic model. He decided to research the psychoanalytic theory of depression (and in the context of Ellis’s earlier work) he formulated his own conceptualization of depression focussing on his clients’ stream of spontaneous automatic negative thoughts and (similarly to Ellis) realised that this automatic thinking fell into negative evaluations and predictions about the self, the world and the future.

As well as being a very active and skilled clinician, Beck and his many colleagues have researched the efficacy of the CBT model on many psychological and behavioural disorders as well as medical disorders that have a psychological component.

Arguably, his research and the enormous body of subsequent and ongoing research into the application of CBT has made the greatest impact to psychological treatment in the last forty years.

Aaron T. Beck, M.D., is the President Emeritus of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, University Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Psychopathology Research Unit.

In part three of our guide to CBT we begin to look at the practicalities of the therapy, beginning with triggers, negative thinking and the cognitive loop.

About the author

Robin is the co-founder of Companion Apps and is a psychologist with an expertise in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.


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