Dr. Aaron T. Beck, whose brand of pragmatic, thought-monitoring psychotherapy became the centerpiece of a scientific transformation in the treatment of depression, anxiety and many related mental disorders, died on Monday at his home in Philadelphia. He was 100.
His death was confirmed by Alex Shortall, an executive assistant at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., outside Philadelphia. Dr. Beck’s daughter Dr. Judith Beck is its president.
Dr. Beck was a young psychiatrist trained in Freudian analysis when, in the late 1950s, he began prompting patients to focus on distortions in their day-to-day thinking, rather than on conflicts buried in childhood, as therapists typically did. He discovered that many people generated what he called “automatic thoughts,” unexamined assumptions like “I’m just unlucky in love” or “I’ve always been socially inept,” which can give rise to self-criticism, despair and self-defeating attempts to compensate, like promiscuity or heavy drinking.