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Director’s Update: Aaron Beck, Founder of Cognitive Therapy, Receives Coveted Lasker Award

Aaron T. Beck, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, the founder of cognitive therapy, and a long-time NIMH grantee, was named the recipient of the prestigious Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research on September 17, 2006. The Lasker Foundation recognizes "scientists, physicians, and public servants whose accomplishments have made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and even cure of many of the great crippling and killing diseases of our century." Seventy-one recipients of the Lasker Award have gone on to win the Nobel Prize for their work, most within two years of receiving the Lasker Award.

Dr. Beck has received NIH support for more than 40 years, with a total of 13 grants, of which NIMH awarded 11. Trained as a psychiatrist and interested in neurology, Dr. Beck is perhaps most noted for developing cognitive therapy and building the evidence-base for its use in mental health. Through his work spanning more than 50 years, he managed to fundamentally change the classification and treatment of psychiatric disorders. He helped define disease characteristics and developed a vital form of psychotherapy that is used to treat a variety of illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, suicidal behavior, and personality disorders. Dr. Beck also helped develop 19 diagnostic scales for measuring symptom severity, including one of the most widely used scales in clinical practice and research, the Beck Depression Inventory. These scales have been critical in bringing about greater rigor in basic research as well as in clinical trials.

In addition, Dr. Beck has published more than 500 research articles, authored or co-authored 17 books, and received numerous research awards and honors. In 1994, Dr. Beck and his daughter, Dr. Judith Beck, founded the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research near Philadelphia, a natural outgrowth of his research center at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Beck has also been named, in separate instances, one of the "Americans in history who shaped the face of American Psychiatry"1 and one of the "five most influential psychotherapists of all time."2

1. Talbott, J.A. (2002). Dix Personalité Qui Ont Changé le Visage de la Psychiatric Américaine. L'Information Psychiatrique, 78(7), 667-675.

2. The American Psychologist (July 1989)