Dr. phil. Iván Moya Diez
“The cognitive revolution in therapeutic practice: adapting scientific ideals and forming subjects in Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy, 1950-1990.”
(DFG Founded Project)
Since the 1960s, cognitive therapy has become the most widely used form of psychotherapy and the therapeutic ‘gold standard’ in Western societies. This success is often explained by its roots in science: not only does cognitive therapy supposedly stem from the cognitive revolution brought about by the cognitive sciences, but it aims to correct the irrational thinking of the patients by teaching them to think and to act in scientific ways. In addition, cognitive therapy also demonstrated its therapeutic effectiveness early on via randomized controlled studies. In this research project, we want to examine the history of cognitive therapy, paying particular attention to its relationship to science and its normative effects on the subjects involved in the therapeutic process, namely, the patients and the practitioners. We are especially interested in the epistemic, cultural, social, and economic contexts surrounding cognitive therapy’s emergence and development. For this purpose, we will focus on the model proposed by Aaron T. Beck (1921-2021), widely recognized as the founding father of cognitive therapy, during the period from 1950 to 1990 in America.
Although the history of cognitive therapy (CT) has been mostly neglected by historians of science, in a preliminary attempt to historize CT’s narrative of a scientific technique, we identified five historical trajectories contributing to the development of CT: the interprofessional competition among mental health professionals promoting new treatments; the development of clinical trials in the context of the crisis of legitimacy of U.S. psychiatry; the cognitive revolution leading to the constitution of the cognitive science; the ideals of science in post-war America; and the rise of political movements and their promises of social revolutions.
Our initial hypothesis is that CT did not develop as a monolithic and unique style of reasoning, obeying its self-proclaimed scientific ideals, but as a dynamic, changing, and only relatively coherent assemblage of therapeutic and research practices with specific normative effects on subjects. Based on historical epistemology, combined with historical discourse analysis and praxeological approaches, our proposed research will examine archival materials from the archives of A.T. Beck, as well as published works and eyewitness interviews with early practitioners and patients. First, we will elaborate a descriptive mapping of the history of CT and then, we will perform further analysis on how CT interacted with different notions of science, rationality, and revolution embedded in its research and therapeutic practices. We aim to show that 'science' functioned in CT in at least four ways: as a discursive ideal for boundary work, as a form of symbolic capital, a way of standardizing and circulating practices, and as a technology of the self.