Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A Short Historical Overview

Until mid-60s, behaviorism was the dominant approach in both the understanding and the treatment of psychopathologies.

Then, however, behavior therapists came to accept that taking classical or operant conditioning as the sole explanation of the development of psychopathologies and working on behavior alone was not enough for progress in many conditions.

This was a call for cognitive concepts to be introduced in psychotherapy and, eventually cognitive therapy came into the picture.

The pioneers of cognitive therapy Albert Ellis (Rational Emotive Therapy) and Aaron T. Beck (Cognitive Therapy) were both trained for psychodynamic therapy. In their models, they emphasized the importance of cognitive processes for both the development and the treatment of psychological disorders while accepting the behavioral interventions as one way to treat certain pathologies.

Eventually in 80s, cognitive and behavioral interventions were integrated, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies emerged.

Since many contributions have been made to this great integration by numerous scientists and practitioners, I sometimes use the term Cognitive Behavioral Therapies instead of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy since the former allows the inclusion of all psychotherapy approaches based on the cognitive model such as Schema Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Metacognitive Therapy and so on, together with the traditional CBT.

Although every approach is different from each other they share the common idea that psychological problems might be caused in part by our maladaptive/unhelpful/irrational ways of thinking, or behaviors.

Thanks for reading,



Beck, A. T. (2005). The Current State of Cognitive Therapy: A 40-Year Retrospective. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62.

Goldfried, M. R. (2003). Cognitive–Behavior Therapy: Reflections on the Evolution of a Therapeutic Orientation. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 27 (1).

Dobson, K. S., & Dozois, D. J. A. (ed) (2019). Handbook of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. New York, NY:The Guilford Press.

Shawe-Taylor, M., Rigby J (1999). Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Its Evolution and Basic Principles. The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 119(4).

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