CBT: An audience with Dr. Aaron Beck for A Level students

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

@BeckInstitute recently tweeted a link (retweeted by @BPSOfficial) to a number of interesting short videos covering a Q and A session (part of a CBT workshop) with Dr. Aaron Beck on a number of aspects of CBT. The videos (available on You Tube) provide an often rare opportunity for learners at A Level to hear from a highly influential Psychologist first hand and I think make a useful resource for use in a variety of ways both in and outside of the classroom. This post outlines a few ways that these videos could compliment the AQA A specification (or any other spec where CBT is a feature).

1. Broad AO2: Skills of the therapist

In one of the videos, entitled “Tips for the Cognitive Behaviour Therapist”, Beck highlights a therapy-wide issue relating to the impact of the skills of the therapist on the effectiveness of the therapy. Students could take this broad issue and attempt to contextualise the problem trying to make it highly relevant to the disorder they are studying at A2 (Unit 4: Psychopathology).

2. A learning activity with the help of the Beck Institute’s website

The Beck Institute’s website, like most, contains a page dedicated to frequently asked questions about CBT intended for prospective trainers or users of this form of Psychotherapy. These FAQ’s actually pose questions that A Level Psychology students should be able to answer to a degree once they have studied CBT (the depth of answer obviously would differ depending whether these are AS or A2 students). Ask students to write answers to the listed questions, which include “How do Cognitive Behaviour therapists help patients become their own therapists”, then compare and contrast student answers with those on the website, clarifying misunderstandings where necessary.

3. Stretch and challenge

Those students striving for A* grades or those who are simply more interested in Psychology may find the videos that cover broader issues of Psychotherapy particularly interesting and enriching. In one of the videos (“Neurobiology and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy”) Beck discusses how CBT might work from a neurobiological perspective. I am going to attempt to summarise the idea here and apologise profusely if my attempt dilutes or distorts Beck’s intended meaning in any way. Beck suggests that in the case of Depression CBT might have a dual effect, both reactivating the rational functioning (the reflective), associated with the prefrontal cortex for example, but at the same time deactivating the hyperactivity in the brain functioning associated with irrationality (the reflexive). This discussion should enable students to see that criticising Psychological approaches for neglecting to consider biological influences is not always a warranted criticism; Beck’s own interest in how the Cognitive and Biological approaches might fit together demonstrates this nicely.

Beck also discusses the use of technology to deliver CBT and the need for Psychotherapy to develop in order to address the lack of available CBT for those that need it. In “The Future of Individual Therapy” Dr Beck suggests the need to take a triage approach, echoing the approach in medical health care. To cope with the shortage of therapists those patients most in need of therapy should, according to Beck, receive CBT from therapists with the highest level of training and experience whilst those with milder symptoms can benefit from access to practitioners with a more general training background and/or technology-based CBT delivery methods.

These videos have the potential to stretch learners and also help to ensure students are exploring the specification with a sense of what is happening now and what might happen in the future in Psychology – or at least in the field of Psychotherapy.

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