PHILADELPHIA — Aaron T. Beck, MD, an emeritus professor in the department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, became the first recipient of the Kennedy Community Mental Health Award from the Kennedy Forum, a new initiative led by former U.S. representative Patrick J. Kennedy focused on improving the lives of people with mental illness, while at the same time recognizing the enormous strides made in patient care and research over the last 50 years.

Dr. Beck was honored as the ‘father of cognitive therapy’ and as one of the most influential individuals within the community of mental health. 

Dr. Beck  received the award October 23 at the inaugural Kennedy Forum gala in The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s signing of the Community Mental Health Act, a landmark bill that laid the foundation of contemporary mental health policy and transformed the way mental illness was treated.  

Vice President Joe Biden gave the opening remarks, stressing the need for more brain research and removing the stigma of mental illness. Chelsea Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were also attendance.

Dr. Beck is considered the father of cognitive therapy, having created and refined cognitive therapy over the course of his research and clinical career. Dr. Beck first became interested in mental illness, depression in particular, years before the Community Mental Health Act passed, when he was a Boston Red Sox fan during the teams’ losing years.

He has published more than 600 scholarly articles and 24 books and has developed widely-used assessment scales.

He has received many prestigious awards, including the 2006 Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award for developing cognitive therapy, which fundamentally changed the way that psychopathology is viewed and its treatment is conducted. He has been listed as one of the "10 individuals who shaped the face of American Psychiatry" and one of the 5 most influential psychotherapists of all time.

Dr. Beck also serves as director of the Aaron T. Beck Psychopathology Research Center, which is the parent organization of the Center for the Prevention of Suicide. His current research focuses on cognitive therapy for suicide prevention, dissemination of cognitive therapy into community settings, and cognitive therapy for schizophrenia.

The Kennedy Forum gala was paired with a full-day conference on October 24, featuring panel discussions and breakout sessions covering a wide range of topics including: advances in mental health research and treatment; community approaches to mental and substance use disorders and intellectual and developmental disabilities; and improvements in treatment of mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities and substance use disorders from the Affordable Care Act and Mental Health Parity Act.

“In the decades since the landmark signing of that legislation, the mental health community has made great strides,” said Kennedy in a statement. “But we have much more to do to honor President Kennedy’s legacy, achieve equality, and improve care for those suffering from mental illness, intellectual disabilities and addictions.”

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.

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