Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

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The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) was founded in 1966. Its headquarters are in New York City and its membership includes researchers, psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, social workers, marriage and family therapists, nurses, and other mental-health practitioners and students. These members support, use, and/or disseminate behavioral and cognitive approaches. Notable past presidents of the association include Joseph Wolpe, Steven C. Hayes, Michelle Craske, Jonathan Abramowitz, Marsha M. Linehan, Linda C. Sobell, Kelly D. Brownell, Gerald Davison, and Alan E. Kazdin. [1]


Mission statement

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies is an interdisciplinary organization committed to the advancement of a scientific approach to the understanding and amelioration of problems of the human condition. These aims are achieved through the investigation and application of behavioral, cognitive, prevention, and treatment. [2] While primarily an interest group, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies is also active in:

  1. Encouraging the development, study, and dissemination of scientific approaches to behavioral health.
  2. Promoting the utilization, expansion, and dissemination of behavioral, cognitive, and other empirically derived practices.
  3. Facilitating professional development, interaction, and networking among members.

Professional activities

Through its membership, publications, convention and education committees, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies conducts a variety of activities to support and disseminate the behavioral and cognitive therapies. The organization produces two quarterly journals, Behavior Therapy (research-based) and Cognitive and Behavioral Practice (treatment focused), as well as its house periodical, the Behavior Therapist (eight times per year). The association's convention is held annually in November. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies also produces fact sheets, an assessment series, and training and archival videotapes. The association maintains a website ( on which can be found a "Find-a-Therapist" search engine and information about behavioral and cognitive therapies. The organization provides its members with an online clinical directory, over 30 special interest groups, a list serve, a job bank, and an awards and recognition program. Other offerings available on the website include sample course syllabi, listings of grants available, and a broad range of offerings of interest to mental health researchers.


The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies was founded in 1966 under the name Association for Advancement of Behavioral Therapies [3] by 10 behaviorists who were dissatisfied with the prevailing Freudian/psychoanalytic model (Its founding members include: John Paul Brady, Joseph Cautela, Edward Dengrove, Cyril Franks, Martin Gittelman, Leonard Krasner, Arnold Lazarus, Andrew Salter, Dorothy Susskind, and Joseph Wolpe). the Freudian/psychoanalytic model refers to the Id, Ego, and Superego within each individual as they interpret and interact with the world and those around them. Although the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies was not established until 1966, its history begins in the early 1900s with the birth of the behaviorist movement, which was brought about by Pavlov, Watson, Skinner, Thorndike, Hull, Mowrer, and others—scientists who, concerned primarily with observable behavior, were beginning to experiment with conditioning and learning theory. By the 1950s, two entities—Hans Eysenck's research group (which included one of AABT's founders Cyril Franks) at the University of London Institute of Psychiatry, and Joseph Wolpe's research group (which included another of AABT's founders, Arnold Lazarus) in South Africa—were conducting important studies that would establish behavior therapy as a science based on principles of learning. In complete opposition to the psychoanalytic model, "The seminal significance of behavior therapy was the commitment to apply the principles and procedures of experimental psychology to clinical problems, to rigorously evaluate the effects of therapy, and to ensure that clinical practice was guided by such objective evaluation". [4] [5]

The first president of the association was Cyril Franks, who also founded the organization's flagship journal Behavior Therapy and was the first editor of the Association for Advancement of Behavioral Therapies Newsletter. The first annual meeting of the association took place in 1967, in Washington, DC, concurrent with the American Psychological Association's meeting.

An article in the November 1967 issue of the Newsletter, entitled "Behavior Therapy and Not Behavior Therapies" (Wilson & Evans, 1967), [6] influenced the association's first name change from Association for Advancement of Behavioral Therapies to Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy because, as the authors argued, "the various techniques of behavior therapy all derive from learning theory and should not be misinterpreted as different kinds of behavior therapy...". [3] This issue remains a debate in the field and within the organization, particularly with the emergence of the term "cognitive behavioral therapies." This resulted in yet another name change in 2005 to the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

The Association for Advancement of Behavioral Therapies/Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies has been at the forefront of the professional, legal, social, and ethical controversies and dissemination efforts that have accompanied the field's evolution. The 1970s was perhaps the most "explosive" (see Stuart, 1974) [7] and controversial decade for the field of behavior therapy, as it suffered from an overall negative public image and received numerous attacks from the press regarding behavior modification and its possible unethical uses. In Gerald Davison's (AABT's 8th president) public "Statement on Behavior Modification from the AABT", he asserted that "it is a serious mistake ... to equate behavior therapy with the use of electric shocks applied to the extremities..." and "a major contribution of behavior therapy has been a profound commitment to full description of procedures and careful evaluation of their effects". [8] From this point, AABT became instrumental in enacting legislative guidelines that protected human research subjects, and they also became active in efforts to educate the public.

Mental professionals

The training of mental health professionals has also been a significant priority for the association. Along with its annual meeting, AABT created an "ad hoc review mechanism" in the 1970s through the 1980s whereby a state could receive a review of a behavior therapy program. This led to the yearly publication of a widely used resource, "The Directory of Training Programs". With growing concerns over quality control and standardization of practice, the certification of behavior therapists also became an issue in the 1970s. This debate led to the development of a Diplomate in behavior therapy at APA and for those behavioral therapy practices from a more radical behavioral perspective, the development of certification in behavior analysis at the master level (see professional practice of behavior analysis).

An ongoing debate within the association concerns what many consider to be a movement away from basic behavioral science as the field has attempted to advance and integrate more and more "new" therapies/specializations, particularly the addition of cognitive theory and its variety of techniques. John Forsyth, in his special issue of Behavior Therapy [9] entitled "Thirty Years of Behavior Therapy: Promises Kept, Promises Unfulfilled", summarized this opposition as follows: "(a) cognition is not behavior, (b) behavior principles and theory cannot account for events occurring within the skin, and most important, (c) we therefore need a unique conceptual system to account for how thinking, feeling, and other private events relate to overt human action". [10] The field's desire to maintain its scientific foundations and yet continue to advance and grow, was reflected in its most recent discussion about adding the word "cognitive" to the name of the association. [11]

Many notable scholars have served as president of the association, including Joseph Wolpe, Arnold Lazarus, Nathan Azrin, Steven C. Hayes, and David Barlow. The current executive director of the ABCT is Mary Jane Eimer, CAE. For a wealth of historical specifics (governing bodies, lists of editors, past presidents, award winners, SIGs, and conventions from the past 40 years) see ABCT's 40th anniversary issue of the Behavior Therapist. [12]

About behavioral and cognitive therapies

Cognitive and behavioral therapists help people learn to actively cope with, confront, reformulate, and/or change the maladaptive cognitions, behaviors, and symptoms that limit their ability to function, cause emotional distress, and accompany the wide range of mental health disorders. Goal-oriented, time-limited, research-based, and focused on the present, the cognitive and behavioral approach is collaborative. This approach values feedback from the client, and encourages the client to play an active role in setting goals and the overall course and pace of treatment. Importantly, behavioral interventions are characterized by a "direct focus on observable behavior". [13] Practitioners teach clients concrete skills and exercises—from breathing retraining, to keeping thought records to behavioral rehearsal—to practice at home and in sessions, with the overall goal of optimal functioning and the ability to engage in life fully.

Because cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on broad principles of human learning and adaptation, it can be used to accomplish a wide variety of goals. CBT has been applied to issues ranging from depression and anxiety, to the improvement of the quality of parenting, relationships, and personal effectiveness.

Numerous scientific studies and research have documented the helpfulness of CBT programs for a wide range of concerns throughout the lifespan. These concerns include children's behavior problems, health promotion, weight management, pain management, sexual dysfunction, stress, violence and victimization, serious mental illness, relationship issues, academic problems, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, developmental disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, social phobia, school refusal and school phobia, hair pulling (trichotillomania) and much more. Cognitive-behavioral treatments are subject randomized controlled trials and "have been subjected to more rigorous evaluation using randomized controlled trials than any of the other psychological therapies". [4] There is discussion of using technology to determine diagnosis and host interventions according to research done by W. Edward Craighead. This would be done using “genetic analysis” and “neuroimaging” to create more individualized treatment plans. [14] [15]

Special interest groups

The ABCT has more than 40 special interest groups for its members. [16] These include groups for issues involving African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic groups such as children and adolescents; couples; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people; students; military personnel; and the criminal justice system. The ABCT works within these groups to overcome addictive behaviors and mental illnesses that may cause negativity in these groups life. A group that the ABCT has supported well is the special interest group of the criminal justice system. The ABCT helps provide the prison system with knowledge of how to more humanely treat those who committed crimes and give people the proper care and attention to become great citizens. [17] [18]

Related Research Articles

Cognitive behavioral therapy Therapy to improve mental health

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health. CBT focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems. Originally, it was designed to treat depression, but its uses have been expanded to include treatment of a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety. CBT includes a number of cognitive or behavior psychotherapies that treat defined psychopathologies using evidence-based techniques and strategies.

Psychotherapy is the use of psychological methods, particularly when based on regular personal interaction with adults, to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways. Psychotherapy aims to improve an individual's well-being and mental health, to resolve or mitigate troublesome behaviors, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills. There is also a range of psychotherapies designed for children and adolescents, which typically involve play, such as sandplay. Certain psychotherapies are considered evidence-based for treating some diagnosed mental disorders. Others have been criticized as pseudoscience.

Group psychotherapy or group therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which one or more therapists treat a small group of clients together as a group. The term can legitimately refer to any form of psychotherapy when delivered in a group format, including Art therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy, but it is usually applied to psychodynamic group therapy where the group context and group process is explicitly utilized as a mechanism of change by developing, exploring and examining interpersonal relationships within the group.

Clinical psychology is an integration of science, theory, and clinical knowledge for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Central to its practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation, and psychotherapy, although clinical psychologists also engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development and administration. In many countries, clinical psychology is a regulated mental health profession.

Cognitive restructuring (CR) is a psychotherapeutic process of learning to identify and dispute irrational or maladaptive thoughts known as cognitive distortions, such as all-or-nothing thinking (splitting), magical thinking, over-generalization, magnification, and emotional reasoning, which are commonly associated with many mental health disorders. CR employs many strategies, such as Socratic questioning, thought recording, and guided imagery, and is used in many types of therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT). A number of studies demonstrate considerable efficacy in using CR-based therapies.

Behaviour therapy or behavioural psychotherapy is a broad term referring to clinical psychotherapy that uses techniques derived from behaviourism and/or cognitive psychology. It looks at specific, learned behaviours and how the environment, or other people's mental states, influences those behaviours, and consists of techniques based on learning theory, such as respondent or operant conditioning. Behaviourists who practice these techniques are either behaviour analysts or cognitive-behavioural therapists. They tend to look for treatment outcomes that are objectively measurable. Behaviour therapy does not involve one specific method but it has a wide range of techniques that can be used to treat a person's psychological problems.

Acceptance and commitment therapy Type of psychotherapy that uses acceptance and other strategies to increase psychological flexibility

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a form of psychotherapy and a branch of clinical behavior analysis. It is an empirically-based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies mixed in different ways with commitment and behavior-change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. The approach was originally called comprehensive distancing. Steven C. Hayes developed acceptance and commitment therapy in 1982 in order to create a mixed approach which integrates both covert conditioning and behavior therapy. There are a variety of protocols for ACT, depending on the target behavior or setting. For example, in behavioral health areas a brief version of ACT is called focused acceptance and commitment therapy (FACT).

Cognitive therapy (CT) is a type of psychotherapy developed by American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. CT is one of the therapeutic approaches within the larger group of cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) and was first expounded by Beck in the 1960s. Cognitive therapy is based on the cognitive model, which states that thoughts, feelings and behavior are all connected, and that individuals can move toward overcoming difficulties and meeting their goals by identifying and changing unhelpful or inaccurate thinking, problematic behavior, and distressing emotional responses. This involves the individual working collaboratively with the therapist to develop skills for testing and modifying beliefs, identifying distorted thinking, relating to others in different ways, and changing behaviors. A tailored cognitive case conceptualization is developed by the cognitive therapist as a roadmap to understand the individual's internal reality, select appropriate interventions and identify areas of distress.

History of psychotherapy

Although modern, scientific psychology is often dated from the 1879 opening of the first psychological clinic by Wilhelm Wundt, attempts to create methods for assessing and treating mental distress existed long before. The earliest recorded approaches were a combination of religious, magical and/or medical perspectives. Early examples of such psychological thinkers included Patañjali, Padmasambhava, Rhazes, Avicenna and Rumi.

Functional analytic psychotherapy (FAP) is a psychotherapeutic approach based on clinical behavior analysis (CBA) that focuses on the therapeutic relationship as a means to maximize client change. Specifically, FAP suggests that in-session contingent responding to client target behaviors leads to significant therapeutic improvements.

Arnold Allan Lazarus was a South African-born clinical psychologist and researcher who specialized in cognitive therapy and is best known for developing multimodal therapy (MMT). A 1955 graduate of South Africa's CHIPS University of the Witwatersrand, Lazarus' accomplishments include authoring the first text on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) called Behaviour Therapy and Beyond and 17 other books, over 300 clinical articles, and presidencies of psychological associations; he received numerous awards including the Distinguished Psychologist Award of the Division of Psychotherapy from the American Psychological Association, the Distinguished Service Award from the American Board of Professional Psychology, and three lifetime achievement awards. Lazarus was a leader in the self-help movement beginning in the 1970s writing books on positive mental imagery and avoiding negative thoughts. He spent time teaching at various universities in the United States including Rutgers University, Stanford University, Temple University Medical School, and Yale University, and was executive director of The Lazarus Institute, a mental health services facility focusing on CBT.

Interoceptive exposure is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique used in the treatment of panic disorder. It refers to carrying out exercises that bring about the physical sensations of a panic attack, such as hyperventilation and high muscle tension, and in the process removing the patient's conditioned response that the physical sensations will cause an attack to happen.

Gerhard Andersson

Gerhard Andersson is a Swedish psychologist, psychotherapist and Professor of clinical psychology at Linköping University. He was previously affiliated researcher at Karolinska Institutet. He was a co-recipient of the Nordic Medical Prize in 2014.

Metacognitive therapy (MCT) is a psychotherapy focused on modifying metacognitive beliefs that perpetuate states of worry, rumination and attention fixation. It was created by Adrian Wells based on an information processing model by Wells and Gerald Matthews. It is supported by scientific evidence from a large number of studies.

Homework in psychotherapy is sometimes assigned to patients as part of their treatment. In this context, homework assignments are introduced to practice skills taught in therapy, encourage patients to apply the skills they learned in therapy to real life situations, and to improve on specific problems encountered in treatment. For example, a patient with deficits in social skills may learn and rehearse proper social skills in one treatment session, then be asked to complete homework assignments before the next session that apply those newly learned skills.

Victor Campbell Meyer, or Vic Meyer, was a British psychologist at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School of the University of London and has been called the father of behavioral case formulation, an approach toward understanding complex psychiatric problems using learning principles derived from scientific psychological research and uniquely adapted to the individual case by means of the experimental method as a way to develop an effective intervention regimen. Meyer is credited by the British Psychological Society for his influential work in creating case formulation along with three other innovators: Hans Eysenck, Monte B. Shapiro, and Ira Turkat. Turkat credited Meyer as the pioneer of the framework of what is generally known today as case formulation, a required core skill for all British practicing psychologists since 2011.

Michelle Craske

Michelle G. Craske is a Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Behavioral Sciences, Miller Endowed Chair, Director of the Anxiety and Depression Research Center, and Associate Director of the Staglin Family Music Center for Behavioral and Brain Health at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is known for her research on anxiety disorders, including phobia and panic disorder, and the use of fear extinction through exposure therapy as treatment. Other research focuses on anxiety and depression in childhood and adolescence and the use of cognitive behavioral therapy as treatment. Craske served as the past president of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy. She was a member of the DSM-IV work group on Anxiety Disorders and the DSM-5 work group on Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum, Posttraumatic, and Dissociative Disorders, while chairing the sub-work group on Anxiety Disorders. She is the editor-in-chief of Behaviour Research and Therapy.

David H. Barlow

David H. Barlow is an American psychologist and Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Psychiatry at Boston University. He is board certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Barlow is known for his research and publications on the etiology, nature, and treatment of anxiety disorders. The models and treatment methods that he developed for anxiety and related disorders are widely used in clinical training and practice. Barlow is one of the most frequently cited psychologists in the world.

Anne Marie Albano is a clinical psychologist known for her clinical work and research on psychosocial treatments for anxiety and mood disorders, and the impact of these disorders on the developing youth. She is a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University and is the founding director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders.

Antonette M. Zeiss is an American psychologist. Zeiss was chief consultant for mental health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs Central Office – the first woman and the first psychologist to hold this position. In 2013 she received the lifetime achievement award from the American Psychological Association (APA).


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  12. Albano, A. M. (2006). "40 years of ABCT [Special issue]". The Behavior Therapist. 29 (7).
  13. Kazdin, Alan E. (1980). Behavior modification in applied settings (Rev. ed.). Homewood, IL: The Dorsey Press.
  14. Craighead, W. E. (2016). ABCT at 50 Years: Reflections, changes, and future. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 23(4), 431-435.
  15. Kendall, P. C., Carper, M. M., Khanna, M. S., & Sue Harris, M. (2015). Computer technology and children's mental health. Emerging trends in the social and behavioral sciences: An interdisciplinary, searchable, and linkable resource, 1-16.
  16. ABCT website: special interest groups
  17. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. (2003). Mental Illness in our Justice System. New York: ABCT.
  18. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. (2003). About ABCT Special Interest Groups (SIG). New YOrk: ABCT.

Special interest groups