Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) was founded in 1966. Its headquarters are in New York City and its membership is comprised of researchers, psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, social workers, nurses, and other mental-health practitioners, researchers, and students (located nationally and internationally) who support, utilize, and/or disseminate behavioral and cognitive approaches.

Mission Statement

ABCT 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, and other evidence-based principles to assessment, prevention, and treatment. While primarily an interest group, ABCT is also active in:

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

Professional Activities

Through its membership, publications, convention and education committees, along with numerous subcommittees, ABCT 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. ABCT 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 organization was originally founded in 1966 under the name Association for Advancement of Behavioral Therapies (AABT; Franks, 1997) by 10 behaviorists who were dissatisfied with the prevailing Freudian/psychoanalytic model (founding members: John Paul Brady, Joseph Cautela, Edward Dengrove, Cyril Franks, Martin Gittelman, Leonard Krasner, Arnold Lazarus, Andrew Salter, Dorothy Susskind, and Joseph Wolpe). Although AABT/ABCT 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” (Wilson, 1997).

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 AABT 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), 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…” (quoted in Franks, 1987). This issue remains a debate in the field and within the organization, particularly with the emergence of the term “cognitive behavioral therapies,” which resulted in yet another name change in 2005 to the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. AABT/ABCT 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) 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” (Davison & Stuart, 1974, p. 3). 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.

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 70’s through the 80’s 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.

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, in doing so, 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" (Forsyth & Hawkins, 1997) 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, an other private events relate to overt human action.” (Forsyth, 1997, p. 621). 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 (see the Oct. 2003 special issue [Antony, 2003] in "the Behavior Therapist": “Is It Time for AABT to Change Its Name?”). Many notable scholars have served as president of the association, including Joseph Wolpe, Arnold Lazarus, Nathan Azrin, 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 (Albano, 2006).

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; it 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” (Kazdin, 1980). 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 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.

A wealth of scientific study has document the helpfulness of CBT programs for a wide range of concerns throughout the lifespan, including children’s behavior problems, health promotion, weight management, pain management, sexual dysfunction, stress, violence and victimization, serious mental illness, relationship issues, academic problems, substance use, bipolar disorder, developmental disabilities, Asperger’s syndrome, social phobia, school refusal and school phobia, hair pulling (trichotillomania). Cognitive-behavioral treatments are subject randomized controlled trials and “have been subjected to more rigorous evaluation using RCTs than any of the other psychological therapies” (Wilson, 1997)


Albano, A. M. (Guest Editor). (2006). 40 years of ABCT [Special issue] . "the Behavior Therapist", 29(7).

Antony, M. (2003). Is it time for AABT to change its name? [Special series] . "the Behavior Therapist, 26", 361-371.

Davison, G., & Stuart, R. (1974). Statement on behavior modification from the Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy. "AABT Newsletter, 1"(2), 2-3.

Forsyth, J. (1997). In the name of the “advancement” of behavior therapy: Is it all in a name? "Behavior Therapy, 28", 615-627.

Forsyth, J., & Hawkins, R. (Guest Eds.). (1997). Thirty years of behavior therapy: Promises kept, promises unfulfilled [Special issue] . "Behavior Therapy, 28"(3 & 4).

Franks, C. M. (1987). Behavior Therapy and AABT: Personal recollections, conceptions, and misconceptions. "the Behavior Therapist, 10", 171-174.

Franks, C. M. (1997). It was the best of times, it was the worst of times [Special issue: Thirty years of behavior therapy}. "Behavior Therapy, 28", 389-396.

Kazdin, A. (1980). "Behavior modification in applied settings" (Rev. ed.). Homewood, IL: The Dorsey Press.

Kazdin, A. (2003). Salter, Andrew (1949; 2002) 50th anniversary printing of Conditioned Reflex Therapy [Book review] . "the Behavior Therapist, 26", 408-410.

Wilson, G. T. (1997). Behavior therapy at century close. "Behavior Therapy, 28", 449-457.

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