Difference Between Beck and Ellis

By: | Updated: Aug-2, 2022
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Beck and Ellis approaches are often confused with each other because they both focus on positive change in one’s life through the reduction of negative emotions associated with difficult activities. These approaches are very similar in that they both use a combination of mindfulness, acceptance and compassion to help the patient change, but there are some differences between them.

Summary Table

Beck Ellis
Changing negative thinking patterns Replacing negative thinking patterns
Therapist-centered Patient-centered
Narrative to uncover belief Narrative for communication

Difference Between Beck and Ellis


Beck‘s practice emphasizes cognitive restructuring as the main therapeutic technique. The patient is taught to recognize negative automatic thoughts and thoughts that are not in line with reality. The patient learns to modify these negative thinking patterns and replace them with more realistic, balanced thoughts. If they are unable to do so, the therapist may provide medication to aid them in this process

Ellis‘ therapy includes techniques that work to alter and replace dysfunctional beliefs. He believed that people have a number of automatic thoughts that can be used to describe the person’s negative thoughts. Ellis found that there were actually positive automatic thoughts that could be used to describe a positive identity. He believed that it was important for people to learn how to recognize these positive identities and replace them with more realistic, well-balanced ones.

Beck vs Ellis

The main differences are found in the approaches employed by these two types of therapists, as well as how they utilize techniques such as thought stopping, relaxation exercises and exposure techniques.

The first difference between these two therapies is how they focus on the patient’s negative thoughts. Beck focuses on changing negative thinking patterns and Ellis focuses on replacing negative thoughts.

Beck’s approach is more focused on the role of the therapist in the therapeutic process, while Ellis’ approach is more focused on changing beliefs that can be changed by the patient. In Ellis therapies, the therapist uses physical contact or body language to help bring about a change. In Beck’s theory, the individual is going to examine his or her own thought process, and how he or she perceives things and reacts to situations.

While both approaches focus on positive change, Beck’s approach may not be as effective for people who have a more difficult time identifying and changing their negative thinking patterns.

Beck and Ellis both use a Narrative approach; whereas Ellis uses the narrative as a way to uncover the person’s belief systems, Beck uses it as direct communication. Beck is best known for his work on cognitive therapy, with elements of psychoanalysis, while Ellis is best known for his theory of interpersonal relations.

The most important difference between Beck and Ellis therapy is that the former tend to use cognitive techniques to treat anxiety disorders, whereas Ellis therapists tend to focus more on other methods such as behavioral modification. Cognitive techniques are thought by some people to be more effective in treating anxiety disorders than behavioral treatments.

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