Reviews of The Philosophy of CBT
Professor Stephen Palmer, PhD, FARBT, FBACP
Director of the Centre for Stress Management, London
From the Foreword to The Philosophy of CBT
Many of us have felt the need for a book that covers the underlying philosophy of the cognitive-behavioural therapies in much greater depth. This book provides us with the missing link between the theory and the philosophy. It is a fascinating read and could be considered as either a prequel or a sequel to the standard textbook read by a trainee or experienced cognitive-behavioural or rational emotive practitioner who wants to understand these approaches to therapy within an historical framework.
Author of 50 Self-Help Classics and 50 Psychology Classics
Donald Robertson is blazing a trail to discover the sources of cognitive-behavioural therapy, and Stoic philosophy is prime among these. A fascinating work that should be compulsory reading for all practitioners in the field and interested lay people, providing insights into how ancient philosophy can give us the coping and life success strategies we are all looking for, both as professionals and in private life. A great read!
Co-Director of the CBT Programme, Centre for Stress Management, Bromley, Kent, UK
This book is a fascinating interweaving of Stoic philosophy and contemporary cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Robertson rightly reminds us of how much CBT owes its philosophical origins to the Stoics but, sadly, how often this debt is insufficiently acknowledged. He urges us to redirect our attention to the past to see how modern CBT still has much to learn from its ancient precursors. Highly recommended.
This is a ground-breaking look at the fascinating dialogue between modern cognitive therapy and ancient Greek philosophy.
The relationship between Stoicism and CBT has been briefly discussed by some – including by the founders of CBT – but this is the first time a book has been written on the philosophical roots of the therapy.
CBT is not the same as Stoicism – there are important differences, as Robertson recounts. But CBT has taken from ancient Greek philosophy not just their cognitive theory of emotions (the idea that our emotions follow our thoughts or beliefs about the world) but also many of their therapeutic techniques, such as the thought journal, training one’s attention to the present moment, and the ‘Socratic method’ of subjecting one’s beliefs to rational scrutiny.
Robertson is particularly good at describing the practical therapeutic techniques the Stoics had in their armoury – including some powerful techniques that modern psychotherapy has yet to really exploit, such as the View From Above visualisation technique.
Of course, there are differences between psychology and moral philosophy – their aims, their methods, their context, their professional qualifications. For example, the aim of therapy is ‘feeling good’, while the aim of Stoicism was more explicitly moral.
But there is a rich dialogue to be had between the two, if both sides have the openness and willingness to talk. Robertson is to be applauded for advancing this dialogue, and transforming our idea both of philosophy, and of psychotherapy.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is certainly one of the therapies people are talking about and governments are investing money in promoting. With good reason, as it is evidence-based and can work a lot more rapidly than many alternatives.
However CBT does have its limitations, one of which, some would say, is the lack of philosophical depth. However whilst CBT can be practised in a superficial, cookbook style, this isn’t necessarily so. Particularly when one realises that CBT has very strong connections with centuries of practice in the ancient world. This is one of the reasons why this book is so relevant to modern practitioners and anyone else interested in CBT and REBT.
In this book Donald Robertson, who has a wealth of experience in a number of therapies as well as a very strong academic background, has uncovered a wealth of connections between modern cognitive behavoural therapies and ancient Stoic philosophy. You can read not only about the philosophical origins of CBT but also about the history of Stoicism and other philosophical therapies.
If you are keen to learn about practical techniques, there’s a lot of them too – a whole section is devoted to what the author calls “The Stoic Armamentarium”. This is an eclectic book – you’ll find fascinating accounts of Ellis’s REBT, hypnotism and Buddhism as well as Beck, Seneca and the usual suspects. All in all, highly recommended.
This book should be read by anyone interested in understanding the historical roots of CBT or in learning about how ancient psychotherapeutic methods can add to the modern therapist’s toolkit.
Review from Amazon UK
I’ll be honest… I wasn’t originally going to buy this book because although I am very interested in all things CBT I didn’t think I was at all interested in Philosophy. I decided to buy it anyway because I have a huge respect for the author, and other publications of his which I have read have all been superbly written.
In turns out that I really am interested in Philosophy, certainly in so far as it relates to CBT; it was just that I had previously had a complete misunderstanding about what Philosophy was and how much it can contribute.
If you are interested in CBT in terms of its origins or practice, or if you are involved with CBT as therapist, client or academic, or if you are interested in self improvement, or if you get the feeling that we’ve probably been here before in terms of psychological problems and solutions, or if you want to lift the bonnet of CBT and take a good look at the engine, or if you are just interested in getting the most out of life, then this book will likely prove to be a fascinating and useful resource.
Donald always impresses with his in-depth knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, his subject areas. This book is no exception… he has taken a really interesting area and communicated the material with clarity and insight. I would certainly recommend this book to anybody interested in, or involved with CBT as a book thoroughly worth reading and keeping on the bookshelf!
About the Article “Stoicism – A Lurking Presence“
This article contains material that was later incorporated into The Philosophy of CBT.
Letter to the Editor of the BACP magazine from Werner Kierski, September 2005.
Congratulations on the CPJ summer issue… The flagship amongst July’s articles was Donald Robertson’s ‘Stoicism – a lurking presence’. His article presented a historical dimension of psychotherapy that goes farther than Freud and is helpful in increasing my confidence as a practitioner… Psychotherapy is about increasing a person’s confidence and dignity. This means taking a stance, albeit with sensitivity.