The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Visit our London Cognitive Therapy clinic for information on CBT.

  • The Philosophy of CBT CoverPublished August 2010 by Karnac
  • ISBN 13 : 9781855757561
  • ISBN 10 : 1855757567
  • RRP £22.99

Why should modern psychotherapists be interested in philosophy, especially ancient philosophy? Why should philosophers be interested in psychotherapy? There is a sense of mutual attraction between what are today two thoroughly distinct disciplines. However, arguably it was not always the case that they were distinct.

Donald Robertson, the author, takes the view that by reconsidering the generally received wisdom concerning the history of these closely-related subjects, we can learn a great deal about both philosophy and psychotherapy, under which heading he includes potentially solitary pursuits such as “self-help” and “personal development”.

“The philosopher’s school”, said Epictetus, “is a doctor’s clinic.”  The Philosophy of CBT is the first comprehensive review of the relationship between modern cognitive-behavioural therapies and classical philosophy.  The founders of cognitive therapy and REBT, Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, both refer to Stoicism in particular as the main precursor of the modern cognitive approach.  This book elaborates in detail upon the historical relationship between different schools of ancient philosophy and modern psychotherapy.  It places particular emphasis on the specific therapeutic strategies and techniques employed in Stoicism and other Hellenistic philosophies and explores the potential for integrating them within modern psychological therapies.  For example, the central principle of Stoicism was that emotional disturbance is linked to placing excessive value upon things outside of our direct control while neglecting things we can more easily change, especially our cognitions and behaviour.  Visualisation techniques such as “The View from Above” and Stoic mindfulness practices are explained as part of a “forgotten” armamentarium of therapeutic methods.  The author argues that certain aspects of these ancient schools of philosophical psychotherapy may well deserve to be rehabilitated within the modern psychotherapeutic framework.  This book opens up a new forum for dialogue between philosophers and psychotherapists, focusing on the practical dimension of Socratic philosophy and its relationship with the cognitive-behavioural tradition.

12 thoughts on “The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

  1. Maybe he’d want to be introduced to Stockdale to tell him what you’ve said. I wouldn’t put Stockdale on the same level as Epictetus. I think if Epictetus were around he’d be pretty churlish not to be interested in Stockdale’s story and his use of Stoicism in the face of adversity.


    Donald Robertson

  2. That’s an interesting point about the quote from Epictetus. However, by contrast, he also advocates repeatedly throughout his lectures that Stoics, at least novices, should study the lives of the ancient sages and learn from their example. Epictetus had clearly studied other philosophers himself. So it can’t be entirely true that he had no interest whatsoever in the lives of others. That leaves open the question as to whether he would be interested specifically in Stockdale’s story. I think it’s reasonable to speculate that he’d want to know more about the guy. I’m sure I never said that Epictetus would necessarily endorse his political views or somehow idealise Stockdale, just that he might be particularly interested in him as a modern example of someone trying to apply Stoic principles in adversity. I think Stockdale’s account of his own suicide attempt was that he felt it was his only realistic option to avoid being used for propoganda by his captors.

  3. Hello

    I am about to publish my own book “Stoic spiritual exercices” with the help of Keith Seddon.

    I have to say that I am much enjoying your “The philosophy of cognitive behavioural therapy”. I am finding in this book some good suggestions or remarks such as:
    – translating “pathê” by “emotional disturbances ” instead of the traditionnal “passion”. Do you have some others ?
    – some good remarks about: the praemeditatio exercice
    – I very much liked he way you have described the three disciplines
    – the chapter about rational emotion (a way to update the old debate fot stoic student)
    – the chapter about stoic fatalism.
    – The way you described the stoic god on page 56 as “being not a mythical superhuman being but rather a way of looking at the world, conceiving the universe itself, in its absolute entirety, as if it were godlike, as being divine, mystical and sacrec in its entirety”

    BTW Where can I get the oral transcription of your ” view from above” exercice ?


  4. Hello Elen,

    Glad you like The Philosophy of CBT. I’d be interested in reviewing your book when it’s ready for publication. I think that there are probably several Greek philosophical terms which could be translated in better ways, making it easier to highlight connections with modern ideas and discussion. That could be done differently for ordinary readers or psychotherapists, who have their own jargon. For example, simply making more liberal use of the words “cognition” and “cognitive” would probably make Stoic writings much more appealing to cognitive therapists!

    I have a script of the view from above on another site but I’ve now posted it here as well, on the page below,


    Donald Robertson

    1. Hello Donald

      Thank you for the script. Do do authorise me to give a duplication of this script to my student of the college of stoic philosophers ? Mention of your copyright should be duly reproduced as well

      Here is the like to the lulu page where the book is now available (roll down til the end to find it). I would be extremely glad to read your review. We have some technical problems to solve before the book is available on websites such as Amazon and the like

      The text is still using traditional translation of greek term…this book was almost completed when I read yours so I only had time to refer to you view from above script



  5. Hi Elen, of course, that’s absolutely fine. You have my permission. I’ll take a look at your book shortly. Looking forward to reading it.


    Donald Robertson

    1. Hi Donald

      I wondered whether or not you had some time to read may book…but you must be very busy. I can send you the book by mail if you wish..

      Kindest regards

      1. Hi Elen,

        Sorry, I have been very busy. My wife’s recently had a baby so I’ve not had much time to read. If you want to send me a paper copy of the book by mail, I’d be happy to read it. Email me at and I’ll send you the postal address.


        Donald Robertson

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