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Psychotherapy Resilience Stoicism Stoicism

How Stoicism Could Help You Build Resilience

Combining stoic philosophy and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

  • Stoicism is an ancient Greek school of philosophy that inspired modern cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Stoics like Epictetus taught that it’s not things that upset us but rather our opinions (cognitions) about them.
  • People identify with Stoicism as a philosophy of life, which may be more permanent than skills learned in CBT or resilience training.

Read the rest of this article on Psychology Today…

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Books Philosophy Philosophy of CBT Psychotherapy Stoicism

The Books I’ve Written on Stoicism

I’ve published about seven books so far on philosophy and psychotherapy. People often ask about one book but aren’t aware of the others so I’ve put together a short article explaining what they’re about. If you’re interested, you can see more info on my publications, including journal articles, some foreign translations, and books on psychotherapy not mentioned below, on my Google Scholar, Goodreads, and Amazon profile pages.

1. Ancient Lives: Marcus Aurelius (in press)

This is a prose biography of Marcus Aurelius, which will be part of the new Yale University Press Ancient Lives series, edited by James Romm. This book is finished and should (I think) be published around Spring 2023. This was the third book that I wrote in a row about Marcus Aurelius. It focuses on how Stoic philosophy influenced his life, and his rule as emperor, and how his personal relationships shaped and reveal aspects of his character. For instance, the first chapter focuses on Marcus’ relationship with his mother. I’ll publish more details on social media as they become available.

2. Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Verissimus Cover

Verissimus is a graphic novel, published in July 2022, by St, Martin’s Press. It tells the story of Marcus Aurelius’ life in comic-book panels, with a lot of emphasis on his study and application of Stoic philosophy, particularly how it helped him to conquer his anger.

This was the second of three books that I wrote about the life of Marcus Aurelius, and how it connected with his philosophy. The graphic novel format meant that it’s a very different experience, though, from reading a prose biography or a self-help book. I wrote this book for adults – it’s a graphic novel not a comic – but I have to admit that a lot of readers have said their kids were attracted to the cover design and artwork, and stole their copy!

3. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor (2019) is a self-help book. Most of the chapters begin with an anecdote from the life of Marcus Aurelius, closely based on the surviving historical sources. This is followed by a discussion of how Stoic philosophy can be applied in daily life, and then a comparison with techniques from modern cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which draw on my clinical background as a psychotherapist.

When I first proposed this book the title and the idea of combining three genres (history, philosophy, and psychology) seemed controversial – like a bit of a gamble – but it worked. Roman Emperor is my most popular book. It was the number one bestselling philosophy book in the US in the weeks following its release and was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. It’s since been translated into eighteen different languages.

4. Teach Yourself: Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013) is part of Hodder’s popular Teach Yourself series. It was so popular that a revised second edition was published in 2018, which added an extra chapter on death contemplation. This is a self-help book, which provides careful instructions on how to apply Stoic practices in daily life. It also includes many comparisons with cognitive-behavioural therapy and other evidence-based psychological strategies.

The Teach Yourself series follows a strict and well-established format. Chapters begin with relevant quotes, and short quizzes, and include practical exercises, guides to terminology, key points to remember, examples, recommended reading, etc. It’s designed to make it easy to put the advice into practice in daily life.

5. Teach Yourself: Build your Resilience

build your resilience book cover

Build your Resilience (2012) was my first book for Hodder’s Teach Yourself series. It’s a self-help book about what psychologists call “emotional resilience training”, which is basically training in preventative strategies designed to reduce the risk of mental health problems in the future by making you more able to cope with stressful situations. Like Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, it follows a strict self-help guide format, with lots of info boxes, and practical steps described.

Resilience building draws heavily on cognitive-behavioural therapy but I mainly focused on recent “third-wave” approaches, particularly Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). There are also chapters discussing research on resilience and vulnerability, and evidence-based approaches to relaxation techniques, worry management, and problem-solving. This book contains a lot of practical psychological advice – I wrote it partly to be used by my own CBT clients and trainee therapists. However, it also contains a chapter on Stoicism and references to Stoicism are interspersed throughout, comparing Stoic concepts and techniques to the evidence-based psychological approaches employed in modern resilience training.

6. The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Philosophy of CBT Cover 2nd Edition

The Philosophy of CBT (2010) was my first book on Stoicism. I’d already been researching the subject, writing about it, speaking about it at conferences, etc., for over a decade before I decided to publish a book. So it contains a wealth of research on the history of philosophy and psychotherapy. My first degree is in philosophy (Aberdeen) and my masters was in philosophy and psychotherapy, at an interdisciplinary centre in Sheffield University. I then trained in counselling and psychotherapy, which became my profession. I wanted to do a PhD about Stoic philosophy and cognitive-behavioural therapy but couldn’t find a university department with a suitably qualified supervisor. So, to cut a long story short, I ended up just writing a book, instead of a dissertation, which was published in the UK by Karnac.

Karnac were later bought by Routledge, who commissioned me to produce a revised second edition in 2020, as the book had become so popular. The new edition contains an additional chapter focusing on more recent “third-wave” approaches to cognitive-behavioural therapy, and how they compare to Stoicism. I was surprised at its reception because it was intended as an academic publication, aimed at philosophers and psychologists – but very few of them read it! Instead, by accident, it somehow reached a “lay” audience, who embraced it as a sort of self-help guide to Stoicism. So I accidentally found myself making the transition from academic researcher and writer, to self-help author.

Other Books

I’ve also contributed chapters to several books on Stoicism.

  1. “The Stoic Influence on Modern Psychotherapy” in The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition (2016), edited by John Sellars
  2. Introduction to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: The Philosophy Classic (Capstone Classics, 2020), which I also helped edit
  3. Introduction to Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic: The Ancient Classic (Capstone, 2021)
  4. “Marcus Aurelius and Psychotherapy” in The Cambridge Companion to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (in press).
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Philosophy of CBT Psychotherapy Stoicism

Full Text: “Stoicism as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)”

The Behavior Therapist

By D. Robertson and T. Codd, originally published in The Behavior Therapist, vol. 42, no. 2, Feb 2019

Abstract: Stoicism provides the clearest example of a system of psychotherapy in ancient Greek or Roman philosophy. Albert Ellis acknowledged that some of the central principles of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy were “originally discovered and stated” by the Stoics and Beck that “the philosophical origins of cognitive therapy can be traced back to the Stoic philosophers.” However, the emphasis on mindfulness and living in accord with values in Stoicism was largely ignored by them and unknown to the third-wave psychotherapists who followed them. This article highlights Stoicism’s similarities to modern mindfulness and acceptance-based CBT and its potential as an approach to building emotional resilience.

Read the rest of this article free on Medium…

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Psychotherapy Stoicism Video

Video: Interview on Stoicism and REBT