Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

The Ancient Origins of Cognitive Therapy: The Reemergence of Stoicism

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

The Ancient Origins of Cognitive Therapy: The Reemergence of Stoicism

Article excerpt

In this article, I will discuss some of the similarities between modern cognitive therapy and the Stoic philosophies of ancient Rome. Although a one-to-one correspondence is not asserted, a number of fundamental similarities between the two schools of thought are drawn upon in making a comparison between stoicism and modern cognitive therapy. This comparison provided a historical perspective on the evolution of the philosophical foundations and assumptions of cognitive therapy. The Stoic concepts (including those of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Chrysippus) of emotion and those of leading cognitive therapists (primarily Beck and Ellis) were compared. The fundamental Stoic belief that the emotions arise from an interaction between reason and the world was shown to anticipate both Beck and Ellis.

What disturbs human beings is not the things themselves, but their conceptions of things. (Epictetus, M5)1

"Plato is said to have discovered the mind, but it would be more accurate to say that he invented one version of it - [Theories on the mind] are subject to chances in fashion, and as in the history of clothing and architecture, one has only to wait long enough to find an earlier view back in style" (Skinner, 1974, p. 35-36). The fact that the discipline of psychology grew out of philosophy (Hilgard, 1987) is "often overlooked or diminished by some modem psychologists" (Mahoney 1991, p. 24). Many modem theories of psychology, from psychoanalysis (Williams, 1959) and Ericksonian psychotherapy (Becker & Forman, 1989) to behaviorism (DiSilva, 1985; Mikulas, 1981), owe their origin to ancient philosophers or were anticipated in the writings of ancient scholars (Watson & Evans, 1991). While it has been asserted that both Beck and Ellis were influenced in their development of their cognitive approaches by Alfred Adler and Karen Horney (Freeman, 1987), and that cognitive therapy "finds some of its roots in both dynamic theory... and behavioral theory" (Gutsch, 1990, pp. 151-152), each of these approaches to cognitive therapy was profoundly influenced by ideas far more ancient than those of these modem psychologists. Modern cognitive therapy owes much to the writings and ideas of the Stoics of Rome. A number of fundamental similarities between the two schools of thought are drawn upon in making a comparison between Stoicism and modern cognitive therapy; however, a one-to-one correspondence of views is not asserted.

Beck (1976) pointed out that all the major dominant schools "devoted to the study and treatment of emotional disturbances-traditional neuropsychiatry, psychoanalysis, and behavior therapy" (p. 1) share one fundamental assumption: "The emotionally disturbed person is victimized by concealed forces over which he has no control" (p. 2). Beck maintained that because these three schools view the causes as outside the control of the individual and "beyond his awareness," they "gloss over his conscious conceptions" (p. 2). Cognitive therapy is defined by Beck as "an active, directive, time-limited, structured approach" (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979, p. 3) to therapy which addresses these "conscious conceptions." The primary goal of cognitive therapy is to replace misperceptions and misinterpretations of the world with more functional (accurate) representations of the world. Beck (1976) further asserted that "[i]n contrast to the 'hardheaded' behaviorist and neuropsychiatric attitudes and the abstract classical psychoanalytic position, the cognitive approach is concerned with the conscious meanings as well as external events" (p. 48). The "rock-bottom data," for the cognitive therapist, are the client's various "interpretations of events" (p. 48), which are accessible "through introspection" (p. 4), and not the events themselves. Beck proposed that the conscious mind holds elements which produce both the emotions and "blurred thinking" (p. 2) which lead to dysfunction. By using rational techniques "[mjan has the key to understanding and solving his psychological disturbance within the scope of his own awareness" [italics in original] and these techniques result in a "new approach to emotional disorders" (p. …

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