Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - Donald Robertson

Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - Donald Robertson

Video Book Summary

Download all of the Mind Maps here.

Book Summary Notes

The Philosophy of CBT

"There is an important sense in which psychotherapy, even as we know it today, can trace its roots much further back, perhaps all the way back into prehistory, before such ideas were committed to writing." 

"Modern psychotherapy, especially in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the most ‘modern’ of our contemporary schools, can also be viewed as part of an ancient therapeutic tradition derived from the informal philosophical circle surrounding Socrates (470-399 bc), and, therefore, stretching back to Athens in the fifth century bc."

"Of the various schools of Socratic philosophy, the one that bears the strongest therapeutic orientation is undoubtedly Stoicism, especially that of the later Roman schools. According to Galen, physician to the Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Chrysippus, one of the founders of Stoicism, emphasized the role of philosophers as that of ‘physician of the soul,’ someone whom we would now refer to as psychotherapist.”

Ideas that last centuries..

How many books, articles or schools of thought today are likely to still be used centuries from now? Lately I have been on a big Stoic kick..  I just think it's fascinating how applicable some of the Stoic teachings are to modern life!

This passage here made me think about how a lot of the books we might read or ideas we might encounter won't make it until the end of the day..  Let alone centuries!

Why has the  Philosophy of the Stoics withstood the test of time?

The centuries of other ideas, cultural change and the potential to get lost?

I believe that it's because there is something innate to human psychology that they found..  

Actually.. Who better than to find that?  These people were living in a time with less distraction but arguably more hardship..  

That sounds like the perfect environment to not only come up with but to test a Philosophy.. 

What's inside this book?

Donald has done an amazing job at giving us a look into two different (but overlapping) disciplines..  

Inside we'll look a little bit at how each discipline deals with certain modern day problems..  And at the intersections of both Philosophies!

As always I have pulled out some amazing exercises and practices for you to take away from the book as well! 

Librarian Warrior

“Recent decades have seen growing interest in movement called ‘philosophical practice’ and other attempts to promote philosophy outside of the academic institutions as something that ‘ordinary people’ do in cafes, or apply to their own life problems in the form of individual counselling or group sessions with a quasi-therapeutic style." 

"Even many academic philosophers appear to crave, quite understandably, a return to the days when philosophical discourse was meant to be rooted in corresponding behavioral and emotional transformation and not merely an ‘academic’ pursuit abstracted from any practical application." 

"The ancients conceived of the ideal philosopher as a veritable warrior of the mind, a spiritual hero akin to Hercules himself, but since the demise of the Hellenistic schools, the philosopher has become something more bookish, not a warrior, but a mere librarian of the mind.”

The true meaning of a philosopher.. 

In the days of the Stoics Philosophers were directed to not only theorize and philosophize..  But to actually step into the arena!

  • Whether it was simply testing the ideas in your everyday live, becoming a real warrior or even an emperor as Marcus Aurelius was..
  • The Stoics understood that no Philosophy was worth it's salt if it hadn't been testing in the outside world! 

As Donald points out here..  Today we have a tendency to be a little too academic and ideas are testing in labs rather than in real life!

  • But we don't have to live like that!  Now we see the Stoic way of living our Philosophy..  
  • Testing out our ideas, teachings and strategies instead of pitting them against someone else's in the arena of the mind!

Here is a challenge for you!

  • Pick something from this Mind Map (an exercise or a strategy) and test it out! 
  • Try it..  and ask:

What do you think will happen? 

What actually happened?

This is why I love coaching!  (Essentially this is what we do).

Together we come up with a theory or a strategy to overcome some problem you might be having..  

Then we set out on testing it!  Learning along the way.. 

We're not librarians!  Together we are warriors.

I will buy you $100 of coaching.. (I think everyone needs to experience it at least once) Click the link below!

Stoic Roots

“Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the predominant school of modern evidence-based psychological therapy. As the name implies, it employs both cognitive and behavioral interventions."  

"Unfortunately, this name belies the fact that CBT is concerned with helping clients to deal with irrational or disturbing emotions, and to cultivate rational, healthy, and proportionate ones in their stead."

"The terms ‘cognitive’ and ‘rational’ also suggest to some people’s minds that CBT must be a form of rationalization, or that it neglects emotion, intuition, or practical experience." 

"However, in this sense of the word, CBT is probably anti-rationalist, in its emphasis upon the value of behavioral experiments and empirical observation. In other words, CBT emphasizes that, in so far as it is reasonable to do so, beliefs should be tested out in practice, in the laboratory of our personal experience.”

Therapy is not just talking about your feelings..

Instead it's actually made up of these three tenets:

  • Cognitive activity affects behavior..
  • Cognitive activity may be monitored or altered..
  • Desired behavior change may be affected through cognitive change..

Epictetus once said 'Of things some are in our control and others are not'

  • This is mirroring modern day CBT by showing us that we should aim to control the things we can and be indifferent to the ones we can't..
  • That being said..  Both the Stoics and CBT put a huge emphasis on watching what your thoughts are doing..  
  • Then working to change the thoughts you're having in order to change your behavior!  Rather than what most of us do which is the other way around.


“The ideal state of the human mind is not irrational indulgence in mere sensory pleasure (hedonism), therefore, but something known as eudaimonia, a Greek term that encompasses rational fulfilment, happiness, and well-being."  

"If ‘daemon’ were taken simply to mean mind, the word eudaimonia could be literally translated as meaning ‘mental health,’ although this does fail to do justice to the metaphysical connotations of the Greek word, which can also be taken to mean being on good terms with one’s inner daemon or guide, a concept not unlike the Christian idea of conscience. In any case, the cardinal virtue or quality (areté) that contributes to eudaimonia is simply wisdom (sophia), or, if you prefer, it could be translated as meaning philosophical ‘enlightenment.’"

"Knowing this leads us to value and pursue the cultivation of human wisdom above all else, which is illustrated in the very word ‘philosophy,’ the love of wisdom."

"Philosophy in this concrete sense, the everyday pursuit of wisdom, is, therefore, defined as the art of living, the highest human purpose, though different schools of ancient philosophy differed on their interpretation of specifically how this was to be put into practice. It should be evident that for Socrates and the Stoics, the notion that the goal of human life is the pursuit of wisdom does not equate to saying that the ‘meaning of life’ is that one should spend it reading books on philosophy, but, rather, that one should strive for practical wisdom in facing everyday challenges.”

Hedonic Pleasure vs Stoic 'Eudaimonic' Joy

Hedonic pleasure is sensory pleasure coming from things like food, sex and praise.. 

  • The Stoics didn't view this as inherent bad as some poor translations might lead us to believe..  
  • Instead they viewed excess of any of these things as unwanted..  For many reason!  Not the least of which is that this type of pleasure cannot be sustained..

Instead the Stoics told us we should aim for the state of Eudaimonia which is the pursuit and cultivation of human wisdom..

  • This to me does something that most self help or personal development books neglect..  
  • It doesn't give you an imaginary 'end' to search for but instead allows you to fall in love with the process of cultivating wisdom..

Eudaimonia is a major cornerstone in Stoic philosophy and one I have worked very hard to cultivate in my own life!

  • For many many years on my journey I was searching for an 'end' a place of pure happiness, productivity or whatever I was searching for that day!
  • The concept of Eudaimonia and the pursuit of wisdom has allowed me to not only slow down but also to work on being detached from outcome.. 
  • For me..  This is the first place any personal development journey should start! 

This stuff is hard.. And beating yourself up for not being perfect, letting your ego tell you you're better than you are or jumping from lesson to lesson without application are all major road blocks..

Feel like you're hitting any of those right now?  Click the link below..  I'll buy you a coaching session.  That's a good place to start!

Reserve Clause

“Seneca defines the reserve clause by the following formula, ‘I want to do such and such, as long as nothing happens which may present an obstacle to my decision.” He gives the example, ‘I will sail across the ocean, if nothing prevents me,’ and elaborates, 'Nothing happens to the Sage contrary to his expectations, for he foresees that something may intervene which prevents that which he has planned from being carried out.'"

"What he thinks above all is that something can always oppose his plans. But the pain caused by failure must be lighter for one who has not promised success to himself beforehand."

"The Stoic, therefore, makes a point of qualifying the expression of every intention by introducing a distinction between his will and external factors beyond his control. The sage, thereby, holds two complementary propositions in mind simultaneously."

"1. I will do my very best to succeed."

"2. while simultaneously accepting that the ultimate outcome is beyond my direct control."

"It implies, ‘I will try to succeed, but am prepared to accept both success and failure with equanimity,’ and, thereby recognizes human fallibility. Centuries later, Christian theologians would signify the same notion by appending letters ‘DV,’ or Deo Volente (‘God Willing’) to their correspondence.”

Setting goals is a major part of personal development..  But what they don't tell you about is the negative sides! 

When you are failing to reach a goal this might happen..

  • Sometimes you will quit early when you feel yourself failing..  This allows you to save face by saying you didn't try!
  • Sometimes you will outright fail and beat yourself up..  Making it harder to try again and perhaps wasting a valuable learning experience!

When you have reached a goal this might happen..  

  • Maybe you've accomplished something!  Congrats..  Now your ego has become inflated..  Maybe you won't try as hard next time!
  • Maybe you got lucky..  But the next time you won't be so lucky!  How will you deal with that if you think you succeeded because of yourself?

How might a Stoic deal with these?

  • Bulletproof your confidence by understanding a lot of the process is out of your control!
  • Keep your ego in check by understanding how much luck was involved in your victory!
  • Maintain indifference of outcome..  Because this allows you to focus on the only thing you can control!  The Task at Hand.

Ready..  Aim!

“‘Begin with the end in mind,’ is one of the 7 Habits recommended in recent decades by the bestselling self-help author Stephen Covey."  

"It is not a trivial matter to observe that, unlike Stoicism and most classical philosophies, CBT lacks any clear account of the ideal toward which it aims.

"By contrast, one of the most fundamental techniques of ancient philosophical therapy appears to have been the public discussion and private contemplation and visualization of the sage and his virtues, the imaginary embodiment, ideal role model, and ultimately ‘end,’ or goal, of philosophical practice.”

What are we aiming for?

Many of us feel lost today..  We don't have a path laid out in front of us!  

  • Sometimes we wonder if it's because we don't have a purpose..  
  • Perhaps we are in the wrong place or at the wrong time we ponder..

From my experience..  I never 'found my passion' or got what I was looking for when I changed businesses or jobs!

  • Instead..  When I started to feel much better was when I adopted this Stoic technique!
  • The concept of the ideal sage..  Creating an image of your ideal self in your mind..  Then going about living up to it every day!

Creating your ideal sage in your mind..  By acknowledging the virtues of those you admire!

  • Who do you admire most in your life? 
  • What specific virtues do you admire in them?
  • Focus in on that everyday..  Try to ask yourself am I living up to the virtues of my ideal safe?
Back to blog