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The synergy of Stoicism and CBT: Exploring their connection

I love ancient Greek history. I love the stories of the gods and titans, the philosophers and their enthusiasm and love of learning. So in this piece here, I thought I would scratch the surface on something that is having quite the renaissance - Stoicism, and explore the connection with a widely used coaching technique - Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).


Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) share several philosophical and psychological principles, which is why they are often linked and even integrated in some therapeutic approaches.


Here's an explanation of how Stoicism and CBT are connected in eight ways:


Focus on Rational Thinking

Both Stoicism and CBT emphasise the importance of rational thinking. In Stoicism, practitioners are encouraged to examine their beliefs and judgments to determine whether they are rational or based on irrational emotions.


CBT similarly emphasises identifying and challenging irrational thoughts and cognitive distortions that can lead to emotional distress.


Cognitive Distortions

CBT identifies common cognitive distortions, such as all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophising, and personalisation, which can lead to negative emotions and behaviours.


Stoicism also acknowledges how irrational beliefs, like catastrophising about future events or demanding that things should go a certain way, can cause suffering. Both approaches aim to replace these distortions with more rational and constructive thinking patterns.


Emotion regulation

Stoicism and CBT provide techniques to regulate emotions.


Stoicism encourages individuals to accept what they cannot change and focus on what they can control, reducing emotional reactions to external events. CBT offers strategies to manage emotions by changing the underlying thoughts and beliefs that trigger them.


Mindfulness & self-awareness

Stoicism encourages self-awareness and mindfulness, urging individuals to reflect on their thoughts, feelings, and reactions. CBT incorporates similar mindfulness techniques to help clients become more aware of their thought processes and emotional responses.


Goal-oriented

CBT is highly goal-oriented, with therapists and clients collaboratively setting specific, achievable goals. Stoicism also encourages individuals to set virtuous and rational goals for themselves, aligning with their values and principles.


Practical techniques

Both Stoicism and CBT provide practical techniques for personal development. Stoicism offers exercises like negative visualisation and the dichotomy of control, which help individuals build resilience and emotional fortitude. CBT provides structured exercises and homework assignments to challenge and modify cognitive distortions.


Self-Improvement & virtue

Stoicism places a strong emphasis on cultivating virtues such as wisdom, courage, justice, and self-discipline. CBT, while not explicitly focused on virtue, encourages individuals to develop healthier and more adaptive beliefs and behaviours, which can align with virtuous principles.


Client empowerment

Both Stoicism and CBT empower individuals to take an active role in managing their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. They provide individuals with practical tools to become more resilient and adaptable in the face of life's challenges.


Stoicism and CBT are linked through their shared emphasis on:

  • rational thinking

  • emotion regulation

  • mindfulness

  • goal-setting

  • practical techniques for personal development.


Many individuals find that integrating elements of both Stoicism and CBT can be a powerful approach to improving their mental well-being and living a more balanced and fulfilling life.

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