The origins of CBT therapy
I was reminded today that nothing is really new in therapy. Paul Dubois was a Swiss neurologist who worked in the late 19th century and the early 20th century.
He introduced what is known as "persuasion therapy". This was a forerunner of CBT and rational therapy. He developed a way of treating "nervous disorders" by using a Socratic method of questioning. He challenged his patients to justify why they were feeling the way they are. This used the patient's own intellect and logic to challenge and eliminate negative thoughts and feelings.
His method was based on getting his patient to realize that their thoughts were irrational and could therefore be dismissed. His method was very popular in the early 20th century. It competed head-on with Freud's psychoanalytical treatment at the time. Dubois was also one of the earliest people to write about the importance of "mind over matter". His work is almost forgotten today.
Psychotherapy in classical times
Dubois's approach to psychotherapy was largely a response to the failings of the other popular psychotherapy, hypnosis. In the early 20th century hypnosis was thoroughly discredited after the scandal of Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893) and his fakery of hysteria treatments. Dubois also regarded Freudian theory as of little value. (Incidentally, Freud learned hypnotism from Charcot in the early 1890's)
Dubois was familiar with the writings of classical Greek authors such as Socrates, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. He realised that that the advice that they were giving 2000 years ago in teaching philosophy was almost identical to what he was doing in current psychotherapy.
In particular, he admired the work of the Stoics. Modern readers think of the Stoics as philosophers. But they thought of themselves as offering a sort of medicine for the mind. The Stoics believed that everyone has to take responsibility for their own actions. And at the same time accept that things happen by chance, and have no personal meaning.
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
Albert Ellis developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy based largely on this ancient philosophy. One of his central ideas was that emotional disturbances and associated behavior are not caused by external events, but are caused by our own irrational beliefs about these events. “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them.” (Epictetus, 80 BCE) Ellis went on to influence Aaron Beck and the CBT movement started from there. But basically it all goes back more than 2000 years to the Stoic philosophers.
Maybe we should be encouraging our clients to read philosophy?