The best books of psychotherapy (and their surprising philosophical origins)

Peter Vernezze Author Of Blogging The Plague: Camus, Covid-19, and the Current Chaos
By Peter Vernezze

The Books I Picked & Why

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

By Judith S. Beck

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Why this book?

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is premised on the belief that our thoughts are at the root of our negative feelings, and to alter those feelings, we need to alter our thoughts. The connection between reason and emotion can be traced back to Stoicism. Hence it is no surprise that the late Dr. Albert Ellis, the developer of the very similar Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, used to have a quote from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus on his webpage. In addition, the Cognitive Distortions which form the heart of CBT can mostly be found in The Art of Thinking (1662) by Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change

By William R. Miller, Stephen Rollnick

Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change

Why this book?

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is not so much a therapeutic intervention as a technique, a way of talking to another person to help them move in a different direction. The fundamental idea, brilliant in its simplicity, is that people don’t change because you tell them to. They change because they tell themselves to. MI does precisely what Socrates did: question and draw people out, getting them to see the contradictions in their own thinking as a way of motivating them to change their beliefs (and ultimately their life). If Socrates were a therapist (and in a way he was), he’d be doing MI (and in a way, he did).


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Man’s Search For Meaning

By Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search For Meaning

Why this book?

Unlike the others, this is not a work outlining a therapeutic intervention and demonstrating its application. Instead, it is a gripping account of Frankl’s life in a concentration camp. But from this experience, Frankl would develop Logotherapy, a form of psychotherapy founded on the belief that humans must bring their own sense of meaning into the world. The emphasis on the need for humans to create their own sense of meaning is one of the reasons Frankl’s book is as likely to wind up in a course on Existentialism as in one on therapeutic approaches.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change

By Kirk D. Strosahl, Kelly G. Wilson, Steven C. Hayes

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change

Why this book?

The best way to characterize Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is: if Victor Frankl (above) and Jon Kabat-Zinn (the father of the modern mindfulness movement) had a kid, it would be Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT is one part mindfulness and one part the belief that a meaningful life is one that is based on values. It is in this second part of ACT, the emphasis on values and the belief that happiness consists in the virtuous life, that the authors owe an unacknowledged debt of gratitude to Aristotle, while of course, we can thank the Buddha for the mindfulness practices that flourish today.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends

By David Epston, Michael White

Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends

Why this book?

Narrative Therapy (of which this book is the founding text) traces its roots back to the French philosopher Michel Foucault and postmodern philosophy. Not that anyone can agree on a definition of postmodernism. Invoking Foucault’s critique of power, narrative therapy sees the DSM-5 (the standard list of mental illness that is akin to the Bible in psychiatry) as grounded not in objective truth but as a mostly fabricated list of pseudo-diseases a profession has conjured up in order to assure it is well-paid. Narrative therapy works not on attempting to change any objective condition the client may inhabit but to motivate the patient to change his subjective view of his condition.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists

Random Book Lists