The Western origins of mindfulness therapy in ancient Rome

Andrea E Cavanna, Giulia Purpura, Anna Riva, Renata Nacinovich, Stefano Seri

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Stoic philosophy has multiple parallels with cognitive behavioural therapy interventions. In their ancient texts, the Roman Stoics present a set of theoretical principles and behavioural strategies that are directly relevant to the clinical care of patients with a wide range of neuropsychiatric conditions. Mindfulness is a key component of the 'third wave' of modern psychotherapy that closely resembles the ancient Stoic practice of attention or 'concentration on the present moment'. Stoic mindfulness draws attention to one of the main principles driving both Stoicism and modern psychotherapy: the assumption that cognitive activity (reasoning) mediates emotions and behaviours. This principle can be traced back to Epictetus' Enchiridion, where he recognises that 'men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things'. It has been shown that cognitive behavioural therapies and mindfulness-based interventions directed at patients with neuropsychiatric disorders were originally developed as Stoic-inspired treatment interventions. Both Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck (the founders of rational emotive behaviour therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy, respectively) explicitly acknowledged the role of Stoicism as the philosophical precursor of their treatment approaches. The effective implementation of evidence-based guidelines would benefit from an increased awareness of the influence of the Stoic tradition of philosophical therapy on the treatment approaches currently in use in neuropsychiatry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1861-1869
Number of pages9
JournalNeurological Sciences
Issue number6
Early online date2 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit


  • Stoicism
  • Mindfulness
  • Philosophy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Neuropsychiatry


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