Stoicism Revived: Acceptance & Commitment Theory

Time magazine has an interesting article in the February 13, 2006 edition on “Acceptance and Commitment Theory.” This new model of psychotherapy, popularized by psychologist Steven Hayes, posits that the solution to the difficulty of life is to detach oneself from our negative experiences. When we feel badly, and think negatively about ourselves, we are not to interrogate that experience and question why we are going through it. Instead, we are to detach ourselves from the experience, to square with it, and focus not on our sadness or pain but on our response to what is causing us sadness and pain.

Does this sound familiar? It would if you lived hundreds of years ago and hung out with the group of philosophers known as the “Stoics.” Stoicism was practiced most famously by the Spartans, who used the philosophy to withstand terrible hardship and conquer impossible odds. When faced with opposition from others, for example, the Stoics would say, “It is not they who control me. I control myself, and their attacks have no effect on me.” How fascinating that this mindset receives resuscitation in ACT. For example, here is what patients undergoing ACT are told to say to themselves when they are depressed: not “I’m depressed,” but “I’m having the thought that I’m depressed.” You can’t miss the Stoicism in such a statement. The patient focuses not on their circumstance, but on their reaction to the circumstance. This is an interesting shift toward the ancient, and it’s a good thing for a discipline that has lost itself gazing into a reflecting pool of its own making.

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One response to “Stoicism Revived: Acceptance & Commitment Theory

  1. Jed

    Who taught your history of philosophy course? Saying that the Spartans were Stoic is anachronistic. The founder of the Stoic school, Zeno of citium, lived 335-263. It was influential during the Hellenization of Greece following Alexander the Great and became a popular philosophy of the Roman Empire until a resurgence in Platonism displaced it. I’m being pedantic, I know, but I have to put what I learn in graduate school to some sort of use.

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