Perspectives: Philosophical Therapy as Preventive Psychological Medicine

Christopher Gill, Professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter, shares his views on the function of philosophical therapy in antiquity.

‘What contribution was made to the treatment of mental illness in antiquity by philosophical essays on the therapy of emotions? To what extent can we – moderns – recognize in these essays a credible response to mental illness? In this discussion, I explore both these questions, in the belief that each of these lines of enquiry may illuminate each other. A key point, bearing on both questions, is the suggestion that the philosophical essays were intended to function as a psychological analogue for ancient medical regimen, or what we call ‘life-style management’ or ‘preventive medicine’. I begin by developing this suggestion in general terms before relating this idea to the emergence of a distinct genre or body of writings on the therapy of the emotions in the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial periods. Next, I analyse the core strategy of this kind of philosophical therapy, identifying four key recurrent themes. I illustrate this schema, referring especially to Galen’s newly found essay, Avoiding Distress, taken as representing a Platonic-Aristotelian approach, on the one hand, and to Seneca’s On Peace of Mind, representing the Stoic approach, on the other. I then return to the idea that such works are designed to function as preventive psychological medicine, and ask whether they embody an approach to psychological health-care that we could find useful under modern conditions.’

Report on Stoic Week 2012 now available – 10 things we learnt from Stoic week

We’ve now had time to look at all the questionnaires you’ve filled in and the results make some interesting reading.  You can read the full report here.

Below  is a quick summary, which answers the questions posed in an earlier post.

For those with a very short amount of time for this, a one sentence management summary of the findings is

Extremely promising, interesting results, much scope for further , more focussed research

N.B. Please read the limitations of the research section of the full report before quoting from  this post or the report. Although the findings are very promising, further research is required before more definitive conclusions can be drawn.
10 Things we know now as a result of Exeter Stoic week that we didn’t know before
1) Participating in Stoic week led to approximately a 10% increase on a number of well-validated and widely used measures of well-being.
2) Participants felt both that the one week had increased their knowledge of Stoicism considerably and also expressed a thirst for more knowledge about Stoicism
3) Some Stoic exercises are much more popular and perceived as much more useful than others
4) Stoicism (as experienced in Stoic week) appears to be much more effective at reducing distress than it does at facilitating positive emotions.
5) Stoicism (as experienced in Stoic week) appears to help with some aspects of life satisfaction more than others.
6) Stoicism (as experienced in Stoic week) appears to help with some aspects of flourishing more than others.
7) Stoicism (as experienced in Stoic week) appears to help with reducing some negative emotions more than others.

8) Many participants perceived that Stoic week had helped them roughly equally with various areas of their lives including relationships, becoming a better person and becoming wiser.
9) The detailed “Overall Experience of Stoic week” questionnaire provided us with participants’ experiences of a whole range of topics including :

a. Demographics
b. Satisfaction with Stoic week
c. Use of social media
d. How participants would like to take their own experience forward
e. Feedback on the booklet
10) Whilst there are significant Limitations in the methodology and scope the of research so far, there is reason to think that further more focused research would be worthwhile.

To find out a lot more detail, download the full report on Stoic week here.

and your favourite Stoic Exercise is …. The Retrospective Evening Meditation

The  Stoic Exercise deemed most useful, averaging  a 4.3 star rating (out of five) is             

The Retrospective Evening Meditation

This is the description from the Stoic Booklet  (p. 13)

Mentally review the whole of the preceding day three times from beginning to end,
and even the days before if necessary.
1.1. What done amiss? Ask yourself what mistakes you made and condemn (not yourself
but) what actions you did badly; do so in a moderate and rational manner.
1.2. What done? Ask yourself what virtue, i.e., what strength or wisdom you showed,
and sincerely praise yourself for what you did well.
1.3. What left undone? Ask yourself what could be done better, i.e., what you should do
instead next time if a similar situation occurs.

This exercise also proved to be the most popular of the Stoic exercises in the booklet. Why not try it tonight?

Continue reading “and your favourite Stoic Exercise is …. The Retrospective Evening Meditation”

Your favourite Stoic Exercises 2) The View From Above

The second most useful Stoic Exercise averaging  a 4.2 star rating (out of five) was the View from Above

This is the description from the Stoic Booklet 

Key text: Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.48.

 ‘A fine reflection from Plato. One who would converse about human beings should look on all things earthly as though from some point far above, upon herds,

armies, and agriculture, marriages and divorces, births and deaths, the clamour of law courts, deserted wastes, alien peoples of every kind, festivals, lamentations, and
markets, this intermixture of everything and ordered combination of opposites.’

The Exercise:

The ‘View from Above’ is a guided visualization which is aimed at
instilling a sense of the ‘bigger picture’, and of understanding your role in wider
community of humankind. Continue reading “Your favourite Stoic Exercises 2) The View From Above”

Your favourite Stoic Exercises 3) Mindfulness of the Ruling Faculty (prosoche)

One of the most aspects of Stoic week were the Stoic exercises. Many of these were adapted from Epictetus’s Enchiridion  by Donald Robertson, whose has a new book on Stoicism out next year.

So which Stoic exercises proved most useful and most popular. The votes are now in, and over the next few days we will reveal the answers.

Deemed third most useful was Mindfulness of the Ruling Faculty (Prosoche) which averaged  a 4.1 star rating (out of five)

This is the description from the Stoic Booklet

 Mindfulness of the Ruling Faculty (prosoche). Identify with your essential
nature as a rational being, and learn to prize wisdom and the other virtues as the chief
good in life. Continue reading “Your favourite Stoic Exercises 3) Mindfulness of the Ruling Faculty (prosoche)”

Ten things we might learn from Stoic Week

The answers are all in and there’s a lot of interesting responses to the Stoic Week questionnaires . The results will be posted on this site soon  can now be read here. As a taster and teaser, here are some of the questions to which we hope Stoic Week will provide answers.

  1. Did participating in Stoic week lead to a change  in well-being?

2) Did participants increase their knowledge of Stoicism? Do they want to learn more about Stoicism?

3) Were some Stoic exercises more popular and more useful than others? If so which ones were perceived as being the best?
4) Is Stoicism (as experienced in Stoic week) more effective at reducing distress or facilitating positive emotions. Or does it do both equally?

5) Does Stoicism help with some aspects of life satisfaction (such as accepting what has happened) much more than others? If so, which ones?

6) Does Stoicism help with some aspects of flourishing (such as meaning and purpose) much more than others.? If so, which ones can it help most with?
7) Does Stoicism help with reducing some negative emotions (such as anger)  more than others. If so, which ones?

8) Did Stoic Week  help people improve relationships, become a better person or becoming wiser? What other benefits did participants notice?

9) What was it like to be part of Stoic Week?

  • How satisfied were participants with Stoic week?
  • How did participants use social media?
  • How would participants like to take their own experience forward ?
  • How did participants find the booklet?
  • How did participants find the web site?

10) Would further research be worthwhile? What are the most interesting possibilities that could be part of Stoic fortnight in 2013?

Roundup of Stoic Week in the Press and Blogs

Many, many thanks go to all those who took part in the Stoic week, and especially those who have given very useful feedback for our next Stoic experiment in the spring!

Over the next few days, some interesting results from this feedback will be posted on the blog. In the meantime, here is a roundup of press interest in Stoic Week, and also some thoughtful (and inspiring) blog posts:

Guardian, ‘Be Stoic for a Week (stiff upper lip not required)’, Patrick Ussher

Guardian, ‘A Reminder that Stoicism can be Divine’, Mark Vernon

Independent, ‘Why are we so obsessed with therapy?’, Julian Baggini

Response to ‘Why are we so obsessed with therapy’, Jules Evans

Review of Stoic Week, by Chris at Simple Resilience

Stoic Week and a Trip to ER, by Joe Callahan at Agathoi

Stoic Week at the Thoughtful Writer 

Stoic Week on Gill Garratt’s blog

And a Youtube playlist of all the video diaries posted during the week