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By TheophileEscargot (Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 05:55:03 AM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Lady Sings the Blues", "The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy". Watching. Web.

What I'm Reading
Finally got around to reading Billie Holiday's autobiography Lady Sings the Blues. Whenever I see it mentioned people seem to complain that it wasn't accurate, but it seems to be exaggerated rather than fictional. She was at least assisted by a ghostwriter too. However, Even so, it's an effective book, painting a vivid picture of her life and times.

As is well known, she had a rough childhood, but gradually achieved success as a singer in the forties and fifties. She struggled with the discrimination and segregation of the times. The descriptions of the problems of going on tour as a mixed band, with a constant struggle to find places to be allowed to eat and sleep, is fascinating.

The book seems to capture her voice effectively, though "motherhuggers" was apparently not the original term.

Overall, well worth reading: it's a bit of a classic as a musicians autobiography.

What I'm Watching
Watched the latest BBC Bible's Buried Secrets Did God have a wife on the BBC. As I said about the last one, good to see some sensible biblical history on TV for a change. Goes through the basics of how the Israelites originally had a pantheon of gods much like the other semitic peoples in general, and the Canaanites in particular. The chief god was called El before he was called Yahweh, and he had a fertility goddess called Asherah as a wife. The bible is pretty explicit about the existence of other gods Exodus 15:11 asks "Who is like you, Yahweh, among the gods". Archaeology shows the Israelites had statues of gods and goddesses. Eventually and fairly late, the priests of Yahweh decided he was the only god, and managed to gradually stamp out worship of the others.

Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou explains this all very well. The only slightly annoying this is that she keeps saying "my opinion" is, and presents it as if it's a radical notion, whereas this is perfectly uncontroversial conventional wisdom amongst most archaeologists.

What I'm Watching 2
Saw Black Dynamite on DVD. Loving recreation/spoof of the Seventies blaxploitation movies. Liked it: only reasonably funny, but very well-done. Also Michael Jai White has some surprisingly good kung fu moves. Might have liked it more if I'd watched enough of the originals to get all the references.


What I'm Reading 2
The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy by Donald Robertson.

Bit of a specialized book: you'd need to be interested in either Stoic philosophy or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to get much out of these. Fortunately I'm interested in both. It's not a random connection: the origins of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) are well known to have been influenced by stoic philosophy.

The conventional story begins a bit like this. One of the major purposes of ancient Greco-Roman moralist philosophy was self-improvement: learning how to lead the best life, and practicing "spiritual exercises" to improve one's mind. Stoicism is the best known of the schools and has a large share of the surviving texts. The early pioneers of what is now called CBT , Albert Ellis with Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy and Aaron Beck with Cognitive Therapy were influenced by the stoic techniques when they developed their therapies.

That's usually where the story ends. CBT practitioners often have only limited interest in an ancient discipline without a scientific evidence base. Followers of Stoicism often have only limited interest in what they see as a selective application of their principles.

However, in this book Donald Robertson does a great job of probing deeper into both the origins of CBT and the techniques of stoicism. He draws comparisons between the two in a number of ways. The book seems aimed a bit more at teaching CBT practitioners about stoicism than vice versa. However, he succinctly explains the basic principles of each, so the book should be easily intelligible to someone coming at it from either side.

The book starts off with the origins of CBT. Robertson corrects the impression that it sprang fully-armed from the foreheads of Beck and Ellis. He points out that while they're obscure today, even Freud's contemporaries had an interest in cognition and behaviour. Later on the Swiss therapist Paul Dubois was influenced by the stoics in particulars. Emile Coué was influenced by ancient philosophers including Pythagoras and Aristotle, and Ellis was a student of Couéism Other philosophically influenced therapists included Hans Eysenck, who was was influenced by philosophers such as Cicero; and Donald Meichenbaum who was influenced by the stoics. The book "The Inner Discipline" by Baudouin and Lestchinsky included specifically stoic disciplines, as well as Christian elements.

In the second half of the book, Robertson goes through the "spiritual exercises" of the stoics and other schools in detail, comparing them to modern therapeutic techniques. I thought this was the real strength of the book, but the virtue is in the detail: it can't easily be summarized. Some of the interesting points were:

  • A comparison between the Cynics' anaideia (shamelessness) and the "shame-attacking exercises" of REBT. where get self-conscious or inhibited people to deliberately do embarrassing things in public such as dress strangely or say bizarre things. For example, Donaldson compares this to for example Crates asking potential followers to walk around after him holding a salted fish.
  • The modern use of autosuggestions, affirmations and coping statements is compared to the stoic repetition and memorization of useful maxims.
  • The concept of the Sage as the perfect wise man is compared to a kind of modern role model, where you decide what to do by considering what the sage would do. Sometimes they would use try to visualize what a particular character, like Socrates, would think or do in a give situation.
  • The concept of Prosoche (attention to oneself_ is compared to "mindfulness", where one has to be aware of ones internal train of thought.
  • The stoic Katharsis (purification) is compared to "distancing" as the process of regarding thoughts objectively.
  • The private self-improving journals called hypomnemata, of which Marcus Aurelius' Meditations is the best known, are compared to modern therapeutic diaries.
  • Praemeditatio malorum (preparing for adversity) is compared with the "mental rehearsal" in Beck's cognitive therapy
Donaldson also mentions certain spiritual exercises that don't seem to be much used in modern therapy. For instance, the stoic meditations on impermanance and on death (melete thanatou), but interestingly these don't seem to have much direct equivalence in modern therapy. He also looks at Amor fati (love of fate) and considers whether determinism itself is a useful technique for accepting inevitable problems.

At the end of this section, Robertson goes through how an ancient stoic might have structured his day: beginning with a prospective meditation on how he intends to cope with it; maintaining mindfulness through out the day, and closing with a retrospective meditation on how things went and how to improve. He also includes a script for a "view from above" which he has used in therapy sessions.

Finally, Robertson looks at the possibilities of expanding the connections between Stoicism and CBT. He points out that CBT tends to have a bit of a lack of a positive vision of the best way to live life. He also looks at a particular example of how the stoic "view from above" can be used in a CBT setting.

Overall, an interesting book, drawing useful comparisons between stoic philosophy and CBT.

Pics. Supermoon. TVs turning off, via.

Articles. "Lean" should still leave contingency capacity. Tim Wu profile. Filesharing isn't killing music , via.

Sci/Tech. Fast charging battery possibility. Programming, motherhugger. Folk models of computer security: Long PDF, via. George Monbiot: "events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power". death rates per watt. "Almost all of the respondents believed that hackers had to be sitting in front of some computer somewhere when they were "breaking into" computers".

Video. Cows enjoy spring release. NHS rap. Aurora time-lapse.

Politics. Big TUC march this Saturday. Sham marriage crisis exaggerated?

< Appropriately for this site... | Back from holiday >
I am smiling | 28 comments (28 topical, 0 hidden)
CBT by Herring (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 06:08:17 AM EST
In the past I've had a couple of CBT sessions. Don't know a lot about the theory but from my point of view it strikes me as a "way of feeling better about shit things". I don't want to feel better about shit things, I want things not to be shit.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

Isn't the problem by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #3 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 06:23:06 AM EST
That if you are depressed you lack motivation to change the shitty situation.

[ Parent ]
Oh, that's certainly partly true by Herring (4.00 / 1) #4 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 06:31:04 AM EST
But I see it as my mission to oppose the notional that it's always irrational to be depressed.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
The stoic view by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #13 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 02:45:32 PM EST
Is that a person who was theoretically completely wise and rational (the Sage) would change everything wrong about his life that he can fix, and calmly accept everything that he can't fix. So while no-one is perfectly rational, all suffering is a failure of rationality.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Did God have a wife? by jump the ladder (4.00 / 3) #2 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 06:18:46 AM EST
The series is very good so far. I did know that the ancient Israelites were not strict monotheists until after the exile in Babylon but I didn't know that they were pretty similar to the rest of the Eurasian cultures of the time having a similar pantheon of Gods. The Caanite/Israelite pantheon seems similar to the Greek one with Yahweh/El being the equivalent of Zeus.


CBT by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #5 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 06:59:12 AM EST
A friend was taken off a course of CBT because it was felt it was damaging given their level of behavioural problems. The underlying causes needed to be met, and they entered more traditional Freudian psychotherapy. Which, incidentally, helped them a lot.

I can't profess to know much about CBT but I think the above is quite telling - it's a way to improve your normal life, not a way to deal with any real problems.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #14 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 02:52:47 PM EST
There's a kind of long-running war between CBT and traditional psychotherapy, with the traditionalists claiming that only they can treat the root cause of the problem.

However, there's reasonably good evidence that CBT works to some degree; and not much evidence that traditional psychotherapy works (though that's more difficult to test as it takes so much longer). Also a lot of the original Freudian theory isn't taken seriously anymore.

There's no reason you can't mix both kinds of therapy of course.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Methodological critique of CBT by Alan Crowe (4.00 / 1) #17 Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 06:19:55 PM EST
I think it is great that the CBT crowd do experiments and try to find out if their technique really works. So I feel bad about criticizing the methodology.

I'm not sure if that essay works. I think the point is a subtle one so I spend a lot of words leading up to it, to make it clear. Then I think it is a fairly straight forward point and I've drowned it in words and made it unclear.

[ Parent ]
This bit seems a bit handwavey: by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #18 Sun Mar 27, 2011 at 03:48:43 AM EST
The underlying logic of our approach is that although the questionnaire is merely a proxy we do not think that fluoxetine will damage its validity. We simply don't believe that fluoxetine is so narrowly and strangely specific that it could cure the patients verbal behaviour while leaving him dysfunctional, failing at work and at home.
It would be great to have a physical test for depression (maybe an MRI scan?) but no such thing exists. So for both talking therapies and drugs, researchers rely to a degree on questionnaires.

But I don't really see why questionnaries should be valid for investigating drugs, but not valid for talking therapies. How do we know the drug isn't "strangely specific" and affects verbal reasoning in particular, maybe through an impact on Broca's Area?

It seems to me you either have to accept questionnaires as a valid tool for investigating depression, or reject them. It doesn't seem very scientific to use them to investigate one class of treatment but not another based on unproven assumptions.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Questionnaires by Herring (4.00 / 1) #20 Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 04:57:34 AM EST
Well, one issue is that you can be so pleased that someone is actually taking notice that the questionnaire result is distorted.

The difference between depressed and "normal" state is fairly apparent to the patient, but you can't just ask people because that's not as scientific as a questionnaire.

Oh, and photocopying a questionnaire is cheaper than an fMRI scan.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
CBT and questionnaire by Alan Crowe (4.00 / 1) #21 Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 09:06:12 AM EST
My point was that CBT targets verbal behaviour directly. Here is a crude caricature of CBT.

The depressed patient sees that it is raining and says to themselves. "I'm stuck inside because of the horrid rain. That makes me unhappy." Then the sun comes out and the inner mental dialogue changes to "The glare on my VDU is stopping me reading HUSI. That makes me unhappy."

CBT involves picking up on the heads-you-win/tails-I-lose nature of the inner dialogue and making an effort to change it. "I find watering the garden a terrible chore; I'm glad it is raining." "The sun has come out, I can go for a walk, getting away from the computer will make me happy."

The questionnaire has multiple choice questions along the lines of "Do you feel happy 1)Always 2)most of the time 3)some of the time 4)rarely 5)never. We can take this at face value. If the answer is 4 when the questionnaire is administered at the start of the therapy and the answer is 3 when the questionaire is re-administered at the end of the therapy, we can conclude that the patient rarely felt happy, but the therapy has helped and now the patient sometimes feels happy.

Alternatively we might think that the patient has been working on their verbal behaviour. The weather posses a question: I've raining now, how do you feel about that? The patient has been working on giving upbeat answers "Great! Now I can go and splash in puddles." And it shows up in how they answer questions. Their verbal behaviour has changed. Although they are rarely happy, they try to fight back against it and answer the question by saying "sometimes happy" in the hope that wishing will make it so.

The idea of treatfection is that we have two interesting questions to answer. First, did the therapist succeed in getting the patient to change their cognitive behaviour. To answer this question we can look at how the patient responded to the questionnaire. If the patient previously answered 4 but now answers 3 we see that their cognitive behaviour has changed. Second, did the change in cognitive behaviour reduce the severity of the patients depression. Again we can look at the questionnaire. If the patient previously answered 4 but now answers 3 we see that their depression has lifted somewhat.

What we cannot do is claim to have made an empirical discovery that the change in cognitive behaviour has caused an improvement in the patients depression. The link is an artifact of the methodology. We are not yet doing science.

[ Parent ]
Well put by Herring (4.00 / 1) #22 Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 09:38:27 AM EST
I have done a fair few of the questionnaires - which is daft really because I know if I think something (pills) will help, all I have to do is go to the doctors and give the answers to the questionnaire (it's always the same one) that I know will get me pills.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
The thing is by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #23 Mon Mar 28, 2011 at 02:41:55 PM EST
The aim of the treatment is to improve the wellbeing of the patient. So, any test has to be subjective, as only he can judge that.

Even if you have some kind of MRI scan for depression, the only way you're going to find out what kinds of brain activity cause depression is by comparing the scans to some kind of questionnaire.

So if by "doing science" you mean removing any subjective element, no investigation of treatments for depression can ever be "doing science" in that sense.

Thinking about it, I really don't like the idea you suggested of getting the patient's employer or wife/husband to fill in the questionnaires. Giving a patient drugs or therapy designed keep their employer satisfied sounds like a terrible idea. Suppose husbands and employers would like the patient to have a docile, compliant attitude that the patient doesn't actually want?
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
WIPO by Herring (4.00 / 4) #6 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 07:31:05 AM EST
No - a civil partner called Graham.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

They separated by anonimouse (4.00 / 3) #9 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 09:23:29 AM EST
..and after the split is as Satan throughout Gods diary the Bible

Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
[ Parent ]
Stoic book 404 by Alan Crowe (4.00 / 1) #7 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 08:36:45 AM EST
Working link

Thanks! Should be fixed [nt] by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #11 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 02:35:49 PM EST

It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Black Dynamite was so awesome! by atreides (4.00 / 1) #8 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 09:15:42 AM EST
Yes, it helps to have seen the original movies, but it still works so well if you've seen some examples of the genre. I will say this much, when he asked "Where is Bucky and what has he had?", I just about shit myself laughing...

He sails from world to world in a flying tomb, serving gods who eat hope.

i wonder why they're called spiritual exercises by tierrasimbolica (4.00 / 2) #10 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 12:55:26 PM EST
as opposed to intellectual exercises.  any thoughts? 

the book sounds interesting.  i was given some "shame-attacking" exercises to do by a therapist once (in the name of "spiritual cleansing").  i did find them ultimately helpful, although i wasn't told what the point of the exercise was (nor were they called "shame-attacking" exercises at the time - later figured out the point of it, on my own). 

what is REBT?

Spiritual exercises by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 2) #12 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 02:43:27 PM EST
Is the term used by Pierre Hadot, who influenced this book a lot. Can't remember exactly why he chose it: I think the term might have been used by Christian thinkers later on, who were influenced by Greek philosophy. Part of Hadot's viewpoint is that the Christians kind of hijacked the more practical aspect of ancient philosophy. That left just a theoretical rump of philosoophy behind to act as the "handmaiden to theology".

REBT is Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy of Albert Ellis, one of the precursors of modern Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
IIRC, the distinction is somewhat modern by lm (4.00 / 3) #15 Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 06:26:02 PM EST
If you read Aristotle's De Anima, the use of psyche (soul) and nous (intelect) gets conflated quite a bit. (It's been a while since I've read it so I could be misremembering.

I do recall that Plato held that spirit and intellect were both part of the soul, The soul has various powers such as appetite and the spirit which move the body and other powers such as intellect that are purely intellectual.

The Stoics, who were matierialists, would have rejected this sort of sharp distinction between the powers that affected the body and the powers that affected the soul. The would, however, be fine with a distinction between the rational and irrational powers of the soul.

Into this mix comes the Christian tradition. IIRC, east and west differ on how the division falls. One of the more formative treatments was that of Ignatious of Loyola whose "spiritual exercises" were tremendously influential with regards to meditaional techniques both religious and secular.

I think most modern treatments balk at "intellectual" exercises because that smacks of a modern sort of rationalism that would reduce rationality to matters of analytic reasoning in the intellect. This sort of discursive power of reasoning would have held second place to the ancient idea of intellect that focused more on direct apperception of reality than discursively reasoning to truth.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
Judaism by jimgon (4.00 / 3) #16 Sat Mar 26, 2011 at 08:27:59 AM EST

One of the semi-educational channels here in the US had covered the topic of a feminine deity in Judaism.  Artifacts still exist.  As you wrote it's not confrontational to scholars and probably not to the Jewish people.  It would be confrontational to American Evangelicals.  Also as you wrote from the Bible it is completely obvious that the Hebrews believedthat other gods existed, but they were forbidden from worshipping them.  The evangelicals are the problem.  Well, them and the protestants.  They believe that individuals without specific training can interpret the Bible.  Obviously that isn't true.  It leads to misinterpretation since you don't have the historical or theological background to properly understand the writings. 

Technician - "We can't even get decent physical health care. Mental health is like witchcraft here."
Mainstream Judaism by motty (4.00 / 3) #19 Sun Mar 27, 2011 at 09:30:22 PM EST
I'm not going to try and argue that mainstream Judaism is not patriarchal, since it manifestly is in many ways, but nevertheless, mainstream Judaism has held the idea for centuries that God, not being anthropomorphic in any way, is therefore beyond gender. To the extent that mainstream Judaism holds that we can only ever have a limited set of ways of understanding God, all of which are flawed and incomplete, it is also to be understood that so far as these things, according to Judaism, can be possibly understood by humans, there are both masculine and feminine aspects of God. See eg the Wikipedia article on the Shekhinah. So they taught me at the shul, anyway.

I amd itn ecaptiaghle of drinking sthis d dar - Dr T
[ Parent ]
Thankyou. by Breaker (4.00 / 2) #24 Wed Mar 30, 2011 at 06:05:52 PM EST
Got any recommended links for "Judaism 101" for the n00b?  Reading that link brought home how little I know of Judaism; it's always good to learn something new.

[ Parent ]
Off the top of my head by motty (4.00 / 1) #25 Wed Mar 30, 2011 at 09:25:59 PM EST
Not really, no. I'll have a think.

Meanwhile I had a quick look and this site looks like a pretty good overview of many things.

I amd itn ecaptiaghle of drinking sthis d dar - Dr T

[ Parent ]
Damn you! by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #27 Thu Mar 31, 2011 at 04:34:57 PM EST
You are supposed to have a cornucopia of neatly graded links for the curious, to save us from googling! :)

But thanks for the link!

[ Parent ]
I have by tuscoops (4.00 / 1) #26 Wed Mar 30, 2011 at 10:42:01 PM EST
this book in epub format that I haven't gotten around to reading yet (one of those things I thought I should probably read at some point, since I'm Jewish in the sense that my mother's, mother's, mother, etc. was Jewish, so my bloodline is Jewish, though I was spared the family nose). Also, because I live in a largely Muslim population and know very little about that as well. Actually, I'm not Christian either, and was basically brought up without any religion, which my Catholic school boyfriend envies me for.  Yeah, so basically this book was written especially for people like me.

Anyway, if you'd like a copy, just let me know.

[ Parent ]
CBT by spiralx (2.00 / 0) #28 Thu Mar 31, 2011 at 05:24:53 PM EST
I had a session of CBT this afternoon and mentioned this book to the therapist who sounded intrigued, so I've written the details down to give to her next week :)

I am smiling | 28 comments (28 topical, 0 hidden)