Here’s a confession. I’ve been a professional psychologist for 30 years, clinician and academic, but I can’t think of a single instance when I’ve made personal use of my psychological expertise. Even in the darkest times, especially in the darkest times, I never turn to scientific psychology for illumination. I write these words within a few days of the first anniversary of my wife’s death, so there have been some very dark days of late. All through, my knowledge of clinical psychology has seemed irrelevant, or if not irrelevant then certainly peripheral to my deepest needs and concerns. This, I know, will sound smug, or disingenuous, or wilfully contrarian. But it’s true. I am by natural inclination a Stoic. I don’t mean in the loose sense of ‘grimly determined’ or ‘long-suffering‘, and especially not ‘stiff upper-lipped’. I mean Stoic in the tradition of that broad church of Greek and Roman philosophers – Epictetus and Seneca among them – for whom the question, ‘How best to live?’ was the most important of all. Their collective wisdom boils down to this: negative emotions are a bad thing; banish them through thought and deed. These are the roots of CBT, of course, the difference being that the Stoics offer an overarching philosophy of life, not just a bag of psychological tricks. There’s a world of difference.
Paul Broks is a neuropsychologist based at Plymouth University. He gained international recognition as a writer with his first book ‘Into the Silent Land‘, a mix of neurological case stories, memoir and speculative fiction. A second volume, ‘Next’, is forthcoming.