Steven C. Hayes, PhD, on controversy, his lab culture, and how political organizing can help you in science

Dr. Hayes is a Nevada Foundation Professor of Psychology in the Behavior Analysis Program at the University of Nevada, Reno. An author of 46 books and nearly 650 scientific articles, he is especially known for his work on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is one of the most widely used and researched new methods of psychological intervention in the last 20 years. Dr. Hayes has received many national awards, such as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy. His popular book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life was, at one point, the best-selling self-help book in the United States, and his new book A Liberated Mind has been recently released to wide acclaim. His TEDx talks have been viewed by over 600,000 people, and he is ranked among the most cited psychologists in the world.

In this wide ranging conversation, we discuss how Dr. Hayes started his work life as a political organizer and how this has influenced him to work behind the scenes to organize coalitions to get things done. We talk about how he has built his lab culture throughout the years. We discuss his tendency to get involved in important controversies in psychology, such as the prescription privileges debate, and how he has learned to navigate those subjects and attendant criticisms. We discuss the importance of acknowledging those who have helped you along in your life and career, including those critics who have helped you grow. Finally, we talk about he works with his students, including how he encourages an atmosphere of questioning each other with good humor and supporting students to seek after what brings them vitality and meaning.

In this episode, you’ll learn…

  • How Dr. Hayes is trying to redefine what evidence-based therapy means and why he wants to have it under the umbrella of evolution science
  • How working in the political realm transformed his future in science and psychology
  • About the controversial past of his work and how that has affected his teaching methods and philosophy
  • About the vital role collaboration plays
  • To appreciate those who helped to get you where you are

Tips from the episode

On politics and where change happens…

  • Groups make a difference. People make a difference.
  • You can lead from behind.
  • You have to work as hard as anyone. Be willing to do anything.
  • Take down the hierarchy.

On micro steps…

  • Be driven by a gut sense of connection.
  • Watch what lifts you up, entertains, and interests you.
  • Have confidence in your heart and what brings you bliss.
  • What seems a chaotic mess to the outside is all connected.
  • Have faith that the big picture is playing out.

On the role of mentors and what they offer…

  • Every person has brought something to the direction things went.
  • Even our greatest critics can offer positive gifts.
  • Always remember to have gratitude for those who encouraged and influenced you.

On lab philosophy…

  • Create cultural traditions that invite growth.
  • Open the society to diversity of ideas. Never hide ideas from others.
  • Be willing to talk about emotions.
  • Invite critics to come in. Controversy is a good thing. Embrace criticism.
  • It is not tearing down another person to make a bold statement.
  • Celebrate each other’s accomplishments regularly.
  • Keep your eye on the larger values-based purpose of having a research community in the first place.
  • Have fun.

Links from the episode:

Research Matters Podcast is hosted by Jason Luoma, who can be found on Twitter @jasonluoma or Facebook at: You download the podcast through iTunesStitcher, or Spotify. Reach out with suggestions, questions, or comments to