Blog Post: Book Review: “Neurologic: The Brain's Hidden Rationale Behind Our Irrational Behavior," by Eliezer J. Sternberg.
Reviewed by Michael Sytniak, Ph.D., for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted January 17, 2017
Eliezer Sternberg’s book Neurologic
is his third book on human behavior. He is a neurologist with a background in neuroscience and philosophy. His most recent book looks at how basic brain research and examination of neurological damage might explain seemingly “irrational” behavior.
The basic theme throughout the book is the distinction between the conscious and unconscious systems of the brain and how the brain compensates when it is confronted with contradictory information between those systems. This has obvious consequences for our work when trying to help people change behaviors and emotions that are strongly influenced by the unconscious systems. This book is similar to other books that examine the types of logical errors humans are prone to make when our unconscious mental processes are influencing our behaviors with little insight or oversight from our conscious mind.
Dr. Sternberg writes in a pleasant and easy to read style and mixes in a some light humor. He uses various personal clinical examples that add interest to his prose. He explains the neurological reasons behind alien abduction phenomena, something Carl Sagan did over twenty years ago in “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.” However, he also provides many other interesting explanations of other idiosyncratic human behaviors keeping the book moving along.
Most interesting is an exploration of a potential explanation for hallucinations in schizophrenia using the insights that have been drawn from research on an African freshwater fish that informed human brain research. This research suggests that a basic brain process that helps us recognize our own thinking and verbalizations, as well as other sensory phenomena, is dysfunctional in somebody suffering from schizophrenia. The patients are then left with thoughts that are not recognizable as their own. Eliezer hypothesizes that the brain needs an explanation for these “other” voices and that explanation requires a powerful entity that can put these thoughts into the patients’ head against their will. This is how outside powerful entities like the devil, FBI, and god come to be utilized by the mind to explain the troubling, seemingly extraneous thoughts.
He also extensively discusses various neurological aspects of hypnosis and how these aspects may explain the clinical phenomena of dissociation. As somebody who has a little more that peripheral knowledge of hypnosis (Thanks Dr. Diatch) most of his discussion is well founded and sound. I was concerned that he inadvertently reinforced a damaging myth about hypnosis but he clarifies his position later in the book.
In addition to alien abduction, schizophrenia and hypnosis, he covers the fallibility of human memory, deja vu, how different behavioral processes get transferred to our unconscious mind sometimes with disaster consequences, human echolocation, phantom limb pain, dream characteristics in the totally blind and the impact of human emotion on memory. The breadth of human experience covered in the book is wide and in most aspects is explored in an interesting and thought provoking manner.
All of these topics are rooted in insights from brain pathology and basic brain research. The overarching idea is to show how unconscious brain processes influence behavior without the knowledge or consent of our conscious mind. Freud would be proud!
I do see a few problems with this book. My first criticism is related to all books of this type and is not specific to this volume. When reading a book like this that necessarily simplifies processes that are very complex, I wonder what an expert in the brain processes being discussed might say about the generalizations. I would guess that they would say, “That’s generally true, but…..” I also imagine that these books can become dated very quickly as new research comes out extending our understanding of how the brain works.
Criticisms more specific to this book are one example where the writer uses a study where 30% of the subjects showed a generated false memory as evidence of a brain process neglecting the fact that 70% of the subjects did not! If a fundamental mental process was being measured one would expect a much greater percentage of people to display this tendency. He also tends to interpret functional MRI results in definitive ways when I suspect these interpretations are far from settled or as simple as he presents. The logic is then further extended off of these interpretations to build a broader argument. This reasoning may be found to be correct as science of the brain progresses, but he seems to be presenting them in very concrete and decided ways. I would bet that the ultimate truth in these areas will turn out to be much more complicated than he seems to be presenting. Finally, he incorrectly labels an event as a false negative when it actually was a false positive, but only an obsessive psychologist would care about that error.
Overall the book provides many insights into how the brain works and how certain irrational behaviors can be explained with the underlying functions in the brain. I found many interesting anecdotes about the brain, some of which have important implications for understanding our clients and their struggles to overcome emotional and behavioral problems. If you have read some of the books already in the popular press on behavioral economics, neuroscience or the psychology of brain processes and human thinking, you will likely find some of the information in this book repetitive. However, despite some of the redundancy, I did find the book interesting and thought provoking generating different ideas about potential application in clinical practice.
Blog Post: Book Review: “After the Doors were locked: A History of Youth Corrections in California and the Origins of Twenty-First-Century Reforms," by D.E. Macallair, 2015.
Reviewed by Jim Windell, M.A., for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted November 29, 2016
As the subtitle of this book indicates, this book is about California’s youth corrections system. But it is not just about young people being locked up in California. What developed in the 19th and 20th centuries in California simply mirrored what was going on in every state. However, if you are interested in the incarceration of children and adolescents, but you are not all that familiar with the history of youth corrections, then this book has a lot to offer you.
What follows in the next few paragraphs is a condensed version of the history of youth corrections in America that you can learn from this book. During the 19th century there was a very strong interest, particularly among middle class and wealthy women, to “save” children. What they were saving them from was industrialization and urban life. But it wasn’t every child who needed saving; mostly, it was children of the so-called “dangerous classes” – comprised of the poor, lower class, and immigrants. These were the children the white elite thought needed to be saved. Throughout the later part of the 1800s there were various schemes to save children, but the ones that seemed to stick were institutionalization and, ultimately, the establishment of juvenile courts.
Heading into the 20th century, these two methods to protect and save children – juvenile courts and institutionalization – went hand-in-hand as state legislatures brought juvenile courts into existence and gave them the power by state statutes to remove children from their parents and their homes. Although juvenile courts had the power to take children away from their parents and place them in institutions, of course, it was always with the intent of helping children. The mantra developed to justify the actions of courts was that they were taking into consideration “the best interests of the child.” However, it is very clear in retrospect that it was almost always middle class white people – whether they were child savers, philanthropists, social workers, or juvenile court judges – who made decisions about lower class and disruptive children.
And between 1850 and 2000, California not only placed children in juvenile detention centers, reform schools, and industrial schools, but also in the massive juvenile corrections system developed in that state – the California Youth Authority (CYA). While the CYA was, again, developed with the best of intentions, the end result often was no different from the institutions that Charles Dickens railed against in books such as “Oliver Twist.” No matter the name of the juvenile detention or juvenile residential center, and no matter where in the U.S. they were located, children were often neglected, physically abused, and sexually mistreated. That was as true in the CYA as in any other institution.
However, starting about 2005, the California legislature and Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger began to see the dark side of the CYA and other residential facilities for youth and had an inkling that young people were better off outside of state institutions than inside of them. To the state’s credit, California opted for systemic reform of the juvenile justice system by closing most of the CYA facilities and letting counties come up with programs to treat their children. This reform paralleled what was – and is – slowly going on in other states: A growing realization that children, especially the poor, the lower class, the delinquent, and the children of color, have no business in institutions.
The first institutes for youth began with the establishment of the House of Refuge in New York and other large cities, particularly in the Northeastern section of the U.S. beginning in 1825. But as author Macallair points out in this historically important book, it has taken our society about 190 years to figure out that children should not be locked up because they are poor, lower class, immigrant, or black – or because they are acting like children.
Blog Post: Book Review: “Hell is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement” by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, and Sarah Shourd
Reviewed by Jim Windell, M.A., for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted November 17, 2016
Sarah Shroud, a journalist and one of the editors of this anthology of writings from prisoners, spent 410 days in solitary confinement while she was held as a political hostage by the Iranian government in 2009 and 2010. After her release and following her return to the U.S., Ms. Shroud became more aware of the draconian practice of solitary confinement and its use as a routine control mechanism in United States prisons. And she learned that is far more extensively in this country than any country in the world.
As a consequence of this growing awareness, she started talking to other survivors of solitary confinement. And, in fact, she began recording their stories and combining other stories collected by her colleagues, Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, this anthology was put together.
Shroud, in her preface to “Hell is a Very Small Place,” tells us that the writers and story tellers in this book have achieved a hard-earned, twisted kind of beauty. “They have chosen to plunge head first into the existential pain of their isolation to construct a bridge with one of the few tools they have left: words.”
Readers can begin to share that existential pain with these 22 stories that so vividly tell – honesty and poignancy – of their experiences living in solitary confinement. All of these stories are by solitary confinement survivors who describe the devastating effects of spending years, and in some cases, decades, in solitary. Altogether these accounts constitute a searing indictment of a practice that as one writer phrases it is like having served a sentence “worse than death.”
While people can live on death row knowing they will be executed at some time in the future, it is psychological torture to have to endure the isolation of solitary confinement. In an introduction to the personal stories by co-editors Casella and Ridgeway there is a brief history of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. But in this introduction they begin to talk about the psychological effects suffered by the survivors, as well as so many other prisoners.
Writing a review about the essays in this book just does not give a true indication of the feelings and emotions conveyed by these prisoner’s words or their experiences. The following quotes come from some of the writers in “Hell is a Very Small Place”:
“To some judges sitting on high who’ve never done a day in the box, maybe twenty-five years of this isn’t cruel and unusual. To folks who have an insatiable appetite for vengeance against prisoners who have committed terrible crimes, perhaps it doesn’t even matter how cruel or unusual my plight is or isn’t. For people who cannot let go of hate and know not how to forgive, no amount of remorse would matter, no level of contrition would be quite enough, only endless retribution would be right in their eyes. Like with Judge Mulroy, only an eternity in hell would suffice. But then, given even that, the unforgiving haters would not be satisfied that hell was hot enough; they’d want the heat turned up higher. Thankfully these folks are the few; in the minds of the many, at a point, enough is enough.”
William Blake is currently serving his 29th year in solitary in New York’s Great Meadow Correctional Facility.
“The hardest thing about spending years in the SHU [Special Housing Unit; a euphemism for solitary conferment] is that it’s not ‘just’ years. Call it what is: a circle of perpetual sensory deprivation that spans an entire lifetime…The psychological damage does not fix itself…The hardest thing? Nobody cares.”
Cesare F. Villa, age 55, has been in the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison in California since 2001.
“Our country has thousands of its people confined to concrete cages. Years pass, lives pass. The suffering does not. Our families suffer most, watching us grow old and go crazy in a cage. This is my biggest pain, knowing my mother and sister suffer with me. I cannot see how this is helpful to society. Most men will spend years in a cage alone and be released back into society filled with hate and rage. It is an ugly truth. We as a country are blind to the reality of our prison system.”
Jesse Wilson is serving his sentence, since 2007, in the U.S. Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum (ADX) in Florence, Colorado.
On any given day, more than 100,000 people are held in isolation in a U.S. prison. This book helps to show the wasted humanity and the broader aspects of solitary confinement. To better understand the psychological, legal, ethical, and political dimensions of solitary confinement I recommend this book.
Blog Post: Book Review: “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction” by Patrick J. Kennedy and Stephen Fried
Reviewed by Barbara Rigney, Ph.D., for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted August 24, 2016
Patrick Kennedy, youngest son of Ted Kennedy, has taken on as his life’s work increasing awareness of and advocating for proper treatment, funding, and recognition of the needs of those challenged by mental illness and addiction. This book is equal parts the story of “why”, “how”, and “what,” resulting in a somewhat unusual blend of legislative and personal history. Kennedy’s own very personal struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction provide a context in which his passion for this work is well understood, and he effectively emphasizes the importance of destigmatizing mental illness and addiction. At times, however, it seems as if some of the personal revelations and Kennedy back stories are there to keep the reader interested through some of the wonkier details, rather than being necessary for the reader to understand the evolution of mental health and addiction policies.
For readers who are interested in the politics of health care, this can be an interesting read. It also is a vivid reminder of how far we have come and how recent it was that parity for mental health services/reimbursement was not a reality, and that there is work yet to be done. For Kennedy fans, this book provides some very personal insight into one of America’s most famous families, who seem to have suffered a disproportionate amount of tragedy, and who, despite, or perhaps because of that suffering, take seriously their obligation to improving the conditions of those less privileged. While I doubt Kennedy intended this, his story clearly illustrates the great disparity in potential consequences for the “haves” vs. the “have-nots” when faced with the challenges of severe mental illness and addiction. Or perhaps it is his acute awareness of his good fortune that drives him to level the playing field for others.
Blog Post: Book Review: “Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body” by Jo Marchant
Reviewed by Barbara Rigney, Ph.D., for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted August 5, 2016
Aptly titled, Marchant’s book reads like a guide as it takes the reader through the ever- growing scientific landscape of mind-body research. It also seems like a personal journey for Marchant. She begins with a skeptical tone and outright rebuttal of homeopathy as pure sham, but then moves through chapters covering a range of topics that demonstrate the power of mind in wellness, including placebo, chronic pain, the power of thought itself, the significant impact of stress on health, and even touching on the role of spirituality and social connection in wellness. By the end, one gathers that this journey has personally changed Marchant. She puts to use her strong science background (a PhD in genetics and medical microbiology) to dissect the research and separate out fact from fiction;“…I believe that everything in nature can be studied scientifically if we ask the right questions, and that the medical treatments we put our trust in should be tested in rigorous trials.” But she also does not ignore the very real experience of those who are not cured by modern medicine and who still suffer from chronic pain or depression, despite the 3 trillion dollars Marchant says is spent on health care, or the alarmingly high number of Americans taking prescription medication.
Cure is, for all of the research it wades through, a very interesting read and accessible to a wide audience. Marchant takes the reader around the world, from a basement laboratory in Turin, Italy, to an Alpine lab 12,000 feet above; we are there with her meditating on the beach in California and volunteering at the sacred baths of Lourdes, France. Her personal encounters with the scientists and providers on the front lines of mind-body medicine as well as with the individuals searching for answers to their suffering make for compelling reading as well as stimulate one’s own evaluation of disease and wellness in the 21st century. By book’s end, Marchant seems to have abandoned her initial conceptualization of “mind vs. body” and ultimately expresses hope for a medical system that “would recognize that the vast majority of health problems we face aren’t physical or psychological-they are both.” Marchant does briefly address the role of social policies in health, depicting quite effectively the role of poverty, stress, and inequality in chronic disease. However, she leaves for others, or perhaps for another book, any proposed solutions to these social policy issues. Additionally, solutions to obstacles posed by the significant financial interests of more traditional medical interventions are also left unexplored.
I strongly recommend this book. It should be required reading for entering medical students, and would be a worthwhile read for anyone involved in providing care to patients, and for anyone who inhabits a body and is interested in managing their own wellness.
Blog Post: MPA on Michigan Lieutenant Governor's Behavioral Health Workgroup
By Joy Wolfe Ensor, PhD, and the Michigan Psychological Association Insurance Committee
Posted July 22, 2016
Early this year, Gov. Rick Snyder proposed boilerplate language in Section 298 of the FY2017 budget that would have integrated Medicaid physical and mental health services by shifting service delivery to private Medicaid HMOs. In the face of strong objections to this proposal, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley convened a “Stakeholder 298 Work Group” charged with three tasks: (1) to clarify the core values for Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ (MDHHS) service delivery process; (2) to recommend improved boilerplate language to the Legislature; and (3) to propose design elements for an improved, more integrated system of delivering public mental health/substance use/developmental disability services to the citizens of Michigan. Thanks to the efforts of MPA’s leadership, our Association had a seat at the table, along with some 100 other stakeholders from a wide array of constituencies.
The Stakeholder 298 Work Group met five times over the course of the spring. The meetings were chaired by Lynda Zeller of MDHHS and facilitated by Peter Pratt of Public Sector Consultants; in addition, Lt. Gov. Calley attended two of the meetings. The process followed a (loosely-defined) consensus model, in which consensus on the various elements was defined as a two-thirds supermajority of favorable or neutral (“I can live with it”) votes.
In the interest of transparency, MDHHS launched an open website: http://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339-71550_2941_76181---,00.html
, which currently has extensive minutes of all five meetings, the final Core Values statement, and resource documents that helped guide progress to the stated end goal.
The work group achieved its goals, reaching consensus on the Core Values statement; on recommended boilerplate language, many of which were incorporated into the recommendations of the Joint Legislative Conference; and on preferred design elements for an improved service delivery system. For details, please see minutes of the June 22, 2016 meeting on the Stakeholder 298 website, and the Joint Conference Report document
The current boilerplate language calls for a new workgroup to submit a final design proposal to the Legislature by January 15, 2017. The plan for the follow-up Executive Policy Group is described extensively in the June 22 minutes. Lynda Zeller stated a commitment to make the ongoing process inclusive of stakeholders’ concerns. MDHHS will maintain and update the Stakeholder 298 website, and hopes to have a draft work group document ready for review and public feedback by mid-October.
Michigan Psychological Association will continue to monitor developments in MDHHS as part of our mission to participate in the public policy process in order to promote the public welfare.
Book Review: The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times by Barbara Taylor, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015
Reviewed by Betty Bishop, PhD, for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted July 7, 2016
This autobiography looks at the treatment of severe mental illness in England in the 1980s and 1990s. The author, a well-known writer and historian, describes her problems with depression and severe anxiety and her three hospitalizations at Frien Mental Hospital in London. She looks back at the historic treatment of those with mental illness in England starting in the 1800s and continuing through the closing of all large mental hospitals in the 1990s. In England, as was also true in the United States, there was a major shift from big government-run psychiatric hospitals to day treatment programs, hostels for those who could not live independently, and community-based treatment.
The core of the author’s treatment was a psychoanalysis which lasted over 20 years including the times when she was hospitalized. Using frequent excerpts from notebooks which she kept during the analysis, she provides a very interesting account of her life and mental health treatment. She credited her own recovery to the consistent work with her analyst and the support of a group of friends.
This eloquent and very personal account provides a fascinating view of mental health treatment and psychiatric services at a time of major transition. Similar challenges were being faced by mental health treatment programs in the USA during the same time period. The book is worth reading to trace the recent history of psychiatric care and to see the similarities and differences between the USA and England.
Book Review: “Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing” by Jamie Holmes
Reviewed by Debra Smith, PsyD, for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted June 17, 2016
Using a plethora of real life examples, Holmes brings to life the impact, positive and negative, ambiguity and ambivalence can have on our daily lives. The idea that ambiguity and ambivalence are more prevalent than we recognize was well established and backed with multi-disciplinary research. Holmes makes a strong case for becoming more conscious of the times when, as individuals and organizations, these mental states can bring us to a decision prematurely. Closing the process of decision making so early due to our need to resolve the discomfort and anxiety related to ambiguity usually results in eliminating more creative and constructive outcomes. With clear, easy to read prose, Holmes builds a fascinating case for expanding our capacity to deal with what we don’t know - not only think outside the box but find ways to forget the box - and approach situations with a more flexible vision. Holmes further suggests that our ability to mitigate our discomfort with ambivalence, ambiguity, and not knowing has led to the development of some of our greatest inventions, marketing strategies, and interventions in bigotry, prejudice and discrimination.
Book Review: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It... Every Time by Maria Konnikova (1)
Reviewed by Elissa H. Patterson, PhD, Health Psychologist at the University of Michigan Health System, for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted June 12, 2016
Inspired by David Mamet's depictions of swindlers, Maria Konnikova describes the psychological roots of our universal human vulnerability to being conned. The word "con" conjures up negative word associations (convicts, disadvantages, contrary), but ironically, its use in the abbreviation of the phrase "the confidence game" stems from the assurance that the fraudster exudes and inspires in his victims (2). Konnikova aptly demonstrates this confidence to be a key feature of setting someone up to be fleeced. She describes the lives of individuals touched and sometimes ruined by con schemes, going back centuries. In each vignette, the subtleties of the yin and the yang of the con game emerge as we see victim after victim go from hope and excitement to loss and disappointment. In some cases, the disappointment is mercilessly wrestled in to submission through self-protective psychological mechanisms. For instance, Fred Demara a man without a medical degree, was so extremely effective at impersonating a surgeon on a Canadian Navy ship that he actually performed surgeries on wounded men; and after he was dismissed because it was brought to light that he had assumed the name of a surgeon on the Canadian mainland, the ship's captain refused to believe the evidence, and told Demara he would gladly take him back as a surgeon anytime. Konnikova points out that most of us like to think that we could not be fooled in such a way and then she introduces the concept of cognitive dissonance (3) (we adjust our thoughts and beliefs to maintain consistency within ourselves, even when that means disregarding otherwise painfully obvious facts); and we are forced to examine the intrapsychic dilemma that the captain might have faced. He most likely believed himself to be a responsible person who would not foolishly expose his sailors to unnecessary risk. If it were true that he allowed a man without a medical degree or any medical credentials to perform life or death surgeries on his sailors, he would have to acknowledge that he put his wounded soldiers at grave risk, which would be inconsistent with his belief about himself. It's much easier to cognitively and emotionally blur out the conflicting information so that the prior beliefs can be maintained: "you are our surgeon; you saved the lives of many sailors; I am grateful to you".
Through personal interviews both with con artists and those who got conned, Konnikova gives us a front row seat of the inner workings of con games. She describes many stories in which the con was about money and some in which control was commandeered for other purposes, but they all involve sizing up the victims, psychological manipulation, and very carefully timed collection of the currency being sought. Konnikova introduces us to the structure and language used to describe the stages of a con game and she explores the needs, motivations, and rewards that fuel the con artist.
Konnikova's training as a psychologist is evidenced by the wide breadth of knowledge that she shares about psychological principles that explain why confidence games are effective. They are effective because they capitalize on social skills, heuristics, principles of influence, faith, trust, and the human desire for meaning and hope, among many other reasons sprinkled throughout the chapters.
Like a film with fully developed characters, this book is refreshingly complex in that it includes many different types of cons. For instance, Konnikova takes us behind the scenes with magicians and psychics to see some of the tricks of those trades. With these examples, she exhibits the duality of being conned. In some circumstances it is a delightful experience (like a magic show or hearing from a psychic that good fortune will befall us), and in other circumstances, it is heartbreaking (like realizing that the psychic has cleverly exploited our faith to drain our bank account). The mechanics of evoking the illusions may be the same in both cases, but the psychological outcomes are painfully different.
This book could serve as a practical guide and theoretical text book for con artists or anyone with a mission that involves changing the behavior of other people (be that to raise funds to cure world hunger or to get a 6-year old to eat his green beans). It also could serve as an entertaining, illustrated, case-based introduction to many important concepts within the fields of social psychology, behavioral economics, and evolutionary psychology.
Konnikova talks about the con artist as someone who at once takes advantage of our prosocial human instincts in the basest and most exploitive way and at the same time inspires some of the most powerful life-affirming forces: faith, hope, and meaning. Ultimately, we are keenly reminded by the phenomena described in this book, that, as Shakespeare told us through Hamlet, "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so," (4) and that every principle that we are hardwired or environmentally molded to respond to can be used to benefit us or used to dupe us in to giving away our most prized valuables (be they spiritual or material).
1. Konnikova, Maria. The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It... Every Time. New York, NY: Viking, 2016.
2. Con [Def. 5]. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved June 9, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/con
3. Festinger, Leon, and James M. Carlsmith. "Cognitive consequences of forced compliance." The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 58.2 (1959): 203.
4. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Complete Moby - Shakespeare, n.d. Retrieved June 9, 2016 from http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/full.html
Book Review: "When the Sun Bursts: The Enigma of Schizophrenia" by Christopher Bollas
Reviewed by Carol Stratman, PhD, for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted May 24, 2016
Who is this therapist who can witness human experience with such intensity? How does psychotherapy work, especially with severely troubled individuals? How does the therapist facilitate an ability to feel comfortable, to tolerate ambiguities, to realize potential? Anyone interested in pursuing these questions, no matter what their theoretical orientation, will benefit from reading “When the Sun Bursts”. The answers are not simple. They are evolving, individual and often raise further questions. Part of what makes Christopher Bollas so engaging whether in his writing or in his clinical work is his ability to tolerate the unknown or as he has said the “unknown known” and his insatiable curiosity.
In this book, Christopher Bollas expresses an uncanny ability to enter the world of another simultaneously almost unconsciously or automatically employing his intricate knowledge of theory and clinical experience to navigate the life of the schizophrenic. He describes with multiple and detailed clinical examples how effective psychotherapy is nuanced for each individual while maintaining the basic underlying principles. These principles include qualities such as respectful, attentive listening, consistency, keeping commitments to time etc., and maintaining the frame of therapy to provide a safe environment. He describes how schizophrenia develops especially in the stressful transition from adolescence to adulthood. Then continues with case examples that help us understand how symptoms develop to accommodate the lived myth or distortion of reality. Discovery of the underlying meaning of symptoms results in an understanding and assimilation of thoughts and feelings so that one may navigate everyday life successfully. For example, one woman in therapy became furious with him for allowing a fire breathing dragon to enter the therapy and terrorize her. They came to understand that this hallucination arose as a defense from a reflection that Dr. Bollas had made about her need to drag on negative thoughts. The dragon in the room represented her terror at giving up the safety of negative thoughts. At this juncture, she is “no longer the recipient... she now understands it and she is then free either to retain it as an assumption, or the memory of one, or to abandon it... Any good interpretation that makes an unconscious assumption conscious creates a potential space. The potential is that through wording and understanding, a previous axiom can now change...” p.184. Bollas writes that in general schizophrenics experience many of the ordinary life changes or transitions as traumatic and develop unusual symptoms to communicate their terror. He summarized that a vital condition of therapeutic effectiveness is whether the therapist is able to reintroduce to the patient, to the generative potential and not the threat of change. He/she “will have to earn the person’s trust that the trauma of change has some benefit to it... Schizophrenics embark on many changes as a result of intensive psychotherapy, but changes will take longer for them than for the non-psychotic personality. Although medications may prove invaluable in the course of psychotherapy, nothing helps schizophrenics more than a single one-on-one commitment by a fellow human being who has taken the time and endured the training to know how to read them, be with them, and talk to them.”p.186-187.
Although intending to address psychotic experience, these principles are applicable to any psychotherapy, even to the human experience in general.
Bollas’ writing style is not theoretical yet his writing communicates complicated theory in everyday language. “When the Sun Bursts” is poetic, compelling, and as fascinating as reading a good novel. The reader is engaged, does not want to put the book down. If this is your experience as well, the following are some suggested additional readings.
Bollas, C., Phillips, A., (2011) Christopher Bollas Reader. NY: Routledge
Bollas, C., (2009) Infinite Question. NY: Routledge
Bollas, C., (1992) Being a Character. NY: Routledge
Book Review: Staying Sharp: 9 Keys for a Youthful Brain through Modern Science and Ageless Wisdom by Henry Emmons, MD and David Alter, PhD (2015)
Reviewed by Janelle Cayo Ettema, PhD, for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted May 14, 2016
For people at middle age and beyond, few things are more important than “staying sharp.” We worry about cognitive decline, dementia, and the general loss of vitality that can accompany the aging process. In their book, Staying Sharp, Emmons and Alter offer hope for a second half of life that is full of engagement, vitality, and joy.
Henry Emmons is a holistic psychiatrist and David Alter is a psychologist who specializes in neuropsychology and health psychology. The authors explain recent advances in neuroscience and how neuroscience provides an umbrella for uniting what both science and ancient wisdom can teach us about aging well. In the first part of the book, in simple but not simplistic language, the authors provide the reader with enough background in brain science and the importance of attention (mindfulness and emotion regulation) to lend authority and clarity to the next three parts in which they provide specific recommendations for a healthy, vibrant, and joyful second half of life. Throughout the book, they support their recommendations with clearly written scientific explanations. The authors’ nine keys to staying sharp involve 1) movement, 2) sleep, 3) nutrition, 4) curiosity, 5) flexibility, 6) optimism, 7) empathy, 8) connectedness, and 9) authenticity. Without resorting to gimmicks, Emmons and Alter thoroughly explore and elucidate the nine keys, providing clear and practical recommendations for each area.
I can find very little in this book to criticize. The only minor problem I noticed was that in Chapter 6 on nourishment, the authors state that recommendations on a seasonal cleanse are available in the Resources section, and I could not find that information.
Of the many books I have read on how to keep the brain young and healthy, this is one of the very best. In this highly engaging and informative book, Emmons and Alter give extensive, practical, and well-supported recommendations not only for “staying sharp,” but also for living a full and joyful life at any age.
Book Review: Stay: A History of Suicide and the Arguments Against It – By Jennifer Michael Hecht
Reviewed by B. Kay Campell, PhD, for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted May 3, 2016
Dr. Hecht, who holds a PhD in the History of Science from Columbia University, takes the reader through an extensive examination of the beliefs and attitudes surrounding suicide beginning with biblical stories and concluding with modern day philosophical arguments for and against taking one’s own life. Her review of the literature is a model which could benefit anyone seeking to write a research paper. She writes with a conversational tone that allows her to weave her findings into a comprehensive text where her skill as a historian is well demonstrated.
The history of suicide is far more complex than I had appreciated. Dr. Hecht highlights the contributions shaping our views that derived from ancient religions, Greek and Roman history, myths and legends, politicians, philosophers, artists, writers, scientists, ethicists and others. For example, at one time committing suicide was a sin against the Church because only God, who gave life, could take a life. Over time suicide was considered a crime and the body of the deceased person was mutilated as punishment. In Roman law a slave who committed suicide was considered a thief because he took what was owned by another. The story of Lucretia has prompted philosophical discussions for centuries because of the circumstances surrounding her self-murder. She was a noble, honorable and favored matron of ancient Rome who was raped by the son of the King who threatened to accuse her of adultery if she complained. She would not be shamed nor would allow the shame an accusation of adultery would have brought to her husband and his house so she described the event to her husband and his companions and then stabbed herself in her abdomen. Augustine , an outstanding theologians of early Christianity, wrote “this crime was committed by Lucretia; that Lucretia so celebrated and lauded slew the innocent, chaste, outraged Lucretia” yet he continues, “ the only crime of this highly praised woman was that she killed an innocent, pure and furious woman – herself.” Her death inspired visual artists, playwrights and writers throughout history. Rembrandt created several paintings depicting the Death of Lucretia and one of them hangs at the Detroit Institute of Art and another is in the National Gallery. Shakespeare in 1594 wrote his long poem, The Rape of Lucrece, and her assault and sacrifice created a theme he wove into subsequent works. Her choice reflects suicide as an honorable choice, one made for the greater good of others. But the value of such a sacrifice has been argued over the centuries.
Suicidal martyrdom claimed by terrorists to be in the service of a better life hereafter is not technically suicide inasmuch as the intent is to murder others. Islam arose in the seventh century C.E. and was, in its origins, fiercely against suicide, fiercely against killing. Endurance of an unbearable life was explicitly prized; the courage to live in spite of hardship was far more admirable. Emile Durkheim, the founding sociologist, wrote a seminal monograph in 1897 studying the suicide rates in Catholic and Protestant populations. He is quoted in Dr. Hecht’s book as saying “nothing in fact is more contrary to the general spirit of Mahometan civilization than suicide, for the virtue set above all others is absolute submission to the divine will, the docile resignation ‘that makes one endure all patiently ‘” (53).
Despair suicide was acknowledged for those whose physical suffering exceeded their tolerance for unremitting pain and may have become the foundation for assisted suicide as we know it today. But suicide because of emotional despair has been bitterly debated and is soundly criticized by Dr. Hecht throughout this book. But nonetheless she quotes the poet Anne Sexton:
“I don’t want to live... Now listen, life is lovely, but I Can’t Live It. I can’t even explain. I know how silly it sounds... but if you knew how it Felt. To be alive, yes, alive, but not be able to live it. Ay that’s the rub. I am like a stone that lives... locked outside of all that’s real. ...I wish, or think I wish, that I were dying of something for then I could be brave, but to be not dying, and yet... and yet to (be) behind a wall, watching everyone fit in where I can’t, to talk behind a gray foggy wall, to live but to not reach or to reach wrong... to do it all wrong... believe me (can you?) ...what’s wrong. I want to belong. I’m not a part. I’m not a member. I’m frozen”.
Dr. Hecht says, “…such feelings are not uncommon. To live through this painful feeling is hard work and requires prodigious courage. That courage comes from recognizing that we are not alone.” (220) Virginia Woolf wrote in 1931, ten years before her suicide, “I have lost friends some by death, others by sheer inability to cross the street.” And here expressing how difficult it is for the depressed and suicidal person to find the courage Dr. Hecht’s speaks of pushing onward in spite of the pain, to reach out in spite of the wall blocking the way.
Unfortunately, when one person chooses to take their own life others follow. Sociologists and behavioral scientists realized the phenomena of “cluster or copy-cat suicides” and steps have been put into place to protect the public from the “contagious” aspect of a suicide. As more was understood about decisions surrounding suicide, students in the helping professions, including the police, emergency technicians, and the media were offered courses on risk assessment and management of the suicidal patient. In this case, STAY may be a helpful addition to their reading list as well as in those for advanced college or graduate classes especially if faculty reviewed and selected specific chapters. Certainly I think Social Science faculty may find the book a useful source for their own lectures and while the citations in Notes were helpful I was disappointed there wasn’t a more thorough and concise bibliography. The book, however, is not a book for a depressed person contemplating suicide. Nor is it a book when one is feeling lonely, friendless, isolated and disheartened. Hope is critical in maintaining optimism, which, when discouraged, might be in short supply. It is important to know that two of Dr. Hecht’s friends committed suicide and their deaths surely inspired her intellectual effort to understand their decisions. If she had known of their emotional pain she might have said to them what she says throughout the book: Stay alive for the sake of the community, for the sake of those who may follow in your footsteps, for the sake of what may come later in your life that you would lose if you choose to die rather than to struggle through the current situation. She argues “that part of you that wishes to die is only one part of yourself and you owe it to the other parts of yourself to survive.” She doesn’t say, however, stay alive for me! But her sorrow and her anger at their loss are palpable.
Throughout the book she repeats variations on these themes and I found myself thinking K-12 educators would find her messages helpful when teaching students that life is precious and we are all part of a community with unique gifts that would benefit others in ways we cannot predict. Dr. Hecht urges us to “use our courage to stay alive”.
On the last page she writes, “When we cannot see our own worth and are tempted to leave life, we are doing a shining service to our community and to our future selves when we choose to stay. If there is one factor universally recognized as a route to happiness it is to be of use to others. When you are tempted to suicide and you make the decision to reject it in part for the sake of community, you may gain some of the happiness that derives from simple being of use.” And as she concludes she says, “First, choose to stay”.
Augustine of Hippo, Saint (426) City of God translated by William Babcock (2012) Hyde Park, NY: New City Press
Durkheim, Emile (1897) (1951) Suicide: a Study in Sociology. Ed. George Simpson, trans. John A Spaulding and George Simpson. New York: The Free Press ISBN 0-684-83632-7
Hecht, Jennifer Michael (2013) STAY – A History of Suicide and the Arguments Against It. New Haven and London: Yale University Press
Rembrandt, van Rijn (1664) The Death of Lucretia. Detroit Institute of Art and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Sexton, Anne (2004) Anne Sexton: a Self Portrait in Letters, ed. Lois Ames. New York: First Mariner.
Reviewed by Shawn Katterman, PhD for the Michigan Psychological Association
Posted Apr. 7, 2016
Barbara Smith (aka B. Smith) and Dan Gasby have given an incredible gift to the community by writing this book. B. Smith is a model, author, lifestyle expert, restauranteur, actress, and television host, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. In this memoir, she and her husband of 23 years and business partner, Dan Gasby, provide an open, honest, and vulnerable account of their navigation through the world of Alzheimer’s disease.
The majority of the book written by Dan, where he chronicles their struggles, missteps, and lessons learned throughout the process. B. Smith has excerpts interspersed throughout the book, which give a brief glimpse into the world of Alzheimer’s from her view. This book will undoubtedly provide invaluable validation and information to countless others struggling with Alzheimer’s. They openly share the details of their journey thus far in dealing with the progression of B’s disease, including an instance in 2014 where B. went missing overnight. They also share their process with decisions about treatment, and when and how to hire help at home.
They review the importance of supporting the needs of caregivers and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, with specific strategies that have worked for them. Additionally, they are a voice for the imperative need to increase awareness and research in general, and particularly among African Americans and women, who are disproportionately affected. I would highly recommend the book to anyone looking to learn about the fight against Alzheimer’s in a way that is personal, emotional, and factually-based.
Josephine Johnson wins APA Division 42 Distinguished Public Service Award
Posted Feb. 18, 2016
From Dr. June Ching, Past President of Division 42:
Distinguished Public Service Award
Josephine Johnson is most deserving of thisaward through her contributions and commitment to the provision of psychological services to communities, along with her active involvement in the areas of multiculturalism, diversity, advocacy, and self-care. In addition to her private practice, Jo has served as a consultant to residential treatment centers, community mental health agencies, a special education center, and a university counseling center. Furthermore, Jo has contributed to the field and to the public with her APAPO presentations and publications on topics of Integrating Multicultural Competencies into Independent Practice and Ethics and Multiculturalism: Advancing Cultural and Clinical Responsiveness. She was on the Task Force to Review and Update the Multicultural Guidelines and chaired the Task Force on Implementation of the Multicultural Guidelines. Jo has been an active leader in state, division and APA governance, having served as President of the Michigan Psychological Association (MPA), MPA FAC, APA BOD, Division 42 COR and chair of the APA Membership Board. She has been honored with awards by the APA Committee of State Leaders Diversity Delegates, MPA, Farmington-Farmington Hills Multicultural Multiracial Council, and Pepperdine University.
Review new mass-market books through MPA
Posted Feb. 12, 2016
MPA is proud to announce a new service available to members: the opportunity to read and review mass-market books pertaining to psychology and mental health. Publishing houses provide free review copies to agencies such as MPA for honest reviews – either positive or negative. If you are interested in reviewing a title for MPA, the title will be shipped to you for free, and yours to keep afterwards. Guidelines for book reviews are as follows:
1. Offer to review a book and the copy will be shipped to you for free
2. Submit a review back to MPA within 2 months
. Although you are welcome to post your review elsewhere, a copy of the review will be posted on MPA’s blog, MPA social media, and sent to the publishing house.
3. After submitting a review, you are welcome to request another book to review. Maximum of 3 titles per member, per year.
4. Titles are first-come first-serve – the first member to express interest in a title will be the one to receive the review copy
Currently, the following titles are available for review:
|Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth
|NeuroLogic: The Brain's Hidden Rationale Behind Our Irrational Behavior
||Sternberg, Eliezer J.
|Staying Sharp: 9 Keys for a Youthful Brain through Modern Science and Ageless Wisdom
||Emmons, Henry & Alter, David
|The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age
|Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing
|The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed - In Your World
|The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in our Times
|In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis
|He Wanted the Moon
|A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction
||Kennedy, Patrick J.
|Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions to Adulthood
The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time
If you are interested in reviewing any of these titles, would like to request other titles to review, or would like to be contacted in the future regarding new titles, please e-mail me (Aaron Weiner) at firstname.lastname@example.org
Increased Coordination between MPA and Blue Cross
Posted Nov. 11, 2015
The Michigan Insurance Committee has joined the Tri Staff Meeting within Blue Cross. This group meets every six weeks, and will allow us consistently address issues with Blue Cross that are important to our profession.
If you have any suggestions, please feel free to email Dr. Mike Sytniak at email@example.com
Quick Tips from an Internship Training Director for Applications and Interviews
Posted Oct. 14, 2015
A carefully written cover letter is essential. It should state the applicant’s doctoral program, year in that program, and general area of interest. From there, the applicant should explain his/her interest in the site and then go onto explain why he/she is a good fit (talk about past clinical experiences). Explaining interest and fit is VERY important.
Sometimes peoples’ previous training experiences do not closely match what a site has to offer. This is fine – but the applicant must explain why they are now applying to a site that is different from previous training sites. The applicant should go on to explain what he/she hopes to learn at the site and how this will ultimately advance his/her career plans.
Listen very carefully to the questions you are being asked and be sure to answer all parts of a question. It is ok to ask to have the question repeated.
If anxiety is a problem, practice interviewing with your DCT or fellow classmates in your doctoral program. High levels of anxiety will adversely affect one’s application.
Blog Post: New “Wiki” for Mental Health Professionals: The Link Between Environmental Hazards and Neurodevelopment
William Bloom, Ph.D., LP, Chair, MPA Child and Family Committee
Juliana Roth, Ecology Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Posted May 2014
Psychologists, along with other healthcare professionals, are well aware of how important preventative care is to lowering one’s risk of adverse health consequences. Reducing exposure to hazardous chemicals is an overlooked but important method for reducing risk. The scientific literature is building a strong case for the relationship between exposure to hazardous chemicals and adverse neurodevelopment and behavioral health disorders. One promising area of study is the relationship of environmental hazards to the expression of autism www.autismspeaks.org/science/research-initiatives/environmental-factors-autism-initiative.
Hazardous chemicals are present in everyday household products www.healthystuff.org, including such things as baby shampoo www.huffingtonpost.com. As poised to be partners on the integrated healthcare front, a new area of competency for Psychologists is emerging; awareness of the intersection of psychology theory and practice and the developing science linking environmental hazards to neurodevelopmental, behavioral, and emotional disorders.
As a tool to be better informed of the link between our chemical environment and child neurodevelopment, behavior disorders, and emotions, the Ecology Center, along with its partner organizations, has launched a new “wiki” [http://wiki.mnceh.org/index.php/Introduction]. The goal of the wiki is to give healthcare providers, researchers and policymakers a forum to discuss and share scientifically-based findings on environmental factors and human health. The focus of the wiki is on research addressing these problems in children. The database is accessible by concerned parents and scientists alike.
The format of the “wiki” allows users to follow what scientists are learning about children’s environmental health at the moment, creating an essential link between the two for protecting children from exposure. It offers promise as a tool for Psychologists to access current thinking about the relationship of our chemical environment and its impact on our developing children. This tool is designed as a resource to our clients as well. The material on the wiki is edited for scientific value.
To sign up for the wiki and to contribute to its resources, go to:
Blog Post: Environmental Toxicants and the Brain?
William Bloom, Ph.D., MPA Child and Family Committee
Juliana Roth, The Ecology Center, Ann Arbor, Mi
Posted December 2013
The legacy of lead poisoning
is decades old in the United States. Healthy children exposed to lead paint suffered permanent brain damage, resulting in problems with learning and speech. Even worse, some children’s blood concentration of lead reached fatal levels. Such a devastating loss of healthy life should, at the very least, inspire a commitment from chemical companies and retailers to be responsible for the safety of products.
Our current national chemical policy
provides little incentive for a company to pay attention to how chemicals affect human health. It is up to outside agencies to prove a chemical harmful after it’s in use rather than requiring a preventative analysis. Such conditions set the stage for another lead catastrophe. Chemical companies play an active role
in covering up the harmful nature of these chemicals and create campaigns to promote their use.
And sadly, it’s already underway. This generation’s chemicals of concern are largely those that affect the endocrine system. These chemicals, known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, are responsible for hormonal changes in the body that result in increase chances of developing cancer, neurological development problems, birth defects and reproductive disorders. Women in fields where there is a known exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors were found to have 36%
higher rate of breast cancer.
The issue of toxic environments is crucial for those in a field involved in studying the brain, human development, and behavioral disorders. What we eat, where we live, and what’s in the products we use has a drastic effect on the proper functioning of the brain. Behavioral problems
in children may be rooted to the way these chemicals are interacting with their development. More and more studies are showing that autism may also be linked
to exposure to toxics.
It’s critical for professionals to take an active role in educating their colleagues on how the environment is connected to a healthy psychological life. Not only do the diseases linked to environmental toxics cause stress and grief in people’s lives, but some of the very disorders psychologists study and treat may also have an environmental root.
Stay tuned to this new blog series to learn more about specific chemicals and the emerging science linking them to neurological and developmental disorders and diseases.
MPA partners with other environmentally sensitive healthcare groups as part of The Ecology Center’s Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health (MNCEH). This blog is written in partnership with MNCEH.