Posts tagged psychology
Posts tagged psychology
When it came to pharmacological solutions to life’s despairs, Aldous Huxley was ahead of the curve. In Huxley’s 1932 novel about a dystopian future, the Alphas, Betas and others populating his “Brave New World” have at their disposal a drug called soma. A little bit of it chases the blues away: “A gramme” — Huxley was English, remember, spelling included — “is better than a damn.” With a swallow, negative feelings are dispelled.
Prozac, the subject of this week’s video documentary from Retro Report, is hardly soma. But its guiding spirit is not dissimilar: A few milligrams of this drug are preferable to the many damns that lie at the core of some people’s lives. Looking back at Prozac’s introduction by Eli Lilly and Company in 1988, and hopscotching to today, the documentary explores the enormous influence, both chemical and cultural, that Prozac and its brethren have had in treating depression, a concern that gained new resonance with the recent suicide of the comedian Robin Williams.
In the late 1980s and the 90s, Prozac was widely viewed as a miracle pill, a life preserver thrown to those who felt themselves drowning in the high waters of mental anguish. It was the star in a class of new pharmaceuticals known as S.S.R.I.s — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Underlying their use is a belief that depression is caused by a shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Pump up the levels of this brain chemical and, voilà, the mood lifts. Indeed, millions have embraced Prozac, and swear by it. Depression left them emotionally paralyzed, they say. Now, for the first time in years, they think clearly and can embrace life.
Pharmacological merits aside, the green-and-cream pill was also a marvel of commercial branding, down to its market-tested name. Its chemical name is fluoxetine hydrochloride, not the most felicitous of terms. A company called Interbrand went to work for Eli Lilly and came up with Prozac. “Pro” sounds positive. Professional, too. “Ac”? That could signify action. As for the Z, it suggests a certain strength, perhaps with a faint high-techy quality.
(X is a pharmacological cousin to Z. Both letters are somewhat unusual, worth many points in Scrabble. It is surely not a coincidence that a striking number of modern medications contain either Z or X, or both, in their names, like Luvox, Paxil, Celexa, Effexor, Zantac, Xanax, Zoloft, Lexapro and Zocor, to name but a few. Not surprisingly, confusion can set in. Zantac or Xanax — remind me which one is for heartburn and which for panic disorder?)
Pendulums, by definition, swing, and the one on which Prozac rides is no exception. After the early talk about it as a wonder pill — a rather chic one at that — a backlash developed, perhaps unsurprisingly. Grave questions arose among some psychiatrists about whether the S.S.R.I.s increased chances that some people, notably teenagers, would commit suicide or at least contemplate it. No definite link was confirmed, but that did not end the concern of some prominent skeptics, like a British psychiatrist, Dr. David Healy. He has dismissed the notion of S.S.R.I.s as saviors as “bio-babble.”
If some users deem Prozac lifesaving, others consider it sensory-depriving. A loss of libido is a common side effect. Some writers and artists, while often relieved to be liberated from depression’s tightest grip, also say that Prozac leaves them mentally hazy. In his 2012 book, “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb offered this: “Had Prozac been available last century, Baudelaire’s ‘spleen,’ Edgar Allan Poe’s moods, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, the lamentations of so many other poets, everything with a soul would have been silenced.”
Then, too, S.S.R.I. critics express doubts that these drugs have proved themselves significantly more effective than placebos. Some among them question the very concept that serotonin levels, on their own, cause depression or prevent it. One psychotherapist in that camp is Gary Greenberg, an author of several books on mood disorders. Writing in The New Yorker last year, Dr. Greenberg said that scientists had “concluded that serotonin was only a finger pointing at one’s mood — that the causes of depression and the effects of the drugs were far more complex than the chemical-imbalance theory implied.”
“The ensuing research,” he continued, “has mostly yielded more evidence that the brain, which has more neurons than the Milky Way has stars and is perhaps one of the most complex objects in the universe, is an elusive target for drugs.”
More broadly, this retrospective on Prozac introduces a discussion of whether the medical establishment, and perhaps society in general, has gone too far in turning normal conditions, like sadness, into pathologies. And have we paved a path — shades of soma — toward wanton reliance on drugs to enhance life, not to conquer true illness?
This is what a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Kramer, has called “cosmetic psychopharmacology,” a Botox approach, if you will, to matters of the mind: Why not take Prozac and its S.S.R.I. mates even if you are not clinically depressed but believe that they can boost your confidence, or maybe help you make a stronger pitch at the sales meeting?
A response from others in Dr. Kramer’s field is that we are taking traits that are normal parts of human nature and casting them as diseases simply because remedies now exist. For instance, shyness is now regarded by some as a condition in need of treatment. In its more severe form, it is placed under the heading of social anxiety disorder. Then there are those much-heralded life enhancers, Viagra and its erection-aiding cousins. They are marketed not only to men with sexual dysfunction but also to those whose aging bodies are enduring normal wear and tear.
One area of shyness that the S.S.R.I. class has helped overcome is discussion of depression. Decades ago, Hollywood stars and other celebrities dared not touch the subject. Now they routinely go public with their anguish. Robin Williams was an example.
Of course, there are those in other realms of society for whom the topic remains taboo. Take one man who confesses to his wife that he is on Prozac but cautions her to tell no one. “I’m serious,” he says. “The wrong person finds out about this and I get a steel-jacketed antidepressant right in the back of the head.” This is Tony Soprano talking to his wife, Carmela. An extreme example from a work of fiction? Sure. But in all likelihood many Americans have similar fears about what others might think, and keep depression to themselves.
The video with this article is part of a documentary series presented by The New York Times. The video project was started with a grant from Christopher Buck. Retro Report has a staff of 13 journalists and 10 contributors led by Kyra Darnton. It is a nonprofit video news organization that aims to provide a thoughtful counterweight to today’s 24/7 news cycle.
An online platform that helps people with bipolar disorder self-administer therapy has proven to be successful in a small trial, with 92 percent of participants saying they found the content positive.
Nicholas Todd, a psychologist in clinical training at the NHS Trust, has developed the site as part of a project he’s running called Living with Bipolar.
In it, he asked 122 people to use a sort of e-learning environment that uses audiovisual models and worksheets, incorporating parts of cognitive behavioral therapy and psycho-education known to be effective in bipolar patients. There’s also a peer support forum, which is moderated by a member of Todd’s research team, and motivational emails were periodically sent to those on the trial.
"Service users were encouraged to access the intervention flexibly and use it as and when they felt appropriate," Todd told Wired.co.uk. That’s because, as he presents in a paper on the platform, for patients “recovery is defined as people living a fulfilling life alongside their condition”. As such, it needs to fit in around them, their lifestyle and their changing needs.
One participant comments: “….for me recovery is certainly not about being symptom free… it is about coping and having a reasonable quality of life, being able to work productively and enjoy things outside of work.”
Thus, Todd explains, “service users did not focus on a ‘cure’ as their desired outcome but instead personally defined recovery goals and improved quality of life.”
By the trial end, Todd found that on average, users who stayed till the end completed 60 percent of the program. Of the people that completed the whole thing — 15 modules — 74 percent took under three months to do so.
The platform took a year to develop, spent looking at the most effective components of psychological therapy for bipolar disorder. As this was narrowed down, the group carried out five focus groups and tested it online via a consultancy group.
The system gets users to identify their own mood using an established scale, the idea being they — and the system — can track their own ups and downs. “Service users would then receive information about the most appropriate modules, given their mood symptoms,” says Todd.
The forum, he says, played a key role in the project’s success. One participant commented, “…part of it [bipolar disorder] is feeling very alone… you don’t get that and I do think that the forum works extremely well with the intervention…” Todd explains how participants used it to support each other not only through the new intervention process, but through life events.
"A balance was struck between allowing participants to offload, and posts which encourage or talk about acts of suicide, self-harm, harm to others and are unhelpful to participants’ recovery." A total of 70 percent of the users signed up to the forum, and 1,927 posts on 130 topics were accumulated. "The participants who used the forum tended to complete more modules, and all participants who completed the entire program used the forum, albeit in different ways."
The idea behind the platform is to help bridge those periods between appointments, or those appointments that a patient misses. As with depression, health services can be known to administer solely medication to help alleviate symptoms. More and more, the NHS is striving to ensure psychological therapy is integrated alongside a prescription for mood stabilizers, such as lithium. “However, severe inequalities in access to psychological interventions for bipolar disorder currently exist in the NHS,” Todd says. “This intervention aims to increase access to psychological intervention.”
Todd tells us the NHS is actively training more staff to deliver psychological therapy, to plug the gap. For now, that initiative is being piloted for severe mental health conditions. “This intervention may fit as part of this initiative in giving service users with bipolar disorder greater access to psychological therapy.
"Computerized interventions are not about replacing face-to-face interventions, but giving someone another option to receive psychological support. In fact, some people prefer accessing psychological support in this way as it fits better with their lives."
For one woman in particular the experience has been, in her words, “life changing”.
She said: “I have encountered insights in the modules that have significantly helped me to survive the blackest moments. I cannot measure the value of this, as it has contributed to their difference between life and death. My husband and I are sincerely grateful for the immeasurable impact this has had on our family.”
My mother was a woman hollowed out like a tree struck by lightning. I wanted to know why.
Ever since her first suicide attempt, in 1978, when I was 22, I had been trying to fill in gaps. She was gone much of the time in my early childhood, and when she returned nobody spoke about the absence.
I learned much later that she had suffered acute depression after my younger sister’s birth in 1957. She was in hospitals and sanitariums being shot full of insulin — a treatment then in vogue for severe mental disorder — and electricity. The resulting spasms, seizures, convulsions and comas were supposed to jar her from her “puerperal psychosis,” the term then used in England for postpartum depression.
In 1958, my mother was admitted to the Holloway Sanatorium, the sprawling Victorian Gothic fantasy of a 19th-century tycoon, Thomas Holloway, who amassed a fortune through the sale of dubious medicinal concoctions. The sanitarium, opened in 1885, was a great heap of gabled redbrick buildings, topped by a tower rising 145 feet into the damp air of Surrey.
Run initially as a private institution, the Holloway Sanatorium became a mental hospital within Britain’s National Health Service after World War II. It was not closed until 1981. Many of its records and casebooks were burned. The gutted building became a setting for horror movies. Directors could not believe their luck. It is now a gated community of luxury homes.
Some records were preserved at the Surrey History Center. In the faint hope that a trace remained of my mother, I wrote to inquire. My parents had never spoken in any detail of her first depression. A letter came back a few weeks later. References to June Bernice Cohen had been located in the admissions register and in ward reports from July 1958.
These showed that “she was patient number 9413, was admitted on 25th July 1958 and discharged on 12th September 1958.” The ward reports for most of August and September had vanished. I applied under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act to see the records.
My re-encounter with my mother involved painstaking negotiation with an archivist. At last I was presented with the weighty register for female patients. Entries are written with fountain pen in cursive script. In columns across the page my mother is identified. “Name: June Bernice COHEN. Ref Number: 9413. Age: 29. Marital Status: Married. Religion: JEW.”
I stared at her age — so young — and at the capitalized entry under religion: “JEW.” The noun form has a weight the adjective, Jewish, lacks. It seems loaded with a monosyllabic distaste, which was redoubled by the strange use of the uppercase. June was not religious. She is the youngest on the page. She is also the only non-Christian.
The first ward notes on my mother read, “History of depression in varying degrees since birth of second child, now fourteen months old. Husband is engaged in medical research. Patient has some private psychotherapy and also modified insulin treatment at St. Mary’s last month, being discharged July 8th. On admission she was depressed, tearful and withdrawn.”
The doctor examining my mother was struck by how “her tension increased remarkably on mention of latest child.” I ran my fingers over the page and paused at “JEW.” I wanted to take a soothing poultice to her face.
On July 28, 1958, my mother was visited by a Dr. Storey. He “confirms diagnosis of post-puerperal depression and advises Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT), which patient and husband are now willing to accept.”
She first underwent electroshock treatment on July 30, 1958. I see my slight young mother with metal plates on either side of her head, flattening her dark curls, her heart racing as her skull is enclosed in a high-voltage carapace. I can almost taste the material wedged in her over-salivating mouth for her to bite on as the current passes.
The treatment was repeated a second time, on Aug. 1, 1958. That was one day before my third birthday. So, at last, that is where she was.
I now have some facts to anchor memory, fragments to fill absence. My mother, who recovered sufficiently to be stable, if fragile, for about 15 years through my childhood and adolescence, would suffer from manic depression, or bipolar disorder, through the latter third of her life. She died in 1999 at the age of 69. The ravages of this condition I observed; the onset of her mental instability I only felt.
The hidden hurts most. Mental illness is still too clouded in taboo. It took me a long time to find where my mother disappeared to. Knowledge in itself resolves nothing, but it helps.
Acceptance — it comes down to that. This is how I came to this point, and to this place, by this looping road, from such anguish, and I am still alive and full of hope.
Loser! You messed this up again! You should have known better!
It’s that know-it-all, bullying, mean-spirited committee in your head. Don’t you wish they would just shut up already?
We all have voices inside our heads commenting on our moment-to-moment experiences, the quality of our past decisions, mistakes we could have avoided, and what we should have done differently. For some people, these voices are really mean and make a bad situation infinitely worse. Rather than empathize with our suffering, they criticize, disparage and beat us down even more. The voices are often very salient, have a familiar ring to them and convey an emotional urgency that demands our attention. These voices are automatic, fear-based “rules for living” that act like inner bullies, keeping us stuck in the same old cycles and hampering our spontaneous enjoyment of life and our ability to live and love freely.
Some psychologists believe these are residues of childhood experiences—automatic patterns of neural firing stored in our brains that are dissociated from the memory of the events they are trying to protect us from. While having fear-based self-protective and self-disciplining rules probably made sense and helped us to survive when we were helpless kids at the mercy of our parents’ moods, whims and psychological conflicts, they may no longer be appropriate to our lives as adults. As adults, we have more ability to walk away from unhealthy situations and make conscious choices about our lives and relationships based on our own feelings, needs and interests. Yet, in many cases, we’re so used to living by these rules we don’t even notice or question them. We unconsciously distort our view of things so they seem to be necessary and true. Like prisoners with Stockholm Syndrome, we have bonded with our captors.
If left unchecked, the committees in our heads will take charge of our lives and keep us stuck in mental and behavioral prisons of our own making. Like typical abusers, they scare us into believing that the outside world is dangerous and that we need to obey their rules for living in order to survive and avoid pain. By following (or rigidly disobeying) these rules, we don’t allow ourselves to adapt our responses to experiences as they unfold. Our behavior and emotional responses become more a reflection of yesterday’s reality than what is happening today. And we never seem to escape our dysfunctional childhoods.
The Schema Therapy Approach
Psychologist Jeffrey Young and his colleagues call these rigid rules of living and views of the world made by the committee in our heads “schemas.” Based on our earliest experiences with caregivers, schemas contain information about our own abilities to survive independently, how others will treat us, what outcomes we deserve in life, and how safe or dangerous the world is. They are also responsible for derailing intimate relationships.
Young suggests that schemas limit our lives and relationships in several ways:
A woman we will call Diana has a schema of “Abandonment.” When she was five years old, her father ran off with his secretary and disappeared from her life, not returning until she was a teenager. The pain of being abandoned was so devastating for young Diana that some part of her brain determined she would live her life in such a way as to never again feel this amount of pain. Also, as many children do, she felt deep down that she was to blame: she wasn’t lovable enough, or else her father would have stuck around; a type of “Defectiveness” schema.
Once Diana developed this schema, she became very sensitive to rejection, seeing the normal ups and downs of children’s friendships and teenage dating as further proof that she was unlovable and her destiny was to be abandoned. She also tried desperately to cover up for her perceived inadequacies by focusing on pleasing her romantic partners and making them need her so much that they would never leave her. She felt a special chemistry for distant, commitment-phobic men. When she attracted a partner who was open and authentic, she became so controlling, insecure and needy that, tired of not being believed or trusted, he eventually gave up on the relationship.
Diana’s unspoken rule was that it was not safe to trust intimate partners and let relationships naturally unfold; she believed that if she relaxed her vigilance for a moment, her partner would leave. In an effort to rebel against her schema, she also acted in ways that were opposite to how she felt; encouraging her partner to stay after work to hang out with his friends, in an attempt to convince herself (and him) that she was ultra-independent. This led to chronic anger and dissatisfaction with her partner.
Diana did not understand her own role in this cycle. Diana (and her partner) needed to understand how her schemas resulted in ways of relating to herself and others that are repetitive, automatic, rigid, and dysfunctional. By acknowledging and connecting with her unresolved fears and unmet needs, Diana could become more flexible and allow her partner more freedom without feeling so threatened.
The schema concept helps us understand how early childhood events continue to influence adult relationships and mental health issues, that we need to recognize their influence and (with professional help, if necessary), begin to free ourselves.
Six Things You Can Do Right Now
The tools and tips below will help you begin to identify your core schemas and take some corrective actions.
2. In close relationships, think about your partner’s background, beliefs and behaviors to see whether they fit into one of the schema patterns identified here. Think about the times when your communication gets derailed and you both get angry or defensive. What schemas may each of you be bringing to the table and how may they be setting each other off. For example, a partner who has an Entitlement schema may act in needy and demanding ways that trigger the partner with an Emotional Deprivation schema to feel uncared for.
3. Pay attention to when you or your partner are getting triggered. You may notice feelings of anger or helplessness, thoughts that contain the words “always” or “never,” and feelings of tension or discomfort in your body. You may feel reactive and tempted to withdraw or say something impulsively.
4. Practice the STOP technique when you are triggered during a conversation with your partner. This is a practice from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course developed by John Kabat-Zinn. STOP what you are doing, TAKE a breath, OBSERVE what you are doing, thinking, feeling and what your partner is doing, thinking, feeling. Think about whether your schema is calling the shots and if you would like to change tracks. Then PROCEED with a more mindful response.
5. At a time when you are both calm, sit down with your partner and try to figure out the cycle that happens when both you and your partner get reactive to your schemas. Decide how to communicate that this is happening in the moment and call a break.
6. Train yourself in the skill of cognitive flexibility. Deliberately think about other ways to interpret your partner’s behavior that are not consistent with your schema? Perhaps he is withdrawn because he had a hard day at work. Are you personalizing things too much?
Schemas are more likely to be triggered when your emotional needs are not being met. Take some time alone to reflect on what these needs might be. Then practice some healthy ways of taking care of your own needs for love, security, comfort and so on. Harness your inner “Healthy Adult” to proactively take care of yourself so you’re less likely to feel deprived and reactive.
Scientists came to the conclusion after speaking with 60 schizophrenics 20 came from California, 20 from Accra, Ghana and 20 from Chennai, India In America, voices were intrusion and a threat to patient’s private world In India and Africa, the study subjects were not as troubled by the voices. The difference may be down to the fact that Europeans and Americans tend to see themselves as individuals motivated by a sense of self identity. Whereas outside the West, people imagine the mind and self as interwoven with others and defined through relationships.
People suffering from schizophrenia can often hear imaginary voices so terrifying that they are left traumatized.
One American patient described the voices as ‘like torturing people, to take their eye out with a fork, or cut someone’s head and drink their blood.’
A study has now found that these voices can be shaped by culture, with Western cultures experiencing far more disturbing psychotic episodes.
Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder that can cause people to hear ‘voices’ that other people don’t hear. It affects about one per cent of the global population over the age of 18.
Many people in Western cultures have reported hearing voices claiming other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts or plotting to kill them.
In Africa and India, however, these hallucinatory voices appear as harmless and even playful, according to the study by Stanford University in California.
While there’s no cure for schizophrenia, this study suggests that therapies urging patients to develop relationships with their imaginary voices could prove useful.
As part of the study, Professor Tanya Luhrmann interviewed 60 adults diagnosed with schizophrenia; 20 each in San Mateo, California; Accra, Ghana; and Chennai, India.
Overall, there were 31 women and 29 men with an average age of 34, who were asked about their relationship with the imaginary voices.
While many of the African and Indian subjects registered largely positive experiences with their voices, not one American did.
Instead, the U.S. subjects were more likely to report experiences as violent and hateful.
For instance, they spoke of their voices as a call to battle or war – ‘the warfare of everyone just yelling.’
The Americans mostly did not know who spoke to them and they seemed to have less personal relationships with their voices, according to Professor Luhrmann.
But among the Indians in Chennai, more than half heard voices of kin or family members commanding them to do tasks.
'They talk as if elder people advising younger people,' one subject said. That contrasts to the Americans, only two of whom heard family members.
The Indians also heard fewer threatening voices than the Americans – several heard the voices as playful, as manifesting spirits or magic, and even as entertaining.
Finally, not as many of them described the voices in terms of a medical or psychiatric problem, as all of the Americans did.
In Accra, Ghana, where the culture accepts that disembodied spirits can talk, few subjects described voices in brain disease terms.
When people talked about their voices, 10 of them called the experience predominantly positive; 16 of them reported hearing God audibly. ‘Mostly, the voices are good,’ one participant remarked.
The difference may be down to the fact that Europeans and Americans tend to see themselves as individuals motivated by a sense of self identity, said Professor Luhrmann.
Whereas outside the West, people imagine the mind and self as interwoven with others and defined through relationships.
In America, the voices were an intrusion and a threat to one’s private world – the voices could not be controlled.
However, in India and Africa, the subjects were not as troubled by the voices – they seemed on one level to make sense in a more relational world.
Still, differences existed between the participants in India and Africa; the former’s voice-hearing experience emphasized playfulness and sex, whereas the latter more often involved the voice of God.
'The difference seems to be that the Chennai and Accra participants were more comfortable interpreting their voices as relationships and not as the sign of a violated mind,' the researchers wrote.
The research, Professor Luhrmann observed, suggests that the ‘harsh, violent voices so common in the West may not be an inevitable feature of schizophrenia.’
The findings may be clinically significant, according to the researchers and adds to research that shows specific therapies may alter what patients hear their voices say.
'Our hunch is that the way people think about thinking changes the way they pay attention to the unusual experiences associated with sleep and awareness, and that as a result, people will have different spiritual experiences, as well as different patterns of psychiatric experience,' Professor Luhrmann said.