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This late 19th century work of immersion journalism tells the tale of Nellie Bly getting herself put into (the aptly nefarious sounding) Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for ten days (after which time her editor got her released.) Unlike the famous Rosenhan Experiment in 1973, in 1887 Bly had to get herself committed, and had her editor not gotten her released she might have been institutionalized indefinitely. Disturbingly, yet fortunately for Bly, it took no great acting skills to convince the authorities that she was mentally ill, pretending to be poor and having no husband got her at least 90 percent of the way to being institutionalized. Like the Rosenhan Experiments, Bly’s story showed that nobody seems to have any great capacity for determining sanity from insanity, not even the people with advanced degrees and board certifications on the subject.
At first, I wasn’t sure how skewed Bly’s account would be. She does show some bias in practically deifying journalists. She was confident that no psychiatrist would be able to discover her ploy, but she seemed sure that any journalist could out her through the briefest of conversations. So, when she complained the food was “inedible,” I considered that the same has always been said about any institutional food – from military mess halls to college cafeterias, and usually it’s perfectly adequate. That said, one of the asylum staff members did acknowledge the food was pretty horrific. Ultimately, I think the story was probably accurate because, sadly, it rings true. Bly had intended to get herself put in the violent ward, but had second thoughts after hearing and seeing what she did, being concerned that she might be seriously injured by the rough treatment those patients received.
This short book is riveting. If you enjoy nonfiction, this piece is definitely worth reading.
I find Jung’s ideas fascinating. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe most of said ideas have scholarly merit, but they’re brilliantly creative and eccentric. Some will say this would’ve been a radically different book if it’d been written by a psychologist or the like (rather than by an astrologer.) I don’t disagree. It’d likely have focused more on his work in personality types and on the unconscious mind (i.e. the work that people in psychology still talk about, whether they like it or not,) and also probably would’ve barely footnoted his ideas about “the uncanny,” synchronicity, and astrology. In short, its priorities would’ve been reversed, and it’d be a book that’s more boring but more relevant to those who are interested in Jung’s long-run influence on psychiatry / psychoanalysis.
For my purposes, I prefer the book as it is. I shouldn’t give the false impression that the author only addresses Jung’s mysticism, or that she completely avoids pointing out where Jung’s ideas were controversial and what critiques were leveled against him. The book comes across as a serious description of Jung’s work (albeit focusing relatively intensely on dream analysis, collective consciousness, and the more out-there aspects of his work.) I will say, I’ve read a few books from this series now, and Hyde does seem more a cheerleader (less a dispassionate scholar) than most of the other authors. It’s fascinating to read about Jung’s criticism of Freud. Don’t get me wrong, I’d agree that Freud was sex-obsessed, but Jung’s accusations of Freud being too concerned with one ill-supported idea does create a bit of a pot / kettle situation.
I enjoyed this book. I found the descriptions of Jung’s ideas compelling, if unpersuasive. However, I’d argue that if you specifically want to know about what ideas are still being talked about in classrooms (mainstream, not the New Age-y ones,) there’re probably better books. However, if you’re curious about Jung the mystic, this is a great place to start.
The other day I read that a man had pushed a person onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train.
The week before that, I'd read in a book by Robin Ince that a person who -- having had a baby thrust into his hands -- has intrusive thoughts of throwing said baby out of the nearest window is [believe it, or not] the best person to ask to hold one's baby.
The argument goes like this, the person having these intrusive thoughts is being intensely reminded by his or her unconscious mind that under no circumstances -- no matter what unexpected or unusual events should transpire -- is he to throw the baby out the window (or otherwise do anything injurious.)
I've heard that, at some point, virtually everyone has some type of awkward intrusive thought such as the thought of pushing a stranger in front of a train.
Most never do it, nor truly want to do it.
Then this one time... someone did.
This book examines the intersection between psychology and standup comedy. It investigates questions such as whether comedians are truly disproportionately depressive personalities as a number of high-profile cases have led the public to believe in recent years. It explores issues such as anxiety and imposter syndrome. But it also looks at less pathological issues of the mind, such as the origin of creative ideas.
The tone is light, and stories and jokes are employed throughout. That said, the book is also dealing with scientific and psychological issues, but it doesn’t get into technical minutiae. Ince discusses how ideas in psychology relate to the acts of a number of comedians he’s worked with, including Ricky Gervais and Tim Minchin, but – ultimately – he’s trying to present information that is useful to the reader. Whether the issue is grieving or parenting, the use of humor and comedy is just a tool to address issues most people face.
I enjoyed this book and found it thought-provoking. You won’t necessarily find it to be a laugh-riot, but you’ll learn a thing or two while being amused.
Out: October 12, 2021
This comic offers a clever and insightful look at the voices inside one’s head. The use of cute graphic depictions of fears, doubts, and past traumas – along with lighthearted narrative analogies – allows the reader to explore the subject matter in a manner that is neither dry nor anxiety-inducing, in and of itself. This apparently autobiographical book shows how a comic artist, beleaguered by the monstrous occupants of his own mind, goes from being overwhelmed to learning to manage his mind.
At the end of the book there are a few pages of tips, both for dealing with one’s own anxieties but also for interacting with others who have intense embattled minds. It’s a book that may even be more beneficial for individuals without crippling issues themselves, but who know or love such individuals. The use of graphic depictions and adroit portrayals of anxiety may help individuals who haven’t faced severe issues to gain a better understanding of what goes on in the minds of those who do. Having said that, these “monsters” will be familiar to everyone on some level, though for many that that level doesn’t necessarily interfere with living their lives.
I’d highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a gentle and amusing introduction to the topic of the runaway mind. It’s delightfully drawn and amusingly told.
Out: September 7, 2021
The central idea of this book is that not everyone who’s exposed to traumatic events has long-term mental health effects. On average, two-thirds of those who suffer traumas show resilience. Bonanno’s experience working in the mental healthcare sector in New York City in the aftermath 9/11 impressed this truth upon him. The anticipated mental health tsunami never came; most people recovered and moved on with their lives.
It is hard to predict who that one-third is who will suffer long-term mental trauma. While there are some traits that correlate more to resilience and others to a proclivity to be traumatized, the fact that humans are complex and there are many confounding variables makes it immensely difficult to anticipate the impact of a trauma.
Given this difficulty, it’s beneficial to figure out how one can increase any victim’s resilience, and that’s the task the book engages. Bonanno discusses an optimal mindset for resilience that he calls the “flexibility mindset,” and he details a corresponding sequence (i.e. the “flexibility sequence”) that he suggests is the best known approach to reducing the adverse effects of trauma. As the key word, “flexible,” suggests, this approach requires adaptability. It’s not a one-size fits all approach, but rather hinges upon determining what coping strategies a person has access to, and then evaluating the degree to which they are working.
If found this book to be full of food-for-thought. I thought there could have been more elaboration of the dangers and limitations of distraction as a coping mechanism. To be fair, there is a discussion of this as he presents another therapist’s experience with, and thoughts upon, the “flexibility” approach, but that’s a bit late in the book. That said, I learned a great deal in reading this book, and thought it offered some excellent insights.
In this book, Freudian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar examines a range of alternatives to mainstream psychiatry / psychotherapy that are pursued across India. They are largely traditions that predate psychiatry, and which weren’t developed primarily as a path to mental health, but rather as methods to develop mind and spirit – but which came to fill a void. Included in this exploration are a Sufi Muslim Pir, a Balaji Temple exorcist, an Oraon bhagat, Tibetan Buddhist / Bon healers, cultists, tantrics, and Ayurvedic doctors. The chapters are organized by the type of healer, and the ten chapters are split between shamans (Pt. I,) mystics (Pt. II,) and Ayurvedic healers (Pt. III.)
This book is at its best and most interesting when it’s describing the author’s visits to various temples, shaman huts, and other places where healers reside. He tells what he learned and experienced at these places, which ranges from reassuring (shamans and healers getting at least as good a result as their mainstream psychotherapeutic counterparts) to mildly horrifying (people chained to cots, or being blamed for their condition — i.e. being told their faith is inadequate.) I found many of the cases under discussion to be fascinating, and learned a lot about how mental illness is perceived by different religious and spiritual traditions.
While Kakar is trained in a Western therapeutic system, he maintains a diplomatic tone about these indigenous forms of therapy – some of which are quite pragmatic but others of which are elaborately pseudo-scientific. I found this book to be insightful about various modes of treating the mind that are practiced in India
Out: September 7, 2021
I’m fascinated by the challenges of mental health diagnostics. From the Rosenhan experiments (mentally well researchers checked into psychiatric hospitals) to the perpetual disappointment with new editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM,) a lot has been written about the difficulties of diagnosing disorders that largely express themselves through subjective experiences. Foiles’ book looks at how this challenge (combined race, gender, and gender identity biases) leads to differential diagnoses between various demographic groups.
The book serves as a call to action to be more aware of biases, and how they play into diagnoses. Though, in some cases it does a better job of that than in others. The six chapters present six faces of the problem: race and psychosis, race and ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,] sex and Borderline Personality Disorder, and changing (though skewed) views of gender dysphoria, trauma, and intelligence.
Overall, I felt I learned something from the book, but sometimes it wasn’t as strong in supporting assertions and objectively presenting evidence as other times. For example, Chapter three examines how borderline personality disorder was (at least until recently) overwhelming seen as a female disorder. It went on to say that now it’s believed to have the same incidence in males, but that men present with different symptoms. To a neophyte, this sounds a lot like: “The Smiths eat meatloaf 50% of the time for dinner on Wednesday. Until recently, it was thought that the Joneses only ate meatloaf 10% of Wednesdays, but then it was discovered they also had meatloaf 50% of the time – but the Joneses meatloaf was made of ingredients such that it usually looked like chicken pot pie.] What?
For the most part, I found this book intriguing and informative, and would recommend it for those interested in the issue.