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My students know my fondness for Freud. After all, I do have a plastic Sigmund Freud action figure that comes to class with me. I also have a plush Sigmund Freud doll and a coffee mug with Freud on it…important to note that all of these items were gifts.
He is a bit of a polarizing figure in the world of psychology and in the world of popular culture though. I am careful to couch my fondness for Freud in a historical perspective since it seems like a lot of what we study today in psychology is either a reaction to, or modification of, his psychoanalytic approach.
But an interesting thing has been happening. More and more of my students are finding aspects of their own experience that can easily be understood through the lens of psychoanalysis. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little happy about that, but in fairness any time my students find an aspect of psychology that speaks to their experience, I get a little giddy.
So I was not at all dismayed to read this article published in the Guardian a couple years ago. It came to my attention just recently along with another article talking about the ubiquity of the 12 step process to cure addiction in this country despite a lack of empirical research to support its efficacy.
The article compares cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoanalysis. Maybe compares is the wrong word…it sort of pits them against one another. When I teach different therapeutic approaches we spend rather more time talking about cognitive therapies than we do about psychoanalysis, maybe because there is more empirical support for them now or maybe just because psychoanalysis seems dated and a bit quackish. To be sure, I think CBT gets some things right. But in reading through this article it does stand to reason that using CBT as a sort of brief approach to changing well ingrained thought processes does seem a bit absurd. If you’ve been honing one way of thinking about the world, it seems a bit foolish to think that you can change that thought process in a few short weeks. Even Skinner might suggest that changing ingrained behavior is going to take more steadfast and routine practice to shift.
But Skinner would also suggest that we don’t need to understand why you think the things that you do to make you do the things we want you to do. And CBT seems to think along the same lines that understanding the why of your thought processes isn’t as important as showing them to you and telling you to change them. If you don’t take the time to figure out where they come from, how effective are efforts to change those thought processes going to be in the long term?
And here comes psychoanalysis again…offering an approach to answer those why questions. Maybe this approach on its own isn’t the best, but maybe CBT on its own, or operant conditioning, aren’t the best either. As we are all inherently complex critters maybe an approach that tries to tackle the issue across coordinated fronts is bound to be more successful?
So you may know, or you may not, that I teach psychology. I spent a lot of time in school studying it and then tried to put it out of my head for very many years by working in different fields. I came back to the field in 2015 when I jumped back in the classroom to start teaching again and started to realize why I spent so much time studying it as an undergrad and graduate student.
One of the classes I get to teach is an introductory psychology class that can be an attempt to squeeze a broad knowledge of all of the disciplines within psychology into my students’ heads in anywhere from 7 to 15 weeks. It is like a track meet to get through the material some days. When a topic connects with my students though it is a wonderful energy to be surrounded by. One area that a lot of students enjoy learning about is clinical psychology, which has also been labelled abnormal psychology in the past, the study of psychological illness.
In class we take some time to define behavior that we think of as abnormal from a clinical perspective and one of the elements of that is the role of cultural norms in dictating what behavior is normal and what is not. This cultural component becomes important again when we talk about schizophrenia and how the outcomes for people with this condition are generally more positive in developing countries than they are in the developed world and we talk a bit about why that is in broad strokes.
This article about a man diagnosed with schizophrenia and the journey that he and his father have taken highlight some of the cultural issues inherent in this particular diagnosis and shine some light on how our perceptions and biases, at a cultural level, can have a significant impact on those living with these conditions.
I encourage you to take a read through it and learn a bit more about mental health in America (and around the world) and how schizophrenia tangles up biology and neurology and psychology and culture.
I got to play the role of director for a good friend of mine for a song off of his upcoming album Midnight Gardener. Had a lot of fun in the studio and out and about getting footage for the project. Check out the video and check out the album when it’s released, it’s going to be great!
Almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension that we find paralyzing because we no longer hear our surprised feelings living. Because we are alone with the alien thing that has entered into our self; because everything intimate and accustomed is for an instant taken away; because we stand in the middle of a transition where we cannot remain standing. For this reason the sadness too passes: the new thing in us, the added thing, has entered into our heart, has gone into its inmost chamber and is not even there any more, — is already in our blood. And we do not learn what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing has happened, and yet we have changed, as a house changes into which a guest has entered.Rainier Maria Rilke
It’s been a rough week. It’s been a bit of a rough year so far, to be honest. Brown dog passed away this week. Indy, my fuzzy companion of nearly 16 years, passed towards the end of 2017. Losing Indy was rough but we still had Brown and life carried on basically as it had before. He was much more affected by her passing than I thought he would be. They didn’t really interact a whole lot at the end.
For weeks after Indy left us I would still hear her barking from time to time. Perhaps a weird trick of the ears or maybe she was just checking to make sure we were all ok? Now I hear random sounds around the house and expect to see Brown dog pop his head around the corner.
I’m standing here at a quarter to five thinking to myself that I need to take Brown dog out, but I don’t because he’s not here anymore. I wake up in the morning and expect to feel him next to the bed waiting, sometimes patiently and other times not, for me to show any sign of being awake so our day could start. Every time I come back to the house I expect to find him waiting inside the door with a tail wag and maybe a toy.
And it is terrible and heartbreaking and I feel empty and alone. And I’m broken because I don’t like to talk about it, don’t like to lose control. So I put on a melancholy smile and go about my day.