My wife and I were wanting to read a book for Halloween and decided to read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. For those of you who have never read the book, it is NOTHING like you might expect from seeing most of the movies supposedly based on the book. I highly recommend the book to those of you who have an interest in Gothic horror (though it is not that scary) and especially those who have an interest in the personal and social psychologies of evil. Please continue below the fold for further discussion (spoilers ahead).
It seems to me that some games are better than others. Some are trivial. Some are boring. Others are fascinating, fun, and profound. Given that it is possible that all of life is a game (a given that I am not convinced of yet), what makes a game “good”? Is it merely a matter of taste? Are there some criteria that we can apply to judge the quality of the games we play? If indeed it is true that live is a game from top to bottom, then it seems essential to me that we be able to choose what games we play and what role we play within them. I wonder if this is not a great part of what mental health care is all about. We help people to find their game and to remain suitable for effective participation in it. We are part coach and part team physician. Let’s think some more about this.
I have been interested in games and game theory for a long time. I think that play is an important part of life. I also think that I see our modern western culture trying (ironically) to squeeze play out of the average person’s life while trying to get more and more people to play their particular type of game. I have read with interest the works of many authors who emphasize the role of play in human experience, but I have found no agreement among them as to what constitutes “play” or what the essential components of a “game” are.
I am going to use this category to explore (perhaps only for myself) what constitutes “play” and how much of our lives are taken up by games – either intentional or unintentional. In addition to defining these abstract terms, I plan to comment on and analyze (to the extent of my ability and aided by any who would like to help) how the idea of “games” enriches or impoverishes our lives. I expect that the posts in this category will be more rambling than usual and may take me (us?) down some blind alleys. Overall, however, I hope that in our wanderings we will see interesting, beautiful, and revealing sights.
Just as in anxiety and bipolar disorders (see previous posts), major depression has its own traps. If seen far enough in advance, they are usually easily avoidable. Unfortunately, many patients do not recognize these traps until they are neck-deep in them. Let’s examine them in more detail.
In the same spirit as I wrote previously in “The Anxiety Traps,” I see some common traps faced by those who suffer from bipolar disorder. Some of the traps occur most often in those who find themselves frequently stuck in depressive episodes. Other traps are built for those in frequent (and especially mild) manic or hypomanic episodes. Let’s see what it is best to avoid.
When it comes to mental illness, I see several “traps” that my patients fall in. How they fall for these traps and how they are lured into these traps are easy to understand. Avoiding them is usually fairly straightforward, though it may be difficult. Let’s talk about the traps that the anxious need to avoid.
When I was in residency, my attending psychiatrists sometimes described psychotherapy as two people walking together. The patient is in the lead, and the psychiatrist has a flashlight with which he can point out and illuminate interesting or useful objects or processes. I like this image, though I prefer the image of the old west scout who was hired to guide explorers and settlers through the mountain passes and wilderness paths of America’s frontiers. Still, this image brings up some questions. How did this unlikely pair come together? Where are they walking? What does the psychiatrist bring that is of value to this pair? Who is in control?
People often talk of “mental health,” but I wonder if many have given much thought to just what that is. I know that in my practice, my patients often have very different ideas about mental health than I do. Some of the things that I often discuss with them is how I define mental health, how I see them deviating (if they do) from my standard of mental health, and how treatment is supposed to restore them to a healthy state. Although the idea of mental health seems very elementary, I fear that very few have considered what it really means. Many arguments in blogs between mental health care consumers (I really don’t like that term — sounds to impersonal), mental health care professionals, and others outside the day-to-day mental health area seem to hinge on a failure to agree on just what “mental health” is and its role in society.
Last summer (after I vanished for a while from the blogosphere), I read several books on literary criticism. Several books focused on Dostoyevsky (a particular favorite of mine) and one by Terry Eagleton addressed literature in general. I enjoyed the books greatly and may choose to write some posts about them in the future. In the mean time, I have been thinking about one of the statements I repeatedly encountered in my reading. It seemed to me that literary criticism was frequently judged on how “interesting” it was. To tell you the truth, this bothered me. My initial impulse is to judge academic works as to their “truth.” I wanted to know how valid and reliable the data was. How logical were the conclusions, and what kinds of assumptions were made? In short, my more obsessive-compulsive traits took the lead in evaluating the work.
This is very different from how I deal with information from my patients. Sure, I want to know how their communications about their life stories match the objective truth of the events in their lives. I want to evaluate how closely their perceptions of their world and themselves match reality. Still, I don’t usually become a stickler for the “Truth” in psychotherapy sessions. I seem to take a more balanced view in evaluating my patients. In addition to logical scrutiny, I want us to find the patient’s experience interesting. I don’t want to ruin a compelling and informative narrative by nit-picking the details. And when I make an interpretation, I want it to be both “true” and “interesting.”
This leads me to some thoughts on a blog post by a very intelligent and interesting colleague of mine. I was recently browsing his excellent blog (Experimental Theology — see my links) and came across some posts examining one of my favorite comic strips, Calvin and Hobbes. In one particular post, Salvation by Calvinball, my colleague made a statement that I found interesting but that did not ring true to me. I started thinking…