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…

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Posted by: thealienist | September 16, 2014

Foundations of Mental Health: The Truth

There are many people who don’t believe that there is any “Truth.”  There are also many who believe that, not only is there “Truth” but that they know this “Truth” absolutely and need to make everyone else believe it.  Some people don’t believe in “Truth,” but believe that there is something called “truth” that may appear differently to different people and may even be contradictory to different people.  Some people base their “truth” on science.  They believe that everything that can be known can be known through science.  Anything that cannot be known through science must then be false.  Others believe that science can show us many things, but that there are things that science cannot know that are nevertheless “true.”

With all the philosophical confusion about what is “true.”  I wonder what the role of truth is in psychiatry and mental health.  I must admit that I am a believer in “Truth.”  Still, I don’t think I have a monopoly on it, though I continue to strive to see more of it.  I also believe that there is more truth than science can reach.  Not that I think that scientific findings are false — I just think that there are things that science is not equipped to speak about.  So, what about truth in psychiatry?

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Posted by: thealienist | September 9, 2014

Mary and Max: Discovering Each Other

Last night I watched the movie, Mary and Max.  For a while, I wondered what the point of the movie was.  A litany of loneliness, mistreatment, alienation, shame, ineffectiveness, and abuse of the soul?  And in claymation, for goodness sake!  But, just as I was feeling the need for a dose of Wallace and Gromit to cleanse my mind, the movie suddenly jelled and a purpose was found for all the suffering that had been portrayed.  Max and Mary found each other.

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Posted by: thealienist | September 8, 2014

Rollercoasters Don’t Have Steering Wheels

Many of us struggle with the desire to control our lives. For some of us, the desire to control our lives gets a little out of hand. For those of us who need to control too much of our lives, who set standards too high, and who don’t allow ourselves flexibility to deal with different tasks differently, we may have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. We also probably don’t like roller coasters because they don’t have steering wheels.

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Posted by: thealienist | September 1, 2014

Freud’s Last Session

Abilene Christian University recently had several performances of Freud’s Last Session, a one-act play depicting what might have happened if Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis had a meeting shortly before Freud’s death at the outset of World War II.  The play is based, at least in part, on the book The Question of God by Armand Nicholi.  It is well-written and (at the performance I attended) well-acted.  The play, however, did bring certain thoughts to mind that I thought I might share here.

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Posted by: thealienist | August 28, 2014

Heroes, Supermen, and Religion: Watchmen

I read Watchmen after a student in one of my classes wrote a paper diagnosing one of the characters in this graphic novel with antisocial personality disorder.  To be honest, it wasn’t the most convincing argument, but the student was an undergraduate and did an admirable job on the paper.  It piqued my interest and motivated me to read more.  I have since enjoyed the back-stories of some of the major characters in Before Watchmen.  The stories are satisfying and well-written.  The characters are very interesting and provoke challenging thoughts on law, ethics, vulnerability, and character.  As my favorite drive-in movie critic (Joe Bob Briggs) would say, “Check it out.”

As I was reading, a thought occurred to me.  Whether intended by the author or not, it seemed to me that many of the Watchmen were caricatures of people’s different views of God.  I won’t pretend that this is the only (or even the best) way to consider the novel, but it seems an interesting way to look at the various views of our world and our place in the world.

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Posted by: thealienist | August 25, 2014

Frozen: The Cold, Hard Truth

I recently watched Frozen with my daughter and my wife.  It was a delightful movie, and Olaf was not nearly as creepy as I had feared from the trailers.  As I thought about the movie, I wondered what the psychological themes were behind the movie.  At first glance, I think that I see two major themes.

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Posted by: thealienist | August 25, 2014

Foundations of Mental Health: You are Someone’s Stimulus

It seems that recently people have spent a lot of time trying to prove that they are not stimuli for others to react to.  On one news site, I saw a picture of a nude woman on a public street who had pained her body with the words, “Still not asking for it.”  I have seen pictures and videos of citizens protesting government violence by throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at police.  I have seen police officers calling for peace while brandishing clubs and guns.  I have had patients dressed in motorcycle club jackets and bandanas and wearing long hair and beards wondering why people would be anxious around them.  The examples could go on and on.  Sometimes we forget that what we look like and how we behave affect those around us.  Other times, we just enjoy sending out mixed messages.

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Posted by: thealienist | August 20, 2014

What’s Happening in Ferguson?

Some situations just seem to scream for a psychological analysis.  In Ferguson, MO, a young black man was shot under suspicious circumstances.  The effects have spread from a grieving family and involved police officer to the community of Ferguson, then national media, then our entire nation and international media.  Is this because this incident was so unique?  Was the young man so famous or the Ferguson police department so infamous that fame was assured?  No.  There are other things at work here. Read More…

Posted by: thealienist | May 9, 2013

Foundations of Mental Health: Dependency

In my previous post, I talked a bit about responsibility.  Unfortunately, many (in the pursuit of excessive responsibility and imagined independence) overlook the health promoting effects of appropriate dependence.  In this post, I would like to discuss how dependence can be effective for one’s mental health and for the mental health of those around them. Read More…

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