Saturday, June 25, 2022
Friday, June 17, 2022
Sunday, January 2, 2022
Powers, Ron. “No One Cares About Crazy People. The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America.” New York: Hatchette Books, 2017.
Ron Powers promised his wife, Honoree Fleming, he would not write this book.
But ten years after his guitar prodigy son Kevin hanged himself in their basement a week before his twenty-first birthday in July 2005, after struggling with schizophrenia for three years; and then a few years later his older son Dean started experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia and had a psychotic break --- Ron Powers changed his mind.
Powers started to reconsider his promise when he read the hateful words, “No One Cares About Crazy People,” in an email from Kelly Rindfleisch, who was Governor Scott Walker’s Deputy Chief of Staff in 2010 uncovered by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, mocking the horrible treatment of psychiatric patients in the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex, he was shocked and angered. Patients treated for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were starved, raped, impregnated, and walked around naked.
Powers hopes you will not enjoy his memoir and trenchant review of the history of mental health treatment in America. He wants you to be wounded by his book --- wounded enough to do something about the state of help for the severely mentally ill in America.
Born in Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain’s hometown, Powers’ works include “Mark Twain: A Life.” With James Bradley, he co-wrote the 2000 number one New York Times Bestseller “Flags of Our Fathers,” made into a movie by Clint Eastwood. Powers was the first television critic to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Powers’ writing tears at your guts with his vast knowledge of our treatment of severe mental maladies, his intimate understanding of schizophrenia, and his heart-wrenching story of his two sons.
About his two sons, Powers says, “There is no greater feeling of helplessness than to watch two beloved sons deteriorate before your eyes, not knowing what to do to bring them back.”
Powers tells us that both of his sons suffered from schizophrenia and anosognosia. The latter is an inability to understand or have insight into your mental illness. Despite hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, you think you are mentally healthy.
Anyone who reads the history of our treatment of the severely mentally ill in America will feel nauseous, sad and angry. For example, “Life” magazine ran a story in 1946 with horrid pictures of Pennsylvanias Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry and Ohios Cleveland State Hospital. Movies such as “The Snake Pit,” in 1948 showed the hideous treatment of patients in mental hospitals.
Powers recounts the “good intentions” of President Kennedy’s 1963 legislation that sought to provide more humane care for patients in psychiatric institutions. This transfer of patients to the community was prompted by the discovery of “miracle” drugs like the anti-psychotic Thorazine, aimed to cure schizophrenia. An aim that worked like a powerful rifle that misses the target.
With the consensus of political liberals and conservatives – for different reasons, we went from a nationwide peak of around 560,000 beds in 1955, to about 35,000 today --- half of what we need. Without these beds, we have about one-third of the homeless consisting of the mentally ill; more psychiatric patients in prisons than in hospitals; the mentally ill clogging emergency rooms and warehoused in the nursing homes.
Powers reminds us how some psychiatrists --- Thomas Szasz, R.D. Laing, and cult leaders such as the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, creator of Scientology, have poisoned the well of psychiatric treatments, claiming such nonsense that mental illness is a myth. Szasz’s widely read book “The Myth of Mental Illness” (1961) propelled the antipsychiatry movement. Szasz wrote:
“My argument was limited to the proposition that mental illness is a myth, whose function it is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations.”
Powers tells how Szasz teamed up with L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology fame backed by millions of Scientology member dollars to create the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) established in 1969 headquartered in Los Angeles, California. Its stated mission --- and CCHR continues to this day – is to “eradicate abuses committed under the guise of mental health and enact patient and consumer protection.” On the CCHR website, they write: PSYCHIATRY: AN INDUSTRY OF DEATH. Some protection.
There is some good news about progress in treating mental illness. For example, Congress has authorized 1.1 billion dollars to do an eight-state demonstration program . Mental Health Act introduced by our Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow which became law in 2014 and detailed criteria for treatment centers to become certified community behavioral health clinics. In 2016 Republican senator Roy Blunt of Missouri introduced a bill to add funding to 24 states to expand the demonstration program.
In 2008 the National Institute for Mental Health launched the Recovery after an Initial Schizophrenia Episode project. The NIMH just completed its first trials of the project in 2015 and finds much value in aggressive intervention for first-episode psychosis (1).
(1) Satel, Sally & Torrey, E. Fuller Torrey. “A Prescription for Mental-Health Policy.” “National Affairs, Number 31, Spring 2017.
Saturday, January 1, 2022
BOOK REVIEW: Mankoff, Robert. “How About Never? Is Never Good For You? My Life in Cartoons.” New York: Henry Holt and Co. 2014.
Haec enim ridentur vel sola vel
maxime quae notant et designant
turpitudinem aliquam non turpiter.
An indecency decently put is the
Thing we laugh at hardest.
If you like to laugh – and think, this is the book for you.
Imagine two guys looking up at a big sign that says STOP AND THINK. One fellow says to the other: “Sorta makes you STOP AND THINK.” The reaction of these two fellows is exactly what the cartoons in The New Yorker Magazine make you do – cartoons that are better described as life drawings requiring you to think about life’s predicaments and ambiguities, facing the dangers and excitements of being alive.
Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor for The New Yorker (TNY), has written a memoir about his life in cartoons. The topics of TNY cartoons draw on humor from sex, love, death, parenting, marriage, family, cruelty, fear, jealousy, envy, hate, identity, character, conscience, desire, mourning and more --- the same topics that psychologists are up to their ears in.
Mankoff left psychology graduate school to seek his fortune in drawing cartoons. He started selling cartoons in 1977, and started working for TNY in 1980. He says he knows all about rejection, being booted out of psychology graduate school, and submitting thousands of cartoons to TNY before getting his first cartoon published.
He became the cartoon editor in 1997, about 20 years after selling his first cartoon. As editor of the magazine, he evaluates more than 500 cartoons every week, selecting about 10 - 15 for each magazine issue
Mankoff is most famous for creating the cartoon bank, and for the following best-selling cartoon:
An executive is at his desk, on the phone, and looking at his calendar says, “No, Thursday’s out. How about never?” Is never good for you?”
His title of his memoir is taken from what might be the most popular cartoon in the history of TNY. Mankoff remembers how he got the idea for this cartoon. He was trying to get on the phone with a friend who he wanted to see. That friend kept saying, “Can we meet this time? Could we do it that time?” And finally Mankoff says to his so-called friend, “How about never? Is never good for you?”
Mankoff traces this snotty retort back to his Queens and Bronx New York Jewish background. The Chapter 1 title is: “I’m Not Arguing, I’m Jewish.” During childhood, whenever he complained to his mother he was bored, she told him to bang his head against the wall, Mankoff quips. She taught him boredom was a luxury.
He describes his never-boring cartoon editor job as evaluating humor, a much different process from enjoying humor. He gives an example of a cartoon with 10 possible captions --- and this is the format of the cartoon caption contest that runs every week in TNY. The readers submit captions to a cartoon on the page, and the winners of the caption contest are printed. His editing job consists of picking cartoons with the best captions.
To evaluate cartoons, Mankoff reports that he is faced with the paradox of choice, which automatically brings the interference of the judgment process, short-circuiting the laugh response. So instead of laughing at the cartoon, he has to judge it.
In analyzing humor, Mankoff comments about what comics call “the magic of three.” He says you need a sequence for surprise to make a narrative funny.
Here is an example of a cartoon with the element of triplets in humor --- a one, two, and then boom.
A woman is saying, “I started my vegetarianism for moral reasons, then for health concerns, and now it’s just to annoy people.”
The cartoons in TNY, show the very widespread humor taking place in New York, the circus of the world. Humor makes fun of what’s in the public mind.
Here are two examples of cartoons about same-sex marriage:
A couple is looking at TV, and the guy is saying, “Gays and lesbians are getting married. Haven’t they suffered enough?”
A couple is in bed, and the guy is saying to the woman, “What’s your opinion of some-sex marriage?”
Mankoff appreciates humor that is benign, not speaking truth to power, but humor directed back at the people who are reading the magazine.
He describes a theory of humor he calls, “Just the Right Amount of Wrong.” He says this view emphasizes that humor is different in different contexts. He says that the mother’s milk of humor is anything that’s embarrassing, guilt- or anxiety-filled. Mankoff has learned that humor comes in almost endless varieties: humor based on reality, observational humor, silliness, and playful incongruity or absurdity.
An example of an absurd cartoon is:
It’s a cowboy at a desk. The person sitting in front of him is a cow, and he’s reading his resume. And the cowboy is saying, “Very impressive. I’d like to find 5,000 more like you.”
One cartoon, apparently not for everybody’s taste, shows a rodent in a cage, and then another picture of a rodent who hung himself. The caption is: “Discouraging data on the antidepressant.” Mankoff tells about readers who send in letters saying they don’t like cartoons where animals suffer. Mankoff’s response: “We use anesthetic ink.” A wise-guy he is.
Some people are hypersensitive to humor, and some people have little or no humor. I make it a rule never to use humor with people I don’t like ---- it is hard to keep my unconscious slips from showing.
Mankoff notes there have been many cartoons in TNY about the Grim Reaper because humor is an important way we cope with death, anxiety, suffering and illness.
An example of Grim Reaper humor:
The Grim Reaper is taking away her husband, and the wife is at the apartment door, and she is saying, “Relax, Harry. Change is good.”
Cartoons about marriage are another staple of TNY cartoons. Mankoff mentions he is happily married to his third wife (the magic of three). He says humor is essential in our attempts to understand our partners and for our partners to understand us.
He cites a cartoon on marriage:
A man is talking to a woman in the living room and he says, “Believe me, Janet, I consider you an important part of our marriage.
Mankoff focuses on the links between creativity and humor. He mentions Arthur Koestler’s book, “The Act of Creation,” in which he connects humor, science and art.
Life without a sense of humor is life without any sense of proportion or perspective.
Where laughter stops, so does common sense.
As the psychologist William James noted, “Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”
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Friday, December 31, 2021
Book Review: "Chatter. The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It." by Ethan Kross. 2021.
Ethan Kross is an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist who specializes in emotion regulation. He is a professor of psychology and management at the University of Michigan and director of the Emotion and Self Control Laboratory, where he studies the science of the silent conversations or how we talk to ourselves.His book is divided into seven chapters and an appendix outlining the specific tools discussed in the book to reduce anxiety and offer hope.
Much of the talk we say to ourselves is helpful. We plan for an interview; we think about what we want to say in a presentation; we rehearse our conversation with our mother-in-law before Thanksgiving Day dinner; we talk to ourselves about how to apologize to our spouse for our rude behavior and irritability.
Professor Kross, and other neuroscientists, have discovered that we are the authors of our life stories; our brain secretes interpretations of the world to help us create a coherent, sensible, explanation for events and our experiences.
Professor Kross estimates we spend about one-third to one-half of our waking hours talking to ourselves. He says people can think to themselves at a rate that is equal to speaking 4,000 words per-minute out loud.
Sometimes what we say to ourselves backfires. We may catastrophize problems; ruminate through redundant loops of irrational thinking; bombard ourselves with negative thoughts, sabotage our ability to think clearly, and gain access to reams of negative self-talk ---- called chatter.
This chatter can negatively affect our relationships, our work, and our physical health.
Effective psychological therapy helps us to acknowledge our feelings and experiences, helps us bear our feelings and experiences without distorting reality, and helps us put our feelings and experiences into perspective.
Through peer reviewed research, Professor Kross and his colleagues from all over the world, have identified methods or tools to expand our abilities to acknowledge, bear, and put into perspective our negative self-talk.
These are times that test our mental health. If you are not anxious now, there is something wrong with you: the uncertainty of the pandemic --- sickness, death, loss; isolation from family and friends; the closing of schools requiring remote learning, a process new to teachers and students, often interfering with a parents’ ability to earn a living and children getting a proper education this year. Economic uncertainty – Will I be able to find another job? Will my business survive? When will I get the vaccine against the Corona virus? Political polarization. I’m not used to staying home with my spouse and children for twenty-four hours a day. I thought marital relationships are for better or worse, but not for lunch. These are only a few of the burdens and stresses preoccupying millions of citizens.
My lawyer colleagues tell me filings for divorce have increased. Child protective service workers report an increase in domestic violence. Mental maladies such as depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and the horrors of suicide have increased.
Professor Kross offers an array of techniques aimed to reduce stress and anxiety, and to help you put these challenges into perspective. Not all of these tools work for everybody, but you are likely to find some methods that work for you.
Someone said life is like climbing one mountain after another ---- the lifetime challenge is to enjoy mountain climbing.
An underlying theme of Professor Kross’ creative, eloquent work, is to change your thinking to steady your emotions - to promote more rational thinking, self-control, self-confidence, reduce emotional distress, and find ways to enjoy mountain climbing.
When he was a boy growing up, Professor Kross said whenever he faced a problem, his father would tell him, “to go inside,” to introspect, and a solution will occur to him. This fatherly advice, helped a lot.
Yet, when Professor Kross took his first psychology class, to his chagrin, he learned the complexities of introspection. He wanted to know more about how to study the benefits of introspection and self-talk.
In his book, Professor Kross takes us on a tour of tools generated from his lab and those of colleagues, that illuminate research-based methods to use introspection, to drop a bomb, so to speak, to stop self-talk gone crazy.
These tools, such as distance self-talk, coach us through problems --- talking to ourselves using our own name (not out loud), rather than the pronoun “I” to work through predicaments. Professor Kross has found examples of highly successful people – athletes, courageous young activists, and others who spontaneously make use of this seemingly simple technique.
Another tool is called temporal distancing or mental time travel --- taking our minds into the future, telling ourselves that this pandemic will end, we will see our friends and family, we will get back to a more normal life.
Professor Kross mentions some tools that many of us use that at first, we would not associate with reducing anxiety: cleaning our desk, organizing our clothes in the closet, cleaning the pots and pans. Controlling your outside environment helps us take charge of the internal chatter.
Another tool that may reduce the backfiring chatter in our mind, is the experience of awe ---- we look up at the stars in the sky and realize we are one of billions of planets – maybe our problems are not so overwhelming after all.
Research studies in Professor Kross’ lab tells us we benefit from emotional support when we share our internal chatter with understanding family or friends. But talking about our feelings may bring us closer to the listening friend, but unless we learn ways to broaden our perspective, to reframe our experiences, this venting of chatter may not help.
No matter how good we get at using the creative, research-based tools in this book, coping with inevitable predicaments, moral dilemmas, atrocities, tragedies, fear, rejection, betrayal and more, maintaining mental stability is an ongoing challenge and process through life.
Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.
Should your mental maladies interfere with your daily life, these psychological tools are some of the building blocks of effective psychological therapy.
Psychological therapy and reducing your chatter will not enable a life of contentment. Contentment is for cows. Getting control of your negative chatter may help you start to enjoy mountain climbing.
Most psychological self-help books fit under the category of fiction. Dr. Kross’ book, “Chatter,” is that rare researched based psychology book that gets filed under nonfiction. Do yourself a favor, read this book. You will say to yourself, "thank you."
Book Review: "A Hunter-Gatherer's Guide to the 21rst Century. Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life." by Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein. 2021
This provocative book is written by wife and husband evolutionary biologists, Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein. These scientists are unusual. They have the guts to act on their liberal, progressive convictions --- they resigned from their tenured, 15 year long faculty positions at Evergreen College, standing up to the scourge of political correctness.
December 31, 2021
Book Review: "When Men Behave Badly," by David Buss. 2021
If you are interested in sexual conflicts, sexual desire, and mating, read this book.The evolutionary lens examines the hidden roots of sexual conflict, lurking in plain sight once you understand the empirical research findings presented in this important book.
Sexual conflicts stem in part from evolved sex differences that underly the sexual psychology of females and males.
These sexual conflicts show up in relationships between the sexes: sexual harassment; intimate partner violence; sexual assault by strangers, acquaintances and those who claim to be lovers; and stalking in the aftermath of breakups.
For example, Andrew Cuomo is the most recent of too many men who treat women as sexual prey. The 165 page report prepared by Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York investigating Governor Cuomo, highlights his behavior: buttocks grabbing, breast grabbing, leering comments and questions such as, “Have you cheated on your husband?” “Have you been with older men?” “Would you find me a girlfriend?” Cuomo saw a woman state trooper who worked for him and got her assigned to his security detail and then tagged her for harassment.
Buss reminds us that biologists define sex by the size of the gametes. Males have small gametes - sperm - DNA packed with 23 chromosomes, and a flagellum or outboard motor. Females have large gametes with 23 chromosomes and nutrient filled eggs.
Human males make several million sperms per day or about 1,500 per second. Males release anywhere from 20 to 300 million sperm cells in a single milliliter of semen.
For females, during fetal life there are about 6 to 7 million eggs produced. From this time no new eggs are produced. At birth, there are approximately 1 million eggs; by puberty, only 300,000 eggs remain. Of the remaining eggs, only 300 to 400 will be ovulated during a women’s reproductive years.
Men can produce a child with sexual intercourse (in minutes some women say) with no further investment. Women require a metabolically costly nine months of internal gestation to produce that same child, often accompanied by months of breast feeding.
Dr. Buss develops many research based findings to help us understand sexual conflict and why some men behave badly.
These evidenced based concepts include:
Short-term vs Long-term mating strategies
“I was looking for a lifetime lover, and she was looking for a friend.”
—- Jim Croce
Types of Sexual Deception - including common deceptions in computer dating sites
Intimate Partner Violence
Number of Reported Sexual Partners for Males and Females
Distortions in Males Regarding Perceived Cues of Female Sexual Interest
Affairs in Males and Females
Jealousy in Males and Females
The Dark Triad of Personality Traits in Men Who Behave Badly…and more.
I especially liked Chapter 3: “Struggles Within Mateships,” which includes a section on, “The Evolutionary Recipe for Mating Harmony.”
Go to YouTube to listen to Dr. Buss talk with many perceptive interviewers. I particularly liked Dr. Michael Shermer’s interview with Dr. Buss.
I recommend reading, “The Evolution of Human Sexuality,” by Don Symons, a classic text Dr. Buss mentions in many of his interviews.
Professor Buss concludes his book with the following trenchant remarks:
“Men’s sexual violence toward women remains the most widespread human rights problem in the world. Deep knowledge of men’s and women’s sexual psychology will help create conditions to reduce sexual violence. Information about the evolutionary of sexual conflict will help. Knowledge that women are not passive pawns in a male game will help. Progress rests with the recognition of a fundamental change in sexual morality—-that women themselves, not boyfriends, husbands, or fathers, should have sole autonomy over their own bodies. Female choice about when, where, with whom, and under what conditions they consent to sex is the deepest and most fundamental component of women’s sexual psychology. It is a fundamental human right. Although men have coevolved strategies to undermine it, that freedom of choice should never be compromised. A deep understanding of coevolution of sexual conflict in humans will not magically solve all problems. But I am convinced it is the light and the way.”
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Monday, October 29, 2018
Random Thoughts and Observations
By Steven J. Cersenie, Ph.D.
A most important virtue is tolerance based on humility. Tolerance is welcoming discussions with people who fundamentally disagree with us based on humility - a recognition we cannot be sure we are right about our beliefs.
We underestimate the importance of chance, accident, and luck in the events of our lives. Sure, hard work and character are important in achieving success, but reflecting on our lives highlights whatever success we achieve in relationships and work has much to do from more than just a little bit of luck.
Heard from a client who owns a sailboat about his friend's behavior:
My friend is always making waves in a no wake zone.
Heard from a talented handyman
I'm having such a bad day, I can't even do wrong right.
Martin Elias Peter Seligman, Ph.D.
Martin E. P Seligman. The Hope Circuit. A Psychologist's Journey from Helplessness to Optimism. New York: The Hachette Book Group, 2018.
Seligman begins his story about his journey from helplessness to optimism by describing the world as he found it when he arrived "one gestation period after Pearl Harbor." Both his parents had troubled lives - far from the optimism Seligman would later research and apply to the lives of many. His mother was born in Hungary, now Romania - his grandmother died giving birth to his mother Irene. Irene became the center of his father's love and attention until his father remarried and turned all his attention from his daughter Irene to his new wife. Seligman's mother, Irene, always felt the horrible sting of rejection. His father's parents had emigrated from the Dutch border of Germany and from Alsace, and married in New York in 1899. Seligman's father was an anxious child who skipped four grades in school.
Seligman describes his father as "a brilliant young lawyer, armed with a doctorate from Columbia Law School." It was the second year of the Great Depression; lawyers were making a living, but many were poor. His father chose a secure path taking a job in civil service, reporting judges' decisions at the Court of Appeals in Albany, New York. Seligman describes his mother as, "gorgeous - there is no other word: five-foot-one, full-figured, blonde, and blue-eyed. She was well-spoken but reserved and very sympathetic of manner..." Her parents' poverty took a toll on her, and she dropped out of high school to help support the family as a legal secretary.
In Albany, Seligman's parents joined a conservative synagogue. To Seligman's dismay, he later learned his father was an atheist - although his mother was very strongly attached to Judaism.
Seligman was named for his saintly maternal grandfather who died of a sudden heart attack in 1940. Elias was chosen as his middle name to honor his grandfather and his six-year-old sister was given naming rights to call him Peter. So he was named Martin Elias Peter Seligman.
There is much more detail in his elegantly written book about his family background and his early years. A detail that caught my eye was about Seligman, who like one of my younger entrepreneurial brothers, took a job in his early teens selling magazines for five summers. He made more money selling magazines than he made until he was an associate professor.
Jumping ahead to his college years, Seligman was strongly influenced by Robert Nozick (1938 - 2002), a professor of philosophy at Princeton, where Seligman did his undergraduate study. Nozick was famous for his 1974 magnum opus, Anarchy, State and Utopia. In this classic text, Nozick wrote that he believed in capitalist acts between consenting adults - an unusual belief for a college professor during those years. Seligman wasn't sure whether to pursue psychology or philosophy. Looking back, Seligman asked the question, "How much rigor? How much reality?" These questions formed Seligman's role in the transformation of psychology over the next fifty years.
Seligman spent his 50-year psychology career rejecting psychology's basic premises. When he came to psychology, he found help for psychological maladies focused on people's misery and suffering, with Freud and his followers developing treatments hoping to remove the crippling conflicts and memories stemming from childhood experiences. The best humans could accomplish according to this approach was to turn hysterical misery into common unhappiness.
Early in his career, Seligman discovered learned helplessness, where animals and people were exposed to uncontrollable events such as shock or noise and then developing passivity and learning to give up. Over many years, learned helplessness has become a model for studying and treating depression. Seligman noted that when studying learned helplessness, about three of either people couldn't be made helpless, that is, these three people were invulnerable to being helpless. Thus, began his study of the components of optimism and he took techniques from cognitive therapy to teach pessimistic people to be optimistic. I particularly liked the chapter where Seligman discovers he was wrong about the causes of learned helplessness based on new research on the neurological underpinnings of The Hope Circuit. This chapter is worth the price of the book.
In 1998, Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association with the largest number of votes of any APA President. During his Presidency of APA and beyond, Seligman created Positive Psychology, a view that there is a lot more to life than suffering, and built his research efforts on what makes life worth living. The alleviation of suffering is only the start to what psychologists can do for their clients - human happiness matters. Positive psychology is now a worldwide movement to enhance well-being and attracting some of the best psychologists in the field who have turned their research interests to what makes people live better lives. Seligman and his colleagues have taken his studies of positive psychology, resilience, post-traumatic growth, optimism and more and applied these mind-enriching concepts to people around the world in schools, corporations, and our service people in the United States Army.
During his career, Seligman challenged the belief that we are creatures whose minds are blank slates, where experience is all important and writes what we take in from our senses to stamp-in experiences on these blank slates- a core tenet of early behaviorism - a theory that didn't take conscious experience seriously; nor did this approach incorporate the findings of evolution seriously.
The blank slate view of humans is personal for me. I remember the first time I evaluated an autistic child while working at a child psychiatric state hospital in the 1970's. I met two warm, loving, guilt-ridden parents telling me through their tears about their unresponsive, odd five-year-old child who didn't talk and was obsessed with playing with door knobs and hinges. When this child entered my office, he walked past me as if I wasn't there, and went straight to the curtains and began sucking on the cloth. Back then, the prevailing theory was autism was caused by the child being raised by a cold "refrigerator mother," a theory I never believed, but an accepted view in the field that caused the suffering of thousands of children and their families. Scientists have now discovered the importance of genetics in autism - and in all psychiatric disorders and personality traits.
Seligman not only challenged the belief that the best outcome humans could achieve from psychological therapy was normal misery, but he argued against the blank slate view of humans, and stressed the importance of evolution in human development. With his colleagues, he showed that not any stimulus paired with any other stimulus would be learned - a challenge to Pavlovian conditioning. Humans, it turns out, are prepared to learn some things and not others.
During his work on Positive Psychology, incorporating his challenges to psychology's basic premises, Seligman compiled research evidence and became convinced there are five elements of well-being, summarized by the acronym: PERMA.
On a side note, it was the program committee of the Michigan Psychological Association who invited Seligman to speak at an MPA conference in 1996, two years before he was elected APA President. Seligman, to the surprise of the committee, agreed to speak at the MPA conference to announce his decision to run for APA President. I had the privilege of picking Seligman up at the airport, and the next evening have a gathering of MPA members at my house to meet Dr. Seligman, who I now called Marty.
Before taking Marty to his hotel, I took Marty to my local delicatessen for dinner. Back then, Marty was a serious fellow, and we were soon embroiled in a discussion on the topic of sexuality. I had worked in a child psychiatric hospital for many years and treated many adolescent males brought in for inpatient treatment because of a history of sexual perversions - a label not used now. As we waited for our dinner in the crowded deli, Marty shared some of his experiences treating this sample of youngsters and stressed the importance of classical and operant conditioning models of etiology and the benefits of cognitive therapy. I had found the work of psychoanalyst Robert Stoller, M.D. most helpful in treating these trouble youngsters. Stoller had written the book, "Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred," emphasizing the role of unconscious learning. The part of our dinner I will never forget is this: Marty said in so many words that my views were not up with the current research and then he gently raised his voice and said, "Let's take masturbation for an example." I noticed several restaurant patrons turn their heads our way, and then I said to Marty, "Maybe we should discuss masturbation another time. You're leaving town tomorrow, and I'm a regular customer at this deli."
We both smiled.
(To comment on this column, contact Steve Ceresnie at email@example.com