Oct 17

New Nonfiction Books: October 2017

New nonfiction books of interest address infidelity, a well-known psychiatrist’s life story, Trumpism, online shaming, and creativity.

I. The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel

In at least a couple recent articles, “Why Is Modern Love So Damn Hard?” and “Why Happy People Cheat” (The Atlantic), therapist Esther Perel presents info from her new book on infidelity.

A key introductory concept from The State of Affairs: “…(C)ontained within the small circle of the wedding band are vastly contradictory ideals. We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability…and we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk.”

As Perel states in the second article cited above, “Once, we strayed because marriage was not supposed to deliver love and passion. Today, we stray because marriage fails to deliver the love and passion it promised. It’s not our desires that are different today, but the fact that we feel entitled—even obligated—to pursue them.”

II. Becoming Myself: A Psychiatrists’s Memoir by Irvin B. Yalom

At 86, prolific author and psychiatrist Irvin Yalom still sees patients. And now he’s finished what he believes is his last book, his memoir. What he wrote on Facebook at the end of June:

It was hard to finish. I hated to let this book go because I know it will be my last book. My friends roll their eyes as I say this: they’ve heard it often before. But this time I really mean it. I’ve always had a large stack of unwritten books in my mind but the last one was always to be a memoir. I finish it with a sense of pride – it is the book I wanted to write – but I finish it also with a sense of sadness, even grief, because I now face the new task, so difficult for committed writers, of living well without a book project.

III. Trump is F*cking Crazy: (This Is Not a Joke) by Keith Olbermann 

From the publisher: “With more than 50 individual essays adapted from his GQ commentaries, including new up-to-the-minute material, TRUMP IS F*CKING CRAZY is essential reading for concerned citizens who—like Olbermann—refuse to normalize or accept our new political reality.”

Kirkus Reviews reports that Olbermann’s main “focus is on the man he despises and on the minions who support him. The pieces are generally short and sharply focused on something quite recent at the time of composition—Trump’s post-election talk to the CIA, the testimony of Sally Yates—and the prose is consistently aggressive and often abrasive. Unrelenting invective for Trump haters, who will love it; Trump lovers won’t read it.”

IV. Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate by Sue Scheff (with Melissa Schorr)

Sue Scheff has a Psychology Today blog also called “Shame Nation” and is the founder of Parents’ Universal Resources Experts.

A review by Katie Hurley, LCSW: “Relatable, intelligent, and engaging from the first sentence, Shame Nation sheds much-needed light on our current culture of online shaming and cyberbullying. Thoroughly researched and packed with eye opening anecdotes, Shame Nation will help you learn why people choose to shame one another online, and what to do if it happens to you or a loved one. Sue Scheff is an invaluable resource in the digital world and this book should be required reading in high school, college, and the workplace.”

V. Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives by Adam J. Kurtz

From the publisher: “As wry and cheeky as it is empathic and empowering, this deceptively simple, vibrantly full-color book will be a touchstone for writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who wants to be more creative–even when it would be easier to give up and act normal.”

Oct 04

“The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump”: Psych Experts

The only people who aren’t allowed to comment on Donald Trump’s mental health are the people who are most expert and qualified to do it. John D. Gartner, PhD, a contributor to The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, regarding the Goldwater Rule (Baltimore Sun)

For those who’ve been looking for extra validation that Trump isn’t fit for office, the time has come via The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President by Bandy X. Lee, MD, M.Div., and many other contributors from the mental health field.

Concerned about America’s well-being, these experts believe it’s not only fair to analyze this particular public figure, it’s their obligation.

Bill Moyers (Mother Jones) interviewed the foreword’s author, Robert Jay Lifton, who establishes a belief that the ethically mandated “duty to warn” supercedes the Goldwater Rule. “We have a duty to warn on an individual basis if we are treating someone who may be dangerous to herself or to others—a duty to warn people who are in danger from that person. We feel it’s our duty to warn the country about the danger of this president. ”

It’s not all about the question of mental illness. “It’s really a question of what psychological and other traits render one unfit or dangerous.” More from Lifton:

…I’ve focused on what professionally I call solipsistic reality. Solipsistic reality means that the only reality he’s capable of embracing has to do with his own self and the perception by and protection of his own self. And for a president to be so bound in this isolated solipsistic reality could not be more dangerous for the country and for the world. In that sense, he does what psychotics do. Psychotics engage in, or frequently engage in a view of reality based only on the self. He’s not psychotic, but I think ultimately this solipsistic reality will be the source of his removal from the presidency.

For excerpts from essays authored by Gail Sheehy, Philip Zimbardo, Rosemary Sword, Dr. Lance Dodes, and Dr. James Gilligan for The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, you can check this Newsweek link.

Some book quotes courtesy of Carlos Lozada‘s review in The Washington Post:

  • Lance Dodes, MD: “Mr. Trump’s sociopathic characteristics are undeniable. They create a profound danger for America’s democracy and safety. Over time these characteristics will only become worse, either because Mr. Trump will succeed in gaining more power and more grandiosity with less grasp on reality, or because he will engender more criticism producing more paranoia, more lies, and more enraged destruction.”
  • John D. Gartner: “History will not be kind to a profession that aided the rise of an American Hitler through its silence.”
  • Michael Tansey, PhD: “…(T)here is considerable evidence to suggest that absolute tyranny is DT’s wet dream.”

Tansey writes in The HuffPost of an upcoming action on October 14th: “a coordinated multi-city town hall event across the country under the banner of Duty to Warn (http://adutytowarn.org/), a rapidly expanding group of over 4,000 mental health professionals alarmed about the extreme psychological instability of the most powerful man on the planet.”

Gartner is the psychologist responsible for a Change.org petition aiming for the removal of Trump as president that’s now been signed by over 63,000. He “describes Trump as a ‘malignant narcissist,’ a condition that includes paranoia, anti-social behavior, sadism and other traits along with narcissism” (John Fritze, Baltimore Sun). 

Whereas the issue of whether Trump is mentally unfit or simply not of good character may not be adequately addressed in this book, reviewer Sharon Begley (STAT) gives Gartner some kudos: “…Gartner’s ‘Mad? Bad? Or All of the Above?’ takes a stab at this, but for almost all other contributors it’s a blind spot, made all the more glaring because political reporters have done terrific work explaining how Trump’s seemingly crazy behaviors serve his political ends.”

According to Andrew Spitznas, Patheos, the ending of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump may help mitigate readers’ “fatalistic despair”:

…Part Three concludes with a pragmatic, action-oriented essay by psychiatrists Nanette Gantrell and Dee Mosbacher.  With lawyerly exactitude, they make their argument for Trump’s grave danger to national security, requesting Congress to act immediately upon Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, to formally convene an impartial panel to assess the president’s mental fitness for duty.  I can only hope that some of our representatives will read this.

Oct 02

Recent Headlines You May Have Missed

Recent headlines in mental health you may have missed. Click on headline links for full scoops.

I. Want to Live Longer? Find Your Ikigai. Hector Garcia, The Guardian

“Ikigai can be translated as ‘a reason for being’ – the thing that gets you out of bed each morning. Finding your ikigai is felt to be crucial to longevity and a life full of meaning. The people of Japan keep doing what they love, what they are good at, and what the world needs even after they have left the office for the last time.”

II. Relationship Problems? Try Getting More Sleep. Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times

One more reason to work on improving your sleep.

An excerpt: “’When people have slept less, it’s a little like looking at the world through dark glasses,’ said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a longtime relationship scientist and director of the Ohio State Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research. ‘Their moods are poorer. We’re grumpier. Lack of sleep hurts the relationship’.”

III. AI can tell Republicans from Democrats – but can you? Take our quiz. Adam Gabbatt and Sam Morris, The Guardian

Researchers say artificial intelligence will soon be able to detect a person’s political allegiance – just by looking at photos of their face.

We’ve put together a quiz to see if you can beat the algorithms and work out, from someone’s face, their political allegiance. We’ve chosen 15 pictures of city councillors from Bristol, Connecticut and San Diego – eight Democrats, seven Republicans. Can you figure out which is which?

IV. Gaydar Goes AI and Populism Comes to Science. Robert D. Mather, PhD, Psychology Today

An upcoming study entitled “Deep Neural Networks Are More Accurate than Humans at Detecting Sexual Orientation from Facial Images,” authored by Yilun Wang and Michal Kosinski, has raised a great deal of controversy…

The main findings of their series of studies was that the computer program could correctly classify between gay and heterosexual men at a higher rate of accuracy than humans could, and that key indicators were facial morphology, expression, and grooming styles…

V. How often do you lie? Personality quiz. Ben Ambridge, The Guardian

Do you ever lie? No? Liar! Even if we tend to avoid black lies, most of us tell white lies, either the altruistic or Pareto kind (the former are good for the hearer, the latter are good for both the liar and the hearer). But who lies most, and what type of lies do they tell? There’s only one way to find out. Answer these simple questions.

1) Are you male or female?
2) How much formal education do you have? (a) High school/GCSEs only (b) A levels or equivalent (c) university degree.
3) How old are you? (a) under 30 (b) 31-60 or (c) 61+

Read the article for the findings relevant to your responses.

VI. Teddy Blanks and Ray from ‘Girls’ made a film series about psychotherapy. Tyler Woods, Technical.ly

“Shrink,” the series of brief videos that includes Sarah Silverman, Natasha Lyonne, Lena Dunham, and others offering therapy testimonials, can be seen here.

Sep 29

Social Issues on Film: Three Mini-Reviews

Three movies I haven’t seen receive mini-reviews below—because others have done the work for us. Each film in some way takes on social issues.

I. ‘Mother!’ Is the Worst Movie of the Year, Maybe Century. Rex Reed, New York Observer

Although you can already tell from his title how Rex Reed feels about Mother!, here’s more to chew on:

…an exercise in torture and hysteria so over the top that I didn’t know whether to scream or laugh out loud. Stealing ideas from Polanski, Fellini and Kubrick, [director Darren Aronofsky has] jerrybuilt an absurd Freudian nightmare that is more wet dream than bad dream, with the subtlety of a chainsaw.
This delusional freak show is two hours of pretentious twaddle that tackles religion, paranoia, lust, rebellion, and a thirst for blood in a circus of grotesque debauchery to prove that being a woman requires emotional sacrifice and physical agony at the cost of everything else in life, including life itself. That may or may not be what Aronofsky had in mind, but it comes as close to a logical interpretation as any of the other lunk-headed ideas I’ve read or heard. The reviews, in which a group of equally pretentious critics frustratingly search for a deeper meaning, are even nuttier than the film itself. Using descriptions like ‘hermeneutic structure,’ ‘phantasmagoric fantasia,’ ‘cinematic Rorschach test’ and ‘extended scream of existential rage,’ they sure know how to leave you laughing.

There are enough counter-opinions from critics, though, to satisfy the “insanity”-seeking Aronofsky fans as well. One example is from Steve Pond, The Wrap: “For its combination of ambition and audacity, this is a glorious piece of cinematic insanity.” Another, Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: “It’s worth seeing — if you don’t mind a little insanity in escapism that offers no escape, only the promise of a new fairy tale on another page.”

II. ‘Battle of the Sexes’ Review: Imagine Hillary and Trump Swinging Rackets. Peter Travers, Rolling Stone 

Or does the actual historical account provide more interest? A few reviews:

Linda Holmes, NPR:

The film focuses on [Billie Jean] King’s activism for prize money parity in professional tennis, meaning sexism was not, for her, only about pride. Bobby Riggs may have been a sideshow, but he — and the people he riled up with his antics — had the potential to slow down women’s tennis in its push for equality.
King’s ambivalence and reluctance, and her understanding that the position she found herself in as an advocate had the capacity to paint her into a corner, are the best parts…

Leah Greenblatt, ew.com: “The symbolic power of what happened there – one small step, one giant leap for womankind – is still the movie’s truest ace.”

However….Dana Stevens, Slate: “Forty-four years after that legendary game, with the No. 1 chauvinist pig in the White House, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’ is starting to feel like fake news.”

III. Tired of superheroes? ‘Wonder Woman’ is here to save the day. Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times

States film critic Macdonald, “It’s nice to think that love — and strong women — can save the world; it’s invigorating to watch it happen, even if it’s just on a movie screen.”

Wonder Woman, now on DVD, was quite intriguing to Hillary Clinton, she professed before seeing it. And afterward she stated that it was “just as inspirational as I’d suspected a movie about a strong, powerful woman in a fight to save the world from international disaster would be.”

Male reviewers also generally appreciated this “superhero movie that runs on estrogen rather than testosterone” (Peter Howell, Toronto Star). Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “What lingers…is the feeling of hope that the movie brings, that it someday might be possible for female rationality to defeat male brutality.”

Sep 27

New Books of Interest in Brief: September 2017

New books of interest, in brief, from this month:

I. Marriage has never been harder — or happier, argues new book. Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune

Eli J. Finkel writes about “how marriages moved from pragmatic institutions to partnerships based on love and sentimentality” in The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work.

II. Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? Jean M. Twenge, The Atlantic

Jean M. Twenge has authored one of the longest-titled books of recent note: iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us. Take this and the above-cited article’s subtitle—More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis—and you’ll already know the gist of her message.

III. The Most Important Emotional Intelligence Quote You’ll Hear Today. Damon Brown, Inc.

Brené Brown‘s newest book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, tells readers one way Oprah Winfrey has made an impact on her. “Her advice is tacked to the wall in my study: ‘Do not think you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn’t work that way’.”

Not taken from the above article, a statement by Brown in Braving the Wilderness that’s also bound to become highly quotable: “True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.”

IV. This Stanford Professor Has a Theory on Why 2017 Is Filled With Jerks. Jessica Pressler, New York Magazine

Robert Sutton was behind the popular 2007 book The No Asshole Rule and now gives us The Asshole Survival GuideHow to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt. According to Sutton, the problem of ‘disrespectful, demeaning, and downright mean-spirited behavior’ is ‘worse than ever’.”

V. THE EXPERT WHO HELPED WRITE THE MENTAL DISORDERS MANUAL EXPLAINS WHY TRUMP DOESN’T HAVE ONE: Trump’s narcissism has served him well. Angela Chen, The Verge

Allen Frances‘s Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump presents his ongoing position that Trump doesn’t necessarily have a mental disorder. As he recently stated in an interview with Chen:

Trump causes enormous distress to others, but his behavior doesn’t bother himself. In fact, he gets rewarded for them, he’s not necessarily out of sync with larger society. He’s always terrific at feathering his own nest and he’s been rewarded for his world-class narcissism rather than being punished for it. Having the symptoms themselves does not constitute a mental disorder. In order to qualify as a mental disorder, the individual would have to have distress related to them.

Maybe it’s society itself that has the disorder, states Frances. From Twilight of American Sanity:

What does it say about us, that we elected someone so manifestly unfit and unprepared to determine mankind’s future? Trump is a symptom of a world in distress, not its sole cause. Blaming him for all our troubles misses the deeper, underlying societal sickness that made possible his unlikely ascent. Calling Trump crazy allows us to avoid confronting the craziness in our society—if we want to get sane, we must first gain insight about ourselves. Simply put: Trump isn’t crazy, but our society is.

Marcia Angell, MD: “In this wide-ranging and enlightening book, Allen Frances, one of America’s most distinguished psychiatrists, shows how most of the current problems facing the United States — from denial of climate change to grotesque inequality—arise from mass delusions similar to the delusions of psychiatric patients. Twilight of American Sanity leaves no topic untouched. Readers might disagree with some of his conclusions, but they will always find them provocative and well argued.”