Dec 07

Neuropsychoanalysis: Casey Schwartz Examines Emerging Field

Psychoanalysis looks at the brain from the inside out: What does it feel like to be this thing? Neuroscience looks at the brain from the outside in, measuring its behavior, investigating its physical mechanisms. Casey Schwartz, In the Mind Fields, introducing concept of neuropsychoanalysis

Casey Schwartz has studied both psychoanalysis and neuroscience, and in her new book In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis she investigates how these two fields might intersect effectively. Her publisher:

Schwartz discovered that neuroscience and psychoanalysis are engaged in a conflict almost as old as the disciplines themselves. Many neuroscientists, if they think about psychoanalysis at all, view it as outdated, arbitrary, and subjective, while many psychoanalysts decry neuroscience as lacking the true texture of human experience. With passion and humor, Schwartz explores the surprising efforts to find common ground.

Kirkus Reviews summarizes the author’s approach:

After a bow to Freud and his followers, Schwartz focuses on two men: Mark Solms, both a psychoanalyst and a neurosurgeon, coiner of the term ‘neuropsychoanalysis,’ translator of Freud, and founder of the International Neuropsychoanalysis Society; and David Silvers, not a psychiatrist but a practicing analyst, who has as a patient an aphasic stroke victim—i.e., a man who has lost the ability to speak. Schwartz follows Solms’ working and writing lives and includes some fascinating stories about his experiences and those of others working with brain-damaged men and women. She then connects with Silvers, who has been treating a man seemingly unreachable by psychoanalytic technique, a man whose case seems to offer the possibility of a bridge between psychoanalytic ideas and neuroscientific ones.

One of Schwartz’s main conclusions: “…(H)owever unlikely the idea, however unimaginable the design, neuropsychoanalysis may offer something valuable: a sketch of inner life where creativity isn’t simply explained as patterns of electrical waves, sadness as the number you circle between one and nine, and love confused with the mating habits of prairie voles.”

To read the excerpt from which this quote was taken, see this link at The Atlantic.

Selected Reviews

Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree: “For too long, we’ve had to choose between the mind and the brain, between a psychodynamic vocabulary and a neuroscientific one. In this generous, insightful, witty book, Casey Schwartz looks at the steep cost of that dichotomous construct. Her meticulous reporting and lucid reasoning resolve seemingly intractable dialectics with the sheer grace of common sense.”

Publishers Weekly: “Though clearly knowledgeable, Schwartz is honest about her moments of indecision, further humanizing the narrative—indeed, the book ends with more questions yet to be answered rather than with concrete conclusions. Schwartz demonstrates the value of embracing confusion and the limitations of one’s knowledge while exploring the vast expanses of the mind.”

Scott Stossel, author of My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind: In the Mind Fields is a brilliant and enthralling exploration of a scientific and philosophical conundrum that has preoccupied thinkers from Descartes to Freud to Oliver Sacks: the relationship between brain and mind. Weaving together intellectual history, science reporting, bits of memoir, and a deep reservoir of humane sympathy, Casey Schwartz brings readers along with her on a bracing quest to bridge psychoanalysis and neuroscience. A work of remarkable brio, wisdom, and wit, with gems of insight shimmering on nearly every page.”

Mar 17

“Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” (A Preview)

Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian is that rare movie that apparently has a positive representation of a therapist, in this case a real person, George Devereux, an anthropologist and psychoanalyst who in 1951 wrote a book, Reality and Dream, on which writer/director Arnaud Desplechin based his script.

Also rare in filmdom: making day to day therapy sessions between two main characters the main story.

The Sessions with Jimmy P.

Mark Adams, Screen Daily: “The pair start to spend an hour together each day, with Devereux gently probing into Jimmy’s past and allowing him to gradually talk about his attitude towards women (and his mother and sister in particular), incidents of his past and what happened to him during the war. Jimmy still veers between mental blackouts and moments of lucidity, while at the same time the relationship provides Devereux with a solid project and a much-needed sense of place.”

Matt Zoller Seitz, “…Jimmy and his analyst…form a great movie friendship, unlike any you’ve seen. Its specialness is rooted equally in the men’s culturally specific yet emotionally similar experiences (they’re both sensitive, wryly funny cultural outsiders) and in the old-school Freudian ‘talking cure’ that they pursue together.”

Richard Brody, The New Yorker: “It’s not giving anything away to say that there’s no big breakthrough in the treatment, no thunderous resolution. True to Devereux’s free-flowing sense of what constitutes a successful treatment, the movie doesn’t give in to the kinds of epiphanies (as in, say, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Spellbound’) that reduce psychoanalysis to a search for a combination to open a lock.”

The Patient, Jimmy Piccard (Benicio Del Toro)

He’s a Native American Blackfoot World War II veteran who sustained a head injury that’s been healed—or has it? This man’s experiencing a myriad of symptoms that include severe headaches, dizziness, hearing loss, temporary blindness, and recurring nightmares. It’s in the Topeka Military Hospital in Kansas in 1948 that Jimmy P. gets referred to Devereux due to his specialization in Native American culture.

Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter:

…Happily, breaking another tedious film cliché, he doesn’t resist his doctor in the least and analysis rolls on briskly. Yes, there’s a traumatic Oedipal moment when little Jimmy sees his recently widowed mother in bed with another man, and on another occasion he gets a thrashing after being caught playing in the hay with a little girl. Then there’s the war and the accident in which he suffered a severe head injury. But ultimately, his greatest trauma involves his own mistreatment of his mistress and the daughter she bore him. Once that guilt is peeled away, a whole other level opens up of repressed anger over the prejudice and discrimination he is subject to as a Native American – another source of his blinding headaches.

The Shrink, George Devereux (Mathieu Amalric)

According to the the Associated Press, Amalric has said that before playing this part psychoanalysis “frightened me so much that I rejected it, because my parental culture that told me maybe psychoanalysis had to do with weakness.” Afterward he felt that he’d found “a world of adventure: of research, of physical danger and how the body and the mind expand”; he calls the movie “a manifesto for psychoanalysis.”

Deborah YoungHollywood Reporter: “…(H)e’s the analyst everyone dreams of – penetrating, sympathetic, every word a direct hit. For once the dreary, cinematically overused drama of transference takes a back seat to pure intellectual detective work as he sets up a relaxed dialogue with his patient.”

Overall Reviews

Mark Adams, Screen Daily: “Each is escaping aspects of their past, and the relationship turns out to be therapeutic for both men. Jimmy comes to terms with the issues that lie at the core of his problems, while Devereux relaxes into the environment, and finds a brief bit of happiness when his is visited by his married lover Madeleine (a delightful performance by Gina McKee).”

Matt PatchesHollywood Reporter: “A milestone case in the world of ethnographic psychoanalysis may not sound like fodder for great drama, but it’s all about who’s the ‘psycho’ and who’s conducting the ‘analysis.’ In the case of Jimmy P…(t)hese guys could read the phone book and make it interesting.”

Scott Foundas, Variety: …(F)ew films have focused so intently on the minutiae of psychoanalysis as Desplechin does here — an uncompromising strategy that will undoubtedly distance some viewers while drawing others further in.”

The Movie Trailer

Apr 11

Therapist Self-Disclosure: David Treadway, Linda B. Sherby

Yesterday’s post addressed the issue of therapist self-disclosure. Today’s introduces two books by therapists who reveal intimate details about their lives and work.

I. David Treadway, Home Before Dark: A Family Portrait of Cancer and Healing

This 2009 memoir about David Treadway‘s cancer diagnosis includes contributions from his wife Kate, who’s a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, and his two young adult sons, Michael and Sam.

Whitney Scott, Booklist, describes this joint effort:

Psychologist David Treadway reacted with shock when diagnostics revealed his stage 4 lymphoma; he was ‘riddled with cancer.’ But the journey ‘in two parallel worlds’—of medicine and marriage—that his wife Kate, a doctor in the hospital treating him, underwent most distinguishes their account of catastrophic illness initially written, at David’s urging, by Kate and their sons Michael and Sam in 2006, the first anniversary of David’s diagnosis, when recurrence and bone marrow treatment likely loomed. Struggling with seeing David ‘thin, tired and hairless,’ nerves frayed, but healthy new beginnings came, too. As the family responded to the ongoing crisis, Kate came to see that David’s ‘ability to detach,’ about which she complained in the past, ‘has gotten him through . . . and allowed him to be there for me’; Sam found inner fortitude to face his fear of loss; Michael marked it as his ‘true entrance into adulthood’; and David realized ‘we are all fighting a great battle.’ Many others—readers—will take strength and solace from their account.

The book trailer is below:

Some Reviews 

Jeffrey Zaslow, coauthor of The Last Lecture: “In the Treadway family, we can’t help but see ourselves. Their beautifully told story is achingly personal but filled with reminders of how honesty, acceptance, humor and love can bind us together.”

Pauline W. Chen, New York Times‘ columnist and author of Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality: “[A] memoir about illness that is remarkable in its honesty and extraordinary in its breadth. I wept, cheered, and even laughed out loud. …[A] courageous and exceptional book.”

II. Linda B. Sherby, Love and Loss in Life and in Treatment

The second book about therapist self-disclosure is by psychoanalyst Linda B. Sherby, who’s written about the grief process related to the death of her husband George. From the description on her website:

Writing as both a psychoanalyst and a widow, Sherby makes it possible for the reader to gain an inside view of the emotional experience of being an analyst, while also offering unique insights on how to live through grief. Sherby shows how patients’ and therapists’ independent experiences of love and loss, as well as the love and loss that they experience in the treatment room, intermingle and interact. The result is unique, even unprecedented, in its focus on the analyst’s current life situation and how that necessarily affects both the analyst and the treatment.

Before its publication, Sherby anticipated the possibility of receiving negative reactions from other analysts regarding her self-disclosure (see the Q&A on her site).

…(S)ome people in the field will condemn me for revealing as much as I have, but this book served more than one purpose for me. Yes, it was important for me to demonstrate how a therapist’s present life circumstances affects the therapeutic relationship because I do believe that particular aspect of the patient/therapist interaction has been largely ignored. But the other purpose of this book was to memorialize my husband and what I thought and still think was the unique relationship between us and there was no way I could do that without talking about him and about myself.

Right off the bat (in the Foreword), one psychoanalyst, Donnell Stern, offers high praise for Sherby’s ability to interweave the personal and professional into her memoir:

With enormous generosity of spirit, she has allowed us to know everything she can think to tell us about her life with her husband, George, whose illness and eventual death is the thread along which the pearls of her narrative are strung. As Linda works with her patients, we understand how it is for her; we feel what it is like for her to live her life, to love and lose George. It’s indelible. Linda gives it to us straight and to the heart. All of us have been there, even if we have never lost a spouse. We have lived with heartache while we continued to want to help other people with everything we had. But never has anyone come back from a place like that with a narrative that braids the life and the work together as Linda has done here.

And at least two other analysts offer up positive reviews:

Theodore J. Jacobs, psychoanalyst: “This is a book of rare beauty. Linda Sherby renders her inner experiences both of love and profound grief and their impact on her patients with a richness and complexity that is the mark of a truly gifted writer. This deeply affecting book makes a valuable contribution, not only to psychoanalysis, but to literature as well.” 

Sandra Buechler, psychoanalyst: “In poignant, accessible prose, Sherby shares her passionate love and grief as a wife, and her tender concern as a therapist. Sherby’s extraordinary self portrait connects us with our own fiercest joys and sorrows, and both the pleasure and pain of remembering those we have truly loved.” 

Jan 29

Movies As Therapy: One Therapist Who Uses This Tool

Movies are as old as psychoanalysis. So if I were to put you or anyone else on a couch and say, ‘Tell me your favorite movies,’ it would be a way of psychoanalyzing you. 
Andrew Sarris

Although I’m not sure I follow the logic in the above statement, I do believe that long-time movie critic Andrew Sarris, who died last year at the age of 83, had a point about favorite movies reflecting one’s inner world.

In a 1998 interview with David Walsh, Sarris elaborated further on this theme:

Film has everything. I think it’s an emotional medium, above all. Anyone who depends on movies to educate himself, I think, is on the wrong track. What you derive from a film depends very much on what you bring to it. It allows you to focus emotionally on things you already know. It brings things to a point. Like music. Film is the art to which all other arts aspire. It produces the most sublime emotions.

And because movies do so well at bringing out various emotions, it’s true that they can be useful as an adjunct to therapy. One therapist who actually specializes in this is Dr. Birgit Wolz, who wrote E-Motion Picture Magic: A Movie Lover’s Guide to Healing and Transformation (2004). She conceptualizes three types of cinema therapy:

  1. Evocative: when a client raises the topic of having seen a certain film, Wolz can look at what the characters or scenes evoke in him or her
  2. Prescriptive: based on a client’s presenting problems, a certain movie may be prescribed as a learning tool
  3. Cathartic: when a certain film enables a client with blocked emotions to laugh or cry or both

Wolz explains these in more depth in the following videotaped interview:

Her website offers a lot of good stuff, including guidelines for film-watchers and for therapists, special articles and links, movie reviews, and a list of films organized by the types of issues they represent.

Likewise, you can click on the Zur Institute website for a comprehensive list offered jointly by Wolz and psychologist Dr. Ofer Zur.

Oct 31

“High Anxiety”: Suspense and Silliness By Mel Brooks

“High Anxiety”—as in intense fear-ridden anticipation? As in what many felt recently as the powerful storm Sandy approached? As in what many feel about the upcoming elections?

Or how about, as in an old movie? High Anxietya 1977 comedy directed by and starring Mel Brooks, parodies the genre of suspense films made by Alfred Hitchcock and takes place mainly in a mental hospital. Although back in the day it wasn’t highly rated by the critics, many viewers over the years have disagreed.

What we know at the start is that the head of a psychiatric facility has gone missing. Wikipedia describes the rest of the plot: “Brooks’ character, Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke, arrives as new administrator of The Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous to discover some suspicious happenings. When he’s framed for murder, Dr. Thorndyke must confront his own anxiety disorder, ‘high anxiety,’ in order to prove his innocence.”

What exactly is this high anxiety that afflicts the esteemed psychiatrist? Exactly how it sounds—he has a fear of heights.

Who frames him for murder? Dr. Montague, a psychiatrist played by Harvey Korman, who’s in cahoots with Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman).

I saw High Anxiety when it was playing in theaters, and what stays with me the most, you ask? In the words of Ryan Gilbey, New Statesman:

When High Anxiety was released, viewers were familiar enough with the babble and buzzwords of psychoanalysis to respond instinctively to the film’s wittiest sequence, when Brooks’s speech at a psychiatric conference has to be spontaneously modified so as not to impinge upon the innocence of two young children who have joined the audience. ‘Penis envy’ becomes ‘pee-pee envy’; the womb is temporarily rechristened ‘the woo-woo.’

Pure silliness.

I won’t give it all away, but Dr. Thorndyke does eventually achieve insight regarding his high anxiety—and said insight is faux-psychoanalytically oriented, of course.

The trailer’s below: