Saturday, September 05, 2009

Aaron Beck - The Man Who Made Freud Obsolete (sort of)

When Aaron Beck was in school, psychoanalysis was the dominant perspective in therapy. But as a professional working with clients, Beck (like Albert Ellis, Albert Bandura, and others educated in the Freudian tradition) found that the Freudian approach was at best a partial truth. Beck developed cognitive therapy (also known as cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT) as a response to his experience that it was often self-talk and cognitive beliefs that caused suffering as much (or more) than anything psychoanalysis might suggest. Not only that, but cognitive therapy didn't require a lifetime of analysis.

The following article pays tribute to and explicates Beck and his theories.

From The American Scholar.

The Doctor Is IN

At 88, Aaron Beck is now revered for an approach to psychotherapy that pushed Freudian analysis aside

In the basement of Aaron Beck’s house, nine miles northwest of downtown Philadelphia, in a dimly lit, dusty, concrete-walled room dedicated to his archives, there sits a pink plastic box containing patient notes from a 40-year-old case of psychotherapy. Beck, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, has short-cropped white hair, sharp blue eyes, and, at 88, a hunched and shuffling gait. He has been a practicing psychiatrist for 59 years. Among the thousands of patients Beck has treated during this time, this case rates as persistent but uncomplicated. The patient was in his mid-40s and had a good career, a loving wife, four beautiful children, and a trove of close friends. Privately, however, he struggled with an acute tendency toward self-criticism. He was of the type that can’t help but interpret neutral events as harsh reflections on his personal worth. He was forever searching for approval, and forever anticipating disapproval.

When the patient’s treatment began—the earliest notes date from the mid-1960s—the dominant psychotherapeutic approach in the United States was psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud had made his first and only visit to this country in 1909, and in the half century that followed, his approach to mental suffering took firm hold of American psychiatry, splintering into a multitude of camps but always retaining a focus on the unconscious mind, the central feature of Freudian analysis. Beck was trained in this tradition. He was a graduate of the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Institute, and from 1950 to 1952 he worked at the Austen Riggs Center, a world-renowned psychoanalytic hospital in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Beck was an eager student. “I have come to the conclusion,” he wrote to a colleague in 1958, “that there is one conceptual system that is peculiarly suitable for the needs of the medical student and physician-to-be: Psychoanalysis.”

Fewer than 10 years later, Beck’s case notes betray none of this confident enthusiasm and not a hint that he had applied his training to his patient’s complaints. In the treatment, nothing analytic has survived. Whereas psychoanalysis uncovers deeply buried impulses, Beck is interested in those thoughts that lie barely concealed beneath conscious awareness. Whereas psychoanalysis uncovers the historical motives behind troubling emotions, Beck scrutinizes the present-tense logic of his patient’s emotions. And whereas psychoanalysis is ultimately pessimistic, seeing disappointment as the price for existence, Beck’s approach is upbeat, conveying a sense that, with hard work and determined rationality, one could learn not only to tolerate but to stamp out neurotic tendencies.

The patient is none other than Beck himself. The notes, and the self-therapy they trace, date from a period of his life when he was working, to the disdain of his analytic colleagues and the indifference of most everyone else, to develop the system of psycho­therapy for which he is now revered in the field of mental health. Beck is the inventor of cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), whose guiding principle is that the driving forces of mental dysfunction are habitual, unrealistic, self-defeating ideas—“automatic thoughts,” in the clinical parlance—that, like tinted lenses, color one’s perceptions of, and therefore one’s reactions to, the external world. Today CBT is the most well-funded, deeply researched, popular, and rapidly growing psychotherapy in existence. It is taught in nearly every clinical psychology and psychiatric residency program in America, and it is the cornerstone of a new, $117 million program implemented by the U.S. Army to foster mental resiliency in soldiers. Beck, in turn, is today arguably the most well-known psychotherapist alive. His personal appearance and style—high-pitched speaking voice, open New England vowels (he was born and raised in Providence), and signature bow tie—are as eminently recognizable to those in the profession as the Freudian cigar and beard. In 2006, Beck won the Lasker Award, the most prestigious scientific honor in the United States, often referred to as the “American Nobel.” In 2007, he was short-listed for the actual Nobel, in physiology or medicine, although unlike every laureate in the 105-year history of the prize, he has never conducted biological research or invented a physiological or biological tool.

Beck’s enormous success stems in large part from CBT’s pragmatism and efficiency, features as well suited to the age of neuroscience as Freud’s work was well suited to the age of modernism. In contrast to the slow-going passivity of analysis, which traditionally unfurls over the course of years, the cognitive-behavioral therapist operates via a sort of laser-guided rationality. He begins by identifying the thoughts responsible for a patient’s distress in specific situations, and proceeds by questioning those thoughts to uncover the more general “core beliefs” that lie underneath. If a patient reports that he felt a pang of anxiety when his wife failed to kiss him on her way out of the house, for example, the therapist might question the patient until he uncovers the precipitating thought, “Maybe she doesn’t love me anymore.” If the patient can be led to question the evidence for or against this thought, and perhaps identify a more logical explanation for the missed kiss (“She was just running late”), the anxiety should decrease. A pattern of such anxious thoughts might uncover the core belief, “I’m not worthy of love,” which, if similarly chipped away at with logic, should make the patient feel lastingly better. Often, this very rapidly happens. In run-of-the-mill cases of depression and anxiety, the complaints for which most people seek out therapy, patients usually report a lessening of their symptoms after only 12 to 16 sessions.

The power of this approach has led it to be adopted, in one form or another, by a vast number of mental-health professionals. “Most psychotherapists, consciously or unconsciously, are doing a lot of the things that Beck pushed,” says the Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel. “They’re more directly involved, they’re giving more suggestions, they’re pointing out thought processes. Whether they call it Beckian or not, and whether or not they’re doing other things as well, they’re doing Beckian kind of stuff.” And yet, as Kandel and others are quick to point out, Beck’s revolutionary impact does not emanate from his development of CBT, but from the methodical way in which he developed it. “The crucial point is, Beck took a form of psychotherapy and he did a series of systematic, empirical studies that showed that it’s more effective than placebo, and that it’s as effective as antidepressant drugs in mild and moderate depression,” Kandel says. “And he wrote a manual for the therapy, a cookbook, so that others could do studies as well.” His rigorous, scientific, data-driven approach to psychotherapy represented, Kandel says, a “major, major advance” for the profession.

To understand why the introduction of scientific standards into the field of psychotherapy was groundbreaking, it is necessary to know what the scene looked like prior to Beck’s arrival. “From the early 1900s through the 1950s, people didn’t know what worked in psychotherapy and what didn’t,” says Donald Freedheim, professor emeritus of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and editor of A History of Psychotherapy. “There was a rule of thumb: about a third of patients got better, about a third got worse, and about a third stayed the same.” Without a reliable gauge of efficacy, therapeutic notoriety was conferred on those clinicians who, by sheer force of personality and persuasiveness of rhetoric, were able to attract the most acolytes, adherents, and patients. This “guru model” was precisely what Beck found unacceptable, and what he has dedicated himself to dismantling. He hasn’t been the only person to insist that psychotherapy rest on a foundation of replicable data—he wasn’t even the first—but he has been the position’s most dogged, visible, sophisticated, and influential proponent.

As a consequence, psychotherapy has been moving steadily from a model that is “eminence-based,” as a rueful saying has it, to one that is “evidence-based”—a powerful watchword in the field. Over the past several years, federal and state agencies in the United States and government-based health-care systems abroad have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars to disseminate psychotherapies for which there is a solid core of scientific evidence, while insurance companies have been encouraging the clinicians within their systems to practice “empirically supported therapies” (EST) above others. In short, more and more, Freud’s world of subterranean drives is becoming Beck’s world of scientific accountability.

Psychotherapeutic leaders have always tended toward the eccentric and extravagant. Carl Jung, in the words of Psychotherapy Networker, “lit his farts on camping trips, danced with tribal people in Africa . . . , and installed his mistress in his house (breaking his wife’s heart)”; Irvin D. Yalom, a pioneer of group psychotherapy, favors fedoras and beatnik turtlenecks and published a best-selling novel featuring Nietzsche; Albert Ellis, the so-called “Lenny Bruce of psychotherapy,” routinely yelled at his patients and was ousted from his own institute.

Compared to these figures—compared to almost anyone—Beck is modest, meticulous, and professorial. “Other than his bow ties, Tim just isn’t flamboyant at all,” Robert DeRubeis, the chair of psychology at Penn, told me. (Beck’s friends call him Tim, a diminutive of Temkin, his middle name.) “He’s not larger than life like a lot of other psychotherapeutic leaders.” When Beck delivers speeches, they are generally composed of scientific information and theoretical propositions, as if he were rehearsing the draft of a forthcoming journal article, which he often is. In conversation, he exhibits an expert therapist’s facility for patient listening—cocked head, furrowed brow, dedicated gaze—and when he talks, he does so meticulously, qualifying general statements, backing up his claims with evidence, and avoiding speculation. In January, during a long interview in his sunny, book-filled home, I asked Beck whether he had actively avoided taking on the role of . . . “the Buddha?” he interrupted me. “I definitely don’t want that role. And I’m still researching things out, I still have research grants. Whatever I say is always based on empirical study.”

By most accounts, Beck’s desire for precision is deeply rooted in his personality, so that the great mystery of his biography would appear to be why he ever pursued psychoanalysis, which for all the richness of its ideas never had much in the way of data to back it up. After graduating from Yale Medical School, in 1946, Beck specialized in neurology, a discipline whose procedures he found attractively exact. But the hospital where he was assigned had a shortage of psychiatry residents, and his superiors instructed him to do a six-month rotation in that field. It was a terrible fit. To Beck, psychoanalysis’s emphasis on invisible psychic forces seemed soft-minded and esoteric, more a faith than a medical discipline. Yet this very attribute also lent the field an alluring power. “The psychoanalytic mystique was overwhelming,” he told me. “It was a little bit like the evangelical movement.” Everywhere he turned, there were brilliant minds spouting brilliant-sounding theories. The psychoanalysts, whom he began to befriend, “had theories for everything. They could understand psychosis, schizophrenia, neuroses. Every single condition that came in, they could get a good, sound—apparently sound—psychoanalytic interpretation for.” When Beck questioned whether these interpretations had evidence to back them up, his friends suggested that unconscious resistances were preventing him from realizing the truth. Outnumbered and drawn by the intellectual wattage of his colleagues, he gave in.

Beck’s transformation was thoroughgoing but idiosyncratic. He read deeply into psychoanalytic literature, encouraged his friends to take to the couch, and underwent an absorbingly enjoyable two-year training analysis. (“How could you go wrong lying down on a couch for five hours a week and talking about yourself?”) The dominant form his passion took, however, was a desire for evidence, evidence that would prove to those who had not yet seen the light that psychoanalysis was valid. That he had no training in research and that no rigorous scientific studies of psychoanalysis had been conducted before does not appear to have daunted him. He simply tracked down academic scientists at Penn, where he was hired in 1956, who could teach him about good experimental design, and went looking for a theory to verify.

He settled on depression, which psychoanalysis attributed to a process known as “retroflected hostility.” In short, a person’s anger toward a loved one is deemed unacceptable by the unconscious mind, blocked by a defense mechanism from upwelling into consciousness, and redirected inward. (Still shorter: depressives suffer because they have a need to suffer.) Beck theorized that this taboo hostility could be found, and the overlying theory proven, by scrutinizing the content of patients’ dreams—Freud’s “royal road to the unconscious.” His study was rudimentary. He compared the dreams of patients who were depressed with the dreams of patients who were not.

First study, first failure. The dreams of the depressed patients weren’t characterized by hostility—in fact, they were less hate-filled than the dreams of the nondepressed—but by deprivation, disappointment, hopelessness: exactly what they felt in real life. In analytic terms, this was a perplexing finding, even downright invalidating. But Beck’s faith was strong, and he contrived a way to bend the results to his belief. The theorized hostility, he reasoned, must simply be more deeply buried than anyone had thought. It must manifest itself obliquely, in the form of unpleasant dreams, suicidal thoughts, and self-deprecation: a systemic masochism.

Beck might have stopped here, and become one of the many innovative but fundamentally traditional analysts that the profession generated throughout its heyday. But the scientists whom he’d turned to for his experimental education spurred him on by noting that all he’d proved so far was that depressives suffered—a monumentally mundane discovery—not that they had a need to suffer. Challenged, Beck devised a set of more empirical experiments based on the premise that depressives would actively court unpleasant experiences. In one study, a researcher subtly expressed approval and disapproval based on the types of words a patient chose from a multiple-choice questionnaire. Beck had a harder time accommodating the results of these experiments to his faith. Rather than seeking out failure, the patients sought out encouragement. They seemed to hunger for improvement. It was, he told me, “the first crack in the shell.”

The second crack, when it happened, split everything wide open. For years, Beck had been detecting, in the free-associative monologues of his analysands, a stream of thought that seemed increasingly consequential. He usually describes this discovery by telling about a promiscuous young woman whom he had been treating for more than a year at the University of Pennsylvania clinic, and whose habit it was to spend her sessions describing her lurid sexual encounters in great detail while Beck sat impassively in a chair behind her, taking notes. At the close of a typical session one afternoon, Beck asked his patient, in classic analytic style, “How do you feel?”

“Very anxious, doctor,” she replied.

Of course, Beck told her. That was because she was being forced to confront her deepest sexual impulses. When these impulses rose to her consciousness, breaking through her ego’s defense systems, they caused anxiety.

“You’re right,” she said. “That’s brilliant.” But she sounded tentative. Beck told her so.

“Actually,” she said, “I was afraid I was boring you.”

Beck was surprised. Fear of boring one’s analyst is not uncommon, but this patient had never mentioned it before. He asked her how often she thought she was boring.

“Oh, all the time,” she said. “I think it when I’m here with you, and I think it when I’m with everyone else.”

This was nothing short of revelatory. As engaging as his patients’ monologues could be, and as much emphasis as analytic doctrine placed on them, it was their mundane, reflexive, almost forgotten thoughts that now seemed to hold the true explanatory power. In this patient, for instance, the insidious belief “I am boring” explained why she slept around (afraid that she had nothing else to offer, she jumped into bed), why she wove dramatic stories in session (anything else might seem tedious), and why she was anxious. Once Beck realized this, he began to uncover similar thoughts in all his patients, as well as in his friends, his family, and himself. Our daily lives, he concluded, unwind to the accompaniment of a quiet but constant self-talk, through which all external events are filtered.

When Beck pieced together his experimental and clinical findings, in the early 1960s, he drew two conclusions about psychoanalysis. The first was that it was cruelly glacial. Psychoanalysis takes years, at the end of which the analysand typically feels much wiser about the roots of her misery but no less miserable. By homing in on his patients’ self-defeating thoughts, Beck found that he could alleviate symptoms in as few as 10 sessions. And the progress stuck. The second conclusion he drew was that psychoanalysis was a theory built on sand. Beck had been duped. “I concluded that psychoanalysis was a faith-based therapy,” he has said, “and that if I was going to practice or teach therapy, it had to be empirically driven.”

Beck’s turn against psychoanalysis wasn’t aggressive; he’s never had much of a taste for professional combat. Still, his foray into clinical research hardly ingratiated him to his colleagues. Even before he left the fold, the powerful American Psychoanalytic Institute rejected his membership application on the grounds that his mere desire to conduct scientific studies signaled that he’d been improperly analyzed. (The decision still has the capacity to make him angry: “It was just the height of stupidity . . . total thought control.”) And his fellow psychiatrists, after he left, treated him with an air of pitying condescension. “I was considered one of the deviates,” he says. “People used to say, ‘Poor Tim. He’s a good guy, he just needs more time on the couch.’”

Yet Beck was not intellectually homeless. By the early 1960s, academic psychologists had already accepted the idea that basic science could yield clinical insights—specifically, that studies of how rats learned and unlearned fear could be used to treat anxiety and panic in humans. These thinkers embraced Beck as an ally. Even more, they embraced him as an asset. Much of the public viewed behavior therapy, as the treatment that grew out of animal learning theory is called, as cold and unfeeling, an icy manipulation of stimulus and response. With his analytic background and interest in how the human mind processes information, Beck brought a much-needed warmth and nuance to the movement. He also brought a medical doctor’s access to large clinical populations and an uncommon talent for feeding the raw, messy data of psychic suffering into the clarifying machine of medical research. In 1972, Beck was invited to speak at a national conference of behavior therapists; accustomed to indifference, he brought 30 copies of a handout. Hundreds of people packed the room. Before long, behavior therapy had morphed into cognitive-behavior therapy, the lexical order reflecting a hierarchy of influence that still reigns today.

Beck’s alliance with the behaviorists proved both a clinical and a scientific boon. From them he borrowed the ideas that a therapist should carefully structure sessions and evaluate a patient’s progress as he proceeds; toward the second of these ends, he developed several patient questionnaires to measure the waxing and waning of symptoms over the course of therapy. Meanwhile, highly skilled young researchers flocked to Beck’s evocatively titled Mood Clinic, a leaky, decrepit set of offices with tattered chairs in the now-defunct Philadelphia General Hospital. (“You can do therapy in a barn” is one of Beck’s characteristically pragmatic sayings.) In just a few years, the setup had yielded a study that markedly raised the standards of research in psychotherapy, and did more to make Beck’s name in the field than anything before.

At the time, psychotherapists were beleaguered by the rise of psychotropic drugs, whose manufacturers had the vast resources needed to conduct large-scale clinical studies. Beck’s audacious gambit was to take on this balance of power directly, using what is still the gold standard of biomedical research, the randomized controlled trial, in which two or more treatments are rigorously pitted against one another. The study, which was published in 1977, assigned 41 depressed patients to 12 weeks of either CBT or imipramine, the best antidepressant of the day. In the end, the patients who’d received CBT were less symptomatic, less likely to have dropped out of treatment, and, upon follow-up, less likely to have slipped back into depression. It was the first time in history a psychotherapy had been shown to be more effective than drugs.

“It took an act of courage, I think, to subject his ideas to empirical scrutiny,” Ruth Greenberg, one of Beck’s earliest employees, told me. “I know it took courage, and that he was scared of it. But he did it.” She added: “He’s really a kind of ruthless empiricist.” Of course, the problem with ruthless empiricism, as opposed to charismatic boosterism, is that if you live by data you can die by data. In studying the effects of psychotherapy on depression the variables are after all vast, even endless, and the tiniest alteration in study design or slip-up in delivery can fundamentally alter the outcome.

Beck learned this lesson well in 1985, when the first results of a multi-site, multi-million-dollar trial of CBT for depression, organized and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, began to trickle out. That the NIMH would even be interested in such a study was a testament to the growing prominence of Beck’s ideas. But he was skeptical. He felt that there were not enough experienced therapists to perform so large an experiment, and he withdrew his support. “It reminded me of the song of the Valkyrie,” he told me. “You can hear the drum beats, you know there’s gonna be disaster.” When the numbers were crunched, CBT was shown to be no better than drugs for mild depression, worse than drugs for severe depression, and without any real lasting effect.

The most damning of the NIMH results were published in 1989. And yet, since then CBT has only increased in popularity and influence. There are three main reasons for this.

First, a commitment to scientific standards of validity requires that negative as well as positive findings be considered contingent, just another drop in the empirical ocean, and Beck’s ever-growing legion of trainees, and trainees of trainees, have been adept at the act of scientific reconsideration. In 1990, a paper published in the Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology reported evidence of a clear relationship between the competence of the psychotherapists who participated in the NIMH study and their success in treating patients, confirming Beck’s early suspicions. In 1999, DeRubeis, the psychologist at Penn, compared the NIMH findings with three other studies of CBT versus medication for severe depression and found that in the aggregate, CBT came out on top. And in 2005, in a pair of widely publicized papers in the Archives of General Psychiatry, DeRubeis and Steve Hollon, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University, reported the results of a large clinical trial that compared CBT to a placebo and the popular antidepressant Paxil in patients with depression. In the short term, CBT was shown to be as effective as medication and, presumably because it served as a kind of psychological inoculation, it guarded against relapse 69 percent of the time, as opposed to 24 percent for medication.

Second, the NIMH study only raised questions about CBT for depression, and even before the results were published Beck was expanding his model into other areas of psychopathology. Freud launched psychoanalysis outward, moving from the neuroses to religion, humor, and the strictures of civilization. Except for an ambitious 1999 book, Prisoners of Hate, which attempted, without much impact, to apply CBT to ethnic conflict and genocide, Beck has cleaved to the pathological plane of experience. His method has been unapologetically linear: choose a new disorder or problem, work out how thoughts and beliefs influence its development and perpetuation, tweak the therapy to apply to the new problem, write a detailed treatment manual, do research, publish a book. There are now studies that show CBT’s effectiveness in treating anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, anorexia, bulimia, and schizophrenia, as well as back pain, colitis, hypertension, chronic fatigue syndrome, marital distress, anger, and overeating. Beck has admitted, “I feel like a snake-oil salesman sometimes when people say, ‘What can it cure?’ and I reply, ‘What can’t it help?’”

Third, this accretion of data has spurred an insistence among the mental-health establishment that treatment decisions be based on solid scientific evidence, and this has in turn cemented CBT’s reputation as the most research-driven psychotherapy in existence. Indeed, the first formal expression of the “empirically supported therapies” movement—a 1993 task force report of a division of the American Psychological Association—was born out of a frustration that although scores of useful studies had been conducted, little of the resulting information had trickled down to psychotherapists in the field. As a remedy, the task force set out to develop a concise list of therapies that science had shown to be effective for specific disorders. In spirit, at least, the project was ecumenical: the task force members came from a range of theoretical backgrounds, including psychoanalytic, and the only allegiance the report avowed was a “commitment to empiricism.” But since the overwhelming majority of sophisticated clinical trials in the literature studied CBT, this ecumenicism was rhetorical. On the final list, 14 of 18 therapies given the gold stamp “well established” were cognitive behavioral. Cognitive-behavior therapy and “empirically supported therapies” were essentially synonymous.

Not surprisingly, psychotherapists who did not count themselves in the cognitive-behavioral camp weren’t pleased. Newly bristling under the thumb of managed care, they charged that the report was a devious attempt to convince insurance companies to fund only short-term treatments such as Beck’s. Others protested, more high-mindedly, that only philistines thought of psychotherapeutic change as something that could be measured, as though one were studying ferns or rocks and not the infinite human mind. (One indignant observer proclaimed that a therapist is “a disciplined improvisational artist, not a manual-driven technician.”) Still others pointed to their own scientific analyses that suggested that, for all the data gathered about specific therapies, there is no meaningful difference between types of treatment. In their view, the true engines of recovery are “nonspecific factors,” in particular the bond forged between therapist and patient.

The contentiousness sparked by the report has scarcely died down in the years since it was published. But, then, neither have efforts to implement the report’s findings and updates to those findings. In the past eight years, dozens of states have initiated programs to train mental-health professionals in empirically supported psychotherapies. In 2001, Congress created the National Child Trauma Stress Network, funded at more than $30 million a year, to disseminate empirically supported therapies to traumatized children and their families. Since 2005, the Veterans Administration, the closest thing America so far has to a nationalized healthcare system, has allocated more than $250 million a year to train therapists in ESTs in an effort to cope with the influx of traumatized veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. All of these programs highlight CBT. The Army’s new resiliency program, meanwhile, will train more than one million active-duty soldiers, reservists, members of the National Guard, civilian employees, and military family members in Beck-inspired methods.

In England, the empirically supported therapies movement now benefits from full governmental support. In 2007, the British government announced it would be spending close to $300 million to train and employ 3,600 additional psychotherapists, primarily in CBT. This official endorsement has proved a powerful incentive for therapists not historically predisposed to empirical research to prove that what they do is valid. Peter Fonagy, one of England’s leading psychoanalysts and chief executive of the Anna Freud Centre, has called on his colleagues to end their “splendid isolation” from the mainstream and to adopt “a scientific attitude that celebrates the value of the replication of observations rather than their uniqueness.”

Beck keeps close watch on these developments, as he has throughout most of his career, from home, a bright clapboard colonial surrounded by a pale wooden fence. He operates from there, as he always has, like a general at headquarters—phoning instructions to his subordinates in the field, holding conference calls with foreign allies, drawing up bold plans for new projects, new disorders to conquer. His excursions from base occur less frequently than they once did, but one appointment he invariably keeps is a semi-regular meeting not far from his house at a training institute that holds his name, where he conducts a full session, broadcast on closed-circuit television, with a difficult or illuminating case. One late February afternoon, I was allowed to attend.

The client on the docket was a middle-aged woman who lived alone with her young son. As a child, she had been sexually assaulted; she had a string of failed relationships; her career had stalled; and, the previous November, her family had forced her to go to the hospital in reaction to a bout of aggressiveness and insomnia. “She still had fears that, based on a whim, they could commit her and take her son,” read a brief handed out to the assembled trainees.

The session was broadcast on a blank wall, the image small and fuzzy at the edges; the patient was equally anxious (“You’re big in the psychology field, so I’m a little bit nervous,” she told Beck) and brimming with excitement. When Beck asked her what she wanted to talk about, she responded, “God. And how God fits into psychology.” Tenderly, Beck coaxed her toward a more modest set of discussion topics. Together they assembled a list of five: her relationship with her son, her relationship with her family, her relationships with men, her dissatisfaction with her career, and her insomnia.

It was an ambitious slate to tackle in 50 minutes, but then this was more master class than focused lecture, and they moved through the subjects at a steady clip using Beck’s three-pronged approach. With each topic, he drew out the patient’s troubling thoughts with gentle but pointed questions, rephrased the often muddled response into a concise statement, and opened the assertion up to rational examination. Beck calls this process “collaborative empiricism,” but, of course, it has a more ancient precedent than the formally scientific. A cousin of mine, a psychiatric resident at the University of Pennsylvania, recently said to me, “Beck is the closest thing to Socrates I’ve ever met.” What he meant by this was something many people have observed: Beck’s passion is for ferreting out only those truths logical investigation will bear, nothing more.

Fewer people have observed what naturally follows from this comparison: a dedication to logic could be the seed of your own demise. Science is progressive, and already there is evidence to suggest that there may be more effective ways to treat mental illness than by scrutinizing thoughts. There is mounting interest, for instance, in how psychopathology can be mitigated by targeting the experience of emotion, a “low road” approach stemming from basic neuroscience research that contrasts with Beck’s cognitive “high road.” And in 2006, the results of a randomized controlled trial suggested that in CBT it is not the evaluation of thoughts but the changing of behavior that is doing the real therapeutic work.

Beck probably won’t live to see the day when these challenges supplant his work. A mountain of evidence will need to be gathered before CBT’s empirical altitude can be matched. But even his challengers believe that were he to see that day, he wouldn’t dispute it. David Barlow, a prominent anxiety researcher at Boston University, says of Beck: “He’d be the first person to put forth his theory and encourage that it be adopted, but he’s always accepted other people’s attempts to innovate. If, in fact, they could support their ideas with data.”

One thing that became apparent at the February case conference was how assiduously Beck has sought to inculcate this ideal not only in his field, but in the minds of his patients. After the session was completed, he shuffled into the room for a wide-ranging discussion. “What you might have noticed,” he said, in his tinny, sharp voice, “is that the approach I took during the session was to devise a hypothesis, gather data by way of experiments, see if the data confirms the hypothesis, and if necessary form new conclusions.” He paused and glanced around the room. “In a way, it’s really quite scientific.”

~ Daniel B. Smith is the author of Muses, Madmen and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Borders of Sanity. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Granta, and The New York Times Magazine.

Tricycle - Darwin and the Buddha - Interview with Robert Wright

This is an older article from Tricycle that was was featured in the Daily Dharma quote today. Since this is a good interview, I thought I'd post the whole thing.

Darwin and the Buddha

Does compassion make evolutionary sense? Does happiness, for that matter? Tricycle editor James Shaheen interviews science writer Robert Wright on where natural selection and Buddhism meet—and don't.

One of Buddhism’s central tenets is the illusory nature of self. How does that square with evolutionary theory?
Well, commenting on the metaphysical status of the self is above my pay grade, and I’m not sure that a Darwinian perspective sheds much direct light on it. But this perspective does help to explain another, and perhaps related, illusion about the self: the “specialness of the self.” People instinctively operate under the assumption that their own happiness is more important than other people’s happiness. And that’s because we were built by natural selection, which is all about self-preservation and self-interest. So Buddhism’s emphasis on surrendering self-interest in consideration of other beings is radically opposed to Darwinian logic.

Darwin and BuddhaWhat if you consider selfless compassion as an adaptive strategy for the group?

Our capacity for compassion is indeed something that has evolved biologically, but we’re designed to deploy it in the name of Darwinian self-interest. We’re naturally compassionate toward two kinds of people. First, to our kin, who share our genes. And second, to friends who can return the favor someday. We’re not unique here. Vampire bats, for example, express reciprocal altruism, sharing blood with other bats that will later return the favor. But when a religion or philosophy counsels you to be compassionate toward people you don’t even know, it runs against the grain of Darwinian logic.

And yet, in the situation we find ourselves in today, doesn’t it come to us naturally that it’s in our self-interest to extend compassion to those beyond our local groups?
No, it doesn’t. Because to worry about what some disenchanted Muslim teenager in Pakistan is feeling right now does not come naturally in the sense of a visceral response. It does, however, make intellectual sense; the world is moving us to a point where, if only out of self-interest, we need to think about that person. One virtue of some of the religious traditions is that they have well-worked-out procedures for assisting this intellectual process. In other words, it’s one thing to realize logically that my fate is intertwined with the fate of Muslims around the world: if they’re unhappy, they’ll eventually make me unhappy. But it’s another to feel it, to look at someone and get a deep sense of fraternity with them. That’s where religious practice plays an important role. In Buddhism, there is metta meditation, in which we cultivate compassion for all sentient beings. This sort of practice is what I would consider a product of cultural evolution.

What do you mean by “cultural evolution”?
By cultural evolution I mean evolution that arises from the selective transmission of nongenetic information. That is to say, the evolution of technologies, the evolution of ideas, the evolution of political systems, religious doctrines. And, as with biological evolution, in cultural evolution there is a tendency to move in a specific - almost inevitable - direction.

In your work, you refer to that tendency as “directionality.” Can you say something about that?
Directionality in cultural evolution means that it was very likely that social complexity would grow in scope and in depth, just as biological complexity grew in many lineages—human beings as a case in point. So even back in the Stone Age, it was almost certain that the scope of social organization would grow beyond a single hunter-gatherer village. I contend that our increasingly globally organized society—certainly at the economic level, and to some extent at the political level—was very likely the outcome all along. The basic driving force was technological evolution, notably the evolution of technologies that facilitate productive interaction - technologies like writing and the printing press and the Internet, and the wheel and the sailing ship and the railroad train, and so on. And one interesting feature of this is that the fortunes of people in one part of the world become more and more correlated with the fortunes of people far, far away. In technical terms, that means we’ve arrived at a non-zero-sum relationship.

What do you mean by “non-zero-sum”?
One of the most basic aspects of the direction of human history is that it has brought people at greater and greater distances into a web of shared destiny. So that what’s good for a person in one part of the world ultimately can be good for someone in another part of the world. Or, conversely, what’s bad for someone is bad for others distantly situated. Disease spreads rapidly around the world; an economic collapse in one part of the world has a ripple effect; the discontents of people on one side of the world can turn into terrorism on the other. It serves our self-interest to concern ourselves with the welfare of people at great distances from us, people we’ll never know.

It is common for Western Buddhists to emphasize the recognition of interconnectedness. Directionality, as you describe it, seems to include a gradual awakening to this fact.
Herbert Spencer said something like, “No man can be perfectly happy until all are happy.” That’s kind of the logic that a non-zero-sum relationship drives you to. The philosopher Peter Singer wrote a book called The Expanding Circle. It’s about how, over time, we begin to realize we’re all in the same boat. Twenty-five hundred years ago, Greek members of one city-state considered members of another literally subhuman. But eventually they reached a point where they decided, No, all Greeks are human, it’s just the Persians, you know, who aren’t human. Singer points out that over time our moral considerations have become more inclusive: the circle has expanded until most of us would say that people everywhere are human beings, regardless of race, creed, or color, and that they deserve equal rights, consideration, and so on.

Why is this conclusion the necessary outcome?
In many ways, we seem to be more at odds with one another than ever. My own answer gets back to this very trend I’m talking about: that as history goes on, we find ourselves in an ever-closer interdependent relationship with people globally. Even if only selfishly, you have to concede their basic humanity. If you’re doing business with people in Japan, if they’re making your minivan, you can’t very well bomb them back into the Stone Age. I think that’s one reason why this cosmopolitan ethos is most pronounced in nations that are most embedded in a globally interdependent economy, and it’s interesting that in this way the logic of history adds a kind of pragmatic force to the moral arguments. It’s in our interest to treat one another well.

And yet people do give in to anger, destroying themselves or others; and globalization, for all its implications of interconnectedness, means that there are now global threats.
Sure. Our minds were designed to navigate the social environment of a hunter-gatherer village. That’s the context in which human evolution took place. In an environment like that, often it was in your enlightened self-interest to express rage, because it taught people to respect your sphere. Murder happened, though not very easily, and could be “adaptive” in a biological sense. But there were two features that applied then that don’t now. One was that everybody you dealt with, you could expect to deal with again. You may have noticed that often when you’re driving along in your car and somebody cuts you off, you feel rage. Unless you’re a particularly good Buddhist, you may briefly want some harm to befall that person. Right?

Now examine the logic of that outside of a hunter-gatherer environment. That person’s never going to deal with you again, so why should you teach them a lesson? What’s the good of teaching that person that you’re not to be trifled with? In a contemporary context, it’s a completely irrational reaction; it was designed for an environment in which you didn’t have these anonymous encounters. That’s one thing that’s changed since evolution.

And the other?
There weren’t guns and nuclear weapons around then. In our early environment, physically expressing rage was not as likely to lead to death—certainly not mass death—as it is today.

Considering the many thousands of years of evolution that have shaped us, if spiritual practice is designed to counter what comes “naturally,” we face quite a challenge.
Yes, and I think the scale of that challenge is something that Buddhism implicitly recognizes. Evolution designed us to pursue self-interest and get our genes into the next generation. But it did not design us to be happy. In fact, happiness is something that is designed by natural selection to evaporate. It is designed not to last but to keep you motivated. If you imagine an animal that upon having sex says, “Okay, I’m happy forever now,” that’s an animal whose genes are going to lose out to a different animal that says, “Well, that was fun, but I want to do it again, you know.” This is the reason that gratification is so fleeting, and this is something that Buddhism addresses very fundamentally. Unhappiness—suffering—is a given, and at the very heart of the Buddhist teachings. Buddhism recognizes that it is an illusion to think that the things you desire are going to bring you lasting happiness; in fact, the opposite is true. Once again we will find ourselves in the state of thirst, in the state of hunger, the state of unhappiness. If you think about it, there was a crying need for somebody to diagnose the problem, to stress that happiness is fleeting and just leaves us craving more.

DNA, Up close and personal
DNA, up close and personal

But in this way it seems that cultural evolution—which makes attempts, however successful or not, to address suffering—can find itself at odds with or countering biological evolution.
Absolutely. Or, to put a finer point on it, you might say that cultural evolution can counter the drives and imperatives that biological evolution ingrained in us. And the Buddha is an example of that. On the other hand, another thing cultural evolution can do is compound problems that biological evolution built into us. Consider drug addiction. The existence of drugs makes it so easy to attain gratification without doing any work. The problem of fleeting gratification becomes even deeper than it would be in a natural environment. Or consider the existence of refined sugar, of sweets, of junk food. I’m sure there are people who have been driven to Buddhism by the specific problem of eating junk food. This is a problem that just wouldn’t exist if we were in the hunter-gatherer environment. Cultural evolution, by catering to our desires, has created things that compound the problem that the Buddha diagnosed. Even by the time the Buddha lived, this was true. He was born to great privilege, so he had a relatively easy time gratifying his desires. And, by virtue of being born to privilege, he may have experienced the problem more acutely than others did. Nowadays, a good a number of people in America, both rich and poor, can experience the problem very profoundly. Because even poor people can buy drugs.

Or food.
Or Hostess Twinkies.

Do you think that the freedom the Buddha teaches is realistic, given the power of biological imperative?
All I can say is that biological drives sure seem strong! Speaking as someone who perennially flirts with meditation and wrestles with the problem of self-discipline, it’s no surprise that if you’re going to seriously take on the Darwinian logic built into us, you really have to turn it into a rigorous spiritual practice. One thing that struck me in learning about evolutionary psychology and writing about it is that it illuminates the human predicament. It brings you into touch not just with the addictive nature of being human but also the myriad moral and defensive cognitive biases we have, like the way we judge our rivals very unfairly. But what also struck me is that just being aware of our selfish bias does little to help correct it. That’s why there is religious practice. That’s why people spend time meditating, or go off to monasteries; they understand the challenge.

In The Moral Animal, you wryly refer to children as “those endearing little vehicles of genetic transmission.” Funny as that description is, people are reluctant to consign their love to genetic self-interest.
Of course. But I think that accepting the biological roots of our makeup, and the selfish biological imperative, is the first step in moving toward enlightenment. It’s an amazing thing when you contemplate that the very contours of your daily consciousness—what moral judgments you make, how you think about yourself—is the legacy of this ridiculous process of selective genetic transmission. Still, that is the criterion by which human nature was designed—which traits will get the most genes into the next generation. The first step toward moral enlightenment can be to acknowledge this grim reality. Including the fact that ultimately the only reason you love your kids is that they are carrying your genes. (There’s a little footnote I’d add to that: you actually can learn to love kids who aren’t carrying your genes, but it’s harder, and you have to do things to fool Mother Nature.) It may seem crass to make love sound so mechanical. But I still think that realizing the arbitrariness of your love for your children is the first step in realizing the arbitrariness of your hatred of the people you hate. Or the arbitrariness of your indifference to the people you’re indifferent to. It’s all part of the same logic.

If you consider what we face, it gives a whole new meaning to the diligence dharma teachers tell us is required.
That's right. You're trying to counteract forces that were millions of years in the making and that are still very fundamentally at the core of your being. A lot of people might consider the cold Darwinian facts to be very depressing and leave it at that. But I think that understanding them is the beginning of dealing with them positively.

Your idea of directionality implies a predestined end point. Any thoughts as to what that might be?
I don’t purport to know what the end point is, and I don’t think anything is completely predestined. But I do contend that we are at a crossroads: I’d say that we either recognize that our fate is intertwined with the fate of others around the world and act appropriately morally and politically, or we are in danger of an epic global setback. Maybe not in the sense of literally destroying every human in the world, but precipitating a major social collapse, mass death, something that would take a very long time to recover from. In any event, we certainly have been growing in the direction of interdependence. More and more, human society has the cast of a kind of superorganism. It makes more and more sense to talk about the human species as constituting a kind of global brain: if you want to think of the entire ecosystem of the earth as one organism, then we would be the cerebral tissue. Julian Huxley said that evolution can be described as the universe becoming aware of itself.

Do you see an inevitable push toward awakening?
In a sense, yes. I think once the seeds of life were planted, consciousness was essentially inevitable. Given the basic nature of natural selection, you are likely, sooner or later, to wind up with an intelligent species that’s intelligent roughly in the way that we are, capable of reflecting on its environment and reflecting on itself. Natural selection seems to be a process that by its nature builds vehicles for ever richer forms of consciousness. That alone is spiritually suggestive. It suggests that maybe there’s some larger purpose here that we are in the process of realizing, that we’re a manifestation of. And as for what that purpose might be—it’s certainly interesting that the whole coevolutionary process has now moved us to a point where our very survival depends more and more on moral enlightenment, on realizing that other people’s interests deserve our attention. Further, the more we’re embedded in this technological web of intellectual interaction, the more it seems you could start thinking about a unified consciousness at the social level, progressing toward planetary consciousness. Of course, that could be a long way off. Still, it seems to me that from the very beginning of life on earth, the seeds were being planted for something very interesting and spiritually rich.

Snow Lion's Dalai Lama Quote of the Week - Grasping at Self-Existence


by the Dalai Lama,
translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

Broadly speaking, there are two types of grasping at the self-existence of persons--those that focus on one's own self, and those that focus on others. The first is known as the egoistic grasping at self-existence, within which there is the grasping at the thought 'I am' or 'me' on the one hand, and the grasping at 'mine' as the possessions of that self on the other. Working from this basis we then extend the sense of self onto our belongings and so forth, such as 'my house', 'my body' and 'my mind'. Afflictions like attachment and anger arise on the basis of these possessive thoughts. This is the causal dynamic process through which our afflictions--the cause of our suffering--come into being.

In order to bring about an end to this chain of afflictive causes and effects, we need to cultivate an understanding of the two selflessnesses--'the selflessness of the person' and the 'selflessness of phenomena'. While many texts present the selflessness of phenomena first, it is said that in terms of order of actual practice we should meditate first on the selflessness of the person. This is because it is generally easier to identify the notion of self-existence in relation to one's own sense of self than it is in relation to other phenomena.

~ From Lighting the Way by the Dalai Lama, translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa, published by Snow Lion Publications.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Glimpse of the Day - Use Your Talent

Nice teaching story from the Glimpse of the Day at Rigpa.

Dudjom Rinpoche used to tell the story of a powerful bandit in India, who, after countless successful raids, realized the terrible suffering he had been causing. He yearned for some way of atoning for what he had done, and visited a famous master. He asked him: "I am a sinner, I am in torment. What's the way out? What can I do?"

The master looked the bandit up and down and then asked him what he was good at.

"Nothing," replied the bandit.

"Nothing?" barked the master. "You must be good at something!"

The bandit was silent for a while, and eventually admitted: "Actually there is one thing I have a talent for, and that's stealing."

The master chuckled: "Good! That's exactly the skill you'll need now. Go to a quiet place and rob all your perceptions, and steal all the stars and planets in the sky, and dissolve them into the belly of emptiness, the all-encompassing space of the nature of mind."

Within twenty-one days, the bandit had realized the nature of his mind, and eventually came to be regarded as one of the great saints of India.

Shrink Rap Radio #218 - Matrix Meditations with Victor and Kooch Daniels

Interesting . . .

Shrink Rap Radio #218 - Matrix Meditations with Victor and Kooch Daniels

photo of Victor Danielsphoto of Kooch Daniels

Victor Daniels, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Sonoma State University and co-author, along with his wife Kooch Daniels, M.A. of the 2009 book, Matrix Meditations: A 16-Week Program For Developing the Mind-Heart Connection. Victor was the first director of its India Studies program and is a past Chair of the Psychology Department. Zen Master Jakusho Kwong-Roshi, abbot of Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, has been his meditation teacher and a role model for several decades.

Victor received his M.A. and Ph.D. from UCLA where he studied with both scientifically- and clinically-oriented faculty. He was heavily influenced by Harold H. Kelley and John P. Seward, with concentrations in social psychology, personality, and motivation. He also became interested in both Western and Eastern philosophies and spiritual traditions, and has taught meditation in workshops and courses for 35 years. Skilled in Gestalt Therapy, he has served as program chair for two international Gestalt conferences. With his colleague Laurence J. Horowitz, he co-authored Being and Caring: A Psychology for Living.

Kooch N. Daniels, M.A. studied with Aryuvedic master Harish Johari for 20 years. Johari was a jnana yogi and Tantric scholar who practiced forms of meditation carried out amid daily life activities. Kooch obtained her B.A. from Ohio University, and then her M.A. from Sonoma State University with concentrations in Humanistic and Jungian Psychology. She has been working as a professional intuitive throughout her life, guiding both private clients and clients in the corporate world in working with meditation, visualization, and affirmations. She is the senior co-author, with Victor Daniels, of Tarot d’Amour, and two live in Sonoma County, California.

A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

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Scientific American - Common good is best achieved through rewards, not punishment

Cool little article.

Common good is best achieved through rewards, not punishment

By Katherine Harmon in 60-Second Science Blog

authors of study that found rewards more effective than punishmentTo promote the common good, should helpers be rewarded, or should free riders be punished? Although the bulk of previous research has fingered punishment as the best enforcer, a new study published online today in Science found that rewards are more effective.

"Groups that used rewards got significantly higher payoffs than groups that punished," David Rand, a lead study author and postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University's Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, said in a Science podcast.

He and his team used a classic public goods game to study how groups of volunteers encouraged the best outcome for the most people. In a series of monetary interactions, individuals decided how much money to contribute to a common pot, and they could then decide whether to reward good contributors or punish bad—both of which would entail spending money.

Previous public goods studies had focused on one-time interactions and found that people were more likely to swindle or punish others. But in situations where interactions were repeated, people found greater success in reward-based structures—in which those that contributed were rewarded and those who didn't were ignored—than those in which costly punishment was doled out to those who didn't contribute.

Rand explained in the podcast that the findings also have straightforward applications in everyday life. "Our studies suggest that you would do well to be nice to the people that are helpful to you, or be nice to the people who you see contributing to the group, and you see people sort of not doing their part—as opposed to sort of going out of your way to really hurt them and punish them for it, you should just stop helping them, and use denial of reward as an incentive for them to do their part," he said.

The authors of the study distill the lesson to next-door-neighbor relations: "If I resent my neighbor's gas-guzzling SUV, I could exercise costly punishment by slashing his tires," which "carries the risk of retaliation," they write. "Conversely, I could be extra helpful to my other neighbor who just bought a low-emission vehicle."

Just how these findings translate beyond the home and office into a broader, more codified legal context needs further examination. "It's unclear to what extent these results generalize to politics," said Rand in the podcast. But he and his team are looking into this question of whether standardizing a reward or punishment for a specific action will change the decisions in public goods games.

Other similar games across the globe have found some cultures where punishment is doled out to high contributors rather than low contributors, a dynamic that Rand singles out as particularly harmful to the overall public good. "Punishment can be really destructive when the low contributors punish the cooperators," he said. "But with rewards, there's no such danger of that because if you have people rewarding each other when they shouldn't that's good, really."

Image of the study authors courtesy of David Rand

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Is Alex Jones Psychotic?

Most of you know Alex Jones, a man who has never met a conspiracy he does not believe in, including his most recent "film," The Obama Deception, a biased, unbalanced, factually empty hit on Barack Obama that is very popular on You Tube and among some of the integral folks (the paleoconservative branch).

As you might guess from my loaded language, I do not like Jones, nor do I believe he should be taken seriously as a journalist. At best, he is on the cultural fringe; at worst, he is delusional. I think it's a little of both.

Jones's fans are miffed about a story in the current Psychology Today that (they say) portrays Jones as a conspiracy nut whose beliefs have little connection to reality. The article isn't available yet from PT, but the Jones people have posted it online as a PDF. The article is not flattering, but that has as much to do with Jones as it does with the author - but that is not something his followers can fathom, it seems.
Dark Minds
When does incredulity become paranoia?
By John Gartner

ALEX JONES is trying to warn us about an evil syndicate of bankers who control most of the world's governments and stand poised to unite the planet under their totalitarian reign, a "New World Order." While we might be tempted to dismiss Jones as a nut, the "king of conspiracy", is a popular radio show host. The part-time film-maker's latest movie, The Obama Deception, in which he argues that Obama is a puppet of the criminal bankers, has been viewed millions of times on YouTube.

When we spoke, Jones ranted for two hours about FEMA concentration camps, Halliburton child kidnappers, government eugenics programs-and more. When I stopped him to ask for evidence the government is practicing eugenics, he pointed to a national security memorandum. But I found the document t0 be a bland policy report.

Jones "cherry picks not just facts but phrases, which, once interpreted his way, become facts in his mind," says Louis Black, editor of the Austin Chronicle, who knows Jones, a fellow Austin resident. When I confronted Jones with my reading of the report, he became pugnacious, launching into a diatribe against psychologists as agents of social control.

Conspiracy thinking is embraced by a surprisingly large proportion of the population. Sixty-nine percent of Americans believe President John F. Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy, and 42 percent believe the government is covering up evidence of flying saucers, finds Ted Goertzel, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University at Camden. Thirty-six percent of respondents to a 2006 Scripps News/Ohio University poll at least suspected that the U.S. government played a role in 9/11.

We're all conspiracy theorists to some degree. We're all hard wired to find patterns in our environment, particularly those that might represent a threat to us. And when things go wrong, we find ourselves searching for what, or who, is behind it.
Read the whole article.

Needless to day, Jones's supporters are not pleased. They see this as a hit piece that unfairly neglects all the "facts" Jones presents on his shows and in his films that support his theories. Their headline suggests that Gartner called Jones psychotic, a word which never actually appears in the article.

It's worth noting that when Gartner disagrees with their view on the national security memorandum they contend supports a eugenics policy, they say hie didn't read it or couldn't understand it - a common stance for many conspiracy theorists when others reject their interpretation of reality.

Psychology Today Hit Piece Labels Conspiracy Thinking A Psychotic Illness

Psychologist Gartner fulfils the very criteria he levels at “conspiracy theorists” to claim their concerns are a product of mental instability

Psychology Today Hit Piece Labels Conspiracy Thinking A Psychotic Illness 020909top2

Paul Joseph Watson
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In an article entitled Dark Minds: When does incredulity become paranoia, Psychology Today writer John Gartner attempts to make the case that the concerns of “conspiracy theorists” are not based in reality but are a product of mental instability, while himself fulfilling every criteria for what he claims classifies such people as psychotics – ignoring evidence that contradicts his preconceptions while embracing the ludicrous “conspiracy theory” that powerful men and governments do not conspire to advance their power.

Probably somewhat upset about how our coverage of the dangers associated with the swine flu vaccine has contributed to a global revolt against mass vaccination programs being readied, Psychology Today’s gravy train of big pharma advertisers will no doubt be pleased to see the publication wastes no time in savagely attacking radio host and film maker Alex Jones, dispensing with any notion of fairness and zealously going after him as early as the second paragraph.

The nature of this vicious hit piece (PDF link) is confirmed when Gartner laments that Jones refused to provide him with phone numbers for friends he grew up with, presumably frustrated that he couldn’t dig up some dirt from an old girlfriend to throw into the mix of what is nothing more than a personal attack on Jones’ character, and a complete departure from any debate about the issues Jones covers on his radio show, which is the phony pretext that Gartner used in order to secure the interview in the first place.

Gartner has trouble believing that eugenicists occupy powerful positions, even in the aftermath of the John P. Holdren story when Obama’s top science advisor was exposed as having advocated forced abortion, sterilization and mass drugging of the public. Despite the fact that we sent Gartner dozens of pieces of evidence for his article, he cites a single national security memorandum and dismisses it as “a bland policy report”.

Mr. Gartner was obviously too lazy to read the entire document and/or too stupid to comprehend it.

You can read the whole rejection of Gartner's article, as well as a letter some other guy has sent to Gartner asking for an interview to prove that Jones is correct in all his views.

Let us return for a moment to Gartner's actual article:
Information is the conspiracy theorists' weapon of choice because if there's one thing they all agree on, it's that all the rest of us have been brainwashed. The "facts" will plainly reveal the existence of the conspiracy, they believe. And while all of us tend to bend information to fit our preexisting cognitive schema, conspiracy theorists are more extreme. They are "immune to evidence," discounting contradictory information or seeing it as "proof of how clever the enemy is at covering things up," Goeftzel says.

Conspiracy theories exist on a spectrum from mild suspicion to full-on paranoia, and brain chemistry may play a role. Dopamine rewards us for noting patterns and finding meaning in sometimes insignificant events. It's long been known that schizophrenics overproduce dopamine. "The earliest stages of delusion are characterized by an overabundance of meaningful coincidences," explain Paul D. Morrison and R.M. Murray of the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London. "Jumping to conclusions" is a common reasoning style among the paranoid, find Daniel Freeman and his colleagues, also at the Institute of Psychiatry.

Indeed, there are no coincidences in Jones' world. In a scene from The Obama Deception, Jones dives "into the belly of the beast," the hotel where purported conspirators will be meeting. As he begins a telephone interview, the fire alarm goes off. "The bastards have set us up," he says.

Jones says that he has been visited by the FBI and the Secret Service but can't discuss the interviews. It maybe that federal agents, in fact, wanted to evaluate whether he is a threat to the president. There's no reason to believe he is -but the same can'tbe said of his listeners. In 2002, Richard McCaslin, carrying an arsenal of weapons, entered the Bohemian Grove, a campground in California that annually hosts a meeting of the political and business elite. He told authorities he had been planning his commando raid for a year, after (he says) hearing Jones claim that ritual infant sacrifice was takingplace there.

The "war"continues. In a video promoting The Obama Deception, Jones urges, "We know who they are. We know what they are. We know what has to be done."
Psychotic may not be the right word - perhaps dangerous, despite Gartner's feeling that he is harmless. He is not harmless if he is leading his listeners toward violence, especially violence toward public officials. That puts him in the same league as Glenn Beck and other wingnuts.

The reality is that conspiracy theories on both sides of the political landscape are common, and often, the same folks believe both sides are involved in vast conspiracies - those without power, and who have the brain chemistry that allows for paranoia, will tend to see whoever does have power as being evil, sinister, or some other ulterior motives.

But they might counter with, "just because I am paranoid does not mean they are not out to get me."

Dr. Kathleen Young - Compassion Fatigue: The Cost of Treating Trauma?

Treating trauma can induce as much trauma in the therapist as it relives in the client(s). These folks are exposed to so much of the worst of humanity and the pain that results - it can be overwhelming. I know because I have watched my girlfriend go through it recently - she is a trauma therapist in one of the nation's top in-patient facilities.

She recently had to make a temporary move into the chronic pain program to recover from compassion fatigue. Certainly, part of it is working in an in-patient facility, where the clients tend to be a little more acute, and the therapy a lot more intensive. And part of it is in the nature of the work.

As Dr. Young points out in this post and powerpoint, we can avoid this outcome with a little vigilance on our part. She tells us how.

Compassion Fatigue: The Cost of Treating Trauma?

September 1, 2009 · Leave a Comment

Trauma work can take a toll on providers as well. Taking good care of ourselves enables us to continue to provide the best possible services. The following is a presentation I have given to several agencies:

When helping others precipitates a compromise in our own well-being we are suffering from Compassion Fatigue. This is another term for secondary traumatic stress. The idea here is that even secondary exposure to stressful and/or traumatic events can produce many of the same reactions common to post traumatic stress. Our very compassion and empathic connection, the thing that makes us effective helpers, seems to be what puts us at risk. As many of us know, being around the pain and suffering of others can be “emotionally contagious”. It’s difficult to see and care deeply about the suffering of others without feeling some pain ourselves.

Untreated, Compassion fatigue can get worse and lead to burnout. The key is prevention or catching it early. Compassion fatigue can be prevented by consistent self-care.

One of the ironies of the helping professions is that we are not always so good at practicing what we preach! We owe it to ourselves (and our clients) to acknowledge the importance of our own health, emotional balance, satisfaction, and well-being in order to be optimal care providers.

If you think this may be an issue for you, consider the American Psychological Association’s coping suggestions:

  • Self-assessment: Ask yourself, “How am I doing?” What do I need? How have I changed? Discuss the questions and answers with a colleague, friend, or therapist.
  • Protect yourself: Be aware of your vulnerability and the negative consequences of your work, Strive for balance, and Maintain connection with others.
  • Address the stress of your work: Practice self-care, Nurture yourself by focusing on sources of pleasure and joy, and Allow yourself to escape when necessary.
  • Transform the negative impact of your work: Focus on finding meaning in your work and day-to-day activities, Challenge negativity, and Participate in community building activities, joining with others around a common purpose or value.
  • Connect with yourself and with others: Pay attention to your inner experience, Talk about it with others, Do not work alone, Ask for support as well as offering it to others

I’d also love to hear your thoughts and the strategies you employ to keep yourselves recharged while doing this demanding and crucial work.

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

Wildmind Buddhist Meditation - Online meditation courses start Sept 7

Check it out - sounds like good stuff.

Online meditation courses start Sept 7

Sunada (September 2, 2009)

Wildmind offers four online courses on meditation.

Starting Sept 7, 2009:

More information about all of our courses is available on Wildmind.

Tricycle - The Problem with Meditation Instructions

Very useful article for anyone who has become stale or rigid in their meditation practice.

The Problem with Meditation Instructions

On how we can add flexibility and choice to a meditation practice that has become rigid and restrictive

By Jason Siff

In My Eye

BEFORE WE MEDITATE for the first time, we have ideas about what meditation is, what it does, and where it should lead. Then when we get our introductory instructions—either out of a book or magazine, or from a teacher leading a class or a retreat—we’re hopeful that the instructions will fulfill our purpose for meditating and that meditation will do for us what it has reportedly done for others. We look forward to becoming calmer, to our physical pain diminishing, and to our emotional stress and turmoil being eased; we anticipate meditation granting us the peace of mind we so earnestly seek.

We often do not even consider that we could have problems following the meditation instructions, or that the meditation instructions may not be the “right” ones for us. We assume that meditation practices are proven to work for most anyone, so when we experience frustration with the task of meditating, we often lay the blame on ourselves. We don’t see that the meditation practice itself has something to do with it.

Contemporary Buddhist teachers often instruct that the real obstacles, or hindrances, in meditation are negative emotional states or unskillful types of thinking. Unfortunately, this view only deflects our attention from what actually keeps us stuck in our practice: the way we do our meditation practice. In fact, it is not what we experience in meditation that creates the hindrance, it is how we apply the instructions. Having negative emotions and discursive thoughts are common meditation experiences, but they do not control our practice in the same way the meditation instructions do.

Over the last two decades in which I have been teaching meditation, I have observed that much of our frustration, struggle, feelings of failure and low self-esteem as meditators is linked to the way we have been applying meditation instructions. This is in part due to the way that we hold on to the correctness of the instructions and how we adopt rules that prohibit certain experiences, both of which can create impasses in our meditation practice. These are two of the most common causes for the experience of being stuck.

Many of us encounter an impasse when we are trying to figure out how to do the instructions correctly. The notion that there is a definitive right way of doing a particular meditation practice keeps the impasse alive. We assume that if we can figure out the right way to sit, and just do it, our sittings will be harmonious.

For example, instructions for watching the breath in the Vipassana tradition often raise questions about following the instructions correctly. Is it correct to observe the breath at the nostrils or the abdomen? If it is correct to observe it at the nostrils, how are you supposed to observe it—as a sensation of air passing over your upper lip on the way out and as a sensation in your nostrils on the way in? Is it okay to follow the breath into the lungs? And what about the abdomen? Are we noticing the breath going in or out of our bodies, or are we supposed to notice the rising and falling of the abdomen only? And why the abdomen? Don’t we naturally experience our chest heave and fall as we breathe? What about being aware of the sound of the breath? That, too, is a part of our experience of breathing. But Vipassana teachers often tell us that there is one correct way of observing the breath and that other ways are not right.

The Vipassana tradition and most other Buddhist traditions generally discourage doubting the meditation instructions we are given. We are often told that doubting our teachers and their traditions is a hindrance to practice, but this puts us in a bind: If we discover a way to do a meditation practice that seems more conducive to concentration and wisdom than the established way, we have to either disregard our discovery or disobey the instructions. If you take the approach of not doubting the instructions, you are likely to try to follow the instructions with more effort in order to make them work as well as, or better than, the way you discovered on your own.

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