Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dalai Lama - Realising the absence of self-existence

by the Dalai Lama,
translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa


Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

At the level of conventional truth we all naturally possess both the desire and the potential to overcome suffering and to attain happiness. In this context, we can reflect upon the Buddha's teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Two Truths, and on the basis of such reflection we gradually develop an understanding of how we can gain freedom from suffering and of the potential we possess within ourselves for accomplishing such a goal.

We can reflect further that: 'Just like me, all other sentient beings possess this same desire and potential to be happy and overcome suffering', and ask ourselves: 'If I continue to be guided by my own self-centredness and, through my single-pointed concern for my own well-being, continue to ignore the well-being of others, what will the consequences be?'

Then we can reflect: 'From beginningless lifetimes I have harboured this self-cherishing attitude and have grasped onto the notion of an intrinsically real, enduring self. I have nurtured these two thoughts of self-cherishing and self-grasping deep in my heart as if they are twin jewels. But where has this way of being led me? By pursuing the dictates of my self-grasping and self-centredness, have I actually managed to attain the fulfilment of my self-interest? If it were possible, surely by now I should have achieved my goal. But I know that this is not the case.'

We should then compare ourselves to enlightened beings such as the Buddha Shakyamuni who achieved total victory over all defilements and perfected all qualities of goodness. We should then ask ourselves: 'How did the Buddha accomplish this?' Through contemplation we will come to recognise that, at a certain point in his existence, the Buddha reversed the normal way of thinking and being. In the place of self-cherishing he cultivated the thought of cherishing the well-being of other sentient beings, and in place of self-grasping he cultivated the wisdom realising the absence of self-existence. In this way he attained full awakening. (p.30)

--from Lighting the Way by the Dalai Lama, translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa, published by Snow Lion Publications

Lighting the Way • Now at 5O% off
(Good until March 25th).

Yahweh Had a Wife, Asherah - Creating God in Our Own Image
This depiction of Asherah is reminiscent of Kali with the skulls beneath her feet.

Apparently I have been slacking off on my attention to religion - it seems god had a wife, a widely known fertility goddess known as Asherah in Hebrew, but also as Astarte and Istar (Ishtar?). More evidence that we have created God in our own image - and that the monotheistic faiths are extremely male-centric.

This article mentions the Book of Kings, but Wikipedia also suggests she may be referred to in the Book of Jeremiah as "queen of heaven."

Aaron Brody, a Bible historian and archeologist, notes that Asherah has been edited into a tree symbol in the extant texts:
Asherah as a tree symbol was even said to have been "chopped down and burned outside the Temple in acts of certain rulers who were trying to 'purify' the cult, and focus on the worship of a single male god, Yahweh," he added.
Equating a female deity with a tree is not a big jump, but that it was seen necessary to delete her from the Bible at all is quite telling. As a point of interest, the online Jewish Encyclopedia takes a dim view of Asherah in their texts, and prefer to see her as a Syrian goddess, and therefore, a false idol. I don't know how authoritative their perspective is among scholars.

For what it's worth, I vaguely remember one of the Gnostic Gospels being about life in heaven before creation, and in that book god also had a wife.
God's Wife Edited Out of the Bible -- Almost

God's wife, Asherah, was a powerful fertility goddess, according to a theologian.

Jennifer Viegas
Fri Mar 18, 2011

  • God, also known as Yahweh, had a wife named Asherah, according to a British theologian.
  • Amulets, figurines, inscriptions and ancient texts, including the Bible, reveal Asherah's once prominent standing.

Asherah's connection to Yahweh, according to Stavrakopoulou, is spelled out in both the Bible and an 8th century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud. Getty Images

God had a wife, Asherah, whom the Book of Kings suggests was worshiped alongside Yahweh in his temple in Israel, according to an Oxford scholar.

In 1967, Raphael Patai was the first historian to mention that the ancient Israelites worshiped both Yahweh and Asherah. The theory has gained new prominence due to the research of Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who began her work at Oxford and is now a senior lecturer in the department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter.

Information presented in Stavrakopoulou's books, lectures and journal papers has become the basis of a three-part documentary series, now airing in Europe, where she discusses the Yahweh-Asherah connection.

"You might know him as Yahweh, Allah or God. But on this fact, Jews, Muslims and Christians, the people of the great Abrahamic religions, are agreed: There is only one of Him," writes Stavrakopoulou in a statement released to the British media. "He is a solitary figure, a single, universal creator, not one God among many ... or so we like to believe."

"After years of research specializing in the history and religion of Israel, however, I have come to a colorful and what could seem, to some, uncomfortable conclusion that God had a wife," she added.

Stavrakopoulou bases her theory on ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed primarily in the ancient Canaanite coastal city called Ugarit, now modern-day Syria. All of these artifacts reveal that Asherah was a powerful fertility goddess.

Asherah's connection to Yahweh, according to Stavrakopoulou, is spelled out in both the Bible and an 8th century B.C. inscription on pottery found in the Sinai desert at a site called Kuntillet Ajrud.

"The inscription is a petition for a blessing," she shares. "Crucially, the inscription asks for a blessing from 'Yahweh and his Asherah.' Here was evidence that presented Yahweh and Asherah as a divine pair. And now a handful of similar inscriptions have since been found, all of which help to strengthen the case that the God of the Bible once had a wife."

Also significant, Stavrakopoulou believes, "is the Bible's admission that the goddess Asherah was worshiped in Yahweh's Temple in Jerusalem. In the Book of Kings, we're told that a statue of Asherah was housed in the temple and that female temple personnel wove ritual textiles for her."

J. Edward Wright, president of both The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, told Discovery News that he agrees several Hebrew inscriptions mention "Yahweh and his Asherah."

"Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible by its male editors," he added. "Traces of her remain, and based on those traces, archaeological evidence and references to her in texts from nations bordering Israel and Judah, we can reconstruct her role in the religions of the Southern Levant."

Asherah -- known across the ancient Near East by various other names, such as Astarte and Istar -- was "an important deity, one who was both mighty and nurturing," Wright continued.

"Many English translations prefer to translate 'Asherah' as 'Sacred Tree,'" Wright said. "This seems to be in part driven by a modern desire, clearly inspired by the Biblical narratives, to hide Asherah behind a veil once again."

"Mentions of the goddess Asherah in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are rare and have been heavily edited by the ancient authors who gathered the texts together," Aaron Brody, director of the Bade Museum and an associate professor of Bible and archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion, said.

Asherah as a tree symbol was even said to have been "chopped down and burned outside the Temple in acts of certain rulers who were trying to 'purify' the cult, and focus on the worship of a single male god, Yahweh," he added.

The ancient Israelites were polytheists, Brody told Discovery News, "with only a small minority worshiping Yahweh alone before the historic events of 586 B.C." In that year, an elite community within Judea was exiled to Babylon and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This, Brody said, led to "a more universal vision of strict monotheism: one god not only for Judah, but for all of the nations."

Philoctetes Center - Theories of Everything

Another interesting discussion from the Philoctetes Center - Theories of Everything, featuring a round-table talk with David Alpert, Glennys Farrar, Charles Liu, Herman Verlinde, and Gareth Williams.

From their website:
Since antiquity, philosophers and scientists have aspired to formulate a unifying theory that accounts for the nature of the world. Democritus, Lucretius, and Averroes, in the Middle Ages, attempted to provide theories to explain all physical phenomena. Perhaps the greatest struggle of Einstein's career was his unsuccessful attempt to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity theory. Even today, a Theory of Everything remains controversial and out of reach. Some assert, relying in part on Godel's incompleteness theory, that it is unattainable, whereas others believe that the 11-dimensional M-theory (or string theory) is in fact a Theory of Everything. This roundtable will address arguments of the differing camps and in the process elucidate the problems inherent in forming such a theory.

David Albertis Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. His research has centered on the foundations of quantum mechanics and the nature of time. He has published numerous articles in scientific and philosophical journals, as well as two books, Quantum Mechanics andExperience and Time and Chance, both published by Harvard University Press. He is currently at work on a book entitled After Physics.

Glennys Farrar is Collegiate Professsor of Physics at New York University. She has made seminal contributions to particle physics, demonstrating that quarks are are not just mathematical constructs but are actually physically present in protons, and pioneering the search for supersymmetry, now a primary goal of the LHC. She is also active in both astrophysics and cosmology, with her most recent accomplishment being the first observational detection of the "stellar tidal disruption" phenomenon, whereby the supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy tears a passing star to shreds, releasing a brilliant burst of light that lasts a few months. The first woman to get a Ph. D. in Physics from Princeton University, Farrar served as Chair of the Physics Department and was Founder of the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics at NYU; she has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, on the faculty of Caltech, and spent sabbatical years at CERN, Princeton and Harvard among other appointments.

Charles Liu is Professor of Astrophysics at the City University of New York, College of Staten Island, and Associate in Astrophysics at the Hayden Planetarium and the American Museum of Natural History. His research focuses on the star formation history of the universe. He is the author of Black Holes, Quasars, Time Warps and The Handy Astronomy Answer Book, and co-author of One Universe: At Home In The Cosmos.

Herman Verlinde is Professor of Physics at Princeton University. He has made influential contributions to string theory, which unifies the general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics. His research interests also include particle physics, cosmology and black holes. From 1994 to 1998, Verlinde was Professor of Physics at the University of Amsterdam, where he was one of the founders of the Center for Mathematical Physics. Last year, he was a member at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton.

Gareth Williams is Professor of Classics at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1992. He is a specialist in Latin literature of the late Roman Republican and Early Imperial eras, spanning the first centuries BCE and CE. He has written extensively on the Roman poets of the age of Augustus, including two books on Ovid. In later work, he has shifted focus to the philosophical and poetic/tragic writings of the younger Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and statesman who served as young Nero's intimate adviser until he fell into imperial disfavor in the early 60s CE. Williams is currently completing a study of Seneca's important writings on natural science, and, more specifically, on the correlation drawn in Greco-Roman antiquity between the physical workings of the world and the human moral condition.

Gerald Young, Ph.D. - The Multiple Parts of the Self

This is a nice post from Dr. Gerald Young's Rejoining Joy blog at Psychology Today. He has a slightly different perspective on parts work than I do, but any recognition that the self is not singular, but contains multiplicities of selves, is a useful approach to personal growth.

He advocates here for seeking growing parts that may not yet be present. This is an important teaching. Likewise, it is also important to know and feel that those parts of us that are wounded or self-defeating are not the totality of who we are - they are simply damaged parts, they are not our identity as human beings. And they can be healed.

Leading Yourself to the Stage of Growth

Dan felt he did not know himself. "Who am I? What is important to me? I cannot figure that out." He asked questions like these, and moved from one opinion about his core self to another, to the exasperation of his parents. Salem felt the same way, but she related her angst to her feminine identity and culture. "I'm trying to strike out on a different path, but family tell me what to do. They are too old country for me."

Many young people are trying to establish their roles, responsibilities, and sense of self. However, they need to accept that in all these areas changes are inevitable. Self-identity is never set as a tablet in stone, but keeps growing in one way or another. Moreover, the self consists of many parts, although this might not be apparent to us. We are used to thinking of the self as a single whole that defines us. For example, we might say that we have this particular characteristic or that specific passion.

Our sense of personhood is continually in transformation and seeking new areas of growth or parts. Even when our self seems to be stable, psychological energy is being expended to keep it in its present state. A stable self needs to ward off negative interferences or new ideas and aspirations that could affect it. It could be easier psychologically to entertain change than to reject it outright.

Indeed, often we strike out in new directions that might be the most challenging of tasks. Moreover, after they are completed we might start out on another. That is, even though we might think that we especially seek stability, often, after getting to a stable plateau, we seek new tasks or we encounter new problems that shake our stability and move us to growth. In these cases, the self can branch out and find new areas of growth and different parts.

Of course, it might be quite difficult to confront even the smallest of tasks in the day if we are depressed, too worried, angry at life, or fearful to the point of panic and being frozen in our actions. We might have suffered greatly and cannot take the step of feeling the suffering of others. Our core self might seem overwhelmingly negative to us, with little hope on the horizon. In these cases, the self has little room to grow.

Or, we might withdraw from a task or problem, feeling that we cannot handle it, or lack resources to help us with it. We might come to believe that we cannot cope or cannot do well. We might develop a psychology of failure, or a fear of change as part of our self-concept. In these cases, the self might even become more negative, constrict, or lose parts.

When our sense of self is limited by ideas of the self that corner us in spaces with little room for positive change, how can we take back the self from these limitations, even when we have created them ourselves? Part of the answer to this daunting question is to understand that the self is not one thing but a complex of multiple definitions and parts and to seek to have them grow and diversify into new areas.

How does this concept of multiple part selves apply to you? Even though you might think that your self is a unity, and is stable and cannot change, your self might be chafing for change and growth. Your self is psychologically complex, and it could be reaching out in new directions without you being aware of it. Or, you might take a very open decision to seek out new directions in self-growth and explore new avenues in the self.

Each of your parts has developed out of your past experiences, strengths, and vulnerabilities. Some of the parts of your self might be more prominent, for example, in the way that you present yourself to other people or in how you define yourself in moments of self-reflection.

Other parts of your self might be hidden or masked and rarely become evident. One example is that you might behave in one way most of the time when you are with other people but you might behave differently when you are with a best friend.

Parts of your self that are masked or hidden are still in your core self. You need to see them as waiting for you to give them more space or time in your core self, and to have them grow so that they are more evident to you and to others.

Think of the self as having potential parts in waiting for you to activate and have grow. Parts of your self might consist of dreams or wishes that guide you at times, but are only just glimmers in the making. Or, they might be only hopes, but they still could be very powerful motivations in your psychology. These types of part selves are the ones you should try to grow, because they can lead the way for the others, and might help you eliminate or control the parts that are problematic to you. Growth can be actively undertaken; you do not have to wait for others to start changing your sense of self.

Also, there might be quite negative parts of your self that should be better controlled or eliminated. However, you might not know how to do this, or you might even sabotage all efforts to do this. Some negative parts of the self or negative habits do not go away by wishful thinking. They require much psychological work. For example, you might present as extremely virtuous and moral to others, but drink to excess occasionally, and then be rude or act even worse.

This illustrates that your self parts might be in competition or conflict amongst themselves. They might have not learned to share the stage and find balance. No matter what happens, you remain the leader of the growth of your self, and can find new ways, paths, and joys. Dim the lights of the stage so that you can start the next scene in the growth of your self and its parts.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depression: A Meta-Analysis

This recent article from the American Journal of Psychiatry is a meta-analysis of the existing research looking at the efficacy of interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) in treating depression. IPT is an attempt to develop a short-term, manualized (very precise steps and techniques) approach to depression.

Since it's creation in the 1980s, the approach has been adapted to work with Dysthymia, Bulimia Nervosa, Substance Misuse, and Somatization; the model is current being adapted to treating Anorexia Nervosa, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD and some anxiety disorders.

IPT has been gaining wider acceptance in recent years, supplanting CBT for many therapists in treating depression, both as an adjunct to pharmaceuticals and without the drugs. A basic overview from their site is provided below the study abstract.

Unfortunately, this article is not an open access article because some journals/publishers are just greedy and do not care about disseminating the information to people who can use it (like counselors).

Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depression: A Meta-Analysis

Pim Cuijpers, Ph.D., Anna S. Geraedts, M.A., Patricia van Oppen, Ph.D., Gerhard Andersson, Ph.D., John C. Markowitz, M.D., and Annemieke van Straten, Ph.D.

From the Department of Clinical Psychology and the Department of Psychiatry, Vrije Universiteit (VU University) Amsterdam; EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Amsterdam and VU University Medical Center Amsterdam; Department of Behavioral Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden; Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Psychiatry Section, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm; New York State Psychiatric Institute; and Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York.

Objective: Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), a structured and time-limited therapy, has been studied in many controlled trials. Numerous practice guidelines have recommended IPT as a treatment of choice for unipolar depressive disorders. The authors conducted a meta-analysis to integrate research on the effects of IPT.
The authors searched bibliographical databases for randomized controlled trials comparing IPT with no treatment, usual care, other psychological treatments, and pharmacotherapy as well as studies comparing combination treatment using pharmacotherapy and IPT. Maintenance studies were also included.
Thirty-eight studies including 4,356 patients met all inclusion criteria. The overall effect size (Cohen's d) of the 16 studies that compared IPT and a control group was 0.63 (95% confidence interval [CI]=0.36 to 0.90), corresponding to a number needed to treat of 2.91. Ten studies comparing IPT and other psychological treatments showed a nonsignificant differential effect size of 0.04 (95% CI=–0.14 to 0.21; number needed to treat=45.45) favoring IPT. Pharmacotherapy (after removal of one outlier) was more effective than IPT (d=–0.19, 95% CI=–0.38 to –0.01; number needed to treat=9.43), and combination treatment was not more effective than IPT alone, although the paucity of studies precluded drawing definite conclusions. Combination maintenance treatment with pharmacotherapy and IPT was more effective in preventing relapse than pharmacotherapy alone (odds ratio=0.37; 95% CI=0.19 to 0.73; number needed to treat=7.63).
There is no doubt that IPT efficaciously treats depression, both as an independent treatment and in combination with pharmacotherapy. IPT deserves its place in treatment guidelines as one of the most empirically validated treatments for depression.
Am J Psychiatry Published March 1, 2011
doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.10101411
© 2011 American Psychiatric Association

This comes from the International Society for Interpersonal Psychotherapy website.

Interpersonal Therapy - An Overview


  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) is a brief and highly structured manual based psychotherapy that addresses interpersonal issues in depression, to the exclusion of all other foci of clinical attention. This approach has allowed ready modification of the original treatment manual for depression to a variety of illnesses.

  • IPT has no specific theoretical origin although its theoretical basis can be seen as coming from the work of Sullivan, Meyer and Bowlby. Whilst Sullivan wrote of a type of "interpersonal therapy" in the 1930s, this was more in the form of a long term analytic but relational based therapy and would not be seen to resemble the current form of IPT. Attachment theorists view the experience of loss and to a lesser degree disordered attachment as underlying much of human psychopathology. IPT can be seen as indirectly addressing these issues within the therapeutic frame.

  • The current form of the treatment was developed by the late Gerald Klerman and Myrna Weissman in the 1980s as a means of operationalising the interpersonal approach to psychotherapy for a series of treatment studies in depression conducted in the United States. Since that time it has been modified for a variety of other indications including Dysthymia, Bulimia Nervosa, Substance Misuse, Somatization and depression in a variety of clinical settings. Preliminary studies in Anorexia Nervosa, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD and some anxiety disorders are underway. In each adaptation the fundamentals of the treatment manual are adhered to, however different components are emphasized.

Theoretical Assumptions of IPT

  • IPT does not presume that psychopathology arises exclusively from problems within an interpersonal realm. It does emphasize however, that these problems occur within an interpersonal context that is often interdependent with the illness process. Depression is conceptualized by IPT as having three components

    1. Symptom Formation
    2. Social Functioning
    3. Personality contributants

  • IPT would aim to intervene specifically in social functioning with consequent benefits in symptom experience. Personality is not a focus in IPT given the brevity of the treatment course. Patient's social functioning problems are conceptualized as one or more of four areas:

    1. Interpersonal Disputes
    2. Role Transitions
    3. Grief
    4. Interpersonal Deficits

  • The therapist remains warm and positions themselves in a collaborative framework with strict adherence to the manual. There is constant focus upon termination from the outset, so regression and other more analytic processes are avoided as far as possible. Whilst problematic transference or countertransference are not interpreted, they are utilized as a tool for identifying problematic processes within the IPT process.

Structure and Duration of Sessions

  • IPT usually runs from 12 to 16 one hour sessions that usually occur weekly. The initial sessions are devoted to information gathering and clarifying the nature of the patient's illness and interpersonal experience. The patient's illness is then formulated and explained in interpersonal terms and the nature and structure of the IPT sessions are explained. This phase of treatment concludes with the composition of the "interpersonal inventory" which is essentially a register of all the key relationships in the individual's life. Within the interpersonal inventory relationships are categorized according to the four areas mentioned above.

  • Sessions 3 - 14 are devoted to addressing the problematic relationship areas and there is little focus upon the specific illness process apart from enquiries as to symptom severity and response to treatment modalities.

  • The final sessions 15 - 16 focus upon termination, which is usually formulated as a loss experience from which the patient can learn a great deal about their own responses to loss and how well the modifications attempted in the therapeutic process have evolved.

Specific Interpersonal Problems as conceptualized in IPT

Interpersonal Disputes

These tend to occur in marital, family, social or work settings. They can be conceptualized as a situation in which the patient and other parties have diverging expectations of a situation and that this conflict is excessive enough to lead to significant distress. One example may be a marital dispute in which a wife's attempts to use initiative leads to conflict with her spouse. In these circumstances IPT would aim to define how intractable the dispute was, identify sources of misunderstanding via faulty communication and invalid or unreasonable expectations and the aim to intervene by communication training, problem solving or other techniques that aim to facilitate change in the situation.

Role Transitions

Role transitions are situations in which the patient has to adapt to a change in life circumstances. These may be developmental crises, adjustments in work or social settings or adaptations following life events or relationship dissolutions. In those who develop depression, these transitions are experienced as losses and hence contribute to the development of psychopathology. IPT aims to help the patient with role transitions to reappraise the old and new roles, to identify sources of difficulty in the new role and fashion solutions for these. In many cases clarification of inconsistencies or clear errors in the patient's cognitions as well as problem solving and encouragement of affect within the therapeutic frame are suitable interventions.


Grief is simply defined in IPT as "loss through death". Whilst many clinicians would formulate sequelae of severe medical eg loss of function illness as grief, in IPT the term is reserved specifically for bereavement. In IPT, if grief is formulated as an issue of relevance in the interpersonal inventory, the assumption of the patient and therapist is that the grieving process has been complicated by delay or in many cases excess. The IPT therapist will help to reconstruct the patient's relationship with the deceased and by encouraging affect as well as clarification and empathic listening help facilitate the mourning process with the aim of helping the patient to establish new relationships.

Interpersonal Deficits

These would be diagnosed when a patient reports impoverished interpersonal relationships in terms of both number and quality of the relationships described. In many cases the interpersonal inventory will be sparse and the patient and therapist will need to focus upon both old relationships as well as the relationship with the therapist. In the former common themes should be identified and linked to current circumstances. In using the therapeutic relationship the therapist aims to identify problematic processes occurring such as excess dependency or hostility and aim to modify these within the therapeutic frame. In this way the therapeutic relationship can serve as a template for further relationships which the therapist will aim to help the patient create. This group of problems is common in the more chronic affective disorders such a dysthymia in which significant degrees of social impoverishment have occurred either before or after the illness.

Techniques used in IPT

  • IPT utilizes several techniques within the therapeutic process. Many of these are modified interventions borrowed from other therapies such as cognitive-behaviour therapy and brief crisis intervention.

  • The use of various questioning styles such as "Clarification" which seeks to obviate the patient's biases in describing interpersonal issues as well as "Supportive Listening" are often therapeutic within themselves. "Role playing" and "Communication Analysis" are highly behavioural interventions and are invaluable tools in intervening in interpersonal disputes. The "Encouragement of Affect" allows the patient to experience unpleasant or unwanted affects (that have perhaps resulted in the deployment of pathogenic defence mechaninsms) safely within the therapeutic frame. This process allows the patient to acknowledge the affective component of an interpersonal issue eg grief and helps the patient to accept it as a part of their experience. The "Use of the Therapeutic Relationship" has been described earlier.

  • There is some degree of debate as to whether therapists should be more or less active in the conduct of the sessions other than keep the focus on interpersonal issues. There are clearly no distinct guidelines in this area although the goal of IPT is to facilitate the process of the patient generating their own interventions and thus progressively phasing the therapist out of the process. It is likely that the process of patient initiated changes is the likely mechanism to account for the observation that symptomatic improvement arising from IPT often peaks 3 - 6 months subsequent to the termination of treatment.

Efficacy of IPT

  • Several large scale randomised control trials support IPT's efficacy in treating depression. The New Haven - Boston Collaborative study in 1973 found IPT of comparable efficacy to amitriptyline in treating major depression and both in combination had an additive effect1. The larger National Institute of Mental Health(NIMH) study 13 years later studied 250 outpatients randomized to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), IPT, Imipramine or Clinical management. CBT, IPT and Imipramine were equal in antidepressant efficacy at 12 weeks2. Curiously, the patients studied who scored greater than 20 (defined as "severe depression" )on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression responded as well to IPT as Imipramine. Those patients receiving CBT with severe depression did not do as well. The University of Pittsburgh Group led by David Kupfer and Ellen Frank studied maintenance treatments of depression and found that low dose IPT (monthly) and high dose Imipramine (greater than 200mg daily) seemed to be effective in preventing relapse compared with placebo3,4.

  • The data indicating IPTs efficacy in treating Bulimia Nervosa is modest but promising5. Christopher Fairburn's group in Oxford found IPT and CBT equal in efficacy, with IPT continuing to show benefits subsequent to termination. What was striking was the benefit of IPT in improving dysfunctional cognitions in terms of weight and body image, given that these were not addressed in IPT.

  • Preliminary findings support IPT in the acute treatment of Adolescent Depression, Dysthymic Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and Post Natal Depression

  • Preliminary studies are underway in a variety of disorders and new data is expected in the next 3 - 5 years


  1. Weissman MM, Prusoff BA, DiMascio A. The efficacy of drugs and psychotherapy in the treatment of acute depressive episodes. Am J Psychiatry .1979; 136: 555-558.
  2. Elkin I, Shea MT, Watkins JT, et al: National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program: general effectiveness of treatments. Archives of General Psychiatry. 1989; 46:971-982.
  3. Frank E, Kupfer DJ, Perel JM, et al: Three-year outcomes for maintenance therapies in recurrent depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 1990;47:1093-1099.
  4. Kupfer DJ, Frank E, Perel JM, et al: Five-year outcomes for maintenance therapies in recurrent depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 1992; 49:769-773.
  5. Fairburn CG, Jones R, Peveler RC, Hope RA, O'Connor M. Psychotherapy and bulimia nervosa: the longer term effects of interpersonal psychotherapy, behaviour therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy. Archives of General Psychiatry 50: 419-428, 1993.

Jim Clifton - New Metrics for a New Era (RSA)

Cool article - this is about (mostly) British politics, but the ideas here are important. We are socially embedded beings - our consciousness is dependent in part on our embeddedness (in other works, environment is crucial to our state of mind).

RSA Comment

New Metrics for a New Era

An individual’s state of mind – good or bad – is contagious and, through an inevitable chain of events, affects classic economic outcomes argues Jim Clifton. People should be glad that the government is taking happiness seriously.

The British government, like most governments around the world, collects a tremendous amount of economic data every year. Leaders use this information to plan for, and react to, economic threats and opportunities. But most leaders overlook a key fact: every action that citizens take is in direct response to their state of mind and has a direct effect on their economic behaviour. Very few leaders, however, have data on their citizens’ states of mind.

To use Mathew Taylor’s metaphor for human behaviour – of an elephant being ridden through a cultivated jungle, in which the rider is our conscious thought, the elephant our automatic systems and the jungle our social context – governments have traditionally solely focused on the jungle.

One of the most profound and yet simplest discoveries we have ever made at Gallup is that lousy managers make employees miserable. Misery is a very powerful state of mind because it’s contagious: miserable employees make customers miserable, which lowers sales, profits, and ultimately stock price.

The same holds true with leaders of cities and countries. Lousy leadership and miserable citizens create the wrong economic outcomes. They also create low levels of wellbeing, the metrics of which are often referred to as behavioural economics. These behavioural economic metrics are invaluable because they are instructive insights into the states of mind that people are in before they make good or bad decisions.

Behavioural economics is usually defined as the science of choice or the intersection of economics and psychology. Gallup has been collecting and analysing the world’s largest body of behavioural economic data ever, and as a result we broadly define it as “the mathematical description of the role human nature plays in everything.” This is a vital distinction, because human nature plays a role in everything.

For example, annually, Gallup asks people in 150 countries a simple question: “Do you feel safe walking in your neighbourhood at night?” This is a significant question. Women in sub-Saharan Africa are afraid to walk a few hundred meters from their homes, as they fear being raped or beaten to death. Because of this fear they will not walk into town to sell a basket or buy some grain. So the local GDP of that village goes down.

My wife and I live in Georgetown. A couple of years ago, our neighbourhood suffered from a significant crime spree. For a period of time, we, like many others here, stopped walking after dark to go shopping or to restaurants. Our local GDP suffered in Georgetown because of fear, until the state of fear was reduced. Just as it does in Africa, a state of mind controlled the Georgetown economy.

Another subset of wellbeing is satisfaction with where you live. For instance, 33% of adults in Britain tell Gallup they intend to leave their country permanently. Not just for a while, but permanently. Their unhappiness about the future, their compromised wellbeing, not only makes it nearly impossible for British leaders to lead but also creates deadly brain drain. Their behavioural economic metrics of happiness or wellbeing have changed their relationship and engagement with their country.

But fear and future orientation are just two of many domains within wellbeing that locally alter GDP around the world. What most policy makers don’t know is that a wide variety of states of mind occur before the transactions of life that, in total, create an economic system. They are running their regressions and algorithms on after-the-fact data. Way to the right side of the behaviour curve. The wrong side.

I think it is very smart for Prime Minister Cameron to ask for a new institution of wellbeing and behavioural economic data to help run England. Because fear, misery, hopelessness, anger, extremism, confidence in the future, lack of money for food and shelter, feelings of corruption and so on eventually all lead to the societal hell of less citizen engagement, less workplace energy, less innovation, less entrepreneurship, less competitiveness . . . and finally a failing GNP.

As Matthew stated in his 21st Century Enlightenment paper, to adhere to humanist principles we should organise the world according to what is best for human beings. Happiness, wellbeing, behavioural economics – whatever term you prefer – are deadly serious metrics for all world and city leaders.

The RSA is hosting an event on these issues – New Metrics for a New Era: The Gallup-Healthways UK Wellbeing Index – on Tuesday 14 April at 9.30am. Join in the debate.

Jim Clifton has served as CEO of Gallup since 1988. His most recent innovation, the Gallup World Poll, is designed to give the world’s 6 billion citizens a voice in virtually all key global issues. Mr. Clifton has pledged to continue this effort to collect world opinion for 100 years in 150 countries.

Philoctetes Center - The Limitation of Mental and Physical Reality

Geeky, abstract discussion - it you like that sort of thing (as I do) you'll enjoy this debate from the Philoctetes Center.

Roundtable discussion with Gregory Chaitin, Joseph J. Kohn, Tim Maudlin, Edward Nelson, and Carol Rovane. Recorded February 26, 2011.

Destino - Salvador Dali Does Disney

Very cool and deeply weird, and it does exactly what it is meant to do, offer a visual explication of Dali's version of surrealism. The story is that this was made almost 70 years, but some of the animation looks state of the art - I'm a little skeptical that is this a Dali work. [OK, a little digging and I think it is valid.]

Either way, however, it's amazing to watch. Thanks to whoever it was at Facebook from whom I stole this video.

Disney cartoon by Salvador Dali

68 years ago Walt Disney has asked Salvador Dali to draw a cartoon film which would be an embodiment of his idea of surrealism. But it turned out that it was so unusual to the ordinary spectator that Disney did not display it, and it was not available to the public until 2003.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Seed Magazine - So how did Buddhism come close to getting the brain right?

Cool article from Seed Magazine that looks at what some neuroscientists and philosophers have known for a long time - Buddhism intuited through 1st person perspectives (subjective) what took science another 2,500 to observe through 3rd person perspectives (objective). Funny how that works, eh? Introspection and observation arriving at very similar understandings of consciousness.

And yet the majority of neuroscientists and a bunch of philosophers still think the 1st person perspective is useless and unreliable. On the other hand, a new generation of researches (including the atheist Sam Harris) are meditating and applying both 1st person and 3rd person perspectives to their understandings of the brain and the mind.

The author of this post, David Weisman, also blogs at Psychology Today.

Buddhism and the Brain

Opinion / by David Weisman / March 9, 2011

Many of Buddhism’s core tenets significantly overlap with findings from modern neurology and neuroscience. So how did Buddhism come close to getting the brain right?

Credit: Flickr user eschipul

Over the last few decades many Buddhists and quite a few neuroscientists have examined Buddhism and neuroscience, with both groups reporting overlap. I’m sorry to say I have been privately dismissive. One hears this sort of thing all the time, from any religion, and I was sure in this case it would break down upon closer scrutiny. When a scientific discovery seems to support any religious teaching, you can expect members of that religion to become strict empiricists, telling themselves and the world that their belief is grounded in reality. They are always less happy to accept scientific data they feel contradicts their preconceived beliefs. No surprise here; no human likes to be wrong.

But science isn’t supposed to care about preconceived notions. Science, at least good science, tells us about the world as it is, not as some wish it to be. Sometimes what science finds is consistent with a particular religion’s wishes. But usually not.

Despite my doubts, neurology and neuroscience do not appear to profoundly contradict Buddhist thought. Neuroscience tells us the thing we take as our unified mind is an illusion, that our mind is not unified and can barely be said to “exist” at all. Our feeling of unity and control is a post-hoc confabulation and is easily fractured into separate parts. As revealed by scientific inquiry, what we call a mind (or a self, or a soul) is actually something that changes so much and is so uncertain that our pre-scientific language struggles to find meaning.

Buddhists say pretty much the same thing. They believe in an impermanent and illusory self made of shifting parts. They’ve even come up with language to address the problem between perception and belief. Their word for self is anatta, which is usually translated as ‘non self.’ One might try to refer to the self, but the word cleverly reminds one’s self that there is no such thing.

Read the whole article.

The New American Pessimism - Charles Simic

The poet Charles Simic published an article in the New York Review of Books on The New American Pessimism - a very well-articulated enumeration of the many injustices poured upon us each day by our elected "leaders" - and we don't have the strength and faith of Job.
In an atmosphere of growing anxiety and hysteria, in which the true causes and the scale of our dire national predicament are deliberately concealed and obfuscated by our political establishment and by the corporate media, no wonder there’s confusion and anger everywhere. As anyone who has traveled around this country and talked to people knows, Americans are not just badly informed, but downright ignorant about most things that affect their lives.
Sadly true - and I am sure some (or most) of those people Simic sees as ignorant (and who many of us would as well0 also see him and us as ignorant and brain-washed by the liberal media.

Oh what fun.

The New American Pessimism

Charles Simic

A protester at a march and rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, March 5, 2011

I can’t remember when I last heard someone genuinely optimistic about the future of this country. I discount politicians, investment bankers and generals since their line of work requires that they offer upbeat assessments of everything from our deteriorating economy to our suicidal wars, and assorted narcissists accustomed to shutting their eyes to the plight of their fellow Americans. The outright prophets of doom and gloom among our friends and acquaintances tended to be a rare breed until recently. They were mostly found among the elderly, whose lives had an inordinate share of tragedies and disappointments, so one didn’t take their bleak outlook as applicable to the rest of us. One encountered inveterate optimists, idealists, or even Niebuhrian realists in the past; now, one finds people of all ages and backgrounds eager to tell you how screwed up everything is, and, on a more personal note, what a difficult time they are having—not just making ends meet, but understanding why the country they thought they knew has become unrecognizable.

Just look at the assault on the rights of state workers that Wisconsin’s new governor Scott Walker and a group of state senators have rammed through a rump legislature without any debate. The same approach is now spreading to several other states in the heartland. In the new USA, teachers, union workers, women, children, the unemployed and the hopeless are the cause of unsustainable deficits, and a dog-eat-dog philosophy that is supposed to make us great again prevails.

It must be difficult for any hostess nowadays to stop her dinner guests from reciting to each other over the course of an evening the endless examples of lies and stupidities they’ve come across in the press and on TV. As they get more and more wound up, they try to outdo each other, losing all interest in the food on their plates. I know that when I get together with friends, we make a conscious effort to change the subject and talk about grandchildren, reminisce about the past and the movies we’ve seen, though we can’t manage it for very long. We end up disheartening and demoralizing each other and saying goodnight, embarrassed and annoyed with ourselves, as if being upset about what is being done to us is not a subject fit for polite society.

In an atmosphere of growing anxiety and hysteria, in which the true causes and the scale of our dire national predicament are deliberately concealed and obfuscated by our political establishment and by the corporate media, no wonder there’s confusion and anger everywhere. As anyone who has traveled around this country and talked to people knows, Americans are not just badly informed, but downright ignorant about most things that affect their lives. How nice it would be if our President leveled with us and told us that our deficit is caused in significant part by the wars we are fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the hundreds of military bases we are maintaining around the world, the huge tax breaks for the rich, and the bailout of Wall Street. As we know, we are not about to hear anything of the kind.

By the president’s calculation, telling the truth to the American people would doom his reelection campaign, since he would not be able to raise the billion dollars he needs this time around. The kind of people who have that kind of money and will agree to contribute to his campaign know very well what informed voters in a working democracy would to do to them once they understood just who has depleted the national treasury to line their own pockets. No doubt, he and his political party will do anything to avoid the truth and will propose outwardly attractive solutions—like the health care bill that not only expands coverage but greatly benefits insurance companies and does little to reduce healthcare costs. They hope that these kinds of measures will lure the majority of voters who won’t bother to learn the details, but they will also send a clear signal to the moneyed classes that they won’t be inconvenienced in the least.

As for those who continue to insist that there’s something fundamentally wrong with a democracy that doesn’t address the ever-growing income inequality the sheer madness of our open-ended military ventures in Afghanistan, the miseries of the sick and unemployed, the suffering of the near destitute and of the children and the old, they’ll be dismissed as being unrealistic in present circumstances and reminded that with the other party in power things would be even worse. The reason pessimists are multiplying is that we dishonor the intellect and the knowledge of history in this country by refusing to admit that corruption is the source of our ills. It takes no great mental effort to realize that there’s no effective political forces either in Washington or locally that are able to do anything serious to correct our self-delusions about being the world’s policeman, because any sensible solution would seriously cut into profits of this or that interest group.

They say the monkey scratches its fleas with the key that opens its cage. That may strike one as being very funny or very sad. Unfortunately, that’s where we are now.

March 10, 2011 11:45 a.m.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Story of Citizens United v. FEC (2011)

This video has gone viral among a certain subset of people who actually believe in Democracy as an ideal - brought to you by the same folks who brought us The Story of Stuff. ---- Season Two launches on March 1st with The Story of Citizens United v. FEC, an exploration of the inordinate power that corporations exercise in our democracy.

About the Film

The Story of Citizens United v. FEC, released on March 1st, 2011 at, explores the history of the American corporation and corporate political spending, the appropriate roles of citizens and for-profit corporations in a democracy and the toxic impact the Citizens United decision is already having on our political process. It ends with a call to amend the U.S. constitution to confirm that people—not corporations—make the decisions in a democracy.

Join the movement and our community: Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the distribution of The Story of Citizens United v. FEC.
 You can make a secure contribution HERE.

Written by Annie Leonard, Jonah Sachs, Louis Fox
Produced by Free Range Studios
Executive Producer Erica Priggen
Director Louis Fox
Camera Tim Kerns
Gaffer Charles Griswold
Sound Dan Gleich
Best Girl Lauren Stocker
Teleprompter Bill Buck
Hair/Make-Up Kathleena Gorga
Production Coordinator Juliet Unfried
Animation Script Louis Fox, Ruben DeLuna
Animators Ruben DeLuna, Lyla Warren, Bob Cesca, Ben Johnson
Editor Mike Farley
Sound Design Ray Sutton

Story of Stuff Project Annie Leonard, Michael O’Heaney, Christina M. Samala, Allison Cook, Renee Shade

Viral Outreach Heidi Quante, Angela Bradbery, Rachel Lewis

Script Advisor Robert Weissman

Support Provided by The Cow Hollow Fund, 11th Hour Project

About the Issue

You can only cram so much in to eight minutes, even talking as fast as Annie does! Check out these additional resources to learn more about issues Annie talks about in The Story of Citizens United v. FEC and take action to put the people back in charge of our democracy!

From the Film

Annotated Script (PDF)
House Party Kit (PDF)
Press Release (PDF)

On the Web


Free Speech For People is a new national non-partisan campaign pressing for a 28thAmendment to the US Constitution to overturn Citizens United v. FEC and restore democracy to the people. Free Speech For People ( seeks to reclaim constitutional rights for people and return corporations to their place as economic rather than political entities. Free Speech For People launched its campaign moments after the US Supreme Court issued its ruling on January 21, 2010, in Citizens United v. FEC. Since its launching, Free Speech For People has worked across the country to build a broad grassroots movement to ensure that people, not corporations, govern in America.


People For the American Way is dedicated to making the promise of America real for every American: Equality. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. The right to seek justice in a court of law. The right to cast a vote that counts. The American Way.

Our vision is a vibrantly diverse democratic society in which everyone is treated equally under the law, given the freedom and opportunity to pursue their dreams, and encouraged to participate in our nation’s civic and political life. Our America respects diversity, nurtures creativity and combats hatred and bigotry.

We believe a society that reflects these constitutional principles and progressive values is worth fighting for, and we take seriously our responsibility to cultivate new generations of leaders and activists who will sustain these values for the life of this nation.


Corporations have their lobbyists in Washington, D.C.
The people need advocates too.

Public Citizen serves as the people’s voice in the nation’s capital. Since our founding in 1971, we have delved into an array of areas, but our work on each issue shares an overarching goal: To ensure that all citizens are represented in the halls of power.

For nearly four decades, we have proudly championed citizen interests before Congress, the executive branch agencies and the courts. We have successfully challenged the abusive practices of the pharmaceutical, nuclear and automobile industries, and so many others. We are leading the charge against undemocratic trade agreements that advance the interests of mega-corporations at the expense of citizens worldwide.

As the federal government wrestles with critical issues – fallout from the global economic crisis, health care reform, climate change and so much more – Public Citizen is needed now more than ever. We are the countervailing force to corporate power. We fight on behalf of all Americans – to make sure your government works for you.

We have five policy groups: our Congress Watch division, the Energy Program, Global Trade Watch, the Health Research Group and our Litigation Group. Learn more about them here.

Public Citizen is a nonprofit organization that does not participate in partisan political activities or endorse any candidates for elected office. We accept no government or corporate money – we rely solely on foundation grants, publication sales and support from our 80,000 members. Please support our valuable work.

The sound the universe makes - Janna Levin on TED

Cool talk . . . .

The sound the universe makes: Janna Levin on

We think of space as a silent place. But physicist Janna Levin says the universe has a soundtrack — a sonic composition that records some of the most dramatic events in outer space. (Black holes, for instance, bang on spacetime like a drum.) An accessible and mind-expanding soundwalk through the universe. (Recorded at TED2011, March 2011, in Long Beach, California. Duration: 17:43)

Watch Janna Levin’s talk on where you can download it, rate it, comment on it and find other talks and performances from our archive of 800+ TEDTalks.