The Brain & Science – The Problem With Wanting It All

As a psychotherapist, I have taken an interest in the rise of neurobiological research being applied to my field. At first, particularly upon hearing about “interpersonal neurobiology” (or IPNB), I was excited — I was seeing the intrapsychic and biological converge into what appeared to be a fascinating model of understanding human behaviour. But here’s the thing: while I have a deep reverence for the subjective life of the individual, I’m also interested in looking at things empirically, where applicable. Without this latter aspect, I feel we fall prey to magical thinking.

The more I looked into some of the new ideas permeating my field, I became aware of a few things. While certain concepts, such as the idea of neuroplasticity, were taken from science, the more I looked at who was writing about this, the more I noticed that the people applying these complicated concepts to psychotherapy weren’t neurologists or geneticists. One of the oft-referenced authors in the field of IPNB is Allan N. Schore, who is a psychologist and researcher. His books are popular with those looking to harmonize neurology and psychotherapy. And while I respect his multidisciplinary work, I have difficulty with binary conceptions of how the left and right brains work (whereas, supposedly, the right brain is responsible for emotional attunement, the left brain for insight and analysis). Why do I have difficulty with this? Because I asked a neurologist, and they confirmed that this is too simplistic a way to look at the brain.

This is a blog post and not a long-form essay. I could go on. I suppose what irks me is the amount of material being written about a myriad of complex neurobiological research findings that skip over the necessary cautions that are the hallmarks of science. Correlation is not causation. How big was the sample size? Continue reading

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Book Review: Conflict Is Not Abuse, by Sarah Schulman

I’ve noticed more and more over the last decade that less and less people want to use the phone. I cannot help but draw a correlation between this observation and the ubiquitous rise of digital communication. Email? Sure. Text? Yup. And what’s wrong with this, you might ask? On paper it would objectively appear that text-based communication (particularly including social media) is superior at transferring information without error, if only us pesky humans didn’t make mistakes. And this last part is key: we are not objective, we balance the objective world with our much less easily measurable experiential (or personal) reality; this second reality is informed by our experiences, which are diverse and sometimes punctuated by trauma or loss. When we talk to someone on the phone we are leaving ourselves prone — to fallibility (stammering, going off on a tangent), or having our hesitations read as something we may not otherwise wish to reveal.

I was thinking about these things (and many others) when I began reading Sarah Schulman’s powerful book, Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair. The problem with nearly all forms of digital communication and social media (with the exception of apps like Skype, etc) is that there is no actual dialogue — we aren’t allowed to have the sort of vulnerable conversations that speaking in-person or on the phone forces us into. And, in one of the book’s more important diagnoses, Schulman recognizes this as a key ingredient in the escalation of violence. Instead we are only allowed to trade unidirectional statements, leaving nuance and human connection by the wayside. So, when we have a disagreement with someone via text it becomes easy to pile on them, to vilify them. We can’t see them and there is no way for them to interject. On a social media platform like Twitter, this sort of conflict easily escalates into directing the wrath of groups upon an individual. Continue reading

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Essay in Humber Literary Review #6

I’m happy to say that the latest issue of Humber Literary Review (#6) is out, and I have an essay included. This is their first themed issue, and it’s about mental health. Because I’m a psychotherapist who is deeply reflective about the way in which we choose to see the world, I saw this as a golden opportunity to submit a pertinent perspective; my essay, On Madness Within Imagination, confronts a cultural blindspot – the depiction of madness in fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is available at the following Toronto bookstores:

Another Story (on Roncesvalles)
Book City on the Danforth
Book City on Queen
Book City on St Clair
Book City in the Village
Presse Internationale on Bloor
Presse Internationale in the Beaches
Type Books (on Queen)

It is available elsewhere, of course, but I have no clue where. You can also purchase a subscription from HLR.

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Keep Moving / Being Wrong / Keep Moving

Sometimes I feel that I stand in-between too many things. Un-firm. Undecided. This is in part due to my fond appreciation for not only a lot of disparate topics but also disparate approaches. I believe in the vigour of an approach which involves good research. I also believe that we can lace “good research” with wishful thinking so that the evidence it produces is wishful thinking presented as fact. I believe that there are charlatans who willingly or naively provide a distraction that slows us down. I also believe that we dismiss many things as charlatanism not because they pose a danger but because they conflict with the politics of our personal or professional lives. I believe in intuition. I also believe intuition alone brings us too close to a raw reflexiveness which doesn’t serve long term needs.

So when someone asks me What do you think about x? I sometimes find myself considering a number of things and contexts to understand the question. The drawback is we’ve created a world where this sort of complexity is undesired. Certainly, in some industries and roles, complexity is unnecessary — a prime example would be assembly line work where the task is to simply crank out carbon copy iterations of something already conceived-of and revised to an acceptable standard. If you want to know what roles robots and AI are going to swallow up in the future, it’s those things. Complexity, on the other hand, keeps us guessing, reminds us that there are no set answers, or if there are they are kludges we developed until the next discovery forces us to revise our notions, our presumptions.

In an essay in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Ferris Jabr profiles someone turning to exotic flora in order to stave off our imminent depletion of effective antibiotics. The researcher in question turns to the lore of sometimes ancient civilizations, the extracts and tinctures from nature that one might rightly think come from fantasy, or from a presumably primitive culture. From some pharmaceutical industry perspectives, this is quackery. And yet, in one example, Continue reading

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The Trouble With The Trouble With Physics

I’m on my second attempt reading Lee Smolin’s 2006 book The Trouble With Physics. I am reminded of a similar situation with another book, Joyce’s Ulysses. And, similarly, my second attempt with The Trouble With Physics is not a reappraisal but a confirmation: this is hard to read.

Smolin’s book is making a case for the fact that string theory is a failure; a spectacular failure that its adherents defend with a most byzantine theoretical web; that, because string theory is de rigueur in so many of the top schools, with so many reputations at stake, no one wants to recognize the fact that string theory — an attempt to harmonize the ideas of quantum theory and relativity so that we might understand the foundation of the universe more clearly — is a dead end.

The problem I’m (still) having with the book is that Smolin is writing to an audience that is willing to take a steep (try 90 degrees upward) climb in order to understand the various concepts and theories which not only formed the foundation of string theory, but the issues that weren’t resolved through the original work of Newton, Einstein, etc. Smolin lays out in the beginning various fundamental aspects of how things work that we simply don’t know — instilling early that scientific inquiry is, if anything, about the need for curiosity. However, given Smolin’s densely described approach to get us ready to understand his arguments, and while I don’t doubt the necessity, I think he would need to double the length of his book to do so effectively for interested readers who are not physicists.

What is more successful, and the reason I continue to read it, is how Continue reading

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Too Much Change

So much has happened…

– sold house (add to this: renovated house)

– bought condo (add to this: mourning house, moving)

– moved psychotherapy practice to newly-leased office (add to this: find office space, renovate, move)

– had my application to the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario accepted

– began intense revision process on novel (coming out in September)

So there you have it. I also hope to have a new short story published around the time my novel comes out, so yeah. All hands on deck at the moment.

I leave you with the cover for my novel, The Society of Experience:

 

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Now

Right now, it’s about keeping my energy and clarity in some sort of balance with the demands of reality, whose shifting path I have been navigating for the last while.

I am, by all rights, completing work on the last film I will ever work on. I say this with understandable trepidation since walking away from something you’ve done for 20 years, swinging to a new vine which depends solely on me and me alone: intimidating. Also experiencing the predictable though nevertheless white-knuckle bullshit of completing work on a film.

My psychotherapy practice is humming along nicely, which I am grateful for.

I am awaiting editorial notes on my novel, The Society of Experience, and hoping that they are neither too overwhelming nor the window I am given to do them within too short. Nobody wants to publish a bad book–that’s the good news and the bad news.

I am gratified by the progress I have made as a writer this year, not only in that I had a short story published, but that I feel I have turned a corner with respect to my writing process and the way I approach the development of stories.

I still have bad habits, but that’s what keeps life interesting.

 

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Updates

Hello all. It’s been a while. So, what’s new…

1) My psychotherapy site has had a facelift. If you’re looking for a psychotherapist in Toronto, I’m your man. Unless you’re looking for a woman.

2) I have completed my accreditation with TIRP and am now (slowly) preparing to join the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO). I am no longer a “Candidate” – yay!

3) My novel has an official title now. It’s called The Society of Experience. For updates, you can go here for now. It’s to be published in the Fall of 2015. It will be published under the recently-launched imprint Buckrider Books (a subsidiary of Wolsak & Wynn).

I’m extremely excited about the upcoming months. I don’t doubt there will be more things to announce. I will also try to come here more often and actually post something other than point-form updates.

 

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Book Review: The Therapy Industry, by Paul Moloney

I don’t have a lot of time or head space for reviews of any kind these days, however I try to make an exception for work which deserves attention, if only for sake of better exposure and discussion.

One of these works is the book The Therapy Industry, The Irresistible Rise of the Talking Cure and Why it Doesn’t Work by author Paul Moloney (Pluto Press). I came across this provocative title through Moloney’s recent curation of new book releases on the site New Left Project. What follows is a necessarily compressed review, certainly more so than what you would normally find for this sort of work, and perhaps more succinct than this book deserves.

Let’s stop the bus and draw your attention to the driver. My interest in this book is complex and certainly not unbiased: I’m a relational psychotherapist – it is a career I chose later in life and one whose practice and philosophy I have a deep, evolving respect for. However, increasingly I have found myself dissatisfied with the level of critical discussion about the array of available therapeutic modalities, the politics non-medical practitioners encounter with respect to recognition in an increasingly medicalized notion of mental health, and not least the pecking orders (particularly reinforced by those practitioners who receive provincial health care coverage, those who receive coverage via corporate health benefits plans, and those who receive neither).

I was drawn to this book not only for its stated critical approach but also, perhaps relievedly, that it was written by someone who is a counselling psychologist and lecturer. This is not, in other words, a journalistic view from the outside. Quite selfishly I thus figured that it must have some sort of a happy ending. And, in short, it does, though you need to swallow some hard medicine first.

The gist of The Therapy Industry is that there is a disconnect between the mainstream approach toward treating those with mental health issues and the realities of (at the very least Western) industrialized society which is becoming more and more demanding upon us, economically, socially, and – as a result – psychologically. The system generally available to the public – from awareness campaigns to the attitudes of medical and non-medical practitioners – goes to lengths to make those seeking help feel that the problems they are experiencing are the product of their genes or their own faulty reasoning about the world around them. Or, if the practitioner does recognize that there is a probable cause that is environmental rather than genetic, the prevailing course of treatment is, in essence, mind over matter. According to the book there is, in short, some denial about the more environmental causes in the marked rise of mental health-related issues over the last century. And worse still, if there is clinical – which is to say institutionalized – denial then that doubly disfavours those seeking help. Continue reading

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So, Another Year (A Needle Pulling Thread)

2013 was good to me, which is not to say that it was without challenges. I suppose it was a cluttered year, and I will take that over barren, even if I’m feeling exhausted.

I had two articles published, on two topics that I took personal interest in: the shape of Kensington Market, and the 10th anniversary of SARS. They both involve Toronto, but aside from that they don’t hold much in common. I took great pride in writing them and each provided healthy challenges for me as a writer.

The biggest news, for me as a writer and an individual, was having my novel picked up by Hamilton publisher, Wolsak & Wynn. Of course, there is a lot of work to be done until its publication date in 2015, but it’s about the biggest milestone for me as a writer that I could have asked for (a big shout-out to my agent, Kelvin Kong, with The Rights Factory).

And yet it was also a year where my psychotherapy practice grew and broadened. This February will mark the completion of two years of private practice and I could not be happier with it, though like starting anything new and independent there are always going to be challenges. I began working with couples in the summer and found myself liking the dynamic very much, though working with the energy in the room can be taxing.

I’m not completely out of the woods with respect to the film industry. I started work on Bruce McDonald’s new feature, Hellions, as a post supervisor/consultant. It’s difficult juggling this type of work with therapy – two different parts of my brain which don’t always play well: the anticipatory, structure-based, logic-seeking left brain vs the open-ended, empathetic, creative right.

I would like to top 2013, but I don’t know if that will happen in 2014. I would certainly like to complete the first draft of my new novel. But it’s a tough nut to crack and doesn’t want to be rushed. My greatest challenge as a writer with respect to new work will be combining the worlds – and words – of therapy and writing: finding a project in which to write from the viewpoint of a therapist. I see this as an inevitability and I would prefer to jump in the pool rather than be pushed. I look forward to the days to come.

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