Feature Articles

The view from Occupy Oakland

11/04/2011

(The following description of Occupy Oakland, just prior to the police action of Oct. 25, is provided by Psychology PhD student Makenna Berry, a regular contributor to Saybrook's psychology blog The New Existentialists)

Occupy oaklandHistory?

More like our story. It has become the story of 100’s swelling to include 1000’s who have come together in downtown Oakland. I speaking about the families, elders, youth, workers, teachers, nurses…everyone that I could imagine that lives in Oakland and from our surrounding cities who have come to speak, witness and participate in what has been called the most significant social movement seen in years.

No. This is not just a band of disenchanted students camping out in a public park. It’s so much more and I believe that we must either participate or at minimum take note.

The challenge is describing what Occupy is, because frankly, Occupy on a national scale is the people who are there. One can’t really know the people unless you are there with us.

But I can try.

It has been a week since Occupy Oakland hit the international news. The morning the first tent city was dismantled the Occupy Oakland movement was seen by many as not being much. It was viewed cautiously as a movement with no leader, no agenda and by some on the outside, with no point.

I had been watching and listening to the community beat. I felt that there was much more here than folks were realizing. The next day at 4pm I joined 100’s of others at the steps of the Oakland Public Library. The People’s Mic was on.

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Studying "place" - and all its powers

12/20/2010

Retreat Center Where you are can effect what you do.  We just don’t know why.

A University of Georgia study (PDF) of more than 10,000 fifth-graders in 71 elementary schools showed that students who could see gardens, mountains and other natural elements from their classrooms scored significantly higher on tests in vocabulary and math than students whose classrooms had views of roads and parking lots.

We just don’t know why.

According to a different study (PDF), students who have access to classrooms with more natural light advance 20 percent faster in math, and score 7 to 18 percent higher, than students with little daylight in their classes.

We’re just not sure why.

The nature of the places we work, live, and play have a significant impact on the way we go about our lives and what we want to accomplish.  So much so that international negotiator William Ury (author of Getting to Yes) deliberately chooses places that have histories of successful peace negotiations as the settings for mediations he leads.  He says it helps. 

In fact, there are many different occupations that work with “place” and “settings”:  architects, urban planners, farmers, eco-psychologists, to name just a few, and all of them have sets of evolving “best practices” about how to make places come alive for the people who live and work there. 

As Saybrook alumna Renee Levi discovered, each professional and academic field knows a great deal about the relationship between people and place, but they rarely have opportunities to share what they know and learn from each other.  

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Understanding "desire" - what do we really want?

12/20/2010

Psyche in love As an analyst, James Hollis has had many clients struggling to come to terms with sexless marriages. 

If they were coming to him with trouble sleeping, or an eating disorder, or a drug habit, they’d have no trouble saying “I have a problem, how do I solve it?”  But in the case of an unfulfilling sex life, or a low libido, he says, they’re much more likely to ask “how do I come to terms with it?”

Writing the lead article in the Fall issue of the journal Parabola, Hollis calls this a “disorder of desire,” and points out that our ability to express and experience desire is a key element of mental health.  To be cut off from one’s own desire is to be cut off from one’s own life. 

 “While levels of desire vary from person to person,” he writes, “the absence or diminution of desire is psychologically and spiritually significant for it is desire which most expresses the life force.”

This is not a casual problem, or something to shrug off with a resigned “oh well.” 

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Psychiatry and clinical psychology have failed. Here's how we do better.

12/06/2010

DSM 4 This has been a bad week for mental illness.

According to the New York Times, five of the current ten “personality disorders” will not be included in the next publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  The most controversial to be cut is “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” – the “Malady of Me” disease!

So if you’re suffering from those conditions, don’t worry – in 2013 they’ll cease to exist. 

In the meantime millions of people have been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the other personality disorders that will soon become extinct. They have been medicated, treated in psychiatric hospitals, received psychotherapy and have permanent records stating their psychiatric diagnosis. They have been stigmatized, charged money in the form of co-payments and out of pocket medical expenses, and experienced deep personal pain and shame – only to find that their diagnosis was a “pseudo-diagnosis” and no longer exists.

Truly, this is malpractice and professional negligence.  Even worse:  there is no known cause of any of the ten personality disorders, and never has been.  The gurus at the American Psychiatric Association hypothesize that the personality disorders come from a mix of genetic and environmental factors – but it’s hard not to be be incredulous when five of ten personality disorders are vanishing.

It’s not just personality disorders, either:  another New York Times article last week points out that the cost of residential eating disorder programs can run $30,000 dollars a month – with many patients needing three or more months of treatment. The kicker:  most insurance companies will not cover long term treatment because the inadequate empirical evidence of effective treatment remedies is inadequate. 

We don’t know how to fix an eating disorder, but we’re going to charge you $30,000 a month for trying.  We claim to understand personality disorders, but there could be five, or 10, or none:  the evidence is unclear. 

It’s time to call it like it is:  mainstream psychiatry and clinical psychology are failing. 

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The Psychology of Survival: what happened after AIDS

12/02/2010

AIDS test Prior to the advent of the antiretroviral (AVR) medications, gay men who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were confronting almost certain death. Now, with relatively easy availability of AVR medication, they confront a life that will be devoted dealing with a chronic illness and any potential lingering medical and emotional complications. Many experience shame, grief, isolation brought on by stigma or self isolation because they have chosen not to disclose.

They have survived not just an individual illness, but a community-wide epidemic that killed friends, lovers, neighbors and even members of your family. The impact of AIDS, both in succumbing to it and surviving it, can be every bit as great on the psyche as on the body. 

Silvio Machado, a PhD student of Psychology at Saybrook University provides a vivid research based narrative on the existential dimensions of the lives of the men who have survived.  His article, “Existential Dimensions of Surviving HIV: The Experience of Gay Long-Term Survivors,” is published in in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 

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Guided imaging comes out of the wilderness

11/16/2010

Alaska_locator Complementary medicine has taken some big steps in America’s biggest state. 

A program of guided imagery for those who have undergone cancer treatments will be utilized at Alaska Regional Hospital – and the State of Alaska’s insurance carrier, Wells Fargo Alaska Care, will pay for state employees and retirees to go through it. 

The Commissioner of Administration for Alaska, Annette Kreitzer, has also asked Lyn Freeman, the Saybrook alumna who created and runs the guided imagery program, to develop similar mind-body based programs for state employees and retirees with hypertension, diabetes, and stress. 

Much to Freeman’s surprise it’s being most embraced by oncologists, who have reputations as the most by-the-book, no nonsense doctors there are.

“I’d been expecting resistance,” says Freeman. “But in fact most oncologists I talked to said ‘it’s about time.’”

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Tweet 911!!!

11/16/2010

Fire emergency vehicle Sometimes the hardest part of an emergency is knowing where to turn. When something goes wrong, what do you do? Calling “911” is an option that most of us know by rote, and it’s a great choice – help is often just a phone call away.

But the 911 system, like most of our Emergency Management (EM) systems, was designed for the analog age, and according to a recent article in governing magazine, emergency services organizations around the country are asking if the social networking tools of the digital age might set the next standard for emergency communication in the 21st century.

According to the article:

It's been almost a decade since 9/11, but our multi-billion-dollar efforts to improve public safety departments' communication have yielded very few results. In fact, during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina relief work, some emergency personnel had to resort to communicating by running handwritten notes back and forth. While the feds continue to try and figure out a way to utilize public safety radio for emergencies, some states and localities have come up with solutions of their own.

Saybrook Organizational Systems alumnus David Williams, PhD is a leading consultant to emergency service organizations and health care systems around the globe. He was also responsible for publishing the leading comparative data survey of the nation’s largest EMS services, and helped design and develop the national EMS conference for operational leaders.

From this vantage point, Williams says that what’s most noticeable about social media and is not that it’s replacing traditional forms of EMS service …. you still want to call 911 … but how effectively it’s doing what social media is supposed to do:  better connecting one group of people, like emergency service providers, with the people they want to stay in touch with ... the public and their patients.

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How to help schools help creative kids

08/23/2010

Test taking student There are a lot of things kids can do to get in trouble in school, and being more creative than the test they’re taking may be near the top of the list.

Overwhelmed teachers say they’re having trouble finding the time to work with creative students, and an increasingly tight regimen of standardized tests means that creativity is often punished on report cards. 
 
That’s having an impact:  according to a recent Newsweek cover story, America’s intelligence test scores are going steadily up, while our scores in creativity are going steadily down. 

That’s dangerous in several ways, the first of which is that it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting any smarter.  As the magazine notes, intelligence test scores tend to suffer from inflation as new generations get more used to taking the tests – it’s called the “Flynn Effect,” and it means increases in intelligence scores aren’t always increases in intelligence.

Theoretically, creativity tests should suffer from the same problem of false inflation – which makes the recent drop in creativity scores all the more disturbing. 

How disturbing?  Newsweek calls it a “Crisis in creativity,” and points out that in a global economy based on innovation, a loss in creativity is an economic disaster waiting to happen.

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The health care system's blind spots make it hard to die

08/23/2010

When we get sick ... really, really sick ... all we want to do is get better, right? 
 
Hospitals certainly think so.  But, as a recent article on hospice care in the New Yorker points out, they’re often wrong.
 
“People have concerns besides simply prolonging their lives,” notes writer Atul Gawande:

“Surveys of patients with terminal illness find that their top priorities include, in addition to avoiding suffering, being with family, having the touch of others, being mentally aware, and not becoming a burden to others. Our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs, and the cost of this failure is measured in far more than dollars. The hard question we face, then, is not how we can afford this system’s expense. It is how we can build a health-care system that will actually help dying patients achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives.”
 

When it comes to the people it serves, our health care system has a lot of blind spots, says DR. Leila Kozak, and often we’re most blind to the idea that not everything has a technical fix.  “This is a huge problem,” she says.  “Most people end up dying without the comfort care and psychosocial-spiritual support they need. Ask physicians themselves, ask the nurses, they’ll tell you that the system isn’t working.”

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Happiness and suicide: the paradox of middle age

07/12/2010

We know that 50 is the new thirty, and you’re only as young as you feel ... etc, etc... but when you cut through all the clichés the evidence suggests something very strange is happening in middle age.

According to recent surveys, Baby Boomers are by far the happiest age group of all those studied;  they also have the highest suicide rates of any age bracket.

“So what is going on?” a recent New York Times article asked.  “Is middle age the best of times or the worst?”

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