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"Smart pills" have stupid problems

11/11/2009

An avalanche starts with a single pebble, and scientists are now warning us that they’re seeing the next social avalanche begin:  the age of neuro-enhancers … pills to make us smarter … is here.

You see it in large numbers of college students taking the stimulant Adderall to do better on term papers.  You see it in pilots and doctors and taxi drivers who work long shifts taking Ritalin to help them concentrate.  You see it in the promise of new drugs that will even further enhance “mental performance.” 

An informal poll conducted last year by the journal Nature found that one in five readers of that scientific publication had taken drugs off-label to improve “their focus, concentration, or memory” – and a third said they would likely give “smart drugs” to their kids if they learned that other parents were doing so.

Call it neuro-enhancement, call it “cosmetic neurology,” call it drug addiction – but in the future, we’re warned, if you’re not popping pills to make you smarter, then you’ll be left behind.

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University

Treating "despair" like "depression" only makes things worse

11/10/2009

“(I)n an age when all psychic life is being understood in terms of neurotransmitters,” wrote Gordon Marino on the New York Times website, “the art of introspection has become passé.”

That’s a sentiment that the sentimentalists among us can get behind, but the hard-headed will surely ask “So what?”  What does it matter if introspection is one more form of “technology” that goes by the wayside, like the horse and buggy, like letter writing, and like card catalogs?  Don’t we have better “mental technology” now in the form of anti-depressants and fMRI scans?

Well, not exactly.  For one thing, the “medicalization” of the mind is leading to a confusion of categories:  “depression,” as a medical condition, Marino suggests, has become too broad, now encompassing other, unrelated, feelings – like despair.

“Depression” is what comes over us when we’re feeling blue, possibly (sometimes) as a result of chemical imbalances – but “despair” is what comes over us when we have a spiritual imbalance, when we have failed to understand who we really are, and live in denial.  Marino writes:

“(D)espair is not correlated with any particular set of emotions but is instead marked by a desire to get rid of the self, or put another way, by an unwillingness to become who you fundamentally are. This unwillingness often takes the form of flat out wanting to be someone else.”

That’s something we’ve all felt, that can’t possibly be “cured” by drugs in any meaningful sense of the term. 

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University

Existential Humanistic Institute holds its third annual conference this month

11/10/2009

The Existential Humanistic Institute will hold its third annual conference this month, Nov. 19 – 21, in San Francisco.

Co-sponsored by Saybrook, the conference will have the theme of “From Crisis to Creativity  Necessary Losses, Unexpected Gains,” and will examine the paradoxical nature of life and our times.

Many significant thinkers in the existential-humanistic tradition will be participating. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Robert Stolorow, a world renowned intersubjective psychoanalyst, and author/co-author of numerous books including Working Intersubjectively, Contexts of Being, Faces in a Cloud, and his most recent Trauma and Existence.

Dr. Stolorow’s keynote will be followed by a panel discussion between himself and EHI board members about the similarities and differences between intersubjective psychoanalysis and existential-humanistic therapy. 

Also notable will be a presentation on Thursday, Nov. 19, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. by California State Assembly Majority Whip Fiona Ma, who will present a trailblazing talk on humanizing governance through improving communications skills among legislators.  This will be part of a larger discussion of what EHI vice-president and Saybrook psychology faculty member Kirk Schneider calls “experiential democracy” – an attempt to supplement the standard legislative procedure by helping legislators to personally and experientially encounter issues of moral importance. 

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University

Human Science student Gail Ervin wins prestigious World Peace Fellowship

11/10/2009

Gail Ervin, an environmental planner and mediator studying in Saybrook’s Human Science PhD program with a concentration in Social Transformation has been awarded a prestigious Rotary World Peace Fellowship – one of only two people from the United States to receive the honor this year. 

There are 24 fellows in all.

The fellowship involves an 11-week intensive conflict resolution certificate program, with field work in Nepal and along the border of Cambodia, which is fully funded by Rotary Foundation. 

At Saybrook, Gail is studying how the global community of conflict resolution practitioners can use networks to fundamentally alter community discourses towards a culture of conflict resolution.

Joel Federman, who directs Saybrook’s Social Transformation concentration, served as one of Gail’s references for the award.
 
"Gail is a natural innovator and leader, who has extraordinary academic aptitude, commitment to service, initiative, and grace," Federman said.  "We're thrilled that she has received this prestigious fellowship, and proud that she will be representing Saybrook among the community of international peace scholars and practitioners participating in the Rotary program.”
 

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University

Living a courageous life is like driving a car ...

11/10/2009

You focus on where you want to go, instead of where you don't.  Alison Shapiro explains on her blog at Psychology Today. 

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Alumni Messenger

Two Alumni Publish Journal Articles: Dassie Hoffman, PhD '02 and David Whitsitt, PhD '08

11/02/2009
Two alumni publish journal articles: Dassie Hoffman, PhD '02 and Bridgit D. Gaspard, Voice Dialogue: A Powerful Tool for Your Therapeutic Toolbox, Perspectives, The Professional Journal of The Renfrew Center Foundation. The Renfrew Center runs many facilities throughout the country and specializes in eating disorders. David Whitsitt, PhD '08, A Phenomenological Exploration of Coronary...

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Alumni Messenger

Alumna Dassie Hoffman, PhD '02 to Teach "Voice Dialogue for Mental Health Professionals" in NY

11/02/2009
Dr. Hoffman will be teaching, Voice Dialogue for Mental Heath Professionals at The New York Open Center during the spring of 2010. The course offers CEC's from three professional organizations, beginning with Association of Humanistic Psychology, National Association of Social Workers, and the International Federation of Coaches. It will be taught in 5 week-end segments, because it is geared...

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University

Shakespeare in ... lust?

10/28/2009

It’s a headline guaranteed to make any romantic smile:  “Love, but not lust, inspires creativity.”

That’s the conclusion of a new study reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 

In it, researchers asked 60 university students to imagine either casual sex with someone they were attracted to but not in love with, or a long walk with their beloved partner, and then put them through a small battery of tests that required logical thinking, and additional tests that required creative thinking.

Sure enough, the students who were primed with romantic feelings did better on the creative tasks. 

Sadly for the romantics, Steve Pritzker, who co-chairs Saybrook’s Creativity Studies program, says this research doesn’t really make a case that love is a stimulant to creativity. 

“It’s pretty interesting stuff,” he acknowledges.  “But are a group of university students really a sufficient sample to make that conclusion?”  Additionally, he notes, no baseline tests were taken to measure creative skills before the experiment:  it’s possible that one group was simply more creative that the other, even when they weren’t thinking about long romantic walks.

“And,” Pritzker adds, “how do we know that the extent of their romantic musings really did stop at long romantic walks?  That nothing else happened in their minds?  Are we at least a little suspicious?”

That question gets at the heart of the matter for Pritzker:  it’s very difficult to separate “love” from “lust” sometimes.

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University

Tom Greening to receive 2009 Szasz Award

10/28/2009

Throughout his long career – as a private practitioner working with Jim Bugental; as the editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology;  as a faculty member at Saybrook, and at UCLA – Tom Greening has striven to live up to the charge of humanistic psychology:  to enhance people’s ability to experience freedom and meaning in their lives.

That’s a mission he’s even applied to the “mentally ill” – a term he has come to distrust as both a bad metaphor and as a means of tuning out the idea that we should even be concerned about the need mental patients have to experience freedom and meaning. 

This month that work was recognized as Tom Greening was chosen to receive the 2009 Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties – an award named after the pioneering author (and Rollo May Award winner) who championed the idea that “mental illness” is a contradiction in terms.

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University

How to solve a crisis before it happens

10/28/2009

 We know times are tough when eight New Jersey cities, famous for their independence, are looking to consolidate services and share resources.  In fact, all along the East Coast, cities, towns, and villages that have been independent for hundreds of years are staring down the barrel of the financial crisis and asking if more efficient use of government resources can save them.

Which is a great question – but it’s also one that they could have asked years ago, when real estate prices where high, resources were plentiful, and there were no financial crises limiting their options. 

That’s a head slapping fact for their residents, but it’s also a problem that anyone who’s worked in organizations is familiar with:  they only prepare for the next crisis after it’s already hit. 

Can we do better?  Is there a way that organizations can look at ways to improve themselves before there’s a crisis? 

“Yes, and that’s good leadership and good management practice,” says Gloria Burgess, a prominent business consultant and member of the LIOS faculty.  “But having said that, not many companies do it.”

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