Saybrook University


War is harder on soldiers who kill


Soldiers are no less human for wearing a uniform, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that new research shows that soldiers who kill tend to have far more difficult lives than soldiers who don’t. 

That’s the conclusion of a new report produced on Vietnam Veterans by UC San Francisco and the VA Medical center.  Even compared to other combat veterans, soldiers who killed (or think they killed) are more likely to suffer long-term from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, violent behavior, and other psychological problems. 

To Stanley Krippner, a psychology faculty member at Saybrook and co-author of the book Haunted by Combat, this isn’t a surprise:  treating traumatic situation in a “one-size fits all” kind of way will never account for the unique experiences each soldier takes back with them from battle.  However you slice it, killing someone is not like being shot at - no two experiences are the same.

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Japan and San Francisco - the existential connection


 Yes, Europe played a role, but to Kingo Matsuda America is the “origin of psychotherapy” – especially person-centered therapy.

That’s why Kingo, the Director of the Overseas Department for the Academy of Counselors Japan, was at Saybrook this month with 15 students.  Together they went through training in humanistic and existential therapy provided by leading experts on the Saybrook faculty, including Kirk Schneider and Charles Cannady. 

Since 2004 Saybrook has worked with the Academy of Counselors Japan to give its students, who will upon graduation be front line therapists and counselors in that country, a strong grounding in existential-humanistic approaches

Saybrook, Kingo says, has that expertise – although ironically person-centered approaches to therapy may be more popular in Japan than in the U.S..

“Person-centered is very popular in Japan,” says Kingo.  “However, they have never had anything like existential therapy or gestalt therapy.  So they can expand their knowledge here, and bring it back to Japan and as a counselor their insight is expanded.  They can expand their insight.”

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The advantage of unprocessed foods


Nutrition is an often overlooked component of mind-body medicine – it doesn’t have the glitz of hypnosis or the hipness of biofeedback.  But it’s basic:  what you decide to put in your body today has a major impact on your health tomorrow. 

Just ask Beverly Rubik.  A faculty member of Saybrook’s College of Mind-Body Medicine and the Director of the Institute for Frontier Science, Rubik is frequently called upon to perform evaluations of health products or regimens, and has recently completed a study on the impact of processed foods on health. 
Two words:  not good.

In a recent study of the impact of processed foods, Rubik compared fresh blood samples (taken under optimal fasting conditions) of subjects who eat processed foods (including organic) with subjects who do not (in this case, followers of the Weston A. Price diet) for at least two years.  The subjects were all healthy adults from 25 to 81 years old, matched for age. 

Using a microscopic technique known as dark-field live blood analysis, she observed that the blood cells of those on the Weston A Price diet aggregated and clotted much less than the blood cells of those on conventional modern diets, even hours after the blood samples were drawn.  

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"Smart pills" have stupid problems


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


“(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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Existential Humanistic Institute holds its third annual conference this month


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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Human Science student Gail Ervin wins prestigious World Peace Fellowship


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


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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Shakespeare in ... lust?


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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Tom Greening to receive 2009 Szasz Award


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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