Sunday, March 31, 2013

Johnny Cash -- Hurt

I'm not sure why, but this strikes me as appropriate Easter Sunday fare.

Click here for music video

This is the same thing, but it wasn't working when I first posted:

"We were in the studio, getting ready to work — and I popped it in, by the end I was really on the verge of tears. I’m working with Zach de la Rocha, and I told him to take a look. At the end of it, there was just dead silence. There was, like, this moist clearing of our throats and then, "Uh, OK, let’s get some coffee."

“Every man knows he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash.” — Bono

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Vincent Van Gogh

Born March 30, 1853.

Van Gogh has always been an fascinating case study for psychiatrists and others. Historical psychiatric detective work is always an interesting diversion.

I have always been partial to Kay Redfield Jamison's argument for a manic-depressive illness diagnosis for Van Gogh.  This letter to the editor by Kay Redfield Jamison ("Vincent Van Gogh's illness") is well worth reading as an example of sound diagnostic reasoning (which happens to take base rates into account). She rips apart another diagnostician's conclusion that Van Gogh suffered from acute intermittent porphyria and makes a solid case for manic-depression. This special edition of Scientific American has a good article by Jamison on manic-depressive illness and creativity (starting on page 44).

In 2002, the American Journal of Psychiatry published a case study by Dietrich Blumer that argues for a form of epilepsy (combined with a bipolar illness). Here's the abstract:

"Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) had an eccentric personality and unstable moods, suffered from recurrent psychotic episodes during the last 2 years of his extraordinary life, and committed suicide at the age of 37. Despite limited evidence, well over 150 physicians have ventured a perplexing variety of diagnoses of his illness. Henri Gastaut, in a study of the artist’s life and medical history published in 1956, identified van Gogh’s major illness during the last 2 years of his life as temporal lobe epilepsy precipitated by the use of absinthe in the presence of an early limbic lesion. In essence, Gastaut confirmed the diagnosis originally made by the French physicians who had treated van Gogh. However, van Gogh had earlier suffered two distinct episodes of reactive depression, and there are clearly bipolar aspects to his history. Both episodes of depression were followed by sustained periods of increasingly high energy and enthusiasm, first as an evangelist and then as an artist. The highlights of van Gogh’s life and letters are reviewed and discussed in an effort toward better understanding of the complexity of his illness."Abstract Teaser

Here's a portrait by Van Gogh of one of his psychiatrists, completed while in the asylum at Saint-Remy.
Portrait of Doctor Gachet
Letters by Van Gogh suggest some ambivalence about the good doctor:

"I think that we must not count on Dr. Gachet at all. First of all, he is sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much, so that's that. Now when one blind man leads another blind man, don't they both fall into the ditch?"

In a letter dated two days, he wrote, "I have found a true friend in Dr. Gachet, something like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and also mentally."

Finally, last summer 60 Minutes aired an interesting segment that suggests that Van Gogh was a victim of a firearm accident, not suicide. You can view it here.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Mark 15

15 And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.
2 And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto them, Thou sayest it.
3 And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing.
4 And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? behold how many things they witness against thee.
5 But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled.
6 Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired.
7 And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.
8 And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.
9 But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
10 For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.
11 But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
12 And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?
13 And they cried out again, Crucify him.
14 Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.
15 And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.
16 And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.
17 And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head,
18 And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!
19 And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.
20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.
21 And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.
22 And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.
23 And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.
24 And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take.
25 And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
26 And the superscription of his accusation was written over, The King Of The Jews.
27 And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.
28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.
29 And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,
30 Save thyself, and come down from the cross.
31 Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
32 Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.
33 And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
35 And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias.
36 And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.
37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.
39 And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.


A remarkable number of people who regard themselves as educated have never read a single book of the Bible. Abraham Lincoln's entire education was based on three books: the Bible (King James, of course), Euclid's Geometry, and the collected works of Shakespeare. Ernest Hemingway noisily recommended to all aspiring writers that they read and re-read the King James Bible. (Here is an excellent, brief description of the stylistic impact of the King James Bible.)

Give yourself a treat and at least read Genesis. Then you will probably want to read Exodus. Then Ecclessiastes, Proverbs, and Job. And of course, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These passages are so central to Western civilization that you will probably seem familiar to you in some way, and in other ways they will seem strange and new.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shakespeare and Psychiatry

Here's an interesting article on Shakespeare and psychiatry from Psychiatric Times, a online publication that is worth reviewing regularly, even for clinical psychology types. You can also sign up for email news alerts without having a subscription. They even have online quizzes to test your knowledge of various topics (e.g., bipolar disorder, PTSD, suicide, etc.). There are also a bunch of great blogs located on the site, written by some of the most influential people in the mental health profession. It is great place to visit if you have any interest in the DSM-V controversies.

Some excerpts:

"American psychiatrists have enthused about Shakespeare from the very beginning of their profession. The early issues of the American Journal of Insanity (predecessor of The American Journal of Psychiatry) contain more than a dozen articles on Shakespeare. Isaac Ray, a president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) who pioneered forensic psychiatry in America, thought Shakespeare was essential professional education: “few men [I add women] . . . are so familiar with those adversities of mental character that are in any degree the result of disease, as not to find the spheres of their ideas on this subject somewhat enlarged by the careful study of Shakespeare.


Sigmund Freud...launched the practice of psychoanalyzing Shakespeare’s characters with his observations on Hamlet in the Interpretation of Dreams.8 We are told by Peter Gay9 (Freud’s biographer) that when Freud was 8, he was already reading Shakespeare and reciting in near perfect English some of the famous lines. There are quotes from Shakespeare scattered throughout the collected works, and in perhaps his most important insight, Freud recognized Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Sophocles’ Oedipus and formulated the Oedipus complex—the cornerstone of psychoanalysis and of his personal self-analysis.

Kurt Eissler10 one of Freud’s most loyal adherents (and the author of his own erudite study of Hamlet) believed that Freud got more of his ideas from Shakespeare than from his patients. That seems to me entirely believable. In my own retrospective judgment, once one gets past the Interpretation of Dreams and the Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, it is fair to say that Shakespeare saw more deeply and broadly into the human condition than Freud."

If you need any more encouragement to read your Shakespeare (and see the plays performed), this is an excellent essay.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Bicameral Mind -- Julian Jaynes (1976)

Here is an interesting review of psychologist Julian Jaynes' "bizarre and reckless masterpiece" The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976). The main idea is this:
"Jaynes began inspecting the world’s earliest literature for the first signs of human consciousness. “I started off like in a detective story,” he told a reporter for the Princeton radio station. As he moved backward through the centuries, he saw that consciousness, as he had defined it, disappeared somewhere between the Odyssey and the Iliad. Odysseus is a modern hero, introspective and deceptive. In the Iliad, the writing of which scholars date some three hundred years earlier, the characters are passive and mentally inert. They have no concept of a private mental space. The word “psyche” referred only to actual substances in the body, breath, and blood, which leave the warrior’s body as soon as he dies. The gods, emerging from mists or clouds or the sea, handle the warrior’s decisions. When Achilles accuses Agamemnon of stealing his mistress, Agamemnon insists he had no agency. “Not I was the cause of this act, but Zeus,” he explains. “So what could I do? Gods always have their way.”
Critics have interpreted the meddling presence of the god as poetic devices, but Jaynes accused translators of imputing a modern mentality to people with subjectivities foreign to us. “The gods were in no sense ‘figments of the imagination,’” he wrote. “They were man’s volition. They occupied his nervous system, probably his right hemisphere.” Jaynes drew on research with patients with severed corpora callossa, the band of fibers that separates the two hemispheres of the brain, which showed that the two chambers can function independently, without conscious awareness of information processed in the other half. Jaynes proposed that the Trojan War was fought by men with a kind of split brain, a “bicameral mind.” In moments of stress, the left hemisphere, “slave-like,” perceived hallucinated voices in the right hemisphere—the god hemisphere—as direct commands.""
I am not sure how certain scholars are about a "300 year" gap between the writing down of the Iliad and the Odyssey. (I am partial to the idea that the Odyssey was written by Homer's granddaughter.) Nevertheless, Jaynes' book seems to have a boldness and originality sorely lacking in contemporary psychology. There is very little published in the field today that could be called "startling".

But the main reason that I plan to read this book, and the reason for this post, is the statement that Jaynes "wanted to revive the 'disappearing idea that a psychologist enters his profession almost like a religious order, making himself a part of his own subject matter, and baring his soul.'"

I wonder how many psychologists today even understand what Jaynes meant by comparing entering the profession of psychology to taking holy orders? How many felt a calling to the profession? For how many is being a psychologist just a job like any other?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Our Town - Thornton Wilder

EMILY: "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?"

STAGE MANAGER: "No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.”

Thornton Wilder, Our Town

"Our Town is one of the toughest, saddest plays ever written."
-- Edward Albee

A lot of people who should know better think that Our Town is hokey -- that's probably because they saw it in a high school production. It's actually knife-in-the-guts brutal. Consider this review from the New York Times:

"We ought to weep at Emily’s famous line not because she finds earth wonderful, but because she was unable to find it so during her close-minded life in her close-minded town — which is, of course, our town. Wilder makes a profound statement about the limits of human understanding here, one that requires delicacy and a little steel to convey."

If you have never seen the play, the synopsis below might be helpful before you watch the two clips.

Act III: Death and Eternity

The Stage Manager opens the act with a lengthy monologue emphasizing eternity, and introduces us to the cemetery outside of town and the characters who died in the nine years since Act Two: Mrs Gibbs (pneumonia, while traveling), Wally Webb (burst appendix, while camping), Mrs Soames, and Simon Stimson (suicide by hanging), among others. We meet the undertaker, Joe Stoddard, and a young man Sam Craig who has returned home for his cousin's funeral. We learn that his cousin is Emily, who died giving birth to her and George's second child. The funeral ends and Emily emerges to join the dead. Then Mrs. Gibbs tells her that they must wait and forget the life that came before, but Emily refuses. Despite the warnings of Simon, Mrs. Soames, and Mrs. Gibbs, Emily decides to return to Earth to re-live just one day, her 12th birthday. She finally finds it too painful, and realizes just how much life should be valued, "every, every minute." Poignantly, she asks the Stage Manager whether anyone realizes life while they live it, and is told, "No. The saints and poets, maybe – they do some." She then returns to her grave, beside Mrs. Gibbs, watching impassively as George kneels weeping at her graveside. The Stage Manager concludes the play, reflecting on the probable lack of life beyond Earth, and wishes the audience a good night.

Click on the photo to watch the devastating performance by Penelope Ann Miller. [You can also find it on Youtube under [Our Town Act 3, part 1, Penelope Ann Miller monologue"] (That's Spalding Gray as the Stage Manager and the mom from Six Feet Under as Mother Gibbs.)

"Take me back up the hill to my grave."

If you think you can take more, click the next photo.

Our Town Act 3, part 2, Penelope Ann Miller monologue, the famous lines are between 1:36-1:50, but watch from the beginning

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.

-stage manager, "OUR TOWN”

Monday, March 25, 2013

Can you prevent PTSD?

This is a decent article on efforts to manage PTSD in the U.S. Army. It includes some rather cool Rorschach-type images:

Mental Combat
"In every 20th-century conflict the U.S. has fought, more American soldiers
have been psychiatric casualties than have been killed in combat."

The article mentions some of the doubts about the efficacy of "resilience" training as a means to prevent PTSD in combat troops. Martin Seligman is the fellow behind that particular boondoggle -- it's the sort of thing that everyone hopes will work, but so far there just isn't much evidence to support it.
The article borrows liberally (without attribution) from Dave Grossman's classic book, On Killing. I recommend the book to anyone interested in the subject (even though I part ways with Grossman when he opines about media-influenced violence, and I have my doubts about the Slam Marshall WWII "research" that is used to back up some of Grossman's claims).
But On Killing is one of the books that got me WAY interested in psychology when I was an undergraduate. It also includes one of the best explications of operant versus classical conditioning that I can think of. I was recently looking at a copy of a new book by a former SEAL training officer, and there was an appendix ("The Warrior's Bookshelf") that included On Killing as required reading.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

-- William Blake (1810)

Here is the poem as hymn:


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Erich Fromm

Born March 23, 1900 in Frankfurt, Germany.

“A mixture of economic interests, ambition, and vanity on the part of the leaders, and a good deal of stupid blundering on all sides brought about the [First World] war. But once it had broken out…it became a religious phenomenon. The state, the nation, national honor, became the idols, and both sides voluntarily sacrificed their children to these idols....In the case of child sacrifice, the father kills the child directly while, in the case of war, both sides have an arrangement to kill each other’s children.”
From The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness

Escape from Freedom is probably the best introduction to Fromm.

But it is perhaps his concept of the Marketing Orientation that is most relevant today. You should read all of this.

"The marketing economy says we have to sell ourselve, make ourselves into an object, commodity.There is an obsession with "packaging," with our facade. The person with the marketing orientation aims to sell himself or herself successfully on the market. This person does not experience himself or herself as an active agent, and to a great degree is alienated from his or her human powers. The sense of self stems from the socioeconomic role one plays. "Human qualities like friendliness, courtesy, kindness are transformed into commodities, into assets of the "personality package" that can bring a higher price on the personality market." A person's sense of his or her own value always depends on extraneous factors, on the fickle judgment of the market about the person's value."

"I am for sale! I will become whoever you want me to be! My value is determined by other people's interest or investment in me!"

Here is an online personality test based on Fromm's personality orientations.

A great interview of Fromm by Mike Wallace in 1958 can be viewed here.

More on Fromm from an online personality theories textbook.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Bard College -- Summer Reading

At Bard College in New York, students are expected to read Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis and Chapter Four of Darwin's Origin of Species during the summer prior to matriculation. This is a great idea.

The rationale is thus:

"On some level, students will find something familiar about these summer readings as well as something counterintuitive and obscure. A simplified version of what takes place in Kafka's short story has some presence in popular culture, and at a minimum most students will have heard someone use the word "Kafkaesque." A direct encounter with the writing of this remarkable German-speaking Jew from Prague who was reluctant to have his writings published can be inspiring precisely because of the tension between image, reception, and textual reality that characterizes both The Metamorphosis and Kafka's life.

090206-charles-darwin-02.jpgThe disjunction between image and reality could not be more pronounced than in the case of Charles Darwin. The claims of no other thinker or scientist, with the possible exception of Einstein, have been so mangled and distorted in the popular imagination. Somehow every citizen thinks he or she knows what Darwin thought without actually having read his writings. Direct engagement with Darwin's work not only makes the character and significance of modern biology more apparent, exciting, and vital, but the brilliance and subtlety of Darwin's thought quickly dispel the distortions that dominate scientific journalism in the popular media.

Colleges must counter the experience of conventional high school education in the United States, where learning is little more than a standardized test-driven chore with utilitarian benefits. In college, students should discover that most of the important writings and discoveries they will study were not generated for their benefit, but rather came into being in order to illuminate and improve life. It is precisely the connection between learning and living that justifies the life of the mind and makes study and inquiry a treasured form of human activity and among the most rewarding.

This belief cannot be preached; it can only be experienced. What better mechanism to set this experience in motion than assigning common readings in the summer? Students who encounter vaguely familiar texts like The Metamorphosis or "Natural Selection" will discover on entering college, through the intervention of teaching and the exchange of ideas with peers, that there is so much more to learn than they had expected about texts and subjects with which they believed they were familiar. With this realization, they embark on a journey of discovery that will strengthen their confidence in themselves and the enterprise of serious learning."

In addition, all freshmen at Bard participate in the Freshman seminar. Here is the reading list:

Fall 2012
  • Genesis (Norton; trans. Alter)
  • The Republic, Plato (Norton; trans. Scott and Sterling)
  • The Aeneid, Virgil (Penguin; trans. Fagles)
  • Confessions, Saint Augustine (Penguin; trans. Pine-Coffin)
  • Inferno, Dante (Anchor; trans. Hollander)
  • Othello, William Shakespeare (Norton)
  • Discoveries and Opinions, Galileo-Galilei (Anchor; trans. Drake)

Spring 2013
  • Montaigne, Michel; The Essays (Penguin; trans. Cohen)
  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques; Rousseau's Political Writings (Norton; trans. Bondanella)
  • Kant, Immanuel; Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge; trans. Gregor)
  • Shelley, Mary; Frankenstein (Norton)
  • Marx, Karl; Communist Manifesto (Norton; trans. Bender)
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich; Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Cambridge; trans. Del Caro)
  • DuBois, W.E.B.; The Souls of Black Folk (Norton)
  • Woolf, Virginia; To the Lighthouse (Harvest Books)
  • Levi, Primo; The Periodic Table (Schocken; trans. Rosenthal)

[Note: I would not take this list as the ultimate guide to the "best" translations of these works. You should sample various translations and choose the one the works best for you.]

More about the first-year seminar is here.

How many of these books have you read? If you are a clinical psychologist (or an aspiring clinical psychologist), should you not be at least as well read as the typical Bard College sophomore? What did you read this year? What is keeping you from reading all of these books by this time next year?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

J.S. Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Born: Eisenach, March 21, 1685

Died: Leipzig, July 28, 1750

portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach

My only critique of this recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #2 is that the conductor should have grown a wispy white beard to go with his kung fu costume. [If YouTube and Blogger are not playing well together, so you can find the Bach video by searching "BBC Proms 2010 - Bach Day 6 - Brandenburg Concerto No. 2" on YouTube.]

"Regarded as perhaps the greatest composer of all time, Bach was known during his lifetime primarily as an outstanding organ player and technician. The youngest of eight children born to musical parents, Johann Sebastian was destined to become a musician. While still young, he had mastered the organ and violin, and was also an excellent singer. At the age of ten, both of his parents died within a year of each other. Young Sebastian was fortunate to be taken in by an older brother, Johann Christoph, who most likely continued his musical training. At the age of fifteen, Bach secured his first position in the choir of St. Michael's School in Lüneburg. He travelled little, never leaving Germany once in his life, but held various postitions during his career in churches and in the service of the courts throughout the country. In 1703 he went to Arnstadt to take the position of organist at the St. Boniface Church. It was during his tenure there that Bach took a month's leave of absence to make the journey to Lübeck (some 200 miles away, a journey he made on foot) to hear the great organist Dietrich Buxtehude. One month turned into five, and Bach was obliged to find a new position at Mülhausen in 1706. In that year he also married his cousin, Maria Barbara. Bach remained at Mülhausen for only a year before taking up a post as organist and concertmaster at the court of the Duke of Weimar.

In 1717, Bach moved on to another post, this time as Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold in Cöthen. During the years Bach was in the service of the courts, he was obliged to compose a great deal of instrumental music: hundreds of pieces for solo keyboard, orchestral dance suites, trio sonatas for various instruments, and concertos for various instruments and orchestra. Of these, the most famous are the six concerti grossi composed for the Duke of Brandenburg in 1721, and the Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 exemplifies the style of the concerto grosso in which a small group of instruments (in this case a small ensemble of strings) is set in concert with an orchestra of strings and continuo. Of Bach's music for solo instruments, the six Suites for violoncello and the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin are among the greatest for those instruments. The Violin Partita no. 3 contains an example of a popular dance form, the gavotte.

Maria Barbara died suddenly in 1720, having borne the composer seven children. Within a year Bach remarried. The daughter of the town trumpeter, Anna Magdalena Bach would prove to be an exceptional companion and helpmate to the composer. In addition, the couple sired thirteen children. (Of Bach's twenty off-spring, ten died in infancy. Four became well-known composers, including Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian.) Soon after his second marriage, Bach began looking for another position, and eventually took one in Leipzig, where he became organist and cantor (teacher) at St. Thomas' Church. He remained in Leipzig for the rest of his life.

sketch of St Thomas Church Leipzig

A devout Lutheran, Bach composed a great many sacred works as his duties required when in the employ of the church: well over two hundred cantatas (a new one was required of him every week), several motets, five masses, three oratorios, and four settings of the Passion story, one of which, The St. Matthew Passion, is one of western music's sublime masterpieces. Bach also wrote vast amounts of music for his chosen instrument, the organ, much of which is still regarded as the pinnacle of the repertoire. One such work is the tremendous Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor.

Towards the end of 1749, Bach's failing eyesight was operated on by a traveling English surgeon, the catastrophic results of which were complete blindness. His health failing, Bach nevertheless continued to compose, dictating his work to a pupil. He finally succombed to a stroke on July 28, 1750. He was buried in an unmarked grave at St. Thomas' Church.

Bach brought to majestic fruition the polyphonic style of the late Renaissance. By and large a musical conservative, he achieved remarkable heights in the art of fugue, choral polyphony and organ music, as well as in instrumental music and dance forms. His adherence to the older forms earned him the nickname "the old wig" by his son, the composer Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, yet his music remained very much alive and was known and studied by the next generation of composers. It was the discovery of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829 by Felix Mendelssohn that initiated the nineteenth century penchant for reviving and performing older, "classical" music. With the death of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1750, music scholars conveniently mark the end of the Baroque age in music."

Music History 102: a Guide to Western Composers and their music
Designed, compiled and created by

Robert Sherrane

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

B.F. Skinner

B.F. Skinner was born on March 20, 1904. He died August 18, 1990, shortly after giving this speech at the APA Convention.

If you are way into it, this is worth watching (all 7 parts), so you can get a sense of him in his prime.

Yale University has several very good, free courses online. This is the intro psych lecture on Skinner.

Speaking of free, here is the chapter on Skinner from a great online personality theories text.

"We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. Knowing the contents of a few works of literature is a trivial achievement. Being inclined to go on reading is a great achievement."

-- From B.F.Skinner: The Man and His Ideas (1968) by Richard Isadore Evans, p. 73

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

CAPT Peter Linnerooth, RIP

From the Associated Press:

"He had a knack for soothing soldiers who’d just seen their buddies killed by bombs. He knew how to comfort medics sickened by the smell of blood and troops haunted by the screams of horribly burned Iraqi children.

Capt. Peter Linnerooth was an Army psychologist. He counseled soldiers during some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq. Hundreds upon hundreds sought his help. For nightmares and insomnia. For shock and grief. And for reaching that point where they just wanted to end it all.

Linnerooth did such a good job his Army comrades dubbed him “The Wizard.” His “magic” was deceptively simple: an instant rapport with soldiers, an empathetic manner, a big heart.

For a year during one of the bloodiest stretches of the Iraq war, Linnerooth met with soldiers 60, 70 hours a week. Sometimes he’d hop on helicopters or join convoys, risking mortars and roadside bombs.


Linnerooth left Iraq in 2007, a few months short of the end of his 15-month tour. He couldn’t take it anymore. He’d heard enough terrible stories. He’d seen enough dead and dying.

He became a college professor in Minnesota, then counseled vets in California and Nevada. He’d done much to help the troops, but in his mind, it wasn’t enough. He worried about veteran suicides. He wrote about professional burnout. He grappled with PTSD, depression and anger, his despair spiraling into an overdose. He divorced and married again. He fought valiantly to get his life in order.
But he couldn’t make it happen.

As the new year dawned, Pete Linnerooth, Bronze Star recipient, admired Army captain, devoted father, turned his gun on himself. He was 42."

The full article is here.



Monday, March 18, 2013

Reading the Mind in the Eyes

Taking the Eyes Test is an interesting way to spend a few minutes on the internet. You might want to take the test first, and then read about it below.

Is this person playful, comforting, irritated, or bored?

Here is a paper on the Eyes Test by Simon Baron-Cohen, who has been doing the most intriguing research in autism these past couple of decades.

"In a broad autism phenotype study, parents of children with autism spectrum disorders performed more poorly than comparison participants (Baron-Cohen and Hammer, ). In a series of subsequent studies aimed at examining individual differences in mentalizing among healthy adults, Baron-Cohen and colleagues demonstrated that the Eyes Test, in conjunction with other measures, discriminates between individuals with a propensity for humanities from individuals with a physical sciences orientation (Billington et al., )."

Peterson and Miller (2012) found that performance on the Eyes Test was better predicted by Verbal IQ (WASI vocab; TLC figurative language) than by facial processing (CFMT), which calls into doubt just what the test is actually measuring:

Table 2
I will be posting more in the future about the work of Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen. I'm a far bigger fan of his than I am of his cousin. A profile worth reading is here.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-- William Butler Yeats (1920)

William Butler Yeats Quotes

By the way, there's no evidence that Yeats ever said the above, about himself or anyone else. Quotation sites on the internet can be fun to peruse, but unless they include specific references to printed works, caveat emptor. Still, it is a nice antidote to the terror inspired by the poem.

Here's a nice reading of the poem:

For a more traditional Saint Patrick's Day tribute, there's always this:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

So you want to be a clinical psychologist...

When this was first posted, a lot of people that I had trained with while I was in grad school forwarded the link to me. It seems to resonate with a lot of people in the field, although it is terribly cynical and potentially demoralizing. So, if you are an undergraduate who aspires to become a clinical psychologist, don't let this animated video discourage you. At the same, realize that in humor there is often truth. And also realize that by now similiar animations have been created for virtually any profession you can think of.

"Your mother will cry and ask you why you did not become a real doctor."
I don't think it is true that "when you are a clinical psychologist people always think that you are crazy, so you always have to be extra nice so people don't think you're crazy." In my experience, it is more the case that when you are a clinical psychologist, people you meet outside of work worry that you are going to detect (or have already detected) just how crazy they really are. Most people are aware (to varying degrees) that they are not quite "normal," and they spend a lot of time and energy trying to conceal this from others. Clinical psychologists are fully aware that no one is as normal as they appear to be and that everyone has aspects that are just plain weird. Other people realize that they themselves are weird, and they mistakenly believe that everyone else is normal.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

First the familiar...

Hunters in the Snow, 1565
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, ca. 1525/30–1569)
Oil on panel; 46 1/8 x 63 7/8 in. (117 x 162 cm)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

And then the unfamiliar...

The Triumph of Death
c. 1562
Oil on panel
117 x 162 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Once again, I refer you to the Wall Street Journal's excellent Masterpiece feature.

Death Takes No Holiday, Richard B. Woodward, February 14, 2009.

"The Triumph of Death" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder is not for the squeamish. Commonly dated circa 1562, it ranks among the most terrifying paintings of the age, and the centuries since have only boosted its fearful currency. Not until Goya's 1810-20 "Disasters of War" was there anything in European art quite like this savage depiction of hell on Earth.

The painting hangs in the Prado in Madrid, directly across from Hieronymous Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights." As Bruegel was regarded by his contemporaries as a "second Bosch," they make fitting roommates. Both artists were favorites of Phillip II, who secured multiple works by each for the Hapsburg collections in Spain and elsewhere.
Bosch's large and elaborate triptych attracts the bigger crowds, and it's easy to see why. His naked men and women and fantastic animals can be viewed as drug-addled comedy, more Lewis Carroll than Book of Revelation. Even scholars can't agree if the arcane allegory is a remonstration about the demons of lust or the dream of a prelapsarian paradise before sex became sinful.

Bruegel's smaller (46-inch-by-64-inch) single-panel masterpiece has a grimmer message. There is no escape from the scourge of war. The men and women in the fire-strewn landscape try to fend off death's henchmen with sword and spear. But the living are badly outnumbered, their efforts futile. Not only is death inevitable and unsparing of society high and low, a lesson Medieval and Renaissance artists never tired of teaching their audiences, but death is perversely creative as well. The variety of tortures in store for the human race during wartime is endless. The hallucination is as intense and action-packed as Bosch's, but the cold-bloodedness of the violence leaves no room for whimsy.

Given the immense popularity of Bruegel, art historians know amazingly little about his biography. When he was born (c. 1525-30) and where is open to debate. His early training remains a mystery. The first documentary trace of his existence is his 1551 signature in the Antwerp artist's guild, the guild of St. Luke. A successful printmaker before turning to painting in the 1550s, he was no peasant and had a clientele of well-connected, urban patrons throughout the rest of his life. From a church monument that Jan Bruegel erected to his parents, we know that Pieter the Elder died in Brussels in 1569.

It's therefore hard to tell whether the scenes in "Triumph of Death" are purely imagined, conventions based on earlier artists' infernal visions, eyewitness observations of war atrocities, or a combination of the three. Philip II's zealous general, the Duke of Alva, did not arrive in the Low Countries until 1567. But a Spanish-directed terror campaign against Protestants and other heretics had already been in effect for decades.

However unknowable many aspects of the painting may be, including the religious sympathies of its author, it presents a virtuosic whirlwind of destruction. As a storyteller, Bruegel tended to fill his canvases with related human and animal actions, of more or less equal weight, that unfold simultaneously on several planes in undulating landscapes that are more than backdrops.

Every inch of "The Triumph of Death" features chaos on a massive scale. It is as though the artist's brush cannot keep up with the fanatical energy of death's hordes, busy killing and harrowing wherever you look. The realistic details of suffering invite our scrutiny and upon examination turn out to be far more unsettling than in a typical Medieval "Dance of Death."

The raging, centerless battle is not a fair fight. In the foreground, a skeleton is cutting a man's throat while not far away a starving dog eats a woman's face. On a hillside further back on the right, a dead man has been skinned and hung from a tree. His head is thrown backward and held in the branches by a metal pin that passes through his skull. In the vicinity a man hangs from a gallows, watched by onlookers, and a few inches to their right a man on his knees is about to be decapitated. Other victims are impaled on spoked wheels that sit atop poles.

In a ghoulish touch, the dead advance on the outnumbered humans and hold coffin lids as shields, emblazoned with the sign of the cross. The king with his ermine-trimmed robe and buckets of gold is as helpless as everyone else. At the top of the picture ships are aflame or sunk in a harbor while smoke rises from distant towers. This temporal plot point is especially chilling, for it suggests death has been marauding across the countryside for days, if not weeks, and has nowhere been halted. Indeed, the army appears unstoppable.

Salvation through Christ, a resolution in many other pictures that warn of death's inevitability, is missing here. The resounding overtone is one of mocking nihilism. The pulling on a black bell by a pair of skeletons in the upper left corner, instead of ringing out the goodness of the Angelus or the triumph of the Second Coming, seems to announce that humanity is done for.

The brutality of these images has given Bruegel's picture a woeful and continual relevance. It seems to anticipate descriptions of the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, the horrors of which Jacques Callot drew and etched. Most disturbing from a 21st-century perspective are what appear on the right of the picture to be rectangular containers where humans are forced inside and sent to their deaths. The devices' similarity to Nazi technology of mass extermination has struck many viewers.

Such secular readings don't qualify as responsible art history, but they explain the painting's status as a nightmarish icon. Unsigned and undated, it lacks a distinct religious meaning, even in the 16th century of the artist's shadowy life, and whispers insidiously to a world in which ferocious civil wars and graphic video games are daily visual fare. The first section of Don DeLillo's novel "Underworld" is titled "The Triumph of Death" and includes a fantasy in which J. Edgar Hoover compares Bruegel's painting ("a census-taking of awful ways to die") to nuclear war. The image was the cover art for Black Sabbath's "Greatest Hits" album, and its disquieting mood permeates the battle scenes in director Peter Jackson's epic "The Lord of the Rings."

The 19th-century Swiss historian Jacob Burkhardt derided Bruegel as a crude and vulgar painter. It is these same qualities -- a willingness to inject barnyard realism and seasonal atmosphere into his moral tales -- that make him so beloved today. "The Triumph of Death" may resist interpretation as a Christian allegory. But the burned, dirty, leafless landscape of war is all too familiar.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Recommended undergraduate curriculum for aspiring clinical psychologists, Part 2

Continued from yesterday's post:

Science and mathematics alone do not a psychologist make. Psychology, as Hans Eysenck enjoyed reminding us, is about people. Clinicians know that the practice of longer term psychotherapy is an excellent method for deeply understanding an individual human being. But since undergraduates cannot practice psychotherapy, the study of literature is a reasonable analogue. Case studies are excellent ways to learn about psychopathology, human development, and interpersonal relations – and there are no greater case studies than those enshrined in great literature. I would be far more inclined to refer a family member to a psychologist who was intimate with Shakespeare’s tragedies, than to a psychologist of similar training and experience who was not.

                Edwin Shneidman, the founder of American suicidology, claimed that one could learn a great deal about suicide simply by reading Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. One can learn more about terrorism psychology from Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Devils than from the extant empirical literature. The best forensic psychology “texts” I know are Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song (granted, these are works of “literary journalism” and not fiction). How many psychologists speak casually of Oedipal conflicts but have never read Sophocles? How many suicide researchers discuss “the Werther effect” without ever having actually read the infamous Goethe novella? I would prefer that my personal psychotherapist read Homer, Joyce, or Faulkner during those golden minutes between patients. Students in my abnormal psychology course analyze E.A. Robinson’s Richard Cory and Wilfred Owen’s Mental Cases. Perhaps we should ask aspiring clinical psychologists to recite a poem from memory during the selection process.

It is pointless to graduate from college without having learned to write. A course in journalism could be very helpful to aspiring psychologists; they would learn to get their facts straight, write concisely and on deadline, and to present the most important information first – all hallmarks of a good psychological report or clinical note. A course in rhetoric is also advisable – one cannot help but become a better writer, speaker, and thinker after studying the great persuaders. Take a course in speech and seize every opportunity to speak or present in class or before larger audiences. I also recommend courses in non-fiction writing and creative writing (both narrative fiction and poetry). While you are at it, take some courses in Art History and Film. Learn how to draw, with an eye toward learning how to paint portraits. I suspect that John Singer Sargent was one of our greatest psychologists. Take a course in Music Theory. Learn an instrument. Become familiar with the classical music canon (I do not mean “History of Rock and Roll”).

It is distressingly common to meet graduate students in clinical psychology who have never encountered Socrates through Plato’s Dialogues, or read The Republic, or The Nicomachean Ethics.  Frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves. The study of philosophy is excellent preparation for graduate work in clinical psychology, and only partly because so much psychotherapy theory is merely warmed over philosophy. How often do we acknowledge the influence of Epictetus, John Locke, or Rene Descartes on cognitive-behavioral therapy? This omission is certainly of a piece with Freud’s famous denial that Schopenhauer influenced his work. The Enchiridion of Epictetus is as powerful a bibliotherapy as Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Students should read Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Camus – because doing so is a delight. A course in Ethics (or Applied Ethics, or Bioethics) would help prepare students for the dilemmas common in clinical practice; discussions in such courses often resemble what our case conferences should be like.

I am all for bilingualism, even trilingualism. I am not, however, entirely convinced that mandatory foreign language study is necessary for undergraduates who wish to become clinical psychologists. My concern is that two, or even four, years of classroom study of Spanish or any other language is not sufficient to meet what should be the goal of language study: conversational fluency. Immersion in a foreign culture is what builds fluency, not classroom drill and study. Traveling, studying abroad, living with a host family – and while abroad, reading the local newspaper, watching television or theater, making friends – this will fan the desire to make the language part of you. Spend a semester, or a summer, or a year in a non-English speaking country – that is what the requirement should be.

                In my fantasies, four years of high school Latin would be required to study psychology in college. The mental discipline, sustained effort, and study habits required to complete AP Latin bode exceedingly well for collegiate academic success. Mastery of Latin grammar contributes to mastery of English grammar (or at least to an appreciation that there is an English grammar), and the serious study of Latin substantially improves English vocabulary and disciplined thought and expression. Further, Latin study makes antiquity breathe – the classicist knows that human nature does not change with each passing generation or with changes in material or social circumstances. Between the ages of 13 and 17, Sigmund Freud spent 8 hours a week reading Latin and 6 hours a week reading Greek (he read his Sophocles in the original). Perhaps as part of the comprehensive exams, doctoral students should be required to translate the Book of Job from the Latin Vulgate!

                If you are not studying a foreign language, you will still need to delve into cultures other than your own. I have found that Religion courses serve that purpose very well. Religion courses are arguably the most liberal of the liberal arts, in that they encompass history, philosophy, art, and literature. Read Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions, especially the chapters on Hinduism and Buddhism. Clinical psychologists would benefit from courses in Political Theory, Constitutional Law, and American Government. Microeconomics, Financial Accounting, and Personal Investing courses might not seem relevant as an undergraduate (or even to most of your professors), but they come in quite handy when you are running your own practice or making budgeting and personnel decisions while managing an agency. Learn about the people who have made history. Start with Edmund Morris’s rip-roaring The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Read multiple biographies of Abraham Lincoln. The dual biography of Lincoln and Jefferson Davis in Shelby Foote’s The Civil War is an excellent place to start. I also recommend Geoffrey C. Ward’s account of FDR’s early life, Before the Trumpet.

If you are able, train yourself to run 10 miles, hike 25 miles, and swim 1 mile. Learn to ride a horse. Join the boxing club. Go on ride-alongs with the local cops. Enlist in the National Guard or Reserves. Work in a kitchen. Work in a factory. Teach an adult to read. Remember Carl Jung’s exhortation:

“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar's gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the world. There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Recommended undergraduate curriculum for aspiring clinical psychologists, Part 1

The following was originally published (2011) in Psychogram, the quarterly professional publication of the Virginia Academy of Clinical Psychologists (VACP).

Because I am a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice as well as an assistant professor at a liberal arts college, my students often ask me, “How can I get to do what you do? How can I become a clinical psychologist?” Often, what they seek is mere advice on getting into grad school (e.g., When should I start studying for the GRE? Which is more impressive to admission committees:  two undergraduate poster presentations or an internship at a summer camp for autistic children?). Rather than become overly concerned with such noisome – even bureaucratic – details, I prefer to sketch for these aspirants an educational program that outlines, perhaps, what an ideal clinical psychologist should have learned during his or her undergraduate studies. My suggestions are idiosyncratic and based on undergraduate courses that I have found most useful in my career thus far, and on what I wish I had learned as an undergrad so that I didn’t have to teach it to myself during the course of my doctoral and postdoctoral training.         

It is refreshing to recall that at the Boulder Conference in 1947, the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Training in Clinical Psychology recommended that undergraduates take a mere 20 hours of psychology as preparation for graduate training in clinical psychology. How is it then that so many undergraduate programs require 30 hours or more of psychology from their majors? Are we overdoing it? More to the point, does requiring an excessive number of psychology courses deprive our majors of the broad-based liberal arts and science education they really need to perform at the highest levels of our profession? (The truly subversive question is: Would a student preparing for graduate study in clinical psychology be better off majoring in some discipline other than psychology?)

In retrospect, the undergraduate psychology courses that were most meaningful to me were research methods, independent research, theories of personality, psychological testing, introduction to counseling, and abnormal psychology. My theories of personality course was a year-long affair in which we actually read and discussed Freud, Skinner, and the other greats. In contrast to that enriching experience, the developmental psychology course I had as an undergrad was essentially a parenting course, and not the protracted exploration of gene-environment interaction that it should have been. I am certain that I took other psychology courses; it was my major, after all. But if one must refer to one’s transcript to see if you took a particular undergraduate course, it more likely than not that it was unnecessary, or even, dare I say, a waste of time.

By far, the most important experience of my undergraduate education was a nine-month internship with an afterschool program for problem children. I worked side-by-side with a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker, and two doctoral students. I got an inside view of the profession that I was considering entering and a chance to begin my apprenticeship under master practitioners. Get into the field! Do the work! Escort twenty state hospital patients on a field trip to the zoo! Break up a scissors-fight between two 4th graders with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder! Listen to a battered woman explain why she can’t leave her husband. Hold the hand of a young man dying of AIDS. You will either learn quickly that you are not made for this work, or you will realize that you could never be happy doing anything else.

One controversial and rarely heeded recommendation I make to undergraduates interested in doctoral training in clinical psychology is to fulfill the minimum academic requirements for admission to medical school. Those minimum requirements generally include: 1) one year of general biology (with lab); 2) one year of physics (with lab); 3) one year of chemistry (with lab); 4) one year of organic chemistry (with lab); and, 5) one year of calculus. “But I want to go to grad school in psychology, not med school!” students protest. True enough, but doctoral students often train in medical settings, sometimes alongside med students, and are frequently supervised by psychiatrists. We need to be able to speak the local language, and the grammar of that language is the basic science education outlined above. This science education will become increasingly important as psychology grows more integrated with primary health care and psychologists collaborate more regularly with physicians.

I recall with horror sitting in a hospital conference room packed with psychiatrists as one of my psychologist colleagues raised her hand during a presentation on the etiology of depression and asked the speaker, “What’s an allele?” She was an accomplished psychotherapist and an ambitious researcher, but the last “hard science” course she took was probably in 11th grade. Because the mission of clinical psychologists is to “study, diagnose, and treat mental disorders” it is our duty to be intimately familiar with all aspects of mental health, including biological research and pharmacological treatments. Prescriptive authority for clinical psychologists will never arrive unless a large number of us possess the basic science knowledge necessary to complete the appropriate postdoctoral training. Completing these med school prerequisites also keeps students’ options open. Some may eventually decide to apply to med school (or to the increasing popular programs for physician assistants, nurse practitioners, or occupational therapists).

I recommend the following courses from the Biology curriculum, most of which are four-credit, semester-long laboratory courses: Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Animal Behavior, Developmental Biology, and Organic Evolution. For fun, one might wish to add courses in Nutrition, Biostatistics, Microbiology, and Epidemiology. Aspiring clinical psychologists should take courses in neuroscience, whether they are offered by the psychology department or the biology department. In effect, I suggest fulfilling the requirements for a minor in Biology.

In addition to the traditional courses in probability and statistics, my recommendation is to take as much math as one can manage. If your college offers a minor in Statistics, pursue it. The example of the great clinical psychologist Paul Meehl is instructive: he attributed his significant contributions to our field in part to his “23 credits of college algebra, analytic geometry, differential and integral calculus, and probability theory.” I suspect that this is the recommendation least likely to be taken to heart.  As Meehl noted, “most humans are happier to take the easy way, which never means mathematics.” In addition to the math courses, I recommend a course in Logic (and the excellent text by Harry Gensler).
Part 2 of this article will be posted tomorrow.