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Archive for the 'Psychology' Category

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

It’s OK to be Ambivalent about Your Siblings During the Holidays

Adult Sibling Relationships

“It is during the holidays … that the specter of disharmony looms.”—Geoffrey L. Greif and Michael E. Woolley

For many of us, the holidays inevitably bring us together with family. This, of course, has its upsides and its downsides. This is particularly true for adults when they get together with their siblings. Affection and warmth are part of the equation but so can ambivalence and lingering difficulties from childhood.

In a recent op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, Geoffrey L. Greif and Michael E. Woolley, authors of Adult Sibling Relationships describe the two-sided nature of this dynamic:

Siblings are with us throughout life, longer than our parents, our partners or most friends. They can be our best friends, people with whom we share our greatest joys and our deepest sorrows. In adulthood, siblings can hold an extended family together after the incapacity or death of parents and help pass down a heritage of Hallmark closeness to future generations.

However, siblings can also cause hurt feelings and emotional estrangement, leaving us wondering how we could have possibly grown up in the same home. Why struggle to stay close with someone who may have hurt us when we were young and may continue to cause us pain by having few boundaries, acting unkindly, or being too withholding or too dependent?

(more…)

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Sacred Knowledge: Hopkins Playlist for Psilocybin Studies

Sacred Knowledge

“As consciousness is returning to ordinary awareness after intense experiences of a mystical, visionary, or psychodynamic nature, most any style of music can be explored with delight.”

Psychedelics and music have long been linked, but at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where William A. Richards conducts research, music plays an important part in ensuring the stability off entheogen study participants. In this excerpt from Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, Richards explains the role of music in his work. The excerpt is followed by the playlist Richards compiled.

Part of a new guide’s orientation at Johns Hopkins entails becoming familiar with the supportive music used in a particular research study and the rationale for its selection. We have learned that in high-dose sessions, especially during the onset and intense period of entheogen effects, the supportive structure of the music is more important than either the guide’s or the volunteer’s personal musical preferences. In states of ego transcendence, the everyday self as the perceiver of music may no longer exist, having entered into a unitive awareness that is claimed to be quite independent of whatever sonic frequencies are coming into the ears through the headphones or loudspeakers. As the ego approaches its dissolution and when it begins to be reconstituted, however, the nonverbal structure of the music may provide significant support. Thus, sensitivity to the therapeutic potential of carefully selected music may be an important factor in enhancing psychological safety.

One playlist that has been carefully developed through trial and error and has been found to work well with many different people over time is included at the end of this book. It includes a significant amount of classical music, symphonic and choral, as well as some Hindu chant, in the intense portions of the session and lighter selections near the return to everyday reality at the end of the day. We discovered in early research in the 1960s, notably with some alcoholics who had never appreciated classical music, that Brahms symphonies and similar works resonated deeply within them and proved highly effective in providing nonverbal structure and support. Many of those people not only discovered an appreciation of classical music within themselves, but went out and purchased records, tapes, or compact disks to facilitate the continuing integration of their experiences and for future enjoyment. It may be noted that, as consciousness is returning to ordinary awareness after intense experiences of a mystical, visionary, or psychodynamic nature, most any style of music can be explored with delight. At this time, one’s personal favorite selections may be enjoyed with fresh appreciation.

A HOPKINS PLAYLIST FOR PSILOCYBIN STUDIES (2008 VERSION)

States of Consciousness Research

Antonio Vivaldi. Guitar Concerti. Los Romeros, Iona Brown, Academy of St. Mar­tin in the Fields. Philips 412–624–2
Andante, Concerto RV532 in G Major for 2 guitars, strings, and continuo, 3:30
Largo, Concerto RV93 in D Major for guitar, strings, and continuo, 3:53
Largo, Concerto RV356 in A Minor, 2:20

Paul Horn. Inside the Taj Mahal. Kuckuck 11062–2
“Mumtaz Mahal,” 3:21

“Shah Jahan,” 5:36

Ron Korb. Flute Traveller: A Musical Journey Across Five Continents. Oasis Produc­tions, SOCAN NHCD 205
“Alto Flute,” 2:16

Russill Paul. PM Yoga Chants Gaiam. Relaxation 3142. CD included with the book The Yoga of Sound. Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2004
“By the Stream,” 10:54
“Om Namah Shivaya,” 2:27

Edward Elgar. Enigma Variations. Leonard Bernstein. BBC Symphony. The Artist’s Album. DGG 457 691–2
No. 9, “Nimrod,” 6:08

Morten Lauridsen. A Robert Shaw Christmas: Angels On High. Robert Shaw. Shaw Chamber Singers. Telarc20 CD-80461
“O Magnum Mysterium,” 6:13

Russian Orthodox Chant. Sacred Treasures III, Hearts of Space. St. Petersburg Cham­ber Choir, 025041111423
“Alleluia, Behold the Bridegroom,” 5:29

Henryk Górecki. Symphony 3, Op. 36. Dawn Upshaw. David Zinman. London Sin­fonietta. Elektra Nonesuch 9 79282–2
Lento—Sostenuto Tranquillo ma Cantabile, 26:25

Johannes Brahms. Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45. Herbert Blomstedt, San Francisco Symphony and Chorus. London 443 771–2
“Selig sind die, da Leid tragen,” 10:36
“Denn alles Fleish, es ist wie Gras,” 14:33

Johannes Brahms. Symphony 2 in D Major, Op. 73. Leonard Bernstein. New York Philharmonic. Sony. SMK 61829
Adagio non Troppo, 10:08

Johannes Brahms. Ein Deutches Requiem, Op. 45. Herbert Blomstedt. San Francisco Symphony and Chorus. London 443 771–2
“Wie lieblich sind Deine Wohnungen,” 5:34

J. S. Bach. Mass in B Minor. Robert Shaw. Atlanta Symphony and Chamber Chorus. Telarc CD-80233
Kyrie I, 10:21
Kyrie II, 4:24

Samuel Barber. String Quartet, Op. 11. Leonard Bernstein. New York Philharmonic. Sony SMK 63088
Adagio for Strings, 9:54

Antonio Vivaldi. Gloria in D Major, R589. Robert Shaw. Atlanta Symphony and Chamber Chorus. Telarc CD-80194
“Gloria in Excelsis,” 2:22

“Et in terra pax,” 5:58

J. S. Bach. Bach Stokowski. Leopold Stokowski. EMI CDM 7243 5 66385 2 5
“Komm süsser Tod,” BMV 478, 5:51

W. A. Mozart. Vesperae solennes de confessore, K/KV339. Kiri Te Kanawa. Sir Colin Davis. London Symphony and Chorus. Philips 412 873–2
“Laudate Dominum,” 5:11

Johannes Brahms. Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 77. Jascha Heifetz. Fritz Reiner. Chicago Symphony. HMG 09026-61742–2
Adagio, 8:12

Henryk Górecki. Symphony 3, Op. 36. Dawn Upshaw. David Zinman. London Sinfonietta. Elektra Nonesuch 9 79282–2
Lento e Largo—Tranquillissimo, 9:22

Edward Elgar. Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 20. Mark Elder. Hallé Symphony. CDHLL 7501
Larghetto, 6:29

Gabriel Fauré. Requiem, Op. 48. Choir of St. John’s College. Cambridge. George Guest. London 436 486–2
“In Paradisum,” 3:41

W. A. Mozart, Clarinet Concerto in A Major, KV 622. Jacques Lancelot. Jean-François Paillard. Orchestra de Chambre Jean-François Paillard. Erato 2292–45978–2
Adagio, 7:04

Arvo Pärt. Sanctuary. Richard Studt. Bournemouth Sinfonietta. Virgin Classics. CSC 7243 5 45314 2 2
“Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” 6:10

Bohuslav Matéj Cernohorsky. Cernohorsky Religious Works. Czech Madrigal Singers. Frantisek Xaver Thuri. Gioia Della Musica. Supraphon 11 1598–2 931
“Quare Domine, iraceris—Memento Abraham,” 8:58

Ludwig van Beethoven. Piano Concerto 5 (Emperor), Op. 73. Leon Fleisher. George Szell. Cleveland Orchestra. Sony SBK 46549
Adagio un Poco Moto, 8:25

Charles Gounod. St. Cecelia Mass. Barbara Hendricks. Georges Prêtre. French Radio New Philharmonic. EMI, CDC 7 47094 2
Sanctus, 5:18
Benedictus, 3:16

Russill Paul. The Yoga of Sound, Shakti Yoga. Relaxation, CD 3133
“Om Namah Shivaya,” 17:35

Richard Wagner. Tristan and Isolde. Jesús López-Cobos. Cincinnati Symphony. Telarc CD-80379
Prelude and Liebestod, 17:24

W. A. Mozart. Grosse Messe C-Moll. Leonard Bernstein. Chor und Symphonie­-orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Deutsche Grammaphon 431 791–2
“Ave Verum Corpus,” KV618 3:56

Gustav Mahler. Symphony 5. Lorin Maazel. Vienna Philharmonic. Sony SBK 89850
Adagietto, Sehr Langsam, 10:33

Alan Hovhaness. Symphony 2, Op. 132: Mysterious Mountain. Gerard Schwarz. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Telarc 80604
Andante con Moto, 7:42

Joseph Canteloube. Songs of the Auvergne. Dawn Upshaw. Kent Nagano. Orchestre de l’Opèra National de Lyon. Erato 0630–17577–2
“Bailèro,” 5:36 “Perl’èfon,” 3:09

Richard Strauss. Death and Transfiguration. André Previn. Vienna Philharmonic. Telarc CD-80167
Moderato, 2:20
Tranquillo, 6:03

Russill Paul. The Yoga of Sound, Nada Yoga. Relaxation CD 3133
“Evening Shadows Fall,” 23:29

J. S. Bach. Bach Stokowski. Leopold Stokowski. CDM 7243 5 66385 2 5
Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BMV 582, 14:51

Enya. Watermark. Reprise 9 26774–2
“Storms in Africa II,” 2:59

Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Shaka Zulu. Warner Brothers Collection. Rhino/ WEA 081227998622
“King of Kings,” 4:07

Adiemus. Pure Moods. Virgin 724384218621
“Adiemus,” 3:59

John Lennon. The John Lennon Collection. Abbey Road Capitol 077774644624
“Here Comes the Sun,” 3:03

Gipsy Kings. Mosaique. Nonsuch 075596089227
“Caminando Por la Calle,” 4:22

Mercedes Sosa. Polygram International, Serie Millennium, 042283231429
“Gracias a La Vida,” 4:22

Leontyne Price. The Essential Leontyne Price: Spirituals, Hymns, and Sacred Songs. RCA 090266815722
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” 3:24

Louis Armstrong. What A Wonderful World. Intercontinental 600 607707405826
“What a Wonderful World,” 2:21

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Sacred Knowledge: The Mystical Experience Questionnaire

Sacred Knowledge

“You are convinced now, as you look back on your experience, that in it you encountered ultimate reality (i.e. that you “knew” and “saw” what was really real).”

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sacred Knowledge!

In Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, William A. Richards uses the potential of entheogens to occasion mystical experiences to call for their responsible medical use. In the New Yorker, Michael Pollan detailed the psychological evidence for this claim, based in part on a Mystical Experience Questionnaire co-developed by Richards, a 2006 version of which is reproduced below.

Thirty-six volunteers, none of whom had ever taken a hallucinogen, received a pill containing either psilocybin or an active placebo (methylphenidate, or Ritalin); in a subsequent session the pills were reversed. “When administered under supportive conditions,” the paper concluded, “psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences.” Participants ranked these experiences as among the most meaningful in their lives, comparable to the birth of a child or the death of a parent. Two-thirds of the participants rated the psilocybin session among the top five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives; a third ranked it at the top. Fourteen months later, these ratings had slipped only slightly.

Furthermore, the “completeness” of the mystical experience closely tracked the improvements reported in personal well-being, life satisfaction, and “positive behavior change” measured two months and then fourteen months after the session. (The researchers relied on both self-assessments and the assessments of co-workers, friends, and family.) The authors determined the completeness of a mystical experience using two questionnaires, including the Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire, which is based in part on William James’s writing in “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” The questionnaire measures feelings of unity, sacredness, ineffability, peace and joy, as well as the impression of having transcended space and time and the “noetic sense” that the experience has disclosed some objective truth about reality. A “complete” mystical experience is one that exhibits all six characteristics.

The questionnaire, a scientific research document, asks participants to reflect on their experience.

States of Consciousness Questionnaire and Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire

Instructions: Looking back on the extended session you have just experienced, please rate the degree to which at any time during that session, you experienced the following phenomena. In making each of your ratings, use the following scale:

0 – none; not at all. 1 – so slight cannot decide 2 – slight 3 – moderate 4 -strong (equivalent in degree to any previous strong experience or expectation of this description) 5 – extreme (more than ever before in my life and stronger than 4)

Items and Scoring: There are 100 items in the States of Consciousness Questionnaire. Forty-three items on this questionnaire comprise the Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire which provides scale scores for each of seven domains of mystical experiences: Internal Unity (6 items); External Unity (6 items); Transcendence of Time and Space (8 items); Ineffability and Paradoxicality (5 items); Sense of Sacredness (7 items); Noetic Quality (4 items); and Deeply-Felt Positive Mood (7 items). Data on each scale are expressed as a proportion of the maximum possible score. The remaining 57 items in the questionnaire served as distracter items and were not scored. Numerals associated with each item indicate the numerical sequence of the items.

I. Internal Unity
26. Loss of your usual identity.
35. Freedom from the limitations of your personal self and feeling a unity or bond with what was felt to be greater than your personal self.
41. Experience of pure Being and pure awareness (beyond the world of sense impressions).
54. Experience of oneness in relation to an “inner world” within.
77. Experience of the fusion of your personal self into a larger whole.
83. Experience of unity with ultimate reality.

II. External Unity

14. Experience of oneness or unity with objects and/or persons perceived in your surroundings
27. With eyes open, seeing something in your surroundings more and more intensely and then feeling as though you and it become one.
47. Experience of the insight that “all is One”.
51. Loss of feelings of difference between yourself and objects or persons in your surroundings.
62. Intuitive insight into the inner nature of objects and/or persons in your surroundings.
74. Awareness of the life or living presence in all things.

III. Transcendence of Time and Space

2. Loss of your usual sense of time.
12. Feeling that you experienced eternity or infinity.
15. Loss of your usual sense of space.
29. Loss of usual awareness of where you were.
34. Sense of being “outside of” time, beyond past and future.
42. Feeling that you have been “outside of” history in a realm where time does not exist.
48. Being in a realm with no space boundaries.
65. Experience of timelessness.

IV. Ineffability and Paradoxicality
6. Sense that the experience cannot be described adequately in words.
19. Experience of a paradoxical awareness that two apparently opposite principles or situations are both true.
23. Feeling that you could not do justice to your experience by describing it in words.
59. Sense that in order to describe parts of your experience you would have to use statements that appear to be illogical, involving contradictions and paradoxes.
86. Feeling that it would be difficult to communicate your own experience to others who have not had similar experiences.

V. Sense of Sacredness
5. Experience of amazement.
8. Sense of the limitations and smallness of your everyday personality in contrast to the Infinite.
31. Sense of profound humility before the majesty of what was felt to be sacred or holy.
36. Sense of being at a spiritual height.
55. Sense of reverence.
73. Feeling that you experienced something profoundly sacred and holy.
80. Sense of awe or awesomeness.

VI. Noetic Quality
3. Feeling that the consciousness experienced during part of the session was more real than your normal awareness of everyday reality.
9. Gain of insightful knowledge experienced at an intuitive level.
22. Certainty of encounter with ultimate reality (in the sense of being able to “know” and “see” what is really real ) at some time during your session.
69. You are convinced now, as you look back on your experience, that in it you encountered ultimate reality (i.e. that you “knew” and “saw” what was really real).

VII. Deeply-Felt Positive Mood
10. Experience of overflowing energy.
18. Feelings of tenderness and gentleness.
30. Feelings of peace and tranquility.
43. Experience of ecstasy.
50. Feelings of exaltation.
60. Feelings of universal or infinite love.
87. Feelings of joy.

Source: RR Griffiths, WA Richards, U McCann, R Jesse. 2006. “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance.” Psychopharmacology (Berl). 187(3), 268-83, commentaries 284-292. Available on the Council of Spiritual Practices’ Psilocybin Research page (pdf).

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Mysterious Molecules: The Sacred Knowledge of Entheogens

Sacred Knowledge

“How can we not explore this, if it can recalibrate how we die?”

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards. Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sacred Knowledge!

In Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, William A. Richards argues that, if used responsibly and legally, psychedelics have incredible potential to assuage human suffering and constructively contribute to the quality of life on our planet. Richards’ book comes at a time when many are questioning the blanket prohibition on and demonization of such substances. In the New Yorker this February, Michael Pollan’s article “The Trip Treatment” delved into the ongoing second wave of psychedelics research, with an assist from Richards. And in an interview with Noah Berlatsky in The Guardian, Richards explains the promise of his research.

As the drug war subsides, scientists are eager to reconsider the therapeutic potential of these drugs, beginning with psilocybin… The effects of psilocybin resemble those of LSD, but, as one researcher explained, “it carries none of the political and cultural baggage of those three letters.” LSD is also stronger and longer-lasting in its effects, and is considered more likely to produce adverse reactions. Researchers are using or planning to use psilocybin not only to treat anxiety, addiction (to smoking and alcohol), and depression but also to study the neurobiology of mystical experience, which the drug, at high doses, can reliably occasion. Forty years after the Nixon Administration effectively shut down most psychedelic research, the government is gingerly allowing a small number of scientists to resume working with these powerful and still somewhat mysterious molecules.

As I chatted with Tony Bossis and Stephen Ross in the treatment room at N.Y.U., their excitement about the results was evident. According to Ross, cancer patients receiving just a single dose of psilocybin experienced immediate and dramatic reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements that were sustained for at least six months. The data are still being analyzed and have not yet been submitted to a journal for peer review, but the researchers expect to publish later this year.

“I thought the first ten or twenty people were plants—that they must be faking it,” Ross told me. “They were saying things like ‘I understand love is the most powerful force on the planet,’ or ‘I had an encounter with my cancer, this black cloud of smoke.’ People who had been palpably scared of death—they lost their fear. The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding. We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.” (more…)

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

One Discovery of Transcendence – William Richards, “Sacred Knowledge”

Sacred Knowledge

“For the first time, I had encountered the limitations of language in trying to express mystical forms of consciousness.” — William A. Richards

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sacred Knowledge!

In Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, William A. Richards argues that, if used responsibly and legally, psychedelics have incredible potential to assuage human suffering and constructively contribute to the quality of life on our planet. In the preface, he recounts what transpired during his “first deep foray into transcendental forms of awareness.”

When my own first intense encounter with mystical consciousness occurred, I was a twenty-three-year-old graduate student of theology and psychiatry. Studying at the University of Göttingen in Germany, formally known as the Georg-August Universität, I had volunteered to participate in a research project with a drug I had never heard about called psilocybin. Synthesized and distributed to psychiatric researchers and clinicians by the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company in Switzer­land, this new drug was the primary psychoactive substance in the psilocybe genus of mushrooms that indigenous peoples had called “magic” or “sacred” and appear to have used in their religious practices for at least three thousand years and perhaps since as long ago as 5000 BCE. On this date in the modern world, December 4, 1963, however, the dark ages of psychedelic research still prevailed and, in the context of Western psychopharmacological investigations, drugs like psilocy­bin usually were administered without preparation or guidance.

At the time, it was hoped that the radically different, sometimes disorganized or psychotic states of consciousness that often ensued, fortunately temporary in duration, would advance our understanding of schizophrenia and similar states of mind. Hanscarl Leuner, the professor of psychiatry conducting the investigations in the Nervenklinik in Göttingen, just had published a scientific monograph on his observations titled Die experimentelle Psychose (The Experimen­tal Psychoses). In those days psychedelic drugs were freely available to qualified researchers in Europe and in the United States, sent through the mail. Psilocybin was marketed as Indocybin. The distribution of LSD, known as Delysid, as stated in a 1964 Sandoz pamphlet, was simply “restricted to psychiatrists for use in mental hospitals and psychiatric clinics.”

Not only did I know nothing about psilocybin, LSD, or mescaline, I had not yet even heard the term “psychedelic,” though it had been coined seven years earlier by Humphrey Osmond, a British psychiatrist, in a letter to Aldous Huxley. However, two of my new friends reported to me that they had volunteered for an interesting research project in the nearby psychiatric clinic that entailed receiving an experimental drug. Its name was hard to remember, but it was reputed to provide some insights into early childhood. One friend had experienced himself sitting in his father’s lap and, since his father had been killed in World War II, this was profoundly comforting and meaningful to him. The other had seen visionary imagery of Nazi SS soldiers marching in the streets that he called “a hallucination.” I was intrigued and, being curious about the psychodynamic processes in my early childhood and having never seen a “real hallucination,” decided to walk over to the clinic and inquire whether I also could qualify as a participant in the research project. I viewed my own mind as a psychological laboratory in those days, took myself much too seriously, and sometimes went without breakfast to write down my dreams in the morning. Somewhat pompously, I called this discipline “collecting my phenomenological data.” (I was fond of big words then! In retrospect I realize that a healthy breakfast might have done me much more good.) (more…)

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences

Sacred Knowledge

Sacred Knowledge is not only timely and relevant to a whole host of current social/legal issues, but also addresses, with seemingly effortless ease, many of the deeper/subtler metaphysical implications of psychedelics—their therapeutic and spiritual potential. Richards’ clear prose makes articulating such difficult topics look easy.” — G. William Barnard, Southern Methodist University

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Sacred Knowledge. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, December 18th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, July 24th, 2015

On Grief: Poems by Alexandra Butler, author of “Walking the Night Road”

Walking the Night Road

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. While Butler has written a wonderful and moving memoir in Walking the Night Road, she is also a published poet, who has written many poems addressing the same stories and themes as Walking the Night Road. In today’s post, the final in our week’s feature of her book, we are happy to present a list of Butler’s poems curated by their author, with short introductions to each poem to help put them into the context of her memoir.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

The author’s memories of her childhood become distorted by grief. Author expresses rage about the promises her beloved mother made to her as a child and could not keep. The promises of Mortals.

Fair Game
o happy childhood
for I did not know
that all my life approached
that old sit down that had been had
so many times
so many beasts in that same brine

how could she ever think
that this cup would not be mine

what we had
what did we have
as transparent now as air
as easy and as casual and as
natural as a yawn
as every day as anything
I found her there but gone
my hand felt for my heart
as if to turn the thing back on

that which she had wiped away
with a mother’s furtive hand
had written its name back
on every surface everywhere
leaning forward through the walls
its halos of fiery hair
its red breath melting the paint
that went rolling down like peels
royal purple at its heels

how easy it had been for it to hide
heartless so no worry
of a beating from inside
while I slept it had swept in
calmly to prepare its feast
sitting down at what had always been its place
at the head of our family table
in the centre of our safe and sacred house

I awoke to find my mother there
smoking at the window
a bright green apple
shoved deep inside her mouth

just like that
she’d been made gone

in what
as a child I had reduced
to a simple ray of light
did I not see the storm within
of countless particles in flight
ditto did I not see in her
the simple beast
she always was despite
elaborate fantasies

an animal—a jungle—and a reign
a wild one who had managed
to convince me she was tame
and that she and I were chosen
two of life’s beloved pets
instead of just two more
among the countless hunted game (more…)

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Memories of Robert Butler

Walking the Night Road

“I uncovered memories that would become well worn over that year. I thought about his sunniness, how he could be merry on the surface even when he was suffering. I remembered rituals I had not always perceived as rituals, the fact that he would sit me on the sink when I was small so I could help him shave.” — Alexandra Butler

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. In today’s post, we have a brief excerpt from Walking the Night Road in which Butler looks back at her memories of her father, gerontologist Robert N. Butler.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

With my father’s death I felt as if I’d lost her again. The first year, they were these two wraiths standing before me and blocking my view almost to the point of blindness. I imagined—I dreamed—whatever it was I spent all that year doing—my mother as transparent, my father as opaque. She had let a great deal of her connection to me go. He could not. Or maybe it was I who could not. I felt we were one another’s captives. We had found our love too late. And lost it too soon. At first it had seemed right to imagine her as free, and imagine my father as regretful. Yet the more I stared into the memory of them, the more their identities started to unravel.

He still had the presence of a house cat, curled up on every chair. I felt certain he had been his truest self the last years of his life. And that made me long for the years that I had missed of being close to him. Years where he could have influenced me, influenced who I would become. (more…)

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

The Surgery

Walking the Night Road

“My dad kept turning his head away to cry. I guess he didn’t want to scare my mother, but I cried outright, even when the surgical team glared and shook their heads. I cried as hard as I could. No one here was stupid. We all knew what was at stake. And then when she was still awake, still whispering kind words to us, we had to leave her there, alone.” — Alexandra Butler

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. In today’s post, we have a brief excerpt from Butler’s account of her mother’s surgery in Walking the Night Road.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

Mom’s surgery was to take place on the fifteenth floor of the hospital, but for some reason I remember it taking place in the basement. For some reason, I thought we left her in the basement that day, in the cellar. The cellar, I remember thinking. The words ran laps around my mind. The cellar. The morning of her surgery, I woke up and threw up.

They had wrapped her head the night before in white gauze right over her hair. She looked like a ghastly vision of a bride. It made no sense. Apparently they didn’t need to shave her head completely. They would just cut and pull the scalp back—hair and all. And hair and all joined the cellar in running laps.

The night before her surgery was rough. She was stoned. She was swearing and itching and writhing in her bed. She spoke in her sleep about violent things, about killing and you shut up and you can go to hell. I trembled in the corner on my cot, a little girl. She doesn’t mean it repeating in my head. My sister Chris slept upright in a chair. Every so often she would whisper soothing words. My mother told Chris that she could go and fuck herself, and in my pulse pounded the words this is not my mother.

The next morning, it seemed that she remembered nothing of the night before. We took turns climbing into bed with her. It felt Catholic, like we were climbing into the confessional. There was whispering between my mother and us all. It was like a benediction, as if she were blessing us, each and every one while we paid our last respects. She would hold your face in her hands and tell you how sorry she was. I remember my sister Cindy sitting on my mother’s bed. Her hair was coming out of her ponytail. She was hunched over my mother, and she looked twenty years younger than she really was. Cindy had lost a little brother when she was only four. (more…)

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Coming of Age in Grief

Walking the Night Road

“When you count back, you can see a story from the end. I like that—the seemingly natural narrative that forms this way. With the end in my hand, the story becomes mine. I can have it all make sense, or I can lose my mind like she lost hers—like I lost her. But I can have my story.” — Alexandra Butler

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. In today’s feature post, we’ve excerpted a section from the opening of Walking the Night Road, in which Butler introduces her mother, and begins to tell the painful story that drives the memoir.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Experts on Aging, Dying as They Lived

Walking the Night Road

“To the small extent that we have any choice in this uncertain life, it is wise to face your own death. In a world where so many of our fellow human beings live with threats of terror and destruction, if you are lucky enough to imagine you might have any measure of control over how you die, that is a privilege that should not go to waste.” — Alexandra Butler

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. To start off the week’s feature today, we are happy to present an article by Alexandra Butler that originally appeared in The New York Times Opinionator blog, The End. In “Experts on Aging, Dying as They Lived,” Butler tells the story of Walking the Night Road in brief.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

Experts on Aging, Dying as They Lived
By Alexandra Butler

At 10 years old I knew my parents did not wish to be resuscitated nor plugged into machines in the event of serious illness. They told me they were not afraid of death but rather of being kept alive at any cost. I knew they would refuse medical interventions, if they felt there was no purpose except to separate the dying from their deaths. They were wary of doctors who my parents said were trained by a medical culture that had lost touch with what should be its major focus: ending suffering.

My father, Robert N. Butler, was a physician, a psychiatrist and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who pioneered the field of aging. My mother, Myrna Lewis, had a Ph.D. in social work; her specialty was older women. Together they co-wrote books on aging, mental health, sexuality and public policy. They would have been tickled by the coverage a few months ago of the Iowa state representative Ross Paustian, a Republican, nose-deep in their book “Sex After Sixty” in the middle of a House debate over the collective bargaining rights of teachers.

My parents applied what they learned out in the field to their personal lives. They worked hard to put as much money toward their retirement and old age as they could so that my half-sisters and I would never be financially responsible for them. They told us where we could find copies of their wills and health directives, explaining that these documents clarified their wishes and we would not have to bear the full weight of making end-of-life decisions for them.

As a teenager I hated these discussions. I probably told them to stop torturing me and to stop being so morbid. They were reassuring me about scenarios that I did not want to think about. I could not have known how grateful I would be now. (more…)

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler

Walking the Night Road

“An honest look at marriage, aging, happiness, and survival — both wise and funny. You will walk the Night Road too.” — Barbara Walters

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Walking the Night Road. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 24th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Seventh Sense, by William Duggan

This week our featured book is The Seventh Sense: How Flashes of Insight Change Your Life by William Duggan.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Seventh Sense to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, May 29th at 1:00 pm.

For more on the book you can read the introduction:

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

The Journey Ahead

The Thirteenth Step

“[F]or now at least, any promise of “cure” is somewhere between naïve and dishonest, depending on who makes it and why. But it is equally true that these chronic relapsing disorders can now be managed so that most people with such disorders can decrease their risk for relapse, allowing them to live productive, good lives.” — Markus Heilig

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. For the final day of our giveaway, we are happy to present an excerpt from “The Journey Ahead,” the final chapter of The Thirteenth Step.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway of The Thirteenth Step!

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

PTSD and addiction

The Thirteenth Step

“Here’s a dream: A future in which every patient with alcohol problems, man or women, is thoroughly evaluated for PTSD, treated with evidence based behavioral interventions, and given the opportunity to benefit from synergistic effects of psychotherapy and pharmacology. Wouldn’t that be something?” — Markus Heilig

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. In today’s post, Heilig discusses the deep connection between PTSD and substance addiction which scientists are still trying to fully understand.

And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway of The Thirteenth Step!

PTSD and addiction
By Markus Heilig

The public is clearly waking up to the fact that much of the toll of PTDS comes from substance use. Hard drinking may appear as the only way to temporarily escape the intrusive memories of traumatic events, face people at the grocery store, or fall asleep without the torment of nightmares. Up to 75% of combat veterans with PTSD also have alcohol problems. Conversely, between a third and half of patients seeking treatment for alcohol problems have PTSD.

But here’s something else to think about: The vast majority of PTSD patients are actually not veterans of wars. Firefights or explosive devices are not the most common causes of PTSD. Rape, sexual assault, or intimate partner violence are. Even with the recent wars, PTSD is twice as common among women as it is among men, affecting 8 – 16% of adult females in the US. Yet women suffering from PTSD are not much talked about. When they seek treatment for alcohol problems, the questions that would allow a PTSD diagnosis to be made are rarely asked. And even if the diagnosis is obvious, people look the other way. Traumatic events are so hard to talk about. Excuses are plentiful. Maybe bringing back traumatic memories will trigger cravings and relapse? So this difficult material is left for a “later” that never comes. (more…)

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Us and Them

The Thirteenth Step

“In this book I will share some of the amazing advances the neuroscience of addiction has made over the years I have been in the field. I will offer a personal take on what addiction is: a malfunction of some of the most fundamental brain circuits that make us tick, and a disease that is not much different from other chronic, relapsing medical conditions. I trust it will be clear what addiction is not: a moral failing, a simple inability to say no, or a condition that can be cured by mystic incantations.” — Markus Heilig

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from “Us and Them,” the first chapter of The Thirteenth Step, in which Heilig explains his experiences working with addiction, and lays out his hopes for what his book will accomplish.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway of The Thirteenth Step!

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Why breakthroughs in addiction research have not changed addiction treatment

The Thirteenth Step

“But the size of the addiction research enterprise is dwarfed by a $35 billion a year or so treatment industry in this field. This is a booming entrepreneurial world, where treatment centers charge people tens of thousands of dollars for various offerings. And despite all the investment in science, few of those treatments make much use of the scientific advances in the area of addiction. In fact, treatment approaches have not changed much at all over the past quarter century.” — Markus Heilig

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. To open the week’s feature, Heilig has written a powerfully argued guest post in which he contrasts the advances in the science of addiction and the stagnation in the way that addiction is actually treated.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway of The Thirteenth Step!

Why have breakthroughs in addiction research not changed addiction treatment?
By Markus Heilig

The US taxpayers fund the overwhelming majority of addiction research in the world. Every year, Congress channels about $1 billion to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). An additional almost 0.5 billion is separately given to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), my own workplace for the past decade. That may sound impressive, and in many ways it is. With the help of these resources, there have been truly amazing advances in the understanding of how addiction works. “Brain reward systems” have become part of the general parlance. The NIDA director has become a celebrity who has appeared on 60 Minutes. New findings on how alcohol and drugs get people hooked have shown a rare ability to fascinate people far outside the circle of scientists. And there has been perhaps a more modest, but still significant progress in figuring out better treatments.

But the size of the addiction research enterprise is dwarfed by a $35 billion a year or so treatment industry in this field. This is a booming entrepreneurial world, where treatment centers charge people tens of thousands of dollars for various offerings. And despite all the investment in science, few of those treatments make much use of the scientific advances in the area of addiction. In fact, treatment approaches have not changed much at all over the past quarter century. If someone were to be pulled out of a 12-step meeting then and transported through time to one today, he or she would probably not notice much of a difference. Here is, perhaps unsurprisingly then, something that the investment in research has not bought us: Any measurable dent in the damage done by addictions.

Some basic facts: Alcohol continues to kill about 80,000 Americans each year. Death from prescription pain killers adds almost 20,000 more, and has been on the rise for over a decade. As we have begun clamping down on these prescriptions, heroin has become resurgent instead. Why is it that all the passionate research efforts by dedicated scientists have such a hard time producing much of a change in the lives of real people with addictions? Only about one in 10 people with alcoholism ever receive treatment. For most of those, that is synonymous with joining Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a movement formed three-quarters of a century ago, when medicine had little to offer addicts beyond perhaps treating the shakes of acute alcohol withdrawal. (more…)

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig

The Thirteenth Step

“Heilig makes the science accessible to both lay and professional audiences alike by using a strong, conversational tone interspersed with humor and illustrative vignettes. He draws the reader in and effectively consolidates complex concepts. I applaud his efforts to bring the plight of the addicted to the attention of others and for calling upon the field to do its very best to help.” — Valerie J. Slaymaker

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its subject, and its editors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Thirteenth Step. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 22nd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Discouraging North American and European Citizens from Foreign Jihad

Mental Health in the War on Terror

This week our featured book is Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. In today’s guest post, Aggarwal discusses a recent New York Times article on efforts to keep Western citizens from “traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries,” and how the War on Terror has been and is being shaped by sometimes troubling stereotypes.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Mental Health in the War on Terror!

Discouraging North American and European Citizens from Foreign Jihad
By Neil Krishan Aggarwal

A New York Times article dated January 13, 2015 and titled “West Struggles against Flow to War Zones” describes North American and European officials struggling to “stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries.” The article comes after last week’s tragic attacks in France and reflects major themes from my book Mental Health in the War on Terror: Culture, Science, and Statecraft. In my book, I analyze questionable claims of Orientalist stereotypical scholarship and de-radicalization programs, some of which appear in this article. By scrutinizing this article, I hope to show how such claims recur in an influential newspaper and shape public discussions of the War on Terror. Only by inspecting such claims one at a time can we discern how the War on Terror has permeated popular culture.

1. The “West/Rest” fallacy. The authors begin: “For more than a decade, Western governments have struggled to stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries.” This assertion implies a rigid division among Muslims and non-Muslims. Where does the West begin and end? What is the standard for “Muslim countries”? Is a Muslim country defined on the basis of political system (Saudi Arabia), population (Indonesia), or Orientalist notions of the Middle East? Are we not comparing apples and oranges by contrasting entities based on geography (“Western”) and religion (“Muslim”)? (more…)

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

National Security Above Mental Health — Neil Aggarwal

Mental Health in the War on Terror

“We need novel solutions for hierarchical organizations such as the CIA and the armed forces that erect institutional safeguards for psychiatrists, psychologists, and whistleblowers warning of misuses in mental health knowledge and practice.”—Neil Krishnan Aggarwal

This week our featured book is Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. Today, we are happy to repost an article on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on American use of torture, written by Aggarwal and originally posted in mid-December.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Mental Health in the War on Terror!

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s release of the report Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program marks a signature moment for government accountability in the War on Terror. The report acknowledges that “the CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees” and “the CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.”

Politicians have debated release of the report. Former Vice-President Dick Cheney has claimed that enhanced interrogation techniques were “absolutely, totally justified” and were the “right thing to do, and if I had to do it over again, I would do it.” In contrast, Senator Dianne Feinstein, committee chairwoman, defended the release: “Releasing this report is an important step to restoring our values and showing the world that we are a just society.” Similarly, President Barack Obama declared: “The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States.”

In Mental Health in the War on Terror: Culture, Science, and Statecraft, I investigate how the government uses mental health professionals to advance national security interests and how mental health professionals serve such ends. I examine bioethical debates on whether mental health professionals should do no harm or participate in interrogations. I examine debates among prosecution and defense teams on the meanings of detainee mental health symptoms in Guantanamo tribunals. I conclude that the War on Terror has pushed American government officials to treat terrorism as a military problem requiring new forms of mental health knowledge, practice, and institutions rather than a law enforcement problem handled through extant institutions.

The Senate committee’s report reinforces this conclusion. After capture of militant Abu Zubaydah, a psychologist-contractor proposed in July 2002 that SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) techniques from the American military could be “novel interrogation methods” for the CIA. These techniques include walling, facial holding and slapping, cramped confinement, stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and mock burial. One CIA official clarified that “personnel will make every effort possible to insure [sic] that subject is not permanently physically or mentally harmed but we should not say at the outset of this process that there is no risk.” The psychologist-contractors normalized these techniques, responding, “The safety of any technique lies primarily in how it is applied and monitored.”

(more…)