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Psychiatry and Spirituality – Even professor “night” can’t stop the sunrise

While doing my PhD at the University of Ottawa, I wrote a paper in 1992-93 that examined the psychiatric diagnostic system, known at the time as the DSM-III-R. I looked at the extraordinary claims of mystics and saints from different religious traditions. Would some historical spiritual figures be viewed as “mentally ill” today? I asked. To ground my paper I offered a summary on postmodern ideas about truth and power. After all, this was a graduate seminar in methodology.

Sadly, it seems the professor hosting the seminar was more interested in getting a paycheck than in trying to open his mind and encourage new research in uncharted territory.

English: The Communist States

The Communist States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was the type of guy who said in class that it was “hopeless” talking about feminism. I guess he feared that, whatever he said, he would be jumped on.

I wasn’t writing about feminism, per se, for this particular paper. But the professor’s unwillingness or inability to probe anything but his own small, esoteric field in religious studies made him a dreadful brick wall to run into.

I say “brick wall” because for some reason this incompetent, intransigent man had a lot of power at the university. Most everyone seemed to shrink in administrative offices whenever his name was mentioned. I still can’t figure it out. But I had serious problems with him later on when trying to get letters of recommendation (outlined here).

For a while I thought it had something to do with his immigrating to Canada from a communist country. But I have met many immigrants from communist countries who are an absolute delight. In seeming contrast to professor “night,” as I will call him, psychologically healthy immigrants from communist regimes can see both mindsets – authoritarian vs. authoritative – and consciously choose which they like better.

So immigrating from a communist country, alone, wasn’t it. There must have been something else to this man that made him so difficult and, in my case, authoritarian.¹

Published by the American Psychiatric Associat...

Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-IV-TR provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By way of contrast, I wrote a similar paper for another professor at Trent University back in the mid 1980s. He was the “day” to the University of Ottawa’s professor “night.”

The Trent professor was a true humanities teacher. He was a PhD in psychology but also up on literature dealing with the subtle nuances of the psyche. His reading list included works like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Long Day’s Journey into Night and that old psychological classic, Macbeth.

Professor “day” clearly understood where I was coming from and what I hoped to achieve. He also wrote a glowing letter of recommendation that helped me to win a graduate scholarship.

We need more well-rounded professors like that. And hopefully the University of Toronto and Ryerson will continue to encourage quality thinking on this topic. Otherwise, too many people, imo, will be compromised by the system. And they might not even know why.

Having said that, I don’t believe strident, one-sided anti-psychiatry tracts are the answer, as we sometimes see, for instance, at Mad in America. The reality is that the psychiatric system is in place. It has legal power over other perspectives, probably in large part because psychiatric drugs can effectively subdue potentially violent or suicidal individuals (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

In some ways psychiatry does a lot of good. But it does need tweaking. And that’s why today’s tweet is highlighted.

¹ When I asked professor “night” why he changed his mind and would not provide a letter of recommendation perilously close to scholarship application deadlines, he answered that his letter would be “weak.” Perplexed and traumatized, I reminded him that he gave me an “A” in his course and that my academic future was at stake. At this he snapped “I GAVE YOU MY REASONS.” And that was it. End of an otherwise promising academic career.


Another Clinton lie? Just to try to keep the news more balanced for the next little while…

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In an odd twist of fate, the Scarlet Letter is now “T”

If you haven’t read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne you probably won’t know what the heck I’m talking about. It’s a classic American novel.

English: Engraving of American author Nathanie...

Engraving of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Taken from Brief Biographies: With Steel Portraits by Samuel Smiles. Published by Ticknor and Fields, 1861. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Scarlet Letter (1926 film)

The Scarlet Letter (1926 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Clinton forgave her husband when it paid off for her..?

English: Monica Lewinsky, from her government ...

Monica Lewinsky, from her government ID photo by Office of the Secretary of Defense. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again, I want to stress that I am a Canadian and have a disinterested interest in the US Elections.

Last night Hillary Clinton tweeted “This is horrific. We cannot allow this man to become president.”

Isn’t this a bit hypocritical and sanctimonious considering her husband was caught having sex with someone less than half his age, lied about it, and HC forgave him and went along with his not being impeached as President?

I can’t stand holier than thou posers. That’s one thing that really turns me off.

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Today’s Top Tweets – with a dash of humor this time

A little late today. These were gathered this morning but it was laundry day at home, so just getting time to post my favs now.

I like this first one because it reminds me of an ancient Greek play where all the women go on strike in protest of their men going to war, if I remember right.

This one is not scintillating but it does provide good coverage, clearing up some common misperceptions about Catholicism.

No kidding…

A scary thought. Lets hope it’s more hype than fact. One thing no one would consider—all paper ballots and going back to counting votes manually:

I did my doctorate in psychology and religion, so this story is of special interest to me. I think it’s done quite well. Especially as you read through toward the end.

It’s a crap shoot, I guess:

A lot of folks blame Christianity for many social ills. But this article suggests that Christianity has within it the seeds of redemption… not only spiritual but also social.

Pretty self explanatory. Is natural always better? This article asks:

A new twist on the old “monkey at a typewriter eventually coming up with Shakespeare…” if they type for all eternity, that is:

Here’s the song the above points to. I think it sounds like XTC before morphing into the Beatles. But then, XTC did sort of copy the Beatles style at times. Bottom line… people are still better musicians than machines.🙂

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Sexism and the impressionable human being

The above tweet points to some obvious cases where men are victims of sexism. But discrimination occurs on many levels, in many different ways. Men can perpetuate sexism against men, just as women can perpetuate sexism against women. Sexism isn’t only about one gender disrespecting and oppressing another. And what about “pretty” people discriminating against the “ugly.” Or that thin against the obese? The tall against the short? The “normal” against the “weird”?

The unfortunate dynamic of discrimination occurs because, well, people are impressionable. So a situation often arises where we are sort of brainwashed, I guess, into believing in things and acting in certain ways that are not based in reality nor good for humanity as a whole.

Another routinely overlooked example of believing in things that may not be good for us, I would suggest, is found in some of the darker corners of psychiatry. Some people abuse psychiatric drugs, or perhaps their doctors are incompetent and abusive in prescribing drugs when they shouldn’t be.

Instead of dealing with all the causes of depression, for example, some take pills because that seems to help. I am not sure how much of that help is due to the well documented placebo effect and how much is actual. But the problem with taking pills that affect your brain is that, over time, the brain will likely try to compensate for whatever is altering its systems.

The brain is not a fixed, metal machine but a living organ. So when strange chemicals enter into its everyday workings, it grows new receptors or makes other changes to try to compensate. Now, down the line, if someone wants to go off their pills, they may find that their brain has actually changed. And whatever those pills were once “fixing” may now be even worse because the brain changes (as a result of taking the pills) have made the brain more sensitive to whatever was contributing to the issue in the first place.

Doctors realize this. So what do they do? Many prescribe a new set of pills to fix the new problem. They do this knowing that over time, even more biochemical issues will likely arise. So it’s sort of playing “patch up” the problem, knowing that in doing so there’s a high probability that they will be contributing to a whole new set of problems. But it’s no game. It’s your brain.

This may seem like a bit of a diversion from the tweet about sexism, but I think it’s a good example where people believe in something that in the long run may not be good for them. I write about scientism a fair amount at earthpages. I guess some think I’m just a nut with my eyes closed to the wonders of science. But in reality, not all science is pure. In fact, much of it is politically, ideologically and economically driven. But that’s a topic for another day!

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Today’s Top Tweets

Today’s another day where I won’t have time to comment on these stories until later. So I thought I’d just list my favs for now: