Guess Who’s Promoting Insomnia

The always engaging MindHacks blog on the rise of insomnia awareness, treatment, and who’s promoting both. No big surprises here.

Discover Magazine has an exposé of a recent surge of news stories on insomnia and sleep disorders that stretch from the dull to the frankly unbelievable.

It turns out a fair number seem to be based on press releases from PR firms, some trying to promote hotels, but others coming from the National Sleep Foundation.

The author of the piece looked at the 2005 financial figures from this organisation and discovered that over 80% of its funding came from drug companies and almost three quarters was spent on ‘public education’ – i.e. advertising the existence of sleep disorders.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

Common Myths About the Brain

Three Common myths about the brain in a Scientific American article, one involving the common mistake, written about here previously, of confusing correlation and causality.

  1. Myth: We only use 10 percent of our brainpower.
  2. Myth: Some people are left-brained, others right-brained.
  3. This myth has to do with alpha waves — see the following:

We can achieve a deeper sense of con­scious­ness and relaxation by boost­ing our alpha waves. Purveyors of “alpha consciousness” have encouraged people to undergo brain-wave biofeedback—in some cases using commercially available devices—to increase their production of alpha waves, brain waves that occur at a frequency of about eight to 13 cycles per ­second. Yet research shows alpha-wave output is largely or entirely unrelated to long-term personality traits and short-term states of contentment.

As Barry observed, the myth of alpha consciousness reflects a confusion between “correlation” and “causation.” It is true that people tend to display a heightened proportion of alpha waves while meditating or relaxing deeply. But this fact does not mean that an increased production of alpha waves causes heightened relaxation. Moreover, research shows that elevated levels of alpha waves are found in some children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, who are anything but relaxed.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

Willard Suitcase Exhibit Online

From the World of Psychology blog at PsychCentral is a link to a fascinating online museum of a psychiatric facility that closed down in 1995. Essentially they found the suitcases of hundreds of patients, picked a few, told their stories. It’s a fascinating window into the hows and whys of psychiatry in another era. Here’s an excerpt from PsychCentral:

If you want to view a pretty amazing historical art project online, check out The Willard Suitcase Exhibit Online. Willard Psychiatric Center in New York opened as the Willard Asylum in 1869 and after being renamed in 1890 to the Willard State Hospital, reached a record census of 4,076 patients in 1955. In its 126 year history, the psychiatric facility saw more than 50,000 patients pass through its doors.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

What Psychotherapy Is: Part 1

This is a difficult question to answer. Here’s a bare bones answer:

Psychotherapy is a conversation between two people — where one person predominantly talks and the other predominantly listens. The goal of the conversation that develops is to foster insight into the nature of the person doing most of the talking, as well as insight into that person’s problems. But insight is not enough. The important work is somehow getting that insight to stick. To incorporate it into that person’s life in meaningful ways that in turn helps that person better adjust to their life.

Even such a simple definition leaves so much that is important out, and there are so many questions it raises, and statements that beg qualification. Look for Part 2.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations

That’s the title of a peer-reviewed study published this month by the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, courtesy of Ken Pope’s listserv. The study has an interesting finding — given bad information subjects were more likely to judge it credible if accompanied by irrelevant neuroscience information. This finding is particularly relevant to science reporting as neuroscience “information” has the aura of scientific objectivity that the media loves to invoke. People tend to assume that if something is related to scientific hypothesis that it is “proven”, a fallacy covered here before. Often this information includes non-facts such as the idea that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” a theory that while widely touted remains unsubstantiated, unproven. (The chemical imbalance theory has also been covered on this blog, here.)

Here’s the abstract of the paper:

Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people’s abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation. We tested this hypothesis by giving naïve adults, students in a neuroscience course, and neuroscience experts brief descriptions of psychological phenomena followed by one of four types of explanation, according to a 2 (good explanation vs. bad explanation) x 2 (without neuroscience vs. with neuroscience) design. Crucially, the neuroscience information was irrelevant to the logic of the explanation, as confirmed by the expert subjects. Subjects in all three groups judged good explanations as more satisfying than bad ones. But subjects in the two nonexpert groups additionally judged that explanations with logically irrelevant neuroscience information were more satisfying than explanations without. The neuroscience information had a particularly striking effect on nonexperts’ judgments of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

Rx Consumption

Another one from the New York Times Book Review of Melody Peterson’s Our Daily Meds, on pharmaceutical spending and abuses, the usual litany. Here’s an excerpt:

Irate as she is that in a period (1980-2003) when Americans doubled what they spent on cars they increased their spending on prescription drugs by 17 times, Ms. Petersen steps back to consider the long-term consequences of this shift in consumption. She notes that the first generation of children raised in front of ubiquitous, sunny drug-company advertisements (which became legal in 1997) has acquired the notions that prescription pills fix everything, and that they are less dangerous than street drugs. Then, looking to the elderly, she points out that increasing numbers of drugs are accumulating in these patients, with little regard for the consequences.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

Functioning with Schizophrenia

The Yale Daily News ran a February 29 story on Elyn Saks whose recent memoir The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness. Time magazine voted it one of the top ten best non-fiction books of 2007. One of the interesting aspects of the story is Saks’ crediting of her psychoanalysis as being critical to her management of her schizophrenia. While schizophrenia is currently viewed as a brain disease (medical model), that does not mean that it is not amenable, in part, to psychotherapeutic intervention. Bertram Karon, for one, has written about this mode of treatment. Saks has spoken explicitly about the importance of her psychotherapy treatment. She has also spoken about her humiliating experiences on psychiatric wards.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Saks said the initial symptoms of her condition began appearing around age six or seven, when she started to experience phobias, obsessions and night terrors. Her teen years brought a bout with anorexia and drug use that landed her in a daytime rehabilitation program, she said. Then she began hearing thoughts in her head that were not her own.

“It was as if my mind were a sand castle and all the sand were sliding away,” she said.

After graduating first in her class from Vanderbilt University, Saks began studying philosophy at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship. That is when she really broke down. Stricken by depression and paranoia, the five-foot-ten Saks shriveled to 95 pounds, and she fantasized about dousing herself with gasoline and lighting herself on fire. Continue reading “Functioning with Schizophrenia”