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New Article: The Writers' Guide to DSM-IV Diagnoses Part 2: Mood Disorders
Summary: Looks at DSM-IV Diagnoses in the Mood Disorders category including major depression, dysthymia, and the bipolar (manic-depressive) disorders.

A Writer's Book of Fears

New Article: A Writer's Book of Fears
Summary: "Fear can be debilitating to a writer. It can keep you from all aspect of your craft - from finishing a story to submitting one. Learning to deal with your fears is the first step to writing without them. "

8 Tips for Writing Flash Fiction

New Article: 8 Tips for Writing Flash Fiction
Summary: "Flash fiction is similar to writing poetry. Every word must count when you write a poem and the same goes for short fiction. It takes discipline and a ruthless ability to only use the words necessary to tell the tale. You must accomplish a lot of things right away: introduce the main character, set the stage and prepare the reader for the story. And do this in a minimum number of words. So, how do you accomplish this feat of writing magic? I am glad you asked. "

I'm blithely walking through Kohl's department store the other day when I saw what I thought was beer on the shelf. Since that ain't normal, I took a closer look.

Boxer shorts and sleep pants!

Yes, that's right. Men's underwear and jammies packaged in familiar beer cans and bottles and a few Jim Bean and Jack Daniels barrels. And they had something for everyone. Guinness, Corona, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Bud Lite. And of course, for the hard-drinking folk, good ol' Jim and Jack.

I won't regale you with more stats, but is this really the best idea when drunk driving is one of the biggest killers as well as implicated in wife abuse, rape, and mental health problems?

But hey, now I feel like I have bookends for my point. Expensive t-shirts and high-class drinks for the ladies and liquor and beer for the gentlemen. Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice.

New Article: The Writers' Guide to DSM-IV Diagnoses Part 1: Anxiety Disorders
Summary: Looks at DSM-IV Diagnoses in the Anxiety Disorders category including GAD, OCD, PTSD, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and phobias. Includes examples and movies that portray the disorders in question.

Diagnosing Anakin Skywalker

New Article: Diagnosing Anakin Skywalker
Summary: A group of French researchers have proposed that Anakin Skywalker had Borderline Personality Disorder. This article looks at why, along with the evidence for and against such a diagnosis.

A Roadmap for Your Fiction Writing Career

New Article: A Roadmap for Your Fiction Writing Career
Summary: Author Randy Ingermanson teaches you how to get from "unpublished" to "published."

Being Multiple in a Singleton World

New Article: Being Multiple in a Singleton World
Summary: What it's like to have multiple personalities by someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder.

The Faces Of Madness: Gotham's Rogues

New Article: The Faces Of Madness: Gotham's Rogues
Summary: The villians Batman faces and the disorders they struggle with.

New Jargon: Neurotransmitter

New Jargon: Neurotransmitter
Explanation of those mysterious "brain chemicals"

  • The only psychological disorder that is correlated with increased violence rates is substance abuse.
  • You are more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than a stranger with mental illness. (Alcohol is involved in between 40 and 60% of all traffic fatalities.)
  • One or both individuals has been using alcohol or drugs in most cases of sexual assault.

You know the drill. Drinking excessively is bad for you.

And physiological effects aside, drinking is not a healthy way to regularly deal with problems and stress. It's passive, avoidant, and will drop you into an alcoholic pattern faster than anything else. So start saving for therapy, your whole family's going to need it by the time you're done.

I'm not talking about a drink in the evening, or one here and there with friends. I'm talking about abuse, dependence, the problematic stuff. Looking forward to getting buzzed or drunk to help you deal with your life. Using it like therapy, say.

So what in hell is THIS?

That, my friend, is a $40 t-shirt suggesting that 3 martinis is as good as therapy. Maybe better.

If it were the first I'd seen, I'd roll my eyes and move on. But it's not the first I've seen. In fact, I've started seeing this sort of thing on pajamas.

And juuuuust in case you're not convinced it's really bad for's one of my favorite pictures. It makes the ol' "This is Your Brain on Drugs" frying pan look pretty good.

And people wonder why today's starlets are bombing at the VMAs because they're (allegedly) too drunk to perform (one hopes she had an excuse), or failing to show up to movie sets and landing in rehab.

A new study suggests that all the hubbub about drugs like Prozac "causing" suicide -- which led to the FDA's "black box" warning on them -- led physicians to be more conservativew about prescribing the meds. And that appears to have caused the suicide rate to go up in children and teens.

Now, the first caution is that this is correlational data. That means we know that as the emphasis on the "dangerousness" of antidepressants went up, so did the suicide rate. That doesn't necessarily mean that one caused the other. It just looks pretty darn suspicious.

But there's a bigger problem here, and that is that we're still focusing on the wrong thing: the drugs.

Healthy, psychologically sound people who feel like there's hope don't commit suicide. People who feel there is no other option commit suicide, and teens tend to be more impulsive, so their suicide rate is a little higher than average. (The teen suicide rate is not the highest, by any means. The elderly population, especially elderly white males, are far more likely than any other group to commit suicide.)

Research shows that most antidepressant prescriptions are written by general practitioners, not psychiatrists. Now, GPs are writing them because they want to help, and that's what they can do to help -- they see people briefly, write a prescription or provide some other specific advice, and send the person out the door. In some cases they recommend therapy, but with a scrip in hand, the average person ignores the therapist's name.

And the average person doesn't realize that each antidepressant works differently (that's why there are so many of them -- gasp!) and that figuring out which is the best can be a trial-and-error process that may involve different dosages and different combinations of drugs.

So people go home, pop their Prozac, and by day 2 or 3 they feel great! They don't realize, of course, that it takes 2-6 weeks for Prozac to start working, and that they're getting a placebo effect. So at the end of week 1 they're not feeling so great and by the end of week 2 they quit taking the med becuase it's "stopped working." And they feel hopeless.

Or they feel a little better, but not a lot better, but they assume Zoloft is like penicillin -- it works or it doesn't, and there's not a lot of in between. They begin to think that feeling this bad is normal, and they're just not handling it well. Nor do they want to. And they feel hopeless.

Or the drug causes side effects they don't like, so they figure that the whole drug class is useless to them. And they feel hopeless.

See how this works?

Plus, in a lot of cases, even if the drug works great, it can't rout out the cause of the problem like an antibiotic. An antibiotic kills the infection and gets rid of the symptoms, too. With mental illness you may eliminate the symptoms and even get the brain chemistry working better, but if the psychological problem, or the bad living situation, or the learning disability, or whatever is still there, you haven't dealt with the true "infection," and you're still going to struggle with depression. That's exhausting. So you feel hopeless.

My point is, it's not as simple as a drug causing or not causing suicide rates. It has a lot to do with understanding that a drug is a tool, and an important tool, but only a tool. We shouldn't put it on a pedestal or blame it for the world's ills.

SSRIs (the class of antidepressants that includes Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, etc.) were one of the most important chemical revolutions in psychiatry. They help a lot of people who couldn't otherwise live normal lives live very normal lives. But they're drugs, not magic in a bottle.

You know how they say, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people"? Well, antidepressants don't cause suicide, but they also don't usually cause miracles. It's not that simple, and until we stop trying to make it that simple, we're not using the tools as effectively as we should be.

Shape Magazine August 2007

If you've look at the About section of the Archetype site, you know I do work with the media. I admit to being particularly tickled when I make it into a magazine I read or have read in the past, so this month's Shape magazine is pretty tickly!

The Psychology of Terrorism

What I want to know right before I get on an airplane is that I'm especially likely to blow up today.

People are already paranoid. And being crammed in a metal tube with a bunch of strangers so you can all hurtle through the air at several hundred miles an hour (after having your sealed Diet Pepsi taken away at the gate In The Interest of National Security) is already stressful. (Especially after being forced to pay three times the price of your soda for a bottle half the size.)

So the most obvious question here is, "What purpose does a sign like this really serve?"

Terrorism: "the systematic use of terror, the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear for bringing about political change." - Prentice Hall

Now let's think about this. Who is scaring us with this sign? And what is they're hoping we'll do? You decide, but here's a little blast from the past to consider:

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." - Adolph Hitler, repeated later by Joseph Goebbels

Now, I'm not saying we haven't been attacked or that there are no threats.

I'm just asking if signs like this might not benefit our government juuuuuust a little?

Why People Believe Shrinks Analyze Everything

One of the myths about psychology professionals is that they're "analyzing" everyone. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when they're not at work, they actually have their own lives to think (and worry) about.

Concern about all that analysis --I think, and by all means, let me know if you have other theories-- is rooted in the ideas that 1) Your deep, dark secrets are transparent to the wandering shrink's psychological x-ray vision, 2) Something you don't know (and don't want to know) will be forced into the open, because 3) Little mundane things about you that you thought were perfectly normal are telling the world something secret about you that even you don't know.

As far as a lot of people are concerned, we might as well be palm readers...we just don't need to look at your palm. We can tell all from across the room!

(None of which is true. You can visit Writer Beware: Common Misconceptions about Psychotherapy to read about the "Shrinks Analyze Everyone" myth.)

I always wonder where people get these ideas. And then I run across articles like the one in this week's US and I think...ohhhhhhhhhh.

US Plays Ask the Shrink

Little innocuous behaviors are being taken out of context, diagnosed, and rated in terms of how much of a "concern" they are.

Folks, if it isn't causing a problem for anyone, it doesn't get a diagnosis. Let me just say that again because people have so much trouble with it: if it isn't causing a problem for anyone, it doesn't get a diagnosis. If you get kind of depressed from time to time but like it because you find you're more creative then (or whatever) and it's not causing any problems, it doesn't get diagnosed!

Natalie Portman shaved her head for V for Vendetta and didn't wear a wig. People thought it was kinda cool. Britney Spears shaved her head and you'd have thought the Second Coming was at hand. Same behavior, but the assumed distress associated with the second act made it more interesting (but still not necessarily diagnosable -- there isn't a "shaves head on a whim" diagnosis, after all).

And things always have to be taken in context.

And we all "analyze" other people's behaviors, but as soon as you add professionals you're affecting the way people see said profession.


So let's take a look at the US article. One caveat is that writers for magazine articles have to choose a quote or two out of information that may originally have been several pages long (or out of a phone call that lasted half an hour or more), and they don't always quote quite as exactly as the expert might have liked. So I'm working with what the blurb says, not knowing how accurate the expert's quote is and whether it's in context. In other words, the goal here is not to attack someone else's quotes, it's to talk about the messages that ended up in print.

You can click any of the images below to see a readable-size version.

Case Study: Kelly Clarkson says she's never said "I Love You" and isn't into marriage

She's 25. So what if she hasn't said "I love you" to a partner? Maybe she's discriminating. Maybe the words mean enough that she doesn't want to be careless with them. Maybe people in her family just didn't use the words much.

As for not being interested in marriage...if she was a man, do you think anyone would have been upset about that? The marriage rate is the lowest it's been in a long time, as women choose to delay or even eschew marriage for a variety of reasons.

If she were 45 and saying she'd never fallen in love, didn't know if she were capable, and is extremely sad about it, we might be able to speculate that her "model of intimacy [is] disturbed."

Case Study: Isaiah Washington: Refers to himself in the third person

I have a strong feeling that this is being taken out of context and given more weight than it deserves. Some celebrities see themselves as a brand that's separate from themselves. Cindy Crawford, for example, has famously said to her staff, "We all work for Cindy Crawford [the image and brand people pay for], including me."

My sixth-grade science teacher talked about herself in the third person exclusively. She never, ever used the words I, me, we, or other first-person terms. She said Mrs. ______ would like you all to stop talking now. She is getting very frustrated with you." She was also a close-talker. I don't know why she did it. Does it mean she needs a diagnosis? Nope, not for that. It's just different. Okay, it was a little weird, and it's why I remember her now.

Case Study: Paris Hilton: Has quickie spiritual epiphany -- in jail

One of my favorite quotes (especially as a teacher): "The thief is sorry that he is to be hanged, not that he is a thief." (That becomes, "He's sorry that he got busted for plagiarizing, not that he plagiarized.")

Anyways... Call me a cynic, but if Paris didn't find God after the sex tape scandal, I don't think a few days in jail is going to do it. I agree with the shrink in this article that change tends to be caused by a trigger, but the true test is whether the "change" lasts. When she can again spend $18,000 on a sweater for her teeny little dog, how spiritual will she be?


So shrinks really don't have x-ray glasses and they aren't analyzing you. Only Santa and God are making decisions about whether your behavior is a problem or not. And Santa's kind of a pushover...he brings you stuff even when you've been a little bad.

Paris Goes to Jail & Has a "Breakdown"

So Paris Hilton is back in jail.

I'll be blunt here: I have no sympathy.

Two reasons. First, she got busted for an alcohol-related violation in the first place. Drunk drivers kill more people than any other type of human killer, and the fact that that wasn't her first violation is just ridiculous. Second, she never would have gone anywhere near a jail if she hadn't violated probation in association with said alcohol-related violation.

I mean, you can only pile one violation on top of another for so long.

What this has to do with psychology: So part of the reason she got out is she supposedly had some "medical condition" -- a rash is what I heard -- and had a "mental breakdown."

Welcome to the slammer, folks. It's all normal for people going to jail for the first time. And a lot of those folks are going to be there for more than 23 days, and they don't have the option to go home and get a spray-on tan and visits from relatives when they get out after 3 (aka 5) days.

Yep, it's time to talk about the Zimbardo experiment again. (Visit the link for a quick overview of the experiment; Zimbardo also recently published The Lucifer Effect, a detailed accounting of the experiment with comparisons to Abu Girab and other similar atrocities.)

Several of the "prisoners" in the experiment had nervous breakdowns -- one within 36 hours. He had to be "released" from the experiment as a result. And this is after being "pretend" arrested and placed in a "fake" jail for 36 hours. In Quiet Rage, an academic video on the experiment, he can be heard falling apart as he starts to tell the researchers how bad he feels --"I'm all f---ed up, I'm all f---ed up inside"-- until he's simultaneously screaming and crying, "I want out! Let me out!"

Just like in a real prison, the stress of the situation made some of the prisoner's crack. Within 36 hours one of the prisoners had to be released after he exhibited signs of a nervous breakdown: He began uncontrollably crying, screaming, cursing, and acting irrationally. The stress of being in a prison environment caused a general deterioration of the prisoners into pathological behavior, and a prisoner a day had to be released after snapping. Although the men were "mock" prisoners in a "mock" prison, it was psychologically real to them, and that is how they responded. Yet while prisoners were psychologically collapsing from the SCP's effect on them, not a single guard quit or let up on their demeaning tactics. -

So Paris is no different from anyone else in this situation. A "breakdown" of some sort is almost expected, particulary for someone so spoiled. As for a rash -- I don't know what it really was, but hives come to mind. Hives are a common reaction to extremely stressful situations.

Woe and misery, Paris -- but you're sure not alone. The good ol' USA has the largest prison population in the world. In 2003, "prisons and jails held one out of every 142 U.S. residents."

And don't forget, in a lot of cases innocent people had to get hurt for all of those people to land there. Paris is lucky she isn't in Lane Garrison's shoes. Garrison drove drunk (and high on cocaine) and killed a teenager. He's looking at almost 7 years in jail. (Seven years isn't much when you think about the teenager who lost 50-80 years of life, not to mention to grief suffered by the family and friends who are left.)

Get over it, Paris.

And next time, do what the nice probation officer tells you to do.

Another Point of View

Here's TheLastPsychiatrist's latest post on Hui (Cho Seung Hui: It's The Movies, Stupid); his approach is exactly the opposite of mine, and while I disagree that we should focus exclusively on the media rather than Hui's mental health history, he makes some excellent points, including:

  • People look to the media for models of how to do things
  • Hui was looking for an identity
  • People with mental illnesses are not statistically more likely than anyone else to act violently (though those with severe mental illnesses are eleven times more likely than others to be the victims of violence) and focusing only on the mental health aspects of things villifies people who don't even begin to deserve it.
As I said in a recent post, I love this guy's blog. Part of the reason I note it here is that it's important to consider different points of view on any issue; in many cases, even people with completely opposite ideas are "right" (or at least worth listening to) at the same time. (Not that he'd necessarily say I'm right, but I bet he's the sort to enjoy a healthy debate and would agree that tolerance and discussion is a far better approach to disagreement than going all Warcraft on someone's a**.) Appreciating different viewpoints doesn't mean you're ambivalent, it means you're wise enough to be able to hold and appreciate opposing views.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. -F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Now is a particulary important time to recognize that we can disagree and still appreciate and respect and even admire the people we disagree with. A lot of people are threatened by views that differ from theirs (the uncomfortable feeling that causes that is called cognitive dissonance), which in most cases is ridiculous. Tolerance is respecting and appreciating the other person and his/her ideas without disrespecting or wanting to hurt that person.

A number of people have remarked that Hui doesn't deserve the attention; it's what he wanted. They insist that we focus on the lives of the survivors and all the positive things they did and gave to the world. In this spirit, is currently running photos, biographies, and loved ones' stories about the lives of each of them.

Virginia Tech

I'm writing this two days after the Virginia Tech tragedy, the worst "shooting rampage" in US history. Cho Seung Hui, a 23-year-old creative writing major who was just about to graduate from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, shot and killed a student and an RA in a dormitory and then walked across campus to an academic building, chained the doors shut, and shot and killed 31 other people in classrooms, including himself. A number of his victims are still in the hospital, some of them in critical condition.

In the United States, at least, one of the things that has made this unique is how much information was available immediately from people who were in the classrooms via blogs as well as cell phone text messages, videos, and photos. I find myself wondering if things might have been worse--both in terms of how many people were hurt or killed and in terms of psychological fallout--if people hadn't been able to communicate that way.

People are going to scramble to figure out why this happened. The most tempting thing to do will be to write Hui off as "crazy" or "evil." To make him Other. One of my students asked me today if Hui was "psycho;" someone else told me a profiler on an evening news program repeatedly referred to him as a "psychopath." (Neither term is used clinically, and the evidence seems to be pointing at a disorder like depression, not sociopathy, so it's just irresponsible to be throwing terms like that around on television.)

Rock music and violent video games and movies will get some blame. Some people will blame the "narcissism" they believe this generation of children has grown up with. There will be a lot of sensationalistic emphasis on the gory details. And in the end we'll have some kind of profile of the person who did this.

But try not to forget that it was a person who did this, and writing someone off as an anomalous monster keeps us from truly understanding how he felt and thought--and that is the most important why. If we truly understand how depressed or angry or sick he was, we can try to do a better job of intervening so this doesn't happen again. As one person wrote me this morning, so many people are now saying, "I wondered if [Hui] would show up in the newspaper some day morning for killing people," but they didn't really do anything. Or maybe they did do something and those they talked with didn't do enough in response.

Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold, responsible for the Columbine tragedy, gave every indication that they were dangerous. They were even in trouble for the kind of behavior that later led to the death of 13 people, but nobody did enough to prevent what happened. Hui did the same; he gave every indication that he intended to do something horrible, but nobody took him seriously enough, or acted strongly enough, to prevent what happened. Why aren't we learning when things like this happen? Sometimes I think it's because we demonize these people, so when we see or hear a perfectly real human being going down the same path, we minimize the reality that a perfectly real human being is always who does this sort of thing.

Now, no matter what illness someone who hurts other people might have (if they do have one), and no matter what their motivations, that neither excuses their behavior nor provides any type of consolation to those whose lives were affected, particularly those who knew and loved the victims. And just about anyone who hears about what happened is affected by how awful it was.

No matter how much pain someone is in, and no matter how distorted their perceptions of the world might be, taking someone else's life is inexcusable. Hurting others doesn't make your pain better; it makes it worse, because now others are suffering at least as much as you were, even if they're suffering in a different way. One of the things that bothers me most about our health-care system here in the States is that those perpetrators who do receive rehabilitation of some kind are often given more psychological care than those who are affected by what they did. No matter what happens to the perpetrator, survivors almost always have to pay for their own therapy, if they can even afford it. Those who were affected by what happened at Virginia Tech have access to free therapy right now, which is as it should be, but they can't be completely healed in a month, or six months, or a year. And how many people, who have experienced so many other tragedies, never receive any help at all?

And no amount of therapy in the world can "undo" what others have done to us. It's so excruciatingly unfair that survivors are left to pick up the pieces of their lives when they should never have been involved in the first place.The psychological fallout from human-orchestrated trauma is extraordinary. The idea that another thinking, conscious being would do something so awful overloads the brain. Human cruelty is more likely to cause Post-traumatic stress than anything else, no matter how bad. And the alcoholism and suicide rate for people who have PTSD is extremely high. The firefighter who appeared on the front of Time magazine carrying an infant out of the rubble of the Oklahoma City bombing later killed himself.

The survivors should always be who we think of first. But we should also think about Hui. We don't want to take away someone's freedoms because they might possibly be dangerous, but we also can't ignore or minimize someone's behavior when they're sending strong messages that they are.

It's okay to tell someone in authority you're worried that someone you know might hurt someone else. In therapy, we do a very thorough assessment when we hear those things. When we get indications that someone is dangerous, we act, and we'd rather overreact a bit than underreact a lot. There's even something in place in the US we refer to as the Tarasoff law, which means that if you hear someone talk serious about hurting someone else, you have a duty to warn that person s/he's in danger.

It's better to feel a little embarrassed or to have a friend or acquaintance never speak to you again than to let behavior like Hui's go. The guilt some people will feel for not acting will haunt them for the rest of their lives. And my experience with authorities, even before I became a psychologist, was that they want to know so they can intervene if necessary. You can also walk into any emergency room in this country with someone you believe is dangerous to himself or someone else and they will intervene.

There's concern that people will "copycat" what happened, which makes vigilance right now even more important. You don't need to jump every time someone says they'd rather shoot someone than go to another staff meeting, but when you hear it over and over, or when you see other disturbed behaviors with those remarks, it's best to act.

If you'd like more information or would like to do something to help, you can visit Virginia Tech's website or contribute to the Hokie Memorial Fund, which will be used to provide grief counseling, memorials, communication expenses, comfort expenses, and incidental needs to survivors.

If you've been affected profoundly in some way, for example because this brings back memories of something you've experienced, seek some support or counseling for yourself as well.

Well, things have finally gotten out of hand.

A woman named Kathy Sierra, the head of Head First books from O'Reilly, and a lecturer has been receiving death threats--a federal crime--both visual and written from people who are apparently offended by the fact that she is a woman. Frighteningly, many of them have not even tried to be anonymous.

Blogger Receives Death Threats

Another entry talks about how children 11 - 13 are bullied online--more girls (20%) than boys (10%).

Children Being Bullied Online

Of course, it doesn't help that there's a new site called Stickam that's essentially a video mySpace. I looked at it yesterday after I read about it being a likely danger to children. It's still bothering me.

All of the users I found were kids, a lot of them young girls (14, 15), taking sexy pictures of themselves (often in the bathroom mirror) and making sexy videos of themselves. Some of it is heading in the direction of child porn. I had to leave the site before I actually found some and got even more upset. As you might imagine, the pedophiles are out and easy to spot in the comments (many of them have pictures--doesn't anyone realize this stuff can land you in jail, making sexual comments to underage kids?). The kids, meanwhile, are goaded on by being told how sexy they are. You can also tell from seeing the videos and photos that in most cases (at least what I saw), parents have no idea. The kids clearly think it's funny and cool.

The site is really disturbing; I sent info to some colleagues, since we teach psychology and sociology and other classes that make this material relevant. I told them that if they show anything to their classes, they need to preview all the material they use, partly because nobody wants to be accused of showing child pornography.

Oh, and did I mention a lot of the stuff is live, so it's not like you can stop broadcast after you've realized you've gone too far?

There's also some unbelievable language, kids talking about doing things kids shouldn't be doing. (One girl talked about getting trashed on New Year's and making out with another girl--she had pictures. She's 14.)

I see a change in the way the internet works ahead. Or maybe I should say, dear God, I hope there are changes ahead.

Back to the death threats -- Ms. Sierra talks about the situation in detail here -- she speaks about it very openly and graphically so people know what happened, so if you're easily upset by this sort of thing, just stick with the first article:

Kathy Sierra's blog

And by the way--this kind of thing can cause PTSD. It's really that bad. As she says, the threats alone are traumatic and can change your life for the worse.

The Last Psychiatrist - Great Blog!

I've added some other really great shrink blogs in a list of links to the right. One of them is so humblingly (is that a word?) amazing that I have to tell you about is specifically.

There's an amazing amount of fascinating (and sometimes funny...and sometimes you feel a little bad for thinking it's funny) clinical information, and it's a stellar look inside a shrink's head.

"Torture Porn" Horror Films: Cause or Effect?

There's an interesting article in this month's Premiere magazine (April 2007—Will Ferrel is on the cover) called Shock and Awful by Tom Roston.

Roston explores the "torture porn" movie genre that's developed in the wake of forerunner Saw's success, writing,

It's the same sort of thing that was said about previous generations of horror—that these movies are a projection of our collective unconscious. In the 1950s and 1960s, the fear of Communism could be seen in the monster and alien-invasion movies. In the '70s, particularly in the work of Wes Craven...the movies were about the breakdown of the family unit, as well as the Vietnam War.

Those responsible for these films argue that the demand for them is an attempt to "deflect and reflect" the evil of terrorism in the world now. "It's not that these movies cause torture or mayhem," Roston argues, "[but] they're still making terror palatable."

Albert Bandura did a classic study (1961) on what he called social learning theory (i.e. we learn to do what we see done) most often referred to by those in psychology as the "Bobo doll study."

He showed some children a video of a grownup beating up a Bobo doll (ie one of those person-sized punching bags that looks like a clown and has sand in the bottom so you can't knock it over) in a room with other toys in it. Another group of children didn't see the Bobo video. They children were then allowed to go into the room individually. The children who hadn't seen the grownup beating up Bobo weren't particularly interested in Bobo, but the children who had seen Bobo get beaten up started beating Bobo up in exactly the same way as the grownup they'd seen.

The pictures to the right are from this experiment; you can see the grownup at the top, and then a boy beating up Bobo, and then a girl. (That little girl looks like she is having way too good of a time in some of the pictures. She must have had some repressed anger...that, or she hates clowns.) You can see more pictures from the Bobo doll experiment by clicking on the images.

People have argued for years that what we see on television and in film doesn't change our behavior; Bandura proved that it does 50 years ago. And any parent can tell you that "do as I say, not as I do" is a nice concept, but "monkey see, monkey do" is more realistic.

So why do so many people continue to question the effects of television and movies? Because some of the stupidest, goriest, and scariest things make the most money. MTV's Jackass. Just about anything Quentin Tarantino. The first Saw film, which was made for about $1 million, made $100 million worldwide; each of the two low-cost sequels grossed $150 million worldwide.)

So the question becomes—is "torture porn" horror a projection of what's inside of us (and the collective unconscious) already, or is putting the extremely violent and gory visions of a few on big screens being taken in by the many, thereby altering the collective unconscious?

And must we be swept along in the bloody tide, or do we have choices about whether to behave differently in real life?

Free Will vs. Automaticity

So there are those who argue that these things don't affect our behaviors, and Bandura has proven they do. But then why don't all of us become serial killers? Because we have free will. Or at least that's how I see it.

At some point during clinical training you're faced with the question of whether human beings have free will or whether we're just the product of our environments (or genes). In classic horror films (think Psycho, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street), the villain is often doomed to be what he is—Michael Myers just seems to have been born evil; Freddy Kreuger is the "bastard son of 100 maniacs." You can argue that Saw's Jigsaw's behavior is a result of the inoperable brain cancer. In the Archetype site proper, I argue that this is because these explanations allow us to see villains as Other—utterly different from ourselves.

A friend of mine argues that we have little free will. To demonstrate, he'll yawn; most people will feel the need to yawn in response (and you may be having the same reaction just reading about it—I am while I'm writing it!). He says that we're all just responding automatically to the environment, which is a very Behaviorist view of the world.

Behaviorism says a particular stimulus will always lead to a particular response; therefore what we are today is the result of numerous responses to predictable stimuli. We're all a little different because we've all been exposed to slightly different stimuli; two people might respond differently to a car accident in the present due to different stimuli and associations from the past.

I have a far more Gestalt outlook. I believe that we have choices and that the willingness to take responsibility to make changes can make an enormous difference in one's psychological well-being. The past is done, we can't change it, and lingering in the past, blaming others for what you've become, serves no purpose. One of the purposes of therapy is to learn how to cope with what's happened in the past and develop new responses to the world ahead.

Of course, it's easier to keep doing the same old thing because we've been conditioned to respond to particular stimuli in particular ways (there's that behaviorism again), or to blame others, but what have all that gray and white brain matter if we're not going to use any of it?

I watched Saw. I was impressed by it. But I have absolutely no desire to see the second or third. The first one worked for me because it was different from everything that had come before; it was about intolerable choices and what that does to you psychologically. (And the writers went all the way through with what they'd set up in that bathroom at the beginning.) But seeing four more hours' worth of nightmarish ways to torture thank you!

I believe that we're all trying to make sense of the world today. But, for myself at least, understanding is only the first step. Trying to make the world a better place is even more important.

Something that's been bothering me more than usual lately is just how vituperative...people are to each other online.

The internet lets us reach out to people who are farther away, but it has also made it much too easy to act without thinking. From behind their keyboards, others mock, ridicule, and disdain others, thinking that said others will never see what they've written. Or, worse, hoping that they will.

If you put it out on the internet, anyone can see it. Everyone can see it. It doesn't matter if you have to use a password to get into part of a site—other people can get passwords, too. It doesn't matter if you use an avatar or a screenname—your IP address and the other little crumbs you leave behind can identify you.

It's hard not to get caught up in the flaming when someone you like or care about shoves a flamethrower into your hands and points at the target, shouting the whole time that the other person is trying to burn her to a crisp. It can even be hard not to get caught up in the competitiveness of an argument. But that doesn't make any of it all right.

Three things have brought this to the forefront for me.

1. Britney Spears. Yes, I know. Not her again. But I think she's really put a fine point on what being held up as an object of public ridicule can do to someone. Do I think she's ill? Who wouldn't be after everything that's happened to her? The more trouble she's had, the more she's been pushed, because it makes a better spectacle. We've gone from being entertained by nice family sitcoms to destroying celebrities so we can watch them go down in flames.

2. "Comments" on several news boards. I can't even get my news without comments, and few of them are productive or part of a cerebral debate. Archeologists recently found two adult skeletons embracing, which is apparently unprecedented, but commenters lambasted the scientists for "disturbing" them (they're bones, folks--the people are gone), went on about how sweet it was (both of them were murdered), and ranted about science's cold cruelty in general. (I went back to link to them, and apparently Yahoo decided the same thing: "As they were set up, the Yahoo! News message boards allowed a small number of vocal users to dominate the discussion." So they took them down while they retool. I used a CNN link instead.) I'm as much of a romantic as the next person, but we might be able to learn things to help us go forward in important ways. Archeologists aren't going to want to pull them apart either, they'll want to maintain the integrity of the find. But they do want to learn from them. Listen, if my bones could teach someone things 5000 years from now, I'd want them moved as much as necessary!)

3. Lori Perkins. Lori Perkins is a literary agent. Like several other agents, she blogs; her blog is called—surprise—Agent in the Middle. I found a similar sentiment on her blog; essentially she got overwhelmed with submissions and sent polite rejection letters suggesting that those who really felt her agency was a good match (some people just send letters to everyone without even bothering to see what an agency represents) to please requery in a few months. The internet just burst into flames about her. "It was," she writes, "surreal. (if you do a google search on me, you can still find these diatribes). I really felt like I couldn't win for loosing [sic], and that's also why I keep my rejection letter short and sweet."

So here are three things that keep going around in my brain to go with the three things above.

1. "Judge people by their actions... What people say about themselves does not matter; people will say anything. Look at what they have done; deeds do not lie. You must also apply this logic to yourself. In looking back at a defeat, you must identify the things you could have done differently... You are responsible for the good and bad in your life... People who accuse you of being unfair, for example, who try to make you feel guilty, who talk about justice and morality, are trying to gain an advantage [for themselves]." - Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War xix (hardcover)

2. Make a tree good, and then its fruit will be good. Or make a tree rotten, and then its fruit will be rotten. A person can recognize a tree by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. Good people do the good things that are in them. But evil people do the evil things that are in them. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. -Matt 12:33-38

3. Freud said, "Opposition [disagreement] is not necessarily enmity [hostility]; it is merely misused and made an occasion for enmity..." Research shows that people who feel small and inadequate find reasons to disdain and abuse others to try to make themselves feel better; people who are strong and secure don't need to. And who really wants to hang out with someone who's nasty all the time?—having other people dislike you can't make you feel better about yourself. It's a lot more fun to hang out with someone who's kind and has a sense of humor about the potholes in the road of life.

And for those who think others won't know about their enemity and vituperation, Freud adds, "He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. [Even] if his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore."

Paying Others to Make You Stoopid

I wander the article syndication sites frequently, and somehow landed on an outside site that "is a global leader in writing custom essays and dissertations for students." That's right, you too can now buy your dissertation to go with that degree you bought.

"With our help you can quickly and easily get your assignment done by one of over 500...experts."

Why is this legal? And how did we come to a point in which this is such a lucrative business that there are thousands of "buy your paper" sites? (Turns out there's a CYA that says "These papers should not be represented as your own work." Riiiighhht.)

Education and Employment

Education used to be a privilege. Just being able to read and write your name was a privilege. A lot of people fought incredibly hard so those outside the upper class would have access to decent education, have opportunities to rise above the things that oppressed them. And yet so few people seem to appreciate that there is a purpose to education (and not all of the people I'm talking about are students), and that if you don't want the knowledge or you don't want to do the work, you should just not go.

Employers care less about what your degree is in than they do about work ethic, personal responsibility, and commitment to your organization. People who are selling students papers are effectively stripping said students of practice on skills that could have made them competitive employees. And sadly, these students haven't learned enough in school to realize that this "global leader" that hires "experts" to produce papers of "unmatchable quality" is actually putting out garbage.

There's More to Papers than the Grade

I would be insulted if someone suggested I should pay someone to write a paper for me, and not just because I like to write. It would be disempowering. It would be a way of saying to me, "You can't do it yourself." And these Buy-a-Paper mills don't include the fine print: "And now you'll never learn how."

I wrote a lot of papers in my 22 years of school. I hated writing a lot of them. They kept me from doing other things I wanted to do. They stressed me out. Many of them felt like busywork, or were on topics that were of little interest to me.

Yet by doing them I learned how to actually communicate with others, how to research and find information on topics of interest to me, how to parse and evaluate information to make decisions about what's valid and reliable and what's not, and how to deal with and push through challenges it would have been easier to avoid. More importantly, all those papers helped me develop the ability to think for myself, to be able to support my ideas with evidence, to feel secure that information that conflicts with my own beliefs won't destroy who or what I am, and to critically examine new ideas and give worthwhile ones space to expand my own world.

To be the kind of person who can make good money because I have skills other people don't.

Like writing.

And persevering when I get frustrated or confused.

And knowing how to deal with the unexpected problems life hands us all.

I'm sitting here writing and I'm thinking, No wonder so many students have "crises" that completely incapacitate them when said "crises" should be nothing more than bumps (albeit uncomfortable, but still bumps) in the road of life. No wonder they stare blankly at the walls that are thrown up before them rather than looking for a way to go over, under, around, or through.

Here's the best part of this posting, though.

Purchased Papers Don't Mean Quality

After explicitly stating that what they do is not plagiarism on the student's part (it is—in an academic setting, ghostwriters aren't allowed: plagiarism is representing someone else's work as your own, no matter what...and note that the CYA mentioned above does in fact verify this), they go on to talk about how great their writing is...while providing writing samples that few professional writers or editors would find acceptable.

Can the stuff pass in an educational setting as acceptable? Sure, for the most part, if you don't care whether you look like a competent writer. But the internet thrives on the billions of people who want others to read their writing, to be recognized and maybe even professionally published...and buying papers sure as heck isn't going to get them any closer to those goals. A lot of these "writers" don't even know how to spell, let alone how to go back and proofread.

Professional editors say that at least 99% of the unsolicited material that crosses their desks is garbage. It's full of typos, grammatical and punctuation errors, poor sentence structure and flow, and inarticulately expressed thoughts. And 100% of the people in that 99% think they're good enough that an editor is going to invest tens of thousands of dollars and risk her career to support said writing. And then they're angry when their work is rejected!

Or Correct Grammar, Spelling, or Decent Writing

The company's propaganda says:

[We have] the industry's' best writers [and] unmatchable quality. While majority of custom writing companies that have recently emerged on the Internet make money hiring inexperienced students and foreign writers with poor knowledge of English, the team of UK and US professional writers employed with our company consists of experienced and qualified researchers capable of coping with literally any assignment.

Each member of our writing team holds at least Master’s Degree, and some writers hold PhD degree. [We] offer a compelling proposition : a vast academic and personalized service for a relatively insignificant cost. Given that education is of vital importance in today’s world, as a determinant of future success and of access to new social arenas, its importance is great.

This is their best stuff. Their advertising. Their sell.

It has some issues.

click to enlarge

Custom rewrite by Yours Truly:
While most online custom writing companies hire inexperienced students and foreign writers with a poor command of English (note that they never actually say they are careful to hire people who do have exceptional or even good writing skills, and based on the writing here, I'm doubtful), each of our writers holds a Master's or Doctorate. (In what? These days you can buy a "graduate degree" online, just like you can papers. Why on earth would you believe that someone who is willing to help you cheat actually got a decent education him- or herself?! And let's face it, if these "academics" are so great, why are they writing papers for lazy middle school, high school, and college students for an "insignificant price"?) We offer personalized (we put your name on it, correct spelling is extra) academic essays at an affordable price. Given the importance of education in professional success, maybe we should get some.

Important note: This material may only be reprinted by MasterPapers at $25 per line. That's with a citation. For you, a bargain price of $49.95 per line if you don't cite me.

I will give them, this, though. Their site is pretty. Maybe they should stick with site design.

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