My Laboratory


In the Desert

By Stephen Crane

In the desert,

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

Within a week of writing this, I had an exchange on Twitter with a woman (two women actually because she had a tweeting supporter) on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM as we have come to know it. She was enraged for a number of reasons, which she presented in an article that she found online, the citation of which I did not note, but that was dated 2013. The article said that the DSM-IV had just invented a new diagnosis for creative children who were imaginative and difficult to manage, Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I responded by pointing out that what was reported in the article was about 30 years old and did not occur last year, that we are now in DSM5 not DSM-IV, and that ODD is no longer a new diagnosis and is not intended to use mind control on creative, unusual children. She then began railing that they have reached the point that everyone has a psychiatric diagnosis, even she (which was likely true for reasons outside her capacity to understand) and that they tried her child on more than ten medications. Her conclusion? That mental illness does not exist. I responded again, this time pointing out that we have had highly publicized cases of people with psychotic disorders in the US (she was in England) who have murdered large numbers of people and I indicated that she appeared to be indifferent to this fact. Indeed, the exchange deteriorated so rapidly that I blocked both her and her supporter for their mindless, strident rancor and inability to discuss the issues. I guess they wanted me, a lone mental health practitioner, to be convinced by their passion, rather than be turned off by their rage, but that demonstrates the level of self-centeredness that some people have. Clearly, it can be extreme. I did not point out the large number of people on Twitter who are actively providing mutual support for Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Depression, adult and child ADHD, and psychosis, diagnoses that I never made myself of this very large number of people whom I never met, but with whom I empathize and actively try to support on Twitter.

All this notwithstanding, I would like to invite you into my laboratory, where I do my research and where we can look to discover some support for these women’s concerns.

In most scientific research, the idea of anecdotal information, that based on direct observation and personal experience is mostly rejected because these events are not generalizable and cannot, therefore, be applied to more than the individual concerned or a small group of people with very similar characteristics. In my laboratory, however, the anecdotal is considered paradigmatic, that is, as examples against which we can compare our and others’ experience, what works and what doesn’t work in affecting change in people. It’s a bit like going to the beauty parlor for gossip, except in my laboratory we are looking for stories to inform us of psychodynamics, what makes people act the way they do and what might be done to make them change. In short, we are taking people out of the laboratory and considering and observing them in their natural environment with all their predispositions, personality and attitudes. We do not approach them as a scientific blank slate or even based on others research of them. Rather, we will look at pivotal moments that we can use to inform ourselves of what locks a person into who they think they are and what events are sufficiently meaningful to unlock them from their isolation and their pathology.

Without the burden of numbers in statistics, we are free to investigate a complete psychological world that surrounds us. More than that, we don’t have the burden of inventing a theory to justify what we find there, although we may draw inferences that lead to a theoretical construct for further investigation. I would go further and state, this is probably what Freud and those who followed him intended to do, but simply forgot. Theory here is not to confine, but to explain what we see every day in our interactions with people everywhere, including on Twitter and Facebook, even in the mall that just got shot up. (This is not a humorous comment.)

Welcome to my laboratory!