August 3rd, 2008

Books!

Another strange one ...

I am either "poorly suited" to the genre, or I have been picking up particularly odd psychological books of late, as here's another one that I couldn't wait to get done with. To me, at least, Dr. Elio Frattaroli's Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain: Becoming Conscious in an Unconscious World is an inexplicably strange book. It seems to want to veer off in a half a dozen directions, but never quite does, nor does it really hew to the expectations raised by it's title and sub-title.

First of all, Dr. Frattaroli is a psychotherapist in the traditional (not to say cliché) mold, doing "talking therapy" in a seat out of the line of sight of the patient, with several-times-a-week appointment schedules. This leads to an initial confusion when he starts talking abut "the soul", as this is hardly a standard psychotherapy category, and he never really defines what he means by it. Obviously, were this a book by Guru Hoosyurpapa or some such, I'd be easier able to triangulate the term ... here I spent most of the book just guessing.

Secondly, Dr. Frattaroli is extremely hostile to "The Medical Model" which treats psychological illnesses as physical manifestations that can be "dealt with" simply by prescribing a drug (or a whole series of drugs) to quash various symptoms of mental distress. He makes a very good case for this being ultimately counter-productive in many, if not most cases, where the symptom (panic attacks, for example) are simply a warning sign (or "call for help") for some deeper malaise that needs to be worked through ... this being somewhat akin to responding to a fire alarm by disconnecting the alarm. A perfect analogy would be the 70's NFL model, where athletes were so drugged up that they could play on broken bones, making it through games that would eventually cost them their careers as minor injuries became major, somewhere beneath the threshold of pain perception.

However, he is so strident about this (although, to his credit, he does discuss cases where medical approaches are appropriate, and discusses his own tendencies towards being strident) that I began to think that this 450-page book was simply a "stealth Scientology" tome, being that he approaches Tom Cruise-like antipathy towards "the Medical Model" of drug-based psychiatry.

Of course, his true bile is reserved for "managed care", which he feels is destroying the vast majority of lives it touches in the psychological fields, but you'd sort of expect that coming from a shrink who seems to typically see patients five times a week for extended periods of time. Given the realities of "the medical business", this likely means that he only sees very well-to-do patients, or the institutionalized and other "wards of the state".

The most interesting parts of the book were his expositions of therapeutic courses with various patients. Once again, here's a book where a lot of the therapy seems to be about him and not the patients, but he does go into the theoretical basis of "transference and counter-transference", and how the therapist almost by default must be personally engaged with the patient, yet able to objectify his/her own reactions.

Frattaroli posits two "modalities" of treatment, "The Swimming Pool" where everything is set up to maximize "safety", where all negative emotional states need to be medicated, etc., and "The Quest" where the patient is trying to find that truly healthy and whole state. He falls back on these patterns quite a lot, but largely just to label stuff he doesn't like, as neither are particularly deeply fleshed out.

As far as "becoming conscious in an unconscious world" ... he never gets there. While he makes a very good case for traditional psychotherapy (and has some very interesting things to say about Freud), the book never quite gets above a gripe fest of where psychology, and the business of same, is going.

I'd picked this up via Amazon (as a throw-in to get an order over $25 for free shipping) some time back on a close-out. It is still in-print in the paperback edition, so should be out there were you inspired to check it out, but "very good" copies of the hardcover can be had for as little as $0.99 (plus shipping) from the new/used guys. Again, it could "just be me" not connecting with books like this, but this certainly "wasn't my cup of tea", yet, as Dennis Miller always points out, your mileage may vary.


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