Mental Health and the Brain: Working Group, March 16
March 16th, The Significance of Story in the Brain and Mental Health (Paul Grobstein) & Conflicting Stories (Debbie Plotnick)
Synopsis and forum for continuing discussion
Thoughts welcomed in the on-line forum below.
Martin Bayer, Laura Cyckowski, Adi Flesher, Sarah Gibbs, Ryan Golden, Paul Grobstein, Grace Marie Hollaender, Julia Lewis, Debbie Plotnick, Corey Rogers
SummaryThis weeks meeting was begun by Paul Grobstein talking about "The Significance of Story in the Brain and Mental Health". Grobstein emphasized the point that people’s stories about themselves should be paid more attention to, particularly in training mental health workers and in the mental health realm in general. "Listening to other peoples stories" is important in the realm of mental health but also extends to traditional medicine. A person’s report of their internal experiences should be given as much weight as external observations by professionals. Grobstein also expressed the view that "from the inside"--internal experiences--mental health phenomena may be more similar and thus diagnoses and labels given by external observers (professionals, peers, etc.) may not be as useful in understanding any particular phenomenon. The case of Capgras Syndrome was used as a case study. Someone with Capgras, frequently with a brain injury, is capable of recognizing someone but insists that he/she is an impostor. The neurologist Ramachandran believes that some connection between the emotional parts of the brain and the rest of the brain is severed. Thus, someone may recognize a person but not "feel" anything and so creates the story that the person is an imposter. What Ramachandran fails to point out, however, is that there may be other stories to account for the absence of feeling, and that someone with Capgras might be helped to switch to a more adaptive story.
The second half of the session was lead by Debbie Plotnick and Corey Rogers, a mental health worker. The topic was conflicting stories and the need to listen to other people’s stories. Plotnick described her relationship with her daughter who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the conflicts that arose from her "story of her daughter's story" and Ashley’s own story of herself. (See A Personal Experience of Learning About Bipolar Disorder and An autobiographical essay.) Corey spoke about his involvement with a Peer Specialist program in the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health. This program aims to match people currently experiencing mental health issues with someone who’s had similar personal experiences. There was consent among the group that being able to share personal stories is therapeutic and helpful to oneself and others. The discussion moved towards the topic of self-disclosure. A counselor expressed the value in relating personal stories to clients, despite traditional training that discourages the counselor from revealing personal experiences. One participant shared that personally self-disclosure evoked a feeling of being in control and responsible. Another participant asked whether or not self-disclosure in general might make some people feel as if they’re losing part of oneself. There was general consensus that patients need to reveal as much about themselves in order to help the clinician help them.
--- summarized by Laura