Class questions/my questions

Questions for class discussion:

1. Have you experienced moments in which you “weren’t yourself?” What were the circumstances? Do you think it is possible to explain it as another, less embraced version of you (the way Harriet eventually does with Brickman and Ruina)?

2. Carters talks about human plurality; “the idea of there being two or more selves in a single body.” Were Harry’s selves Harry, Ruina, and Brickman or were there more? Which other characters revealed multiple selves, whether implicitly or explicitly? They don’t need to have different names (ex, Bruno’s multiple versions of Bruno).

3. Have you performed an experiment in which “you are totally immersed in a part, your thoughts, perceptions and feelings become those of that character”? What was the experience like? Carter says, “It this state your behavior is an honest reflection of your inner self” – Did it feel more honest than your everyday self? Were you able to see that immediately or did it require retrospection?

4. Do you feel an enduring and ongoing sense of self or can you feel the switch between your changing entities?

5. Berni mentioned the possibility of auditory hallucination as a coping mechanism to encourage homeostasis. Carter seems to argue something similar but in the case of multiple personalities, “Far from being pathological, the separate existences it [disassociation] helps to create and maintain can help us cope with the complexity of modern life and exploit the opportunities it offers.” Would you argue for or against the idea of a non-pathological form of disassociation?

6. Do you think the experiences of the “Hidden Observer” could effect in some way the generally conscious personality?


Questions I had in general:

1. Why do you think Eric Berne distinguished between parent and adult with the three inner beings (child, adult, parent)?

2. Is Voice Dialogue used for the general population or for those with auditory hallucinations and multiple personalities?

3. How does one learn another language in one’s other self(ves)? How much exposure if required? How does one’s selves attain exposure?

4. Why isn’t hidden observer technique taught to more nurses & doctors in impoverished areas where anesthesia is less readily available?

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Don’t you ever want to breathe fire?

I really enjoyed the [ample] reading for this week; the Carter chapters and Hustvedt book complemented one another well.

I’m not sure from the letters of the notebooks if they are actually alphabetically chronological as it seems unlikely to me, however, Harry’s transformation and awakening into acknowledging and getting to know her multiple selves is present throughout the novel; “You are not sorry any longer, old girl, or ashamed for knocking at the door…You are rising up against the patriarchs and their minions, and you, Harry, you are the image of their fear. Medea, mad with vengeance” (154 Harriet Burden Notebook B).  Aside from addressing herself, this is one of the many examples in which she identifies with a character from literature or a famous person in history. Many of her personalities (or traits) are personified in existing narratives from which she borrows to make sense of her own multiplicitious narrative.

Rachel speaks of Harry’s self-awareness of her multiple identities, “She knew perfectly well that she was Harry, but she had discovered new forms of herself, forms she said that most men take for granted, forms of resistance to others….” (243). The quotation continues, “Girls learn, she said. Girls learn to read power, to make their way, to play the game, to be nice” (243). The bending that girls do is what Harry attributes to the high rate of multiple personality disorder because of what women must do. I wonder if a woman’s likelihood to embrace more than one identity has to do with a comparison against men who suffer from a lack of fluidity in their dominant cultural role. Bruno talks of the plight of men, “Millennia had piled up expectations, stone by stone, brick by brick, word by word, until the stones, bricks, and words weigh so much that the hopeful anti-hero can’t get out from under them…” (158 Bruno Kleinfeld). While woman are definitely limited by what our cultures will allow us to do, men too face those restrictions, however, the interpretation of men who do not follow their gender norms has a different type of stigma than that of women.

———Probably due to the nature of my work, I felt that the following two quotations spoke to the idea of social identity:

According to Rachel, at one point, Harriet says her goal is to “investigate the complex dynamics of perception itself, how we all create what we see, in order to force people to examine their own modes of looking, and to dismantle their smug assumptions” (pg 104 Rachel Briefman) and “Harry’s identification with me might sound outrageous to some people, but it was sincere.) She didn’t truck much with conventional ways of dividing the world – black/white, male/female, gay/straight, abnormal/normal – none of these boundaries convinced her. These were impositions, defining categories that failed to recognize the muddle that is us, us human beings” (pg 122) Phineas Q. Eldridge

I recently hosted an event where the purpose was for attendees to question ‘their modes of looking and to dismantle their assumptions’ about social identity. Since Harriet didn’t ascribe to the culturally dominant ways of seeing people, it would make sense that a goal of hers would be to break apart dichotomies which are superficial to her.


Like Jennifer, I feel that many of the quotations speak for themselves, however, being a woman of many words, I am going to accompany them with commentary (I mostly do so to highlight where texts or passages complement each other well):

“After a time being a man became effortless. Moreover, it became real” (33 Harriet Burden Notebook C re: women living as men)

Harriet’s conclusion about the new role becoming effortless is supported by Carter, “if you repeat a piece of role-playing enough, you end up learning the part…learning involves a physical change to the neural structure of the brain…thereafter, when you slip into that way of behaving, you are no longer acting – you are the role” (125)



“[Time, experiences, and self-analysis] has surely reconfigured my memories. Accumulated experience always alters perception of the past” (47 Rachel Briefman) – Carter’s questionnaire question, “Do friends and acquaintances refer to events they claim to have shared with you which you cannot recall,” offers another possibility, that our minor and major characters may be in play for certain parts of our lives and therefore, the memories are less accessible when in the personality which did not perform the action.



Harriet says to Rachel, “isn’t it strange that we don’t know who we are?? I mean, we know so little about ourselves it’s shocking. We tell ourselves a story and we go along believing in it, and then, it turns out, it’s the wrong story, which means we’ve lived the wrong life” (p. 50). I questions this because if we are following a certain role or path, it means that at least a part of us identifies with who we are acting as in that moment. It may not be our “true” dominant self, but it is a self that we use enough to represent it continuously make it “our role.”


WITHOUT commentary

Everything has a pattern or a rhythm that can be discerned through close attention, but whether those repetitions exist outside the mind is an open question. You and I did not see the same patterns” (54 Ethan Lord, A Compendium of Thirteen)

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” –Wilde (pg 114 Phineas Q. Eldridge). Already chosen multiple times but so good and so fitting.

“…belief is a complex mixture of suggestion, mimicry, desire, and projection. We all like to believe we are resistant to the words and actions of others. We believe that their imaginings do not become ours, but we are wrong” (236) Rachel Briefman

“You’re so reasonable. Don’t you ever want to scream and yell and punch someone in the face? Don’t you ever want to breathe fire? (243) Harriet to Rachel in Rachel piece

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Siri Hudsvedt Brickman/Burden, Maskings & Sincerity

Harriet as Hustvedt’s Alter Ego 

I agree with Berni that “I hear in each of the character’s writings, Hustvedt’s voice talking to me.” While reading The Blazing World, it also occurred to me that Harriet might be Hustvedt’s mask or alter ego. In the intro, “Hesse” discusses an article written about Harriet by an author named Richard Brickman. When she contacts St. Olaf College, the school that Brickman supposedly teaches at, she discovers that no one with the last name Brickman ever taught there and that Brickman was probably another one of Harriet’s pseudonyms (3).  Hudsvedt completed her B.A at St. Olaf College. Maybe this is a wink to the reader? Or maybe she just wanted to give a shout-out to her alma matter. But later, in his essay he says he was influenced by “an obscure novelist and essayist, Siri Hustvedt, whose position” is  “a moving target” (255). The associated footnote says, “this paragraph is so compressed, it suggests parody” (LOL) &  “Which works by Siri Hustvedt Brickman/Burden has in mind are unclear” (255).  When she refers to herself as “obscure,” does she mean that her in-text presence is obscure?  Or does she feel that she doesn’t get the attention she deserves in the literary world? If it is the latter, to what extent might this have to do with the fact that Hustvedt’s work often involves feminist content?

Random thought: some reviews of The Blazing World criticize the book as pretentious. I didn’t feel this way but it is funny to think of Harriet as Hustvedt’s alter ego because Harriet is often irritated by the ignorance of other people, particularly when they fail to get her references, and The Blazing World is filled with explanatory footnotes.

Interdisciplinary Scholarship, Postmodernism & Masking 

While reading this novel, I was prompted to think about my own life and my own modes of masking. I can’t get this Oscar Wilde quote out of my head, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” I think  interdisciplinary and/or postmodern scholarship requires a kind of masking. The scholar has to try to see from a multiplicity of viewpoints but different viewpoints largely come from different lived experiences. Since we cannot live the experiences of other people, we can only imagine them and try to understand them. This is difficult because our understanding is always filtered through our own experiences. In the world of postmodernism, “truth” is a massive, fluid, contextual, mutliperspectival thing. I believe this is an accurate way to conceptualize truth but at the same time, it is difficult to navigate in this environment. I think this is why Oswald Case says “if there’s one thing that doesn’t fly in the art world, it’s an excess of sincerity.” Sincerity might not be popular in the art world because it requires convinction. I loved the The Shaking Woman but while reading it, I felt frustrated because I couldn’t pinpoint Hustvedt’s point of view on some issues. For instance, when she discussed the female body, she was so contradictory,  her analysis lost meaning (to me). One minute she would say that biology and culture cannot be separated and the next she would say, rather simply, that woman probably aren’t as competitive as men. In this example, I wonder, is presenting multiple viewpoints a mask? Does Hudsvedt position herself as beyond reproach by being contradictory? Or is this simply a responsible way to present information? I really don’t know. One thing I do know is that in The Blazing World, she wholeheartedly (sincerely?) embraces the mask.

I totally support interdisciplinary scholarship & I love postmodern literature.  I’m exploring these issues because of my own academic struggles. I feel passionate about things but I’m also aware that there is so much information I will never have access to and so many viewpoints I will never understand.  Interdisciplinary research can be destabilizing and I sometimes cope with this by wearing a mask of ambiguity & multiplicity.  I often don’t feel comfortable having concrete opinions about things unless my arguments are couched in ambiguous terms. I’m very afraid of being wrong, of offending people, of coming off as narrow-minded. Since The Blazing World is largely about ethics, identity, creativity, knowledge & expression, reading it led me to ask: How can I do interdisciplinary scholarship and engage with postmodern material and still speak sincerely from my own point of view? Would this require speaking from a stable self? How can I represent the viewpoints of other people without hiding? Is it possible to create ways of expressing knowledge that are simultaneously sincere, ambiguous and multiple? I hope this makes sense! Btw I don’t mean to conflate postmodernism & interdisciplinary scholarship. I know they are different, but I see some parallels that I want to draw attention to.

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“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” –Wilde

Hustvedt’s novel centers on the theme of masks, self-awareness, and self-deception, among others. Overall, Harry is offered as an ever-changing multiple, but she is also still somehow singular and knowable. In her diaries, she always wonders about and re-presents her young self, her now self, and her future self… all while we are reading her from the future, looking back at her in the past.

In our other reading for class this week, Carter also discusses the multiplicity of the self, offering insight into how our parts coexist through majors and minors. These definitions come to life in Hustvedt, as Harry jumps around through her various parts, one of which is being a mother–her “triple body” (p. 146). When speaking to her best friend Rachel, she says: “…we know so little about ourselves it’s shocking. We tell ourselves a story and we go along believing in it,…” (p. 50). Another exact mention of these parts comes when Harry’s boyfriend Bruno describes entering Harry’s building for the first time and walking around among her powerful art: “I felt the minor character creeping up in me again. He was a shrinker, and I shrank” (p. 80).

Character’s statements about Harry usually start with context, as they explain themselves and their relation to her. Harry’s use of Anton, Phineas, and Rune offers insight into the ideas of gender roles, observer-observed, self-presentation, and honing of presented image for others to consume. Rune is described as having multiple faces: “…he meant that they could see someone, but not him…’Rune Two, Rune Three, or Rune Four, but never Rune One'” (p. 182), and Harry mentions at one point that she will peel the onion of his personas (p. 201).

Trying on/enacting the switching of gender roles is heavily presented, like when Harry tells Maisie: “When you take on a male persona, something happens…. You get to be the father” (p. 187). Overall, there are so many great descriptions in The Blazing World regarding multiplicity. They speak for themselves, below. I found Hustvedt’s novel just a really smart book about the complicated levels of representations of self and other, especially regarding gender, and the complex palettes of coexisting parts we each live in:

  • Harry to Maisie: “We live inside our categories…believe in them, but they often get scrambled” (p. 196).
  • Harry to Rune: “We are all a menage” (p. 230).
  • Harry, thinking about the words a critic used to describe her work when everyone thinks it’s Rune’s: “He doesn’t know that the adjectives muscular, rigorous, cerebral can be claimed by me…” (p. 273).
  • Maisie describing Harry’s alter egos: “I was trying to fit together my discontinuous mothers into one person…. We all have…parts…but I think they are usually more mixed together than they were in my mother” (p. 285).
  • Bruno reminiscing about Harry: “This woman had worlds inside her” (p. 295).
  • Harry realizing she could have played up parts of herself more than she did: “I sabotaged myself…. I am Odysseus, but I have been Penelope” (p. 327).
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Hustvedt’s Burden

Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin is a novel that contains a novel and, while not as obvious as Atwood’s approach, Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World felt like a similar experience by containing a character inside a character. That is to say Burden is a character inside Hustvedt, a fictional extension of her. The Blazing World reads like a sequel to The Shaking Woman through the lens of another character and on altogether a different topic that Hustvedt sets up so she could continue her study of the self. Parts of what she wrote in The Shaking Woman found their way into The Blazing World. Even the phrase “I remember” was put to use as if to illustrate its explanatory gains in a fictional setting. The Blazing World eschews the conventional relationship between characters and story to dive inside Burden in a way ordinary story formats can’t do. Hustvedt seems to be the reason why Burden exists and the latter the reason why the story exists, which in turn is the reason why readers pick up her book. So here then is a follow up to Shaking Woman, with Burden replacing Hustvedt as the lead character. To carry the weight of Hustvedt, the weight to replace a conventional story, Burden has to be larger than life on the inside, larger yet than Burden’s bizarre scheme with which she deceived the art world. But having already read The Shaking Woman, Burden’s inside reminded me too much of Hustvedt pondering about the self. And what Hustvedt was unable to say about the self in Shaking Woman, since after all that novel was about her illness, she could write about through Burden whose gender not illness establishes the source but not the limits of her discussion about the self. References to neurology, quantum physics, panpsychism and names such as Hegel, Anti Oedipus (which she hilariously refers to as Anti Octopus) form a compendium of views like puzzle pieces that don’t necessarily belong to the same picture. Confined by the medium of the novel, it was perhaps never Hustvedt’s intention to explain the self as she merely prompts readers to look outside the box. What isn’t novel-like is that, despite the life-like details of Burden’s inner life and the colorful characters that surround her external life, I hear in each of the character’s writings Hustvedt’s voice talking to me, probing questions she did not get to ask in Shaking Woman. Given that the story is about Burden’s artistic voice shining through the artwork of three male fronts, this effect might be intentional. The character of Bruno Kleinfield sounded more like himself, at least when he was first introduced, but the writings of most other characters bore the resemblance of Hustvedt’s contemplative voice in the words and tone of the craft she so masters.

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Healing for Hudsvedt, May, Longden

I went to a conference recently and asked Hudsvedt whether she felt that the act of self-representation through writing The Shaking Woman was therapeutic. She said that writing the book was a process of “integrating the unintegratable” and that the process of writing was itself a form of integration. She said that yes, the movement from the “externalized to the internalized” or the movement from the objective to the “me and mine” was “very therapeutic.” I think  May & Longden’s self-healing was also a process of internalization and integration. This supports Longden’s conviction that the self has an innate drive toward healing. The idea that the cure is inside the patient seems to be a very ethical way to think “psychosis” because it implies that the patient is not a passive recipient of care but always an active agent of healing. Also, it implies that both the conscious self and the unconscious self have agency. The conscious self and the unconscious self must work together to  move toward coherence. Perhaps Hudsvedt sensed this and wrote her novel in order to give the shaking woman a voice? Rufus May points out that we are all a little schizophrenic because we all have multiple and competing aspects of self. We probably all also have unreconciled pain. In William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, he says, “The normal process of life contains moments as bad as any of those which insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its innings and takes its solid turns. The lunatic’s visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact.” Being “well-adjusted” sometimes means seeking predictability in an unpredictable world or avoiding pain in a world that causes pain etc. Perhaps people who hear voices have special access to the nuanced expressions of their different self fragments? Particularly, their damaged or scared self fragments. Maybe “hearing voices” is a form of access. If so, people who hear voices probably have a lot to teach us all.

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Discussion questions, and a little simulation…

Of course this week spoke to me as a neuro person—but also as a human with a constant internal dialogue (as well as the imagined voice of my Yorkie, Madison, who sounds like Bea Arthur—please tell me I’m not the only one who imagines how my dog would talk to me in human voice!). I wanted to explore a bit about what is just “self-talk”, and when this becomes an “illness”…

First, I want to share a video from Janssen Pharma that simulates paranoid schizophrenia (the simulation includes auditory and visual hallucinations—the auditory are both voices and other sounds).

1. There was a thread throughout the papers and talks for this week about the differences between what is “internal dialogue”, considered ‘normal’ and “voice hearing”, considered a pathology. Looking at these papers, in what ways does the internal dialogue of one who is not mentally ill differ from one experiencing auditory hallucinations? Is it the manner in which we interact with these voices? How distracting they are? The ‘sound’ of the voice (self or non-self)?
2. Building upon the last question—what do you make of “voice hearing” that is not considered a pathology, for example, in religious experiences, “talking to God”, demons, etc? Or DO you consider this mental illness as well? Is this, and maybe also the experience of voice hearing, just an alternative way of seeing/experiencing the world?
3. Eleanor Longden speaks of interpreting her voice hearing as manifestations of her inner fears and anxiety, and related to aspects of her self that were unexpressed (Rufus May also discussed how what we suppress “comes back stronger” as well). How do you feel about this hypothesis? Do you experience this in your inner dialogue (beating yourself up)?
4. Do you consider voice hearing to be “self”? Although it is characterized as a “non-self” voice, can we characterize our internal dialogue as separate from voice hearing, truly? Wouldn’t both be considered part of “the self”, as they are both generated from within?
5. Trauma and voice hearing: Longden suggests that we should start to look at treating mental illness by approaching not from the viewpoint of “what’s wrong with you”, but rather “what has happened to you”? How does this oppose, or possibly align with the idea of schizophrenia as a developmental disorder?

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Redefining Mental Illness – The Voices in My Head

It was refreshing to read that this form of illness diagnoses and treatment is being redefined, as it should be. Dosing patients with pills, making them lethargic and more vulnerable has for far too long been against human rights.

Hearing voices and talking to oneself procure different levels and we all concede to it and we all have succumbed it. Reading the articles, watching the videos and listening to the podcast had me thinking of 2,500 Random things in a way that in order to make a list like this you or any list you have to talk to yourself in silence or audibly. The Shaking Woman, The Man Who Walked Away and There Was This Goat all lend themselves to the issue. Especially, I think, There Was This Goat, where having been hit with such a traumatic tragedy, illness of this kind can manifest itself in so many ways, such as post traumatic stress disorder.

I enjoyed T. M. Luhrmann’s piece in the New York Times, especially when she spoke of the need to “figure out the biology of disease” and the many decades of failure made in combating it. Now the aim is to use talk therapy in order to help patients who suffer from this illness, no doubt to the chagrin of the pharmaceutical industry. The two video selections were also appreciated as a delightful positive in assessing the illness and overcoming it. Bell wrote of how Vygotsky says as children we engage in a banter with ourselves in order to learn language, internalising speech as thoughts with thoughts retaining dialogic qualities and having elements of “inner self-talk”, and it becomes confusing when you are told not to do it anymore when you start getting older. What was once a comfort now needs to be suppressed and as we heard in the Rufus May video, suppression assists the disease. Society plays a large part in who or why someone develops this illness, abuse, deprivation and inequality are factors all of these carry with them a certain amount of fear. Fear is a contributing agent of this illness.

I have recently seen an effort in schools to stop labeling individuals with learning disabilities or to let people be who they want to be. Categorization is huge a catalyst in promoting bigotry for all forms of biases and so called deviance. Communication and understanding must be a far better antidote, and a less expensive one for the wallet and a life.

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Controversial Medical/Mental Health

What I enjoy most about this weeks reading is how controversial hearing voices and mental disorder diagnosis is in society. In many instances of mental disorders, there is no, or very little, tangible or recognizable symptoms. The illness is thought to stem from the mind or the brain, which is also believed to define who and what a person is and so it follows, that if something is wrong with a persons brain and how it processes information, that something tends to make that person less human. It is unfortunate, because a similar argument can be made for any other sickness or pain. Short of being an open wound, bruises, aches and poorly functioning organs are invisible without looking under the skin and have never been thought of in a way that dehumanizes individuals. We take aspirin for a headache and think nothing of it. Pains are present in most adults and we manage, why can’t the same be done for mental disorders? We continue to advance our ability to treat disorders but we have never changed the way we think about those that have them. We pity them and feel guilty for them rather than respect them for simply being human and fighting to live a normal life. A boxer with a broken bone will get back in the ring, a parcel delivery wo/man returns to work after knee surgery, the special Olympics, an entire event dedicated to those less fortunate where we recognize and respect them for their efforts. We should offer the same respect to those with mental disorders living their life and getting better at it everyday as we do for our peers, parents and coworkers.

It seems what is needed for the individual so cope is needed in society. Siri Hustvedt’s The Shaking Woman describes the life of a woman who journeys to define her disorder and in the process learns to own the pieces of her she once alienated. In The Man Who Walked Away, Albert finds himself in a mental institution where others find his life and his “illness” fascinating. At the closing of the books, the doctor and nurse do not chase him, nor try to find him when he leaves. Rather he is accepted for who he is, what he has, and envied to a large extent for the places he has seen and the stories he can tell, all due to a type of disorder the great doctor exploits publicly, dehumanizing the woman he manipulates on stage.

While I am not sure that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is necessarily detrimental to the way we view mental disorders, I do believe it plays a role in how society views mental illness. The DSM however was created and is maintained as an effort to help patience not place a societal stigma on their conditions, that I believe is the fault of societal naivety and in fairness, a lack of the understanding of the causes of mental disorders as well as the drugs we use to “correct” them. Mindfulness then, as a practice promotes the acceptance of who we are and the ability to live in the moment as we are currently. A mindful societal movement would benefit both acceptance and foster understanding that may ultimately be necessary for a change in research and a more humanistic approach to the DSM.


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the rewards and short comings of talk therapy

I loved this week’s selection of reads…Such a cry from the DSM 5 attitude toward the not so normal which sometimes, though painfully so, ends up being an enrichment to our lives as Longden affirms at the end of her talk. Of course being tortured by a voice, which becomes a cohort if you don’t listen to it in the short term is not the same as mind chatter. To see people in the throes of mental anguish is not the same as talking about it from the safety of our computers. The shift to over drugging patients over the last 40 to 50 years, I think was as much ̶ sometimes ̶ to placate the anguish of the therapist as they watched people suffer who they could not reach back before there was any effective psychopharmacology. I remember my brother a clinical psychology talking about the grief work he had undertaken to help his psychiatric hospital team in Tennessee as they slowly and powerlessly watched a patient pick himself to death with his fingers over the course of a few years regardless of the interventions they tried. A little part of them died when he did.
Still I do think it is about time we find a middle ground between talking therapy and pharma therapy. But first we will have to convince manage care to change its ways. I watched a very successful psych hospital back in the late 80s early 90s get ground down by short term expectations of managed care. Going from a long term, talking-care, team approach, facility, to a private hospital whose patient list dwindled to suicidal patients and small children all of whom also suffered from suicidal tendencies ̶ allowed only to offer a short term medicated approach for emotional pain, and where the therapist primary function got regulated to arguing for patient days with manage care and discharge planning. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for talk therapy.
Personally I have been blessed over the years with access to a variety of psychological modalities’. Training in the medical model of therapy and a number of modalities similar to those talked about by the various people we listened to this week. For me the one that help me to achieve the greatest peace of mind from conflicting inner dialogues, if not voices, is Roberto Assigoli’s Psychosyntesis (http://synthesiscenter.org/ps.htm or http://www.psychosynthesiseastwest.com/) which contains many of the meditative idea talked about by Rufus May.

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