Psychology and mental illness

The essay The Myth of Mental Illness by Paul Lutus hits hard. I agree with Lutus that there is a great deal of deceit and self-deceit in psychology and a grotesque paucity of physical evidence, but it’s not just psychologists who are to blame—many school teachers are involved in the support or even initiation of dubious psychiatric diagnoses while general practitioners are responsible for the majority of psychiatric prescriptions.

I still believe there is a valuable role to be played by psychologists, if only because they have spent more time with troubled individuals than most of us. That said, readers can make up their own minds about Lutus’s essay, which I recommend.

What I want to do in this post is point out the ways that FIML practice does not have the sorts of problems Lutus describes. FIML is not (yet) supported by large studies because not enough people have done it and we don’t have the money to conduct the studies. Nonetheless, FIML practice is based on real data agreed upon by both partners and in this respect is evidence-based, though the kind of evidence used in FIML practice is not the same kind that is used in large studies of many people. (Please see A Theory of FIML for a rough idea of how FIML can be understood from a scientific point of view, and how it could be falsified.)

In my view, FIML is a growing tip of science. It is an idea coupled with a practice or technique. It works with real data that is objective in that both partners must agree on it. It is based primarily on words just spoken, thus limiting distracting generalizations and ambiguity. It allows for and relies upon comprehensive mutual understanding of what partners are actually saying. Normally, both FIML partners will experience a sense of relief after a FIML session because both have achieved a fuller, shared understanding of whatever was in question. Normally, both partners will also be capable of describing the event in question in ways that are essentially the same. Ultimately, partners will realize that many of their FIML discussions have been arising from on-going mistaken interpretations that they had always believed were true. Partners will also come to understand that simply using language to communicate—indeed, to communicate in any way at all—will lead eventually to serious misunderstandings and emotional suffering if their communication is never analyzed in a way similar to FIML practice. And all of the above will help partners understand how neuroses (mistaken interpretations) are formed and how they perdure. And this will gradually free them from neurosis and, it is hoped, most of what we now call “mental illness.”

Today, FIML is mostly an idea. That’s how science progresses. New ideas are explored, improved upon, or discarded. Though FIML has worked very well for me and my partner, I will happily discard the idea of it working for others if it can be shown to be ineffective.

On this site, we have frequently tied FIML practice to Buddhist practice because: 1) several core Buddhist ideas and practices greatly support FIML practice; 2) Buddhism is fundamentally a truth-seeking enterprise, somewhat like modern science but with greater emphasis on the experiences of the individual; and 3) we believe that in many ways FIML practice leads to the same liberative ends as Buddhist practice–freedom from delusion, unnecessary ambiguity, false ideas, emotional suffering.

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4 comments on “Psychology and mental illness

  1. John Range says:

    Dear ABN

    I applaud your efforts to reintroduce the study of the “psyche”into psychology.

    FIML’s methodology rests on pure experience, the only point allowing for a scientific resolution of the deep seated and serious problems raised by Paul in his article.

    FIML tacitly recognizes the genuinely empirical nature of data “immediately” given in the 1st person perspective of our “inner” or mental world of experience as well as, data “mediately” given in the 3rd person perspective of our “outer” or physical world of experience. It does this without reducing one to the other or invalidating either, in any way. Psychology has heretofore lacked such an explicitly stated methodology integrating without distortion these two disparate domains. The methodology of FILM has the added and by no means trivial advantage of being clear simple and intuitive.

    Paul correctly notes and laments that psychology in failing to find a way to ground its theories based on 1st person experience in an unbiased and impartial manner has in many ways descended from its lofty status as healer and guardian of an unbiased and impartial standard of sanity to the dubious level of emotional masseurs and/or agents of state totalitarianism.

    Whereas Paul fails to consider the mental world of experience as anything other than a myth derived from the ghost-in-the-machine epistemology, FIML, is rooted in an astute recognition the subject/object dichotomy does not itself inhere within the structure or function of pure experience, but is rather a set of external relations added to it.

    “What I want to do in this post is point out the ways that FIML practice does
    not have the sorts of problems Lutus describes. FIML is not (yet) supported
    by large studies because not enough people have done it and we don’t have
    the money to conduct the studies. Nonetheless, FIML practice is based on
    real data agreed upon by both partners and in this respect is evidence-based,
    though the kind of evidence used in FIML practice is not the same kind that is
    used in large studies of many people.” [Psychology and Mental Illness]

    The recognition of “immediate” 1st person experience as real data, that is to say as real empirical data runs directly counter to the (hidden in plain sight) metaphysical bias underpinning Western civilization since Descartes and Newton.

    Ironically, even the connotations of the terms “subject” or “subjective” when taken in contradistinction to the terms “object” or “objective” imply our “immediate” and directly perceived 1st person experience is somehow ontologically inferior to our 3rd person experience which is merely indirectly perceived and “mediated” through the senses.

    This provably false bias, is virtually ubiquitous in modern culture, as it operates at the pre-conscious conditioned level in which people believe without knowing they believe. For example, the term “objective” can denote (1) “Unbiased and Impartial” and/or (2) “the 3rd person perspective”. These two distinct meanings, of the term “objective”, are chronically (and all too often disingenuously) conflated.

    By including the qualifying phrases “in this respect” in the above quote and “in that” in the following sentence “It works with real data that is objective in that both partners must agree on it.” [ibid] you sagaciously, albeit tacitly, recognize and avoid this conundrum.

    Nevertheless, the conflation of these two (in matter of actual fact mutually exclusive meanings) lies at the root of Paul Lutus’s suggestion that in order for psychology to be a legitimate science it must emulate Newtonian physics by simply abandoning its quest to incorporate our lebenswelt or “lived-world-of-experience” basing itself solely on “physical” data. From the perspective of non-linear consciousness studies, this is hardly a step forward. Rather epistemologically speaking it is a step back into the dark ages.

    I cannot fail to note in this regard, that I said emulate Newtonian physics because as it turns out, Paul’s “suggestion” runs counter to developments in Quantum Mechanics.

    For more than half a century, attempts to resolve what is known as the “measurement problem”, (“In QM you know exactly what is happening until you look”), have forced a grudging yet growing consensus and recognition from practicing theoretical quantum physicists, that even, and especially in, QM’s deep foundational mathematical structure; the 1st person perspective of the observer cannot be separated or excluded from the 3rd person perspective of the system being observed!

    The empirical data of quantum physics together with its irreducibly descriptive mathematics has, taken by itself, literally forced theoretical quantum physicists to recognize the stubborn fact that within the formal structure of quantum theory, the observers “immediate” 1st person perspective cannot be discarded, disregarded or stripped from the mathematical description of experimental results. [CF Theoretical quantum physicist Henry Stapp’s oeuvre for example]

    Paul’s suggestion is not new. Psychology has for over a century been trying to model itself after Newtonian physics to the point that in its early development, the study of the psyche (our “immediate” 1st person experience) was banished by behaviorists from psychology (psychology is, of course, etymologically rooted in Greek meaning “the study of the psyche”).

    This flawed approach brought us the various flavors of behaviorism and (along with the difficulties so strongly pointed out by Paul) contributed to the tarnishing of the star of the various psychological disciplines which partially grounded their approach in the 1st person perspective such as Karen Horney’s psychoanalysis, Carl Jungs analytic psychology, Victor Frankl’s logotherapy, Fritz Pearl’s gestalt therapy, etc., etc.

    Their tarnishing pf the 1st person perspective in psychology was also assisted, by at least two other not entirely unrelated historical factors.
    (1) Data given within the 1st person perspective of our “inner” or mental world of experience remained stubbornly incommensurable with the best data given within the 3rd person perspective of our “outer” or physical world of experience. Both in theory and in practice the non-local nature of mind proved exasperatingly difficult to integrate with the local nature of the brain.
    (2) In psychology’s parent discipline, “philosophy” Husserl and Brentano were having finding it equally difficult if not impossible to find their coveted philosophical “Archimedean Point”. Ultimately they failed to discover an unbiased and impartial ground for phenomenological analysis. Here too, incommensurability reared its head.

    FIML deftly avoids all these pitfalls. By simply focusing on the here and now interaction of two individual mindstreams, the justification of FIML’s methodology rests securely on one self evident, empirically given fact concerning the nature of being in time: we directly perceive our mindstreams as being none other than this very coveted integration of our inner and outer worlds of experience.

    FIML also is quite compatible with William James’ “Radical Empiricism” as put forth in his seminal paper “Does Consciousness Exist?”

    As an aside, for my part, after meditating on these relations and in the interests of crystal clear communication, I now attempt to avoid using the word “objective” when I mean “impartial and unbiased,” even though it is grammatically correct.

    Otherwise, since subjective data may be taken in this sense to be “objective” data, one must insure that adequate pains are taken in order to avoid rather convoluted and/or highly ambiguous sentences.

    Best Wishes
    John Range

  2. ABN says:

    John, thank you very much for your highly insightful discussion. When I started this blog, I decided to to use words in the simplest and most straightforward way I could. At some point I will have to compile a glossary of FIML terms, but I hope it’s good enough as is for now.

    Basically, all terms are defined in relation to the basic practice of two partners involved in a FIML discussion about words that have just been spoken. The time period for starting a potential FIML discussion is very short (just a few seconds in most cases) because it is essential that both partners accurately remember their full state of mind the moment those words were spoken or heard. A partner’s confirmation or dis-confirmation of what was said or heard is objective in the sense that what they are saying is 1) clearly remembered by them and 2) true to the best of their knowledge.

    When partner A gets that sort of feedback from partner B, both partners will have a rich topic for extensive discussion, should they choose to follow it up. Their discussion will lead to greater clarity of communication between them as well as greater emotional contentment for each of them.

    I agree with what I understand to be the sense of your comments about Lutus’s position on psychology. He, and many others, do seem to be straining under a notion of science that almost precludes the experience of being alive as an individual. By taking a communication/linguistic angle, it is my hope that FIML can avoid the problems of 1) being non-scientific or non-evidence-based and 2) leaving out the rich inner life that all of us experience.

    At the level of immediate, dynamic communication between skilled partners, FIML provides good data. It is entirely up to the partners involved what to do with that data, how to assess it. What I believe most partners will find is that when they clean up their communication with each other, they will also clean up a lot of mistakes in their own minds. Our inner dialogues are intimately connected to our outer ones. When partners increase their understanding of how communication mistakes are started and maintained between them, they will that see a similar process happens within.

  3. Alphonse says:

    Article writing is also a excitement, if you be acquainted with then you
    can write or else it is complex to write.

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