Thursday, 21 January 2010

Remember to dress for sex offenders

With my semi-final exam only a few weeks away, I do find reading beyond the scope of my immediate curriculum has taken on an extra "spicy" flavour. Even reading about psychiatry feels a bit naughty, but being slightly bad in a very geeky way feels… good:) And keeps me sane.
So anyhow, there’s this book I am reading at the moment: Personality Disorders in Modern Life by Theodore Millon, 2nd edition. It’s a bit hefty, but let’s be realistic, any attempt to explain the most debatable of the diagnosable disorders from scratch should be, really. It does cover a lot of basic principles, which a person with no psychological background (me:) may well find extremely helpful and refreshing. It’s written in a clear way with a smart narrative that’s easy to follow and it summarises convoluted issues in a very illustrious, graceful way.
While reading about the classical foundations of personality disorders I found many intelectually/reflectively inspiring passages, such as this one, on the fundamental difference between social and natural sciences:

“Theory and experimentation are given equal weight in the natural sciences. Sometimes in the history of science, as with the theory of relativity, theory outpaces the capacity of science to make observations. Black holes, for example, were a known mathematical consequence of relativity long before scientists began to figure out ways to observe their effects. Alternatively, new technologies may make possible observations that are more detailed, more precise, and more abundant than ever before, challenging existing theories to the point that entire fields are sent into chaos. The ready availability of new observations allows testing to progress unfettered, quickening the pace of theory formation in turn. Thus, the science matures. The yield of the Hubble space telescope, for example, is so vast that the cosmologists cannot yet assimilate everything their new tool allows. Because there are usually multiple competing theories for any given phenomenon, determining which account is correct depends on the construction of a paradigm experiment, one designed to produce results consistent with one theory but inconsistent with the other. In this way, research tends to close in on the truth, whittling down the number of possible theories through experimentation over time.
The social sciences, however, are fundamentally different. Whereas investigation in the natural sciences eventually comes to closure through the interplay of theory and research, the social sciences are fundamentally open. Here, advancement occurs when some new and interesting point of view suddenly surges to the centre of the scientific interest. Far from overturning established paradigms, the new perspective now exists alongside its predecessors, allowing the subject matter of the field to be studied from an additional angle. A perspective is, by definition, just one way of looking at things. Accordingly, paradigm experiments are either not possible or not necessary, because it is understood that no single perspective is able to contain a whole field. Tolerance thus becomes a scientific value, and eclecticism a scientific norm. In personality, the dominant perspectives are psychodynamic, biological, interpersonal, and cognitive. Other, more marginal conceptions could also be included, perhaps existential or cultural. Some offer only a particular set of concepts or principles, and others generate entire systems of personality constructs, often far different from those of the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – the international psychiatric rulebook:)]. Hopefully the most important ways of looking at the field are already known, though it is always possible that alternative conceptions remain undiscovered.”

Cool, huh?:) It just struck me that the way I understand things is completely social-scientific:)
So maybe, just maybe, if I get through enough of this book before the 7th of Feb, I will be able to actually navigate my way through the medium secure psychiatric unit during my 5 day placement there. I should mention perhaps, that this venture was inspired by my friend N. The lovely man that he is, and a self-proclaimed control-freak, he was full of tips and useful advice, about how I should prepare and what will happen once I’m there. It was so detailed, at times it bordered on insulting, which is where the message “remember to dress for sex offenders” comes in. A text like that just has to make you smile. I also liked another exchange which went something like this:
N.: Let’s do dinner after work one day that week
me: Let’s:)
N.: Well, some of my women may put you off your food...!
me: That will make me a cheap date then:)

I’m sorry, but my life rules.

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