Ever since Freud, we've known that we share our mental space with another mind, one that may prove quite a hindrance. It can be like a bad roommate we can't evict, leaving dirty dishes in the sink and playing the stereo too loud, and all we can do is try to adjust its excesses with a few carefully worded notes. Dr. Fredric Schiffer believes that he has located the culprit and learned how to talk to it, and his clinical success with problems like cocaine addiction, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder suggest that he's on to something. Of Two Minds
is his report from the front.
A psychiatrist affiliated with Harvard Medical School, Schiffer has studied split-brain research and devised his own experiments to show that stress and anxiety are often felt more strongly in one hemisphere than the other. No simple "left brain good, right brain bad" dichotomy, it seems that those who have been affected by emotional trauma lateralize the effects, perhaps in an effort to maintain more-or-less-normal functioning. One hemisphere or the other gets stuck in the past, says Schiffer, and acts out through the patient's symptoms. His goal is integration of these two minds into a kind of team by using clever manipulation of sensory stimuli and other tools of cognitive science.
Of Two Minds is unusual in its acceptance of both scientific and emotional validity. Alternating reviews of the data with often heart-wrenching transcripts of therapy sessions, it offers a two-pronged assault on what seems to be a dual-natured problem. While it might not solve your "roommate problem" overnight, it may start you on the road to reconciliation. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
Taking cues from 19th-century English physician Arthur Wigan (whose seemingly normal friend, it turned out when autopsied, had only a single brain hemisphere), contemporary neuroscience asks whether normal people, who possess both left and right brains, can be said to be literally of two minds. Schiffer, an associate attending psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and a Harvard Medical School psychiatry instructor, believes the answer is a resounding yes, and argues that psychiatric disorders are best understood as the unhappy result of two warring brain halves. Transcripts of psychotherapy sessions Schiffer conducted while his patients wore specially designed goggles that allowed them to see out of only one hemisphere at a time support this sci-fi-sounding thesis, as do some?but by no means all?studies pertaining to hemispheric specialization (shifts in ear temperatures, for example, correlate with shifts in EEGs). Unfortunately, while provocative, the patient transcripts, which form the linchpin of the evidence, are bland and curiously unconvincing, and Schiffer's therapy techniques seemingly await further clinical trials. Readers not yet familiar with the famous studies of so-called "split-brain patients"?epilepsy sufferers whose corpora callosa were severed in an experimental therapy technique in the 1960s?may find Schiffer's review of that material, and his reports from his own work with some of those patients, the most interesting portions of the book.
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