Tag Archives: The Other Side of Normal

World Where You Live

iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us by Larry Rosen, Ph.D.   (Palgrave MacMillan, $25.00, 246 pages)

“…the research is now showing that technology may act as a trigger to induce these mood swings.”

Sometimes a book doesn’t fit a particular category.   It may be intended for the self-help reader or perhaps the budding psychologist who’s exploring the profession before making the commitment to a degree and an internship.   Larry Rosen has produced a book in search of an audience.   If his goal was to offer some self-help for addressing the proliferation of electronic devices and diversions that absorb our attention, then Rosen has fallen short of his goal.   The statistically-dense text does contain several self-administered questionnaires and checklists.   Where other books have illustrations, bullet points and charming anecdotes, iDisorder has none of these.

To be fair, there are scenarios or quotes that begin each chapter that give the reader a glimpse of the basis for the topic under discussion.   These topics include:  addiction to the internet; depression/mania and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; communication (shyness); and obsessions with appearance.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is referenced frequently throughout the text, much as it is in the previously reviewed book, The Other Side of Normal: How Biology is Providing the Clues to Unlock the Secrets of Normal and Abnormal Behavior by Jordan Smoller.   Unlike The Other Side, iDisorder lacks a smooth, structured flow of ideas.   The frequent cross references to prior and future chapters invoked a frame of mind for this reviewer that there would be a final exam on the material presented.   Moreover, creating a set of book notes in order to follow the concepts seems punitive for a reader who is concerned about possible technology-induced mental disorders.

While we’re on the topic of school, perhaps Dr. Rosen, who teaches psychology at California State University at Dominguez Hills, could have offered extra credit for students willing to check his grammar and citations.   It may seem petty of this reviewer to point out the reference to MIT (Massachusetts Institute for Technology) – but, come on now – “for”?   Or, this amazing comment:  “At his last review his supervisors wrote that Colby’s excessive tardiness, absence at company meetings, and lack of completed paperwork are substandard and prevent him from doing his job correctly.”

To be clear, iDisorder is a book that showed potential – potential which went unrealized.   It does not make this reviewer’s list of recommended survey books.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Here is a link to a review of The Other Side of Normal:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/have-you-ever-been-mellow/

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Have You Ever Been Mellow?

The Other Side of Normal: How Biology is Providing the Clues to Unlock the Secrets of Normal and Abnormal Behavior by Jordan Smoller (William Morrow, $27.99, 390 pages)

“When it comes to the human mind, we’ve long had an uneasy relationship with the concept of normal.”

Author Jordan Smoller has written a book with a purpose.   Smoller invites the reader to consider taking a new look at what is considered normal human behavior.   As an associate professor at both the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, he has the background and experience that make this book a compelling read.

There are multiple threads of thought that weave together as Smoller provides a survey of the approaches taken in psychology, psychiatry and biological research since the late 1880s.   Moreover, he states that the notion of normal has historically been viewed from the extremes of abnormality.   Smoller sees a continuum of behavior with abnormality arranged at the ends.   Rather than viewing mental disorders as sitting on one side of a bright line, a new approach would begin at the center of normal and establish how far normal extends before the abnormal is encountered.

A charming phrase that stayed with this reviewer is “the intersection of genes and experience.”   Smoller and others in his field have been examining brain/mind function with the intent of clarifying whether the old nature vs. nurture concept for determining causality for behaviors holds true in the 21st Century.   In light of the recent findings related to the human genome, genes are now seen as present in a person at birth and they are often activated by experience and exposure to nature (nurturing).   That is to say, genes and nature are dependent upon each other for bringing about human behavioral development.

This is a book that approaches textbook status.   A reader is well served to have some familiarity with or a strong curiosity about perceptions of normal.   To his credit, Smoller takes the time to explain in detail the study of genes and experience that he is so committed to recasting in a new format.   The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is referenced frequently throughout the text.   It has been a help for practitioners in the past and now, in Smoller’s view, it has become a hindrance due to a universal perception that it is “The” source for determining a diagnosis of mental disorder.

In the DSM, diagnoses are pigeonholed within rigid parameters and, in some cases, arranged and categorized in ways that hinder helpful treatment.   Alternatively, Smoller makes a strong case for exploring methods for effective treatment that are likely found outside of the current framework.   Practitioners are seeking cures at all levels – genetics, re-conditioning therapy, cognitive and behavioral therapy, and pharmaceuticals.   A new view of their methods for determining appropriate treatment seems like a breath of fresh air.

Much is at stake as normal is being fine-tuned.   Differentiating normal from abnormal has a measurable impact when viewed from the perspective of health insurance coverage as well as the setting of qualifying criteria for disability payments.   Hopefully, Smoller and his associates will prevail in their efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness and provide better treatment for people whose position on the continuum is outside the range of normal.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Other Side of Normal is also available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.

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A review of The Other Side of Normal: How Biology is Providing the Clues to Unlock the Secrets of Normal and Abnormal Behavior by Jordan Smoller.

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