“Can you have a breakdown in a breakdown?” Clinical neuropsychologist Benjamin delivers tales of disturbed minds—not least of them his own.
Listen, assess, prescribe: It’s a process that every psychiatrist follows, sometimes countless times in the course of a working year. But what is that doctor hearing? “Studies have shown that your generation, our generation, lies on average two or three times every ten minutes, men to make themselves look better, women to feel good,” writes the author. So how much of the assessment is built on untruths, and how much on observable reality? As Benjamin notes, an average one may contain 100 mistruths, depending on what and how much the patient chooses to reveal. Some of the cases that present themselves to the author are sufferers from dementia, which itself can hide behind misrepresentations, as he recounts when trying to attend to his own mother, “a mother and son mirroring each other’s confusion.” Others are grandiose, delusional, even dangerous. As Benjamin observes, attempts to help are often of the blind-men-and-elephant variety, with different specialists often coming to very different conclusions about a single patient—the oncologist looking for the brain tumor, the psychologist looking for the moment of fracture in a person’s history, and so forth. Given all this, the author ironically proposes an entry in the diagnostician’s manual for a syndrome named after himself, one that describes “an obsession with the singularity of your diagnosis while fearing that any specific diagnosis is too narrow.” So it’s small wonder that so many mental health workers suffer from plaguing doubts and maladies of their own, alleviated, perhaps, by the thought that “however sick, however mad, there would always be someone worse in need of looking after.”
A well-conceived and -written exploration of the traps hidden in the art of mental healing.