The Ups and Downs of Life
The final foundation of psychology focuses on physical and mental health. It emphasizes a “biopsychosocial” approach that highlights how biological, psychological, and social factors contribute to both physical and mental health behaviors. The term biopsychosocialunderscores how interrelated these factors are in understanding a person’s physical and mental functioning. This section includes three topics: health, mental health disorders, and mental health therapies. Chapter 12 introduces health psychology , the study of how people’s behavior influences their health for better and for worse. This chapter examines how stress, coping, personality, and lifestyles influence our behavior. Chapter 13 outlines the major mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. It includes the main symptoms of these disorders as well as our current understanding of what causes such problems. Chapter 14 explores therapy. Therapy consists of techniques that are used to help people with mental health or interpersonal problems. Because all of us sometimes experience difficulty in functioning, these topics offer much psychological research that will be relevant to your day-to-day living. It will help you realize how some of your personal habits, thoughts, or daily actions may be problematic, and hopefully will enable you to change them and enhance your personal well-being. To illustrate, consider for a moment the following story.
Emily Fox Gordon
When most adolescents enter adulthood, especially when they come from privilege, it is thought of as a carefree, exciting time in life. It is often considered a time to go to college, enter the workforce or both, and discover and nurture one’s talents and ambitions. But this is often not the case for young people who struggle with mental health issues. Emily’s teenage years centered around mental health institutions. Her childhood was not entirely unhappy. By outward appearances, her early childhood was enriched with music, literature, and engaging activities. But inwardly, Emily felt emotionally neglected by her parents. Emily’s father, a professor of economics, was tense, intellectual, judgmental, easily angered, and focused on work and achievement. Her mother was often sad and depressed, and an alcoholic.
Emily gained her parents’ attention by being disobedient and acting out. She was an underachiever at school, had difficulty learning, and spent hours in detention for misbehavior. Her father called her careless and clumsy. Her mother was embarrassed by her. Her behavior and academic performance were unacceptable to her achievement-oriented parents—children of immigrant parents who cut their religious and cultural ties to achieve the “American dream.” Emily was curious about religion, but it was scorned by her parents. She felt awkward, fat, and hopeless, and spent more and more time reading or alone. Emily had difficulty fitting in and felt like a misfit. She experienced unprecedented rages and panic, developing a spastic colon and rapid heartbeat. She regarded herself as the difficult child, the family scapegoat, and a pariah at school. She felt forgotten and was hungry for spiritual and emotional connections.
In the eighth grade, Emily was sent to Dr. V., a therapist, following another incident at school in which she angrily chased another student with what school administrators described as an intention to inflict physical harm. In these therapy sessions, Emily would lie down on a couch while Dr. V. remained silent in a chair. Not knowing what to do, Emily remained silent as well, listening to Dr. V. steadily scribbling on a notepad. After a year, Emily’s family moved, and she continued therapy to deal with her rage and panic. She was sent to see Dr. H. There, Emily sat on a couch, and Dr. H. remained silent in a nearby chair, knitting a sweater. After a year of listening to the click-clacking of knitting needles, therapy with Dr. H. was terminated.
Emily’s problems at home and school continued. She was kicked out of several privateschools for misbehavior and truancy. She often snuck out of her parents’ house at night to hang out with two brothers who were also social outcasts. They would stay out half the night smoking cigarettes and roaming the town. On one of these occasions, at 16, Emily’s father found her at an unchaperoned party with a boy in a dark room, where they were kissing and groping one another. Her father dragged her out of the party and drove her home. Furious with her parents, Emily broke an aspirin jar and, using a piece of the glass, scratched her wrists in a half-hearted suicide attempt. Her parents sent her to see another therapist, Dr. G.
Therapy with Dr. G. was different from what Emily had experienced before. She sat facing him and was encouraged to talk freely about her dreams, stress, and problems while Dr. G. looked for themes threaded through her discussions. She saw Dr. G. on and off through her high school years. After she again attempted suicide at age 18, Dr. G. recommended an inpatient facility for Emily. She was placed in the highly regarded Austen Riggs treatment center in Massachusetts. Her intelligence was measured and she was given the Rorschach personality test. During her interview she stated she felt detached and disengaged. Emily was diagnosed as having an anxiety problem with borderline personality trends. She stayed at Riggs for 3 years, 1 year as an inpatient and another 2 years as an outpatient in residential apartments.
As an inpatient, Emily was told when to eat and sleep, and she attended group meetings. If she did not get her work jobs done or go to bed at the appropriate time, she lost privileges. Patients received medication at regular intervals. Her first therapist in the hospital was considerably different from her previous therapists. He took walks with Emily, drank wine with her and her roommate, and on one occasion put his arm around her waist. On the one hand, Emily craved his affection and attention; but on the other hand, she knew he was becoming inappropriately attached to her, and so she searched for a new therapist. She was fortunate enough to find Dr. Leslie Farber.
Dr. Farber’s approach seemed radically different. He emphasized the presence of will in human behavior, and he communicated to Emily that he believed in her and her value. He shared with Emily anecdotes about his own life that were similar to her experiences and feelings. He treated her with warmth and understanding rather than aloofness or pity. He challenged her personal beliefs and highlighted her negative self-remarks. Emily felt as if she was being treated as a fellow human being. At Dr. Farber’s urging, Emily studied for and passed her GED certification. She completed a few courses at the local college. Yet, she still had times of difficulty while an outpatient. She would hang out at the local bar, drink heavily, and wait to be picked up by men. She had many sexual partners. When Dr. Farber moved to New York to set up a practice, Emily followed. She found an apartment and a job and continued to meet with Dr. Farber. Through many years and many therapy sessions, Dr. Farber helped Emily “recover” her life and discover her “best self.”
In her adulthood, Emily married, gave birth to a daughter, and went on to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English. She taught English at a local college and joined women’s writing groups. She reentered therapy in her adulthood to cope with her emotional anger, neediness, and marital conflict, and at this time was diagnosed with depression. Since ending therapy, Emily has realized writing as a way to make sense of her thoughts, history and the world. She has written four books and has taught writing workshops at several U.S. universities.
As you can see, Emily experienced many stressors and did not effectively cope with them. Despite having money, she did not always receive effective help to learn coping. Her journey, detailed in one of her books, Mockingbird Years: A Life In and Out of Therapy(2000), highlights how biological, psychological, and social factors can influence our ability to function in a healthy or unhealthy way. As you read the chapters in this section, you will gain a deeper understanding of how stress and coping impact our health, the criteria for various mental health disorders, and the therapy techniques that can improve our functioning. As you are on this journey, think about your own behaviors. How do you cope with stress? How did you learn to do so? How might gaining insight into difficulty in functioning improve your own physical and mental health? By understanding stress and coping, mental health disorders, and therapy as an intersection of biological, psychological, and social factors, you hopefully will be able to recognize healthy and unhealthy patterns of functioning in yourself and the people around you, learn how to endure the difficult times, and be better able to weather the ups and downs of life.
Emily Fox Gordon’s novel, Mockingbird Years, highlights how biological, psychological, and social factors can influence our ability to function in a healthy or unhealthy way.
Please read the article for the unit and connect it to your life or your discipline to reflect your understanding of the course material. No source or reference. Just short answer