Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Psychologist James Pennebaker Counts, and Analyzes, Words

Scientist at Work - James W. Pennebaker - Psychologist James Pennebaker Counts, and Analyzes, Words - Biography -

James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, is a pioneer in studying the relationship between language and health. In his early experiments he found that writing about traumatic experiences can strengthen people's immune systems. More recently, he has turned to analyzing every word someone says or writes to see what word choice may indicate about people.
He found, for example, that Osama bin Laden’s use of first-person pronouns (I, me, my, mine) remained fairly constant over several years. By contrast, his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, used such words more and more often.

“This dramatic increase suggests greater insecurity, feelings of threat, and perhaps a shift in his relationship with bin Laden,” Dr. Pennebaker wrote in his report , which was published in The Content Analysis Reader (Sage Publications, July 2008).

To count and analyze the kinds of words someone uses, Pennebaker has developed a software program.
To test-drive the program, Dr. Pennebaker, a pioneer in the field of therapeutic writing, asked a group of people recovering from serious illness or other trauma to engage in a series of writing exercises. The word tallies showed that those whose health was improving tended to decrease their use of first-person pronouns through the course of the study.

Health improvements were also seen among people whose use of causal words — because, cause, effect — increased. Simply ruminating about an experience without trying to understand the causes is less likely to lead to psychological growth, he explained; the subjects who used causal words “were changing the way they were thinking about things.”

Pennebaker has also found that men tend to use more articles (a, an, and the) than women and that women tend to use more pronouns (he, she, they) than men. "The difference, he says, may suggest that men are more prone to concrete thinking and women are more likely to see things from other perspectives."

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Former Football Player Writes Book about His Dissociative Identity Disorder

Walker on mission | Denton Record-Chronicle | News for Denton County, Texas | Local News

Herschel Walker, winner of the Heisman Trophy (an award for college football players) and former member of the Dallas Cowboys, has written a book about his experience with dissociative identity disorder (DID, commonly known as multiple personality disorder) and his efforts to overcome the disorder. He has been touring to promote the book, Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder. This article reports on his appearance in Denton, TX, in association with University Behavioral Health (UBH) of Denton:

‘He [Walker] has a mission for himself of bringing a message out to people who have mental health issues, that it’s a strength to ask for help, not a weakness,’ said UBH of Denton Chief Executive Officer Susan Young. ‘He wants people to know he’s had issues and he sees that as something very positive. He doesn’t want anybody to be uncomfortable or ashamed.’

Walker's own condition surfaced about 10 years ago, when he suddenly developed anger problems. His search for the cause of his problem finally led to the diagnosis of DID. He wants to let people with mental health issues, including substance abuse, know that it's all right to seek help. He is critical of the National Football League's substance abuse policy, which, he says, suspends players for abuse without providing treatment.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Catching Up. . .

The school I attend has an unusual academic schedule. We have the months of February and August off, which means that July has been a manic month of reading and writing papers for me. I had to let go so many things that I would have liked to write about here. Many of them are now outdated but still worth a look. So, here are summaries of a few items I've been saving--and one (the last one) from today:

Blogging--It's Good for You

The therapeutic value of blogging becomes a focus of study

Over on Scientific American blogs Jessica Wapner says that scientists are becoming interested in what drives so many people to blog. Thanks to the pioneering work of James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin, the physical as well as the emotional benefits of expressive writing are accepted within the medical community. Research has shown that expressive writing boosts the immune system, improves memory and sleep, promotes healing after surgery, and helps patients with diseases such as cancer to cope with anxiety and chronic pain. Now scientists interested in the health benefits of writing wonder if blogging may have the same benefits as expressive writing, which is usually done in a private journal.

Blogging bliss in online oratory

In a related article, Karen Derkley reports on the results of a study conducted by James Baker, a master's level student in psychology.
A registered psychologist, Mr Baker set out to research a straightforward question – what effect the increasingly popular activity of blogging might have on the psychological wellbeing of bloggers. The benefits of venting emotions in diary form are well documented, he points out, and have even led to the development of the therapeutic practice known as narrative therapy.

Baker asked new users of MySpace whether they intended to blog on the site. Of the 134 people who returned the questionnaire, 84 said they intended to blog and 50 said they did not. "Those who intended to blog rated themselves as being more distressed and unsatisfied with their current social interactions than those who did not." Two months later Baker surveyed the group again and found that people who had blogged now rated themselves as less depressed and more socially connected than those who didn't blog.

It's easy to take results like this and make the leap to saying that blogging offers benefits similar to those of expressive writing, but such a leap is unjustified. A blog is usually written for other people to read, whereas expressive writing in a journal is meant to be private or to be shared only with certain people chosen by the writer. These two different types of writing may be driven by vastly different motives and may serve very different purposes for both writers and readers. A lot more research is needed before we label blogging as the new expressive writing and claim health benefits for it based on what previous research has shown about the benefits of expressive writing.

After the tragedy: Vent? Not necessarily

On the heels of events such as terrorist attacks, say researchers, some people do better to leave things unsaid for a while.

In the Los Angeles Times Susan Brink discusses whether people should be expected to talk about their feelings soon after traumatic events such as 9/11 or mass shootings such as those at Columbine or Virginia Tech. Health officials often send in critical incident stress debriefers, who may or may not be trained mental health counselors, to encourage people to talk about their feelings after such tragedies. But recent research by Mark Seery, a psychologist at the University of Buffalo, suggests that urging people to talk under these circumstances may not be universally beneficial. His most recent research, published in the June issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, indicates that, for some people, not talking about their feelings right after traumatic events may be healthier:
The new study is in line with other mental health research that suggests some things are better left temporarily unsaid -- at least for some people. Those who immediately talk about the trauma of an attack or a hurricane can find, as often as not, that airing it doesn't change the memory and fails to bring relief. Seery found that those who responded quickly to prompts to write online about the attacks had higher levels of stress two weeks later. Months later, they were more likely to have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The article also discusses bereavement research by James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin, who "found that choosing not to express feelings in the face of a death reflected resilience, rather than vulnerability." Interventions aimed at making people talk immediately about their feelings after traumatic events may make those reluctant to talk think that there is something wrong with them. Further, making people talk about what they're feeling may lead to rumination, in which they continue to tell and retell the details of the trauma without moving forward:
If there are two kinds of people, those who want to talk and those who don't, then pushing the latter into talking might lock the trauma in memory, causing them to dwell on it.

Some people will want to talk about a tragedy immediately, and some will not. Neither group should feel forced to do what does not come naturally.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Writing as Therapy

QA: Laurie Edwards - 6/1/2008 - Library Journal:

Laurie Edwards is a 27-year-old writer and college writing instructor who lives with multiple chronic illnesses. She blogs at A Chronic Dose and has written a book, Life Disrupted, that will be published later this month.

In this short interview with Library Journal Laurie answers the following question:

What are your thoughts about 'writing as therapy'?

I think that writing is an extremely valuable and expressive tool; the value in writing about illness or medical illness is that you can contribute to a larger community. Whatever you write, someone else can see and hopefully learn from and vice versa.

Growing up as a sick kid, I couldn't go out and play that much, so in that sense writing was the thing I turned to, to give me an identity. Now that I am an adult and a writer taking on the patient experience, writing validates a lot of things.

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