In recognition of February being named as Psychology Month by the Canadian Psychological Association, I thought it would be interesting to survey the range of books and other resources currently available at the WPL. Psychology originally derived as a branch of philosophy (100s), so the core introductory texts of psychology at any public library would be found in the 150s area of the Dewey Decimal Classification System. As the field of study grew and ‘professionalized’, as well as separated itself from the more ‘speculative’ realm of philosophy and moved toward the hard sciences of neurobiology, brain science and psychiatry, books in this field have found a home in the 600s (applied sciences). For example, books on depression in the 616.8527 area are just down the shelf from the books on medicine (610s), exercise and nutrition (613.7). As any real estate agent will tell you, it’s “location, location, location.”
What makes psychology so fascinating right now is the continued debates about subject/object, nature/nurture, free will/genetic code, often with conclusions that support both sides of the dichotomy. A good example of this would be the book Living with Depression: why biology and biography matter by Deborah Serani, which focuses on both the biology (nature) and the circumstances (nurture/environment) leading to depression.
Another tradition within psychology is the exploration of the much-debated link between artistic or creative genius and mental health and emotional suffering. A First-Rate Madness: uncovering the link between leadership and mental illness by Nassir Ghaemi applies current research on the topic, while the classic book in the field is Touched By Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison.
An example of the application of the scientific discoveries of psychology in everyday life would be The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton. His provocative thesis is that people who really excel in their fields are capable of the obsessive attention to detail shared by psychopaths. A similar title is Snakes in Suits: when psychopaths go to work by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare. The authors provide an intriguing study of how prospective job candidates can anticipate and reflect what recruiters want to hear, even if it’s not necessarily what the candidate truly believes.
Psychology is also about the experiences of people. A powerful personal story is found in Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire: my month of madness, which covers the experience of New Post reporter Cahalan’s sudden-onset psychosis, her original misdiagnosis and eventual successful diagnosis of a rare autoimmune disorder, and the description of her recovery.
There is a wide range of DVDs on psychology, for those who prefer to watch rather than read. The one I was most impressed by was the PBS series entitled This Emotional Life, produced by the Boston affiliate WGBH. It seeks to explain why one in four adults experience mental health issues, through both experts and personal accounts. And for online sources there is the extraordinary The Brain series, special episodes of the Charlie Rose show exploring cutting-edge brain science with scientists and researchers in the field.
Through all of these diverse points of view is an emerging picture that the brain and mind is an intricate construction that cannot be taken apart like an internal combustion engine, but rather should be considered more of an ‘eternal engine’ deserving respect, rigorous research, and most importantly compassion and understanding. Nothing illustrates that better than Heather Stuart and Norman Sartorius’ book Paradigms Lost: fighting stigma and the lessons I learned, a practical approach to reducing the stigma of mental illness.