Ever since Freud, we've known that we share our mental space with another mind, one that may prove quite a hindrance. It can be like a bad roommate we can't evict, leaving dirty dishes in the sink and playing the stereo too loud, and all we can do is try to adjust its excesses with a few carefully worded notes. Dr. Fredric Schiffer believes that he has located the culprit and learned how to talk to it, and his clinical success with problems like cocaine addiction, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder suggest that he's on to something. Of Two Minds is his report from the front.
A psychiatrist affiliated with Harvard Medical School, Schiffer has studied split-brain research and devised his own experiments to show that stress and anxiety are often felt more strongly in one hemisphere than the other. No simple "left brain good, right brain bad" dichotomy, it seems that those who have been affected by emotional trauma lateralize the effects, perhaps in an effort to maintain more-or-less-normal functioning. One hemisphere or the other gets stuck in the past, says Schiffer, and acts out through the patient's symptoms. His goal is integration of these two minds into a kind of team by using clever manipulation of sensory stimuli and other tools of cognitive science.
Of Two Minds is unusual in its acceptance of both scientific
and emotional validity. Alternating reviews of the data with often heart-wrenching
transcripts of therapy sessions, it offers a two-pronged assault on what
seems to be a dual-natured problem. While it might not solve your "roommate
problem" overnight, it may start you on the road to reconciliation. --Rob
The New England Journal of Medicine -- April 15, 1999 -- Vol. 340,
Of Two Minds breaks new ground. The book's premise is that each hemisphere of the brain contains its own mind and its own distinct personality. In the normal person, the two hemispheres and their respective minds are in balance and interact harmoniously. However, when they are out of balance, mental illness may result, according to the book's author.
Schiffer's theory stems from his work with patients. He has observed that patients appear to be dominated by different personalities at different times -- sometimes by mature, reasonable, patient, self-confident personalities, and sometimes by insecure, anxious, self-denigrating, primitive personalities. The notion of more than one personality in one person is not new. Clinicians have written about the "inner child" and the "unconscious mind" for a long time. However, Schiffer's approach is new -- he links the dual minds with the hemispheres of the brain.
Schiffer decided to try to communicate directly with a single hemisphere after learning of an experiment conducted in Germany. In this experiment, different emotional responses were elicited in normal persons when movies were directed to one hemisphere or the other. This experiment prompted Schiffer to construct two sets of eyeglasses: one with lenses that were opaque except at the extreme left side and one with lenses that were opaque except at the extreme right side. The glasses directed all visual input to a single hemisphere of the brain. Schiffer asked patients to put on one set of glasses and tell him what they experienced. He then asked them to put on the other set of glasses and tell him what they experienced. He observed that for a substantial number of patients, one set of glasses tended to have a calming effect, whereas the other set caused patients to feel depressed, edgy, anxious, or agitated. With the use of the glasses, Schiffer developed a psychotherapeutic approach that involved speaking directly to the troubled mind (hemisphere). Over time, he observed clinical improvement. Schiffer states, "The aim of 'dual-brain' therapy is to mend the archaic, destructive ideas and emotions of the mind on the troubled side, to teach it that it is safer and more valuable than it learned during some traumatic experiences.... I teach patients how to recognize and listen for the mind in their troubled hemisphere, and then how to speak to it -- out loud!" On the basis of these experiences, he reasons that there are two minds, each with a distinct personality associated with one hemisphere, and that an imbalance between them is responsible for mental illness.
Schiffer postulates that major psychiatric illnesses can result from problems with brain laterality. For example, depression may stem from an experience in early childhood, a time of extreme vulnerability, defenselessness, and dependency. Trauma during this period, according to Schiffer, is retained in the mind of one hemisphere. Depression comes from the defensiveness and the despondency associated with the memory of this experience in the one hemisphere. Treatment involves communicating directly with the troubled hemisphere by using the eyeglasses in a healing manner. When both sides of the brain are healthy, the depression subsides.
Schiffer describes other major psychiatric conditions from the standpoint of the laterality of the brain. His psychoanalytic background leads him to emphasize early trauma in the pathogenesis of psychiatric illnesses, trauma that is visited on one hemisphere.
The science on which brain laterality is based is extensive. Several decades ago, Roger Sperry demonstrated the existence of distinct "minds" in humans and in animals in which communication between the hemispheres was disrupted. He received a Nobel prize for this work. As an example of the "split brain," Schiffer describes a patient of Sperry's who was awakened from a sound sleep by her left hand slapping her across the face. "The patient had overslept, and the right mind must have awakened, realized the time, and tried to rouse her."
This book is bold, interesting, and ambitious. At times, it makes scientific leaps whose logic is hard to follow. The descriptions of the neurobiology of depression, schizophrenia, drug addiction, panic disorder, and bipolar illness are somewhat superficial. The key biologic link between laterality and mental illness needs substantially more elucidation to be convincing. Thus, in the end, the book is more provocative than scientific, but it is well worth reading.
Robert M.A. Hirschfeld, M.D.
University of Texas Medical Branch
Galveston, TX 77555-0429
From Booklist , September 1, 1998
Schiffer's account of his pioneering concept, dual-brain psychology, is fascinating. His theory and practice have come to have applications not only to mental difficulties but also to such physical problems as heart disease--a development that seems fitting for a physician who, before becoming intrigued with psychiatry, wanted to be a cardiologist. Schiffer experimented early in his career with lateralized glasses. Such spectacles force the wearer to view the surroundings from either the right or left edge of vision; such perspectives connect to the opposite hemispheres of the brain: right to left, left to right--a phenomenon that set Schiffer's mind working. He observed, for example, a Vietnam veteran become anxious when viewing a threatening jungle from one perspective and calm when, from the other, he saw a potted plant. Eventually, Schiffer started to regard most problems as resulting from a struggle between immaturity and maturity rather than just between the left and right parts of the brain. Still, he shows his patients how to improve the relationship between the brain's two parts.
William Beatty Copyright© 1998, American Library Association. All rights reserved
From Kirkus Reviews , July 1, 1998
A psychiatrist argues for an intriguing theory about the psychological nature of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Schiffer, who teaches at Harvard Medical School and attends at McClean, its psychiatric hospital, asserts that each hemisphere has its own mind with its own ``motivations, behaviors, memories, and temperaments.'' As he reports, studies with people whose brain hemispheres have been surgically separated provide facinating evidence of the existence of two separate minds in one body. Schiffer's involvment with split-brain research inspired him to develop a technique for tapping into either the right or left hemisphere of an intact brain by means of special goggles that restrict vision to either the extreme left or right (left hemisphere controls right eye vision, and vice versa). He found that some patients reported strong differences in their emotional state, their perception of themselves, and their worldview when the restrictive goggles isolated one hemisphere. In Schiffer's analysis, the restrictive goggles enable the troubled mind and the healthier, more mature mind to reveal themselves. Using this technique with patients suffering from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, addiction, and stress-induced heart disease, Schiffer illustrates how dual-brain therapy is able to reach out to the troubled mind and help it. He provides extensive lightly edited transcripts of his therapy sessions with these patients to document the process. In a concluding self-help chapter, readers are encouraged to experiment by covering first one eye and then the other to see whether they can detect a mood change, and if so, to begin a dialogue between their healthy and troubled selves to bring about a more balanced, happy, and productive relationship between them. Constructs a theoretical bridge between neuroscience and psychology the soundness of which remains to be tested. (b&w illustraitons) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
Amazon.com Customer Comments
Average Customer Review: ***** Number of Reviews: 3
firstname.lastname@example.org from otsego michigan , May 19, 1999 *****
first of it's kind
This book takes the next step in converging the many theories about two brain psychology. Most books have mearly eluded to the fact that the two brains have a possibility of being two separate entities. Dr. Schiffer has been bold enough to take the logical next step, which is to face the facts, that two separate entities are the only real way to describe the brain, and it's two halves, for, the brain's two halves are really, two brains not one. Plus, he has tangible examples, with methods for each person to find a way that they can explore this phenomenon for themselves in their own way, and at their own pace.
email@example.com from Massachusetts , October 22, 1998 *****
A terrific guide to why we feel troubled, and how to fix it. Don't mistake this book for another tedious explanation of what it means to be right-brained or left-brained. This is a wonderful user's manual to our personalities, and specifically to why we get sad or anxious. Schiffer explains clearly and engangingly, at a level I found easy to understand (I'm not in the mental health field), how each of us essentially harbors two people in ourselves, and why we sometimes suffer because of it. Schiffer throws in plenty of convincing research and examples, and lays out a clear approach to identifying our two personalities, showing how one of them tends to cause us problems, and then dealing with it (there's a simple vision trick that can help). It's already helped me understand a lot about myself. Somehow, it's a fun read, too.
A reader from New York, USA , October 22, 1998 *****
It really works. . . I saw a piece on 20/20 by Dr. Timothy Johnson on Dr. Schiffer's goggle therapy. I have tried this method and it really works. As with many things in life, this is a case where an unorthodox manner of treatment that may at first seem strange offers impressive benefits. Anyone who is suffering from depression should read this book and incorporate its teachings.