Friday, May 31, 2013

Bio-Psychology: Foundation, Present day, and Future.

It is hard to imagine an introduction to into the realm of psychology without encountering the thought of how does the body affect the mind.  What causes our emotions and behaviors to be, does some biological process provide the answer or do we still have much to learn about our bodies and ourselves? Where does bio-psychology begin and the realm of pure biology, bio-chemistry, and other “hard” sciences end? Let us begin our journey into the murky past of the foundations of bio-psychology.

            What is bio-psychology and what does it mean to be a student of bio-psychology? Biological Psychology is the study of the brain and how it produces behavior (Wickens, 2005, p. xxv).  However this definition of bio-psychology deserves more than that, bio is literally translated to mean “life”, psych is derived from psyche (Greek for mind), and logos (also Greek in origin) meaning reason or study of the mind (Wickens, 2005, p. 3).  This conflicts with the earliest stirrings of the nascent philosophy/science that become modern psychology which seeks to find a more “scientific” structure and empirically derived body of knowledge. 

The founders of what became psychology; include names from antiquity such as the Roman physician, Galen, who postulated the first recorded theory of the brain and its inner workings. The earliest bio-psychologists thought that the ventricles of the brain contained or carried some spirit that the mind told the body to function. We then see as scientific knowledge crept out from underneath the specter of religious authorities that would possible deem such knowledge or research heretical that a more scientific approach began to appear (Wickens, 2005).

The next leap was spearheaded by Rene Descartes, of the oft quoted author of the “I think therefore I am” remark. He offered a new theory that the mind and body were two distinct and separate entities; this became known as the Cartesian Dualism theory. However, this theory was unable to explain the how the body and mind affected one another. Descartes then theorized that it was the pineal gland that was the location for this exchange of information.  But Descartes noted that not all actions were clearly based solely upon conscious thought but occurred out of something he termed “reflex” This evolutionary thinking of Descartes opened the door to later research (Wickens, 2005).
As early as 1791 we saw an Italian scientist, Luigi Galvani, who demonstrated that nerves communicate via electrical impulses through his research using amputated frog’s legs. This was then further advanced when in 1875 that another Italian scientist, Camillo Golgi, who discovered a stain that allowed for the first time individual nerve cells to be clearly defined utilizing silver nitrate. This discovery allowed study of the individual component of a nerve cell to be observed. This discovery saw its greatest advance within the workings of Ramon y Cajel’s, who showed that all nerves are distinct and individual entities not a mass as previously believed. (Wickens, 2005)

It is from this earliest work in the neurological elements of bio-psychology that we began to understand the unique relationship between mind and body.  The role of genetics within bio-psychology began with the workings and research of Gregor Mendel, who first showed that a plant could be bred for specific traits from two different parent plants. Still the work of Mendel would not be as profound if it were not for Charles Darwin, considered by many to be the father of modern biology. It was upon Mendel’s work that Darwin’s theory of evolution found a bedrock upon which to stand (Wickens, 2005).

We then see where the juncture between biology and psychology merge, as we learn more about the structures of the human body beyond the micro-biological level we see how important that a clear understanding of the relationship between them becomes to the future of bio-psychology and psychology in general (Carr, 2008). It is the discovery of profound concepts as DNA and thus what role does our DNA play in who we become and how we behave do we find that connection with the field of genetics and bio-chemistry (Wickens, 2005). This cross-pollination of the science of the mind and body meet but both seem to be at odds with each other.

The major assumptions of bio-psychology is that with unlocking the interaction between the mind (a mental construct) and the brain and associated biological systems (physical reality) we will finally decide the question of “Nurture vs. Nature”.  But the assumptions of the field of bio-psychology are more than simply answering this one question how ever profound. We seek to understand why past behaviors from a previous generation of human beings find themselves reborn it seems in the genes of the next. Is mental illness or its prevalence of a likelihood of contracting one have a genetic element? If so can we modify the gene or at least study how it affects subsequent generations? 

However, we must move beyond assumptions and clearly the way is a unified and multidisciplinary approach to the field of bio-psychology. As students of the human condition, we must remember that while both the mind and body are distinct and seemingly separate entities; they are both involved in symbiotic relationship that we have yet to fully understand.  I hope this paper has shed some light upon the field of bio-psychology and its role within the science of psychology in general.


Abnormal Psychology and Therapy

We have compared and contrasted the similarities/differences of Normal psychology vs. Abnormal psychology. We will now begin to highlight some mental disorders and mental illnesses to show those similarities and differences. Then upon the completion of this portion we will discuss therapies for treating such illnesses as currently utilized among the mental health professionals in the United States today.  We will begin by discussing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or (PTSD) as it is more commonly referred to as in public discourse.

Post-Traumatic Stress disorder has an unusual history as it has likely been with us since the biblical reference to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. It is most often associated with military personnel that have directly or at least closely involved in a combat environment. PTSD was not recognized as a mental health issue until Vietnam and was poorly understood by the military leadership, general public, as well as the mental health community. Prior to its acknowledgement during the Vietnam era it was often referred to as “combat-stress” or “battle-fatigue”. 

 It’s most public display of ignorance in regards to its existence and being a serious issue worthy of medical treatment was the slapping incident involving General George S. Patton during WWII. General Patton was attending to his wounded soldiers at a field hospital when he chanced upon a visibly unwounded soldier, when Gen. Patton asked the soldier why he was not at the front fighting the soldier’s reply was “Sir, I can’t take it anymore.” Gen. Patton became incensed at this apparent “cowardice” and struck the soldier with a leather glove in the face. Gen. Patton berated the soldier and ordered him immediately to return to the front or face a court-martial for cowardice in the face of the enemy. The remaining history of this incident is public record and not pertinent to this discussion.

Yet even with the acknowledgement of the existence of PTSD during Vietnam, it was at least 20 years before the Veterans Administration began to seek new methods of treatment or simply even acknowledge a veteran was suffering from the condition. I saw this first hand as a boy, my father had served from 1968 till 1971 in Vietnam and saw direct combat. He rarely if ever spoke to anyone about his experiences there but I saw much of his suffering directly if he had an episode. The most graphic was back in 1987, it was during the night and we were experiencing a severe thunderstorm with hail. 

My father was apparently triggered by the hail, it sounded like gunfire to him. I was sleeping in a bedroom over our garage. He low-crawled all the way from his bedroom and up the stairs into my room, I was awaked by him hissing in a low voice “Gooks are in the fucking wire, man your position and be ready to kill them when the move towards the perimeter.” Needless to say this frightened me but I learned much about my father after that when I began to slowly discuss it with him. Despite his own wounds from his service he did not discourage from me seeking to become a soldier myself upon graduating high-school in 1992
To provide some more technical details of PTSD, it is defined as Disorder and not a Psychosis. This simply refers to the fact that most disorders are at least treatable and often a “cure” can be found to mitigate the effects of the disorder. The symptoms are somewhat vague and are often mistaken for an anxiety or depressive issue but there are clear distinctions of PTSD from a regular anxiety or depressive disorder.  Individuals that suffer from PTSD in any form often will “re-live” the incident that caused the disorder over and over, will experience arousal in response to a trigger such as a smelling cooking meat on a grill or a sound. PTSD is not simply a disorder suffered by the military but by any human being such as victims of sexual assault or abuse or anyone whom is likely to encounter life-threatening situations either for themselves or others.

I am currently actively seeking treatment for PTSD due to my service in Iraq and can say that we have learned much but still have many gaps in our knowledge of how to treat this disorder. I currently have been provided both counseling and medication to deal with my PTSD. One of the more popular and successful approaches used today is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT involves the active participation of the patient and provider to find ways to deal with or prevent the PTSD from being triggered or how to mitigate its effects once triggered. This usually involves one on one or group therapy with others whom suffer from PTSD. By active discourse and by learning how to recognize triggers, the patient can be better prepared for his or her own issues as they arise. 

PSTD is not a death sentence but if left untreated can become aggravated and lead to other behaviors that are either self-destructive or potentially dangerous for society as a whole. This is not to insinuate that anyone who suffers from PTSD is a danger but that we should be cognizant of its severity and the risks if left untreated. Like any mental illness education and raising awareness of the issue is critical to avoiding the stereotyping of the disorder and its victims.


Critical Observation: Post-Traumatic Stress

Note this post is from one of my papers I have written in the course of my pursuit of a degree in Psychology so it is academic in nature.

The subject of this paper is Post-Traumatic Stress or as it is more commonly known Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD among most individuals today. The term in current usage in the psychological field is Post Traumatic Stress or PTS. PTS was not given its current name until the Vietnam War and shortly after when returning veterans began to have difficulty re-adjusting to life outside of a combat zone.  This label very quickly gathered a negative stigma to be associated with it; veterans who found themselves unable to get proper treatment languished in a personal hell for many years. Only in the last 15 years has the public’s perception changed in regards to PTS but there are many still ignorant of what it really means. 

The subject of this paper is myself; I am a decorated Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran with my initial combat tour occurring in 2003-2004. I returned for a 2nd combat tour that was cut short when my degenerative disc disease was aggravated and I was returned to the continental United States in June 2005. My symptoms appeared approximately about 6 months after my return. I found myself very quickly reverting back to the hyper-vigilant mode of awareness. I became easily agitated in crowded locations and did not wish to be around such gatherings. 

I was able for quite a while to deal with the PTS by having a strong support network of close friends and family.  But by late 2005 my first marriage after 12 years ended in divorce I found myself adrift. The dreams and feelings seemed stronger and more intense; I then threw myself into my work as a Military instructor at Fort Huachuca, teaching other analysts to perform in combat the same job I did. I enjoyed the work and it became my security blanket to teach the soldiers how to do the job right and bring your guys home alive.

Things were going smoothly then around mid-2006 I met and began dating the woman, who would become my 2nd wife, Kathryn.  Kate as she prefers to be address became very quickly an anchor against the darkness that I felt sometimes was going to swallow me whole.  Assisting me in dealing with my PTS was a fellow veteran, Paul Matsuzak; he served with me as a fellow instructor. Paul and I became very close as we shared many of our issues with each other and became that friend you call at 2 a.m. and you can’t sleep because of the nightmares. In September 2006 the Army moved me to Camp Parks, where I spent the next two years training soldiers whom were about to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

For myself my PTS episodes begin very innocently, usually restlessness when attempting to fall asleep. I will hear voices, smell burnt flesh, or see images of comrades that died over there during my tour(s). I also see my father whom I was informed of his death the day we lost 5 men to a grenade attack while during a shift change so some of them were lying down, the others getting ready to pull their shift.  I cannot ever forget that day, it is burned in my soul till I die and beyond.  I can recall how I begged my mother to not make me return home as I had a mission do take care of, that my father would understand why.  I finally sought treatment in August of 2009 for my PTS through the Veterans Administration; I was diagnosed with a “mild-anxiety” disorder shortly after being discharged for my degenerative disc disease in 2008. 

The effects of a PTS episode upon me range from mild to severe, examples of my PTS is I with draw from social activities for a few days, possibly miss work, or feel the pain in my back reach excruciating levels beyond the pain medications I take to control the pain.  The emotional toll is I am left feeling numb to everything around me as I slowly recover from the latest episode.  I have been proscribed medication to deal with the anxiety and with the counseling seem to be effective in managing my PTS so far. 

The psychology that is used to explain my behavior is still developing as we learn more about how/why PTS occurs in human beings. The current and ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have dramatically increased the number of individuals that now seek or are directed to mental health professionals for treatment. This is the reason I have sought a degree in psychology, to better understand myself and my issues and to eventually seek to become a mental health professional to treat others whom suffer as I have. 

The ethical dilemmas that could arise from my PTS and the fact I seek to become a mental health professional to treat others, first I must have my own issues in control and be able to set aside my biases so that I can treat others. Another that could arise is the danger of becoming too emotionally invested in a patient, preventing effective treatment based on sound psychological/scientific practice.  Yet another issue is putting my issues upon my patient and not treating their issues as a separate and unique issue. This can be avoided by a solid grounding in professional ethics and ensuring that I am able to separate self from patient/client needs.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Soldier's Thoughts on Memorial Day

A Soldier’s Thoughts on Memorial Day
Jared Michael Royka

Today I choose to write because once again I am struggling with the guilt of my surviving my combat service unharmed and getting to go home.  My life is a story in contradictions and things I have done or not done, it seems that I am adrift without those anchors I once held to so tightly. I do not feel sorry or ashamed for myself as that is a waste of the priceless gift I have been given by my gods, life.  There are so many days now that I miss what I once had, mostly my identity as a soldier and a servant to our great people.

I miss teaching the young faces and hearing the grumbles of those just starting out on their service as a soldier.  I miss my brothers and sisters in arms especially those whom I had the distinct honor and privilege to serve alongside directly throughout my 18 years of military service. I try to honor them each day by being thankful that I live and was blessed by knowing them. I find my body getting older and things don’t work as well as they did back when I was 19 and felt immortal. 

Yet I see the cycle move endlessly about me as I view the world through those eyes of mine that have seen many things.  The thing I have found most interesting about my life since being honorably discharged from active duty service, is that I see what my dad surely must have seen after his departure from the Army. I watch at a distance a world that I can never be fully a part of ever again. I am forever changed not just by my service but what I did as a soldier in both peace and war. I do not resent those whom do not understand why my eyes mist with tears when I return to a place I will never wholly leave behind.

I now know what it is that all veterans carry within themselves especially those whom survive to return home.  I know now what it is my father saw in those moments he drifted back to another time and place. I know the shame he felt at being a “lucky one” who made it home, only reinforced by a nation that could not separate the war from the warrior. I am eternally grateful to my fellow citizens whom have so courteously and with such heartfelt honesty thanking those whom have served, are serving, or will serve in the future. Our nation learned many painful lessons during the Vietnam War and we still have much to learn and remember.

I remember every single moment and I each day offer prayers to my gods that my fellow warriors will never be forgotten so long as I remember, I cannot forget.  My eyes stream with tears at how fortunate I am, when so many others paid the highest cost in the service of their country. It is the least I can do for having that gift that they gave so nobly and freely to all of us. We owe it to them and ourselves to reflect each day on what we have that truly matters most our humanity. 

The events that propelled our nation into its current conflict have been largely forgotten by most. It greatly hurts me deep inside my soul that so many of our warriors, men and women, linger slowly fading into a background of the daily pressures of life.  This is not out of a gross negligence on the part of everyday citizens but a larger issue that of we must never forget those whom have borne the scars of war. Less than 1 percent of our nation has served in the current conflicts that our nation has fought in recent memory.

What shames me more is that so many of us forget the costs paid to ensure our freedom is kept intact. We live in a world now that seems more chaotic and dangerous than ever. Yet we still move onwards towards a future that is often unclear to us till we have passed through it and it becomes the past. We argue over political and social viewpoints with an ever increasing hostility towards any whom may disagree with our point of view. This to me is the greatest tragedy of all as we seem to forget those bitter lessons history teaches us and so few now have to bear its weight till their dying day.

May 30th is a day set aside to remember and honor our fallen heroes, who have come from every place upon this earth, every walk of life, and ultimately chose a life of service to others.  Yet I watch those whom see it as merely a day to go shopping or enjoy a barbecue with friends, not taking a moment to reflect on what it means to be free.  Every day is a day of remembrance for our nation’s veterans; we lived those moments and cannot ever forget them even when we want to.  

So I ask all whom read these words, remember and never forget the price paid and sacrifices laid upon the altar of liberty by so many.  Remember not just those whom served directly but those whom are truly never seen. The mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, and loved ones whom bear that memory of that sacrifice, they deserve your respect and thanks as well.  Ultimately Memorial Day for me is a renewal of my sacred vow to remember and never forget the humanity and the human dignity of all whom have sacrificed so much in the service of our people, our nation, and our way of life.

That is why we have fought and bled our bodies, our hearts, and our souls for that is the most perfect distillation of our nation’s ideals.  That is that all humanity has the right to be treated with respect and dignity no matter the situation. It is an ideal that we must never stop striving to achieve a state of perfection but when we fall or fail to remind ourselves why it is important in the struggle.

In closing I ask everyone before you hurl an epithet, insult, or slur at anyone remember what price was paid for that human dignity to be freely expressed. Remember that is a fellow human being and we are a people steeped in the idea that all humanity has a sacred right to be treated with dignity and respect. We will not always agree with each other nor will we always remember to be respectful of one another. But we are all human beings and thus deserving of that most basic right of our human dignity.