Lyrical Analysis

I’ve always been into trying to figure people out, but since training to be a therapist, it’s hard not to think sometimes that this curiosity (that was once merely a habit and is quickly becoming a means of livelihood) can get out of hand.  Particularly because so often, there are no real answers, only hypotheses that can feel at times like a stretch.  That’s not to say that there’s no enjoyment to be had in it.  Some of the most bizarre, hard to understand, and seemingly inapplicable theories are often the most interesting and indeed, the most rewarding to conceptualize from.  But one problem that I’ve had since my early undergraduate days is with the alarmingly high incidence of one particular reaction when people find out I’m a student of psychology.  They want to know if I’m analyzing them at that second.  Now I always respond with something to the effect of, “are you paying me this second?”  Better yet, they ask if I know what they’re thinking.  Now that I think of it, maybe I do…

So allow me to indulge and feed the stereotype that all psychology types are walking psychoanalysts, on the lookout at every opportunity for clues that yes, you do actually want to murder your dad and sleep with your mom.

I started getting interested in picking apart song lyrics not long ago.  In particular, songs that make mention of therapy, and there was one by one of my favourite bands of the last decade that I thought would be fun to have a look at from the special perspective of one of my favourite theories of psychotherapy.

The song: “Dead Letter and the Infinite Yes” by Wintersleep.  The theory: Existential Psychotherapy.  If you’re not sure what that is, an explanation is really beyond the scope of this post, so do check out the wikipedia article.

I found a letter it read
“Our existence has serious side effects”
Turned on, turned on the television
It’s telling me the world is collapsing
I think it’s coming and it comes so fast
I’m hearing whispers of an infinite yes
And I don’t know why it is
Our bodies are dead, why you look so sad?

And my therapist said
“We’ve evolved through a series of accidents”
There’s been talk of chemical imbalances
Restless sense of detachment, nausea and/or violence

I think it’s coming and it comes so fast
I’m hearing whispers of an infinite yes
And I don’t know why it is
I feel it coming, I think it’s real and significant
I think, I think, I think a little too often
That’s what my therapist said
We’re alone in this wilderness
Left to choke on the pills and to feed on the viruses
I think it’s coming and it comes so fast

I think it’s coming and it comes so fast
I’m hearing whispers of an infinite yes
Our bodies are dead, why you look so sad
Our bodies are dead, why you look so sad

There are several key themes here that jump to life right away.  Note the 4 existential givens, as set forth by Irvin Yalom, arguably the Grand Poobah of American existential therapy: the inevitability of death, the paradox of freedom and responsibility, ultimate isolation, and meaninglessness.  The issue of the inevitability of death is fairly obvious from the first verse: “the world is collapsing,” “our bodies are dead.”  Even from the title of the song we are alerted to the issue of death by the inconspicuous mention of the Dead Letter.

Aloneness… isolation.  ”We’re alone in this universe, left to choke on the pills and to feed on the viruses.”  A picture is painted of a cold, indifferent, and ultimately meaningless world.  Perhaps the “infinite yes” speaks to this – a sense that no matter what, the answer is always the same.  Our efforts to prolong life, to self-preserve, are ultimately in vain as the reality of life – that it ends in death – only moves ever closer.

The subject of the song is presumably seeing a therapist of some kind.  We can deduce that whatever is ailing our protagonist, one of the proposed treatments has been medical – this theme permeates the song: “our existence has serious side effects,” “talk of chemical imbalances,” and “restless sense of detachment, nausea, and/or violence” listed as if side effects on the side of a pill bottle.  And in the end one is left to “choke on the pills and feed on the viruses.”  Clearly our therapist didn’t pay special attention to any kind of therapeutic relationship here.  One is left with a feeling of abandonment.  Of foreboding.  The end of the world itself seems to be inevitably approaching with increasing speed.

But the issue remains: how is the song’s subject choosing to live inauthentically?  According to our chosen theory, this is the means by which we encounter difficulty.  It might be possible that the songs object, the one who looks so sad, may play a role in something here.  Our protagonist seems concerned about this sadness, and puzzled.  At the same time, it may be that this is all okay, that it is accepted, and that no ‘difficulties’ are being experienced.  After all, the song carries a tone of indifference to what seems to be happening.  It is the emotional reaction of the other, this puzzling sadness…

Our bodies are dead.  Unlikely that this is meant literally.  But we could take a shot in the dark and say that perhaps this is a larger statement about the world, that the physical has lost meaning, after all – what separates us from the amoeba?  The tree?  The rock?  Fundamentally it is not a physical difference, but a mental or even spiritual one.  Cells die every second.  Our bodies are dead.  Our worlds will collapse, which means that the finity of life – the fact that it will be cut off, snuffed out, pulled away – gives us something akin to purpose.  It is as Yalom said: “Although the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of it saves us.”

And so in a way we can conclude that our protagonist may in fact be alright.  And alright in existential terms does not by any means mean happy, free from anxiety, or anything like that.  Rather, it means to experience life as it is, moment by moment.

I’d take some anxiety in order to be able to say the same about myself.

Scientology on Psychiatry

I have a severe level of rage.

I stumbled upon a video today about how scientologists are attempting to blame psychiatrists for all terrorist activities, including 9/11 and the holocaust.  At the end of the video they talk about a pamphlet called “mental health abuse – chaos and terror.”  So I googled this and started looking at the official website, aimed to expose the “crimes of mental health practitioners.”  The site is run by a group, ironically called the Citizens Commissi0n on Human Rights (CCHR).

Human Rights??  You’ve got to be kidding me.  The president of the CCHR, Jan Eastgate, has such idiocy as the following to say in her address on the main page.

Seventeen million children worldwide are prescribed antidepressants that cause violent and suicidal behavior. This includes children younger than one year old who are now being prescribed mind-altering drugs. Millions more of our young are prescribed a stimulant that is more potent than cocaine.

I’d be interested to hear how antidepressants cause violent behaviour and suicide.  In all the hundreds of thousands of cases of antidepressant use, how many people got better compared to those who got worse?

Inmates were terrorized with electric shock treatment, often as punishment and without consent. Psychiatric lobotomies and other psychosurgical procedures destroyed minds and lives. Powerful neuroleptic (nerve seizing) drugs caused irreversible brain and nervous system damage making patients sluggish, apathetic and less alert. Furthermore, patients were assaulted and sexually abused—all under the guise of “therapy.” Any claim of a scientific basis was a hoax.

First of all, what is a scientologist doing worrying about firm scientific bases?

Now, I’m not one to say that the history of psychiatry doesn’t contain some pretty disturbing stuff.  However, the same can be said of the practice of medicine in general.  But in order to discredit a psychological treatment, you have to look at it’s use today.  And you do have to take all things into consideration, including the empirical research behind it.

Take Electro-Convulsive shock therapy (ECT), for example.  A lot of people get really defensive about ECT because they see it as a violent, damaging and inhumane procedure.  But upon closer inspection, it’s not hard to see the benefits of the treatment.  For one thing, it is one of the most effective treatments for things like depression and anxiety that are resistent to all other forms of treatment.  Unilateral ECT can be virtually side-effect free (something that cannot be said for much more common treatments such as psychotropic meds).  Sure, some people have died, but this is due to the use of anaesthetics, like any minor surgery would use.  It’s now an outpatient procedure and due to advances in medicine like effective muscle relaxants and the like, the fact that a seizure is even happening can be quite difficult to see.

Of course, no one really knows how or why it works, so naturally there is a lot of controversy surrounding it.

But I digress.

One of the most alarming claims made on the website is the idea that “psychiatric rape” is a common practice and that it is justified as a kind of therepeutic intervention by offending therapists.  Now, let me be perfectly clear.  In cases where any sexual activities occur between a therapist and client, even years after the fact, it’s just wrong.  There is never a case where it is ok, due to the extremely one-sided emotional interactions that are a part of therapy and the ensuing power dynamics.  Even when things are perfectly consensual, there’s just no way that a healthy relationship can develop.

But to single out psychology as the only profession in which inappropriate sexual contact is dangerous is absolute absurdity.  Therapy is a helping encounter, and those who practice psychotherapy practice in a helping profession.  Hmm…  I wonder what other helping professions have ever bred inappropriate sexual contact?

Interestingly, in her section on how psychiatry is destroyinig religion and hope, Jan Eastgate recommends that “Men of the cloth need to shake off the yoke of soulless materialism spawned by psychology and psychiatry and put religion back into the hands of the religious.  Indeed, religious leaders must take this responsibility, not only for the sake of religion’s survival but also for the survival of mankind.”  If you’re going to make an argument against psychiatry based on sex offenses, seems to me you would think twice about declaring religion as your saving grace.

And what does Scientology have to say about the treatment of repeating sex offenders?  Because I happen to know that behavioural psychotherapy sure has a lot to say.

I know that psychiatry has its problems, not the least of which being the backing of the giant pharmaceutical companies.  It’s an interesting debate and once in which my mind is certainly not made up.  But if Scientologists think that they have the answers, all one has to do, really, is to think about the founding principles of what they believe in, and you’re ready to look elsewhere for worthwhile information.

I don’t even know what else to say, other than go check out the website if you’re in need of a laugh.