Monthly Archives: April 2012

Trauma Treatment: Tetris

This seemed too good to be true, but by Godfrey, the results have been duplicated:

Researchers are now corroborating what some trauma sufferers have happened upon by chance: Focusing on a highly engaging visual-spatial task, such as playing video games, may significantly reduce the occurrence of flashbacks, the mental images concerning the trauma that intrude on the sufferer afterwards.

Video game play immediately after a traumatic incident may prevent flashbacks by keeping the brain's visual circuits busy.

When clients call in panic after a traumatic experience,  this could be an immediate it’s-worth-a-try intervention to recommend. One with no wait time, no need for insurance company panels, and virtually no risk of harm. The researchers don’t claim  Tetris should be recommended above other games, but it’s worth noting the game is cheap or free for smart phones and other platforms.  It’s an abstract geometry game unlikely to trigger emotional memories. Compared with some, it’s downright pacifying – one would hardly recommend Call of Duty to a client who just witnessed a shooting.

One point of fascination:

To test their idea, researchers asked subjects to view a disturbing film — an admittedly poor but sufficient simulation of real trauma. Within six hours of viewing this film, the period during which memories are thought to be consolidated for long-term storage , test subjects were randomly assigned to one of three tasks: answering trivia; playing Tetris, a 1980s video game that involves optimizing visual-spatial cues; or engaging in nothing in particular. Over the following week, subjects who had played Tetris reported experiencing significantly fewer flashbacks of the film than the others did. (For reasons that are unclear, those who answered trivia actually had the most flashbacks.) (emphasis added)

Neurologists have suggested traumatization may work as a memory problem, in that the traumatic memories can’t be remembered well enough to be filed and stored correctly.  The researchers in this study believe the game occupied the visual and spatial circuits of the subjects’ brains, and kept them from consolidating the traumatic images. Could  it be that recalling bits of trivia hampered the hippocampus‘  ability to cope with the memory of the film?

Promising first-aid for trauma: video games.  Asterisk: Tetris, yes. You Don’t Know Jack, no.

@ 2012 Jonathan Miller All Rights Reserved

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“Gay cure” study retracted.

“He struggled against an upsurging hilarity — that any reputable medical man should have lent himself to such an amateurish experiment! “— Señor, I must tell you that in these cases we can promise nothing.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

When a study is retracted, it usually gets a fraction of the attention it received when published. (just ask the parents who refuse to believe there is no connection between autism and vaccination.) This deserves to be bigger news than it has been:

In 2001 U.S psychiatrist Robert Spitzer conducted a study that claimed gay men and women could be turned straight through psychotherapy.

He has now retracted the highly controversial view.

Spitzer’s 2001 study earned extra attention because he led the charge to have homosexuality removed from the DSM in 1973 .  Back then, the reasoning was simple: homosexuality couldn’t be a disturbance in one’s psychological well-being.  Homosexuals and heterosexuals both scored in the normal range on tests of psychological well-being. When Spitzer suggested that orientation might be changeable, pseudo-scientific organizations such as NARTH seized on it as evidence that homosexuality was curable.

Conversion therapy” goes back to Freud’s time, but it was largely abandoned when the DSM dropped same-sex attraction as a mental health issue.  Conversion therapists’ success stories include gay people who stay celibate, and bisexual people who limit themselves to opposite-sex relationships.  None established a consistent track record of helping those exclusively attracted to the same sex become exclusively attracted to  the opposite sex – that is, “converting” them. The American Psychiatric Association condemned conversion therapy in 1998 and again in 2000; they found the anecdotal evidence of success was outweighed by considerable anecdotal evidence of emotional harm.

“Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness,” – Sigmund Freud, 1935

When one former conversion-therapy advocate estimates the failure rate at 99.9% and another states, “Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual,” it’s safe to say conversion therapy is a sham. Spitzer’s retraction removes one of the last shadows of doubt from the question.

Shout this one from the rooftops: you can’t cure what isn’t a disease. Sexual orientation is fundamental.


@ 2012 Jonathan Miller All Rights Reserved

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Sorry Ben, Sorry Jerry

Much respect to you both, but there’s still no caloric cure for emotional ills.

… At least, I don’t think so. May need to do a few pints’ worth of research.

@ 2012 Jonathan Miller All Rights Reserved

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