Brooklyn Zoo

The Book of the Week is “Brooklyn Zoo” by Darcy Lockman, published in 2012. This is a personal account of an internship of a PhD candidate in psychotherapy.

Lockman started her internship in summer 2007 at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York State, the final leg of training before she got licensed to practice. Throughout the book, she reveals the lingo, issues and people encountered by clinical psychologists.

A few aspects of the personalities of humans include developmental level (psychotic, borderline or neurotic), and character applicable to it (“masochistic or obsessive or narcissistic or depressive, etc.”). Patients might be diagnosed with a thought disorder, mood disorder or personality disorder, or a combination thereof. These were documented in a reference guide for psychiatry, the “DSM IV.”

During her training, the author saw what she perceived to be a disturbing trend– of treating all ailments, even ones suspected to be psychological in whole or in part, by prescribing drugs with little or no accompanying psychotherapy. The psychiatric professionals at the hospital perceived part of their jobs to be to instill “medication compliance” in patients. Lockman was taught that treatment should include “the talking cure.”

However, it is controversial how effective psychotherapy is in treating addicts, because drugs and alcohol can permanently change the brain chemistry that controls learning. Lockman describes one alcoholic patient’s case: “angry young man plus bad neighborhood plus psychosis equals short life expectancy.”

Since psychotherapists themselves are human, they sometimes cannot help but become emotionally affected by their patients. One time, Lockman realized she was biased by the socio-economic level of a patient she saw: “…upper-middle-class and white… familiar to me.” Lockman later momentarily broke down in front of her supervisor, who told her, “Never apologize for having an emotion. Just make sure you give it some thought.”

Some patients, such as a narcissistic-borderline (personality disorders) married couple, recounted stories of extreme past behaviors, some of which were laughable. The two consisted of a male narcissistic ex-convict and borderline, pregnant female who had four kids total; the oldest two had a different father. The husband had been a pimp, and had committed adultery with one of his employees. The couple ended up at the hospital because they had become physically violent with one another. They had shamelessly revealed this information to Lockman. The husband said, “I’m a shooter, not a hitter.” The wife said she had committed a bank robbery to save her kids from starvation.

Another issue the author had to deal with was the hierarchical nature of the career field. ‘We all needed somebody to buttress our professional worth.” People in different specialties put other ones down. The medical doctors feel superior to psychiatrists; psychiatrists to psychologists; psychologists to social workers.

Read the book to learn the slew of other issues Lockman had to face in her quest for experience in clinical psychology.

 

The Intern Blues

The Book of the Week is “The Intern Blues, The Timeless Classic About the Making of a Doctor” by Robert Marion, published in 2012.  This ebook documents the internship experiences of three medical school graduates in the mid 1980’s.

At that time, interns were “on call”– had to work eighteen to twenty-four hours in a row, usually overnight, in a hospital every three days. Every month for an entire year, the interns in this ebook were assigned to a different unit such as pediatrics, neonatal intensive care, or the emergency room, at a medical center in the Bronx in New York City.

The hospital staff was kept busy treating patients with conditions whose causes were poverty-related— people in poor health, and those who suffered physical harm from violence and drugs. Many patients and their families had psychological problems. One intern remarked, “…we have two psychotic crackheads roaming around the ER, we also had two psychotic crackheads who were paranoid and had no idea what was going on, which is a wonderful combination.”

Severely sleep-deprived, along with doing a ton of paperwork and presentations, the interns had to admit patients, keep “…track of names, symptoms, physical findings, lab results, and treatments…”  They witnessed life-or-death situations for which they felt they were not psychologically prepared. They had to tell patients’ families that their loved ones had died, make serious decisions on whether to report child abuse to the authorities (which was a whole bureaucratic process itself), deal with difficult nurses and lab technicians, not to mention their supervisors; all this, along with the extremely stressful circumstances surrounding the AIDS epidemic.

On top of that, one of the three interns became pregnant during her internship. Read the book to learn how that worked out for her, and to get an insider’s view of what it was like to be a medical intern a few decades ago.

Among the Thugs

The Book of the Week is “Among the Thugs” by Bill Buford, published in 1992. The author describes how the herd mentality in humans can start a riot.

Buford provides the example of European football supporters (who would be called soccer fans in the United States). Most of them work at blue-collar jobs during the week, and on the weekend– attend a pro football game at the stadium. Prior to and during the game, they drink a vast quantity of alcohol. The situation often turns violent after the game. Most people do not conceive of themselves as susceptible to the herd mentality– it is those hot-tempered people who cause all the trouble.

Read the book to see how people who are usually rational can get emotionally pulled into exhibiting extreme behavior, becoming a danger to themselves and others.

The Deserter’s Tale

The Book of the Week is “The Deserter’s Tale” by Joshua Key and Lawrence Hill, published in 2007. This is the intense story of Joshua Key, who was assigned to an outfit of the U.S. Army that he claims committed war crimes in Iraq.

Finding himself in a financially desperate situation with a growing family, Key decided to join the army. A promise was made to him that he would stay stateside. Instead, after training, he was sent to Iraq early on in the Second Gulf War. When posted in Ramadi, his unit was ordered to raid homes of civilians to search for contraband, weapons and signs of terrorists or terrorist activity, but never found any. He writes that all Iraqi males five feet or taller, regardless of age, were detained by his fellow soldiers. He was never told by his commanding officer where they were taken or what happened to them. The females were terrorized by the unnecessarily rough treatment of the males at the hands of the American soldiers. Not only did the soldiers use scare tactics, but they arbitrarily looted and then trashed the civilians’ residences.

Key says he participated in the attacks, but did the minimal damage he could, while still obeying orders. He writes, “My own moral judgement was disintegrating under the pressure of being a soldier, feeling vulnerable, and having no clear enemy to kill in Iraq. We were encouraged to beat up on the enemy… Because we were fearful, sleep-deprived, and jacked up on caffeine, adrenaline, and testosterone, and because our officers constantly reminded us that all Iraqis were our enemies, civilians included, it was tempting to steal, no big deal to punch, and easy to kill… I witnessed numerous incidents of needless brutality and murders of civilians.”

Read the book to learn what transpired when the situation became intolerable for Key.

A Purity of Arms

The Book of the Week is “A Purity of Arms” by Aaron Wolf, published in 1989.  This is a personal account of an American citizen’s experiences in the Israeli army.

The author explains the concept behind the name of the book:  a firearm can be a deadly weapon, and it is the belief of many people in the world that God can take a human life.  So when a human uses a firearm, he is acquiring a power of God’s.  Such power is thus sacred, must be respected and used wisely by humans.

Another concept Wolf relates, expressed in the form of the Hebrew phrases “rosh katan (Rohsh kah-TAHN; “small head”)/rosh gadol (Rohsh gah-DOLE; “large head”). The former waits for instructions from a superior, and does nothing more than he is told.  The latter has a proactive, can-do attitude who knows what to do and does it even before he is given any orders.

Wolf describes his military training, and the diverse bunch of fellow soldiers with whom he went on non-stop, days-long, grueling marches.  One such serious hike was especially painful for him.  Unbenownst to him, his leg was broken.  Obviously, he survived to tell the tale.

Read the book to learn more about a military in which every citizen must serve; for, Israel is a country whose very survival is always in danger.

God Is My Broker

The Book of the Week is “God Is My Broker” by Brother Ty, with Christopher Buckley and John Tierney.  It is a very funny satire.  The story starts with a man who made sufficient money on “Wall Street” to retire at a young age.  However, a mid-life crisis caused him to try the lifestyle of a Trappist Monk.

While swearing off material possessions at the monastery, “Brother Ty” still had the urge to gamble.  So he let a line of text in a religious tract dictate his course of action in the stock market.   The way Brother Ty interpreted the text turned out to be contrarian to most other traders’ advice and actions, but turned out to be extremely lucrative for him.

The humor of this book emerges when the monastery and the monastery’s abbot are revealed to be just as dishonest as Wall Street.   The monastery raised money through selling wine that was falsely advertised, and the abbot built himself an entertainment center with the ill-gotten gains. Read the book to vicariously experience the hilarity that ensues.