Saturday, October 30, 2010

This is Your Brain on Music – A Review

This is Your Brain on Music (Daniel J. Levitin) is one of the best popular science books I’ve read. I find the subject matter personally appealing and the author does a good job a discussing scientific ideas in a manner accessible by the general public.

The problems I did have with the book were not a fault of the author’s, but of my own tendency to not enjoy such books. He insulted physics at least twice (in fairness, his aim was to make an endearing joke poking fun at a discipline the majority of the population does find annoying) and I found his use a musical references to be superfluous. Even if I was familiar to the music he was using as examples, the usage of these examples still went overboard at times.

The last third of the book, as with the first few chapters, was more science based with fewer personal tangents. The chapter What Makes a Musician? was appealing to me both as an amateur musician and for the psychological parallels between learning new musical skills and learning new behavioural and cognitive skills. In this chapter he references a study in which the results indicated that a predisposition toward talent can be overridden by practice. He also emphasises the importance of caring about what you are doing, “…caring leads to attention, and together they lead to measurable neurochemical changes. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with emotional regulation, alertness, and mood, is released, and the dopaminergic system aids in the encoding of memory traces.”

Another quote: “Although music certainly uses brain structures and neural circuits that other activities don’t, the process of becoming a musical expert…requires many of the same personality traits as becoming an expert in other domains, especially diligence, patience, motivation, and plain old-fashioned stick-to-it-iveness.” The importance of these qualities to overcoming any psychological illness is obvious.

Final Rating: For people without a background in music or neuroscience, this is a wonderful book. For those with a background, it is still entertaining and one can easily skim through sections they find trivial.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Photo Therapy

This is really just a subdivision of art therapy with the medium being photography. It can be used on its own as an exercise to do a sort of ‘inventory’ of the self. Or, it can be used as an adjunct to other therapies and CBT exercises.

One exercise is to use the following subjects (or your own ideas) to compose a autobiographical photo essay of about 6-12pictures. Another idea is to examine each subject individually, particularly in how you relate to it (what I mean is to not use the camera or the work as a way of separating yourself from your thoughts/feelings, but instead to use it as a way to add a new and different perspective. In other words, regard this as an exercise in mindfulness).

- A beautiful/memorable place
- Favourite colour, activity, texture, food…anything of which you have a favourite
- Life chart (home grew up in, schools attended…)
- Feelings (play, anger, depression, joy, sorrow, laughter, loss, hardness, softness, trust, sharing…)
- Future self (perceptions of growing old, how you would like to see yourself, aspirations)
- Your world (your view and interactions – your regular bus, the type of coffee you drink, the drawer at work where you hide all your candy)
- How the landscape effects you
- Portraits of people whom you admire
- Light, time, patterns
- Pictures of you doing pleasurable activities. This is especially beneficial if you include another person in the activity to take the photographs of you.

A twist on the project is that for photographs representing negative feelings or beliefs, use a program such as photoshop to create a positive image. As an added bonus, you will be learning a new skill (photo editing) or refining skills you already possess. This is something I believe is important in all therapies which, in my opinion, spend too much time focusing on the negative and too little time focusing on the positive and on change.