Brad Bowins

Dr Brad Bowins is a psychiatrist, researcher, and founder of The Centre For Theoretical Research In Psychiatry & Clinical Psychology. His research and writings challenge the status quo, fostering paradigm shifts so crucial to the advancement of science and knowledge. Several theoretical perspectives presented in peer-reviewed papers have advanced the way that key aspects of mental illness and other phenomena are understood. He is also an avid traveler, skier, scuba diver, underwater photographer, with several travel articles focusing on skiing, scuba diving, and adventure activities.

Mar 292020
 

The coronavirus outbreak arose in late 2019 in China and spread in 2020. Spreading faster than the virus has been anxiety, panic, and fear-based responses. Consequently, every day sees a new rule or change in policy, even when such an immediate reaction is not warranted. Fear is an evolved emotional response occurring when threat or danger is perceived, motivating adaptive responses. Human intelligence has intensified threat and danger related thoughts, amplifying the emotional responses. Worsening the situation is contagion, and I am not referring to biological spread of the virus. If we see another person reacting with fear it triggers a feeling of fear: there must be a threat because that person is reacting with fear. Our social evolution has left us vulnerable to contagion.

To this point in time, fear and its amplification—anxiety—appears to have taken a greater toll on people overall than has the virus. As a psychiatrist, I have noted intense anxiety not only in patients but those I know and observe outside of my practice. Many people fully retreat avoiding walking in areas largely devoid of people, further enhancing the perception of threat and danger. Undoubtedly, lower mood and even depression is on the rise related to the extreme isolation and anxiety. Hence, the mental health impact due to the spread of fear and anxiety has outstripped the impact of the virus! Now some might respond that the virus is killing people. Yes, but what the early peer-reviewed evidence indicates is that most of these people are elderly with significant medical illness, a segment of the population that is highly vulnerable to severe outcomes from upper respiratory tract infections. My mother contracted such an illness while in a nursing home and passed away from it, although the underlying medical illnesses were really what took her. These unfortunate individuals are always vulnerable to upper respiratory illnesses such as from viruses and bacteria.

A horrible consequence of this excessive anxiety and even panic response, whipped up by traditional and social media, is that rational thought processes, planning, and responses are sacrificed. In crisis circumstances, it is prudent to take a look at the relevant pluses and minuses, and act accordingly. Covid 19 to date primarily takes the elderly and ill; it is not equivalent to the swine flu of 1918 that was killing young and healthy individuals, nor is it turning people into zombies. Given this apparent reality, a logical reasoned course would have been to protect those vulnerable from the outset, such as screening anyone who has contact with a physically vulnerable person, and ensuring that only screened individuals interact with them. Instead the response has generally been irrational and fear-based, such as focusing on extensive isolation of those not that vulnerable to serious outcomes, with day-to-day changes in policies and rules as opposed to a few days to a week to adapt. This reactionary process only serves to ramp up fear, and lacks sense. For example, blanket one size fits all approaches such as treating flights from all destinations, even those with no reported cases, as a major threat while ignoring train and bus travel. Also, discouraging people to get out and walk in areas that are not congested, although few areas are crowded nowadays. Walking and maintaining a reasonable distance from others has an extremely low chance of spreading the virus, and the vast majority of those able to walk are not that vulnerable to serious consequences. With the mental health benefits of walking, being active, and seeing others enjoying this experience anxiety is countered. In other words, the minuses are low and the pluses high.

My suggestion as a psychiatrist, and also someone who has engaged in adventure activities such as backcountry skiing and scuba diving, is to resist the temptation to react with anxiety and panic. Counter the negative threat and danger perceptions, and weigh in the pluses and minuses of different courses of action. Also, appreciate the contagion impact, and realize that just because someone is reacting with fear and/or panic it does not mean there is a threat. Maybe in our ancestral hunting-gathering group history a fear response indicated a predator, but not now. Applying humor which is a mature defense consisting of placing a lighter spin on things can be a major asset in these heavy times. A humorous anecdote comes from a person I know who works in a newsroom, where a sign indicates, “Report every story as if it’s World War III.” The newsroom staff are getting so sick and tired of having to report the WWIII coronavirus narrative that they are hoping for a murder, stabbing, or cat stuck in a tree, just for a break from the repetition! An additional and easy way to counter the escalating fear and even panic, is to absorb yourself in a positive focus as the absorption helps negativity recede. Who knows, when online video watching is exhausted maybe picking up a book and reading. Also, resist media exposure as it is designed to ramp up fear responses!

Feb 152020
 

Mental illness accounts for approximately half of all illnesses, but receives a fraction of the funding that physical illness does. In addition, treatment options are limited in their effectiveness and mental health in the general population is not ideal. Hence, there is a great need for beneficial and cost-effective interventions, with the situation dire in third world countries and even first world countries with unevenly spread mental health resources. But what might qualify as an option?

The answer is activity, particularly appealing given how natural and positive it is! In the realm of physical health physical activity is well established, but the notion of activity for mental health is still lacking. Interestingly, activity plays a much greater role in mental health than physical health, due to how for the latter it is really all about physical activity, while for mental health diverse types of activity play a role. As a psychiatrist treating a wide-range of conditions, I have seen first-hand the benefit of activity and routinely apply it to clients. Furthermore, I practice behavioral activation treatment (BAT), an intervention that is at least as effective as medication for severe depression. Furthermore, in my own life I have been highly active noting the benefits for mental health. This background and experience led me to research the spectrum of activity to reveal the evidence and uncover the reasons for why activity is so beneficial.

The resulting book, Activity For Mental Health(Academic Press) explores activity in general, and specific forms of activity—physical, social, nature, cognitive, art/hobby, and music. Two key reasons for why activity in general characterizes mental health are requirements derived from human evolution and the value of absorption in positivity. In contrast to our tree-dwelling higher primate relatives, humans had to be active walking about in search of food, water, safe resting sites, and other valuable resources. Consider our two-legged (bipedal) form of motion and how difficult this would be for chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas. These primates actually do quite fine in limited spaces, without the physical and mental costs that humans incur. In other words, we evolved to be active and this is expressed in the requirements for health. Regarding a positive focus, negative distractions are ever present and weigh us down psychologically. Absorbing oneself in a positive focus, such as that inherent in activity, removes a person from negativity fostering positive mental health. Absorption in positive foci represents a form of adaptive dissociation.

Beyond activity in general benefiting mental health, physical, social, nature, cognitive, art/hobby, and music activity each have an impact. In this day and age of “evidence-based” interventions, it is important to establish whether or not and to what extent the various forms of activity both treat mental illness and advance mental health in the general population. On a 1-5 scale with 1 the highest level, the evidence does not fall below 3 and is typically in the 1-2 range. The impact and reasons for why each form of activity is beneficial for mental health in brief consists of:

PHYSICAL HEALTH:

Various forms of research conclusively demonstrate that physical activity advances mental health. Improved physical self-perspectives and associated changes in self-concept appear to play a significant role in the psychological benefit. At a biological level, physical activity does appear to increase blood flow to the brain and neurogenesis meaning the growth and survival of neurons.

SOCIAL ACTIVITY:

Humans evolved in hunting-gathering groups instilling a social brain, in contrast to tigers for instance that are quite fine on their own. We require social contact and in a world that is becoming more and more socially fragmented, isolation and loneliness contribute to mental illness. It turns out that the impact is greater for loneliness than isolation per se. With social and emotional support, mental health is advanced.

NATURE ACTIVITY:

Given the beauty and serenity of natural settings it “naturally” follows that nature is beneficial for mental health, but certain safety related issues actually influence this outcome. The evidence is strong that nature activity can enhance mental health, even though the role of physical and social activity in nature has to be teased out. Regarding why nature activity seems to work, it induces relaxation responses thereby reducing stress responses. Several very interesting features of natural settings seem to align with how the brain is structured to achieve this outcome.

COGNITIVE ACTIVITY:

Although it would seem that mental activity enhances mental health in terms of mood and the like, very little research focuses on this, with the vast majority addressing the impact of cognitive activity on cognitive functioning, such as with dementia. The intriguing role of so-called negative symptoms is explored revealing the powerful impact on mental health and illness. One outcome that appears clear is cognitive activity predicting cognitive health and not the reverse. Pertaining to mental illness such as dementia the benefit is greatest in the early phases.

ART/HOBBY ACTIVITY:

I note that few people have a real hobby while many can benefit from acquiring one. Research backs up this perspective demonstrating how such activity both treats mental illness and advances mental health in the general population. This outcome arises from diverse studies conducted in many regions of the world. Several psychological benefits including empowerment and motivation flow from art/hobby activity.

MUSIC ACTIVITY:

This form of activity might seem to fit into the art/hobby category, but it is very distinct. The history of music and mental health is entertaining with the good, bad, and ugly all well represented. Ultimately, it appears all good based on how music activity resonates with emotions due to amazing similarities. In addition, music appears to activate and stimulate many brain regions. The evidence for music activity enhancing mental health is very strong, and it appears to have a profoundly positive impact on elderly people.

Consistent with my clinical work, I cover how behavioral activation treatment works to reveal the power of behavioral activation. However, the focus is on informal activity to treat mental illness and improve mental health in the general population. Activity including the specific forms of physical, social, nature, cognitive, art/hobby, and music, represents a robust, cost-effective, and easily accessible mental health intervention. Treat yourself to activity therapy in the ways discussed, and expand the degree of involvement and diversity of options to the benefit of your mental health.

See the Books section of this website for more information and links to sellers.

Nov 142019
 

Social and environmental justice, or more to the point, injustice, are often treated separately, but they are very interconnected. This intersection of social and environmental injustice might well be what eventually triggers widespread revolution, given that it is typically less affluent people who suffer the burden of the cost. In tropical countries, the poor often live right by the coast, while the wealthy reside in more exclusive hillside communities protected from flooding, for instance. Revolution was touched off in Syria by the intersection of social and environmental injustice, given that water scarcity linked to global warming created great suffering for poor farmers, while wealthier farmers could bribe officials to secure scarce water. This provides a country level example of what could happen on a global scale! Hence, it might be wise to consider the intersection of social and environmental justice when considering either.

Apr 252019
 

Some people have raised the issue of what defines mental illness, which is made clear in my book, Mental Illness Defined: Continuums, Regulation And Defense (https://bradbowinsbooks.com/mental-illness-defined/). Besides not aligning with the true nature of psychopathology, discrete diagnoses are less humanistic than a continuous characterization, whereby mental health problems range from normal to extreme levels. Take personality disorders, where in clinical practice there is an us versus them orientation. My continuous model of personality disorders views these problems as extreme and enduring expressions of common psychological defense patterns. For instance, avoidance is a normal survival defense when applied to dangerous agents, but when it occurs repeatedly in response to agents offering reward potential it is highly dysfunctional—avoidant personality disorder. We all engage in avoidance but it is the degree that counts, so the client and therapist are not all that different. The same applies to psychosis where based on a continuous model psychotic level cognitions represent the extreme range of thought content, thought form, and sensory perceptual experiences. We all experience psychotic level cognitions during sleep when dreaming, but with psychosis they occur repeatedly in the conscious and awake state, due (from my perspective) to impaired regulation over psychotic level cognitions. Hence, a value of my continuous model of mental illness (aside from aligning with scientific research and not pharmaceutical marketing needs plus our preference for discrete entities to simplify information process) is that it is much more humanistic!

Feb 202019
 

MENTAL ILLNESS DEFINED: CONTINUUMS, REGULATION AND DEFENSE presents a perspective on mental health and illness divorced from financial influence, and one that aligns with scientific evidence. The Diagnostic And Statistical Manual (DSM), which is essentially the diagnostic bible of mental illness, began emphasizing discrete conditions with the third edition (DSM-III). The starting point was Panic Disorder known to those in the pharmaceutical industry as the “Upjohn Illness.” Prior to this newly created discrete entity, panic was viewed as part of anxiety, a more intense expression. In DSM-II it was seen as “anxiety neurosis,”—“This neurosis is characterized by anxious over-concern extending to panic and frequently associated with somatic symptoms.” In 1964 Donald Klein published an article suggesting that panic was a distinct illness, and that these attacks could be forestalled by staying on medication. The study was partially funded by Geigy and Smith & Kline & French suggesting the possibility of bias in his concept. Klein being on the DSM-III task force, apparently persuaded the other members of the anxiety and dissociative disorders subcommittee that his view was correct, and panic disorder became an entity. The following year in 1981 Upjohn marketed alprazolam (Xanax) for this disorder when the market for benzodiazepines was declining. Research funded by Upjohn did not show much support for panic disorder as a distinct entity, but it was a good marketing story. Xanax became one of the hottest drugs in psychiatry by the early 1990’s being prescribed by psychiatrists for this new and widespread disorder.

Industry funded experts establish criteria for discrete disorders as laid out in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual (DSM), and these experts are often funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Lisa Cosgrove and colleagues (Financial ties between DSM-IV panel members and the pharmaceutical industry) published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in 2006 uncovered some relevant findings. They found that 100% of the “mood disorders” and “schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders” panel members had one or more financial associations with companies in the pharmaceutical industry. As David Healy has stated, “As often happens in medicine, the availability of a treatment leads to an increase in recognition of the disorder that might benefit from that treatment.” Panic disorder is such as example.

Natural entities tend to be continuous and mental illness is no exception. Separate continuums do occur, such as depression, anxiety, hypomania-mania, and psychosis as laid out in the book, but subtypes represent fictions as with discrete categories. Quantitative variation often yields qualitative variation as an emergent property. For example, intense levels of anxiety (quantitative) triggers the fight/flight/freeze response central to panic (qualitative). Likewise, melancholic depression with vegetative features emerges with intense depression. Beyond bias for profit considerations, we are all prone to seeing discreteness to simplify information processing: it is easier on the brain to see distinct items than follow a concept such as quantitative variation yielding qualitative variation as an emergent property. However, if psychiatry and clinical psychology are ever to become true sciences, then fictitious entities to simplify information processing and satisfy marketing needs of pharmaceutical companies must be discarded!

Dec 172018
 

Temperature values for global warming are reported in degrees above pre-industrial levels, with average values dominating. However, it seems far more sensible to report values for regions where global warming is having the most impact, namely the Arctic and Antarctic. On average, we are about 1 degree Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and this frankly does not seem to disturb most people, particularly if defensively downplaying the impacts of global warming. Considering that the Arctic and Antarctic regions are now about 2-4 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and 3-4 degrees is when runaway negative feedback cycles occur, I suggest that these regions need to be the focus. In researching global warming (see, At The Tipping Point: How To Save Us From Self-Destruction, bradbowinsbooks.com) and understanding how natural entities are highly interconnected, I came to appreciate that it is these negative feedback cycles that will be most telling. They include occurrences such as:

  • Open water absorbing more heat, driving more melting of sea ice, more heat absorption.
  • Carbon soot on ice absorbing light, melting ice raising temperatures with greater light absorption from open water.
  • Melting water from glaciers creating a lubricating surface causing the glacier to slide into the sea, where it melts, leaving less cooling ice.
  • Melting permafrost releasing methane, that ramps up temperatures, resulting in more permafrost melting.

 

Perhaps it is time that we move away from the focus on average temperature increases and emphasis temperature increases in the Arctic and Antarctic where it really counts. Those who spin things to not see an impact of these regions on the overall world and themselves personally, really need to appreciate that all things in nature are connected!

Aug 162018
 

THE INFORMATIVE GOD by Brad Bowins.MD

We do seem to be very religious and spiritual by nature, but why? The answer in short is that religion offers hope for a positive scenario beyond this life. In one form or another something more optimistic than “the end” that science posits, is provided by these beliefs. You might wonder why we care. Human intelligence is a wonderful thing, enabling us to solve many problems, but it comes with a price, that being awareness of our own mortality, and that of loved ones. Although we do not know for sure, it is unlikely that our pets are weighed down by such concerns. The weight we feel from this, heightened at critical times during our life, cries out for a solution.

As a psychiatrist and researcher, specializing in theoretical research, I have investigated a diverse range of topics, the results presented in peer-reviewed papers (psychiatrytheory.com) and books (bradbowinsbooks.com). I thoroughly research each topic from different perspectives, with the goal of achieving the truth. One of my early discoveries being that we naturally distort things to the positive side as a key defensive strategy, at least those of us who have good mental health. Consistent with this defense, we generate reassuring scenarios for what happens after our time on this world is over, the answers being core to religious and spiritual beliefs. This is not to say that religions lack benefits beyond psychological defense; indeed, throughout time they have offered a mostly constructive way forward and social solidarity. However, what distinguishes the various forms of religion and spirituality is answers to the questions that really matter to us at a deep level.

Then science enters with concepts that counter religious beliefs, such as how there is no evidence for an afterlife. So, on the one hand we have religion and spirituality offering hopeful solutions to our concerns about what comes after death, and on the other hand, science knocking these promises down. Defenders of religious beliefs often reject science, wall religion off as separate, or misinterpret science. Followers of science frequently see religious beliefs as uninformed. There never really seems to be any way of merging or aligning them, or is there?

The search for an answer to what happens after our time here is over, that is consistent with science, became my goal. To achieve this goal, I set about exploring what major religions, present and past, might contribute. Based on this exploration, I can confidently say that we are indeed very spiritual, with almost every conceivable solution proposed, from heaven, passage into underworlds of multiple forms, continuation as spirits, and even the “deceased” person still present with the modern day Torajan people of Sulawesi, Indonesia. My search also looked at relevant science, and as it turns out, some of the concepts are very informative regarding the ultimate solution.

In going through all the information, I was struck by how religion and science readings share one thing in common, at least in terms of details; they often present quite dry and tedious. From this awareness, I decided to present this non-fiction information in a light and entertaining fiction and travelogue format. Following a life-changing experience, a young physician realizes that he needs to seek the answer to what happens after our time here is over. The Horror leads to The Curiosity, his journey of discovery taking him around the world exploring several of the major religions—Ancient Egyptian, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Maya, Inca, Anishinaabe and Objibwe, Hinduism, Buddhism. Along the way, he encounters many interesting characters, and enters into a romance with his soul mate. He also experiences further trials and tribulations, that strengthen his resolve to succeed. With much information but no clear answers, he ventures forward to The Discovery. Intrigued by the notion of permanence and impermanence, he learns how this plays into the ultimate answer during visits to the perspective changing Torajans and the “heavenly paradise” of Hawaii. Combining this understanding with scientific knowledge, he achieves an answer showing how we are all immortal in a very real sense. You will be surprised at how simple the answer ultimately is.

Beyond providing an informed answer to the ultimate question of what happens after our time here is over, a “treasure” more valuable than the sum of all others discovered to date, is revealed! This treasure has amazing implications for how the universe is likely structured, and for accessing vast amounts of information.

For a refreshing and optimistic answer to the ultimate question, take a journey of discovery to THE INFORMATIVE GOD.

May 112018
 

We all love our identities, whether that be professions, race, the clubs we belong to, or political affiliations. These identities seem to be a source of pride and belonging. However, they come with a price tag in terms of in-group and out-group distinctions that frequently lead to discrimination and persecution, as we have seen all too often with race. What if the identities are not real, and yet still favor such behavior? As genetic research has progressed scientists are calling into question the notion of race identities, given that we all share the same genes with minor changes for skin pigmentation and some other features. There is no clearly distinct “race.”

Sexual orientation is an identity that even has the “pride” label associated with homosexuality. You might say, “Yes, but sexual orientation involves real identities.” But are they? These identities fuel massive amounts of in-group and out-group based discrimination against “homosexuals.” In addition, inner confusion and turmoil is common, and certainly in younger people, when fantasies and actions do not align with sexual orientation identity. A person who engages in a “homosexual” act or has fantasies of doing so, but identifies with being “heterosexual” often experiences a great deal of distress, that at times can even lead to suicide.

It turns out that these sexual orientation identities are not real, only “existing” for about 200 years! In OUTING THE TRUTH ABOUT SEXUAL ORIENTATION, I as a highly experience psychiatrist, psychotherapist, researcher, and founder of the Centre For Theoretical Research In Psychiatry & Clinical Psychology (psychiatrytheory.com), reveal what it is all about. The answer eliminates any in-group and out-group motivation for discrimination and persecution, and replaces inner confusion and turmoil with understanding.

This model of sexual orientation aligns with scientific evidence and encompasses 4 components: homoerotic and heteroerotic behavioral capacities, activation of these capacities by circumstances, erotic fantasy, and social construction showing how we create various understandings of sexual orientation. Learn how countless animal species from insects to primates engage in homoerotic and heteroerotic behavior, setting up both behavioral capacities within us. Circumstances greatly influence which capacity is activated at a given time, and erotic fantasy amplifies the strength. The perspective presented makes sense of puzzling aspects of sexual orientation behavior, such as the impact of sexual abuse, and explains why some individuals favor a “homosexual” identity, while most identify with being “heterosexual.” For an enlightening and informative take on sexual orientation read OUTING THE TRUTH ABOUT SEXUAL ORIENTATION (bradbowinsbooks.com).

Apr 062018
 

Everyone has wondered what happens after their life is over. Religions try to provide an answer, but in this day and age of increasing scientific progress, the answers generated are highly questionable. Accepting “the end” that science seems to provide, is not very reassuring, but is it even possible that something more than this dismal scenario occurs after death? As a psychiatrist and researcher with eclectic interests presented in peer-reviewed publications and books (see psychiatrytheory.com and bradbowinsbooks.com), I decided to research this issue, and discovered that indeed there is a very real possibility, based on scientific principles, that there is immortality of a kind. The answer is developed and presented in my book, THE INFORMATIVE GOD, and in a fashion designed to entertain!

Mar 242018
 

Book page

Vasectomy is widely promoted as a “safe and simple procedure.” Rarely are men or their spouses informed that a life long pain condition, known as Post-Vasectomy Pain Syndrome (PVPS), is caused by the procedure. Months or years after being vasectomized, close to 15% of men will experience pain in one or both testicles, with the pain being severe in approximately 5%. Frequently, the pain is worsened by sex and other physical activities, motivating the sufferer to avoid pleasurable pursuits. Too embarrassed to speak up about the problem, many men suffer in silence, and if they do raise the issue with a physician the problem is often misdiagnosed, particularly when years have passed since the vasectomy. In third world countries where vasectomy is intensely promoted as a “safe and simple procedure,” effective treatment is essentially non-existent. Treatment for PVPS often involves sophisticated microsurgery that is very expensive, not covered by most health insurance plans, and not widely available. For those lucky enough to access treatment there is often no resolution of the pain, as it can recur on the treated side and arise in a seemingly unaffected testicle. Vasectomy: The Cruelest Cut Of All (The Modern Medical Nightmare Of Post-Vasectomy Pain Syndrome) debunks the “safe and simple procedure” myth and calls for an end to vasectomy.

The book was published in 2006, and in many areas of medicine this would mean that much of the information is outdated. However, consistent with how the “safe and simple procedure” rhetoric persists in urology and the larger medical community, an intensive search of the scientific literature almost ten years later failed to reveal any studies that actually significantly advanced our understanding of PVPS. Debate still carries on as to the best treatment, with the same old focus on removal of structures. More encouraging is the experimental application of robotic and computerized controlled surgical techniques, offering the potential of more effective vasectomy reversal in the future.