Authors: Hal Arkowitz and Scott Lilienfeld
APA Style Citation
Arkowitz, H., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2017). Facts and fictions in mental health. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.
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Facts and Fictions in Mental Health is comprised of a series of chapters organized by section categories that each focus on a specific myth related to mental illness, treatment, or mental health. Each chapter addresses the myth, provides examples from clinical practice, pop culture, or events in the news, followed by evidence from recent scientific inquiry on the topic. The source for most of the chapters is “Facts and Fictions” articles previously published in Scientific American Mind, although six additional entries were created for this book.
Each of the first seven sections corresponds roughly to a diagnostic category: Anxiety-Related Disorders, Mood Disorders, Child and Adolescent Disorders, Addictions, Personality Disorders, and Shattered Selves: Schizophrenia and Dissociative Identity Disorder. The remaining three sections address Popular Myths About the Brain and Behavior, Psychotherapy and Other Approaches to Change, and Other Myths. Each section opens with an engaging introduction to the broader category within psychology, followed by bite-sized chapters of three to five pages that briefly address the myth and provide the scientific evidence which dispels the myth. Each chapter also ends with several sources for additional information on that topic.
The book provides an excellent tool for teachers of psychology because it addresses head-on many of the incorrect beliefs held by students surrounding issues related to mental illness. The book also addresses some of students’ most frequent questions about mental illness and treatment. There are also chapters related to other popular myths about human behavior and mental processes.
- What are the causes and most effective treatment methods for hoarding?
- Is mindfulness good medicine for anxiety and depression?
- Are bipolar disorders linked to creativity?
- Four myths about suicide, including the myth that talking about suicide increases suicidal tendencies.
- Is electroconvulsive treatment effective?
- Is there an autism epidemic?
- Do all Tourette’s patients swear?
- Are all psychopaths psychotic?
- Is schizophrenia the same or similar to dissociative identity disorder?
- Are people with dissociative identity disorder faking?
- How violent are people with mental illness?
- Are individuals either left- or right-brained?
- Is hypnosis a distinct state of consciousness?
- Are all psychotherapies equally effective?
- Why do some people resist changing when they know that doing so would improve their lives?
- What stereotypes exist in the media regarding therapy?
- Are most disorders we see in Western and European countries the same as those in the rest of the world?
- Does the presence of a full mood trigger strange behaviors?
- Is eyewitness testimony accurate?
- Is the insanity defense frequently used in criminal trials?
The book concludes with an interesting postscript that addresses some of the reasons behind the persistence of these myths. For example, the availability heuristic, which is a problem-solving shortcut in which we base decisions base on what is most likely to be fresh in our minds. Arkowitz and Lilienfeld discuss how the availability heuristic contributes to the myth that divorce is almost always harmful to children. Because it is more likely that we will hear about times when children struggle during a divorce than when they are resilient or when the change has lead to am improvement for the entire family. The availability heuristic creates the impression children struggle after divorce because this is what they expect as the likely outcome. The research indicates that although divorce is difficult for children, long-term negative consequences are not inevitable. Another logic error post hoc causes individuals to make causal conclusions about events that might happen close in time. This has led many to believe that Autism is caused by vaccinations despite evidence from numerous, large empirical studies that have shown this link to be false. Many myths, according to the authors, persist because they are partially accurate, leading to the error of the grain-of-truth hypothesis. For example, the fact that because animals can provide temporary relief from emotional pain does not mean that animal-assisted therapy can treat the primary symptoms of serious conditions such as schizophrenia and anorexia nervosa. Finally, the authors address the problem of how information is presented and by whom can also create or perpetuate myths. The authors discuss the problem of self-help books in chapter 39, “3,500 self-help books appear every year, but few are based on research or subjected to scientific scrutiny.” There are also numerous psychology websites that contain misleading and inaccurate information about mental health, and mainstream media outlets can create misconceptions due to inaccurate or misleading interpretations of scientific findings. The authors also point out that individuals frequently do not read articles and rely on headlines alone for information on research studies that might be quite complex. As a result, this can lead to misinformation about the findings of the study. For example, the headline, “Fear of Fluoride in Drinking Water,” in an article that emphasized the safety of fluoride in water spread misinformation unintentionally.
Facts and Fictions in Mental Health is a great tool for providing students with opportunities to dispel misconceptions and build critical thinking skills. The short chapters can be used for enrichment during units on clinical psychology, as well as cognitive psychology topics related to problem-solving and cognitive biases.
Other Related Resources
National Alliance on Mental Illness - NAMI
The NAMI organization provides numerous resources for building understanding and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. The website contains educational materials, information for requesting guest speakers, and advocacy opportunities. The site also has a series of effective videos that can be used to supplement instruction.
Time to Change – UK
Time to Change is an organization devoted to reducing stigma related to mental illness in the UK, and their website provides a variety of inspirational stories and educational materials for use in the classroom and the workplace.
Avoid Misleading Terminology
Fifty psychological and psychiatric terms to avoid: a list of inaccurate, misleading, misused, ambiguous, and logically confused words and phrases
This link is to an interesting article by author Lilienfeld and others that list and explain misleading terminology used in psychology that causes misinformation and confusion.
This article can be used as a source for a discussion related to the critical evaluation of scientific claims. For each misleading term or phrase, the article explains why it poses a problem, provides examples of its misuse, and, if possible, provides a preferable term. Examples include a gene for, brain region “X” lights up, hard-wired, lie-detector test, truth-serum, and neural signature. Interestingly – the article addresses the problems with terminology frequently used in psychology class such as operational definition, objective personality test, and reliable and valid. The article also includes terms that are frequently misused or that are misleading overall.
50 Differences That Make a Difference: A Compendium of Frequently Confused Term Pairs in Psychology
This link is to an interesting article by author Lilienfeld and others that list and explain confusing pairs of terms in psychology.
Psychological Concepts and Figures
Anxiety and anxiety disorders
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
Feeding and eating disorders
Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders
Post hoc error
Short-term psychodynamic therapy
Substance use and abuse disorders
Trauma- and stressor related disorders