Letter: Dear Ms. Curtiss,

I am considering adopting your exceptional book on depression as a required text for my course "Abnormal Psychology," which I teach at Augustana College, in Sioux Falls, SD. If I do adopt your book, would it be possible for me to send you some questions and reactions of mine? When I teach I spend some time restating what the author is saying, as I understand it, and some time giving my own reactions and thoughts, and the rest of the time responding to students' questions and comments. Sometimes, especially with critical thoughts (mine, primarily, but also those of students), I wonder what the author of the book would have to say in response. The course is offered in the fall semester only, so I still have some time to think about which books I will use next time I teach the course. If you're interested in corresponding, please let me know, and I'll fill you in on who I am, how I teach the Abnormal Psychology course, why I'm considering using your book, my reactions to it, and so on. (My Ph.D. in psychology is from the University of Chicago [1971].

Michael N.
Psychology Department
Augustana College

Response: Dear Michael,

I would be delighted to answer any questions you have, whether or not you
use my book in your course. I would also be interested in any questions your
students have. Arline Curtiss.

Letter: Dear Ms. Curtiss,

I won't be deciding for about another month which books to use in my abnormal psychology course, which I teach fall semester only. Currently I'm using your book in an independent study with one very gifted senior student. I haven't yet made up my mind how well your book will work in the regular course. The book deals forcefully with some of the key points I want to cover in the abnormal course, and gives more prominence to these points than any other book that I know. I'll let you know what I decide, either way. I'll let my independent-study student know of your willingness to respond to questions, and encourage her to send you some. This would also be helpful to me in making my adoption decisions for the fall. I should have some time on Monday to send you a somewhat fuller reply, explaining how I see your book possibly serving as a required text in my abnormal psychology course. I greatly enjoyed reading it, and if I could be sure that my students would get as much out of it as I did, I would almost certainly adopt the book for the course.

Response: Dear Michael,

I just finished an hour interview with a writer who is doing an article on my book for The Chicago Tribune Health Section. One of the things we touched on is seldom discussed and I don't think I covered it completely in the book when I discussed choice and will. I am still shocked that some things that are so clear to me and I think go without saying are actually flying in the face of prevailing wisdom. The psychiatrists who treated my father and brother for manic depression told them that depression robbed them of their will. I have been told this by other psychiatrists. They believe this. I do not think this is so. I think that what depression does is rob a person of motivation. For example if it were really true that depression robbed a person of will then no matter how high the motivation was, the person would still be unable to get up and do anything, i.e. people that are so depressed they come into the office in a wheelchair etc. But I am convinced that if the room suddenly burst into flames an extremely depressed person who "couldn't do anything but sit in a chair" could get up and walk out the door to save himself. So the idea here is that the missing ingredient that needs to be supplied is motivation, not will or choice. We can do that in the form of a commitment to a particular behavior pattern we "plug in" when depression hits. That's what I do. I supply the missing motivation in the form of dumb exercises and simple physical activity that I "plug in" instead of plugging in pills or electro-shock. Not because I am motivated at the time to do these things. But because they are the "plug in cure" for my difficulty. The other thing that I touched on in the book is Jerome Kagan's "theory" that we can't feel anything unless we make a judgment beforehand. The neuroscientific explanation for this is that although feelings are produced biochemically in the subcortex, the signals are sent from the subcortex to a receiving part in the neocortex that acknowledges that feelings are present. If a person has tissue damage in the neocortex and therefore cannot receive those signals, the person cannot feel the emotion that he has produced in the subcortex any more than a person who has tissue damage in the subcortex and can't produce the feelings in the first place. So my method of handling depression, or any other compulsive feelings is to distract the compulsive focus on feelings at the site of the neocortex rather than attack the feelings themselves at the site of the subcortex in the form of pills or electroshock.

Letter: Dear Ms. Curtiss,

Please let me know if you would prefer that I call you by your first name. I grew up in more formal times, and do not always have a good sense for the right degree of formality/informality. It's already Monday evening, and I'm just now getting to writing to you, so this e-mail will be shorter than I had planned. In my course "Abnormal Psychology" I do not use a textbook, and I can't find one that I consider good. The textbooks are just about all based around the DSM, which uses a diagnostic system that I think is very bad. Also, these books are full of summaries of "scientific" studies that are usually so badly done that the results are almost un-interpretable, and in almost all cases of very little relevance to what I consider to be the fundamental issues that need to be covered in a course on psychopathology. So, I use two to four books, each of which deals with the fundamental issues of the field (as I see it, anyway). If I use your book, it would be as one the two to four books. One of the central issues is the role that the persons' choices play, in making them vulnerable to the disorder, in bringing it on, in keeping them stuck in it, in coming out of a particular episode, and in decreasing future vulnerability. I am especially interested in the question about the ways in which one stays stuck as a result of the (largely unintended) consequences of how one chooses to live. One of the most clinically useful aspects of psychopathology is also one of the more neglected ones: the choices, small and large, relating to one's conduct with others and within one's own mind, that have an enormous, I would say determining influence, on a person's either staying "messed up" or getting better. In my own life (I'm in my late 50's) it becomes clearer every year how much I have, largely unintentionally, reinforced (or,\pard line sometimes!, worked against) my besetting personal problems. Obviously your book addresses these issues forcefully. In a more general course that is a prerequisite to this one, I use "The Truth about Addiction and Recovery" by Peele and Brodsky, which contains a good attack on the disease model, and develops the idea of personal
responsibility. Although Peele and Brodsky do a good job on an introductory level, they don't have much psychological depth, which your book does.


Response: Dear Michael

Please call me Arline. It seems that you have the same relationship to life that I do. A journeying pilgrim. I continue to learn and refine my ideas according to my continuing experience of my difficulties, which do not themselves change markedly, although I continue to alter my relationship to them. It may be that one answer to mental illness is to see it as essentially stereotypical addictions to particular negative behavior patterns or thinking patterns which are chosen automatically to alleviate the desperate feeling of powerlessness in the face of particular environmental stimuli. I mean, as a human being there are only so many possibilities we can make out of our physical equipment, arms, legs, voice, mouth, etc. (We can't switch our tail angrily back and forth no matter how out of sorts we might get because we don't have a tail to switch) So the answer would be substitution of behaviors, a more positive for the negative one. But in this case the person would have to become attuned to the fact that their programmed behaviors were used without deciding upon them in advance. So one could learn to question "Have I made a decision about this? Or, am I doing this without having made a decision to do it?" Also one would have to program substitute decisions in advance to be on an equal par with those other more negative behaviors which have been programmed in advance. That
is, to have to program a new behavior on the spot would put it at a disadvantage to an already programmed one. Arline

Letter: Dear Arline,

I have decided to use your book "Depression is a Choice" as the lead-off book in my Abnormal Psychology course in the fall. I'm in too much of a rush right now to write anything longer. I'll be out of the country all summer, but will be in touch with you in the fall.

Response: Dear Michael,

Thank you for letting me know as people have been asking me about it. I'll look forward to hearing from you in the Fall. Meanwhile I'll Email you an article about the book which appeared in the Chicago Tribune and a comment about the article from another reader of the book.
Arline 5/22/02

Letter:  Hello,
I used your book again in the fall of 2003, and enjoyed teaching from it.  However, I get bored after teaching from the same book several years in a row.  So, I will not be using your book this coming fall (2004).  There is a good chance that I will go back to it in a few years.  The book I am going to use in place of yours, "Speaking of Sadness" is not really a replacement for yours.  The major themes of your book are not addressed in any other book that I know of, and least not with the force and clarity of your book.  "Speaking of Sadness" does deal with depression, though.
Professor Nedelsky

Letter: Dear Michael,

Thank you for using my book in your class. I’m hoping in another year to have a new book. I’ll let you know when it’s finished    . Arline Curtiss