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Book Forum: Mood and Affect   |    
Feeling Good: The Science of Well-Being
Am J Psychiatry 2005;162:1399-1399. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.7.1399
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Davenport, Iowa

By C. Robert Cloninger, M.D. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004, 374 pp., $35.00.

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The French word mise-en-scene means 1) the arrangement of actors and scenery on a stage for theatrical production, 2) stage setting, or 3) the physical setting of an action. My mother, whose doctorate was on Shakespeare, introduced me at age 7 to Act II, Scene VII, Line 139 of Jacques’ monologue in As You Like It, which starts with "All the world’s a stage."

That introduction exploded my myopic view of the horizon forever and set me on my quest for what the real substance is behind and beneath the mise-en-scene of humans. I wanted to probe into what lies underneath people’s "stances." This led me into an obsessive search to be a polymath and an autodidact going beyond the limiting constriction of the scholastic-Aquinian paradigms of Castilian, colonialist Catholicism. When I reviewed C. Robert Cloninger’s bibliography, I realized that someone with a similar background could wend through the same peregrinations and come to the same conclusions as a boy born at almost the exact moment of history on an island 10,000 miles away.

I offer the following for those who do not believe in serendipity: When I set up my practice in 1973, one of my first patients was a young woman who had just attempted suicide. Throughout the hour and a half of interviewing the woman and her family, her father stared at me. When I sent her to the ward, I asked the father why he was staring at me so intensely. He told me that he and his Marine buddy, who had just died, were hiding on my island the day I was born. "I gave you your name because things looked so hopeless because the Japanese were kicking our behinds. I named you ‘Truce.’ "

Dr. Cloninger has written a book that is profound, well researched, and well thought through. This is not a book for people who are authoritarian or who think they know it all. Reading and absorbing this book is a painful, soul-wrenching experience. It is a humbling journey, quite like being thrown into a washing machine with bleach and detergent thrown in.

As awed as I was by Siddhartha and Jiddu Krishnamurti and Nancy Andreasen, Robert Cloninger’s piecing together of all the central thoughts of all the positive philosophers, the insights of quantum physics, Kurt Godel’s theorem, and Alan Turing’s insights leading to the development of today’s computers makes the maelstrom we call life coherent and hopeful. It saddened me, though, after finishing this book, to think how dangerously ill-equipped and unhealthy most of us working in the mental health field are because we are not masters of our own consciousness stages. We are expected to lead patients who are lost into the promised land of well-being when most of us are so unwell and so lost.

I fear that mastery of this book and its concepts would force three-fourths of the potential workforce of the mental health field to drop out from psychiatric residency, social work, psychology, and nursing programs. Those who survived would so dramatically overhaul the way they live and approach mental health work that managed care would melt and vanish like the Wicked Witch of the West.

If he had his way, Robert Cloninger would create a world harking back to the real meaning of the Arabic word for paradise: pairidaezza, which means "walled-in-garden," sans snakes, sans institutional religions. It will also mean that three-fourths of all psychotropics will be destroyed and John Lennon’s "Imagine" will supplant all national anthems. The problem would be that people who achieve a level of self-transcendent and illuminative level of wisdom eschew power.




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