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  • Dr. Ted Klontz

Who Killed Robin Williams? II

My last post caused a bit of a stir. Some of you were asking the same questions I was asking, others wondered how I could dare ask the questions, and still others wanted to know more about my opinions regarding what I hoped was a part of Robin Williams' therapeutic experience.

A disclaimer; I wasn't challenging what did or didn't happen to/for him as part of his treatment; I was asking why NO ONE was even asking the questions "Did somebody (mental health/medical professionals) miss something?" "Did Robin get the best treatment possible?"

I was wondering out loud why no one was asking for same accountability from Robin's care team as everyone did when Michael Jackson died.

Though the details of his treatment experience wasn't my original point, I will take a moment to tell you what, if it wasn't a part of his treatment, I think, should have been.

The current standard in the mental health treatment field is "Talk Therapy". Didactic information. Facts, figures, lectures, talking, listening, making commitments, plans, etc. All designed to extinguish or at least manage the troublesome behaviors. All good, but unfortunately 'knowing' something to be true, more often than not isn't enough to create behavior change. The science is really clear about that.

For example I 'know' that I should exercise more, eat less fat, more vegetables, consume less sugar, more fruits, not watch so much TV, save more, spend less... you get the idea. If information was enough, if understanding was enough, if making commitments to myself was enough; such changes would be easy and permanent. Just give me the appropriate information and I'm good to go.

Our brains don't work like that. The part of the brain engaged in that "I should" process has the same power to follow through with those commitments as a man riding an elephant has to control where the elephant goes and what it does. If the elephant and the man are of the same opinion, all is well. If the elephant has a different idea, the man is just along for the ride.

The part of the brain that makes “behavior change” decisions, (the elephant), is incapable of understanding abstract ideas, promises and commitments. Such things are like speaking a foreign language.

When the information is combined with tools that trigger imagination, allow for emotional stimulation and engagement of the sensory system behavior change is much more likely to occur.

Car dealers know this. When I go to look, (just look, mind you) at a car, they do not take me to an office, sit me down and talk to me about cars. They do not show me a list of the cars that they have for sale. They do not show me pie charts of which models, colors, and styles that I can choose from. They don't tell me how much better my life will be if I buy a car.

What they DO, is sit my butt down in a car, with me behind the wheel, with the “new car smell” (Which consumer experts tell us is not a natural part of a car’s ‘newness’). Regardless of what my rational brain (the “man” part of the elephant and man analogy) said when I walked in, “I’m just looking, I am just going to check out what is available”, chances are significantly improved that I will walk out the door, proud owner of a car because of my “experience”.

Casinos (Carpets that make you dizzy if you look down, forcing you to look up, because looking down would cause you to feel, which they have learned is NOT what they want you to do). Groceries (the four most common items for sale are at the back of the store in opposite corners), restaurants (menus without $$$ signs cause you to spend more), those who hand out free samples (sales of items sampled increase 300%), know a lot about the part of the brain (our elephant) that makes decisions. A part you cannot consciously control if it has a different idea. They know that by engaging the senses, creating a mood, and firing your imagination the chances of you doing what they want you to do, buy their product, have gone from about 10% to 60%.

Until and unless mental health treatment processes consciously include the psychological tools (imagining, emotional arousal, sensory engagement) that work for “selling” us things, even things we don’t want, the effectiveness of mental health treatment will be less than it could be. And we will continue to lose such gifts as Robin Williams.

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