Monday, March 29, 2010

Psychotherapy Networker Symposium 2010 – Jerome Kagan Leaves a Lasting Impression

Fellow Healthy Panda, Raymond, and I attended this year’s Pyschotherapy Networker Symposium. Even though we were only able to make the Saturday session, we had a great time, met many incredibly wonderful people and learned a heck of a lot. We splurged for the luncheon lecture by Psychiatrist Jerome Kagan and it was worth every penny.

The very unassuming Kagan took the stage and warned that he would read his 45 minute talk in order to limit his penchant for tangents. While I initially feared a snooze alert, I was soon deeply taken in by Kagan’s lecture - barely realizing his 45 minute allowance ended up being 75…

For the last 30 years Kagan’s studies have focused on understanding how both nature and nurture play a part in mental illness. He illuminated this idea with an excellent example… Kagan studied a group of suburban children for almost 18 years - from 4 months old to 18 years of age. He discovered with his initial assessment at 4 months which children were “high reactive” (easily susceptible to over-stimulation) and “low reactive” (more difficult to over-stimulate). What Kagan ultimately found was that high-reactive children have a physiological difference - a thickening of part of the brain in the right frontal lobe (don’t quote me on this fact). These high-reactive suburban children were also much more likely to have Social Anxiety Disorder. While this correlation alone is a great conclusion, Kagan goes a step further. He refutes that this physiological difference causes Social Anxiety Disorder; many other factors need to come into play - how each child grew up, their birth order, etc. The way our suburban society works allows this disorder to be a common occurrence among children with this physiological difference. He stated that if a high-reactive child grew up in different surroundings, illness would present differently - perhaps as phobias if the child grew up in a jungle with dangerous animals. Overall, Kagan’s point was that before making a diagnosis and deciding upon treatment, many factors need to be considered - not just genetics, but also surrounding & upbringing - in order to obtain a complete understanding of an illness.

Overall, Kagan’s lecture was so logical that it was eye-opening. As progress is made, the simplistic idea of looking at the “whole picture” becomes obfuscated by scientific advancement and progressive treatment options. Thanks, Dr. Kagan for sharing your incredible insight!

What are your thoughts on Kagan’s findings and theses? If you were at the Symposium, what was your favorite part?



  1. Past encounters of the patient are ordinarily returned to and investigated to get a much more profound comprehension of the occasions in his present life. Providing therapy for individuals