One on one... Raffaele Presti
One interesting thing about my job
Observing the role of biology in defining the individual self. I have always been fascinated by the relation between the brain and personality. Luckily enough, my job allows me to examine this link directly. It’s stunning to see how people may change their identity after a brain injury. Sometimes they come to a point where they need to redefine themselves, rethinking who they are and what they like.
One thought about university
Psychology courses should invest more in teaching practical skills and less on theory. I remember my first experience in a secure unit, dealing with people with psychosis and personality disorders. When I started, I had some knowledge about what patients would be like, but I was totally unaware of what I personally needed to do, to do my job properly.
I had thought that patients would be ready to commit and change with small but decisive efforts. The reality shuttered my naivety… I had to deal with aggression, ambivalence to change, manipulation and lots of emotional distress. At the end of that experience, I found myself asking if psychology was the right choice for me and my life. I will always keep in mind those struggles and doubts. Universities should not forget that, as professionals, we deal with people, relationships and emotions. A knowledge of psychological models is vital, but personal and interpersonal skills can really make the difference in determining successful and unsuccessful treatments.
Maybe Tomorrow by Stereophonics. It describes the experience of feeling down brilliantly, leaving us with a glimmering sense of hope. The lyrics gently invite us to approach our feelings without dwelling on negativity… to breathe and take care of ourselves. The energy of the music makes the rest.
One experience that changed me
Work with children on the autism spectrum. What I learned from them and their parents was priceless and changed my approach to disability completely.
Self comes to mind: Constructing the conscious brain by Antonio Damasio. How does consciousness come to mind? And what does it mean to be a conscious self? As a psychologist with a passion for biology and philosophy, I found this a compelling and passionate look at the evolution of consciousness and its neural correlates, from primordial feelings and wordless images to complex emotions and rational thinking. It changed my perspective on life and neuroscience, making me more mindful of the common structures we share with other creatures inhabiting our planet.
One thing psychology should do better
Be more mindful of the influence of society on the psychological self. If we read and analyse Fromm, Bauman and socio-economic essays, we can really grasp how much culture and upbringing shape our thinking, desires, preferences, and more. In a society dominated by an economic paradigm where success is worshipped and even social relationships are interpreted in terms of trading and interests, what’s the role of psychology in all that? What’s our role in fighting social injustices, pressures and inequalities? I think that the spreading of the biopsychosocial model has been beneficial, and lately I have been inspired by Peter Kinderman’s A Manifesto for Mental Health. It seems to me that we are moving in the right direction but there’s a lot to be done.
One inspiring thing about my job
The commitment and perseverance of people undertaking psychological rehabilitation and therapy. It’s impressive to see their resilience shed light on a slow but achievable recovery.
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