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Mental Health and the Brain: Home Page

Mental Health and the Brain:
A Discussion
Fall, 2008

a course at Bryn Mawr College and associated public conversation



On-line Resources

Writing Assignment Details

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Participant paper index

A seminar course exploring implications of past and ongoing research on the brain for thinking about the nature of mental health and about the value of various therapeutic and institutional approaches to mental health problems. Participants will read and discuss relevant papers from the professional and semi-popular literature. Following several initial background sessions organized by the instructor, registered students will be responsible for developing reading lists and facilitating subsequent sessions on topics of particular interest to themselves. Others, at Bryn Mawr and elsewhere, are welcome to follow the course on-line and participate in the on-line forum conversations.

Registered students:

In addition to actively participating in all class sessions and leading one, registered students will be expected to contribute weekly thoughts in a public on-line forum, to read and prepare a publicly available web commentary on a relevant book of their choice, and to prepare a set of publicly available web commentary and resource pages on a relevant topic of their choice.

The course is aimed not only at enhancing the familiarity of students with an important set of materials at the interface between science and public policy but at providing them as well experiences that will contribute to their becoming effective contributors to that interface. Students will be evaluated in terms of general course participation as well as their contributions to the course from their own readings and their success at making relevant materials accessible and meaningful to a broad audience. See student information for further elaboration.


Course readings and reflections on them will be posted regularly as per the schedule below. Anyone interested is welcome to comment on the course topic in general in the on-line forum below, and to comment on particular session topics in the on-line forums associated with those topics (see schedule for links). Interested people are also invited to participate in the sessions themselves, subject to constraints of room size, and to propose/lead topics for discussion. For further information, contact Paul Grobstein.


8 September Setting a Context Grobstein Forum comments
15 Sept "Mental Health"? Grobstein Forum comments
22 Sept Science and The Brain: Fundamentals Grobstein Forum comments
29 Sept The Bipartite Brain Grobstein Forum comments
6 October The Brain as an Adaptive System Grobstein Forum comments
13 October FALL BREAK    
20 October Interacting Brains Grobstein Forum comments
27 October



Paul Bloch, Julia Lewis


Forum comments
3 November


Talk Therapy?

Sophie Feller, Ryan Golden

Sarah Gibbs

Forum comments, Project draft
10 November

Dynamic Psychotherapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Martin Bayer

Katie Manning, Yona Silverman

Forum comments
17 November

Depression and Anxiety


Laura Cyckowski, Riki Gifford-Ferguson, Paul Grobstein

Valeria Pizzini, Lisa Lamprou

Forum comments
24 November

Tourette's Syndrome


Laura Jones, Julianne Rieders

Mary Stokes

Forum comments
1 December

Attachment Theory


Paige Safyer

Antonia Kerle, Karen Ginsburg

Forum comments, Book commentary
8 December


Mental Health Parity

Adi Flesher

Meredith Tuohey

Forum comments
19 December Reflections

Forum comments

Book commentary

Final project

Class meets 7-9:30 pm Monday evenings in the room 259 of Park Science Center.


Relevant general Serendip materials

Other relevant general materials

Relevant Current Conversations on Particular Topics Elsewhere on Serendip
On-line forums associated with papers on


Judie McCoyd's picture

Another periodic participant

Hello all,

I thought it may be wise to introduce myself as well since I will be visiting in a week or two and may pop in on the blog. I know Paul through a now defunct group called the Graduate Idea Forum which may still have space on Serendip, but met fairly regularly as an interdisciplinary reading group when I was earning my PhD in Social Work and Social Research there at BMC (finished 2003). I am now a professor at Rutgers in Social Work (mostly "advanced practice" and Grief counseling) and have had a private practice counseling clients with a variety of perinatal health issues, as well as working with clients around anxiety and depression. I too come with experiences both professional and personal and look forward to discussions about the nature of "mental health"- a concept I find limiting, particularly with the focus on diagnosis as the antithesis of "health." But more on that later. I look forward to meeting you all in virtual and concrete ways.

sgibbs's picture

Belated Intro: Sarah Gibbs

Hi Everyone -

I enjoyed sitting in on the class Monday night. Thought I'd recap my own relevant background here:

- PhD in Neurobiology and Behavior from University of Washington

- ca. 12 years doing basic neuroscience and development research

- Master's in Counseling from Villanova

- 1 year as a therapist intern at Northwestern Human Services Del Co

- 2 yrs training in psychodrama therapeutic technique, worked as an accessory therapist in PD workshops for women with trauma.

- Adjunct prof at Haverford and Bryn Mawr, teaching neurobiology, biochemistry, and developmental biology.

- Years and years of therapy! Which I love!

- A burning desire to bridge neuroscience and mental health care, hopefully with benefits to both fields.

Anneliese's picture

intro from a friendly eavesdropper/occasional contributor

Hi all,

My name is Anneliese, and I'm writing to you from Southeastern Virginia. Have a long history with Bryn Mawr (AB in anthro in '01, MSS in '06) and am greatly pleased at the opportunity to accompany you in this journey from afar. Relevant experiences:
-longtime interest in mental health/illness, and definition of "(ab)normality";
-personal struggles since early teens, to include anorexia, OCD, and more recently depression;
-having an extremely bright and talented older brother who has had depression since childhood and seems to have incorporated in into something of a weltanschauung, thus blurring the line between health and illness;
-professional work/training experience working clinically with children and adolescents in an outpatient mental health clinic that served a primarily low-income population (hence the intersection of poverty/SES with mental health);
-and currently, work as an intensive case manager for kids in therapeutic foster care, which has struck a blow to my faith in mental health care as I see it practiced.

Due to other life demands, my participation here may be limited; I hope y'all don't mind if I pop in once in a while. Have fun!

(p.s. to Paige who interned at Child & Family Services - that wasn't by chance in Norfolk, VA, was it? The agency I work for was called Child & Family Services of Eastern Virginia until this past January...just curious.)

jrieders's picture


Hi! My name is Julianne and I am a Junior bio major (possibly NBS). I am interested in mental health because the brain is so dynamic, adapting to finds other ways to do things when one path is blocked. I am also interestd in public health and the mental health system because my older brother is bi polar and suffered a psychotic break, so we got to see up close how poor the mental health system is and the need for mental health education. I look forward to our discussions as I have already begun learning from them.



llamprou's picture

Hello sorry this is so late!

Hello All,

Sorry that this is coming so late I had periodically forgotten my password to get into this site (seeing as I have taken courses with professor G. before and had my password already set up)! My name is Lisa Lamprou and I am a biology and political science double major here at Bryn Mawr, I am also currently pre-med and spent my summer finishing my last requirement: Orgo. I am extremely interested in mental health because it has affected both myself and loved ones throughout the course of my life. I am really excited about this course and all the ideas and conversations I will be exposed to while taking it.  

See you Monday and have a great weekend... 


jrlewis's picture

Hi all, I am a senior

Hi all,

I am a senior chem/bio major at Bryn Mawr.  My interests in mental health stem from experiences with family members and friends.  I have also suffered some brain damage, due to multiple concussions.  This is my first effort to really explore the brain and mental health.  I am excited about what I will learn.  See you all tonight,


Laura Cyckowski's picture

Intro: LauraC

Hi all,

I just graduated from Bryn Mawr with a major in bio and have taken a lot of classes I think relevant to mental health. My interest in the brain and mental health stems from various sources, including personal experiences and those of a close family member, as well as friends. I've worked with individuals in a group home setting before who've been diagnosed with developmental disabilities and psychiatric illnesses, and I've also interned at one of the Hedwig House psychosocial rehabilitation clubhouses in the area. I'll soon be working with individuals dealing with acquired brain injuries/and related mental health issues.

Looking forward to tonight's and future discussions,


Student's picture

Intro: Karen Ginsburg

Hi everyone,

I'm Karen, and I'm a senior here at BMC. I started out in college thinking that I was going to be an art history major, then anthro, then biology, and ended up being a psychology major, with a minor in bio. I have some experience about this area through my family- my sister is a social worker, and my dad recently had a traumatic brain injury. My brother is a stand up comedian, trying to make it as an actor, and through him I've learned a lot about mental health in the media. 

See you all soon!,


ysilverman's picture

Yona's Intro


my name is Yona Silverman and I'm also a postbac ... I graduated in 2006 with a major in English.

I have long had an interest in the mental health field, though haven't had an specific experiences related to it. (Unless you count growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where everyone is in therapy from a very young age.) Still, one psychology course I took in college peaked my interest, and I have done lots of reading about various aspects of mental health and the brain in the ensuing years.

I am very excited for this course to begin ... See you guys tomorrow!


mstokes's picture

Intro: Mary Stokes

Hey folks,

I'm a postbac interested in learning more about how the brain functions--from both a mental health perspective and a neuroscience perspective. My interest in mental health comes from seeing the struggles of friends and students in recent years. My personal experience in thinking about brain function comes more from the neurological/medical end--as I have dealt with migraine headaches and hydrocephalus. It fascinates me to think that the brain is the site of both types of issues, and I look forward to learning about the intersections of these different topics. I also look forward to hearing the experiences and perspectives offered in our class!


Riki's picture

Riki's introduction

Hi everyone, I'm Riki. I'm a sophomore at Bryn Mawr. I have yet to declare my major, but as of now I am thinking biology with a concentration in neural and behavioral science. I am also interested in philosophy. And film.

The only experiences I have in the field of mental health are from my own suffering. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for eight years. Even though I may be considered an expert in these areas, I am very interested in learning about them from a biological perspective and an "outsider's" perspective. In general though, I am interested in anything dealing with the brain and mental states.

See you tomorrow night!

Martin's picture

Intro: Bayer

Howdy Yall,

I just graduated in May with a BA in Philosophy. During my time studying philosophy I spent quite some time thinking about the relationship between the brain as organ, part of the human body, and how it relates to the mind/soul/seat of rationality. My first real experience with this field outside of thought experiments was vicarious, through a friend of mine who is a psychiatrist. His influence has peaked my interest about the relationship between the willed behaviors and how they can effect mental health.

I look forward to a good semester of discussions!



Sophie F's picture


Hi everyone,

I’ve always been interested in mental health, having family members and friends who have struggled with various mental health issues. Additionally, as a human, interacting with others, who are attempting to maintain their own mental health, or “balance,” I am interested in the full spectrum of human behavior. I have a family member who is a psychiatrist, and through him have learned another perspective about mental health, that of the person in the “helping” role. Another family member has grappled with a chronic illness and subsequent depression, so I am also interested in mind/body dynamism.

As a postbac, hoping to attend medical school, I am interested in all issues pertaining to human interactions, and the ways in which mental health issues are perceived both by the medical community and society at large; and how perceptions shape the ways in which we, as a society, deal with the care of those with mental health issues.

I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and enjoying the exploration that this semester will certainly be.


PS2007's picture

Hi, My name is Paige


My name is Paige Safyer.  I am a senior at Bryn Mawr majoring in Psychology with a Neural and Behavioral Sciences concentration.  

I am really interested in therapy and mental health.  As for my experiences, I spent one summer interning at a non-profit agency called Child and Family Services.  More recently, I worked in a research lab investigating the effects of maternal depression on the developing fetus.  

I am writing my thesis this year on the relationship between verbal ability and behavior in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.  

Looking forward to the discussion!

Valeria Pizzini's picture

Hi everyone! My name is

Hi everyone!

My name is Valeria, I'm a Junior and a Biology Major here at Bryn Mawr.
I find particularly interesting the topic of Mental Health, and especially the interaction between the brain and the body. During the last winter break I was a ski-instructor for children with autism and over the summer I worked with mentally disabled people. These were incredible experiences, which both gave me so much, but I feel that I still have to learn about this topic, also from a different perspective.

I'm really looking forward to meet you tomorrow!


Ljones's picture


My name is Laura Jones. I'm a senior at Haverford, majoring in Biology with a concentration in the Neural and Behavioral Sciences. I've helped care for several children with autism-like symptoms (I didn't take care of all of them at the same time), and have been interested in the topic of mental health for a long while.

I can't wait to see everyone tomorrow night!


merry2e's picture

Sharing my experiences

Hello all,

My name is Meredith and I am a second year McBride at Bryn Mawr. I am looking forward to participating fully in this class and cannot wait to meet all of you tomorrow!

My life experiences include:

  • Psychology major with NBS concentration
  • Parent with mental health issues (including, but not limited to diagnoses such as bipolar and schizoaffective disorder) and brother with an aquired brain injury
  • Mother of two daughters
  • Co-Chair of Interweave (outreach program for the LGBTQ population in the UU church)
  • Personal struggles with the deep, dark, black hole I call depression
  • Member of the Brain Injury Awareness Assoc  of PA

I love people and the brain and cannot wait to begin a new semester getting to know all of you.



kmanning's picture

Mental Health/Brain Intro: Katie Manning

Hi everyone,

I am having some trouble with this site so I'm sorry if you get two posts from me! I am a postbac and graduated from undergrad in 2007 with a degree in philosophy. I have always been very interested in mental health and in counseling, and worked as a live-in freshman counselor my senior year of college. My older brother also has very severe autism-like mental health problems, so that has contributed in large part to my interest in this field.


I look forward to starting our discussions and to meeting you all on monday!



akerle's picture




My name is Antonia and I'm a sophomore here at Bryn Mawr.

I've always found mental health really fascinating. Somtimes, though, I find some of psychology's explanations a little unsatisfying which is why I am interested to learn a bit more about neurobiology.

I spent two years as a hotline counsellor for children in the UK (ChildLine to be exact - for anyone who is interested- it is an incredible organisation).

I love learning about people and their motivations and I hope that this class will be able to provide some perspective on this.

Katie Manning's picture

Mental Health/Brain Intro: Katie Manning

Hi everyone,

I am a postbac, and I graduated in 07 from Yale with a degree in philosophy. In terms of mental health experience, I was a live-in counselor during my senior year of college for college freshmen, and I also have an older brother with severe autistic-like mental disabilities, who is a large part of the reason for my interest in this area. I too am very excited to start our discussions, and look forward to meeting you all on Monday!

ryan g's picture

Mental Health/Brain Intro: Ryan Golden

Hi everyone, 

My name is Ryan.  I'm looking forward to meeting you all tomorrow.  


I was a psych. major in undergrad.  I haven't had any direct clinical experience in a mental health situation, but I've always enjoyed reading and learning about the relationship between the body and the mind.  I feel like most of my exploration so far has been on the philosophical/spiritual side of things.  So, I am looking forward to looking at things from a more biological perspective this semester.  

Also, I'm not sure if this will give me any unique perspective, but I got to be a brain surgeon for a week or two in undergrad.  It was a sheep's brain, but still very cool.

See you tomorrow evening.


Paul B's picture

Mental Health/Brain Intro: Paul Bloch

Hi All,

I look forward to this class and all the discussions that will ensue.

I've had some experiences with mental health and the brain...

  • I've been a 1-on-1 counselor for kids with autism, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, and non-specified developmental disorders (and I loved every second of it!)
  • I've worked for 3 years at a lab researching genetic underlyings of cocaine addiction, alcoholism, Schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

I'm very excited to talk about my experiences and to hear about others' experiences!

Paul Grobstein's picture

MentalHealth/Brain Intro: Grobstein

Welcome all. Very much looking forward to seeing where our explorations go.

What I bring to the conversation (see more here)

  • experiences as an experimental neurobiologist
  • experiences as an applied neurobiologist
  • experiences as a parent, of fraternal twins
  • experiences as an academic fellow of the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Center
  • experiences with episodes of depression

Looking forward too to hearing what similar/different things others bring ....

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