Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Five Years of Five on Friday

I can hardly believe that I have been writing these weekly musings for five years. Our readership (you!) now numbers in the tens of thousands. In celebration of this milestone, we compiled all the past posts and created an online archive as part of a new website that will serve as the home for the existing collection and future entries. 

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Putting it all together has been a bit of a trip down memory lane. Some make me feel nostalgic. Some make me happy. Others make me sad. I would say a few things differently if I were writing on certain topics today. Some I remember writing as if it were yesterday. Others I re-read now as if for the first time. What is it about collections and the human psyche that sets us up to assemble things into groupings like this? And how is it that basic laws of addition do not apply? 

1. Collections create a whole that is other than the sum of its parts. This is the basic tenet of Gestalt psychology. Founded in the early part of the twentieth century in Germany, Gestalt psychology asserts that humans are wired to perceive wholeness over component elements. It is in the whole that we find meaning. We understand ourselves, others and the world around us by constructing narratives based on entire patterns or configurations, not merely individual components. This idea is sometimes summarized by the adage, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” but Gestalt psychologists actually asserted that “the whole is other than the sum of its parts.”

2. Collections amplify. No One Can Whistle A Symphony – it takes a whole orchestra to play it. These words from H.E. Luccock capture an essential truth about advancing mental health globally. This was the focus of my post from February 8, 2019, for example, when we launched the Council for the Advancement of Global Mental Health Research with 78 inaugural members. Now in its third year, the Council has over 100 members and has raised funds to support twelve innovative research projects translating science into practice. In this case, the whole is wonderfully greater than the sum of its parts.

3. Collections capture nuance and complexity. When single threads of discrete experiences, observations and interactions get assembled thematically, we weave an understanding of a greater whole. Collections guard against what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of a single story.” Over the last fifteen months, I have written frequently, and from many angles, about mental health and COVID-19 –  beginning with my physician sister’s experience on the frontlines in the early weeks of the pandemic. I wrote about COVID commencements, sleep disturbances, cultivating hope, the artists who help us endure, to mask or not to mask, mental health and work during COVID, coming out of our COVID cocoons, and more. Future years of science and storytelling will help us all gain a greater appreciation for the globally shared and extraordinarily varied experiences that make up the collective whole – undoubtedly other than the sum of its parts.

4. Collections can be good for our mental health. Some of the mental health benefits that collectors report include the positive value of developing expertise. Collections require us to be curious and learn about whatever it is we are collecting. Building an interesting collection inspires creativity so that we can assemble knowledge, memories and objects in novel and innovative ways. Collections exercise our organizational skills, requiring us to sort and categorize items. This practice can enhance visual awareness, mental acuity, and organizational skills, which can improve memory. And collectors often report that their collection helps them relax, reduce stress, and simply feel happy.

5. When collecting becomes hoarding. When people have persistent difficulty parting with things and feel distressed about discarding things regardless of their value, the practice of collecting transmutes into a mental disorder called hoarding. For both the person and their family, hoarding can lead to damaging emotional, social, financial, and physical effects. As compared to healthy collecting, which is associated with joy and pride, individuals with hoarding disorder often feel deep shame about their behavior. The causes of hoarding disorder are varied and complex. Left untreated, hoarding can cause serious interpersonal difficulties because the collected items can take over living space – covering chairs and tables, filling tubs and showers. The good news is that cognitive behavior therapy and exposure treatments can be effective interventions for individuals with hoarding disorder.

One of my greatest pleasures in writing Five on Friday is hearing from people. Thank you and keep the comments coming! With Mother’s Day on Sunday, I especially want to give a shout-out to my mom who reliably reads Five on Friday each week and emails me in response. I have saved them all in a special folder. Other and greater than the sum of their parts, for me, they have organically become a treasured collection – wholly in their own right.

Please take a moment to check out our new Five on Friday Archive here.

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University.

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