By Camille Chatterjee, published on January 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 13, 2012
In the film All of Me, Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin play wildly opposite personalities who take up residence--and go to war--in Marring brain. According to Fredric Schiffer, M.D., that's exactly what happens to people with psychological problems.
Schiffer, a Harvard psychiatrist and author of the book Of Two Minds (Free Press), believes that each brain half possesses its own thoughts and feelings. In most people, he contends, the halves coexist in peace. But if one side becomes more troubled than the other, due to stress or childhood trauma, the resulting friction causes mental conflict. "There can be as many different types of relationships between the two minds as there are between two people," says Schiffer.
Schiffer's ideas are based on split-brain studies from the 1960s in which epileptics under going surgery to disconnect their brain hemispheres lost their painful seizures—but gained a dual personality. Take the man trying to quit smoking when his right hand attempted to light up, his left would grab the cigarette and put it out. Proof of two minds, says Schiffer, is clearly seen in brain-intact patients when they wear a special pair of goggles he has created. They block all vision except that to the far left or right and thus activate only one brain half at a time, depending on which way you look. When 70 therapy patients donned them, Schiffer found, 30% reported anxiety when looking to one side but felt much calmer when looking the other way. The goggles, says Schiffer, show patients their saner side. "They teach the troubled side that past traumas are no longer present in reality, only in the head."