Healing with Intelligence and Compassion

I have often written on the danger of falling for extremes; in our desperation to run away from one issue we tend to readily embrace any solution no matter how drastic. In the wide spectrum of time, it wasn’t too long ago when patients with mental illness and disorders were treated like the pariah of the world; often with no help offered to them and left to die or to the mercy of unscrupulous scientists who would use them as test subjects. Fast forward centuries and finally it seemed as if the field of psychiatry and psychology had mature to a place of healthy dialogue and proper understanding of the human mind and body. However, the more big pharma has gotten control, the less humanistic the treatment approach to those battling with mental illness or mental disorders. The number of depression cases keep rising and yet the fields which once meant to heal, are now the very ones who are lacking the sensitivity towards those who need it most. As pharma has successfully divided body and mind, the once prominent field of psychology is more and more becoming simply a clinic for the dispensing of pills. This became quite clear to me during an event I encountered….

Not too long ago, I was wrapping up my things at one of the center where I used to lead some sessions. I came to a point where my own PTSD was being triggered to a point that it was becoming unmanageable; my heart wanted to give more but my mind and body were depleted. I knew I had given it all, but intense trauma day in and day out were taking a toll on me and on my loved ones. I felt torn and for months I pushed myself, until finally I recognized I could not give more without hurting myself or my family–and I have always said, charity starts at home.

As I was wrapping up, a woman came up to me and asked me why was I leaving. After a short but genuine explanation, she expressed her fear of not being taken seriously by whomever was to take over. I asked her why she felt that way, to which she replied “because unless your depression is only sadness, you are not validated. You are considered a problem which needs a quick solution. Even those who are sad, are left feeling worst because no one really cares to listen, when their time is up, it is up. These groups were different, the clock hit a certain time, but you and the other lady always made sure we were okay, even if that meant going over the time”. She then asked me where did my depression hurt, I pointed to my chest…to signify my sadness. She said “you know what it is like, so you understand. People don’t usually believe it when I tell them that depression hurts me here…” –she pointed at her head and her tummy. I sat with her and told her it was natural for our body to feel the pain, discomfort, stress, trauma on different parts of the body. She wasn’t crazy; our body, mind and soul are interconnected. She told me whenever she had tried to express this, she had been given various medications to deal with the physical pain, but they didn’t work and so they kept giving her higher doses of prescription meds, which only left her numb and even more depressed.

When I left, I felt sad…ours system is broken. I can’t set the blame on one specific thing, because one aspects feeds of the other–the whole thing would have to be eradicated and start from scratch….changes of that happening are not very likely–the economical cost alone would be too much all at once. However, the human factor can and should be looked up more closely. Personally I think big pharma should be limited on how much power they have on the modern training of mental health providers. Don’t get me wrong or take my words to extremes, meds can help, but in most cases they are not a cure. Also just like any others industry, there are people within the health industry that genuinely care for the welfare of those in need. I was just trying to clarify that people’s suffering should not be just business.

People should not be treated like a gearbox to which one only has to change the oil, raising or lowering quantities, instead of being treated as a person who deserves to be listened to. A person who deserves understanding and the right to be treated in an integrative way. “But what is a comprehensive treatment to you?” is what is mostly asked by new therapists. I guess I would say to them, it is what our forefathers like Freud, Carl Jung, Gurdjieff and others were fighting for–which is to look at a person as a whole not just as a subject to be studied or analyzed. Secondly, to be honest with oneself, as to why one is choosing the field of psychoanalysis; for it does require soul–it is not just economics. Third, to set in place a system which allows the proper rest for therapists (not just bonuses for exhausting themselves or for the amount of pills they dispensed) but rest and support–for all of us are human beings and have good and bad days–we are all hurt, just like every person in this world.

Why is psychiatry in crisis every time it mistreats a patient from a unilateral and reductionist perspective? What do the social sciences and humanities have to say about this to defend the dignity of psychiatric patients? To get a well researched, based on experience answer, I go back to a book which I find illuminating and which provides answers to the above questions….“Healing the mind in the age of the brain” by renowned doctor Elio Frattaroli. In it, he endeavors to be clear as to why medication is not enough. In his book he looks severely at the errors of the past, which were mostly based on ignorance and fear. He also looks at the errors currently taking place, based on greed and the severing of mind from the body and soul; reducing a patient to a user who is only given drugs forgetting the humanistic part.

The first requirement to build a more humanistic psychiatry is the collaboration of the humanities in the medical sciences, accepting the fact that these sciences are constructed by humans of always perfectible character. Perhaps one of the most important steps for subjects such as sociology or philosophy to have interference within psychiatry is to realize the above and build; from intellectual modesty; a joint work which does not cease to be analytical but also does not deny the biological existence, the spiritual existence and the occasional need for the use of psychotropic drugs–something leading therapist Dr. Gabo Mate, has been trying to champion for. The power of healing plants has been with us since the beginning of time, but it seems they were not promoted until big pharma got onboard–with that said, plant therapy is not something to be taken lightly, without proper instruction and guidance, and it does not work for everyone. Plant therapy is not a solution, but could be a great compliment–again, we need to look at a person as a whole…mind, body and soul.

On the other hand, it is also necessary to require psychiatry not only abide by pharmacology and biological reductionism, but also to attend to the psychosocial aspects of each case:  family networks, the social and economic context, the very particular circumstances and all that which makes each individual an integral man or woman, not a one-sided individual. Considering these details, we could start to build a more humanistic treatment, with more comprehensive treatments that do not leave everything in the hands of drugs. 

Psychopathology must demand a more humanistic model, one that considers the individual as something more than a user of health services; a person in the full extent of the word–an individual with a particular narrative, with a past that could determine some traits and a present context that not only has to do with his own biology or genetics but with the environment in which it operates day by day. In this sense, Elio Frattaroli thinks of a new psychopathology that will become rather a “biopsychosocial psychopathology“, which more specifically is built by the consideration of all aspects of self and the living element in which a patient may find himself in.

The comprehensive consideration of the detailed situation of each patient as a complex person, and the many factors that surrounds him will give the possibility of building a “personalized intervention”, thus avoiding interventions that tend to reduce the patient to biological conditions and merely pharmacological care.

“When we have problem, we fix it, and we prefer to do it quickly. But fixing is not the same as healing; in fact, it can easily get in the way of healing. Healing happens not through doing but through feeling”

Elio Frattaroli

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By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!

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