“He will work with you, if you are willing to take responsibility for your own healing.” Those were the words of my then chiropractor, in recommending a well-respected psychotherapist twenty-one years ago. I wanted to let go of a lot of anger, and also change unhealthy relationship patterns. To do so, I intuitively recognized the need for an experienced professional as a guide along this journey. The years that followed led through a profoundly rewarding passage home to my soul.
During this same period, I had decided to study, and take experiential training in, psychosynthesis, a spiritual psychology, as the foundation of my doctoral thesis on healing and renewal for helping professionals.
The synchronicity of seeing the need to do my own inner work as well is similar to individuals who study to become either psychiatrists or psychotherapists. They were expected to pursue an honest exploration of their own human foibles, a process recognized as a necessary component of their own preparation to practice as psychological healers.
An open question is, whether such a preparation still is required in the training of psychiatry or psychotherapy today? Apparently, more regulations now exist in regard to “clinical training credentials.” But, is the more holistic recognition of wellness being acknowledged, that also includes the human condition of the soul?
A couple of articles in recent months suggest that the condition of the soul continues to be an aspect of human wellness not even considered by the majority of psychological healers. This conclusion – hopefully inaccurate – is based on the fact that these articles totally omit the examples of practitioners in transpersonal psychology.
One might have hoped, almost a century after Roberto Assagioli, Viktor E. Frankl, and Carl G. Jung each had introduced modalities of spiritual psychology – and more than half a century after recognition of transpersonal psychology began to surface in the United States – that today a more visible number of psychological healers would be incorporating acknowledgment of the soul in their practice.
Meanwhile, the net of mental afflictions, diagnosed correctly or not, in North American society, continues to widen, according to one article. The other article, paradoxically, points out that the practice of psychotherapy is shrinking. What is going on here?
Two interwoven dilemmas, that I believe require serious attention, include: the growing yet misguided expectation by patients/clients that any type of therapy must be a “quick fix”; and increasing reliance on pharmacology to arrive at the perceived quick fix, rather than enter into long term (and more effective) psychology-based treatments.
I suggest, provocatively, today’s dilemmas in psychiatry and psychotherapy cannot be blamed solely upon these helping professions, despite their diluted service to humanity.
Instead, we need to begin taking responsibility, as individuals within the collective entity of society, to think seriously about how and why we have come to this historic moment, in which everything, even healing, is considered a competitive marketplace to accommodate “instant gratification.” This sorry state of affairs, in turn, reduces healers to market themselves like hucksters, as commercial enterprises, not as callings to serve humanity.
To cite Pogo: “The enemy is us.” By “enemy,” I refer to our “inner saboteur,” the little voice inside us, as human beings, to which we choose – often unconsciously – to give too much power. Stated simply, our human nature tends to choose the path of comfort and convenience, that is, whatever is quick and easy, such as the “quick fix.”
The “quick fix,” at best, might address, superficially, only the symptoms but not the root cause(s) of our psychological affliction.
Yet, sadly, so many folks are so disconnected to their own inner life, they are unable to distinguish symptoms from causes. The “quick fix” perpetuates the illusion that all is well, at least for the moment, so that they can zoom on to the next distraction away from deeper reality.
Yes, some of you reading my blog may not see yourselves in the above picture. Perhaps like me, in our respective human imperfections, we at least have made a courageous effort to grow toward our “inner” human potential, with various degrees of success. We also know that that journey never ends. The gift, nevertheless, is finding more inner peace.
The bigger issue remains, – evident by more frequent mainstream articles published on the subject of mental health – that we live in a society not just with socio-economic imbalances and injustices yet, moreover, accompanied by a range of mental health issues that spare few people, whether rich or poor.
Returning to the two articles as reference points, let me first of all address “What Brand is Your Therapist?” by Lori Gottlieb, November 23, 2012 in The New York Times. I certainly respect her personal honesty. Initially a journalist, she then chose to train in psychotherapy “through a rigorous six years.” Gottlieb exposes the “branding” dilemma now confronted by psychotherapists; for they increasingly are expected to “pitch” to the marketplace.
She points out that even the American Psychological Association (APA) produced a paper in 2010 titled “Where Has all the Psychotherapy Gone?” Gottlieb cites this little gem of information in it: “managed care has increasingly limited visits and reimbursements for talk therapy but not for drug treatment; and in 2005 alone, pharmaceutical companies spent $4.2 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising and $7.2 billion on promotion to physicians, nearly twice what they spent on research and development.”
But, the pharmaceutical companies’ focus might be shifting to more research and development. The probability is identified among several psychiatric practitioners interviewed by journalist Anne Kingston, by her excellent piece of journalism in Maclean’s March 25, 2013 edition.
In this Maclean’s article “Is she a brat, or is she sick?” the subtitle is more telling about the content, in part reading: “…new psychiatric guidelines are now labelling ordinary behaviour as mental illness – and pitting doctors against doctors.” The catalyst for this controversy is the upcoming DSM-5, the latest version of “psychiatry’s bible” otherwise named “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).”
Among DSM-5‘s many critics, according to Kingston, the most vocal is psychiatrist Allen Frances (who happened to chair the previous DSM-4 task force). She writes: Frances cautions clinicians, media and the general public to “be skeptical” and not to “follow blindly down a road likely to lead to massive over-diagnosis and harmful over-medication.”
By the way, such criticism about the extent to which the pharmaceutical industry influences the medical professions (and other industries) is nothing new. The above cautionary pleas are justified, and signal the continuation of a regrettable trajectory.
For example, I recall some years ago watching, in shock, a PBS-TV episode of Frontline, which exposed the over-medication of children by a noticeable number of doctors and, worse, the prescription of certain psychiatric drugs intended for adults yet being distributed for children’s use.
Another example about the inappropriate and excessive reliance on drug prescriptions by too many psychiatrists is well described in a book that I have read, and highly recommend, titled: Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain (2001), subtitled “Becoming Conscious in an Unconscious World.”
The book’s author is Elio Frattaroli, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and faculty member of The Psychoanalytical Center of Philadelphia. In this landmark book, Dr. Frattaroli challenges the persistence of the “Medical Model’s” dominance in psychiatry: He writes:
“Unfortunately, with the advent of cosmetic psychopharmacology and managed care, too few psychiatrists remember, if they ever knew, what a psychotherapeutic process is, and too few patients realize that healing the soul through the I-Thou relationship with their physician is a potential treatment option that is no longer being offered them. In the Age of the Brain, psychiatric treatment has been reduced to an exclusively I-It relationship, in which patients are objectified, diagnosed as `cases,’ equated with their brains (and genes), and treated according to standards of statistical science rather than of personal knowledge” [Frattaroli, 2001, p. 12].
Gottleib’s investigation, meanwhile, gives evidence that fewer psychotherapists as well, even equipped with suitable training and experience, may be called upon by their clients, to be guides through an authentic healing process that, legitimately, takes time.
The consequence, according to Gottlieb, is that fewer psychotherapists actually are practicing psychotherapy and, instead, have placed their energies into becoming coaches, where steady, and higher, income is assured.
I am not slamming coaches here. However, what coaches are trained to offer ought to be better distinguished from what psychotherapists are supposed to offer. Blurring the lines confuses a wider public already ill-informed about what deeper transformative healing requires. Again, coaching has its own, different, beneficial role.
The other option recommended by branding consultants, Gottlieb writes, is for psychotherapists to find a niche in their therapy, and market themselves accordingly.
By choosing a niche “market,” the trade-off however, as I see it, is that psychotherapists tend to offer only brief forms of psychotherapy, to please clients many of whom apparently only seek the “quick fix.”
Therefore, as I suggested earlier, do not lay the blame at the feet of psychological healers. Nor will I blame branding consultants although I am not comfortable with their task. Perhaps neither are some of them. Gottlieb quotes Casey Truffo, a branding consultant:
“Nobody wants to buy therapy anymore,” Truffo told me [Gottlieb]. “They want to buy a solution to a problem.” (Hence, hire a coach.)
But, Truffo, more importantly, revealed a truth that she has witnessed, because she herself once had a private practice too. She saw a shift in people who once approached her in the pursuit to change themselves. During the past two decades, however, people steadily have shifted to a perspective of wanting something else or someone else to change.
Identifying that shift precisely fits what I suggested above, the need for us to take back responsibility to do what is needed in order to mature emotionally and spiritually, rather than blame external sources for our unhappiness and lack of fulfillment.
In closing, I refer to one of the running threads in my blog throughout the past year, and continuing – the sacred feminine and the ways in which we can recover that aspect of being alive. The sacred feminine refers to our source of life, namely, the earth’s life support system whose energies are intertwined with our own inner life force.
Human beings innately are endowed with amazing creative gifts. Let us discover and manifest them, rather than submit to forces that defuse our yet untapped inner power, to grow more fully into who we can be.