Monday, March 12, 2007

Psyche and Social Order

A fine picture of the brain courtesy of MIT

There is a passionate editorial in the Boston Globe this morning about the problematic nature of clinical practice and the art/science of diagnosing potential mental illness. As most of you know I work in this field and psychological empowerment is dear to my heart. There's one portion of the editorial that really struck me and reminding me of some things I've been thinking deeply about lately. The editorial said:

"The field of mental health has regressed in a most dramatic fashion. We now have a whole culture obsessed with diagnostic labels. The focus is on taking the right medicine, as opposed to a consideration of basic issues of psychology and human development.

We seem to have forgotten that we are dealing with complex human beings, not just biological organisms." (Read the whole piece here)

What I'd have to say is this, no one has "forgotten that we are dealing with complex human beings, not just biological organisms", many people in the clinical professions simply don't believe it and never did. Why? Because for decades people, particularly in Western societies have trained to believe that a human being is really just a super smart chimpanzee or, more recently a kind of computer with consciousness. Thus we can either simply be drugged and retrained like a monkey in a circus or reprogrammed like software. The regression that the editorial is talking about is no aberration but a logical consequence of the materialistic world view that has long come to dominate thinking about human psychology and behavior all the while being trumpeted as "science" and "enlightenment" that would lead to psychological salvation for all humanity. Guess what? It didn't work out that way. This is not to suggest that psychology has made no positive contribution to the betterment of human minds, but that in some of it most fundamental early assumptions, lay the seeds of what this editorial is rightly alarmed about. In addition to a materialistic world view, there is the issue of the relationship between the psyche and the social order. I would argue that much, if not all of the psychopathology that we see in children, adolescents and adults can be traced directly to the abscence of real unity and justice in the world. You cannot have a truly healthy mind in a fundamentally unhealthy environment. Not clinicians know this but many approach the healing process as if psychopathology resides primarily in the individual, whether biologically or psychologically. The Baha'i Writings offer this important insight:

We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions. (Compilations, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 84)

The pursue of true mental health must involve the pursuit of unity and social justice, the transformation of the social order. In deed supporting people's involvement in such an effort is inherently empowering and healing on a much deeper level that medication or talk therapy could ever provide.

As it is written in the Holy Gospel:
12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (King James Bible, Romans)