Did you know that the literal meaning of psychiatry is “healing of the soul”? The term was coined in France in 1846, “psychiatrie”, from Medieval Latin psychiatria;” a Latinized form of Greek psykhe- ”mind” + iatreia”healing, care. Does that ring a bell when it comes to psychiatric treatment in 2013? The tyranny of “evidence based” psychiatry that is the current standard of care has no interest whatsoever in even the unconscious, let alone the soul. Its blunt and sometimes dangerous instrument is primarily psychopharmacologic treatment of isolated symptoms. Many psychiatrists today have had very little training in talking with patients. Therapy is the province of Master’s level clinicians who are paid a much much lower fee.
And yet the neglect of the care of the soul, and by that I mean attending to larger spiritual issues related the deepest questions about who we are and what is life about, questions about an individual’s life purpose and meaning, that are at the heart of the human condition, yield a profoundly impersonal and mechanistic treatment approach that many patients find increasingly alienating.
In my practice I rarely agree to medicate a patient who is not in therapy with me. I am also not keen on simply discussing nutritional approaches to symptoms, detoxification and supplements. Our immune system does not exist in isolation from our emotional and spiritual lives. All of us were once infants and children, and those earliest relationships and patterns of attachment, identifications with parents and siblings, experiences of too much-ness, not enough-ness, as well as just right-ness, have a profound impact on how we feel and what we believe about ourselves and the world today. Our early conditioning has enormous power to determine what we recreate in our love relationships, with our children, at work and with friends. It greatly influences our capacity to trust in life, in others, and to feel confident to express and give our unique gifts to the world.
Over time a therapeutic conversation can allow an individual to become more conscious of automatic and reflexive ways of being; those habits which are reflected in a “going through the motions” and living out an old script, rather than authentically inhabiting life and responding to the present moment. It can allow a person to throw off the shackles of yesterday, to both say “no” and “yes” in ways that were never before possible. Psychotherapy, meditation and poetry are all powerful means by which we are afforded the possibility of seeing with fresh eyes.
Here is an inspiring YouTube video of an interview with the recently appointed poet laureate of New York, Marie Howe. In a wide ranging and deep conversation with Krista Tippett, host of the radio show On Being, these thoughtful women reflect together upon the sacredness of ordinary life, the deep feminine, our devils and fears, unbearable loss, the home, the soul, identity, the function of poetry and art, death, time, technology, and other evocative topics. It’s a like a really great therapy hour that breaks the hearts of both participants wide open.