Psychiatrists and Psychotherapy?
Over this last weekend, the New York Times had an important article by Gardner Harris on the massive shift over 40 years away from case studies and talk therapy by psychiatrists, entitled “Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns to Drug Therapy“. The article is well worth a read by anyone who takes human healing and human growth seriously.
Turning Away from Talking with Patients
This article makes some very important points. It shows that psychiatrists in the United States have turned away from “talk therapy” or case studies with their clients because it was too time-consuming. Now the focus of psychiatric practice is most often very short meetings. One psychiatrist interviewed by the Times sees some 1200 patients for 15 minute consultations about medications that are sometimes several months apart. While the economics and other factors are somewhat different in Canada, they are not all that different.
Please don’t get me wrong. Of course there is a place for psychopharmacology, and patients of course look to psychiatry to assist with medications that can help them find their way back towards feeling better in their lives. The issue here is the emphasis, which has swing entirely toward the administration of medication, rather than the whole person.
Some Questions for Medicine — and for Ourselves
So what conclusions are we to draw from these developments? It is completely fair to see the medical profession — a field our culture highly values — as embodying the highest values in our society. In the way it deals with medical issues, our society shows the evaluation that it puts on persons.
1. Is the Individual Patient / Client Still the Priority? It’s hard to see how the individual person is staying in focus in this process. How could she or he be, if the doctor has to discipline him- or herself essentially not to engage with the person?
2. Is the Underlying Perspective on Human Beings Personal, or Biological-Chemical? It may not be fully intentional, but with such a laser-like focus on the medication needs of the patient, there is an implicit understanding of the nature of a person. It’s a valid question to the doctors and to ourselves: if we all condone this approach, doesn’t it mean that we have essentially all accepted the reduction of the human individual to a chemical process?
3. What are We Prepared to Believe about Individual Human Beings, and about our own Unique Individuality? Can we really accept this kind of understanding of the person when we apply it to ourselves, or to those we love?
4. How Important is Relationship to the Other — and to the Self? If this is our benchmark, then human relationship is clearly of little importance. Isn’t this an incredibly limiting understanding of who we really are?
Respecting and Considering Your Own Soul
How are you and I going to feel about our own inner lives, our deepest feelings, our capacity to relate to others? To at least some extent, that is the question posed by the sea change now complete in the psychiatric profession, and its potential implications for our understanding of our own humanity.
Do we believe that the dimension of life that we call truly personal is important in its own right, or are we prepared to see it as a mere by-product of chemical reaction and biological function? Is “my personal self” something that I take seriously enough that I’m prepared to do something about it, to take it in hand, as it were, and enter into it?
Psychotherapy is fundamentally a journey of taking individual persons seriously. This is especially true of /a-midlife-transition. For many, the human journey cannot and will not be complete, until they have embraced their personal depths. That’s where /a-midlife-transition can often help.
May your journey to wholeness deeply affirm your unique personhood,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
© 2011 Brian Collinson