My book and my blogs are about the wisdom and effectiveness of psychotherapy. When I address that our suffering and symptoms are a human problem, not a brain problem, I get comments like, “Do You Work For Scientology? This sounds like some kind of Tom Cruise on the couch rant.” The very idea that to be opposed to destructive drugs, is fringe and culty is very disturbing.
Human struggle is not a brain problem but a human problem. The partial exception to this is in schizophrenia and manic-depression. Drugs do help with the horribly frightening symptoms of psychotic terror and the out-of-control rampaging mood of mania. But these patients too are human beings with problematic character plays where psychotherapy is the specific, responsive and effective treatment, through boundaries, respect, and emotional holding. Psychotherapy is the biological process, through mourning a problematic play that heals and ameliorates our suffering. It allows us to write new plays in the brain in exactly the way the problematic ones formed in the first place.
Unfortunately, biological psychiatry, neurology, and neuroscience in general have preempted a claim on what is biological. They have defined biology as the domain of physical brain structure; brain organization, brain anatomy, and functional brain centers; neurotransmitters; hormones; information learned from studying brain lesions; and activated patterns of neurons that can be seen in brain scans associated with certain localized functions. There is a great deal of knowledge to be appreciated from these approaches. Unfortunately, their orientation has mistaken the parts for the whole. They have ignored the brain’s most important biological manifestation of all: the play of consciousness. In fact, the defining biological feature of our species is the synthetic “play” of human consciousness, with its cast of characters, feeling relationships, plots, landscapes and set designs. Psychotherapy and mourning are biological.
When we consider the evolution of the human species, what makes us human is not defined by the unique human functions, such as opposable thumbs, abstract thinking, reasoning, or computational abilities—those are good. The evolution of the structure and function of the limbic-cortical brain is at one with the creation of the play. The morphology, organized structures, and pathways of complex neuronal webs throughout its architecture create the patterns of patterns of patterns that enable the characterological drama. This is the cortical processing that allows for the meaning and coherence of our moment-to-moment functioning in life. The creation of images of personas, their emotional relatedness, and life plots—the full range of tragedy and comedy— is the drama. It constitutes the top-down processing of our individual selves and our emotional and relationship life. The coherence of human consciousness is the highest level of order of the human genome. We walk around all day long, each of us, in this brain-body synthetic bubble of consciousness, our genetic endowment. The characterological drama of human consciousness is our adaptation to and is consonant with living the human life—the life of the individual and relatedness to others. It encompasses our surviving, our child rearing, our imagination, and our culture. It allows us to function as the individual and social animals we are. It creates the meaning landscape of human experience.
Obviously, I vehemently oppose Scientology. Paradoxically, pharmacological psychiatry is actually quite close to Scientology because both believe that human suffering is a brain problem. It’s just that their methods differ. This process of dehumanizing people into brain problems has a long and forgotten history in Somatic psychiatry, of which pharmaceutical psychiatry is but the latest incarnation. The first form of Somatic Psychiatry was insulin shock therapy where a hormone was injected to create brain seizures. The science of its day, in the 1930’s, believed seizures were the opposite of psychosis. An alternative theory was to jolt the brain. Of course this is not true. Incredible scientific claims of treatment success were affirmed in the scientific journals before they were shown to be false. Next came Electro Shock. Apparently the jolt theory gained traction, where psychiatrists applied huge jolts of electricity to the brain to create seizures. Incredible scientific claims of treatment success were validated in the psychiatric journals – for schizophrenia, depression, etc. Again, this was not true, but cruel and inhumane. Then came lobotomies, where instead of shocking the brain, somatic psychiatrists reamed out the frontal lobes of the brain with an ice pick. This too was scientifically validated. In fact the inventor of lobotomies, Antonio Egas Moniz, was celebrated and scientifically validated He actually won a Nobel Prize for his great brain treatment. You may notice the medieval barbarity that psychiatry actually sunk into. This all has these fallen into a state of amnesia, And now so-called biological psychiatrists are treating the brain once more – not hormonally, not electrically, not reaming it out – but chemically. This time they use psychoactive drugs. Now I understand that contemporary psychiatry and the public thinks this is a really good thing. But it is no different and just as destructive as the rest of its forebears in somatic psychiatry. [Scientology also destructively focuses on brain problems. Their approach is to employ brain washing technologies with deluded beliefs.]
Psychotherapy, unlike somatic psychiatry understands that suffering is a human problem. This is not radical. It is human and caring. Psychiatric issues derive from the impacts of our nurture on our nature. And all of this is established in the brain, in our consciousness. Its form is the ‘play’ of consciousness which is actually biological.
I received a comment from a man who has been a patient in England. He says it better than I. “The funny thing is all the traumatic experiences are hard enough but family is much more difficult. I have become incredibly disheartened at the way the mentally ill or weak are victimized by family and others. It is very sad indeed. I also have been shocked at how badly treated some are at the hands of modern psychologists regarding diagnosis and a lack of empathy which is key to any real talking therapy. That together with the UK governments drive to literally fell the ill and disabled. It has been a very bad time for the weak and vulnerable. The words of Freud and the psychodynamic therapeutic treatments seem far removed from the general psyche of those in power and the public at large. A massive dose of humanism is needed globally.” [To be clear I am not a Freudian. Psychotherapy of Character is not a throwback to old-fashioned psychoanalytic therapy and its derivatives, which have been beset by considerable problems throughout the years. Its practice suffered from dogmatic theories and miscast beliefs, which worked to the detriment of responsiveness to our patients. Although my own roots are in psychoanalytic psychotherapy, I moved on to develop the psychotherapy of character.]