Psychiatry

There are embarrassingly few posts in my category Psychiatry. When I started the blog, I planned to write much more on this subject. I even included on the original About page the following separate section under the heading Psychiatry.

Another area of interest – although hardly specialization – has been psychiatry and psychotherapy. Here I have sought to implement certain concrete applications of the restored humanities and humanistic philosophy, as supported by the spiritual teachings. I have provided dialogical advice to people with psychiatric disorders and their relatives, in and out of some organizations for such people, on the basis of my own familiarity with ”abnormal” psychological states gained in connection with some of my early spiritual and mystical experiences.

Having found my own experiences of this kind only occasionally painful and primarily interesting, I have advised against the use of certain antipsychotic drugs or neuroleptics, which I find to be often more destructive than the disorders themselves. As is today well known, such drugs can cause persistent adverse effects, like tardive dyskinesia.

In the last few decades, through the impact of anti-psychiatry psychiatrists like R. D. Laing, Thomas Szasz, and David Cooper, but also through figures like Michel Foucault, Félix Guattari and successful novelists and influential autobiographers, mental illness has become increasingly fashionable, something that confers aesthetic and intellectual status – to the point that some who speak of their illness can now be suspected of trying to exploit it for the purpose of making themselves interesting in the eyes of others.

I see this narcissistic phenomenon as yet another expression of the legacy of problematic forms of romanticism in one side of modernism, and insist on the need for rejecting the implied relativism and defending the existence sound criteria of mental health and disease. I also think the whole ideological and cultural climate of the contemporary West is to a considerable extent such as to contribute to the increase of mental disease and, above all, to make it much harder to cure, since, not least as manifested in the world of psychotherapy, it fails to teach patients how to deal properly with their own suffering and hence bring about their recovery.

But I have come to agree with some analyses of and to understand the problems with the philosophical errors and the ideological abuse (not just in the Soviet Union) represented by mainstream psychiatry, and this has influenced my political and cultural analysis of the contemporary society of which psychiatry is a part. The standards I defend are therefore not at all those of the other, rationalist and scientist side of modernity.

There is real, pathological mental illness; and there is good psychiatry alongside the bad. But I have tried to point to the potential value and deeper meaning of many psychiatric disorders. I have suggested that they can have the function of breaking down lower orders of the mind and the ego, and establishing higher ones of the spirit.

Adequately handled, and refined in accordance with a proper moral and humanistic understanding, experiences in abnormal states can be further developed in the direction of spiritual enlightenment and humane wisdom. I have recommended that they be understood in the perspective of wider historical, cultural, philosophical, and spiritual references than the ones currently available in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment and in psychological therapy and councelling.

 

Somehow I have not been able to mobilize or maintain sufficient interest in the matter to write about it to the extent I hoped to or indeed to write about it at all: the posts in the Psychiatry category do not contain my own writing; the only writing I have produced is this section from the old About page (I have also added some posts with books on psychiatry, and one on tardive dyskinesia, in the References category).

This is one of the several reasons why I have now removed that About page, which contained seprate sections on Spirituality, Humanities, Politics, Psychiatry, and Arts. It is now in the process of being completetly rewritten. On the new About page, the information about me and my work will be presented in three sections only, corresponding to the main themes indicated in the name of the blog: Teaching Spirituality, Restoring the Arts and Humanities, and Saving Europe. New paragraphs on psychiatry will be included under both Teaching Spirituality and Restoring the Arts and Humanities, but they will not be found in a separate section.

The category Psychiatry will be retained, however, since I do have quite a lot more to say about it. I think I am able to identify at least two explanations for the limited number of posts on psychiatry. The first is that it is not really psychiatry as such that I am interested in, but rather the kind of “’abnormal’ states gained in connection with some of my early spiritual and mystical experiences” that I mentioned. While I accept that some of them are part of what is clinically diagnosed in terms of psychiatric illness, I still fail to identify many of the instances I have come across, not only in myself but also in others, as pathological. Indeed, the spiritual experiences that produced these states are still basically what my whole life is about.

The definition of schizophrenia, for instance, always seemed fantastically inadequate to me in its shocking obscurity and amorphousness; much of it was in fact strictly incomprehensible. It had the appearance of an ad hoc, omnium gatherum diagnosis adopted for purely pragmatic reasons. I am not denying that some of those pragmatic reasons could be legitimate, but this has nothing to do with the proper theoretical understanding of the matter. The “abnormal” states in question are indeed to some extent schizophrenia as currently defined. What I suggest is simply that this definition should be revised and that at least some of them are better understood in other terms, namely in terms of spirituality and some forms of idealistic and humanistic philosophy.

What is interesting with psychiatry in itself is, from my perspective, primarily its function as part of contemporary society with its dominant ideologies. As soon as I entered upon the spiritual path long ago, it became evident to me that this society and these ideologies were problematic in central and decisive respects; and as I experienced states that were most definitely statistically “abnormal” in this context and hence came in contact with psychiatry, I soon also perceived clearly that not least the function of psychiatry was questionable. The response in the given social context to my spiritual and mystical experiences and the states they engendered caused me to seek to articulate the alternative worldview in terms of which they became comprehensible and “normal”, and which had so overwhelmingly revealed its truth to me, or at least the truth of some of its main aspects that I could then intellectually grasp.

The other reason for the paucity fo posts, the other thing that is holding me back, is the phenomenon I described of mental illness having become “increasingly fashionable, trendy, something that confers aesthetic and intellectual status – to the point that some who speak of their illness can now be suspected of trying to exploit it for the purpose of making themselves interesting in the eyes of others”. I feel this is something I could be suspected of if I started to write at length about my own distant experiences of abnormal states in connection with spiritual and mystical practices more than thirty years ago, even if I do not and cannot account for them in terms of psychiatry.

It is not that I would prefer the opposite historical situation where people were afraid or ashamed of speaking about psychiatric illness or states defined in such terms and their consequences in their lives. But I simply cannot find the current reversal of that situation sound either. It is “yet another expression of the legacy of romanticism in one side of modernism”; “the need for rejecting the implied relativism and defending the existence sound criteria of mental health and disease” must be insisted on.

The phenomena are what they are, viewed in the right perspective they are interesting, and they are increasingly important; they should be analysed and understood in a sober, objective, and philosophical manner. More generally, there is a frightening increase of psychiatric illness and psychiatric diagnoses in today’s society. While the diagnoses often remain highly spurious – I spoke here of “the philosophical errors and the ideological abuse (not just in the Soviet Union) represented by mainstream psychiatry”, and rejected the standards of health and illness standards “of the other, rationalist and scientist side of modernity” which contemporary psychiatry represents – much of the illness is still real indeed. The reasons for this are quite clear; they are all of course found in the continuous, broader social, cultural, moral, spiritual disintegration and degeneration of Western society: “the whole ideological and cultural climate of the contemporary West is to a considerable extent such as to contribute to the generation of mental disease”. The increase must be humanely dealt with; but it must be dealt with in order to be stopped. Real psychiatric illness should not be normalized and glorified.

Writing about the “abnormal” states of others that I have come in contact with over the years would allow me to avoid the mentioned pitfall of contemporary literary culture. It has been suggested to me several times that because of my own experience of psychiatry, I should write and speak more about these issues in order to help others, and in fact it might not be wholly unrealistic that, on the basis of my own experience, I could do at least some good in this field. Not least the “persistent adverse effects” of “neuroleptics and certain other antipsychotic drugs”, side effects that, early on, I experienced very clearly and complained about, and that I still suffer from, but which have only more recently been adequately understood by neuropsychopharmacologists and others, are something I strongly feel more attention must be drawn to, so that the use of those drugs can be minimized whenever possible. Although there is still much that is unclear to me here, and there may indeed also be, as psychiatrists insist, other factors involved, these precise effects are in fact in many cases the only things I have been able to identify beyond any possibility of doubt as instances of real pathology. I feel psychiatriy in general, and such problematic aspects of it in particular, should be a much more important area of contemporary politics, and would like to help contribute to establishing it as such.

The purpose of the Psychiatry category and the passage on the About page was indeed to focus on psychiatry even though only by means of its problematization, precisely by relating the “abnormal” states to it, by discussing how they are regarded and dealt with by psychiatry. In what I still hope to be able to write on this subject, I will try to keep to an analysis in phenomenological, historical, and social terms distinct from autobiography. Finally, the positive aspect of it all should also be kept in mind – what I called “the potential value and deeper meaning of many psychiatric disorders”, or what is perceived as such. Properly understood and dealt with, as they can be when adequate resources of spiritual, philosophical, moral, humanistic knowledge and experience, of a certain kind of increasingly rare wisdom are available, they can, as I suggested, even “have the effect of breaking down lower orders of the mind and the ego, and establishing higher ones of the spirit”.

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Jan Olof Bengtsson D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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