Part 2: Psychology’s Answer to Mental Illness
When faced with the daunting prospect of unearthing the underlying issues of the human psyche, we must call upon the science of psychology for aid. The mystery which pervades man’s own mind is nigh unsolvable, but through the meticulous research and development of psychology, humanity begins to develop an apt enough replacement for the religions of old. The contextual pathology of humanity lies in its constant suffering, due recently to the epitomal rise in mental illness all over the world. Jung, Piaget, Freud, Skinner, Pavlov; all these psychologists explored the kind of revolutionary thinking that allows us to have effective modes of therapy to this day. But there remains the fundamental mystery of the cause of the illnesses of the mind in the first place. The soil of disconnection with ourselves has been set as the mass psychological context, now there only remains to find the seeds which sprout into our collective pathologies.
Before we address the inquiry into mental illness directly, a review of the various schools of psychological thought should be undertaken; as each has its own methods, style, and theorem to address their respective patients.
The first of the major psychological schools of thought, this was a revolutionary theory and remains controversial to this day, concerning its methods and ideas. It was the brainchild of Sigmund Freud, who upon discovering that the symptoms of his patients were reduced dramatically when they would talk to someone about them, decided to listen. Thus, the idea of talk therapy was born, and from it sprouted Freud’s development of the concept of the ego, id, and unconscious. The classic theory proposes that all pathologies stem from some form of childhood trauma or sexual repression or aggression, and that the process of talking out the symptoms, memories, and dreams of the patient will render their pathology conscious and thus by extension, ineffectual.
The main focus of this umbrella of thought is the exploration and study of the unconscious; the part of the human psyche which contains all of our non-aware behaviour patterns, memories, traumas, desires, and (as Carl Jung theorized) a connection to a network which pervades all of humanity and connects it to the mysteries of nature which he called the collective unconscious. Within the depths of the collective unconscious, there lies archetypes, symbolic representations of overlying modes of behaviours which make up nearly all of our religious stories and myths, which in turn provide maps of behaviour for the human being to follow (Maps of Meaning Jordan B. Peterson).
The Behaviourist school of thought takes a systematic and certain approach to the mind; it is currently the most empirically supported and based school in the realm of psychology. Founded by B.F. Skinner, it takes the stance that all behaviour is a response to any given kind of stimuli; whether it be direct environmental stimuli, memorially enforced stimuli (including punishment and reward reinforcement), or a consequence of an individual’s history/childhood. Generally, Behaviourism treats mental illness in accordance directly with its symptoms and is the mother of CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy). Techniques such as exposure therapy, behaviour reinforcement therapy and counselling are all part of CBT, and it is the most widely used and accepted form of therapy to date; being capable of reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even certain forms of anti-social disorders (More commonly known as Sociopathy and Psychopathy). It almost entirely ignores however the unconscious part of the psyche, addressing it as only the holding place for pathological symptoms and behaviour. This is true, but only to some extent; it fails to address deeper questions as to where the symptoms arise from, and what is the final cure for them, instead of just a reduction of their severity. Behaviourism remains the most empirical and medically supported school of thought, as most of its theories may be tested and potentially disproved by experimentation; for this reason, it remains the most used form of therapy of our age.
- Cognitive Psychology
The Cognitive school is a separated branch from the school of Behaviourism and is the source of many fundamental ideas of modern psychology such as linguistics, economics in relation to psychology, and cognitive processes. The Cognitive school takes the experimental and empirical approach of Behaviourism and applies it to the internal mental processes of the brain, which recently became observable due to the ongoing development of MRI technology. It shifts the focus from external observable behaviour to internal behaviour.
- Humanist Psychology
The Humanist approach emphasizes human creativity, individuality, and free will as primary psychic phenomena. It was developed to address the limitations of Freud’s psychoanalysis and Skinner’s behaviourism. It takes its ideological roots in the works of Socrates, and takes a self-actualizing approach to therapeutic practice, encouraging the client to individualize and forge their own path. This approach also takes from the Jungian school of thought, in which all aspects of the psyche; good and bad, must be integrated for a successful and meaningful life. Thus, the humanistic approach is very common among counselling circles, where the clinician encourages and guides the client, rather than provides treatment for a specific illness. Humanistic psychology is the meeting place where the two hands of philosophy and psychology meet; forming an ideology which also holds true the sacredness of the individual. This school fails to diagnose and treat high level disorders and focuses more specifically on “normal” individuals; and is extremely effective as a life coaching tool.
- Gestalt Psychology
Stemming from the Humanistic school; Gestalt psychology explores primarily the phenomenon of perception and its psychological phenomena. Believing that the previous schools took too clinical an approach to mental life, this school began to delve into the idea of illusion as perception, and its significance to mental health. Being one of the youngest schools, there is no specific style of therapy used by it; but its investigations into the phenomenon of perception, and the ethical and psychological implications of it are beyond interesting. The Gestalt approach takes the effort of being non-dividing in its ideas; meaning, that it believes that perception is, as the fundamental illusion on which ego-consciousness is based, a universal and undivided phenomenon. This school takes into account that perception is a fundamental part of what makes a mental illness an illness at all; especially when taking into account such disorders as Autism and anti-social disorders. It argues that it is the perceptual self stigma that gives rise to mental illness, not the ether of the unconscious, or specific genetic factors.
The interesting thing about the divisive nature of all these schools, and the academic conflicts therein (fought pens and statistics in hand) is that no single school can be truly correct, or wrong. It is a common epidemic in academic circles to accept one’s own assumptions (most of which are not created by the individual in question) as utterly and unequivocally correct. This breeds such a stall to psychological progress that it can become impossible to get any true research done, and only further entrenches the self estrangement that pervades our society. To accept any one truth as sooth, or (rather funnily) as “the word of God” is a highway to intellectual stagnation, for suddenly there is no room for disproval of one’s theorem. The key to finding the cause of something as pervasive as mental illness is to take into account all schools, and from there derive the most likely aspects. For instance, the Psychoanalytic idea that all mental illness stems from childhood trauma and unconscious pathology is only half correct, on only a surface level of analysis. To determine why the childhood trauma and unconscious pathology is the cause, one may look to Gestalt theory, which claims that the phenomenon of perception is what gives way to all the “Illusory pathologies of man, which still affect him despite their self caused and un-real nature.” (Allan Watts The Wisdom of Insecurity) In fact, this idea is pervasive in many philosophical works, such as in the work of Allan Watts, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Nietzsche and many more. It also is a main theme in the Buddhist tradition, which emphasizes the illusion of perception as being the cause of all suffering; it is called Samsara, the wheel upon which all human life takes place, and to which all humanity is bound in golden chains. (Joseph Campbell The Hero With a Thousand Faces) But there also arises the Behaviourist school, which claims that it is conditioning (cultural or familial) which causes the emergence of any particular disorder. While conditioning is in part the cause of mental illness, it cannot be the only cause, because there are myriad disorders; each of which has their own respective symptoms and causes. One may be conditioned to do any number of things, as can be seen in such psychic phenomena as reinforcement and punishment disorders, which include masochistic disorders, and sadism. All causes are interrelated, and there is no one ultimate cause on an individual level. And here also arises another problem: understanding the individual patient versus approaching them from a more general scientific level. In his book The Undiscovered Self, Jung approaches this problem. He describes the purely scientific approach as too generalized and abstracted to such an extent that it cannot apply properly to any specific individual. He was an advocate for the position in which the doctor shifts his focus instead to the more real truth that every individual is unique in every way possible, and that the nature of reality is also reflexive if this truth. “The only true regularity is in fact irregularity, as every moment and individual is as, if not more irregular and unique than the last…” (Carl G. Jung The Undiscovered Self) Thus the division between the schools of thought in psychology can be determined by the duality between the clinician’s approach, and what will be called the personal approach. Behaviourism, and its branching schools; while highly effective as a means of categorization, are not as effective as the more individual approach taken by Humanistic and Psychoanalytic psychology. Each individual case has his own specific causes and traumas, which extend to being his own specific individually tailored pathologies and neuroses.
The importance of the generalized scientific approach, however, should not be completely disregarded, as there also arises problems with a solely individual approach to any patient. If one disregards completely the value of the scientific approach, then there arises the problem of there being no therapeutic path to follow; no guideline for the clinician to follow as they delve into the unconscious mind and the lives if their patients. This can be concerning, for a therapist who invests himself too much into his clients is likely to end up needing a therapist himself (though generally, this is not uncommon among clinicians). Both should be implemented to find the true causes, and by extension the solution of mental illness. The two avenues of thought are not separate, as it would be so convenient for us to believe. Instead it is the implementation of both which provides a true cure for a patient, not just a direct response to the symptoms. If one does not address the true source of a problem, then it is impossible (lest by virtue of some miracle) that the problem becomes solved at all. The purely scientific approach encourages this unfortunate outcome by assuming that the same chemicals administered by the clinician will cure the patient. This however, will only serve to numb the patient’s awareness, not cure them of any illness they may have; this is referred to rather bitterly by Humanistic and Gestalt psychologists as “lazy therapy”.
Individual and generalized scientific methods are both keys to the exploration and curing of one’s mental illnesses, and thus the profession of the clinician remains an incredibly important one; they become in many ways a modern transformation of the shaman. Shaman who, as they always have been, are the connection between the world of men, the everyday experience of ego-consciousness, and the impersonal, archetypal, symbolic and unknown world of the unconscious, from which all manner of creatures and gods do grow. The names change through history, but the archetype of the individual who goes into the unknown to recover some boon of value remains consistent, and is reminiscent in all stories; whether they be mythology, novella, or Harry Potter. The hero remains the individual who mediates between the unknown parts of himself and the normal waking experience which we call ego. In psychoanalysis (particularly that of the Jungian kind), it is often proposed that one who is clinically insane has lost his self in the unconscious, and thus becomes strange, unpredictable, and consumed by his pathology. In fact, the taking over of one’s life by the unconscious is common in every pathology, for that is why it is a pathology at all. If I have a pathological urge to drink, I have allowed my unconscious and unhealed wounds to remain festered (psychoanalysis), and thus in a desperate attempt to self medicate I approach the eternal bottom of a bottle. Now, the idea that the bottle could be a solution to my pathology could come from any number of things, such as my father’s tendency to drink (behaviourism), and my mother’s (whom I resent for allowing me to become a pathological child) punishing of my father for his drinking (humanism). But underlying all my family’s lives, there remains the contextual and archetypal situation which is this: the dogmatic acceptance of science as the solution to all problems, which bred a feeling of Nihilism in my family which led to a lack of faith in any sort of therapeutic or “hokey” practices (Jungian). See how there lies a number of schools of thought, and a number of causes for any given pathology? Society influences the individual, and the individual makes up society, and is thus responsible for nothing more or less than his own being, and all which that may encompass. Often the ultimate pathology remains that which pervades the patient, who is aware of it, but has been convinced by himself that it is not pathology at all, but rather an aspect of his personality. This resistance to therapeutic criticism is especially present in patients who have a high IQ, as they become incredibly adept at rationalizing their neuroses. It may be in part that this is the reason why a characteristic of psychopathy is an unusually high IQ (usually ranging in the 110 to 130 range). (Jordan B. Peterson Maps of Meaning)
According to the practices of psychology, the causes of mental illness may be as listed they are here (note that even these remain purely hypothetical, as the nature of the psyche does not allow for physical or concrete evidence to be obtained from the human mind.):
i) Childhood trauma: in the form of abuse or other psychological disturbances which cause a major paradigm shift.
ii) Conditioned behaviour, from parents, culture, or peers.
iii) Unconscious and archetypal influences, which pervade the psyche usually leading to a psychosis or spiritual crisis as a consequence of a lack of proper guidance.
iv) Underlying nature of humanity, being naturally good or evil.
v) Genetic disposition.
vi) Inherited defects.
vii) Disconnection and distance from the self and the unconscious.
viii) Physical trauma in the brain or any other part of the body.
ix) Physical disease such as cancer and other terminal illnesses.
x) Poor life conditions.
xi) Major shifts in current frame of reference, spiritual upheaval and paradigm shifting world events.
xii) Self-induced pathology, for reasons unknown to the patient. (And more often than not to the therapist as well.)
All these causes have myriad sub-categories and research done in them, for the human psyche is vast and so are its various problems; but they are presented here as derived from the U.S. National Library of medicine’s online recourse: MedicinePlus.gov.
We have discussed the implications of the current solutions to the mental illness epidemic, the scientific approach, and the individual approach; and found them both wanting. What possible mode of therapy could be used to address all of these causes, remain true to the scientific literature, and allocate for the individual nature of all pathology? Well, in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung addresses this issue in the chapter named Science or the Clergy? The two are opposites at surface analysis but are fundamentally the same. Two sides of the same coin, opposites necessary for the completion of any therapeutic process. To properly address the pathology of a patient, the doctor must be aware of the contextual and collective elements of his psyche, as well as those of the patient; only then can he begin to work slowly towards discovering the true individual causes and symptoms for his patient’s neuroses. Talk therapy has been used for decades as the main method of therapy, but slowly, the combination of CBT, talk therapy, and chemical dosage has begun to unfold as an effective therapeutic aid. The clinician must be extremely careful; however, in his ongoing work, to not allow transference from his own pathologies onto the patient or vice versa, or the phenomenon of projection to occur at any level. A clinician should, in order to be as effective as possible, practice what they preach to the patient, on all levels of life, not just the moral or psychological. Not only this, but a clinician must have the capacity to show the patient that in reality, he knows no more about the patient than the patient himself, and due to the nature of reality being so highly irregular, must accept that every case is an individual and unique one. At the same time, the doctor must use the wealth of scientific knowledge at his disposal in order to define and determine the patient’s traits; be they personality traits, pathological traits or any sort of defining symptoms. Every case must be treated as unique, but under the umbrella of the overarching scientific literature. From this point, it is the art work of the clinician to determine what combination of therapies is best for the client, or if any other therapy save for counselling is needed at all; the various methods of therapy also being provided by the explorations of science.
In essence, a therapy session is as much a journey for the doctor as for the patient. Both are embarking upon an joint effort to pin point the truth behind the illusion of the ego-consciousness which would allow both participants to discover more about each other, the nature of their own pathologies, and the nature of the world around them. Every dialogue is a small step to the ultimate self actualization and full integration of the individual psyche. With the wealth of statistical knowledge available to us, and the insight given to us by history’s greatest minds, it may be possible to finally determine not only the cause but also the solution to the illnesses of the mind which have afflicted man since his pre-cosmogenic birth; all we need is a bit of outlandish creativity and knowledge of the past.