When we want to understand the nature of the mind we turn to masters such as Carl Jung and the depth psychologists. When we wish to contemplate the nature of deep, existential despair, we may turn to Kierkegaard, Sartre, or our spiritual teacher or minister. When we want our spouse, brother or sister, or child to recover from symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other serious mental problem we think about sending them to a psychiatrist, who will most likely prescribe a chemical psychotropic agent. We are caught in a perplexing contradiction and dualism. An intuitive attraction towards healing of the mind and spirit is in opposition to an increasingly unopposed acceptance of the assumption that mental derangements are a result of abnormalities in the brain.
What is the relationship between the mind and spirit to the brain? Is there more to mind than brain? Or the mind merely a fiction, a poetic abstraction, which we can safely ignore when we need to “get serious” about treating emotional illness? Clearly “modern” medicine has opted for the materialist, reductionist model, namely that mental and emotional illness is a biologically-caused, chemically treatable illness, expressed by neurohumoral imbalances with roots in genetic inheritance. “Real” treatment, therefore, consists of management of symptoms by chemical modulation of neurotransmitters. The medical map of the brain focuses on the synapses between the neurons, and at the molecular level, the receptor sites for serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
A century ago, long before the chance discovery of the mood elevating-effects of certain drugs began a revolution in psychiatry, doctors began to take seriously the ideas of the Viennese neurologist Sigmund Freud. By the 1930s the idea of the “unconscious”, the “superego”, the presence of instinctual drives and suppression, had entered popular culture. Doctors took seriously the existence of unconscious “complexes”, and “neurotic” illness was approached with a deep sense of respect for the symbols of dreams and imagination, the necessity of bringing to consciousness previously repressed conflicts, traumas, and emotions, the possibility of the healing power of working through deep issues in a transference process with the therapist. Carl Jung mapped out an even deeper terrain of the mind, postulating the existence of a collective unconscious that contained archetypal impulses, primordial patterns, and mythic complexes that unfolded in a realm which influences and transcends the suffering individual. It was through an integration of these individual and collective archetypal impulses that self-realization and healing took place.
Look how different the computer-analysis of PET-scans of the brain are from the cartography of Freud and Jung! On the one hand we settle deep into an archaic language replete with descriptions of mythic power struggles between cosmic forces of instinct and super-ego, Self and Ego, individuation vs. regression. On the other hand we are dazzled by high-tech computerized illuminations of metabolic variations between “diseased” vs. “normal” brains, or parts of brains! It is as if subjective reality of Mind stands in a completely different universe from objective reality, as dissected by our sophisticated imaging devices. We have proof the brain exists, and good evidence that neurotransmitter imbalances play a big role in mental disturbance. What proof do we have for mind? We have therapies based on brain chemistry. Where is our medicine (aside from talk) based on the map of the mind charted by Freud and Jung? Even the talk therapists seem to be moving away from concepts based on depth psychology (predicated on the ontological existence of mind with depth) and towards models of treatment which, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, seem to complement better a primarily clinical and psychopharmacological approach to mental health.
Psychopharmacology and depth psychology operate from two fundamentally different paradigms. Can you imagine a dialogue between the two disciplines? It’s difficult, because not only do both speak in totally different languages, but also they operate from very different assumptions. Isn’t it surprising, then, that in spite of this incongruity “combined” drug and talk therapy has become the standard of care? The unproven but seemingly common assumption is that pharmacological treatment of the “biological component” of a psychiatric illness allows the patient to move forward in therapy. The implicit model is that “depression”, “anxiety”, or other mental disturbance can be separated into biological, cognitive, and affective (emotional) components. Without addressing the first with a “serious” biological agent, the patient may get “stuck” in his or her therapeutic work. This clunky model is attractive because it weds the so-called effectiveness of biodynamic agents with our intuitive attraction towards insight-oriented therapy.
What if there was a system of medicine which more truly complemented the insights of the depth psychologists? What if we could put an archetype in a bottle, so to speak, so that insight and self-recognition could develop from simply taking a pill? What if, after unearthing a deep, core dilemma experienced by a patient, a therapist could give the patient a medicine that actually helped him or her resolve that dilemma, that core conflict, deep within his cells? We all know and recognize the split between head and heart when we see it. A patient – perhaps it’s you! – can explain with astonishing sophistication how he came to be the way he is. Does such an understanding necessarily bring freedom? Not when it stays in the head! Not when the feeling is deep within the cells. And this is the case, I assert, with us all.
A truly holistic medicine would not act by manipulation of brain chemistry to suppress end-stage symptoms of clinical syndromes, but would rather reflect back to the patient an image which resonated with his or her own particular way of becoming off-balance, thereby helping the individual return to a place of psychological equilibrium.. This kind of medicine does exactly what a good therapist does: reflect back to the patient an image that is truthful in its correspondence to her deepest feelings and dilemmas.
What is needed, then, is a prescription which encodes this therapeutic reflection in such a way that it can be assimilated, understood, and responded to at the cellular level. The organism needs to process self-understanding not intellectually, but rather physiologically and “energetically”. Such a prescription would reflect back to the patient a holographic, encoded message which stimulates a healing process from within. I am speaking of a medicine which is primarily informational rather than material. It is informational in a highly specific and nuanced way. The information is not only about where the patient is now; it encodes holographically the pathway along which the individual traveled to get to his particular psychological place, and thus points out the way he can turn around and travel in the opposite direction!
Homeopathy is becoming understood as just such a medicine. As such it is revolutionary in its approach. Rather than relegate psychopharmacology to the role of gross manipulation of synaptic neurotransmitter levels, the medicine chosen becomes an active symbol and mediator of the deepest understanding achieved by patient and homeopath. Rather than chemically prodding the patient out of a presumably biologically-determined rut, the medicine informs the patient at a deep, physiological level how to climb by itself out of its dysfunctional, maladaptive stance to life’s challenges to a place of greater freedom, flexibility, and balance. The difference here is between eradicating or suppressing symptoms by force of chemistry, versus offering to the patient a blueprint with which he will free himself of his suffering at the core.
It has now become clichÃ© to say that the mind and the body are connected. Can we accept the fact that the mind and body are two aspects, two expressions, of the same organism and all of its’ conflicts? Suffering is not merely an epiphenomenom of organic malfunction. It is an expression of consciousness. Psychopharmacology presumes that the biochemical abnormalities cause the depression. Perhaps the deeper truth is that the mind and spirit of the organism -what homeopaths call the vital force – uses the body, including the brain, to express its dis-ease! The nature of the symptoms, the unique constellation of mental, emotional, and physical symptoms, form a detailed, descriptive statement of the inner condition of the organism. Symptoms, in their essential nature, are not haphazard sequella of faulty wiring or pathological processes. They are the letters and words of this statement! The organism is expressing its state, and the symptoms are the working materials of its expression.
So the next time you are confronted with a psychological problem in a loved one, a friend, or in yourself, don’t assume that “serious” treatment has to be chemical in nature. The most curative, profound, and modern treatment is also the most gentle. Because it works with the organism’s own drive towards equilibrium and healing, it is also the most healthy and permanent. Homeopathy doesn’t fragment the individual into psyche on the one hand, and soma and the other. Therefore the healing it brings about on the emotional plane also becomes evident on the physical plane. Finally, homeopathy gives us a handle on how to understand our feelings and our situation which doesn’t separate our mind from our brain, our head from our heart, and our intuitive attraction towards that which is deep from our need to do what is practical.
When homeopathy is understood by psychiatry and the mental health community it will bring about a revolution in the treatment of mental illness. When homeopathy becomes the treatment of choice for most illnesses it will change forever our understanding of the role of consciousness in health and disease.
Doug Brown, CCH, FNP, RSHom is a graduate of Yale University School of Nursing and the Hahnemann College of Homeopathy. He became a homeopath when after 11 years of working with conventional medicine as a Family Nurse Practitioner he remained dissatisfied with its failure to cure chronic disease and with its fragmentation of care. He treats children and adults in Portland, OR, and Walla Walla, WA, and can be reached at (503) 253-6334, or by email at [email protected]