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Time to practice what I preach

Posted Nov 24 2010 12:00am
The teenage son of a colleague of mine has just been committed to a psychiatric hospital. He's fourteen years old. He's been receiving psychiatric help for years, but the situation was taking a new turn and becoming dangerous. His father feels all the psychiatry his son has had to date hasn't prevented what is happening now.

Here's an excellent opportunity for me to rush in and give my friend the benefit of all my experience, and yet, I don't. At least, I don't very much.

My advice wouldn't be well-received, because it's too soon, and I doubt I'll be asked. Mental illness is so personal that it seems that nobody else can possibly have the answers for your own relative. And, of course that's true to some extent. It seems all of us are fated to learn about how to get over mental illness the hard way.

It shouldn't have to be this hard, but it is, because, unfortunately, most psychiatrists aren't willing to embrace alternatives. Right now my friend's son is in solitary, so early empathetic intervention à la Soteria or Open Dialogue isn't being considered. Even if it's not Soteria, doctors should get in there early and tell the parents it's their job to be non-judgmental, low expressed emotion and unafraid. They should but they don't. As long as the parents are scared stiff and worried, doctors can count on being in control.

In our own case, Chris's psychiatrists have, at various times, rejected vitamins, second opinions, sound therapy, and ideas coming from us. Had Chris's psychiatrist known about the Assemblage Point shift, well, I never even proposed it because I knew it would be rejected.  Most psychiatrists, even the ones I think have been helpful for Chris, don't appreciate hearing about add-on therapies. I can understand that to a point. But it often looks more like they want to control the entire process, even if it means that recovery will never happen or be delayed.

So, what did I say to my colleague? Not much, but I tried to interject optimism and a positive attitude about his son's future. I suggested that psychiatrists don't have most of the answers and a healthy amount of skepticism is needed. I mentioned that the Internet is full of different views about mental health. It's far too early to confide in him that one of the best therapies for Chris was for his parents to decide to change the family dynamics by changing ourselves, rather than our thinking that Chris was the problem in need of changing.

It's too bad that psychiatry doesn't share these insights with the family. If it did, recovery would be quicker than it actually is.
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