Put Pills and Diagnoses in their Places
Emotional and Pain Disorders:
Emotional and pain disorders usually get a diagnoses, often taken from the DSM IV or Diagnostic Manual. While these mental health labels have value, they are one of many factors that determine future emotional health. Diagnoses do not supply reasons why disorders happen or necessarily lead to what to do about them. Scientific studies may describe medications that could be helpful for groups of symptoms, but not what will work for any one person. That’s because we all have constitutional differences that determine the way we get ill and the way we heal. We all have different intentions or agendas with regard to our own health. We also live in different emotional and physical environments that profoundly effect healing. These factors have not and likely cannot be quantified. In fact, they are barely acknowledged in today’s “15 minute med-check environment,” the Psychiatric “Industry” standard. That does not make them less important.
Today these diagnostic labels can sometimes be cited with an authority they haven’t earned and also imply knowledge we don’t have. This can be discouraging for patients, if taken too literally. Statistics are probabilities as perceived in the very narrowly defined circumstances of a clinical trial. No one’s current and future condition can be summed up with a number in the same way that no one has the “average” 2 ½ children. Averages don’t tell us what’s going to happen with you or me.
Putting Pills in their Place:
Likewise, a potentially discouraging simplification has crept into American mental health. Response to medications has emerged as a criteria to whether someone is” treatable.” Somehow the “treatable by what we have to offer” has been lost. Medications are one approach to these illnesses and frankly not particularly helpful if not used with others. Unfortunately, terms like “treatment failure,” (applied to patients who don’t improve with trials of two or three medications) perpetuate this misunderstanding. The “treatment failure” term also implies that the usual response to medication is “treatment success.” That is an overstatement. Even when someone improves, medications are usually one part of the equation.
Recovery results from many different ingredients, including shifts in attitude, diet, and what’s been called “life-style.” This latter term trivializes what’s most critical, which is how we choose to live our lives. “Life Style” reflects one of the most significant ingredients: Intention. Intention is greatly emphasized in Eastern medicines and largely dismissed as a research nuisance in Western research.
Intention is the potential power of our minds to heal and more broadly, become who we are “meant” to be. (This we may spend a lifetime finding out). Intention brings every ounce of deliberateness and sustained engagement to any task. How powerful is that? You don’t have to be a Guru to feel it. Often we experience our intention in a crisis that calls upon our will to survive or prevail in a threatening situation. While there are no “studies” to support this impression, I believe many who work in clinical medicine would agree: If someone is determined to remain ill, this agenda can override the effects of medicines and surgeries.
On the positive side, our minds are powerful enough to help us heal. Without particularly trying, about 30% of drug trial participants will improve with placebos, the sugar or other inactive pills. We have mistakenly interpreted this statistic, which has been consistent over many clinical trials, as evidence of how “suggestible” people can be. In other words, people are easily “fooled.” Others in alternative medicine interpret this statistic as a measure of strength. We humans have the capacity to heal with a sugar pill because our minds can be that powerful. In fact, drug compnies struggle to surpass this percentage to prove their new medicines are worthwhile. This 30% effect actually measures how much we can influence our body with our beliefs. Our intention can be stronger than chemistry.
People seek Alternative Medicine (and Acu-Psychiatry) when they are not improving with conventional care. Combining what is usual with approaches from other traditions may enhance results. (See Published Articles).
Sadly, conventional care is now being redefined and reduced to medications and procedures. We, as a culture, have been steadily discounting the healing relationship as important for healing. People need what has been dismissed as “just talking” (to the right professionals). Sometimes this can be more effective in helping someone mobilize their own self-healing than a procedure or pill.