By James Peart
Sigmund Freud said that the Irish were impervious to psychoanalysis. Quite where and when he had the opportunity to delve into the collective psyche of our flame-haired, rogue minded countrymen presents a mystery of its own, but the statement is not quite accurate.
The late 2FM DJ Gerry Ryan said that the Irish have a great fear of being completely ‘atomised’ by the kind of experimentation therapy offers. You may well look on it as experimentation, such as with hard, psychotropic drugs, as we don’t really subscribe to the feelings induced in the effect of various recreational medications: the mood enhancing, loved up feeling for all humanity invoked by the drug Ecstasy (not our cup of tea- we prefer to brood over dark and bitter global resentments); the evil possession enabled by Heroin (a good one here, but the Irishman, instead of self-medicating this one, is liable to administer injections to his enemies); the manic stress energy level caused by speed (there would be no significant change in the personality, thereby rendering ingestion of the drug redundant).
The Irish and Therapy
And so weiter, as our Germanic cousins would say. The Irish are sometimes so averse to therapy that they would rather prescribe their way out of a problem than deal with it in any cognitive or behavioural manner. This is changing as many hospital treatment programmes have adopted a variety of counselling approaches as part of their rehabilitation tack. They have also adopted advances in medicative technology, so one could be forgiven for thinking there was a war between medication and mindfulness, a pill versus psyche situation. Jim Lucie, Director of Saint Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin, a well-motivated and caring healthcare professional, oversees the administration of high voltage medication (which is the pill version of shock therapy and can be extremely effective) for some patients with emotional disturbances of one kind or another. This leads to the question: do we really need psychiatry anymore, recently introduced as it has been into the health care system? The author Thomas Harris, through his beloved character Hannibal Lector, has described psychiatry as a ‘dead religion,’ its practitioners no better than ‘ham radio enthusiasts.’
All along the corridors of prisons, and into wardens’ offices come striding the psychiatrists and criminal psychologists, armed with their peculiar jargon, bargaining their pet criminals’ good behaviour for reduced sentence time. John E, Douglas, a former FBI agent working for the agency’s Investigative Support Unit, tasked to profile serial murderers, was disdainful of psychologists in his book Mindhunter, perhaps cynically pointing out that an offender could be a model prisoner in jail, yet morph into the abominable Bigfoot on release. The fact that these hardened cons refrain from Yeti-stabbing their fellow inmate with a spoon shank, is, perhaps according to people like Douglas, no guarantee of good behaviour in the outside world, even Molly Keane style.
To properly gauge the acceptance of therapy, one must first assess the general level of acceptance, not of the adoption of pill consumption, but that of mental illness of any type in society. We’re ready to accept those with, say, nervous tics, perhaps, maybe anxiety (of the free-floating to fixed disorder kind), even, peripherally, neurosis, but not full-blown psychotic malaises. Psychologists tell us that creative individuals often fall prey to neurosis. We pride ourselves on being a nation of artists and poets, and maybe this is why we enjoy the stamp of ‘insecure’ or ‘self-critical’ more than that of, say, ‘cognitively coerced,’ as we might label those who hear voices.
Maybe we need a term to label deep disorders so that they will be brought to the surface of public awareness and achieve acceptance and support for those who have them. It might do good, as long as there is no overindulgence in the kind of constant categorisation that, in itself, interestingly, leads to serious disorders such as schizophrenia or its darker cousin hebephrenia.
Awareness of mental health is vital to its positive maintenance, and things are looking better in this country in this area. However, the next time you meet a bearded Austrian at a social function you happen to be hosting, and he asks after your health, make sure he sits down on your couch first.
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