Many thanks to Dr. Peter Uhlmann for his letter in the March 5 issue about
the lack of information in our CME programs about the social etiologies of
psychiatric illness. Is there something irresponsible about our simply
treating the wounded without regard to the war?
I was recently invited to give a lecture as part of a college course about
evil. I spoke about large-scale evil behavior's psychological roots, such as
narcissism and its associated immature defenses, and all degrees of
dissociation. I spoke about the plasticity of the brain, theories of how
dissociation happens, and how people learn and can unlearn hurtful patterns.
The students were quite engaged as I spoke, which I understand is not the norm
for college audiences. They interrupted me throughout my talk and later, I am
told, devoted the 90 minutes of the next class to a discussion of the issues
I'm coming to recognize that we are in a position to contribute a great
deal to the larger discussion about our current social problems. When we
consider what underlies the particular traumas that our patients have
suffered, or the larger issues of terrorism, or the environmental crisis, or
the intense mutual projection that's involved in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, we have an important perspective to offer. At the most recent
psychotherapy networker conference, neurobiologists were prominent speakers,
leading the director of the conference to state, "Neurophysiologists are
the new humanists!"
Deep within the biologic, the biopsychosocial is being rediscovered. Are we
not engaging in some dissociation ourselves when we fail to study and discuss
the social problems contributing to psychiatric illness and the social
implications of our work?