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Psyche – More than a bundle of chemicals

Psyche and Amor, also known as Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss (1798), by François Gérard – Wikipedia

Psyche (Greek: soul or spirit) is the personification of the soul in Graeco-Latin myth.

The early Roman writer Apuleius looks at psychological transformation and the love between Cupid and Psyche in The Golden Ass, one of the earliest surviving Latin texts.

Apuleius is interesting because he is familiar not only with ancient Greek, Roman but also Egyptian religions, especially the once popular mystery cult of the goddess Isis.

In the ancient world, psychology and metaphysics, alike, use the term psyche to refer to the soul or the total person. In the Middle Ages it was translated into the Latin, anima.

The notion that psyche refers to more than a bundle of chemicals carries through in psychology right up to Sigmund Freud and especially to Carl Jung. Each of these 20th century thinkers use German translations (Seele) of the term psyche within their respective models of the self.

Russia, Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace, Cupid and Psyche

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Psychiatry – An evolving science

Psychiatrist and patient in counseling session

Psychiatry generally sees itself as a branch of medicine specializing in the assessment, treatment, study and prevention of unhealthy psychological suffering.

However, not everyone sees psychiatry in an entirely benign light. In a nutshell, the main critiques and alternative cosmologies to contemporary psychiatry come from:

Because psychiatry deals with the somewhat mysterious human self in relation to the total environment, quite a few related issues come up throughout Please follow this link (and also “Related” below) for more perspectives relating to this fascinating topic.

My own view is that, as an evolving science, psychiatry will hopefully (if eventually) consider these various critiques and adapt accordingly to make itself (and its patients) better. However, history demonstrates time and again that adherents of any deeply entrenched belief system are often unwilling or, at least, slow to change. And in my opinion this sometimes makes psychiatry, along with some its uncritical followers, look a bit like a Church.

Related » Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (The Strange Case of ), Carl Gustav Jung, Timothy Leary, Madness, Mental Illness, Ram Dass, Psychosis, Syntonic Counter-Transference, Thomas Szasz

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The Son, Catholicism and its Critics

English: child Jesus with the virgin Mary, wit...

Child Jesus with the virgin Mary, with the Holy Spirit (represented as a dove) and God the Father, with child john the Baptist and saint Elizabeth on the right (Wikipedia)

In Christian theology, the Son is part of the Holy Trinity. The Christian Trinity refers to the belief that God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit form a co-equal, co-eternal mystical union.

Jesus, the Son, is fully human and fully divine. Not a few alternative Christianities claim or have claimed that Jesus wasn’t fully human or, alternately, that he wasn’t fully divine. These views were aggressively branded as “heresies” by the early Church Fathers, most notably Tertullian, a presbyter from Carthage (a Roman province in occupied Africa), and Irenaeus, the Bishop of the Roman occupied Gaul (what is now Lyon, France). These two men expended a great deal of energy denouncing anyone who didn’t see things the way they did.

Concerning the orthodox version of the Trinity, so vigorously proclaimed in the early Church, each of the three parts is defined as a “person.” It remains somewhat mysterious as to just what this means.¹

Another issue with the idea of the “Son” as part of the Trinity is its supremely masculine character. Many feminist writers have taken issue with this, forwarding notions of “The Goddess” to counterbalance what they argue is nothing more than an unsavory remnant of patriarchal oppression.

Some Christian theologians counter that God is beyond gender, a position outlined in the Roman Catholic catechism. But to many, this still falls short.

The depth psychologist Carl Jung believed that the Catholic dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1950) was a step in the right direction. Jung believed that Catholicism trumped Protestantism in this area because it was promoting much needed feminine symbols to communicate the numinous. But again, to many feminists, calling Jesus’ mother Mary the “greatest saint” or “Mother of God” does not compare to her son’s status as “God.”

The discussion here can get complicated, and I don’t pretend to have any answers, myself. It’s probably most productive to remember that God is a mystery. The mysterious aspect of God is something which, again, the Catholic authorities do recognize.

Some critique Catholic notables who believe they are divinely inspired or, at least, in a privileged position to make firm, even cutting, statements on pressing issues.² The more forceful critics say that worldly power has gone to their heads, and they lampoon the notion that Catholic authorities have a pipeline to God.

From a sociological perspective, it’s also worthy to note that because Catholic authorities belong to a group which enjoys social power, the current version of psychiatry does not designate them as mentally unsound. But if it were an individual saying “I know what God wants,” most, if not all, psychiatrists would probably see this as a mental disorder and possibly prescribe medication to dampen down their “delusions” or “magical thinking.”

History reveals that the individual is often persecuted. And some believe that today’s conventional Church in some ways carries on that tradition of insulting, bullying and marginalizing people who are different. This claim is ironic considering that Jesus, the individual, was persecuted within a similar dynamic.

¹ Wikipedia outlines the standard theological wording, but it doesn’t really help much.

² Recall the Pope recently saying that Donald Trump is “not Christian.”


Thomas Szasz

Dr Thomas Stephen Szasz photographed by during his 90th birthday seminar in London.

Thomas Szasz (1920-2012) was a Hungarian psychiatrist and author of many books, including his best known work, The Myth of Mental Illness (1961).

Almost a decade before collaborating with The Church of Scientology, Szasz argued that the science behind psychiatry is essentially scientism. For Szasz, the term mental illness points to a social myth rather than an absolute fact. To borrow from the lingo of postmodernism, he believes that the idea of mental illness is a historically relative discourse, located in networks of power/knowledge.¹

Written before Henri Ellenberger’s landmark publication, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), and around the same time as Michel Foucault‘s poststructural work, Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961), Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness is often required reading for undergraduate courses in the Humanities at liberal-democratic universities.

Critics of Szasz’s perspective question his knowledge of genetics and neuroscience. And they point out that psychiatry, like any other science, is in a constant state of development. Depending on factors like the patient’s condition, the competency of the psychiatrist and the socio-political climate in which assessments are made, psychiatry may be used for good or ill. So it makes little sense to demonize it as a whole.

However, Szasz was prolific right up to his death. His later publications contain some sociological and philosophical insights but arguably reveal the unrealistically polarized views of a somewhat isolated but well-meaning humanitarian (e.g Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry, 1988; Psychiatry: The Science of Lies, 2008).

Again, most recognized psychiatric associations have rejected his ideas, a situation not entirely unlike an orthodox Church marginalizing so-called heresies. This polarization of anti-psychiatry vs. psychiatry is unfortunate because it probably makes all involved parties more intransigent, lessening their ability to see other perspectives.

Anti-Psychiatry Demonstration in Washington, D.C. “It’s not just Scientologists that don’t like Psychiatry and the big-pharma connection. Thousands joined my wife and I and people from all up and down the east coast for a big anti-psychiatry demonstration in D.C.” – Image and text by Jettero Heller via Flickr

When someone or a tight group is convinced they’re absolutely right and outsiders are entirely wrong, constructive dialogue usually disappears. And when dialog disappears among the whole spectrum of human inquiry, not only psychiatry suffers, but also its clients.

Taking a more moderate approach than Szasz, I would agree that psychiatry may fall short in the interpretation of behavioral and physiological differences. At some point, difference is often construed as a disorder, and the “appropriate” diagnostic labels are applied to patients.² Many patients believe in this perspective and see themselves as medically “ill.”

However, in some cases we may be witnessing variation instead of disorder. And in some instances differences could be preliminary trials, as it were, for key evolutionary changes to our species.³

Unfortunately, the evolutionary idea is hard to prove because we might have to wait a thousand years before finding out if there’s anything to it. But if true or even partially true, I think this expanded perspective could dramatically change how some psychiatric patients see themselves, possibly making them happier.

So to return to Szasz, I don’t see him as totally wrong. He has been roundly critiqued on a point-by-point basis by psychiatrists. But his overall objection deserves some attention. Otherwise, psychiatry becomes a new religion, which isn’t science at all, but as Szasz and many others put it, scientism.

¹ See Michel Foucault, discourse and counter-discourse for more.

² To continue in a postmodern vein, the word “appropriate” is often uncritically used to reinforce current attitudes, beliefs and practices.

³ Along these lines, spiritual and parapsychological factors are often dismissed. We rarely hear about the possibilities of healing grace, demonic influence, the transfer of sin or bona fide mind-reading in psychiatry.

Related Posts » DSM-IV-TR, Madness, Postmodernism, Unconscious




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Black’s Medical Dictionary (39th edition) defines the unconscious as “a description of mental activities of which an individual is unaware” (p. 567).

In the West, the idea of the unconscious has an interesting history. It’s found in the ancient Greek literature of Sophocles, with related ideas like hubris, and in Shakespeare and more recent luminaries like James Joyce.

Philosophical debates about its character flourished in the 18th century among thinkers like John Locke and David Hume. In the 20th century, Freud, Pierre Janet, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung and many others presented their unique theories about the unconscious.

Arthur Koestler believes the idea of the unconscious was already known before the actual word was coined. Koestler cites several examples where the notion of the unconscious is implied in the arts and philosophy (e.g. Dante, Kepler and Kant). Koestler also says that consciousness and unconsciousness are not discrete states but exist along a continuum.¹

From Koestler it seems reasonable to suggest that the range and character of this experiential continuum varies among individuals. In other words, some people access different types of thoughts and emotions than others.

Arthur Koestler with Mamaine Paget, Robie Maca...

Arthur Koestler with Mamaine Paget, Robie Macauley and Flannery O’Connor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But we should remember that the unconscious is just a concept. All too often it’s reified. Reification means ideas are assumed to represent some real entity or thing–for instance, the sociological idea of “the state.” Reified concepts may even point to detailed legal entities.²

A common misunderstanding among contemporary writers is to say that Freud sees the unconscious as uniquely personal while his former protege Carl Jung sees it as collective.³ In fact, both theorist recognize personal and collective aspects within their respective theories of the unconscious.

¹ Koestler, Arthur. The Act of Creation. New York: Penguin [Arkana], 1989: 147-177.

² Reification is also a concept. So the question remains as to whether the thing written or talked about actually exists as described.

³ See shadow, archetypes



My wife reading in bed. And it wasn't because ...

My wife reading in bed. And it wasn’t because she was trying to get to sleep. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The DSM-IV-TR (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version IV with Text Revisions) is the most recent manual developed by the American Psychiatric Association, one used by health professionals to classify various psychological disorders, generally referred to as mental illnesses.

The DSM-IV-TR is used around the world, along with two other manuals (The ICD-10 produced by the World Health Organization and The Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders produced by the Chinese Society of Psychiatry).

Each diagnosis is number-coded and depending on the country, may be used by hospitals, clinics and insurance companies.

Some postmodern thinkers and particularly anti-psychiatry groups say that the DSM-IV-TR, along with its counterparts, constructs (as in creates) rather than classifies mental illnesses. For those unfamiliar with this idea, it might take a while to understand just what these thinkers are saying. But in a nutshell, postmodern critiques of the DSM-IV-TR argue that certain illnesses are, in a sense, created by the way that those with social power interpret unusual behaviors. In more common parlance, these thinkers say that those who benefit from the status quo tend to label certain people who behave differently from the social rules and expectations of the day.

These kinds of conceptual and historically based critiques of the DSM-IV-TR and of psychiatry, in general, tend to draw on the work of thinkers like Michel Foucault, Thomas Szaz, R. D. Laing, Ram Dass, David Lukoff, Stanislav Grof, L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of Scientology) and others.

Other critiques focus not so much on the issue of the DSM-IV-TR’s analytical validity but on the possibility of negligence by incompetent practitioners.

Debates also exist about the relation between psychiatric classification, on the one hand, and cultural, political and economic realities on the other hand, the most visible example being the link between pharmaceutical companies and the discipline of psychiatry, and a less visible example being political in-fighting among psychiatrists.

While some readily dismiss the DSM-IV-TR as a kind of 21st-century witch hunter’s manual,  we’d do well to remember that psychiatry (along with its diagnostic tools) is a developing science.¹ And human beings do live in a social and largely organizational world, and those who differ dramatically often do suffer, and in violent cases, cause others to suffer (or die).

The fact that psychiatry is a developing science is often overlooked or negatively construed by its more forceful critics, while embraced by its supporters. Regardless of one’s philosophical position on this point, sociologists will rightly note that the DSM-IV-TR still enjoys a high degree of societal legitimacy and legal power.

To this Ofer Zur, Ph.D. adds:

The DSM is a political not a scientific document. It pathologizes women, children, and minorities. It defines existentially normal behaviors as mental illnesses. It is a money making endeavor for psychiatry and other mental health professionals. It ‘dares’ to define what is normal and what is abnormal and who should be free or detained against their will…[one may find] a detailed critical article about the DSM at » See in context

Related Posts » Corruption, Madness

¹ As I write this a new DSM V is currently being forged, among much debate and controversy. See

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English: Annunciation

The Annunciation by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728 – 1779) – Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary via Wikipedia

Gabriel is one of the four Catholic Archangels (also Michael, Raphael and Uriel). Along with Michael, Gabriel is found in Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

A lot of New Age writers and alleged channelers talk about or dispense supposed “messages” from Gabriel, along with other angels. While this kind of stuff can be compelling, especially if someone is searching for a higher purpose in life, we really have no way of telling if it’s real, imagined¹ or purposely made up by scammers.

The same charge, of course, has been made against organized religions. Their discourses about angels are often said to be divinely inspired. But… who’s to say for sure?

¹ It would be relatively easy for someone to fool themselves into thinking they were divine prophets for some angel or higher being. All they’d have to do is get in a comfy chair, relax a bit, slip into a slightly meditative consciousness, and then let their imaginations or subconscious run wild. Most likely, this is what Jane Roberts did, who claimed to channel the entity Seth. Another possibility, usually dismissed by contemporary psychiatry but a possibility nonetheless, is that a malevolent spiritual being influences the channeler. So the person is channeling, but not what they think they are.

This post needs more content. Why not help us out and expand it? Please remember that copying and pasting large amounts of material from Wikipedia (or some other online encyclopedia) is not what is about. We want a fresh view, from you… not from your copy and paste editor!


Michael Clark, Ph.D