The February issue of Current Psychiatry featured an editorial by Dr. Henry Nasrallah; he is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at St. Louis University, and said that psychiatrists who were not speaking the new language of the “neuroscientification” of psychiatry would soon be rendered obsolete.
Henry says that we are at the tipping point in psychiatry, giving up the primitive notions that have guided the profession for the past century. We are moving toward explaining our successes and failures in terms of microglial activation, inflammatory markers, aproptosis, S100B, and NOTCH 3. Those who talk about ego strengths, defense mechanisms, resilience,, the unconscious mind, and the human spirit are “clinical dinosaurs”.
Henry speaks for most psychiatric academicians today, who believe the best way to understand the complexity of the human condition is to explain it in terms of neurotransmitters, genomics, and MRI’s. But the truth is that no matter how much we know about the brain, the mind will always have a mind of its own. The language of science can’t adequately explain the mystery and awesomeness that are an essential part of the human experience.
I was introduced to an old Hopi medicine man many years ago who, upon learning that I was a psychiatrist, asked me what I knew about the mind (The Dancing Healers, 1988). At the moment, I couldn’t come up with a brief, pithy, summation so I said that what I knew about the mind I couldn’t tell him in a short time. He responded that if I couldn’t explain what I knew about the mind in a short time, that I didn’t know it. I asked him what he knew about the mind, and he said he could tell me in one word; it was he said “mysterious”.
Brain researchers tell us that the brain is hardwired for mystical experience. We are biologically programmed to experience awe, transcendent states that allow us to see the familiar from a new perspective, to experience the awesome. It matters less how we explain the mechanics of the mysterious, than it does to know it’s important.
To all my academic colleagues who herald in the ‘neuroscientification’ of psychiatry, I say let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Awe is the mechanism by which we tame the ego, and lift our spirits.
P.S. I wrote to Henry and told him I would be in St. Louis in late April and would come free of charge to present to his Department the memoirs of a clinical dinosaur, perhaps entitle it, The Magic and Mystery of Mind Healing.