A fifteen year old girl tells her parents that she had a vision. While watching two girls at the playground, she saw their ‘limitless native little girl genius’ and realised that ‘we all are geniuses.’ This, the daughter explained, is ‘the unspoken secret we are afraid to acknowledge.’ The good news is that she, Sally, has been chosen to cure us of the suffering of all this repressed genius is inflicting!
This vision experience of this fifteen year old echoes the much quoted line of Nelson Mandela ‘our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.’ My own experience in speaking to different audiences across several continents is that all but a handful of individuals will assert that they are not geniuses. Fortunately, science is now stating that each human being is a genius, a fact that I have been asserting for some thirty years!
In the case of Sally, she was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having bi-polar depression and went on to become ‘a living side-effect’ of the heavy doses of haloperidol and several other drugs she was prescribed. From being an energetic and eager teenager, she was transformed to walking with a Parkinsonian shuffle.
What is rarely appreciated – and urgently needs to be – is that the diagnosis of ‘bi-polar’ depression was totally about the psychiatrist and said nothing about the teenager’s seemingly extra-ordinary experience. This is not at all intended as a criticism of the psychiatrist, but the reality is that as professionals in the health care system – doctors, psychiatrists, oncologists, clinical psychologists, social workers etc. – unless we own our assessments and diagnoses as mirrors of our present state of maturity and knowledge, we can arrogantly insist on the ‘rightness’ of our judgements. No matter what any of us – professional and lay persons – feel, think, say and do is always a mirror of the present state of our interior world and never a mirror of the bio-psycho-social-spiritual world of another. It appears to be a bitter pill for health and, indeed, other professionals to swallow that their expertise is about themselves and not the individuals who seek their help. The very old saying ‘doctors differ, patients die’ is a mirror of this reality, as does the saying ‘physician heal thyself.’ I would have no difficulty with the psychiatrist saying to the teenager and to her parents that ‘given my own present knowledge and my own level of maturity, I believe your daughter is suffering from a neuro-biological condition known as ‘bi-polar depression.’ The psychiatrist would need to add to this labelling that the condition is a hypothetical one and not one based on any substantial neuro-biological evidence.’ The psychiatrist who is mature would also be open about the fact that other health professionals – clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, family therapists – would look at Sally’s behaviour in a very different way. Sadly, such authenticity is not a common phenomenon, not for any sinister reason, but because we hide the truth of ourselves behind a myriad of masks and when mask meets a client’s suffering, the client suffers more!
My question is: who creates the safe and non-judgemental holding for health professionals to examine their own practise, to own their judgements as being about their present level of maturity and knowledge and to communicate with, rather than to or at a client? My guess is that Sally was never asked ‘Sally, what is your understanding of your very wise and wonderful vision?’ What was telling about Sally’s vision is that as a result of being ‘tested’ as a child she was labelled as having ‘learning difficulties’ and had been assigned a ‘special needs’ teacher. During the time of her vision, her parents had divorced and she had experienced a betrayal of love herself. Her father was also a ‘famous’ writer and intelligence was a matter of pride in the family. How is it that her vision experience was not seen within the context of her lived experiences? The answer to that is that the psychiatrist reduced Sally’s behaviour to a biochemical process – which has to reflect the way he perceives his own behaviour. I believe we are far more than the biochemical processes that psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies (not a healthy relationship) might have us believe.
For me, Sally’s vision experience communicated in a powerful and highly intelligent and metaphorical way her intense and frenetic need to be seen for herself, and, given the culture of the family, for her genius. I recognise that this response to Sally’s experience is totally about my present understanding of my Self and human behaviour. What I would be interested in is Sally’s response – I have no doubt it would make for an interesting conversation.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of The Power of ‘Negative’ Thinking.