When you need information about medicine and your body, who do you turn to? I said WHO, not WHAT. Yes, people use their computers and go to medicine and medical related websites. But when it comes to a person, people often dont go see a doctor first. They ask their pharmacist. Why is this? It’s because pharmacists are knowledgeable, up to date, convenient and approachable. We trust them. They remember us. They look us straight in the eyes, and very often they seem to honestly sympathize with us and with our understandable frustrations. Also doctors are expensive and like cab drivers with the meter running, their time is money. Pharmacists dont charge for what they know.
When it comes to mental disorders like depression, eating disorders, bipolar and anxiety/panic and OCD, who do we trust and who do we turn to for help and understanding? Suddenly the equation is more complicated. While one is tempted to say Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Licensed Psychotherapists…the truth is there is a “split” in peoples thinking and actual experience.
Many (but not all) of these professionals are reasonably knowledgeable. Most are up to date, especially in their areas of expertise. Often they are not convenient, not easily accessible and (more then one likes to admit) not necessarily understanding or sympathetic. The nature of their training and the “busy-ness” of their business sometimes makes them seem either aloof or distant. One sometimes gets the uncomfortable feeling that they are perceiving the world as distinct disorders and psychological classifications or psychiatric diagnoses and not as individual human beings with unique lives and circumstances. Their professional “practices” are so busy and so “procedure” or treatment based that they often dont appear to have the time to look up from their clipboard and/or computers. They are trying to cure complex problems in 45-50 minute intervals. Obviously there are exceptions involving some very rare insightful, even loving therapists. Thank Goodness for that.
My doctoral dissertation on recovery from anorexia nervosa at Stanford Childrens Hospital (quite a few years ago) among other things looked at who the PATIENTS felt were most supportive and helpful in their eventual recovery from this serious and often remittent illness. Much to our chagrin, as clinicians, researchers and therapists, the answer was often NOT the trained helping professionals, but other hospital employees including the custodians, the cafeteria staff and other patients or close friends. I could go into greater detail, but the point is that love, care, faith and sincerity really matters and those are not aspects that are always taught in graduate or medical school. Real social support and personal authenticity as well as enthusiastic positive approaches (with alot of hugs) actually helps people make it through tough times and eventually heal. We need to provide nice places and even nicer people like that for those who struggle with emotional problems. Why nice places? Because hospitals and doctors offices, including many buildings where therapists work are not very inviting or “therapeutic” feeling. Most people including myself dont exactly have positive associations to hospitals. We naturally associate such places with illness, disease and infirmity, and not with health, wellness and vitality. The last time I was in a hospital I spent half the time going from wall mounted liquid sanitation/germicide dispenser to dispenser. Such environments can turn a normal neurotic into a obsessive compulsive germaphobe in a single visit! My conclusion is this: We need health professionals and we need hospitals, but we also need creative, fun and therapeutic alternatives where people with real problems can talk, laugh, eat, relate and release their pent up frustrations, feelings and maybe, just maybe, give each other love and lots of free hugs. I also suspect it would be very cost-effective.