Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing (2 of 5)

Dr Jean-Claude Larchet begins his second chapter of his book Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing, “Insanity Due to Somatic Problems,” with this statement: “The Fathers did not fail to recognize that certain forms of folly or insanity had a physiological origin, and in doing so were in agreement with the medical conceptions prevalent at the time.” St Gregory of Nyssa offers an explanation of the relationship of mind and body using a standard metaphor:
Since the whole body is made like some musical instrument, just as it often happens in the case of those who know how to play, but are unable, because of the unfitness of the instrument does not admit of their art, to show their skill (for that which is destroyed by time, or broken by a fall, or rendered useless by rust or decay is mute and inefficient, even if it be breathed upon by one who may be an excellent artist in flute-playing); so too the mind, passing over the the whole instrument, and touching each of the parts in a mode corresponding to its intellectual activities, according to its nature, produces its proper effect on those parts which are in a natural condition, but remains inoperative and ineffective upon those which are unable to admit the movement of its art; for the mind is somehow naturally adapted to be in close relation with that which is in a natural condition, but to be alien from that which is removed from nature. [And again], Each organ of the human composition has its own special activity. The power of the soul can remain effective, if the organ in question is maintained in a natural and healthy condition.
Therefore, “when psychic disorders are due to somatic problems, the soul itself is not defective, only its expression and manifestation are affected.” It is, Larchet writes, “the entire soul (which includes the spirit) that is affected by disorders, but it is, we repeat, only affected in its activity by means of the body. Only the possibility of this activity is destroyed or modified in the soul itself: the body alone impedes the normal realization of the soul and distorts its expression.”

The psychiatric symptoms that are presented in such cases “are not disorders of the soul except from a very superficial point of view. The insanity which in certain cases of its aspects gives its name to these disorders is strictly speaking not a sickness of the soul, but of the body.” Two consequences follow: first, “one can and indeed must base one’s treatment on purely physiological grounds because the soul is not itself involved, but only what is purely somatic”; second, “the treatment should be aimed at returning the bodily instrument to its normal state, to reconstitute the order of nature in a manner that leaves the soul intact in its essence, and thereby allow it once again [to] express itself normally, which is to say, without manifesting itself in difficulty because of the trouble with its mediating organ.”

But in treatment of insanity it is essential to determine the correct etiology; not all manifestations of insanity have a somatic origin. Larchet writes:
For, even if a naturalistic, materialistic, organistic, or mechanistic medicine asserts that insanity is necessarily caused by an organic disorder, the Patristic perspective, while admitting such to be true in certain cases, as we have just seen, refuses to extend this explanation to all cases; it also recognizes other possible causes, as will be seen in what follows. That the body in cases of insanity is always to some degree involved does not necessarily point to its causative or determining role, but holds to the strict relationship between the body and soul in the human composite. According to the Patristic anthropology, tis relationship, as we have seen, is ambivalent. The body conditions the soul, which in the totality of the human being possess the power of command, of giving the body life and movement, and making it the constant organ of its various acts. Every action of the soul is reflected and manifested in the body. Thus somatic disorders can have their origin in the natural action of the body by the intervention of elements foreign to the soul and can inhibit or disorganize the soul’s functioning without the sou being in any way troubled. But it is equally possible for what is involved on the plane of the body might have its origin in the soul itself and it is these possibilities which we must define.
I’ll continue with chapter three tomorrow

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