Monday, June 02, 2008

Ivor Browne 2


I suppose if I were asked who are my two favourite Irish psychiatrists my answer would have to be Professor Anthony Clare, RIP and Professor Ivor Browne who is only 79 years young.  Both were brilliant psychiatrists and great communicators during their professional lives.  Ivor continues to be a consummate communicator to this day.  I have already referred to his recently published memoir which I shall review in these pages before too long.  As promised yesterday I here return to an interesting interview with Dr Stephen J. Costello, then a philosopher in UCD.  There are many interesting insights into the character and personality of Ivor Browne, the state of psychiatry in Ireland both at present and during the post World War II period up till the year 2000 and into mental illness in general in this interview.  I shall highlight here what I consider to be some of the interesting and thought-provoking points Professor Browne makes.  I shall just randomly number these points of interest.

1. One of the critiques Browne makes of Sigmund Freud is that he was too determinist or deterministic in his therapy and theories of personality.  Here is Browne's own homespun philosophy:

The central view is that we are creating the mess we're living in.  We have the freedom to change.  That's the psychotherapeutic view.  If you were logical about Freud's view that everything was determined, there would be no sense whatever sitting down and working with someone!  There's a complete lack of logic in the determinist position. (The Irish Soul in Dialogue, 14)

2.  Browne takes a System's View of reality or of Life and speaks of the ideas of Unity and Interconnectedness of all things.  He refers to the physicists Capra and Bohm by way of theoretical background to this approach to Life.

3. He was a disciple of Stan Grof for a number of years, but later broke away from his ideas.  I have two of Dr Stanislaus Grof's books on my shelf namely, The Cosmic Game (New Leaf, Gill and MacMillan, 1998) and The Stormy Search For The Self (Thorsons, 1995). Browne informs us that he first met Stan Grof in the early eighties.  He liked Grof's non-drug method of drums and breathing (holotropic breathing techniques).  However, Browne was never considered orthodox by Stanley Grof.  However, here is Browne's criticism of this latter's work:  "The holotropic thing is too forceful; it's driving the person too much.  I now think that traditional psychotherapy is more appropriate. (Op.cit., 17)

4.  On his own approach to psychotherapy and psychiatry Browne describes himself as having an eclectic approach by taking from all models anything that is helpful to the client or patient - including pharmacotherapy - a lot of psychotropic drugs are useful in many cases but the long-term use of them is damaging.

5.  On schizophrenia and its nature Browne is interesting.  He describes schizophrenia as a state of being fragmented.  "It's no use doing holotropic work with people like that; they just become more fragmented and infantile." (ibid., 21)  Then he goes on a little later in the interview to talk about how the central problem for schizophrenics is the failure to separate (properly) from the family.  He faults his old friend Ronnie Laing for demonising parents and making something quasi-sacred of the psychotic. (Ibid., 22-23)

6.  That Professor Browne is straight talking no one should doubt.  Here he is on Freud and the Oedipus Complex: "This is just Freudian bullshit.  The psychotic hasn't learnt to create a self and hasn't learnt to grow up.  That's a much simpler way of putting it.  I don't know what all this jazz about the Oedipus Complex is.  It seems to me to have been grossly exaggerated in importance.  I certainly think psychosis is a family problem." (Ibid., 22)

7.  And finally, here is his answer to Stephen J. Costello's last question as to whether he was happy or not.  This answer is worth pondering again and again:

No, I don't think so. As John McGahern said, "If there is a heaven, there aren't any writers in it.  I'm probably more contented than at any other period of my life, but I don't think this is a situation of happiness, nor do I think it is particularly important.  That's where we have gone wrong now, that we are searching for it.  This need to be happy is an absurd notion.! (Ibid., 29)

Yet another view of the famous Cliffs of Moher

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