Sunday, October 03, 2010

Madness and Sanity 4

A Little History

Having both a personal/experiential as well as an academic interest in psychiatry, I have always been interested in how healing is effected in the daily living of the patient.  Having spent some seven weeks in one of the leading psychiatric hospitals in Ireland, if not in the British Isles, St Patrick's here in Dublin, Ireland, I am convinced that care and consideration of the patient is of equal, if not of more importance than the psychopharmacological interventions that are made.

Let me briefly here advert to the father of Western medicine the great, and somewhat legendary,  Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC).  This genius was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles (Classical Athens), and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He is referred to as the Western father of medicine in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the Hippocratic School of medicine. This intellectual school revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, establishing it as a discipline distinct from other fields.  However, here, I would like to make a list of quotations from this great pioneer of Western medicine, quotations which show the great compassionate base of the profession of medicine.

1. A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.

2. Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.

3. It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.

4. Make a habit of two things: to help; or at least to do no harm.

5. If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.

6. Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.

7. There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the later ignorance.

8. Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.
These quotations above appeal to me because they are at the very heart of medicine - be it physiological or psychiatric because they are based on fundamental humanistic and humanitarian principles.  Indeed any doctor, to my mind, must seek to "heal" the whole person as an entity or feeling and thinking human being, not just to seek to cure or get rid of the symptom.  Notice the words used by Hippocrates: "comfort," "know" the type of person you're treating, "help," "do no harm," "nourishment," "exercise," "natural forces within," " true healers," "science" and "love of humanity."  Who would not want their doctors to subscribe to all the principles these words represent?  In the next paragraph I will attempt to list some of the really great doctors or healers we have known in the history of Werstern medicine.

Great Doctors like Albert Schweitzer, Joseph Lister, Jonas Salk, Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch and indeed the pioneers of the profession of nursing, so essential a part of medicine, like Florence Nightengale and Elizabeth Blackwell did such great work in laying down the sound foundations of modern medicine.  To my mind, the work of psychiatrists (and psychotherapists/psychoanalysts among them) like the great Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustave Jung and the legions of followers of these two pioneers, Dr. Ronnie Laing (Scotland and the  U.K.), Dr. Anthony Storr (U.K.) and our own Professor Ivor Browne did extraordinary work in the field of mental health.  Now, I am no historian of medicine, but I have outlined my interest in the field in the opening paragraph.  I may indeed have left out many important figures in this preliminary canter through the history of psychiatry, but these last have been the ones I am familiar with and whose work I have read.

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