Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Is faith delusion?

Chapter 1 'Psyche' means more than mind.

Andrew Simms uses much of the first chapter to make a plea to other psychiatrists and mental health workers for the acknowledgment of spiritual and religious factors whilst assessing patients in their mental distress. He criticises those psychiatrists whose approach towards patients with religious conviction is to assume psychosis-indeed he opens with a quote from a consultant psychiatrist reported in 2000 as saying, 'all religious people are psychotic'!

But before he gets to that he begins with a brief account of his own journey into psychiatry-it's really very moving as he quotes from Proverbs 31.8-9, 'speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy'. To my surprise I had never really made the connection as a follower of Christ to view mental health patients as particularly 'worthy' of support and care. In a sentence he tells us both of his calling into psychiatry and also makes a subtle point about the inappropriateness of using the word delusion in matters of faith,'my conviction (which was never a perception nor, since it was always amenable to reason, a delusion) felt to me then like a vocation , a 'call from God'. Remember this is the academic who has written the standard text to UK trainee psychiatrists on descriptive psychopathology-so he should know precisely what words such as delusion mean.

He stresses the integration of the person and the unhelpful distinction which has been made between physical and mental illness, 'doctors should get away from seeing the flow-chart in their minds that sends 'physical' and 'mental' in different directions'.

In discussing the importance of spiritual concerns with regard to the patient he reports a psychiatrist who told him once that, 'none of her patients had ever alluded to spiritual issues and it was therefore an irrelevance'. Simms goes on to say, such doctors should be cautious; not reporting psychological, or emotional or spiritual distress may reflect the quality of communiction between doctor and patient rather than the absence of such causes of conflict'.

The rest of the chapter is a plea for taking the spiritual dimensions of life seriously. He gives various definitions of spirituality coming down on the side of Rowan Williams, the cultivation of a senstitive and rewarding relationship with eternal truth and love'.

I can't pretend it's racy read, but his plea for the essential unity of the person and the vital importance of spirituality is well made. As he concludes the chapter he tells us, 'what I greatly respect in a spiritual person is this sense of yearning-for a better world and a better self'. Yea me too. If we are just biological genetic cocktails why is this need for meaning so pervasive?
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