As I am ancient enough to want to read a newspaper, I regularly end up suffering from what I would like to coin as psycho-journalism that every newspaper supplement loves to host.
As I scanned through my fix of the day, I have ended up with a habitual offender writing a column about “patients” with “disorders” that walk into his clinic and I am forced to ponder over an issue that is now spreading like wildfire. i.e., irresponsible seed-planting of psychological hypochondria.
As I scan through those who write about psychology/psychiatry for the consumption of masses in the public domain, I can clearly see a pattern.
For some reason, most of the writers are “psychologists” and only a few are psychiatrists. I have almost never seen a neurologist writing a column in newspapers.
I am forced to use quotation marks around the “psychologist” because, in India, a psychologist is a mysterious beast.
It could be a self-assigned title used by a smooth-talking quack or a BA/MA in psychology or a PhD in something as unrelated as Ayurveda but claiming Dr-hood or even a tarot card reader and reiki master.
Unfortunately for us, qualified psychiatrists and neurologists obviously are a bit busy to write, so the empty and attractive void of writing about human mind is filled up by all and sundry as the title of “psychologist” is mostly unregulated and rarely put to thorough verification.
If I revisit the piece that has forced to open my laptop, it is a classic narrative about a teenager doing what teenagers do, i.e., feel insecure, inadequate, jealous and suffer from peer pressure, but with jargon of “inferiority complex”, “delusion” and “xyz disorder” sprinkled in, it is made to become a story of the clinical triumph of an expert that he is graciously sharing with the public.
As we have such stories getting narrated for mass consumption by those who are often not even qualified to cure the almost incurable human mind, I am tempted to remember Oliver Sacks, undoubtedly one of the greatest masters of the art of writing about the wonderful mystery called human mind.
Oliver Sacks was a qualified neurologist (but never used the professional title of Doctor while wearing an author’s hat) who wrote numerous best-sellers doing what my aforementioned psychologist column-writer did, and that is to write case-histories of his patients. But the similarity ends there as Sacks moved in an almost opposite direction.
Oliver Sacks is special for me because his books brought a breath of fresh air while talking about human beings that masses referred to as insane, crazy and mad. He was able to point out that every human being was a perfect mind, a complete being living in a complete universe.
When Sacks wrote about an autist with a sub-fifty IQ, even she was described as as-much of a human being like you and me.
For him, there are brains with some “excesses” and some “deficits” on some of the parameter we humans have drawn, but that evaluation has nothing to do with their completeness. So, these humans may get assigned diagnosis of “disorder” in relationship with the order that the society at large perceives, Sacks saw was no clinical triumph of curing someone.
Oliver Sacks believed that human brain was the most incredible thing in the universe and hence his journalism was all about the reverence he felt for this grand machine that we have not even opened the hood of.
As tales from a psychologist’s couch are bound to make extremely attractive human stories, Sacks had an opportunity to pick the path of Ekta Kapoor and dub his actions as grand acts of curing a malaise through his fine wordsmanship but he opted to tell them as humane stories of people stuck in an alternate reality that caused pain to them by being in a state of conflict with the narrative that those around them lived in.
While Oliver the good doctor did deal with the dis-ease of his patients, Oliver the author looked at them respectfully as humans and not disorders.
Unfortunately for us, most of the content that we see in India about the dis-ease of those with an alternative understanding of the reality is completely devoid of the sensitivity, wisdom and most importantly humane-ness. We have narratives like the one I read today about claiming “clinical success” of curing someone who may not even have been ill and what they do is something really dangerous.
Writing about human mind, brains and the malaises they suffer from is completely unlike writing about other body-illnesses.
Writing about TB or malaria or even cancer (though it is also almost as tricky) is almost a cakewalk compared to writing about even a migraine, and yet we have “psychologists” writing assertively about grand concepts like depression or schizophrenia that actually can’t even be a distant dream that any honest mind/brain professional can harbor at this stage.
The problem with writing about brain-mind case-histories in public domain is that they can cause the worst form of hypochondria as it can actually do something that the typical hypochondria caused by reading about body-illnesses don’t lead to.
Irresponsible narratives from “psychologists” like the one I read today can actually plant a seed of an malaise because most such descriptions are about completely normal “symptoms” of being human, but in some form of excess or deficit (as Sacks put them to be).
When a psychologist assigns such excess/deficit with a diagnosis/name inside his clinic, it is part of his way of dealing with the problem, but when the story is lifted out and put in public domain, all its fine human and even clinical context is lost and what you get is a recipe for disaster.
Such stories have a power to seed a hundred more completely “normal” people with a doubt and such a doubt can easily snowball and land them on the couch inside a clinic.
The “psycho-journalistic disorder” is now a matter of concern, because if it is not treated, India too will end up as a nation consuming Prozac by tons as our western peers do thanks to being more “informed” from such narratives and having “better access” to “modern” healthcare that we too are heading towards.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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