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Deep Wounds, Small Plasters

by Beata Bishop(more info)

listed in holistic psychotherapy, originally published in issue 162 - September 2009

It's not as if we didn't already have horrendous problems, what with the Earth's environmental crisis and the decision makers' incredible slowness in responding to the scientists' increasingly urgent warnings. There is something else, too, a collective aberration that makes it impossible to solve any problems once and for all, even if some efforts are apparently made in the right direction. It is called symptomatic treatment, and whichever field it operates in, it leaves the origin, the cause of the problem untouched, treating but not solving it. This attitude is as useless as covering up a deep wound with a small dressing; the wound will not be obvious, but it won't heal, either.

Symptomatic treatment operates majestically in medicine, in the field of chronic conditions, the ones that plague most of the sick in our midst. Of course suffering has to be eased by drugs, but that should only be the first step: chronic diseases ranging from cancer to heart and circulatory troubles via arthritis and hypertension don't come from outer space, nor can they be simply blamed on the ageing process - they are inexorably linked to the unhealthy lifestyle, and especially to the catastrophic diet of modern Western humankind. But do doctors tell their patients what changes they need to make in order to get better? They do not, simply because at medical school they were not trained in the use of nutrition, only of drugs, and the pharmaceutical industry makes sure that once they qualify, they remain faithful to its products.

What makes things worse is that many doctors still regard the human body as a collection of individual organs that have nothing to do with each other. Hence a drug is prescribed to ease the symptoms of one condition, without regard to how it might affect other organs. I am writing this on the very day when a national newspaper's front page story disclosed how antidepressants, freely prescribed to pregnant women, can cause serious birth defects in their unborn babies. Well, it's long been known that some best-selling antidepressants can make people suicidal or even homicidal, which sounds much worse than being depressed, but this latest connection proves once again how the passion for symptomatic treatment overrules simple common sense. In some way, all drugs are and need to be toxic; doesn't it stand to reason that the toxicity might damage the foetus?

Anyway, why is it assumed that depression needs to be treated with drugs? Supposing the patient has every reason to be depressed, sad or anxious. Maybe all she/he needs is to sit with a counsellor, to be listened to, to be heard. Ah, but the NHS has no funds for psychological support (as if antidepressants were free), and so the suffering patient, whose life is hurting, can go on taking the (addictive) pills. I know of one woman who was given repeat prescriptions for a mild antidepressant for 21 years, during which time she had long forgotten the cause of her long-ago gloom - yet such was her faith in Doctor Knows Best that it never occurred to her to stop the 'treatment'.

Another major problem that receives not just spasmodic symptomatic treatment but wholesale evasion as well is the obesity epidemic. Over the past few years we've been treated to several official 'explanations' for this alarming development. One is lack of exercise, which hardly accounts for babies bursting out of their buggies and toddlers sporting triple chins; besides, is it likely that today's dangerously overweight people suddenly stopped exercising some 10 or so years ago and promptly put on all that extra tonnage? Another official 'explanation' blames genes. H'mm. According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary, a gene is "a unit of heredity which is transferred from a parent to offspring and is held to determine some characteristic of the offspring". Including, no doubt, shape and weight. So how come that so many grossly overweight people have normal size parents and grandparents?

Well, that's the evasion bit, and it's unconvincing enough. But now consider the symptomatic treatments available for the worried obese. There is surgery to remove excess fat or make stomachs smaller. There are drugs to block appetite and others to help burn up food faster. There are electrodes to put on heads ( I forget what they are supposed to do), and hypnotherapy to change attitudes to food. All this costs the NHS a lot of money, but if you walk down any high street, you'll find no evidence of these symptomatic treatments making any difference.

What would make a difference would be for our decision makers to look for the true cause of the obesity epidemic, which is simply dietary, then confront the food industry and compel it to make drastic changes to its products, plus stop the 'Two for the price of one' nonsense, which encourages over-eating.  Now that would attack the cause, not play around with the symptom; but the latter is easier than the former and requires less courage.

There are many more areas blighted by the same attitude. The answer to social breakdown and rising crime is not to try to tackle its roots but to build more prisons. The answer to road traffic pollution is not to set up a superb public transport system to reduce individual car journeys, but to pay people to scrap their old cars and buy more efficient new ones, thus creating a huge amount of waste which will need masses of energy to recycle. Again, symptomatic treatment at its worst.

I could go on, but this is enough for starters. The change must come from the grassroots, from us individuals who can see what's wrong and dare to speak up against it. We have a wonderful role model who spoke the truth loud and clear when no-one else dared to say a word: the small boy in Andersen's famous story, who alone dared to declare that far from wearing the finest garments, the Emperor had no clothes on.


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About Beata Bishop

Beata Bishop is a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist in private practice, working along Jungian and transpersonal lines. Her special interests include the role of the spiritual dimension in all kinds of healing, and the body-mind link in sickness and health. Her book, A Time to Heal (First Stone Publishing, 2010), describes her journey from life-threatening cancer to robust health using an unorthodox nutritional therapy. She can be contacted on e-mail:

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