On a warm Thursday evening in June, the event “Love as Medicine” was held in Jakob Culture Church, which is the leading cultural church in Norway. Here we heard the real-life stories about the treatment of mental health. People suffered from severe mental problems talked about the hardest process they had gone through in their life, how they were treated in the Psychiatric Hospitals, and what eventually helped them to come over the darkest period of their life. Politicians, Clinical Professors of Medicine and Psychology, and musicians are among the participants.
Jakob Culture Church
Maja Thune was one of them who shared her heartrending story with us. Being a successful writer, yoga teacher and therapist, it is hard to think of her as the young girl who was coercively brought to the hospitals 14 times since she was 17, and as thin as she was, kept fastened in a small hospital bed by force. She was given all kinds of diagnosis, Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, eating disorder, self-injury, schizophrenia and suicidal. She was constantly on medication, without her consent. The doses were so high at times that she was not able to talk properly. The involuntary treatment she received, in her perception, had an opposite effect. The medicines did not calm her down as they supposed to, she could not sleep and was exhausted. Looking back, she was deeply offended by the way she was treated. What did calm her down, as she said, was when the nurses put their arms around her and lovingly stroked her hair. Maja believes that involuntary treatment should only occur as a last resort and it should only be used when the patients pose a serious risk of physical harm to themselves and others. It is love, in the sense of empathy and compassion that needs to be emphasised and used as a part of treatment for mental illness.
Maja Thune has developed the Therapeutic Yoga teacher training in Oslo.
The data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that over a third of people in most countries report problems at some time in their life which meet criteria for diagnosis of one or more of the common types of mental disorder. It raises questions of how mental illness should be treated, and whether medication is the best way to achieve the intended effects?
According to an article published in Norway´s leading newspaper Afterposten (published in March 2003 and revised in October 2011), Norway topped Involuntary Commitment (tvangsinnleggelse) statistics in Europe. 37 percent of the patients who received treatment for mental disorder were in the category – Involuntary Commitment. A report presented by the Norwegian Research Network on Coercion in Mental Health Care (TvangForsk) shows that there was 7 980 cases of Involuntary Commitment in 2014. The figures suggest that a re-evalutation of the criteria for Involuntary Commitment is (urgently) needed.
Love as medicine is not a new concept in Psychiatry. In his best-known work “The Road Less Traveled” published in 1978, the American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck addressed the nature of love, which he considered the driving force behind spiritual growth. It is the willingness of the therapist to extend him or herself for the purpose of nurturing the patient´s growth – willingness to go out on a limb, to truly involve oneself at an emotional level in relationship, to actually struggle with the patient and oneself. In short, the essential ingredient of successful deep and meaningful psychotherapy is love.
Dr. Mark Sircus (Director International Medical Veritas Association, acupuncturist, doctor of oriental ad pastoral medicine) published an article titled Love in Psychotherapy & Medicine in 2013. Below are some quotes from the article:
Communication is Love
Listening is Love
It is through our willingness and openness to communicate and listen to someone that we most readily demonstrate the truth or quality of our love and caring.
The willingness to simply share our own vulnerabilities, experiences and concerns is the magic that opens the doors to our patients´vulnerabilities. When it comes to the practice of medicine, it entails our willingness to spend extra time listening to all the details of a patient´s situation without letting our mind pull the diagnostic process short with our premature medical judgements and diagnosis.
Instead of listening deeply from the heart, the modern doctor sends a patient quickly to medical laboratories for tests. In therapy as in your primary love relationships, our primary concern is to create atmospheres and support systems based on love and the true vulnerability of being.
Among more than 200 countries, Norway was ranked as the best place to live according to the United Nation´s annual Human Development Report. However, the best place to live should apply to all groups of people living in Norway, also those who live a less promising life.
Something important to be reflected on?
There are several messages that have been conveyed during the conference, explicitly or implicitly. Here I would like to address two of them which I think are vital.
- We should not ignore the importance of Love and it can be used as a powerful tool in treating patients who suffer from mental illness.
- There is always hope out there. When you find yourself in the darkest corner, when people seem to have lost faith in you, and you almost have lost all confidence yourself, there is still hope if you keep the last small portion of faith even if it is so faint that you doubt if it actually exists. Grasp it, do not give up, there is still hope. And there is definitely hope if you are embraced by love.
Love is powerful, at the end, it is love that counts. A warm smile and a little compassion may change someone´s life.