Becoming Conscious in an Unconscious World: New Paradigm for Mental Health and Global Community

Publication Date01 March 2008
AuthorElio Frattaroli
SubjectHealth & social care
Elio Frattaroli MD
Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania
Becoming Conscious in an
Unconscious World: New
Paradigm for Mental Health
and Global Community
Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Everyman, is used to describe how paying heed to disturbing emotions can be used as a
starting point for ‘healing the soul’. With reference to the events of September 11 2001, the author explores how
quick-fix reactions are likely to bring only short-term solutions, whereas resolving difficult problems requires a
‘blessed feeling of connectedness’ with deeper feelings.
Key words
Shakespeare, Hamlet, depression, consciousness, healing, September 11
States today have lost all sense of that meaning. We
deny the existence of the soul and we think of our task
not as healing – making whole the divided self – but
simply as adjusting brain chemistry.We don’t believe
in paying attention to disturbing emotions like
depression and anxiety because we think of them
merely as chemical imbalances, having no intrinsic
personal meaning. Hamlet presents a serious challenge
to this way of thinking, because it has been obvious
to thoughtful people for four centuries that Hamlet’s
depression not only has an intrinsic meaning but one
that is closely linked to the meaning of life itself.And
yet, if Hamlet walked into a psychiatrist’s office today
as a patient, most of us would assume that his
suffering was chemical and would miss its meaning
entirely. We would not be curious about Hamlet’s
inner life, or what his painful feelings were trying
to tell him. We would only want to get enough
information to make a diagnosis and prescribe
the right pill to make the painful feelings go away.
However popular this approach may be, however
scientific it claims to be, it is a radical and a
dangerous error.Depression, anxiety and other
disturbing emotions are not something we should be
trying to get rid of; they are something we should be
paying attention to and trying to learn from. They are
emotional warning signals, messages from the
’I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost
all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and
indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that
this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile
promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air,
look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this
majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it
appears no other thing to me than a foul and
pestilential congregation of vapours.’
As you may have recognised, that was Hamlet,
describing the symptoms of the most famous case
of depression in Western history.I like to use Hamlet’s
depression to illustrate the theme of my work and
of my book, Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain,
specifically to illustrate how healing the soul happens –
or in Hamlet’s case, how it could have happened –
through paying attention to our disturbing emotions.
That is what psychoanalysis is all about – paying
attention to our disturbing emotions, getting in touch
with the feelings we would rather not feel. In doing so,
we reconnect with a rejected, disowned unconscious
part of ourselves and so become more fully ourselves,
more fully human beings. That is the process I call
’healing the soul’.
’Healing the soul’ is also the root meaning of the
word ’psychiatry’. But most psychiatrists in the United
Mental Health Review Journal Volume 13 Issue 1 March 2008 © Pavilion Journals (Brighton) Ltd

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