Psychiatry not only answer to mental health issues - expert


Limerick doctor says patients need to be given a sense of self and emotional empathy, writes CARL O'BRIEN

THE SCIENCE of psychiatry is “full of holes and half-truths” and needs to focus more on understanding the emotional aspects of mental health problems, according to a member of the expert group which drew up the State’s mental health strategy.

Dr Terry Lynch, a Limerick-based GP and psychotherapist, said too many doctors were content to simply maintain patients rather than adopting a more recovery-oriented approach to mental health.

“Psychiatry regularly claims the higher ground on the basis of its stated and presumed solid scientific basis, but I have found the so-called science of psychiatry to be full of holes, half-truths, misinformation; whether intended or not,” he said.

“Ironically, the lack of true science to back up the modus operandi of psychiatry is psychiatry’s greatest Achilles’ heel. As long as the public remain unaware of this lack of science and the media do not report it, the current situation will prevail.”

Dr Lynch said the concept of “selfhood” was crucial to recovery and that mental health problems were “fundamentally emotional and psychological in origin” and that loss of sense of self was a recurring feature.

Dr Lynch said he was not “anti-medication or anti-psychiatry” but said the process of recovery required therapy and time.

He said the mental health system did not sufficiently understand the emotional and psychological aspects of mental health problems and the importance of exploring in detail the individual’s experiences, whatever they may be.

This failure, he said, was not due to limited resources, but to an ideological blind spot within the medical approach to mental health problems.

In his experience, he said successful treatment involved becoming an “accompanier” with a person on their journey of life and creating a high-quality relationship based on trust, equality, safety, acceptance and positive regard.

“This method I have found to be far more effective than the medical way,” he said. “It has helped many people recover, kept them out of hospital and decreased the cost to the State.”

Dr Lynch, whose experiences are detailed in a new book, Selfhood, said his own sense of loss as a child had helped him develop empathy for those who have experienced emotional and mental distress.

“These aspects of low selfhood . . . are always experienced by the individual concerned and are always verifiably present,” he said.

“This adds a level of credibility that has not yet been established for the biological hypothesis, despite decades of investigations involving thousands of research projects aimed at verifying the biological hypothesis as an established fact,” he said.

“Unlike the chemical imbalance notion – for which there is never any evidence – the evidence for this loss of selfhood and distress is right there in front of me.”

He said when people experience great trauma, it can overwhelm them leading to the development of defence mechanisms, which can manifest themselves in a range of behaviours.

“We need to help people see these, explore them, work with them. Understanding why and how they are functioning is a step towards changing it, in addition to raising selfhood and safety,” Dr Lynch said.

“These behaviours and experiences are just different ways of coping, from what many people might be used to or familiar with, and may often seem frantic or dysfunctional.”