In the world of art, there has been a burgeoning recognition of the work of many untrained artists. Sometimes they are called folk artists, or “primitive” artists, or even outsider artists when the artist has some sort of history of emotional distress. Though their technical skill usually does not approach that of formally trained artists, their creativity and emotional impact can, and does. Often, there is religious, spiritual, or mystical inspiration and content.
Similarly, before the advent of the modern trained mental healthcare professional over the last century, there were also untrained emotional healers, or natural therapists as I call them. Sometimes they were called shamans. Every culture seemed to be able to identify such individuals, although they could also be less visible at times. These natural therapists would have a higher than normal degree of empathy, caring, and ability to communicate what was needed to help another person.
Come to think of it, even Sigmund Freud could be thought to be an outside, or natural, therapist. Trained as a neurologist, Freud ventured into the internal unknown of the mind to create the field of psychoanalysis. He analyzed his own dreams, used the metaphor of archeology for the depths to be found in one’s mind, and developed such new therapeutic techniques as free association, anonymity, and interpretation. Not surprisingly, given this subjective study, Freud turned out to be wrong about some of his theories and findings. Over time, the field of psychoanalysis has tended to ossify, and is much less prominent nowadays.
Though many other important examples can be found in literature and history, for my ancestors I find the Old Testament (Torah) Joseph to be a model of a natural therapist. Read the story, or even see the popular play or videos of the story, but here is one very brief summary. Joseph was a younger, favored brother of his father Jacob, who gave Joseph “a coat of many colors”. His jealous brothers threw him into a pit, he was sold and brought to Egypt as a slave, put in prison, became a successful interpreter of Pharoah’s distressing dreams, attributed his success to God, was able to successfully plan for drought and climate change, and came to be able to forgive his brothers in a forerunner of the Truth & Reconciliation process.
In real life, of course, there are many everyday natural therapists that we never hear about, but are so important for the well-being of society. For me, and others with whom she came into contact, my wife was the one. Believe it or not, I was not only voted “most modest” in high school, but “most accident prone”. A series of careless sports injuries and reckless behavior stopped after meeting my future wife and responding to her natural therapy.
Given our current emphasis on not live (on-line) communication, valid concerns about relying on medication, and the need for cost control, more natural therapists are needed. The trick, of course, is finding and identifying them. It is easy enough to be fooled by false promises, reassurance, and overly simplistic self-help strategies. Maybe we need a national registrar of natural therapists, and an award to recognize them. Maybe some of them are right here on this web-site.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.