It's part biological and part psychological and spiritual. But there's no doubt about the direction that humankind must go in--toward empathic individual relationships and ultimately a more empathic culture. Until human beings truly learn to love and to understand one another, and to adopt empathic attitudes and practices, the world will remain mired in misery and conflict. Until those of us in the healing arts come to this realization we will often do more harm than good, and never fulfill our potential to give and to heal.
Utopia is a long way off. Social utopia is probably beyond human capacity. But in our individual lives, families and communities, we can act from empathy--from a genuine treasuring of each other, and a belief that human nature and the human spirit everywhere in the world long for freedom and more loving community.
Yes, there is evil in the universe; some individuals and some ideologies promote hatred and destruction. At times aggressors will require us to defend ourselves. But our basic thrust must always remain toward spreading empathy.
Every human being is born with a powerful empathic impulse. Except under the direst circumstances, it begins to flower in the first few years of life. Even toddlers feel concern for other toddlers and will seek to comfort each other. Empathy is so inherent in human nature, I have seen it flourish in some of the most abused children I have known in my work as a psychiatrist.
Consider why we have these large frontal lobes that fill the anterior portion of our skulls. They weren't developed to build technology or even to create art--there was little or none of that at the time 100,000 years ago when we reached our current biological state. Our frontal lobes developed as a part of our becoming sensitive social human beings capable of caring, cooperation and communicating verbally with each other.
Whether you believe in Darwinian evolution, Intelligent Design, or a combination of both, these frontal lobes of ours give us the biological capacity to express the highest ethical, psychological and spiritual ideals, including our yearning for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a responsible fashion. Psychiatric drugs suppress that biological capacity, putting a chemical barrier into place that divides us from ourselves and from others. Psychiatric diagnoses which justify these drugs further the alienation from our real selves and from others.
As the recent New York Times story confirms, most psychiatrists don't even do psychotherapy anymore; they simply diagnose and drug. As I first described in Toxic Psychiatry, medically-oriented mental health professionals have become remote from their patients whom they now seek to manipulate chemically rather than to know personally.
In the field we call mental health, the rampant diagnosing, drugging, and incarcerating of those we seek to help must be replaced by practices that encourage responsibility and freedom rather than compliance and docility. By working directly in the field of ethical human services and sciences, we can become a leading part in the grassroots movement we call the Empathic Transformation.
All over the world, those of us who practice the healing arts--physical, psychological and spiritual--are seeing the need to join together to further humanity's empathic transformation--to transform the old ways into something better and even grander, into practices embedded in and imbued with empathy.
The world is changing and we need to lead the movement in our fields toward a view of human beings that never demeans and always empowers, that never forces but always encourages, and that recognizes that human beings are not ultimately driven by their instincts and their biochemical but by their ideals and principles.
You do not have to be a professional to join the Empathic Transformation movement. The Empathic Transformation is larger than any one profession; empathy is not the province of professionals alone. Empathy encompasses everything we humans do with each other. That's why we call our new nonprofit organization The Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living. Especially in the field of mental health and personal growth the real hope for the future lies beyond those of us who are professionals.
There are not enough professionals to address the whole of human emotional and spiritual suffering, and professionals often become too boxed in by their ideology and too self-serving to provide the best solutions. Peer counseling, Twelve Step programs, religious and spiritual alternatives, and a broad array of non-medical retreats and approaches must be encouraged and eventually must flourish. The great numbers of people who desire nontoxic, empathic alternatives must demand them and help to create them.
People are coming from all over the world to our Empathic Therapy Conference in Syracuse, New York, April 8-10. Join them and join us. If you are interested in learning more about empathic human services and empathic living, this conference will provide you information and inspiration. You can find everything you need to know, including how to sign up, at www.empathictherapy.org.
Peter R. Breggin, MD is a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York, and the author of dozens of scientific articles and more than twenty books including Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock and Biochemical Theories of the "New" Psychiatry, as well as his newest book, Medication Madness. The Empathic Therapy Conference brings together more than forty presenters and a diverse audience from around the world. Professionals and nonprofessionals are welcome. Learn about the conference at http://www.empathictherapy.org.