By Father Antonios Stylianakis,
Child Psychologist and Psychotherapist for Children and Youth
Child Psychologist and Psychotherapist for Children and Youth
This presentation will attempt to answer the following questions:
1. What is it about today's world that makes people look to alternative therapies all the more and more?
2. Is it possible to give a psychological explanation of the therapies in this domain and under what conditions?
3. Can an (Orthodox) Christian try these therapies without experiencing danger?
Approximately a year ago, some parents came to my Clinic with their eight-year-old daughter who was suffering from spastic paralysis and profound mental retardation/developmental delay. She had virtually no meaningful communication with the environment beyond visual contact. They had just returned from Germany where they had visited a center for alternative therapies and had been seen by a Chiropractor. They told me that he examined their child and told them that there was a fluid-build up on her right side, and so he performed some therapeutic manipulations. I asked the parents how the chiropractor discovered this (fluid build-up), and they said by grabbing hold of her head! I asked myself how he found this fluid by simply touching the surface of the child's head, something which medical doctors only find with specific tests. And so I clearly stated (to the parents) that I did not espouse these magical ways! The parents looked at me in a perplexed manner and left quite dissatisfied. They never came back! They had placed all their hopes for their child's improvement on chiropractic care and were unable to understand what I was trying to tell them: that in order for us to observe improvement in the child, a great deal of continuous hard work and effort would be needed, along with intensive physical and occupational therapy, and afterwards, perhaps speech therapy. They were just waiting for a miracle!
And there you have one category of people who seek out alternative therapists. Those who become discouraged with the status of their illness and believe that the help that (traditional) medicine gives is too narrow. It isn't by chance that many cancer patients and those diagnosed with AIDS, seek refuge in a wide range of alternative therapies in hopes that they will be cured/helped.
If one were to study these theories and the promises these therapies make, we would ascertain two things: According to their claims, they address the whole person (the holistic approach), his body, mind, and psyche! One can appreciate what an impact such a notion that one pill can heal the soul has on the world-at-large, since the treatment is holistic. In other words, we're talking about a demonic device of the first order! That they speak about forces which essentially perform miracles, whether they are of universal origin (worldly power) or from the human being (the vital force).
Recently, I was having a conversation with a Homeopathic Doctor and expressing criticism of the methods utilized. When he experienced difficulty in explaining the methodology, he responded that what interests him most of all is the end result; and accordingly, he is happy to see that cures and the alleviation of pain with the use of homeopathic remedies, are taking place on a regular basis.
It is necessary, now, to comment on this subject, to offer some responses on our topic. It has been set forth by previous speakers that Homeopathy places particular emphasis on its scientific base; however, I often ask myself why the water from a stream or waterfall, which flows naturally , and contains certain necessary elements for survival, such as iodine, isn't considered power imbued!
Nevertheless, I do not wish to get involved in occultism which is so outspoken in many cases, but rather I wish to look at those (therapies) which claim that they stay clear of such (occult-like) minglings and ways of thinking. Is this feasible?
I will address homeopathy, primarily, because it appears to be the most harmless/innocent and has been widely disseminated, and because it is practiced by medical doctors who don't need other credentials in order to practice without disturbance/interference.
WHO USUALLY TURNS TO HOMEOPATHY
I believe it is obvious from the presentations of the previous speakers that Homeopathy is quackery/charlatanism with few medical, psychiatric or thought-provoking features.
In any case, one only has to think on the fact that G. Vithoulkas, founder of Homeopathic Medicine in Greece, had no background in medicine, as he was a Civil Engineering Assistant (it is recorded, as well, that he never obtained his degree!).
In principle, the individuals most likely to turn to homeopathy have a certain psychological make-up or else are under certain pressures in life; I do not, however, wish to imply that they are not from the mainstream of society. Most often, they have tested out many different kinds of medically based therapies without experiencing significant results, usually because their condition has many psychological parameters which, of course, are not eliminated by taking medication! In fact, the presence of chronic pain syndromes is often the case (headaches, lumbago, chest pains, etc.). They refuse, however, to accept or else ignore the existence of psychological problems, and they find it "convenient" to believe that one pill is going to make them well. For this reason, they turn to a homeopathic doctor and not to a psychiatrist!
Furthermore, they may be individuals who like to involve themselves in the prevention aspect of unpleasant health conditions. They consider it necessary to be involved in some kind of treatment, such as that of homeopathy, albeit on a preventive basis! It is the insecure who, for a variety of reasons, may even go to their General Practitioner, to ask to be treated with vitamins or tonic, on a preventative basis. If the Internist tells them they are okay and doesn't pay particular attention to them or their request, these same individuals may very well continue their health search in the direction of alternative therapies. It is obvious that there are deeper psychological issues for this.
THE MAGICAL SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM, NAMELY, REPRESSION OF THE PROBLEM
Sometimes clients will come requesting medication, and although I will explain to them that psychological healing comes about by changes in one's way of thinking and behaving which results from working together in psychotherapy, they will refuse this and ask for medication, which in some magical way will cure them. And, in fact, sometimes, (a therapist) may succumb to the temptation (the client's request), and prescribe the medication, in which case we see amazing results, at least at the beginning, a phenomenon known as the placebo effect!
I, personally, never do this, and consider it totally unnecessary (if not completely unethical, for the patient not to be aware exactly what treatment he is undergoing, although there are patients who are, in fact, indifferent to this!).
A few years ago I remember talking to a veteran psychiatrist, when psychiatry was still in its early stages, and he was commenting on a particular situation that occurred in his clinic, whereby he was administering an injection of plain water (that is, distilled water like that in homeopathy) to a few clients and observed really amazing results every time. Both the doctor and patients remained satisfied with (the results of) this treatment which took place more or less monthly!
Which is what happens in homeopathy. You get well, and they tell you, "Come back in two or three months for preventive measures or else for maintenance!"
It's a shame, however, that the medical profession is reduced to such a level by some of its professionals, because the latter don't make the effort to examine the deeper needs/concerns of a person and thus to administer treatment that will address the problem at its roots. Unfortunately, Psychiatry as a profession here in Greece has been drawn, like Hector, into the arena by Neurology for so many years and now very timidly is coming into its own, that is, recovering from this identity crisis.
Homeopathic medicine usually acts in a similar way. Perhaps, the senior physicians remember the Kamaterou "curative" water which many years ago claimed to cure even cancer! (The cured patients would go public and be interviewed!). Initially, patients would get enthusiastic and claim results even before the medication had a chance to get to the stomach. After a certain period of time though, days to years, they would revert back to the same (state of affairs).
At bottom, some people are aware of this. But they still want to believe in the "magical" cure-all remedy, thrusting aside their other problems, psychological or otherwise. It's much easier to swallow a pill than to talk about current or childhood traumatic experiences. The first solution will make you a satisfied customer of alternative treatment; the second (solution) may, perhaps, help you to understand why you (tend to) avoid certain things in your life and why you continue living miserably in a vicious circle.
So, this is how the homeopathic practitioner takes on the role of a psychiatrist, unwillingly and supposedly treats "all illness" (phobias, depression, neuroses, and even schizophrenia), although he has not specialized in any area of medical science! And this is really paradoxical if one stops to think about it!
HOW (STANDARD) MEDICINE WORKS
Quite often, the people who resort to medical intervention are those with chronic pain, such as headaches, heart condition, muscle aches and pains, and lumbago. Unfortunately, what many Internists only know how to do each time to prescribe a particular pain medicine depending on the condition.
Sometimes, if they don't find what the problem is by examination in the clinic, they may say, "There's nothing wrong with you," or "ust forget about it,"or else "It's all in your head."
There's nothing worse than for someone who is waiting for help to encounter this kind of response. He is being told, more or less, that he is imagining his illness! So he will turn to an acupuncturist or a chiropractor or homeopathic doctor who will surely heal him. In this way he will prove indisputably that he was right about feeling pain, but you Mr. Internist/General doctor, weren't able to treat him.
And if you don't have the time or the energy to set aside an hour or so to discuss with your client his emotional problems, the best thing that you can do, at the least, is to make a referral, to a competent psychiatrist or psychologist, without fear and obsession.
I received such a referral from an Internist, of a young man, a few years ago.
His problem was that he suffered from disturbing headaches for which he had undergone acupuncture, but with only temporary relief. Later, he had chest pains that resulted in him visiting seven different specialist doctors since his private insurance covered the visits and he didn't have to pay-out-of-pocket. He made his health problem the center of his life.
He had undergone all the most expensive examinations and testing (NMR) without there being anything pathological. What was left was psychiatric care (which in fact wasn't covered by his private insurance), and so he ended up in my office. He wondered how (in the world) he was going to be treated, without medication to relieve him from pain, and I asked him to entrust himself to me for a period of three months' treatment at least.
We began by examining together in a psychoanalytical manner, discussing all the issues from this point on and back to his childhood years. All his pains disappeared during the first month, but our working together extended to six months, without him complaining of other symptoms. What was more significant, was this: there were problems in his relationships which had not been mentioned initially, and which were now being resolved, and one might wonder how this came about. By delving deeply and analytically into his interpersonal relationships, especially early childhood experiences, which revealed quite a lot, as he had grown up essentially with his grandmother and without his mother around, who had to work day and night. Our discussion brought to light shady areas in his personality, which helped him to start a process of maturing which he had denied up to this point for his own emotional reasons.
Another thing which impressed me, is that this young man had literally gone to every available therapist seeking advice. And although he was not a church-going person, he had even made it to the Holy Mountain to meet Elder Paisios, whose meeting, however, did not stop him from taking refuge in witchcraft and mediums, and applying what they would tell him!
Perhaps you have been wondering what was the meaning, symbolically speaking, of all the untreatable pain experienced by this 20 year old young man. From my "analysis" of him, I believe that (the pain) was significant for the following reason: He had been deprived of "the maternal hug", when he desperately needed it, and so now he was trying to replace it with continual care of and attention to his body, that he sought by going to the doctors, who were incapable of curing him, exactly because it is impossible to replace a mother's caress which he had been deprived of.
I don't know if you remember the scene in your (own) childhood when you had fallen down and hurt yourself, and your mother said to you, "Come here, so I can kiss it and make it well, mwaaa." And oh, miracle of miracles, that mother's kiss, what unrivaled curative power!
That is how "alternative" therapy works today. Not only that! Even every medication a person gets from the doctor.
And as long as doctors don't know how to talk to the sick person and to discuss with him his problem, so also the medications will not do their job, despite the fact that new and proven-to-be-better (medicines) are put on the market day after day.
You are aware that physicians write prescriptions for most of the psychotropic medications: I, personally, have reached the point where, many times, I don't even remember the names of the drugs, because I so rarely prescribe them. The reason is that I allocate a lot of time for talking with my "clients" about their difficulties and their emotional needs, and the solution is met with at its source, on a psychological level, and so the symptoms disappear on their own, without having to ask (the patients) to come back for "maintenance"!
A while ago a young mother came to my office, having lost her husband in an auto accident. She was asking for advice on how to break the news to her child of the death of his father, and furthermore, she begged me to tell the child the news. The woman was in a state of depression from the unexpected loss of her husband with whom she had a very loving relationship. Suddenly, however, she had lost all hope for him (for she didn't believe in life after death) and so she got rid of all his pictures in the house. Of course, I discussed with her in detail all the events and her emotional reactions, something which caused her, several times, to burst into tears, but which also caused her to become aware in the end of how she had been handling the situation wrongly.
When she left my office, it had not been necessary for her to get on medication nor for me to see her child, because she was persuaded that now she could tell him everything that she had come to accept well enough within herself.
Why did I refer to this case? Because, here is someone who could have easily gone to a homeopathic practitioner (as in the cases that have come to my attention). She would have taken some miracle pills which would have helped her to overcome her grief, but only after a few months, something which would have happened on its own (with the passage of time). However, this would not have helped her in the least to become aware (of the fact) that she perceived the death of her husband wrongly, and in turn this would have not been at all beneficial to her child, who might have then developed various phobias and disorders.
So the issue here with respect to medical care, is not just the avoidance of doing harm (to a patient), but also that (the medical profession) must help when and wherever feasible, and utilize as much as possible all the scientific knowledge one has. Even the slightest delay in treatment of someone, can have earth-shattering consequences in the life of an individual.
HOLISTIC VERSUS CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE
The practitioners of Alternative Therapies proclaim that they view the person totally and not just his symptoms. On closer examination, however, of how certain situations are dealt with, what is shown? That the person is seen as the sum total of his symptoms, which are treated by administering a pill that is quite individualized (a cure-all). In short, the remedy (term used by Homeopathic practitioners for the medicines they use) becomes the end-all, possessing divine powers.
Whatever problems and emotional needs the person may have are not as significant for them as finding the remedy "that one and only medicine that suits him (the patient)," they say with smugness. "From the moment we have found it, we have cured him! And we are then indebted to this mystical power."
Tell me now, if it isn't any wonder that little by little and unwillfully, the person enters into an occult-like path, even if his doctor is Christian Orthodox!
And in this manner are phobias treated even at a distance and by a phone call prescription! Isn't it a known fact, even among the least informed, however, that a phobia is preeminently, a psychological phenomenon and can't be treated without at least engaging the phobic person in dialogue in order to see what the problem is? And this is the primary job of the psychiatrist. So, they (the alternative therapists) are usurping, and harmfully so, the practice of psychiatry, which they have no knowledge of (they haven't studied it).
Of course, it can be said that, as a result of a personal experience, someone was able to cure his own phobia. I don't doubt that this may happen at times! But what needs emphasizing here is the psychiatrist's goal, which is to treat the individual disturbance, and not just to cure the symptoms.
What often happens is that just as one symptom is cured, another one pops up, as in the case of a patient who was cured of his fear of heights only to acquire a phobia of electrical currents. And from there he went on to experience a phobia of sharp objects, and so forth.
An individual disturbance is (the result of) an internal conflict which may be attributed to a dilemma over a (very) serious decision, which needs to be looked into by the psychiatrist; and when the person has seen it for what it is (through analysis), then the symptoms will disappear immediately.
Administering medication, at this point, is like prescribing aspirin to a cancer patient. And it's a fact that many cancer patients have taken refuge in alternative treatments, initially, which promised miracles, thus losing precious time. And after having grown weary from (trying) the various potions, fractions, and other (remedies), they went to a physician and began cancer cell treatment and other therapies, but then it was (too) late. Had they gone earlier, they might have been cured.
So here you see how the practice of new medical treatments (I should say here, anti-medical care!) cannot be viewed as harmless, as they proudly teach. If only because of the precious time lost, the expense incurred and the (loss of) trust in a physician, and because with the disappearance of a symptom, which is the body's way of giving off a warning sign, the wrong signal is given instead, that is to say, the mechanism of safety is neutralized/eliminated without there being a warding off of danger.
It is not enough to say that the person is seen holistically; you have to know what you're doing and alternative therapy is not able to do this, simply because it doesn't have the knowledge.
THE ROLE OF THE THERAPIST
The issue here is not that the medical profession is losing its clientele! And perhaps it's good at this point to make reference to the fact that medicine, as it is practiced today in Greece, is tending more and more, in recent years, to lose its human face and is becoming a career of prescription writers. And here is definitely the delicate point, giving more accountability, that is to say, the reason for why homeopathy and alternative therapies are gaining ground.
If we glance at the medical profession, we'll often observe that we can't "see the forest for the trees." I believe that overspecialization in the medical field is to blame for this phenomenon. Also to blame is the inadequate education of doctors, at a basic level, who learn a lot about the illnesses, but (they learn) little or nothing about the sick person as a psychosomatic entity!
I have heard of cases where clients undergoing homeopathic treatment were cured in just one interview, which they described as wonderful. But in fact, what is happening here is that, because the interview takes two hours and the practitioner asks many detailed questions about the client's personal life, they feel that the doctor really cares about them; and this fact alone produces powerful therapeutic results, albeit temporary. And what are the questions asked? "What side of the bed do you sleep on?" "Do you like fatty foods, coffee?" "What kind of dreams do you have etc.!"
In psychiatry, where about 400 methods of psychotherapies exist in America alone, a repeated subject for discussion is whether the therapeutic outcome isn't, many times, as dependent on the personality of the therapist as on the method of therapy practiced. It isn't by chance that Hippocrates happened to become the father of medicine. The same can be said about the gifted Hanneman, whose writings, if you read them, are both entrancing and impressive for his times, with his breadth of knowledge and systematic way of conveying what he has to say.
If one reads homeopathic literature, he will find more theory and dogma than scientific research.
The phenomenon, of course, has psychological ramifications primarily, but becomes spiritual, as well, from the moment that a Christian becomes aware or simply suspects, or albeit subconsciously he imagines, that he is taking a drink of water (with powerful effects from having been stirred up!) rather than medication and that he is waiting for some mysterious powerful potion to cure him.
However, it is quite common/natural, even if a person hasn't thought of it in this way, subconsciously, to wait for help from some unknown source, which is neither connected to (traditional) medicine nor to faith in God (and thus windows of opportunity are left for the crafty one to penetrate) and then here comes the big trap, which, I think, quite a few spiritual fathers have missed, and so have ended up encouraging their spiritual children in the direction of homeopathy, having been misguided by a humanistic mask.
A few months ago when I was on the Holy Mountain, I was gratified to learn from a reliable and learned monk, that even Elder Paisios characterized homeopathic remedies as demonic substitutes for holy water and that he was against these kinds of therapies. I was impressed with the appropriateness of this comparison, because this is exactly how this medicine affects people in wider circles, psychologically. It is also of note and characteristic of him, that the saintly Elder Porphyrios would only accept traditional medicine and not the so-called alternative therapies. (He said of homeopathy that some of the remedies that were imported from abroad were under a spell that had been exposed to witchcraft). I say this because often the argument is used that the Holy Mountain is accepting of homeopathy. Those who accept it do so out of ignorance and tell themselves that they are harmless, and make use of natural preparations, just as our grandfathers and many grandmothers in the villages used products from nature.
Today we are being served/presented with the myth of the New Medical field. However, the science of medicine is forever young as a science, for it does away with every kind of anachronism and end result, and accepts whatever is considered better, based on scientific research. And subsequently, there are not many medical fields; there is but one science of medicine.
It should be absolutely apparent that in any particular treatment relationship, there is the patient as the focal point, but also the therapist and his personality; and also there is the unbiased therapeutic method (Medicine, intervention). It is not by chance that a particular patient undergoes a particular medical treatment, since he (the patient) chooses the therapist/doctor. I know doctors who have become objects of worship, more so because of their personality rather than their scientific ability. And it often happens, that is, there's a tendency for the patient to idealize his therapist, because, after all, he's expecting to receive more help from him.
At this point here, there are two challenges:
One refers to the physician and the unequivocal power he has in his hands. Will he make use of it in conjunction with the rules of medical etiquette and without conveying a sense of personal conceit and all-powerfulness? If yes, then he will offer his best to the patient, and simultaneously, he will leave open, the path for God's help/intervention, the source of all and from which the patient can always have as a reference/source (for help).
The second challenge relates to the patient. Will he convey to the doctor the attributes which fit his situation, so as to benefit from the treatment, psychosomatically, or will he seek more things which may be related to his need for an affectionate father or mother but also to (his search for) filling the metaphysical emptiness inside? Then there is the possibility that he will get entangled/involved in unforeseen extenuating circumstances and consequences.
The (larger) issue here, however, is for us not to risk reverting back to the times when there were witch-doctors, which, of course, still exist among the primitive tribes of Africa and which, in addition, are openly making their appearance in Europe and America, under the official cloak of Medicine of the New Age. This is my great concern, which merges with the struggle and watchfulness of the Church.
Vithoulka, G. Homeopathy, Publisher: Homeopathic Medical Center, 1985.
Tamtakos, Z. Homeopathy today, Thessaloniki 1990.
Diamantidis, S. Homeopathic Medicine, Estias Bookstore, Athens.
Stylianakis, Father Antonios, "Homeopathy from a Psychological and Spiritual point of view", Issue 1995 ? (intellectued)
David Sneed, A Critique on Medical care in the New Age, Stereoma Thessaloniki.
Samuel Pfeifer, Homeopathic Practice, Publisher: Pergamos 1992.