In 16th century Britain, centuries ahead of Sigmund Freud, Shakespeare recognized that diseases of the psyche exist and hinted at the healing powers of psychotherapy.
Moving on to another of Shakespeare's plays, Othello reprimanded his lieutenant Cassio following a drunken brawl. Cassio later laments (Act 2, Scene 3):
O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel and applause, transform ourselves into beasts! ... It hath pleased the devil drunkenness to give place to the devil wrath: one unperfectness shows me another, to make me frankly despise myself.
With this scene, I am reminded that patients can sabotage themselves and are frequently their own worst enemy. As with Cassio, patients often loathe themselves for their flaws. Much of therapy is intended to help patients gain insight into self-destructive behavior and develop the capacity for self-forgiveness.
Let us look next at Shakespeare's Hamlet, in which Hamlet utters his famous lines (Act 3, Scene 1):
To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take up arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?
While this soliloquy is subject to many interpretations, these opening lines speak to me about the difficulty in deciding how and when to choose one's battles. Our society idolizes courage and taking a stand. However, many of us have learned that the better part of valor is often to leave well enough alone in order to live to fight another day. In therapy, psychiatrists encourage some patients to advocate more strongly for themselves and work with others to learn to be less aggressive.