Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 203

Synchronicity and Psychiatry: An Ode to Joy!

Coincidence or more? You decide.

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

Right before I was going to do this week’s video for Psychiatric Times™, posted yesterday, I was asked what I was planning for the current Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Now, that person did not know the subject of my planned video. The planned subject just happened to be about joy, psychiatry, and Sukkot, which is considered a joyous Jewish holiday. Just simple coincidence?

Perhaps you will have already noticed my belief in the importance of synchronicities. Though I have experienced them intermittently all my life, they seem to take an unexpected leap to daily or more over the last 4 years, ever since the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah 2018. They seem to guide what I write or present. To paraphrase the Canadian communication theorist McLuhan’s famous saying that “the medium is the message,” for me, the meaning is in the messages.

I have been reluctant to publicly discuss this more because it is a complex, confusing, and controversial subject. Am I just better at noticing coincidences, the unexpected concurrence of events, and thereby interpreting them as important, as a clergy has suggested, or have I come to be a divine vessel of some sort, as a colleague has said, or both?

Right after the Sukkot connection, I recalled that I had earlier in the morning read a possible synchronicity explanation. This was the article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Hidden Power of Coincidences,”1 which mentioned the new book Meaningful Coincidences: How and Why Synchronicity and Serendipity Happen.2 The book just happened to be written by psychiatrist Bernard Beitman, MD.

I met Dr Beitman years ago when I was invited to give a Grand Rounds at his department. I did not know this at the time, but he was already starting to study the topic of coincidences. Now, looking more into his background, I noticed that I also followed him at Yale Medical school. There is some thought that synchronicity can also occur over time.

Historically, synchronicity was a focus of Jungian psychotherapy and considered to be unexpected meaningful coincidences, producing a different sort of insight than the Freudian psychodynamic interpretations of conflicts. An astute viewer asked me if the name Freud was derived from the German word Freude, meaning joy, and that Freude was part of Beethoven’s innovative choral “Ode to Joy” in his ninth and last symphony. Jung was apparently also intrigued with Freud’s surname, in that it does indeed refer to a cheerful person. The synchronicity in this situation was the possibility that their names influence people and in Freud’s case, his “pleasure principle.” That struck a personal note for me; we are the only known Moffic and I have tended to go for the unique in my life.

Dr Beitman has updated Jung’s therapeutic ideas to synchronicity discussion groups and coincidence counseling. He views synchronicity as 1 type of coincidence where events seem meaningfully related without apparent causal connection. Another viewer appropriately wondered if it would even be too “Pollyanna” to insert joy into the treatment of people who are depressed in these depressing times.

Serendipity is a sort of happy accident where you find one thing while looking for another. Thinking about these readers’ responses also seems like serendipity to me!

I cannot wait to read Dr Beitman’s book to find even more meaning in synchronicity. Synchronicity, it seems to me, lies in that liminal space between psychiatry and spirituality where joy can be found, joy coming from knowing, feeling, or doing that which matters most.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

References

1. Bernstein E. The hidden power of coincidences. The Wall Street Journal. Updated October 11, 2022. Accessed October 13, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/making-sense-of-coincidences-11665483811

2. Beitman B. Meaningful Coincidences: How and Why Synchronicity and Serendipity Happen. Park Street Press; 2022.