How can we open our minds?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
In recent weekday columns, we have covered several “best of” designations for 2022 that related to the interface of psychiatry and society: color, lies, awe, and fusion. Now I make my own.
What might currently be the most important to mental health in society and psychiatry? My pick is freedom of mind.
Freedom of mind seems crucial for adequate participation in a democracy. This week, our Congress grapples with the fallout of the January 6, 2021 invasion of the Capitol, and the arrival of President Zelensky of Ukraine, who comes with continuing concern over the invasion of Ukraine.
Yet, our growing political and societal divisiveness suggests a countervailing closure of mind instead. It seems all too easy to get one’s points of view reinforced on the internet and social media. If not part of actual cults, this is a spectrum of cultish and conspiracy thinking. The process reinforces such social psychopathology as racism, anti-Semitism, and other “isms” and social phobias.
Fortunately, there are societal resources to help increase freedom of mind. One is the Freedom of Mind Resource Center led by Steven Hassan, PhD. It is dedicated to reducing mind control by “providing knowledge, awareness, and support needed to help yourself and loved ones avoid or escape from dangerous people and situations of influence” through books, online courses, education, consultation, media, coaching, and other interventions. It also has a model called BITE (Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional control) that can help to distinguish mind control from freedom of mind.
Come to think of it, freedom of mind seems to be an underappreciated goal in individual psychiatric treatment. Just consider what clinical depression does to produce negative thoughts, anxiety does to produce fears, bipolar does to mood swings, trauma does to produce triggers, schizophrenia does to impair reality testing, and substance abuse does to personal coping skills. That may be a substantial part of why the positive reframing of cognitive behavioral therapy led it to become the most popular psychotherapy. Medication can also help by reducing the intensity of those symptoms.
As with most anything, nothing is completely good or bad. Mind control techniques can be used to help quit smoking, but become destructive when they impair the ability to think independently.
Freedom of mind is not equivalent to our first amendment free speech. Freedom of mind should help one’s mind to appropriately decide what to say at a given time for the benefit of both oneself and others.
A democratic society and personal psychology depend on enough freedom of minds.
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™.