Today, spread peace.
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
“See yourself, see your enemy, win a thousand battles.” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Today is World Peace Day, as it has been on September 21 since the United Nations established it in 1982. It is otherwise known as the International Day of Peace.
There are themes each year. Reconciliation was the theme for 2019. Last year, End Racism was called for. This year the theme is the very general Actions for Peace.
However, the 2023 Global Peace Index (GPI) concludes that the level of global peacefulness has deteriorated for the 9th consecutive year. While Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine may be the most obvious deterioration, there are more conflict deaths in Ethiopia than Ukraine and 79 countries showed increased levels of conflict. Of course, the psychiatric repercussions from violent conflict can be extensive, including the development of posttraumatic stress disorder and prolonged grief.
There has been some concern for peace in pockets of organized psychiatry and psychology, but whether that has made any international difference is still unclear.
Large scale peace analysis does not generally include small groups like families. Yet, much of the worse relationship violence, especially to women, occurs within families. Family conflict is part of our clinical psychotherapeutic tools, but effective prevention strategies seem few and far between, just like war.
Most likely, peace is recalcitrant because it derives from an essential part of human nature. It can often be a byproduct of the fear of the other and the consequent quest for power.
Some question whether there is a limit as to what psychiatry can contribute to peace,1 but with rising global vulnerability from nuclear risk, climate instability, and AI, it would seem foolish for us to give up trying.
If the well-known Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu is right is his quote above, who best to “see yourself, see your enemy” in psychological understanding?
At its essence, could reducing family conflict by understanding our own countertransference, the transference reactions of our patients, and our relevant and hopefully improving techniques may be applicable to reducing world conflict? That could be psychiatry’s particular Action for Peace.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.
1. Kirmayer L. Peace, conflict, and reconciliation: contributions of cultural psychiatry. Transcult Psychiatry. 2010;47(1):5-19.