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Empathic therapy: psychotherapy, not psychoactive drugs

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By Dr. Peter Breggin

Blunting ourselves with drugs is not the answer to overwhelming emotions. Intense emotions should be welcomed. Emotions are the vital signs of life. We need and should want them to be strong. We also need our brains and minds to be functioning at their best, free of toxic drugs. That allows us to use our intelligence and understanding to the fullest. Thinking clearly is one of the hallmarks of taking charge of oneself instead of caving in to helplessness.

Empathy is rarely taught in graduate or professional schools, but empathy remains at the heart of therapeutic life. Professional training should incorporate a more systematic and conscious approach to promoting the student’s natural empathy. At all levels of professional development, empathy should be woven into the other important facets of pscyhotherapy and human services.

Unfortunately, when health professionals are taught to rely on the prescription of psychoactive drugs, they are in effect instructed how to suppress the emotional lives of their patients and clients.

An empathic approach allows a therapist to use the healing power of professional therapy relationships rather than the mechanical or chemical manipulation of the brain. The goal of therapy is to help clients maximize their ability to be empathic and loving toward themselves and others, to live ethically, and to become autonomous and self-determining in the fulfillment of all their chosen goals and ideals. In contrast, biological psychiatry views people as objects and suppresses their feelings with brain-disabling treatments, thereby interfering with the development of empathy and love, and the ability to take rationally determined actions based on sound values.