Eastern vs. Western
The concept of pathology grows out of a specific world-view. Oriental views of the universe see the whole and seek to fit ourselves into it. Western approaches take it apart into pieces and learn how to make it fit what we want. East focuses on the whole—a shifting state of balances and flows of energy. West focuses on dualities like Health vs. Sickness. Eastern tools are yoga, t’ai chi and meditation. Western tools are medicine, economics and technology. East supports the body’s immune system in its natural function. West “treats” symptoms by intervening from the outside.
Today we are in a position to apply energy technology in support of deeper awareness of ourselves and our personal universes. Meditation/Prayer and other self-regulation tools are widely pursued, and brain training is increasingly being used to aid in this process.
From the early days of Elmer and Alyce Green, the self-awareness focus of training has been a strong branch of neurofeedback. Today it is over-shadowed by our culture’s pathology-based, diagnose-and-treat-a-disease, mental-health-professional approach. Nevertheless, serious academic work has been done for decades, and is being done today, to identify characteristics of the holistic brain.
What is the Pathology Model
The dualistic view of the world uses statistics to define “normal” behavior, production, feelings, intelligence, tastes and health. Whatever lies “too far” (statistically) from this “normal” is, by definition, pathological.
Pathology comes from outside to disrupt the normal. Our bodies are surrounded by “germs”. (Our bodies include 10 times more bacteria than cells.) We need to “kill the germs” to avoid sickness or get better. (A sophisticated inner “police force” is constantly scanning us, identifying potential threats and mobilizing against them.) Medication, surgery and procedures are required to defeat pathologies—even if they interfere with the body’s own auto-immune processes. If treatment destroys quality of life for a temporary reprieve, that’s fine. A child who doesn’t eat, is irritable, sleeps poorly and acts like a zombie but doesn’t get yelled at in class is a good outcome.
Pathology and the Brain
Especially in the area of mental and emotional life, the concept of a statistically-defined “normal” makes little sense. There are certainly brains with a tumor, or in which dopamine-producing cells are not being replaced, or which are locked up by seizures or blocked by amyloid plaques. But a child living in a deteriorating family, who subsists on fast-foods and video games is not necessarily “sick” because he can’t sit still for hours a day in a room with 25 other kids. A woman who lives in constant fear learned from an anxious mother literally from the womb—or in response to experienced helplessness in a situation that threatened her security for extended periods—is not necessarily sick. Their lives are surely out of balance. Their expectations for entertainment or security may be unrealistic, but they are culturally syntonic. Their culture teaches them to expect those things.
There is a clear source for much of this pressure. The pharmaceutical industry is a $400-billion annual business globally. Drug companies spend 1/3 of their sales revenue on marketing—double what they spend on research. They literally fund the FDA, which is tasked with overseeing them. They fund the great majority of the published “research”. We are 50 times more likely to learn about “health” issues from drug company material than from public health sources. And drugs require pathology.
The Cost of the Pathology Model
The “pathology” approach to describing the brain has produced a civilization of “sick” people—people who need help to be productive and fill their roles in society. As the number of psychiatric diagnoses nearly tripled from 106 in 1952 to 297 in 1994, even the psychiatrists who developed the system admitted it had led to the “medicalization of 20-30 percent of the population who may not have had any serious mental problems”. The National Institute of Mental Health has argued the system of diagnoses is unscientific and subjective, relying on superficial symptoms and artificial dividing lines between disorders and “normality”. In fact, most mental health diagnoses are simply description of symptoms.
The result of this “medicalization” is worse than just a raft of children and adults with mental diagnoses. Use of anti-depressant medications has quadrupled in just 20 years. They are now the most commonly used medications for Americans 18-44 years of age. In 2003, there were 400 Americans diagnosed with bipolar disorder for every ONE in 1994—a 4,000% rise in 9 years. 20% of American children are now diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder and are taking psychoactive medications.
This is a cultural decision, but it is one that each one of us has the option of accepting or refusing—at least for now.