By Bradon Grove, ACMHC psychotherapist at Mountain Valley Counseling
The word ‘psychology’ comes from the Greek ‘psychos’ meaning ‘soul.’ Modern psychology is at odds with this, often focusing on study of the brain, behavior, and a kind of emotional hygiene that searches for an end to pain. Its etymological root suggests instead that psychological practice is aimed at something deeper; a quality or dimension of experiencing life and ourselves, based on attending to the symptoms our psyches use to communicate with us.
What gets left out between these two definitions?
In the rational, cognitive, behavioral view of psychology – often referred to as the medical model – therapy is often conducted with the goal of eradicating pain, trouble, and anomaly, through steady application of concepts and procedures designed to affect outcomes that have been predetermined to result in better living by careful research design and generally accepted views of what socially acceptable behavior looks like. It seeks a cure. Charts and graphs are the tools of this model. “A 3 on a depression inventory is better than last weeks’ 8, but let’s see if we can’t get to zero.”
‘Therapeia’ the Greek work that therapy is derived from, has as one of its earliest meanings “to nurse.’ This gives insight into the nature of the other, earlier, definition of psychology and therapy as a discipline interested in caring for the soul. Care itself, derived from the Greek ‘cura’ has as some of its meanings: attention, devotion, husbandry, adorning the body, healing, managing, being anxious for, and worshiping the gods. These meanings present a wider view of psychology as a continuous, dedicated practice of listening to, and learning to care for, the messages contained within the pain we feel. ‘Being anxious for’ implies that this kind of soulful caring honors what the medical model considers to be symptomatic. Anxiety from this depth perspective is not a pathology to be feared, demonized, or avoided. It is instead a word in your psyche’s vocabulary spoken to bring your attention to something that needs it.
This second definition contains within it the first medical one. The brain is as vital an organ as any other in the body and deserves as much observation as the rest of the psyche. However, by fostering a sense of connection to, and respect for, the entire psyche through modest care, we may move away from seeking to cure ‘pathology’ and towards seeking to be cared for by it.