What do we really need for our personal healing and transformation? More psychological technique? More psychiatric medication? Or more love and compassion? This is a most fundamental question for anyone’s life and well-being. The Beatles released a song in 1967 entitled, “All You Need is Love”. It resonated with millions of people. Can you imagine a song with the title “All You Need is Medication”?
“Will the mother of little Sally please come to checkout counter number 9?” I remember hearing that announcement at a large department store around Christmas many years ago. In the busyness of the season, mother and daughter were separated. It does happen. No doubt little Sally was quite anxious and fearful.
Now imagine three responses for Sally. First, a therapist comes along who teaches Sally to close her eyes and imagine little white bunnies hopping around in a clover field. Sally learns to focus on the warmth and the joy of those bunnies. She feels the “peace” as she imagines the scene. As she relaxes, fear starts to dissipate. Not impressed? The second person to come is a psychiatrist who happens to have a children’s dose of Paxil. Soon Sally is starting to calm down, with neurotransmitters functioning “correctly”. Still not impressed? The third person to come is her mother who instantly puts her arms around Sally and gives her a warm embrace. All Sally’s fears are gone, tears are wiped away. Everyone knows that what Sally really needs is her mother – one of the most obvious facts of the universe. There is no substitute for a loving, healing presence – that is all and that is everything that Sally really needs. Virtually every mother on earth knows this.
But as we get older, the focus on resolving emotional pain and the deep issues of the human soul becomes more about therapy, psychology or medication. Of course, we don’t expect adults to “run to Mom” when there are deep emotional and related issues in life. But it appears that the power of a healing and loving personal presence has been eclipsed by psychological technique or biology. Almost as if we are reduced to animated machines instead of people with hearts, souls, minds and sprits.
One of the great psychiatrists and psychotherapists after World War II was Dr Karl Menninger, founder of the Menninger clinic. After all his professional training, he understood and recognized the power of love and compassion above all else for the human condition:
… after decades of work in psychotherapy, (Karl) lays aside all learned talk of psychic maladies and of therapeutic techniques, and utters one simple overarching truth: It is unlove that makes people unwell, and it is love and love alone that can make them well again. Thomas N. Hart, The Art of Christian Listening (New York: Paulist Press, 1980) p. 18.
Such a seemingly simple truth, yet so incredibly profound. Numerous studies echo the same truth in the decades after Menninger. Let’s remain thankful for the valid insights and understanding of human life from psychology and therapy, and also for those who make a career of helping people to realize healing and transformation. However, when “the dust settles”, many studies and surveys show that the therapists most successful in bringing healing to their clients are precisely those who exhibit the most love, compassion and empathy. No matter the therapeutic technique, the professional training, the methods or theories, the deciding factor is the true compassion and understanding of the therapist. Even essentially contradictory therapies are equally effective as long as the therapist can engage with compassion. Sometimes complete “amateurs” are more effective than highly trained professionals. Dawe’s book, House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth, provides considerable evidence from research and studies supporting these assertions.
But what about psychiatric medication? Is biological technique any better than psychological technique? Breggin, prominent American psychiatrist, brings the same message in his well researched book “Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of the “New Psychiatry“. An exhaustive, detailed book, not easy reading. There are other authorities in psychiatry with a similar message, and of course others who would dispute this as an attack on their credibility or profession. So again, “when the dust settles”, love and compassion are the most powerful means of healing and personal transformation. In fact, psychiatric medication can even prevent healing.
While some professionals from within the world of psychology, therapy and psychiatry claim love and compassion have such an important role in healing and personal transformation, at the same the world seems hungry for love. Harlequin romance novels are still being published like crazy. Some of the greatest movies are about a love story. People watching “Love Story” or “The Notebook” often had tears in the cinema. Psychologists talk about the “love tank” in people. If the love tank isn’t full, there can be addictions, codependency, bonding issues, performance issues, affairs and a lot more. Not a few people look for love in the wrong places. Many people are searching for intimacy and want to be close to at least one other person. Loneliness has been shown to be more dangerous to one’s health than smoking. The thought of dying and never having been loved is most disturbing for almost everyone. If there was abuse and emotional pain in all its myriad forms, there can be different symptoms. Then there are people who cannot love themselves, or love others, or receive love, or ever believe that God loves them. Some people deal their whole lives with “father love” or “mother love” issues and never realize it. There are also twisted forms of love that distort relationships. But as Menninger discovered, the only solution for all this lack of love is love and compassion.
But “simply love”? Love cannot be fabricated, marketed, and is “not professional”. Love is not technical, not a result of psychological or therapeutic technique, nor biological as some by-product of neurotransmitter regulation. It is deeply relational, and ultimately comes as a gift. Love defies all laws of economics – the more you love and receive love, the more love you have to give. God is ultimately the source of love (1 John 3:1; 4:7-12; Romans 5:5).
In many healing prayer and transformation sessions over the years, I have seen first-hand how Jesus brings revelation and understanding to a person’s deepest issues. The greatest healing comes when people experience Jesus’ love and compassion through his healing presence. This is why a Kleenex box is one of the “tools in the toolbox” of this ministry. Receiving love, and knowing at the deepest level of your being that you are loved, is so foundational to all of life. This is not the realm of technique or biology, although as a scientist myself I believe in the validity and importance of scientific research. Love is in the realm of grace, relationships and one’s spirit. Self-acceptance, self-worth, identity, being reconciled to self and others all flow out love experienced at the core of our being.
Since psychiatry has invented many disorders and syndromes, let me suggest another one to help understand the foregoing. Why not Love Deficit Disorder (LDD)? Type I is typical of those who usually exhibit some compassion, but in some situations are unmoved and unresponsive. Type II are those who show symptoms of a love deficit at some point in their life, and causes some noticeable relational issues with people closest to them. Type III might be people who have not only a love deficit but distorted views of love that lead to serious health and relational issues. Their dysfunction is significantly beyond Type II. Type IV would be those who are described as “cold-hearted”, maybe even treating people as commodities. Such people have hardened hearts that are almost totally insensitive to the hurts and wounds of others and are moved only to superficial action. The love deficit is so deep that they have almost lost connection with their inner self, with huge denial. No medication or therapeutic technique will resolve LDD – only an authentic healing presence.
So in the end, when “the dust settles”, the real need for the healing and transformation of the human soul is more love and compassion mediated through a genuine, personal healing presence. Not more therapeutic technique or psychiatric medication. Jesus was profoundly effective because, among other things, in his compassion he knew the power of love. Modern medicine and psychotherapy are slowly beginning to appreciate what Jesus simply and clearly taught and modeled over two thousand years ago, and continues to do today.