A Cathartic Therapeutic Moment

28 April 2016

Strange how often a relatively innocuous event triggers a cathartic moment. Yes, one can rationalize it by identifying the mind state, the people, the circumstances, even that vulnerable period along one's life-line that prevailed at that time. But whatever the cause, the awe of the moment still takes one's breath away. And so it was at the end of a hectic session of counselling a patient with a brain tumor, that I was smitten! We spontaneously hugged, neurosurgeon and patient. More was communicated in that fleeting moment than what could have been said in a thousand words. For in that timeless space there was a connection which incorporated sensitivity, trust, empathy and commitment to a value contribution based on the full spectrum of my expertise. In essence a transcendence to genuine authenticity - I acknowledge you as a fellow human being, suffering from an affliction and for whom I will apply all that I am and all that I know to rid you of that suffering or at least, to lessen it. And in that space all components of secondary gain evaporate - monetary reward, stroking the narcissistic nerve endings and the like.

The event immediately triggered so many seemingly unassociated thoughts and feelings, all united by that mighty word, authenticity! Authenticity rests upon three supportive pillars, 'sensitivity', 'clarity' and 'value contribution' - making something better that it was before you engaged with it. Neurophysiologically these are the mind states associated with oxytocin secretion - the hormone associated with empathy, trust, belief and awe. The hormone also triggered by massage and hugging as well as by breast feeding, eating, defecating and sex. Oxytocin in turn stimulates dopamine production (motivation, working memory and reasoning, fulfilment and gratification), suppresses the fear-anger centre of the brain (amygdala), suppresses the mediators of inflammation, pro-inflammatory cystokines (eighty percent of all illnesses have a chronic inflammatory component) and decreases excessive cortisol levels.

And so I conclude that the simple hug, the sensitivity, the authenticity is our birthright - the antidote to the fear, anger and the 'evils' of excessive self-interest. Be effective - hug your patient/client. Hug your colleagues (I've never hugged another neurosurgeon - may need some help with this!!). Perhaps that's where we start to make this a better world.


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