The Original Dr. Karl

“…we must encourage each individual to see himself not as a mere spectator of cosmic events but as a prime mover; to regard himself not as a passive incident in the indefinite universe but as one important unit possessing the power to influence great decisions by making small ones.”

– Karl Menninger, 1963 (The Vital Balance: The Life Process in Mental Health and Illness, p. 399)

Dr. Karl Menninger (1893-1990) was one of the foremost practitioners and advocates of psychiatry in the USA. One of his accomplishments was explaining psychiatry to the general public, challenging the idea held by many that the mentally ill or emotionally disturbed were ‘lunatics’ to be confined to insane asylums.

Menninger felt that psychiatric treatment, in the proper circumstances, was helpful for virtually every emotionally disturbed individual. In founding the Menninger Clinic and Foundation in Topeka, he emphasised creating a humane environment for patients to reside in during treatment.

Dr. Francis Braceland, a fellow psychiatrist, wrote that Karl Menninger saw “patients not as bearers of bizarre diseases, but rather as human beings, somewhat isolated from their fellow men, harassed by faulty techniques of living and making awkward manoeuvres to keep themselves emotionally intact.”

Karl Menninger was clearly an extraordinary man and a pioneer in the field of humanist psychiatry.

You can read more about him and his life here.

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On being human and reaching out…

“That we can only be human, no matter what we do, is a hard thing to face; many of us have held very dear the notion that if we tried hard enough, we could be, or could at least appear, superhuman. Perfect. Unassailably good. Without blemish or flaw. This standard to which we have held ourselves has had a very curious, rather contorted effect: we have simultaneously lost all respect for ourselves, judged ourselves lacking, and felt like the most regrettable specimens of humanity around; and, afraid of feeling yet worse, we have also resisted looking very hard – or at all – at ways in which we have, in fact, screwed up.

But our time in self-examination has allowed us, finally, to take that long hard look. Now comes the next step: we speak.

At this point, many of us are tempted to ask why. Why on earth should we open those old wounds? we ask, as if we do not scratch them open ourselves all the time. Why should we tell someone else about all these things only we need to know? Whose business is it, really, but our own?

What we mean is, What will they think of me? Will they respect me? Will they forgive me? Am I allowed to have failed? Or does that cost me my place in the human race?

…We are not seeking forgiveness by some external force; we are seeking truth and clarity in how we move ahead in our lives. That truth provides us with the guidance we require as we look over the things we’ve done and the people we’ve been. It provides us with the map for how we can take action from now on.”

Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power, Marya Hornbacher, 2011 (pp. 64-65)

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