Science in Christian Perspective



The Dimensions of Psychiatry*

From: JASA 15 (March 1963): 8

By virtue of the fact that the psychiatrist is a physician, he participates in the scientific dimension of medicine. He has been introduced to the basic disciplines Of anatomy, physiology and pathology. It is possible for the psychiatrist to devote his full time to activity in this dimension. The psychiatrist who seeks the cause of mental illness through research in biochemistry or neurophysiology works almost entirely in the scientific dimension. Our present understanding of phenylketonuria is a product of research in the dimension of pure science.

Most physicians devote their efforts to combating illness and assisting the healing process. They are applied scientists, pitting their knowledge and skill against disease rather than seeking to extend the frontiers of knowledge. When he turns his efforts toward healing, the physician sacrifices the objectivity of the scientist. He must earn his fee or vindicate his competence by producing a favorable outcome if he can. Since his prestige will be reduced or enhanced by the result he obtains, he now has an interest in the outcome. Because of his personal involvement, the applied scientist is no longer the neutral observer. Most psychiatrists, as physicians, work in the healing dimension.

In modern medicine, methods of treatment are underlain by a broad factual knowledge of physiology and pharmacology. As medicine became more scientific, the multiplicity of curative systems declined and most of the sects in medicine disappeared. Psychiatry has no solid empirical foundation of knowledge about human personality. There are various theoretical systems dealing with personality, most of them growing out of some limited empirical observation. There are numerous sects in psychiatry today, as there were in general medicine fifty years ago.

Each psychotherapeutic sect has its own doctrine of man, which is primarily philosophical since there is no authoritative science of personality comparable to the physiology which underlies internal medicine. As a philosophical system, the Christian doctrine of man is no less scientific than the philosophies with which it competes as a groundwork for psychotherapy. In no other medical specialty does the physician find himself so deeply involved in the philosophical dimension as does the psychiatrist when he engages in the practice of psychotherapy.

The Christian view of man leads into still another dimension. Depending neither upon scientific canons nor intellectual constructs, this dimension involves transempirical experience that affirms the reality of a divine-human encounter. The validity of the transcendental dimension is supported by human testimony from every century.

Can psychiatry function in the spiritual dimension? Some psychiatrists, like Freud, mistrust the testimony of experience in the transcendental dimension. Others acknowledge the validity of such experience even though they have never sought to make personal replication. Still others, like Pascal, have shared the common experience of Christians in every century and acknowledge that God personally known is "not the God of the philosophers." Only those who have directly experienced the reality of the divine-human encounter can empathize fully with Christians who offer such a testimony.

The Christian, whether patient or physician, needs to be assured that nothing in the empirical corpus of psychiatry is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of man. The non-Christian needs to be reminded that the Christian heritage presents an impressive record of healing influence upon personality, as well as a cogent and coherent groundwork for understanding man and the universe.

*Abstract of a paper presented at the Seventeenth Annual Convention of the ASA held at St. Paul, Minnesota, Aug. 1962.

**0. S. Walters, Ph.D., M.D., is Director of Health Services at the University of Illinois.