Author: Lisa Graas
•6/13/2007 09:31:00 PM
It has been a long time since I saw anything on the net about bipolar disorder that made me angry. I admit that I am angry about something that I've just found, but I am trying very hard to be amenable about it. The article that I am referring to is on the website of Raymond Lloyd Richmond, PhD, of San Francisco and can be found HERE. It is an essay that addresses, in part, the cause(s?) of bipolar disorder. I call it an essay because I want to emphasize that the comments within it are Richmond's opinion and do not have any basis in known science. Neither does he provide any references to support his views.

Richmond provides a great deal of helpful and truthful information in his essay. Unfortunately, he also claims that bipolar disorder has multiple causes despite universal scientific agreement that there is only one cause -- abnormal chemical processes in the brain that are generally believed to be passed on genetically. While Richmond comes short of claiming that bipolar disorder is partly a character flaw (and he even seems to try to temper justice with mercy, so to speak), his implication (seemingly due to omission and not commission) that there is some level of free will involved in the complications we suffer from the illness is enough to provide plenty of fodder for those who choose to believe that mental illness is not much more than a character flaw. To summarize, Richmond's intent seems quite good, but his comments can make the climate of bigotry in the world, and especially among the Catholics who are his target audience, decidedly worse.

Dr. Richmond seems to want to convey that there is no free will in the subconscious mind. I agree with him. I just believe he is very far from being clear on the role of the will. I don't want to delve so much into what he said as I want to provide accurate information for people who are curious. Allow me to explain it from my point of view.

The only distinction between conscious and subconscious thoughts is the level of awareness one has. In consciousness, we have awareness of the content of our thoughts. In the subconscious mind, there is no awareness of them at all. That is the only distinction. If there is no awareness, there is no free will involved.

We have conscious thoughts at the same time that we have subconscious thoughts. In our conscious mind, we have awareness whereas we have no awareness of the things that are going on in our subconscious mind. The terms "conscious" and "subconscious" are necessarily separate in their etymology, but in the working of our minds they do not truly act separately. The division is not so clear. No matter what state of mental health a person is in, we all know that subconscious thoughts influence our conscious thoughts and vice versa. While awake we slip in and out of our awareness of specific thoughts so there is an ongoing relationship between the conscious and the subconscious mind.

Do we have any control at all over our subconscious thoughts? I am no psychologist but I believe (until someone shows me otherwise) that there are a couple of ways that we can influence our subconscious thoughts. (Oh, now I really should go get the Summa Theologica for this, but I think I'll wing it.) One is by working toward developing habits in our thought patterns in our conscious minds. As noted earlier, our conscience minds do have an impact on our subconscious minds. (Please email me and explain it to me if you think otherwise.) If I tell myself over and over and over again that I need to do (A) or (B) because they are paths to holiness, then eventually, with the help of God's grace which leads me in His ways, I will choose to do one or both of those things and, if I really have a lot of grace and desire, I will find joy in those things. We develop habits in that manner and the habits lead to the desire and the desire is fulfilled with joy and grace flows and there is redemption.

The other way that we can influence our subconscious thoughts is to get down on our knees and PRAY for that grace.

I hope that I have helped to explain something about the role of the will in Bipolar Disorder, the role of the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. I wrote to Richmond about his essay and I must admit that I was a little harsh in my tone with him. It is important that we all discuss these things rationally if we are ever to make spiritual progress regarding the place of our mental sufferings in the sphere of redemption. I started the Bipolar Catholic group at Yahoo not because I thought I have all the answers, but because I have so few answers and I thought others might feel the same way. We all need to work together on this journey and that includes my putting aside my hard feelings when people like Richmond disagree with me. I will still fight the fight, though, against bigotry just as I believe Dr. Richmond wants to.

Please note that I have read very little from Dr. Richmond's website apart from the essay I've commented on. I am not aware of his expertise or lack of it. I'm merely responding to one essay.