Harbouring radical ideas is vastly different from radicalization, psychiatrist explains
Not everyone who expresses an interest in a radical religious or political ideology is dangerous, but these individuals may be emotionally or psychologically vulnerable, and they might benefit from the support of family and friends, the audience heard at the 13th annual JGH Mini-Med School.
Dr. Zoë Thomas, who is doing clinical rotations at the JGH during her third year of residency in psychiatry at McGill University, recalled treating a 14-year-old girl who was doing poorly in school, appeared to be alienated from those around her, and seemed in danger of becoming radicalized.
After speaking with the teenager, Dr. Thomas discovered that that she had immigrated at a young age, was exposed to violence in her low-income family, and played a difficult role as a caregiver in her family. As a result, she turned to fundamentalist religion to provide structure for her chaotic life.
Counselling was appropriate for this young woman, Dr. Thomas explained, but teachers and other authority figures should not have been so quick to negatively stereotype her. Instead, society must differentiate between an alienated person who needs treatment and someone who is truly intent on killing in the name of religion.
The radicalization of adolescents was one of the hottest and timeliest topics in the five-session series of the JGH Mini-Med School, presented last spring by the Department of Public Affairs and Communications. In examining various aspects of mental health, JGH experts geared their remarks to a general audience, whose members received diplomas and the honourary title of “mocktor” at the end of the series.
In the session on radicalization, Dr. Laurence J. Kirmayer, Director of the Culture and Mental Health Research Unit at the JGH Institute of Community and Family Psychiatry, reminded the audience that radical ideas—in fields such as science and the arts—can sometimes be extremely creative and can lead to progress and innovation. The challenge, he said, is in determining whether certain radical ideas can lead to violent behaviour.
Dr. Myrna Lashley, an internationally recognized authority on cultural psychology and an adjunct researcher and project leader in the Lady Davis Institute at the JGH, added that some individuals become radicalized for a wide variety of reasons. These include a desire for adventure, the wish to correct a perceived wrong, a deep desire to have like-minded comrades-in-arms, and a hatred for what is seen as the decadence of Western society.
Some other Mini-Med highlights:
- In a session on the emotional needs and difficulties of the elderly, Dr. Marilyn Segal, JGH Director of Geriatric Psychiatry, explained it is essential that older people retain as much autonomy as possible, depending on their degree of chronic illness or disability. Too often, she said, society sees aging as a negative experience, rather than a new and natural biological and cultural transformation.
- Stress can sometimes skyrocket not just because a person is in a tough situation, but because that person is reacting inappropriately to the situation, said Dr. Caminee Blake, a part-time staff psychologist in the JGH Youth Service. Dr. Blake explained that heightened stress can be caused by errors in thinking, such as over-generalizing, making incorrect assumptions about what others are thinking, and believing that circumstances are entirely positive or negative. She said some types of stress can be lowered by monitoring one’s reactions to determine if they are appropriate in a given situation.
- Some psychiatrists avoid recognizing and treating personality disorders, because they find it quicker and easier to label the problem as depression or bipolar disorder, said Dr. Joel Paris, a research associate in the JGH Department of Psychiatry. Unfortunately, he added, these psychiatrists see their skills as being based in pharmacology, since they lack training in psychotherapy or simply don’t have much interest in talking or listening to their patients.
- Cécile Rousseau, who works with refugee and immigrant children in the JGH Division of Child Psychiatry, recommended that refugee children who have been traumatized by war should first be made to feel safe. “In psychiatry and psychology, we sometimes put too much emphasis on talk,” she said, “and not necessarily enough on the need to be held and comforted. Once we do this, then we can talk.” Dr. Rousseau said that since some refugee children have a surprisingly strong capacity for resiliency, making use of this strength is as important as minimizing the children’s symptoms.
For 13 seasons, the JGH Mini-Med School has attracted a total of more than 2,000 “medical students” to lectures on dozens of topics, from surgery to research to family medicine, says says Glenn J. Nashen, Associate Director of Communications and Media Relations. Many more have enjoyed watching videos of previous sessions online.
For generously supporting the 2015 series, the JGH Mini-Med School extends its thanks to:
Dr. Joel Paris – Personality Disorders: Psychiatry’s stepchildren come of age
Date : Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Dr. Jaswant Guzder, Dr. Laurence Kirmayer, Dr. Myrna Lashley, Dr. Zoë Thomas – Going to Extremes: Why some adolescents embrace radical ideas
Date : Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Dr. Cécile Rousseau – In the aftermath of war: Helping children to regain trust
Date : Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Dr. Caminee Blake, Dr. Elizabeth Foley and Dr. Karen Hardoon
Ease Your Stress in 10 Minutes or Less: Tools to keep calm and carry on
Date : Mardi 2 juin 2015