Barefoot Doctors began in China nearly a century ago, to address the inequity between health care in urban and rural regions. Farmers were taught basic health care and first aid in an attempt to close this gap.
Barefoot Therapists are tackling a different gap.
The medicalisation of human suffering began after the Second World War, when soldiers were returning with shell shock into a community that had no experience or understanding of what they had been through. Psychiatry and Psychology were called to arms, and complex political and socioeconomic forces shaped the emergence of what we know as modern Mental Health Care. We saw from the 1960’s, both the explosion of both therapeutic and pharmaceutical approaches to treating human suffering, and yet, as neatly summed up by the title of a book: “We’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy and the world is getting worse” and pharmaceuticals have likewise not delivered on their promise.
In the wake of this bubble bursting, scientific inquiry has uncovered two interesting phenomenon. The first is that both psychological and pharmacological interventions carry with them an unusually large dose of the power of placebo. The second is a term called allegiance. The therapist/doctor’s belief that their treatment will work contributes enormously to the effective therapy, be it pill or therapy model.
Simply put, if the patient believes in the treatment they are getting, they will get better, and if the therapist believes in the treatment they are delivering, then they will be effective, and the patient will get better.
So what is the gap?
Could it be that the medicalisation of human suffering, as described by “mental illness” has made it hard to believe?
Consider our cultural attitude to a cancer patient who doesn’t respond to treatment. Not you personally, but what our culture thinks. You see it in the headlines of newspapers. Family and community fight for their chance to try experimental new treatments. If only we had better treatment, we could cure this disease. The general message is that medicine should do better. There is no patient blaming.
Now consider our cultural attitude to a person with a mental illness who does not respond to treatment. Not you personally, but what our culture thinks. You see it in the headlines of newspapers. How often is crime and mental illness linked, to give just one example.
When our first instinct is to blame the patient if they do not respond or are non compliant with treatment, then we have a cultural compassion gap.
In the last 70 years or so, people who are suffering have been diagnosed and sent for professional help. Inadvertently, the art of emotional healing that has historically lived in the community since the beginning of time is being lost.
No one meant for this to happen. Doctors, Pschologists and Mental Health practitioners are now faced with treating very isolated patients, who they know would benefit from community connection, but none is available.
Add to that, the fear of anyone who is different that is being fostered in our global community, and we have created a cultural inequity.
The Barefoot Therapy Project, aims to return the dying art of emotional healing, back to the community.