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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Talking Cure

Sister, I was going to ask about the Patron Saint for psychiatrists and I googled it and came up with Saint Dymphna? is that right...

When were you going to ask?  Oh!  You are doing it now!

Yes, that's correct. But in my opinion, it's not really right. St. Dymphna is the patron saint for everything 'crazy' from any type of mental illness to sleepwalking and therefore for the people who treat the people who sleep walk and/or have mental illnesses.

And while I won't argue with the wisdom of the Church on Dymphna's assignment, I don't think she's the best candidate for most of this, for the most part. The reason poor Dymphna is the patron saint of craziness is because her father was crazy.  He went right off the deep end when his beautiful wife died. He suddenly realized that his beautiful daughter looked just like his beautiful departed wife and decided Dymphna should replace his spouse. Dymphna ran away with the help of the parish priest but her father pursued her to the ends of the earth--or at least, what he and Dymphna and the priest knew of the earth.  Dad caught up with his daughter and killed her and the priest.

What a sad mess.  Poor Dymphna.

But by this logic, St. Barbara could also be the patron saint of crazy people. Her crazy father killed her, too. Barbara's father went off the deep end with the idea of what might happen to his beautiful daughter at the hands of men, so he locked her in a tower, like Rapunzel. Barbara made the best of it, while her father went off to war or something like that, she had some workmen cut a third window into her tower to represent the Holy Trinity. When her father returned he was convinced that she had the window for men to access.  He dragged Barbara out and killed her.

St. Barbara is not the patron saint of crazy people. She is the patron saint evoked against lightening and the patron saint of fireworks and firefighters.  That's because when her father killed her, he was instantly felled by a big bolt of lightening.  She should be the patron saint of 'when someone needs to be smited by lightening", but she isn't.

I propose a different saint for psychiatrists.  What does a psychiatrist do?  He tries to help straighten out other people's issues by listening and talking things out and listening some more and sometimes he might even have to be a little stern. But he must always maintain his compassion and understanding.  Enter St. Catherine of Sienna!

St. Catherine is a doctor, one of only three women who have earned the title "Doctor of the Church".  She lived during a time when the Papacy had moved to France, but back in Italy, no one was happy with that, so there was a Pope in France and  Pope in Italy.  St. Catherine tirelessly wrote to all parties, trying to get someone to step down.  When that failed, a new Pope was named.  Then there were three Popes and no one would step down.

Did Catherine succeed? Yes and no.  She did succeed in convincing Pope Gregory to return the Papacy to Rome. But after his death there was a great schism, known as the Great Western Schism complete with anti-popes and war and queens siding with anti-popes.  A sad mess.  St. Catherine was relentless in her zeal for reconciliation, and although she was not successful there, she did succeed in becoming a person whose opinion was solicited by cardinals and kings.  She was not afraid to speak truth to power.

So here you have a great saint who was good at pointing out to people that they were not acting any anyone's best interest and encouraged everyone to talk it out and reconcile their problems.  She often spoke to their psychological motivations.  Here is what she said to the Queen of Naples who was accused of murdering her husband and who was backing the anti-popes:  "You know that you do ill, but like a sick and passionate woman, you let yourself be guided by your passions."

I'll let our readers weigh in. They often have some wonderful patron saint match ups of their own.


Michele S. said...

I don't know about patron saints for mental illness, but I'm having surgery tomorrow, and if you know of any saints that cover the digestive system, perhaps you can ask him/her for some intercession for me? I am having 8-10 inches of intestine removed due to diverticulitis. Last time I had surgery (for something else) it was a nightmare. A second surgery followed and I contracted an MRSA infection that took months to clear up. So I'm pretty nervous about tomorrow. I love reading your blogs! Thank you for helping us to stregthen our faith. I'm only 48 years old and am praying this takes care of the medical issues for awhile!

coffeemom said...

I love this suggestion Sister! As a mom to kids who's need cross into this realm this is a great suggestion for me. She's one of my fags anyhow and Siena might well be one of my favorite towns (Saw her head....thought you'd like that...). So, we usually hit up St Dymphna for one of my girls, now I get to add St Catherine for us all. Thanks!

Maria said...

Hi Sr. Mary Martha, I've been reading your blog for some time, and I truly enjoy it. And I don't want to be uptight about this, but I feel uncomfortable when St. Dymphna is called the patron saint of "crazy people" or "everything crazy." My dad has a mental illness and I was really touched to learn of St. Dymphna's life, because she was a victim of her dad's illness. People who love people with mental illness can be wounded by the effects of the illness. In someways, I feel like a part of me was "killed" by my dad because I was diagnosis with the same illness two years ago and it has meant that certain things will never be the same for me. And I work with people with mental illness - some of whom who have killed or raped people - and they are truly PEOPLE, even if they are dangerous murderers and rapists. I can understand the Church saying that St. Dymphna is "the patron saint of craziness because her father was crazy." I feel that through what I suffered and was passed down from my dad, I have gifts that I can offer people with mental illness and the people who love them. So to me, it makes perfect sense that Dymphna is our patroness. And I know that she understands me in a special way. I understand the logic of St. Barbara being appropriate as well, but the Church chose Dymphna.

Maria said...

Sorry, one last thing: if St. Catherine was good at pointing out to people that they were not acting in their best interest, and that she pointed out when people acted out of passion, and found psychological reasons for things, it sounds like she was the patron saint of people who are in their right minds, if overly emotional, and will listen to reason. Someone who is mentally ill does not have the ability to do this when they are ill.

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marco said...

Perhaps the saint of the day, in this case saints, might work for Patron Saint of Psychiatrists as well: Sts/ Cosmos and Damian:

They are the patron saints of pharmacists already (and these days psychiatrists do more in the med proscribing area, leaving the analysis and therapy to therapists)- they also had to endure "various torments" apparently, and I've often wondered if that would be somewhat how they feel sometimes about their patients's incessant whining.

I like the idea of Saint Catherine for patron saint of therapists - she was a no nonsense kind of gal...

I was recently diagnosed with bi-polar so I liked this post very much.

The tangenital way a saint gets patronhood is a bit odd sometimes, but for some reason works for me too - like St. Kolbe and drug addicts.

What is is with saints and their dads? St/ Augustine's Dad was kind of wierd too.

Beads Of Heaven said...

Dear Sister,

I'd been rendered speechless by my nearly adult son the other day. His comment was "to tell you the truth mom, I don't want to have anything to do with the church anymore. It's just a bunch of men trying to hold on to power and influence, like the US government." OK, so part of me wants to agree with him (especially about the government part). However, that's not what the church is about. There is so much more. Any suggestions as to how I can respond to him?