Friday, June 30, 2006

Quest for health intermingles beliefs

Brother Sylvester Sommen of the Ascension Priory and Dr. William K. Linson spoke at the interfaith clergy luncheon on mental illness. Photo by Tony Evans

For the Mountain Express

The Rev. John Moreland and The National Alliance on Mental Illness convened an interfaith clergy luncheon at Light on the Mountains Spiritual Center south of Ketchum last week to discuss "Spirituality and Mental Illness."

"How do we know when a person is experiencing a 'dark night of the soul' which can lead to a beneficial life change, or if that person is experiencing a serious illness which requires medical/psychiatric treatment?" asked Moreland, who sits on the board of National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Psychiatrist and author William Linson spoke on the need for understanding within the medical profession.

"As a young doctor, I discovered that many patients suffered from spiritual distress. Most doctors only see you as a collection of molecules. Most clergy see you as only an incarnated spirit. There should at least be a collaborative relationship between the two."

Mental illness can occur even in those who others seek out for help.

Senior Benedictine Monk Sylvester Sommen, of the Monastery of the Ascension in Jerome, suffered from debilitating depression. It eventually led him to seek medical help and cognitive therapy.

"I didn't love myself and treated others the same way. The first step I took to love myself was to take anti-depressants," he said. "Until the physical side was helped, the emotional side could not be dealt with. It is like going to the foreign missions; you need to fill the physical needs of the people before they can hear what you have to say about the spiritual."

Pastor Noel Morfin, who works within the Hispanic community through the United Methodist Church in Filer, said, "Psychiatry is a rich man's game. Many of my people wouldn't know what a psychiatrist is, much less be able to afford one. I remind people that there has always been something within the mind that allows us to go beyond challenges."

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1988, Morfin's wife, Dana, who was has been off medications for seven years, recalled the spiritual dimension of her illness. "All along there was a part of me watching to see where mind ended and spirit and soul began. It is easier to rally around someone with cancer or an amputation. With mental illness, it's not so easy, because it affects the way we relate to one another."

Dr. Linson pointed out that "In psychiatry we are always dealing with a resistance to change, and almost always with grudges and resentments of some kind."

Rabbi Martin Levy of the Wood River Jewish Community warned against giving forgiveness too superficially.

"I differed with Father Brian Baker when he asked us to forgive the 9/11 attackers so quickly. I told him I would not be so generous."

Levy said the Jewish tradition outlines a public, five- step process for forgiving crimes, including public admonishment, confession and monitoring of future behavior.

The interfaith luncheon was also attended by Father Shawn Carty of Emmanuel Church in Hailey and several Science of Mind practitioners from Light on the Mountains Spiritual Center. Full recordings of the day's events are available by calling the Light on the Mountains at 727-1631.

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