The importance of ternary awareness for overcoming the inadequacies of contemporary psychiatry

Claude Robert Cloninger

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    14 Scopus citations


    Human beings have evolved in steps so that our consciousness has three major components - procedural learning of habits and skills, semantic learning of facts and propositions, and self-awareness of an identity that develops over time and place. Consequently, human consciousness involves growth in our subjective awareness integrating these three aspects of learning and memory. Contemporary psychiatry is substantially impaired by an anti-spiritual bias that is implicit in operational approaches to diagnosis, research, and treatment. Human subjectivity cannot be adequately deconstructed into a collection of mutually independent objects that are free of any psychosocial context, as is usually assumed in a "Chinese-menu" approach to diagnosis and structured interviewing. Materialistic perspectives predispose people to have an outlook of separateness that impairs the well-being of both mental health professionals and their patients. Progress in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment requires a person-centered approach that respects and appreciates human subjectivity and promotes the cultivation of human virtues like hope, love, and courage, along with judicious use of other psychobiological methods of treatment. Healthy functioning requires the development of self-transcendence in addition to self-directedness and cooperativeness. Without self-transcendence, people are consuming more resources than the earth can replenish. The pursuit of individual well-being in the absence of collective well-being is a self-destructive illusion. Consequently contemporary psychiatry needs to focus its attention on understanding human consciousness in a balanced ternary way rather than trying to reduce people to separate material objects.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)110-113
    Number of pages4
    JournalRevista de Psiquiatria Clinica
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - 2013


    • Cooperativeness
    • Psychiatry
    • Self-directedness
    • Self-transcendence
    • Ternary awareness


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