05 January, 2004



Vincent Androciglio, licensed psychotherapist and former professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the New York Medical College, talked with Sushma Joshi of the Nation Weekly about his research in Nepal, including dreams of people about the civil war, and how systems theory might shed light on the current stalemate in the political situation.

Why dreams?
Dreams never lie. People have many defense mechanisms that keep them from facing feelings they have during the day, but these feelings always comes out in dreams. The dream is a powerful source of knowledge about yourself. It is a problem solver, it portrays the past, and can tell us about the future.

What kind of dreams are Nepali soldiers having?
I interviewed about 20 of them. Some had fought in the war, and some hadn't. They were very open and honest about their dreams. One young man described how he was surrounded by a circle of Maoists who were going to kill him. He was so terrified he ran away. Fear is a natural reaction, and one which he could not face during the day. A soldier told me that the dream is scarier than the daylight reality. Another officer described two giant eyes rising from a field and coming towards him: as he started to tell me this story, he started to shake and re-live some of that fear. Dreams allow men to feel the fear they cannot feel during the day.

Why has this political stalemate in Nepal developed and remained stable?
I am trained in systems theory, where we look at all parts of the problem, not just one aspect. I once had a patient who had anoroxia. Her parents were very anxious about her because she was not eating. As I learnt more about the family, I found out their marriage was breaking up, and the couple were held together only by their daughter's illness. As soon as she got well, the marriage broke up. This is called triangulation. One problem, seeming the issue of one individual, is actually the problem of an entire system. In Nepal, the fact that nothing is moving serves the interest of a lot of people. Its easy to blame the King, or blame the political parties, but we are not on the right track when we do that - people are contributing to the problem as much as the King.

How are the people contributing to the problem?
The people are sitting back and waiting. The media also contributes to this feeling of helplessness with their reporting. Sometimes I feel like throwing the newspaper out of the window because it’s the same thing over and over again. I stay in Pokhara, and every day people sit out in the sun in front of their stores, waiting for tourists. They need to wake up to the realization that every bad situation is an opportunity, and that they have to work to change it.

What can they do?
The King is an archetype in Nepal - and the massacre shattered this in the people's psyche. This will take at least 20 years to heal. People have to stop blaming him - I am not saying this because I support the King, but because when you keep giving people the reaction they expect, things don't change. Blaming the King is like scapegoating the bad parent. Its not all about him - its about how the people are maintaining old behaviors, and not allowing change.

How will this change occur?
Systems spontaneously change when they are pushed beyond their equilibrium. It’s the same with addiction - in twelve step programs, alcoholics are told to drink twice their daily minimum to get out of their addiction. At the moment, people are maintaining the status quo in Nepal. Something more drastic has to happen before things will change here.

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