Treat anorexia, addictions as “passions”, says visiting scholar

Historical medical practices

Disorders and addictions such as anorexia nervosa, problem gambling and substance abuse should be viewed as “passions” in order to be properly treated, according to a Canadian scholar visiting the University of Melbourne.

Philosopher and health care ethicist Professor Louis Charland, from Western University in Ontario, said a grand scale of reform was needed to better understand and treat sufferers of such conditions.

“Disorders such as anorexia nervosa can’t be easily cured with cognitive-based therapies,” said Professor Charland, a partner investigator with Australia’s renowned Centre for the History of Emotions of which the University of Melbourne is a node.

“The difference between the historical concept of passions and the newer idea of emotions could be crucial in improving clinical treatments,” he said.

“Passions can begin innocently enough, providing a person with meaningful activity and purpose, but when they become extreme they can suck a person into a powerful downward spiral where they’ve effectively lost control.

“It is new, alternate passions that can often reverse, block or divert the unhealthy ones.”

Professor Charland will be running a free workshop - Passions – Healthy or Unhealthy? – at the University of Melbourne on Tuesday July 19, exploring the significance of “the passions” for contemporary psychology and psychiatry.

Attendees will be invited to share their own examples of what they consider to be passions, and how these might be judged to be healthy or unhealthy.

A partner of the University of Melbourne, the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions is a world-leader in driving research and debate in the study of emotions and has links across the globe with leading thinkers and academics in this growing discipline.