Learned Helplessness and the Medical Profession

Published Categorised as Health, Brain Power
Man with seamed face holding handwritten sign on paper "Help" standing in front of train tracks at sunset
This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Psychology Today - Thoughts on Professional Care

Psychology Today - Thoughts on Professional Care

  • Learned Helplessness and the Medical Profession

This pandemic reminds me and others of learned helplessness. And so I wrote a post for my Psychology Today blog on learned helplessness, brain injury, and the pandemic. But I’m left to wonder: Why does the medical profession behave as if COVID-19 is uneradicable? Endemic COVID-19 is the only way to escape the pandemic?

Letting COVID-19 Run versus Eradicating Polio

Nature reporting that 90% of respondents believe COVID-19 will become endemic contradicts the decisions made in previous centuries to eradicate viruses with similar or lower rates of disease and disability.

“There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented…success will mean that no child will ever again suffer the terrible effects of lifelong polio-paralysis.”

World Health Organization

“Doctors have been estimating one-quarter to one-third of COVID-19 patients become long haulers, as many patients call themselves. Now, four studies published since February confirm that range.”

UC Davis Health

So why the contradiction in approach?

I believe it’s because this generation of medical and health care professionals grew up in an unprecedented time of peace where competition not collaboration undergirds medicine.

Peace Breeds Learned Helplessness

Children in North America did not experience the same level nor kind of trauma during WWII as children in Europe and Asia did, where they experienced bombs dropping regularly, family dying in front of them, displacement, etc. Refugees today have similar experiences while North American children who become our doctors, experience only the normal stressors of life. One set learn trauma is inescapable before they’re exposed to escapable shock; another set never have the opportunity of shock teaching them it is escapable. These groups remain in the default passive state and advocate for endemic COVID-19 while the set whose brains learnt escapable trauma lead the charge for #ZeroCOVID.


Screwtape, CS Lewis’s insightful demon advisor, wrote that peace works well to get humans to be food for Our Father Below:

“How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them…withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition!”

CS Lewis. The Screwtape Letters. 1942.

Death is hidden away behind masks of memorials devoid of bodies, and disability is excluded except for every 4 years when it’s heralded on the Paralympics track.

Ramryge angels at Gloucester Cathedral, England

Brain injury grief is

extraordinary grief

research proves

needs healing.

Screwtape could’ve been speaking about the pandemic:

“The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes…the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it — all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.”

Sound familiar?

Maier and Seligman, the learned helplessness gurus, wrote that passivity is in fact the default state, not the learned state.

“Maier and Seligman explain that discovering one can escape shock creates the learned state….Prior to my brain injury, I had experienced increasingly difficult health problems. Each time, I’d learned to manage and then once more thrive in the face of them. My prelimibic-DRN circuit changed to expect control. Constant reinforcement of this escape circuit over decades is probably why health-care attempts to have me accept the brain injury as permanent—that is, to be helpless—failed [for over a decade].”

Shireen Jeejeebhoy. Learned Helplessness, Brain Injury, and the Pandemic. Psychology Today. January 2022.

Medicine Passively Accepts Management Instead of Cures

Medical professionals witness suffering, but they themselves have not learned how to endure it nor how to escape it. Hence, the adage of doctors make bad patients.

Medicine has become a science of management, not cure. Doctors provide pills for pain and for injury. Pills don’t cure. And so when I try to explain to medical professionals that low-intensity laser therapy restores function, they reply that pain is not an issue. Huh? They cannot understand this concept of not treating the symptom of pain but of treating the cause so as to restore function. Learned helplessness has so engrained passivity in the face of trying to heal brain injury or reverse conditions like arthritis, that they cannot comprehend we have neurostimulation and neuromodulation therapies that can do so, and have had them for decades. The excuse I still hear of not do harm reflects this stunted thinking and their ignoring that people want cures. Patients don’t want strategies or management. They want cures.

Long Covid Includes Brain Injury

Many recognize Long Covid has the hallmark of brain injury. I recently read on Twitter of a person with Long Covid at a British Columbian clinic receiving weekly albumin/saline infusions. She’d been unable to tolerate immunoglobulin therapy. Learned helplessness in this “leading-edge” clinic provides care similar to what I received in the 1980s when my low blood pressure landed me in the hospital.

Think on that a moment.

They’re not treating viral-caused brain injury. They’re treating a symptom with medicine from the 20th century.

(I stayed out of hospital with a diet of salted lemonade, sugared espresso, salt tablets, and semi-regular rescuing from finding myself unable to stay upright. Brain injury changed my BP from low to yo-yoing.)

We have decades of research and successful clinical application of using acupuncture, low-intensity laser therapy, audiovisual entrainment, brain biofeedback to improve blood circulation — my basement-level heart rate variability from brain injury has improved and my yo-yoing blood pressure stabilized — yet medical professionals are so mired in the idea of being helpless to cure that they use very old medicine to treat only the symptoms of a life-sucking new disabling condition.

I think that our decades of peace have created generations of people who haven’t been exposed to shock and learned how to escape it. Thus they haven’t had their prelimbic-Dorsal Raphe Nucleus circuit changed to one of escape that allows them to weather inescapable trauma, like the current pandemic. As a result, their neurophysiology keeps them in a passive state in fear and/or anxiety. This default passive state deceives them into thinking there’s no way out, and so we must let COVID-19 become endemic — or the disabled are better off euthanized for you “can’t reverse it” and “who wants to live like that?”

This thinking is so deceptive, they forget that SARS-CoV-2 creates disability at rates many times higher than polio. Are we going to pursue killing off 30% of the population instead of adopting modern brain diagnostics and neurostimulation therapies? Will doctors learn how to harness the body’s neuroplasticity, eg, the skin’s self-healing or liver’s regenerating abilities, to effect healing?

While we as a species pursue eradicating polio, we’re calling for a virus 50 times worse to live freely.

Escapable Trauma Creates Leaders for Cures

We need medical professionals who have had their prelimbic-DRN circuit changed to one of escape. We need these professionals to speak louder for Zero COVID. We also need them to start using qEEG and evoke potentials diagnostics and neurostimulation therapies for COVID-19 and Long Covid. Medical professionals need to stop thinking in terms of managing symptoms and start curing causes.

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