A 17 year old boy who has a love for horses suddenly turns and blinds the eyes of six of them. This horrific act is the basis of the powerful play, Equus, written by Peter Shaffer. It is not only a story about a highly disturbed adolescent named Alan. It is just as much about the psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, who helps him. In Equus, we see how Dr. Dysart takes the excruciating psychological journey together with this severely damaged 17 year old boy. He finds in Alan vivid layers of sexual and religious conflict. Dysart uses several techniques, including hypnosis and a ‘truth pill’, to help Alan. By the end, we see what led the boy to blind the horses’ eyes. At intervals throughout the play, Dysart speaks directly to the audience and shares with us his own internal world. Dysart is a lonely, desolate soul who feels trapped and has fallen into the dullness of his everyday life. He finds himself envious of Alan’s energy - and so, when he ultimately helps Alan, he also regrets having taken away Alan‘s passion. Like all doctors, the work of a psychiatrist is to relieve suffering. “To do no harm”, as the Hippocratic oath goes. But in this process we must also never take away someone’s zest for life. This is the quandary that psychiatrist Martin Dysart finds himself in, both with regard to helping Alan and also within himself: “You won’t gallop any more, Alan. You will, however, be without pain.” We are all born with innate passion, inspiration, and curiosity. This is because we have a soul, a spirit that yearns for attachment and connection, connection in a good and healthy way. Unfortunately, all too many people direct their passion in unhealthy ways: addictions that enslave us, infatuations that destroy marriages, outbursts of anger that put others in danger and belittle ourselves. This is why, sadly, mental health troubles are permeating everywhere these days.
A mental health professional should never squelch a patient’s passion. The same goes for parents with their children. But the passion needs to be channeled correctly. Psychiatrist Martin Dysart grieves that he has taken away Alan’s passion and in that sense, he has great courage and sensitivity to look at himself. But Dysart’s own life is stuck and this blinds him. In the end, he fails to see that passion doesn’t have to disappear, that it can be re-directed, powerfully, in beautiful ways.