BOV 2013: Dr. George Kljajic embraces positive psychology
Dr. George Kljajic knows that practising medicine effectively involves a great deal more than writing prescriptions for patients. But many physicians don’t have the time to convey all the information that someone might need to address the root causes of many health problems.
In an interview with the Georgia Straight at his South Surrey home, Kljajic says that if people ate properly and avoided smoking from adolescence, it would be possible to prevent 80 percent of heart attacks, brain strokes, and cancers. However, he also acknowledges that the modern world is filled with temptations that people find difficult to resist.
“This inability to control impulses and to postpone immediate pleasure is causing a huge amount of problems, starting with children,” he says. “I’m seeing this specifically and prominently in the patients who are drug addicts.”
Kljajic, once a professor of medicine in the former Yugoslavia, has tried to draw attention to the broader issues affecting health—including child-rearing, nutrition, and a positive mindset—in a two-volume set of books called The Art and Wisdom of Healthy Living. He points out that many people in western industrialized countries have most of their basic needs met. They own television sets and cellphones, consume more than enough calories, and have a roof over their heads. But corporations, which want to continue peddling products and services, have become quite adept in getting consumers addicted to buying more, whether it’s unhealthy foods or items providing a more luxurious lifestyle.
“We are unable to postpone immediate satisfaction,” Kljajic declares.
He claims that this is especially pronounced in his patients who are addicted to illicit drugs. He became interested in this area of medicine after working in the 1990s as a doctor in Nisga’a communities in northwestern B.C., which he describes as an “absolutely amazing experience”. During his time there, he was introduced to positive psychology by Ted Altar, a psychology instructor at Terrace’s Northwest Community College who has worked extensively with First Nations people.
“We are human beings because of psychology, not because of our physical bodies,” Kljajic insists. “The solution and key to everything is in psychology. The problem with western civilization today is it’s too oriented toward the so-called materialism and less and less to emotions, spirituality, this kind of stuff.”
It’s something he keeps in mind when treating drug addicts. He acknowledges that some have suffered brain damage, but he quickly adds that “most of them are very nice guys.” According to Kljajic, helping them learn to take responsibility for their lives—and learn to control impulsivity—can help some turn their lives around.
“For those who are not brain-damaged, there is significant potential that we can influence them,” Kljajic states. “I would say that with maybe 20 to 25 percent of them, the treatment is successful, even though some of them do relapse and come again and again.”
In late June, he attended the World Congress on Positive Psychology because, he says, he wants to help other patients benefit from changing the way they think about their situations. “I’m trying to learn a positive approach for even those people who are seriously sick,” he says.
When asked to elaborate, he replies that even if somebody has cancer or congestive heart failure, it’s possible to enjoy some aspects of life. “You’re going to have more time to devote to yourself,” he says. “You’re going to have more time to spend with your kids, with your wife. You’re going to have more time to devote to your education.”
However, he adds that if people want to suffer and keep complaining, they will never experience any enjoyment. And that, according to Kljajic, can undermine a person’s health because the release of stress hormones undermines health. Conversely, he says, science has demonstrated that maintaining positive emotions can change the structure of a person’s genes.
“Try to do some positive things,” he advises. “You’re going to be a different person.”