Jacques Mabit

Ashoka Fellow
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Peru
Fellow since 1995
This description of Jacques Mabit's work was prepared when Jacques Mabit was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995 .

Introduction

Jacques Mabit has developed an original method for rehabilitating drug addicts that combines therapies developed and widely practiced in modern, industrialized societies with the use of medicinal plants and other techniques long employed by traditional healers in the Amazonian region of Peru. Jacques and a small group of associates have established a small clinic in that region, where they are testing and refining his approach and carefully examining its results.

The New Idea

Jacques Mabit believes that effective drug rehabilitation efforts must enable the persons treated "to find clear answers in their existential searches for identity," and that it is those answers that will lead to abandoning the use of mind-altering substances. Jacques is also convinced that treatment programs can be markedly strengthened by drawing on Amazonian healers' and shamans' vast knowledge of the therapeutic properties of tropical plants that they have long employed in healing processes.The treatment approach that Jacques and his associates are employing and evaluating is not coercive, but instead is focused on helping their patients find new meaning and purpose in life. Its particularly innovative feature is its combination of treatment methods–a blend of psychotherapy techniques developed in Europe and the United States over the past 100 years with techniques that Amazonian healers have developed and used over many centuries. Conventional medication is not used (except in rare emergencies), and physical detoxification is accomplished through the use of medicinal plants.Still in its pilot phase, Jacques' approach, and the various techniques that it employs, are being carefully evaluated, and their longer-term results rigorously measured, both by members of the team that he has assembled and by international researchers. The preliminary results are highly encouraging and are generating wide interest in his work throughout Latin America.

The Problem

Drug addiction is an immensely vexing and costly global problem, and drug consumption is increasing both in developing countries and in industrialized societies. Peru is the world's largest producer of basic coca paste, an extremely addictive and toxic substance. The Department of San Martín, in Peru's high jungle region, is the world's leader in coca leaf production, and Tarapoto, the city (in that Department) in which Jacques' clinic is based, has a higher consumption of coca paste than any other Peruvian city, with the exception of Lima.Drug rehabilitation methods, whatever their orientation, typically have very low success rates. Conventional therapeutic protocols are lengthy, costly and inefficient. Many treatment centers use coercive or humiliating methods, based on prison or military models and often at odds with ethical medical treatment and human rights standards. And most usual treatment approaches ignore addicts' inner crises of identity and purpose, which Jacques believes to be the basic cause of their addiction.

The Strategy

In 1992, Jacques and a small group of associates opened the Takiwasi Center in Tarapoto, on the eastern slopes of the Andes in northern Peru. That nonprofit center is dedicated to developing and testing Jacques' approach to drug rehabilitation and related research on traditional healing practices. Accommodating fifteen in-house patients, whose treatment typically lasts eight months to a year, the center's clinic is staffed by a multidisciplinary team of doctors, psychologists, a traditional healer, a journalist with an environmental focus and support staff. In its first of years of operation, 53 people enrolled in the program, and about half of them successfully completed it. The center's activities are funded by the European Union and the French government.Employing a combination of psychotherapy, art therapy, group therapy, workshops and consciousness-expanding experiences, the treatment that Jacques and his colleagues provide helps their patients explore and confront crises of purpose, meaning and personal identity. The consciousness-expanding experiences that are part of that treatment are induced by fasting, hyperventilation or nonaddictive (and not legally proscribed) plants long used in traditional healing practices. All therapies are medically monitored and scientifically tested and evaluated in the center's research laboratory.The center keeps its costs low by raising much of its own food, charging fees for training visiting professionals and marketing traditional plants and plant products. Per patient costs average about $500 per month, approximately half the amount that the Peruvian social security systems pays private groups in Lima for the rehabilitation of drug addicts.Jacques intends to maintain the center at its present size and disseminate his approach through articles in professional journals, other educational materials, training programs, professional and patient exchanges and the establishment of an informal network of Latin American therapists and researchers seeking more effective methods for healing drug addicts. The center publishes a regular newsletter, distributes articles published in professional journals and recently produced a book outlining the approach that Jacques and his colleagues employ. Jacques himself has authored or co-authored numerous articles, published in Peru and Europe, describing various aspects of his clinical activities and research.The center has also developed institutional linkages, both in Peru and abroad, to share its approach and findings. In Peru, Jacques is collaborating with the Ministry of Health and training academics and students in a joint program with the University of San Marcos in Lima. Internationally, he is engaged in patient and staff exchanges with institutions in Europe and in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. An international conference that will feature his approach is also being planned.

The Person

Jacques was born in New Caledonia, spent much of his early childhood in Algeria and Djibouti, and then moved to France, where he completed his secondary education and university studies in general medicine. He pursued additional studies in tropical medicine in Belgium and then traveled to Peru, where he conducted research on the consequences of environmental, cultural and social factors for the design of an appropriate health care strategy in the Altiplano (High Plain). He received a research doctorate for his thesis on that topic from the University of Medicine in Nantes in 1984 and a further diploma in natural medicine from the University of Paris XIII in 1986.Although Jacques maintains his French nationality, he has lived and worked in Peru much of the time since 1980. He has also traveled widely in Asia and Africa and worked in various medical capacities in Tunisia, Burkina Faso and Bangladesh. Not surprisingly, he styles himself a "citizen of the world."Jacques' first post in Peru was as mission chief in a primary health care project in the Altiplano under the aegis of Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). It was there, from mid-1980 until early 1983, that he undertook his thesis research while also serving as director of a hospital in the town of Lampa.In l984, during a visit to Calcutta, Jacques witnessed the spiritual tranquility of a dying man under Mother Teresa's care. And it was that experience, for reasons that he cannot fully explain, that led him to examine the contributions that traditional healing practices can make to contemporary medical understanding and care systems. He spent the next few years exploring that topic, living with and learning from traditional Amazonian healers and shamans. It was that exploration that led him to launch the Takiwasi center in 1992.Jacques complements his clinical work and medical research with a lively interest in the performing, literary and plastic arts, which he views as important "windows" to the human soul.