Sunday, January 29, 2006

Psychiatry-Where Did it All Go Wrong?

Where Did it All Go Wrong?

Biological psychiatrists are scurrying for cover as the spotlight of the mainstream media has finally becomes focused on their activities.

Whilst many psychiatrists were well aware that aggressive, brain orientated treatments were not in the best interests of patients, they yet failed to do anything and failed to say anything... in public anyway. Why was this?

A part of it undoubtedly was the fear shared by all professionals who cast their gaze beyond the bounds of accepted dogma... the fear of the ridicule of their colleagues. The courage to stand by ones principles and to do what is right, irrespective of the personal consequence, is not easily summonsed.

But it was not just the ridicule they feared. Courageous men like Dr Thomas Szasz (Professor Emeritus Psychiatry-Syracuse, New York) the first insider to blow the whistle on the bio-psychiatry dogma in 1961, were professionally vilified. The erudite and dignified Dr Szasz was slandered by a few from within his profession with the despicable claim that he was in need of psychiatric help. Another psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin suffered a similar reward for his honesty. They were not alone. Character assassination is a hard blow to bear, especially when you have neither the money nor the time nor a medium with which to defend yourself. It takes a lot of courage and conviction to walk that road.

The financial imperative was also strong. Being a pusher for the pharmaceutical companies has not been an underpaid job. Along with the cash bonuses and overseas junkets Big Pharma also bought the psychiatric industry desperately needed credibility. They paid to promote the profession of psychiatry with lavish medical endowments and in other more subtle ways. This investment was done in the clear knowledge that any credibility they could purchase for psychiatry would quickly translate into greater penetration of the market for their highly profitable psychotropic drugs.

And then there was the issue of complicity. I recently met with a psychiatrist in Ireland who is fully aware of the insidious nature of the modern psychiatric obsession with the brain. In conversation it came out that he is the only psychiatrist in Ireland who has not performed ECT. To actually press the button that courses up to 400 volts of electricity through a patient’s brain is a mandated part of psychiatric training in Ireland. It is reminiscent of the entry conditions to some of the US street gangs of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Full membership was only considered after the applicant had killed someone... it was rather hard to back out after that. The Irish psychiatrist declined to join the bio-psychiatric gang and flew to London to sit his exam.

That Irish psychiatrist is now seeking the support of his local colleagues in a movement to ban ECT. Most won’t support him. How can they? If they do it is an open admission that what they have done is wrong and harmful. Apart from the personal moral implications, it leaves them wide open to litigation. They simply cannot afford to introspect on the subject. They are guilty, they know they are guilty, and they are more interested in hoping that no one finds out about it. Help expose it? Not likely.

Ultimately of course though, the reason why bio-psychiatrists continued to practice and defend their various assaults upon the brain was the simple fact that they had nothing else to offer. If they acknowledged that their cutting, drugging and shocking did not work, then what options did that leave them? They might as well have hung up their ice-picks.

Where did it all go wrong? What was the pivotal point that caused psychiatry to degenerate into the ignominy of a downward spiral of public distrust and uproar, coupled with the growing media perception of not just utter failure, but of a cynical disregard for the plight of those so desperately in need of help?

In 1879 psychologist Professor Wilhelm Wundt of Leipzig University in Germany declared that there was no soul and that man was simply a higher level animal which could be controlled using “science”*. Psychiatrists became worshippers at the god of materialism, the dogma that proclaimed that all could be reduced to matter and that everything was subject to physical laws. They abandoned their primary purpose, the healing of the mind and soul, and began instead to focus on the body.

The whole concept of the mind and consciousness and individuality was dismissed. It was postulated that the mind was just the brain, and the brain was just another organ like the liver or kidneys which could be controlled and modified by medical procedures. It degenerated to the point where little maps of the brain were published showing areas where certain types of thoughts were supposed to form. Psycho-babble left brain/right brain theories were picked up by the media of the day and popularised.

Mood swings and difficulties in life were pronounced simply a chemical imbalance in the brain. The carbon/oxygen machine nature of the body was deemed the all and everything. For the psychologically troubled it was truly the dawn of the second dark ages. Their thoughts and worries and day to day problems were of no consequence; their very consciousness was dismissed as a chemical soup.

In a conventional medical situation a doctor is not concerned with why someone has a broken leg. They just medically treat the leg. The bio-psychiatry model assured the same treatment for mentally troubled patients. Why a patient was upset or sad was no longer the issue. Psychiatrists just treated the brain. From this a world-wide, pharmaceutical/psychiatric trillion dollar a year industry sprang up with a range of treatments... all notably less successful than a cup of tea and a chat.

Pharmaceutical companies compounded the situation by not only wildly over-promoting the efficacy of their chemical ‘cures’, and under presenting their dark, side effects, but by re-branding common emotions and problems into ‘disorders’. First they created and marketed a new disorder then they marketed a new ‘drug to ‘cure’ the disorder**. They deliberately and knowingly caused people who were well, to suddenly accept a reclassification as ill... and mentally ill at that. Great for selling drugs and expanding market share and profits, but not great for the self-esteem or health of the target market.

The very definition of the word ‘psychiatry’ provides the best clue as to where it all went wrong. Both parts of the word derive from the Greek. ‘Psyche’ means of the soul, and ‘ietreia’ means to cure or to heal. The downfall of psychiatry was not just based on an ignorant and arrogant abuse of power, nor to society’s shame was it much based on the horrific tales of the victims and their outraged families. It was based more on the fact that for over 100 years psychiatry relentlessly pursued a course of mental healing which related to neither the mind nor healing, and which utterly negated the spiritual nature of humanity. Psychiatry failed because it simply did not work and could never have worked, and worse, by its bombardment of the brain with electroshock and lobotomies and psychotropic drugs it seriously exacerbated the problem. Brain damage and mental wellness do not easily coexist. The huge rise in the numbers of people classified as mentally ill since the introduction of bio-psychiatry attests to this.

The noose is tightening around the throat of the bio-psychiatrists. The direction of their whole field of mental healing in the last one hundred years has led slowly yet inexorably to a self-destruction of the profession. If it could have been saved, it could only have been saved from within, but the complicity of its practitioners coupled with the lack of any real answers ensured that they did nothing but seek to stop such endeavours. Only a very few had the courage to hold the high ground of principled honesty.

Over the last few weeks I have been emailing my contacts all over the world seeking psychiatrists to speak at a conference. The answer from one and all is that they do know some psychiatrists who are disquieted by the prevailing orthodoxy and a few who are outraged by it, but less than a handful world-wide who are prepared to speak out.

Ultimately psychiatry will be seen to have failed because it could not even diagnose and cure itself.

Philip Barton
© 26/12/05 Philip Barton All rights reserved

“The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold.” Aristotle

* Franz G. Alexander, M.D. and Sheldon T. Selesnick, M.D. ‘The History of Psychiatry’ (NY: Harper and Row, 1966) p.163

** Ray Moynihan & Alan Cassels- ‘Selling Sickness’ (Allen & Unwin)

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