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Psychiatry as Bullshit

Friday, October 28, 2016 23:35
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1242749315_bullshit_amplifier-detectorBy Niall McLaren

Is it possible for a modern medical specialty to be little more than what people in the street call bullshit? As scary as that sounds, I believe it is true of psychiatry. I’ve set out my case in some detail [1] and anybody who wants to disagree can read it. For readers who prefer to think outside the box, we can define both concepts, psychiatry and bullshit, and then see how psychiatry measures up.

We can define psychiatry as the medical approach to mental disorder. Psychiatry is what psychiatrists do, which these days means interview distressed people, make a diagnosis, and then prescribe pills. It can also mean compelling the person to enter a place called a hospital but, in reality, it is actually a place of involuntary incarceration where the inmate will have fewer rights and privileges than any prisoner in this country. Once detained, he can be forced to take any drugs the psychiatrist decides, however unpleasant; he can be locked in solitary confinement and can also be physically restrained more or less indefinitely. Finally, he can be compelled to submit to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, “shock treatment”),

Now you might think that any non-forensic process that forces a perfectly innocent citizen to lose his freedom and all his rights, even to the point where he has no sexual function (mainly because of the drugs but also because somebody is always watching), would be based in some agreed, formalised, articulated, rational, publicly-available case which shows that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Sadly, and as a matter of firmly-established fact, you would be wrong [2]. Orthodox psychiatry has pulled a remarkable coup. Acting entirely without the benefit of a scientific model of mental disorder, it has managed to convince governments that their approach to mental disorder is at once correct, humane and the only possible choice. I believe this is bullshit, and will explain why. For the record, I firmly believe that severe mental disturbance is real. Thomas Szasz said that all people who claim to be mentally disturbed are pretending, but I have argued that he was totally (and brutally) wrong [3].

In 1986, the Princeton philosopher, Harry Frankfurt [4], published a paper entitled “On Bullshit.” It opens with some of the most memorable lines in modern philosophy:


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    The most balanced individuals all have one thing in common, they are also the best listeners. Ever wonder why that is?

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