“It is only really been in the last fifty years that psychiatry has established a scientific foundation for itself and developed treatments that truly work, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and are safe.”
I’m starting to think there is something to the belief in parallel universes. There just cannot be another explanation for how someone could believe what was said in the above quote. This person has to be from an alternative time line where An Anatomy of an Epidemic, Mad in America, Medication Madness, and The Myth of the Chemical Cure were never written. The story of psychiatry and “mad doctoring” contained in these and other books and articles I’ve read tell an entirely different story than what was stated above.
The opening quote is from an NPR interview with Doctor Jeffrey Lieberman, who wrote a new book, Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry. Dr. Lieberman is a past president of the American Psychiatric Association and is currently the Lawrence C. Kolb Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute. In other words, he has credibility within the field of psychiatry and he is a good choice to be the teller of a tale about the heroes of psychiatry. That is, if you believe the current state of psychiatry fits with the above statement. I don’t.
There is a suggestion in Lieberman’s interview that all is not sunshine and roses with the current state of psychiatry. At the end of the interview, he said that in order for psychiatrists to make a case for why psychiatry is a medical discipline that deserves “equal footing and respect as other medical specialties,” they needed to “fess up” to the unvarnished past. He asserted that things are different now, “and nobody should avoid seeking treatment if they think they need it because of uncertainty or fear.” I think that depends upon whether or not you believe in his version of psychiatry and its history.
I haven’t read Shrinks yet. Honestly, I’ll read Robert Whitaker’s new book on psychiatry before/if I ever get around to Shrinks. But Whitaker has read Lieberman’s book and shared his thoughts here. He suggested that his readers watch a promotional YouTube video of Lieberman discussing what is unique about Shrinks. Whitaker pointed out how Lieberman intentionally dressed for the video in a doctor’s white coat. Seems to be a not-so-subtle hint at wanting to assert the “equal footing and respect” he hopes to gain for psychiatry alongside other medical specialties.
In the YouTube video, Lieberman did say that his book was the first to tell the “complete and unvarnished truth” about the history of psychiatry. But he seems to have crossed over into that parallel universe when, according to Whitaker, he wrote how the intellectual seed from a small band of psychiatrists saved psychiatry and led to the development of the “book that changed everything.” This book was the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM III). Whitaker astutely said Shrinks was more a story of how psychiatry as an institution saw itself, than it was an accurate history of psychiatry:
I think Shrinks ultimately provides a revealing self-portrait of psychiatry as an institution. Lieberman is a past president of the APA and he has reiterated the story that the APA has been telling to the public ever since DSM-III was published. And it is this narrative, quite unmoored from science and history, that drives our societal understanding of mental disorders and how best to treat them.
The history of the DSM described by Whitaker in his review article of Shrinks is one I’m already familiar with from reading Making Us Crazy and The Selling of DSM by Kirk and Kutchins. You can access an article written by them, “The Myth of the Reliability of DSM,” that elaborates on Whitaker’s description of the DSM III. Kirk, Gomory and Cohen have written Mad Science, which also tells the story of psychiatry and diagnosis from the perspective of Whitaker and the others.
Paula Caplan commented that as she listened to Lieberman’s NPR interview, she felt sad. She was glad Whitaker had written about Shrinks. She thought no one was in a better position to comment on its claims about the field of contemporary psychiatry.
I know that many people share my feelings of frustration and exhaustion about the ongoing misuses of the power, not only by some of the most powerful psychiatrists, but also some of the most powerful psychologists and members of other professions as they distort the facts and consistently close their ears to people whom their systems have harmed.
Whitaker closed his critique of Shrinks by pointing out that Lieberman took the Freudians to task, saying that if the psychoanalytic movement in psychiatry had itself diagnosed, it would have been found “all the classic symptoms of mania: extravagant behaviors, grandiose beliefs, and irrational faith in its world-changing powers.” Whitaker said the very same symptoms were present in Shrinks. He suggested there was also evidence of an institutional delusion too. Perhaps this is a better explanation for the radically different view psychiatry has of itself than saying it must be from a parallel universe. It is simply delusional.
Further illustration of the parallel universes (or delusions) regarding psychiatry was given when Dr. Lierberman was interviewed on the CBC radio program, The Sunday Edition on April 26, 2015. When asked by the interviewer if he was familiar with Robert Whitaker, he said “Unfortunately I am.” He proceeded to question (slander?) whether he is a journalist, saying: “God help the publication that employed him.” Lieberman asserted that Whitaker has “an ideological grudge against psychiatry.” In other words, Whitaker is one of those anti-psychiatry people. He dismissed Whitaker and his claims: “What he says is preposterous. He’s a menace to society because he’s basically fomenting misinformation and misunderstanding about mental illness and the nature of treatment.”
Lieberman went on to claim that there was no doubt in his mind that if randomized, controlled studies of various psychiatric illnesses, using the “state of the art” methods in psychiatry (including medication) “the outcomes will be extraordinarily superior in the treated group.” Whitaker responded to Lieberman’s claim by challenging him to provide “a list of randomized studies that show that medicated patients have a much better long-term outcome than unmedicated patients.”
We think this is important. This is the core issue for our society: Do these medications help people thrive over the long-term? Do they improve their lives over the long term? If there is such evidence, please let us know. I put up abstracts of the studies I cited in Anatomy of an Epidemic on madinamerica.com, which tell of worse outcomes for the medicated patients over the long term, and so here is your chance to point to the studies I left out.
Whitaker noted this wasn’t the first time Lieberman has denounced him as a “crappy” journalist. By the way, a series of articles Whitaker co-wrote on the abuses of psychiatric patients in research settings for the Boston Globe in the 1990s was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a past winner of the George Polk Award for Medical Writing for the same series. One of the researchers he was critical of in that series was Lieberman. Whitaker said he took extra pride in being called a “menace to society” by Lieberman and thought he might just put that on his gravestone.