09/16/15

The Quest for Psychiatric Dragons, Part 2

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© Olesia Sarycheva |123rf.com

The fallout from the Rosenhan study couldn’t have come at a worse time for psychiatry. Spitzer was in the midst of trying to put out one fire with the crisis brought about by gay activism against the APA. Then Rosenhan demonstrated that “psychiatrists could not distinguish the sane from the insane” from another angle.

Pseudopatients were admitted into psychiatric hospitals, but were not identified as such by hospital staff. The problem with the unreliability of psychiatric diagnosis was now front-page news, just as Spitzer and one of the coauthors of his 1967 article on the kappa statistic, Joseph Fleiss, were about to publish their own critique of psychiatric diagnosis. Their study, “A Reanalysis of the Reliability of Psychiatric Diagnosis,” became another classic article in the psychiatric literature.

The Spitzer and Fleiss study was received by the British Journal of Psychiatry on January 17, 1974, and published in the October 1974 issue of the BJP. The Spitzer and Fleiss article was received by the BJP about a month after the APA decision to remove homosexuality from the DSM-II and a year after the Rosenhan study was published.

Applying the kappa statistic in the re-analysis of five previous studies of diagnostic reliability, Spitzer and Fleiss said: “The reliability of psychiatric diagnosis as it has been practiced since at least the late 1950s is not good.” They were confident that developing structured interviews and specifying all diagnostic criteria “will result not only in improved reliability, but in improved validity, which is, after all our ultimate goal.” In The Selling of DSM, Stuart Kirk and Herb Kutchins said: “This article carefully and dramatically sets the stage for DSM-III. It reinterprets and denigrates the past, refers to innovations being currently developed by the authors and others, and predicts success in the future.”

The historical context suggests to me that the one-two punch of the gay activists and the Rosenhan study caught Spitzer and the other psychiatric researchers by surprise. These two events not only raised questions about the unreliability of psychiatric diagnosis, but they did it in a way that was easy to grasp by the public. They also publicly embarrassed psychiatry. How could trained psychiatrists not be able to tell whether someone was faking their symptoms? How could homosexuality be voted out of being a mental disorder? What implications do these two events have for diagnosing other so-called mental disorders?

Psychiatry now faced serious threats to its credibility, perhaps to its very existence. As Whitaker and Cosgrove noted in Psychiatry Under the Influence, the APA did recognize how the rampant criticism threatened their profession. “The public did not have a ‘strong conception of psychiatry as a medical specialty,’ and failed ‘to recognize a psychiatrist’s special competence in mental health care.’”

After his achievements in removing homosexuality from the DSM-II, and being appointed the chair for the DSM-III, Spitzer took on Rosenhan. Spitzer published his critique of Rosenhan’s study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychiatry in October of 1975, “On Pseudoscience in Science, Logic in Remission, and Psychiatric Diagnosis.” Spitzer’s article was originally received on November 1, 1974, less than a month after he and Fleiss published their article. He revised and resubmitted it on April 14, 1975. Several other articles on Rosenhan’s study were published in the same issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychiatry. Spitzer now defended psychiatry and to a certain extent, diagnosis. Kirk and Kutchins noted that Spitzer was in the awkward position of defending psychiatric diagnosis, while he was in the process of restructuring it.

His rhetoric was clever and forceful. He characterized Rosenhan’s study as “pseudoscience,” playing to Rosenhan’s reference to his “pseudopatients.” Spitzer also referred to Rosenhan’s discussion of the pseudopatients discharge diagnosis as schizophrenia in remission as “logic in remission.” Kirk and Kutchins said:

Some of Spitzer’s criticisms of the design of the study were warranted, although his zeal to discredit Rosenhan sometimes led him simply to disregard or distort basic observations. . . . The importance of Spitzer’s comments are not what they tell us about Rosenhan’s study, but what they tell us about Spitzer’s new enterprise, the making of the DSM-III.

First he sought to invalidate Rosenhan’s basic point, namely the criticism of psychiatric practices that could not distinguish the sane from the insane. According to Spitzer, “A correct interpretation of [Rosenhan’s] own data contradicts his own conclusions. In the setting of a psychiatric hospital psychiatrists are remarkably able to distinguish the ‘sane’ from the ‘insane.’” Secondly, he used his article to redefine the problem of psychiatric diagnosis as one of reliability, and cited his own article, “A Reanalysis of the Reliability of Psychiatric Diagnosis,” and its recommendations in support of this conclusion. “Recognition of the serious problems of the reliability of psychiatric diagnosis has resulted in a new approach to psychiatric diagnosis.” In effect, Spitzer was saying to his audience of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, “We already knew about the problem and have been working on a solution.”

Spitzer then reworked his article and published the revision in the Archives of General Psychiatry: “More on Pseudoscience in Science and the Case for Psychiatric Diagnosis.” The article was accepted for publication on December 12, 1975 and published in the April 1976 issue. In the introductory comments of his 1976 article, Spitzer observed that partly because of the prestige of Science, the journal in which it was published, and partly because it said what many others wanted to hear, “The [Rosenhan] study was widely acclaimed in the popular news media. . . . As a consequence, this single study is probably better known to the lay public than any other study in the area of psychiatry in the last decade.” And he was right.

In February of 1980, as the DSM-III was about to be published, Spitzer et al. published an article in The American Journal of Psychiatry that reviewed the achievements and changes in psychiatric diagnosis within the DSM-III. They also claimed the reliability problem had been significantly improved. “For most of the diagnostic classes the reliability was quite good, and in general it was much higher than that previously achieved with DSM I and DSM II.” As it turned, out this was not true. In their book, The Selling of DSM, and in an article, “The Myth of the Reliability of DSM,” Stuart Kirk and Herb Kutchins demonstrated how the standards for interpreting reliability were dramatically shifted in order to make it easier “to claim success with DSM-III, when in fact, the data were equivocal.”

David Rosenhan died on February 6, 2012 after a long illness. His obituary published in American Psychologist commented: “The lessons he cared most about offering, in the classroom as in his research, were about human dignity and the need to confront abuse of power and human frailties.” Robert Spitzer retired in December of 2010. According to Jeffrey Lieberman in Shrinks, it was because of a severe and debilitating form of Parkinson’s disease. But the fight over the legitimacy over psychiatric diagnosis continues and Robert Spitzer has been one of the critics of the recent revision process for the DSM-5. Joining him in this dispute is Allen Frances, the chair of the DSM-IV Task Force.

Writing for Wired, Gary Greenberg noted that the DSM-5 battle comes at a time when the authority of psychiatry “seems more tenuous than ever.” The director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Thomas Insel, announced the NIMH wouldn’t be using the DSM to structure its research. “Some mental health researchers are convinced that the DSM might soon be completely revolutionized or even rendered obsolete.” Other psychiatrists privately fret that “the DSM-5 will create ‘monumental screwups’ that will turn the field into a ‘laughingstock.’” None of them were willing to go on record with their concerns for fear of retaliation. Reflecting on the ongoing debate over psychiatric diagnosis, Allen Frances was reminded of medieval maps that had notations such as “dragons live here” in places where their knowledge was lacking. “We have a dragon’s world here. But you wouldn’t want to be without that map.”

09/9/15

The Quest for Psychiatric Dragons, Part 1

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© dvarg | 123rf.com

In her book, Opening Skinner’s Box, author Lauren Slater related a conversation she had with Robert Spitzer, one of the most important psychiatrists of the twentieth century. She told him of the personal struggles of another individual that Spitzer was historically linked to, David Rosenhan. Slater told Spitzer that Rosenhan’s wife had died of cancer, his daughter had died in a car crash and he was paralyzed from a disease that doctors couldn’t diagnose. She reported that Spitzer’s response was: “That’s what you get for conducting such an inquiry.”

There are questions regarding the truth of what Slater reported here. Spitzer himself said that he doesn’t remember saying that. And if he did, he meant it in a joking way. However, Slater’s observation that “Rosenhan’s study is still hated in the field [of psychiatry] after forty years” is very true. In his recently published book Shrinks, Jeffrey Lierberman, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association, described Rosenhan at the time of his infamous study as “a little-known Stanford-trained lawyer who had recently obtained a psychology degree but lacked any clinical experience.” He thought the 1973 Rosenhan study had fueled an “activist movement that sought to eliminate psychiatry entirely.” See “A Censored Story of Psychiatry” Parts 1 and 2 for more on Rosenhan’s study and Lieberman’s portrayal of it.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) was in crisis. Gay activists had actively protested at the annual APA meetings between 1970 and 1972, seeking to have the APA remove homosexuality as a mental disorder from the DSM. Robert Spitzer, the architect of the diagnostic revolution that was codified in the DSM-III, related in an interview that he was at a symposium on the treatment of homosexuality in 1972 that was disrupted by a group of gay activists. He recalled that in effect, the activists were saying they wanted the meeting to stop; because “You’re pathologizing us!” The media attention of the above protests created a very public embarrassment for psychiatry. Kirk et al., in Mad Science, commented:

An entire group of people labeled as mentally ill by the American Psychiatric Association was disputing its psychiatric diagnosis. At the core of their challenge was a simple, east-to-understand question: why was homosexuality a mental illness?

Spitzer approached one of the protesters after the symposium was cancelled and their conversation led to a meeting between some of the activists and an APA committee Spitzer was a member of, the APA Task Force on Nomenclature and Statistics. Spitzer recalled that the gist of the meeting was “the idea that the only way gays could overcome civil rights discrimination was if psychiatry would acknowledge that homosexuality was not a mental illness.” After the meeting with the Nomenclature and Statistics Task Force, Spitzer proposed the APA organize a symposium at the annual APA meeting in May of 1973. He continued to be active with this issue within the APA, and was responsible for the position statement (formulated on June 7, 1973 by Spitzer) that was approved by the APA Board of Trustees in December 1973 removing homosexuality as a diagnosis from the DSM.

Concurrent with this issue was the fallout from the publication of David Rosenhan’s article in the January 1973 issue of Science, “Being Sane in Insane Places.” Kirk et al. noted that the study was intriguing, easy to understand and had striking results. So it received a lot of media attention. The study reinforced the view that psychiatric judgments were inadequate, and even laughable. “Once again, the target of the joke was the scientific pretence of psychiatric diagnosis: Psychiatrists could not distinguish the sane from the insane.”

Jeffery Lieberman, a former president of the APA and author of the book Shrinks, said that an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees was called in February of 1973 “to consider how to address the crisis and counter the rampant criticism.” Lieberman related how the APA Board of Trustees realized the best way to deflect the “tidal wave of reproof” was to make a fundamental change in how mental illness was conceptualized and diagnosed. They agreed that the most compelling means would be to transform the DSM. By the end of the emergency meeting, the trustees had authorized the creation of the third edition of the DSM.

Lieberman said Robert Spitzer wanted to be in charge of the revision process as soon as he heard it had been approved. Spitzer recalled,  “I spoke to the medical director at the APA and told him I would love to head this thing.”  In part because of the way he handled the quandary over homosexuality, Spitzer was appointed to chair the DSM-III Task Force in 1974. But he had already positioned himself as an expert on psychiatric diagnosis.

I think it is fair to say that Spitzer had been aiming towards this appointment for almost seven years. His association with the DSM began in 1966, when he agreed to take notes for the DSM-II committee. Then Spitzer et al. introduced use of the kappa statistic into the literature on psychiatric diagnosis in their 1967 study, “Quantification of Agreement in Psychiatric Diagnosis.” In The Selling of the DSM, Stuart Kirk and Herb Kutchins commented that the introduction of kappa appeared to provide a way to unify the comparison of reliability studies, while eliminating the statistical problem chance agreement at the same time. Joseph Fliess, who would later co-author with Spitzer their seminal 1974 study, was one of the authors here.

Before the Rosenhan study in 1973, Spitzer and others had already published several articles related to revising psychiatric diagnosis in the Archives of General Psychiatry: “Immediately Available Record of Mental Status Exam” (July, 1965);  “Mental Status Schedule” (April 1967); “Quantification of Agreement in Psychiatric Diagnosis: A New Approach” (July, 1967); “DIAGNO: A Computer Program for Psychiatric Diagnosis Utilizing the Differential Diagnostic Procedure” (June, 1968); “The Psychiatric Status Schedule” (July, 1970); “Quantification of Agreement in Multiple Psychiatric Diagnosis” (February, 1972). And these were just those published in the Archives.

In 1971 Spitzer was introduced to a group of psychiatric researchers from Washington University in St. Louis. They were working to develop diagnostic criteria for specific mental disorders. Spitzer was in heaven. Lieberman reported Spitzer said: “It was like I had finally awoken from a spell. Finally, a rational way to approach diagnosis other than the nebulous psychoanalytical definitions in the DSM-II.” According to Whitaker and Cosgrove in Psychiatry Under the Influence, more than half of the members Spitzer appointed to the DSM-III Task Force had an existing or past affiliation with Washington University.

Feighner et al., the group of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, published “Diagnostic Criteria for Use in Psychiatric Research” in 1972. They proposed specific diagnostic criteria for 14 psychiatric disorders, along with the validating evidence for those criteria. Kirk and Kutchins said their work became known as the Feighner criteria, after its senior author. This study became a classic in the psychiatric literature, and has been cited over 4,000 times since its publication.

In 1978, Spitzer and others would use the Feighner criteria to produce the “Research Diagnostic Criteria”  (RDC), another significant step in the formation of the DSM-III. Kirk and Kutchins said: “These two articles … and the work on which they were based are among the most influential developments in psychiatry” since the late 1960s. An important fact in both the Feighner criteria and Spitzer’s RDC, was they were initially developed only for use in research. “Neither article proposed that the elaborate diagnostic systems be adopted by clinical psychiatrists.” That came later. But you can see the path that Spitzer had been walking since 1967. He wanted to radically change psychiatric diagnosis and had been methodically moving in that direction. And then the Rosenhan study, “Being Sane in Insane Places” was published in the journal Science.

08/19/15

A Censored Story of Psychiatry, Part 2

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© alexskopje | 123rf.com

I was taken aback by Lieberman’s tone in describing Rosenhan as scornfully observing that no staff raised an issue of the apparent sanity of the pseudopatients in his famous study: “Being Sane in Insane Places.” Lieberman then said Rosenhan “saw another opportunity to inflict damage on psychiatry’s crumbling credibility.” Actually, a research and teaching hospital had been vocally saying that they doubted that such an error could occur in their hospital. So Rosenhan approached them and proposed that over a three month time period (not a year, as Lieberman claimed in what he indicated was a direct quote), “one or more pseudopatients would attempt to be admitted into the psychiatric hospital.” Here is what Lieberman wrote concerning what Rosenhan did:

He approached a large prestigious teaching hospital that had been especially vocal in contesting Rosenhan’s finding with a new challenge: “Over the coming year, I will send in another round of imposters to your hospital. You try to detect them, knowing full well that they will be coming, and at the end of the year we will see how many you catch.”

Rosenhan reported that the hospital staff members rated each patient on the likelihood of being a pseudopatient. Judgments were obtained on 193 patients admitted for psychiatric treatment. All staff members that had contact with the patients were asked to make judgments. Forty-one admissions were judged with high confidence to be pseudopatients. “Twenty-three were considered suspect by at least one psychiatrist. Nineteen were suspected by one psychiatrist and one other staff member.” Rosenhan then said: “Actually, no genuine pseudopatient (at least from my group) presented himself during this period.” Rosenhan encapsulated the question raised by his study in the provocative opening sentence of his article: “If sanity and insanity exist, how shall we know them?”

Psychiatry was at a crucial time of its history in 1973. Rosenhan’s article was published in January of 1973. Lieberman reported that the Board of Trustees for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) called an emergency conference in February of 1973 “to consider how to address the crisis and counter the rampant criticism.” He said that the Board realized that the best way to counter the “tidal wave of reproof” was to produce a fundamental change in how mental illness was “conceptualized and diagnosed.” They authorized the creation of a third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM.

The APA eventually appointed Robert Spitzer to chair the revision process of the DSM-III, which was a radical change in how psychiatric diagnosis was done and how mental illness was conceptualized. As Robert Whitaker and Lisa Cosgrove reported in Psychiatry Under the Influence, the DSM-III was an instant success. “In the first six months following its publication, the APA sold more copies of its new manual than it had previously sold of its two prior DSM editions combined.” The DSM was adopted by insurance companies, the courts, governmental agencies, colleges and universities. It structured discussion in psychology textbooks. It was required to do research in the U.S. and eventually abroad as well. “DSM III became psychiatry’s new ‘Bible’ throughout much of the world.” Lieberman claimed:

The DSM-III turned psychiatry away from the task of curing social ills and refocused it on the medical treatment of severe mental illnesses. Spitzer’s diagnostic criteria could be used with impressive reliability by any psychiatrist from Wichita to Walla Walla.

What’s missing from this triumphal rhetoric is the battle waged by Spitzer against Rosenhan’s study and its implications as he and others worked to revise psychiatric diagnosis—and its reliability problems. In the 1980 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child [& Adolescent] Psychiatry, Michael Rutter and David Shaffer, both academic psychiatrists, were critical of the published reports of reliability studies done of the DSM-III field trials. Referring to two 1979 published reports by Spitzer, they commented that while the studies were useful, “as pieces of research they leave much to be desired.”

Both reports concern the reliability study which involved clinicians “from Maine to Hawaii.” Unfortunately this impression of spread is largely spurious in that the reliability concerned agreements only between close colleagues (each clinician chose his own partner in the study). . . . Of course, we are acutely aware of the difficulties involved in such field studies and it may well be that this was the best that could be done within the time and resources available. However, the findings do little to provide a scientific basis for DSM-III.

Note how Rutter and Shaffer’s comments about: “clinicians from Maine to Hawaii” applies equally to Lieberman’s rhetoric on: “any psychiatrist from Wichita to Walla Walla.” Both Psychiatry Under the Influence and The Selling of DSM have more comprehensive critiques of the claimed success in conquering reliability and validity problems with psychiatric diagnosis. But Lieberman’s “uncensored history” of psychiatry in Shrinks is completely silent on this well documented dispute. Ironically, in the same issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, Spitzer and Cantwell described how the DSM-III was “considerably more inclusive and more comprehensive,” than its predecessor, the DSM-II.

In a disclaimer paragraph on the page before the Shrinks Table of Contents, Lieberman said that bucking the convention in academics of using ellipses or brackets in quotations, he avoided them. “So as to not interrupt the narrative flow of the story.” But he assured us that he made sure that any extra or missing words did not change the original meaning of the speaker or the writer. So he did not use an author-date reference system that included endnotes with references and page numbers for the quotes he cited. But he did say the sources of the quotes are all listed in the Sources and Additional Reading section. And if you wanted to see the original versions of the quotations, they were available at: www.jeffreyliebermanmd.com. When I checked the website at the end of July 2015, they were not available for download or viewing on any page.

As I think I’ve demonstrated, Dr. Lieberman made some very specific claims about David Rosenhan’s professional background and expertise that were false. His presentation of the famous Rosenhan study appeared to be distinctly biased and inaccurate in places. He presented as a quote of David Rosenhan something that he did not say in “Being Sane in Insane Places.” Was it a quote from another source, perhaps someone else claiming the quoted material as what Rosenhan said? We don’t know and cannot know because Lieberman didn’t use conventional citations in presenting his storyline for Shrinks. He was tellingly silent on issues such as questions about the reliability of DSM-III diagnoses from the time of its publication.

Because of these and other problems with his version of psychiatric history, I did not find that Shrinks was “the uncensored story of how we [psychiatry] overcame our dubious past.” If anything, its dubiousness seems to be continuing into the present. But you won’t hear about those issues in Shrinks.

If you are interested in alternative views of psychiatric history, ones with endnotes and footnotes, I suggest you read Mad in America or Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker; Psychiatry Under the Influence, by Robert Whitaker and Lisa Cosgrove; or The Mad Among Us by Gerald Grob. Chapter two of Psychiatry Under the Influence, “Psychiatry Adopts a Disease Model,” gives a significantly more nuanced survey of psychiatric diagnostic history than Shrinks. Whitaker and Cosgrove’s use of the idea of guild interests of psychiatry was very helpful to me in putting Shrinks into perspective.

Be forewarned that Whitaker is not one of Lieberman’s favorite people. In a radio interview promoting his new book Shrinks, Dr Lieberman said that Whitaker was a “menace to society because he’s basically fomenting misinformation and misunderstanding about mental illness and the nature of treatment.” Here is a link to where this was reported on Whitaker’s website, Mad in America. There is also a link there to the original radio interview. Look around at the other material on the site, including further responses by Whitaker and others on Dr. Lieberman’s remarks.

08/12/15

A Censored Story of Psychiatry, Part 1

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© alexskopje | 123rf.com

Doctor Jeffrey Lieberman, the Chair of Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a former president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), recently wrote a book, Shrinks. It purports to tell the true story of how psychiatry grew from a pseudoscience into “a science-driven profession that saves lives.” But for me, it reads more like a piece of APA propaganda. What follows is an illustration of why I believe Shrinks is not a credible historical account of the history of psychiatry.

In his Introduction, Dr. Lieberman wrote: “As I write this, psychiatry is finally taking its rightful place in the medical community after a long sojourn in the scientific wilderness.” He added that psychiatry has earned much of its “pervasive stigma.”

There’s good reason that so many people will do everything they can to avoid seeing a psychiatrist. I believe that the only way psychiatrists can demonstrate just how far we have hoisted ourselves from the murk is to first own up to our long history of missteps and share the uncensored story of how we overcame our dubious past.

He said that modern psychiatrist now possesses the tools (medications?) to lead anyone “out of a maze of mental chaos into a place of clarity, care and recovery.” He said he is fortunate to be living through the time in history when psychiatry matured from “a psychoanalytic cult of shrinks into a scientific medicine of the brain.” But in concluding his book, he said he was under no illusion that “the specters of psychiatry’s past have vanished,” or that psychiatry has “freed itself from suspicion and scorn.” Notice the implication that any current suspicion or scorn of psychiatry is illegitimate, as its missteps are in the past.

Lieberman is aware that others disagree with his sense how psychiatry has become “a scientific medicine of the brain.” Again in his Introduction, he said: “The profession to which I have dedicated my life remains the most distrusted, feared, and denigrated of all medical specialties.” He then quoted from some of the rude and abusive emails he’s received. His comment was that such skeptics don’t look to psychiatry to help solve mental health problems. Rather, they see psychiatry itself as a mental health problem. While not explicitly using the term at this point, Lieberman does seem to be referring to what he calls the “antipsychiatry” movement.

This is a term that has been applied to individuals critical of some aspect psychiatry, or even psychiatry as an institution, since the 1960s. And Lieberman touched on and dismissed many of the historically big names tied to “antipsychiatry”: Thomas Szasz, R.D. Laing, and David Rosenhan. Here, I want to look at Lieberman’s portrayal of Rosenhan and give you an alternate perspective to his to illustrate why I see Shrinks as APA propaganda.

In an aside, Lieberman seems to have neglected to mention Dr. E. F. Torrey’s 1974 contribution to the antipsychiatry movement, The Death of Psychiatry. Torrey maintained that most of the so-called mentally ill are suffering from problems in social adaptation, not from diseases of the mind. He would later become affiliated with The Stanley Medical Research Institute (SMRI), where he is now an Associate Director. SMRI has spent over $550 million researching “brain diseases” like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder since it began in 1989. It seems Torrey changed his tune. Perhaps that’s why his antipsychiatry work wasn’t mentioned. Lieberman also cited Torrey as providing anecdotal evidence (no references or footnotes) that both Laing and Szasz eventually believed that schizophrenia was a brain disease, but would not sat so publically.

In chapter three of Shrinks, Lieberman described the impact of the classic 1973 study done by David Rosenhan, “Being Sane in Insane Places.” Another copy of the article is available here on a link from Harvard University. Lieberman gave an inaccurate and unfair gloss of Rosenhan as “a little-known Stanford-trained lawyer who had recently obtained a psychology degree but lacked any clinical experience.” As a matter of fact, David Rosenhan had a BA in mathematics from Yeshiva College (1951), an MA in economics (1953) and a PhD in psychology (1958), from Columbia University—the same academic institution to which Lieberman would become affiliated in his own professional career.

In addition, Rosenhan was a psychologist for the Counseling Center at the Stevens Institute of technology from 1954 to 1956; a lecturer at Hunter College and the director of research in the Department of Psychiatry at City Hospital at Elmhurst from 1958 to 1960. He was an assistant professor for the Departments of Psychology and Sociology at Haverford College from 1960 to 1962; a lecturer for the Department of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania from 1961 to 1964; a lecturer for the Department of Psychology at Princeton University from 1964 to 1968; a professor in the Department of Psychology and Education at Swarthmore College from 1968 to 1970; and a visiting professor in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University from 1970-1971. He was a professor of law and psychiatry at Stanford from 1971. The above biographical information on David Rosenhan was taken from a February 16, 2012 article from the Stanford Law School News announcing his death at 82 years old.

This information was readily available to anyone interested enough in David Rosenhan to do a simple online search. It certainly doesn’t agree with Lieberman’s dismissal of Rosenhan’s credibility. Here’s what David Rosenhan did in his study. He had eight “pseudopatients” (individuals with no history of serious psychiatric disorders) seek admission to 12 different psychiatric hospitals. They complained of hearing voices say “empty,” “hollow,” and “thump.” They were all admitted to the various hospitals. The eight pseudopatients consisted of a psychology graduate student in his 20s, three psychologists, a pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a painter and a housewife. Rosenhan was one of the three psychologists. Three pseudopatients were women and five were men.

Once admitted to the hospital, they stopped simulating any symptoms of abnormality and waited to see how long it took before they were released. Their length of stay at the hospitals ranged from 7 to 52 days, with an average of 19 days. None of the pseudopatients were indentified as such by hospital staff members. However, it was quite common for the patients to uncover the pseudopatients. Other patients in the hospitals were reported as saying things such as: “You’re not crazy. You’re a journalist, or a professor [referring to the continual notetaking]. You’re checking up on the hospital.” Rosenhan commented: “The fact that the patients often recognized normality when staff did not raises important questions.”

Lieberman said that claim was debatable, “since many nurses did record that the pseudopatients were behaving normally.” Actually, Lieberman’s comment is itself debateable. If nursing staff recognized the pseudopatients as normal, why was the average length of stay 19 days? If nursing staff recorded impressions that particular pseudopatients were behaving normally, it seems their observations were ignored or failed to result in speedy identification and release. Seven of the eight were admitted with diagnoses of schizophrenia and their discharge diagnoses were schizophrenia “in remission.”

What Rosenhan actually said was that the pseudopatients were to secure their own release from the hospital by convincing staff that they were sane. The psychological stressors associated with hospitalization were considerable and as a result, the pseudopatients were motivated to be discharged “almost immediately after being admitted.”

They were, therefore, motivated not only to behave sanely, but to be paragons of cooperation. That their behavior was in no way disruptive is confirmed by nursing reports, which have been obtained on most of the patients. These reports uniformly indicate that the patients were “friendly,” “cooperative,” and “exhibited no abnormal indications.”

Rosenhan’s study and its opening question, “If sanity and insanity exist, how shall we know them?” remains today a powerful question of the legitimacy of psychiatric diagnosis. He noted how most mental health professionals would insist they are sympathetic toward the mentally ill. But it is more likely that “an exquisite ambivalence” characterizes their relationships with psychiatric patients. The mentally ill, said Rosenhan, are society’s current lepers. Negative attitudes are the natural offspring of the labels patients wear.

A psychiatric label has a life and influence of its own. Once the impression has been formed that the patient is schizophrenic, the expectation is that he will continue to be szhizophrenic. When a sufficient amount of time has passed, during which the patient has done nothing bizarre, he is considered to be in remission and available for discharge. But the label endures beyond discharge. . . . Such labels, conferred by mental health professionals, are as influential on the patients as they are on his relatives and friends, and it should not surprise anyone that the diagnosis acts on all of them as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Psychiatry had a guild interest at the time for revising psychiatric diagnosis. Citing an article by M. Wilson in their book, Psychiatry Under the Influence, Whitaker and Cosgrove noted where APA leaders felt psychiatry was under siege and worried that it could be headed for extinction.

Psychiatry in the 1970s faced a crisis of legitimacy and Rosenhan was one of its opponents who intensified the crisis.  Although the publication of the DSM-III would become an answer to that crisis, Rosenhan’s study threatened to discredit psychiatry before that makeover could be accomplished—to recast psychiatry as “a science-driven profession that saves lives.” The censored history of psychiatry presented by Lieberman attempts to present “an extreme makeover” of a profession that may still be more “pseudo” than science. Whitaker and Cosgrove’s comment seems to hit the mark:

Remaking psychiatric diagnoses could be part of a larger effort by psychiatry to put forth a new image, which metaphorically speaking, would emphasize that psychiatrists were doctors, and that they treat real ‘diseases.’