Psychiatry: a useless profession

I do not have a lot of faith in the profession of psychiatry. I am familiar with the work of Jung, and only somewhat with Freud, and I regard them both as brilliant men and trailblazers. Freud came to the conclusion that children abused before the age of five would not remember that abuse even as it affected them for life. I think that is a brilliant insight.

Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is taken from the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. I am somewhat confident that it is a real thing, and in fact have a been exposed to it both at work and in my personal life. However, psychiatrists are pill dispensers first, diagnosticians second, and the DSM contains hundreds of disorders that have been voted on by members of the profession. I don’t buy that, don’t buy any of it, don’t imagine that there is ADD or defiant personality disorder or anything else. There are just people in pain.

People go through stages of growth, and have periods of high and low tension, for instance, during a divorce. Such times of trauma can lead to anger and depression, but people have to go through those things, not around them. The pills psychiatrists prescribe offer an artificial way around anger and depression.

I have a theory about antidepressants – I think they work for a brief while and then the return diminishes, and people start to flatline. Once in my single life I considered dating a woman and was chatting her up, trying to find if there was mutual interest there. She confessed to me that she was on Zoloft, and for that reason was undatable, as she had no sex drive. Maybe she just wanted me to go away, and if so, got her wish. But as I see it, the antidepressant had shortened her range of feeling, both on the negative (depressed) side, but also on the side of joy. She was caught in the effects of a drug that was robbing her of her humanity.

Two of my three older brothers were said to be bipolar, and indeed they were in misery. I could not bring friends or girlfriends around the house, as I was ashamed of them. I accepted all that I was told about manic depression, and thought the psychiatrists knew what they were doing when they sent Tommy away for electroshock therapy, and put Joe on drugs that kept him in his room when he was not working his job.

It would take me years to forge a new opinion of their condition (all of my birth family is now deceased). A little family history is in order. My Dad’s family lived on a small dairy  farm near Great Falls, Montana. Dad was born in 1917, and sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s, he walked into the barn to find his father swinging from a rafter, dead. He was traumatized. They all were but Dad especially because he found the body.

Dad somehow found the money to pay for a monument to Grandpa, a very large headstone in the Protestant cemetery in Great Falls (suicides were not allowed to be buried in the Catholic cemetery). I saw that headstone some years back, and to me it screamed of guilt, Dad’s guilt. This is the thing about suicides – it is those left behind who suffer. There is still a lot of anger in that family, in the aunts and uncles and cousins. It lingers.

One day when I was very young, and trust me, I will tie all of this together, I was banging on the piano in our living room when Tommy came out and told me to stop. I did not stop, and when he came out again he caught me with a roundhouse fist to the jaw. I woke up groggy, but do not remember pain. Where was Mommy? Where was Daddy?  I recall being alone, but am told that in trauma young children often block things out.

What Tommy did was pay it down. I did not realize it at the time, and would not for many, many years. I then came upon information in a book about PTSD, and how its symptoms are often misdiagnosed as manic depression or even schizophrenia. What if, I wondered, Tommy and Joe were beaten up as kids, and what if their “manic depression” was really PTSD? Who would have done the beating? Could it be that man with the drinking problem, the one that found his dad hanging from the rafters of the barn? He seems the most likely candidate.

One more aspect of this from another viewpoint, that of my third brother Steve, who went on to become a Catholic priest, and was widely admired. Maybe in that same book, or somewhere else, I read that super achievers are often smart kids who figure out that the way to avoid physical abuse in an abusive household is the be perfect. Steve was indeed that, star student, good athlete, and most importantly for a Catholic family, a priest. Could it be that his choices were dictated by doing his best to avoid getting beat up by his dad?

I do not recall my Dad ever beating me up. When Joe spoke at his funeral, he made allusion to dad having to kick his ass every now and then, as if he had it coming. Both Joe and Tom died unmarried and childless, each rarely experiencing anything resembling happiness.

Manic depression, unlike say … narcissism, is hard to diagnose. It is characterized by periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated mood that last from days to weeks. What if it is temporary, and caused by trauma. Does it go away? I think yes, it would go away, so that a person suffering this “disorder” might find comfort and happiness as his thoughts cleared up, and his circumstances improved. I believe that “bipolar disorder”, as it is now known, is a rare thing.

There are a lot of dysfunctional households in this country, and in those households we will find a lot of alcohol abuse and violence affecting kids. I was lucky in that I did not catch it from dad, and being the youngest really only experienced the tail of the comet. Tom, Joe and Steve all had much more to cope with than I did, although I cannot say I was happy in that household. I was not. I did not attain true happiness until my early forties when I went not to a psychiatrist, but a therapist, who helped me understand my family, my choices in life, and who, knowingly or not, set me free. Because of him I was able to get my head straight, meet a wonderful woman, and go on to lead a happy life.

I started out by ragging on psychiatrists, and I stand by that, but I believe in talk therapy. If any reader finds his or herself in an untenable situation, I urge you give it a try, and keep trying until you, like me, find the right therapist.

12 thoughts on “Psychiatry: a useless profession

  1. One of my favorite terms: Quack.
    That’s all I have, many more here, far more capable and experienced than I will cite the benefits of psychiatry – to big, Big, BIG Pharma.

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  2. The profession knows the limits. And history, like retirement homes, asylums set relatives free to work in the factories. Before, the family looked after the old and the troubled. Today, the job is quite similar, make people work, pun intended. Reality can’t be changed, so we have to adjust. As with physical health, one has to actively do the work, all tying into the esoteric, looking within. Studying psychology leads to many insights, lately I listened to Prf Sam Vaknin. I came to the conclusion, narcissism is the key concept, personal life, relationships, society, the human condition, individualisation.

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    1. The original title of this post was “NPD”, or narcissistic personality disorder. We have all been affected by narcissists, as they manifest in manipulative relationships, the workplace, and politics. But I could not lead on to manic depression, and so had to eliminate everything regarding narcissism for another day. Your last sentence is key and critical.

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  3. “…children abused before the age of five would not remember that abuse even as it affected them for life.”

    “…times of trauma can lead to anger and depression.”

    One now-ubiquitous manifestation of young-adolescent physical trauma and especially later-adolescent psychological trauma is the “I Think I Must Be Gay” Syndrome: a palpable, insecurity-driven, debilitating disorder that the corrupt quacks have turned upside-down and worked obsessively to try to legitimize as normal, natural cognition and behavior with no root causes.

    The entire profession and its enablers are a massive collective disgrace.

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  4. I think we’ve all heard about “primitive” tribes where certain members who display abnormal behaviors we would label “schizophrenia” or “bipolar disorder” are recognized, within the tribe, as possessing a talent or gift. They are mentored by the tribe’s shamans, and they become shamans themselves.

    I’m an ex-drunk. Though I don’t go to meetings anymore, I wouldn’t have gotten sober if not for AA. The organization isn’t popular with mainstream media anymore. In fact, it’s become a cultural joke. But I think it may be the only successful non-profit organization that has not been corrupted by outside interests. After almost a hundred years, it still exists solely and exclusively to serve the disadvantaged people it says it serves. How rare is that? Can you name any other nonprofit that you can confidently say that about? The guy who founded AA, Bill Wilson, was a low-down, scheming, conniving, greedy capitalist con man, so he knew all the angles. He structured AA to be uncorruptable by bastards like him. I think that’s why AA is now so widely disparaged in our capitalism-warped society today… and why it’s still successful for drunks who are desperate enough to submit to its 12-step method.

    A lot of people in the psychiatric profession sell their alternatives for alcoholic recovery by talking about AA’s low recovery rates. Of course, there is no way to keep accurate records of AA’s recovery rates due to its informal, unstructured, nonprofessional, anonymous nature. Attempts to estimate its success rates are further stymied by the fact that many people who don’t want to get sober–or who aren’t even alcoholics–are forced to attend meetings against their will: by the courts, by their families, by their employers. It’s completely inaccurate to say tAA failed because those people don’t stop drinking, but that’s exactly what many in the psychiatric profession do. My own experience, and that of many many people I know, is that AA’s brainwashing tactics work like a charm if you’re a drunk who recognizes that your brain needs washing and you are so utterly desperate that you’re willing to do the work. (Most people–inside and outside of AA–are not willing or able to do the hard work that would actually help them improve their lives.)

    But lots and lots of people are happy to take drugs or spend money on any ol’ nonsense that promises to improve their lives with little or no effort required of them. Psychiatry, beholden to the pharmaceutical industry, panders to–even fosters and encourages–this mindset.

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  5. Mark,
    I found your comments regarding professional psychiatry interesting and agree with your general criticisms. This brief comment will be limited to referring you, and those reading this, to a single extraordinary man, Dr. Thomas Szasz, in knowing that others perhaps hitherto unfamiliar with his work, will benefit from the referral. A quick Google of his name will prove enlightening. Having read most of his work, I will mention only three books although all are brilliant. It is insufficient to label Szasz as merely an iconoclast, a dismissive oversimplification prompted by his first world shattering book, “The Myth of Mental Illness”. Had it not been written by a physician of his credentials it might never have seen the light of day. The other two works I will mention are his brilliant, “Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry”, and a small insightful work about language, “The Second Sin”. Lastly, around 28 years ago I placed online a single page containing other links that should interest those already familiar with Szasz’ work as well as those discovering now that intellectual giant. Today it remains, with some link-rot, at bigeye.org/szasz.htm

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    1. Thank you Stewart. I will look into this man. I am intrigued by the title of his first work, The Myth of Mental Illness, as it reinforces my belief that neither of my brothers were “mentally ill,” but rather the victims of a long chain of circumstances that did not start with Grandpa’s suicide, but rather played forward. My brother Joe was a kind and caring and deeply troubled man, not well understood by any around him. The way to approach him was via humor and baseball, which I did, though not often enough .

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      1. I know of few if any differences in treatment (hah!) that I received from my parents as to that of my siblings. Other than me being a title-less “middle” child… my sister being “the only girl”, my younger brother being “the baby” and my older brother being ‘THE oldest” and “first-born”. But I can no longer even mention our youth, as they seem in complete disbelief of my claims of loveless, indifference and simply awful negligent parenting. I believe that they were similarly damaged, as was I, but have neither recognized such, nor would attempt to dig. It is difficult for me to look at them, bury my knowledge and speak on common less dangerous subjects.

        My chain of circumstances, from first-hand knowledge (it could have been longer) began with with my paternal grandfather – a pompous ass – and also should never have had children (like my parents). I think it is fair to say though, according to #1 Son and SwissMiss that I have broke that cycle… that chain of plain shittiness.

        Back to psychiatry… pitch it, but I agree with you, a good experienced listener has great value.

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  6. I’m glad your therapist could help you. Therapists, in my experience, are essentially a combination of personal coach and professional friend, but without the emotional involvement that makes friends less effective at giving advice. They can help with a lot of things if the patient isn’t sabotaging the process.

    Antidepressants really are awful. The sexual dysfunction can be permanent for some people, even after the medication is stopped. It doesn’t help that the science behind them is shoddy.

    Speaking of shoddy science, the evidence for parent-to-child effects is very bad. Very few of the papers on the subject account for genetic effects, making the research essentially worthless. After all, thinking of your family’s history, isn’t a genetically heritable strain of mental illness an equally plausible explanation? Suicide, alcoholism, violence and bipolar are related issues, particularly in men.

    It’s easy to see why the idea is so widespread. Unhappy parents often have unhappy children. The kids’ often unpleasant interactions with their parents exist in the real world for us humans, while their DNA is theoretical. But DNA matters. I really recommend you to read Judith Rich Harris’s book, The Nurture Assumption, on this subject. She has a very readable style, but what she wrote about the state of psychological research (admittedly, over twenty years ago) is pretty chilling. The evidence for parents’ behaviour shaping their children’s personalities is almost as bad as that for viruses.

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  7. My late father was a child neurologist, many things I learnt from him over the years. He would call psychiatrists legal drug dealers. He had no time for them or the big pharmas with their “grubby hands” as he would put it.

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