New APA President: Same Old Cheerleading

Philip Hickey, PhD
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As my readers know, I am a great fan of former APA President Jeffrey Lieberman, MD.  His regular articles on Psychiatric News were always helpful to the anti-psychiatry cause, and he will be greatly missed.

But his successor, Paul Summergrad, MD, has recently posted his first presidential message, APA Poised to Take Advantage of Unique Time in History, and it is already clear that not much has changed.  Cheerleading and unabashed self-congratulations are still the order of the day.

Dr. Summergrad gets right to the point.

“We are in a unique period in the history of psychiatry. The recognition and understanding that psychiatric illnesses are the most common disabling and preeminent disorders of young people is now widespread.”

He doesn’t, however, mention that the reason psychiatric “illnesses” are so common in young people is that psychiatry has spuriously medicalized every conceivable problem of childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.  What used to be considered disobedience, misbehavior, temper tantrums, shyness, social awkwardness,etc., have all been transformed into disabling “illnesses” by psychiatric decree.

“As we recognize the frequency of these disorders, we also recognize their burden—in human suffering, in wasted lives, in the ravages of the wildfires that race across developing brains, leaving young people stunted and besieged. There is also the cost, both psychological and financial, in years of life lost to disability from both mental and medical illness and in lives languishing in the throes of the judicial and criminal justice systems, instead of a compassionate and caring medical system.”

” . . . ravages of the wildfires that race across developing brains…”!  Wow!  I’m tempted to ask for pictures of this, but psychiatry’s ever-busy department of animated brain images might take me seriously.

” . . . years of life lost to disability…”  But he makes no mention of the fact that it was psychiatry who invented the false and self-serving message that depression is a chronic illness for which a person needs to take pills for life.  Nor does he point out that taking antidepressants makes the depression worse in the long term.  Nor does he mention psychiatry’s false and disempowering message that “schizophrenia” is a degenerative brain illness whose victims should be actively discouraged from gainful employment of any sort, and who also must take neurotoxic drugs for life.

And there are a great many people who didn’t find psychiatry’s medical system compassionate or caring.

“For 170 years, we have been in a position of trust as fiduciaries for our science and profession. We must continue to live up to that trust.”

Sounds good.  But he makes no mention of the extent to which psychiatry abused and continues to abuse its public trust through its corrupt and self-serving links to pharma.  There’s no mention of the ghost-written articles and text books; the fraudulent research; the APA sponsored CME programs that were nothing more than pharma commercials; the Key Opinion Leaders who went on the road as paid pharma salesmen; etc…

“The very real scientific opportunities before us are unprecedented in human history. We have never before had the capacity to image the brain, to see the impact of genetic abnormalities on neurodevelopment, or begin to understand the complex ways our brains shape our perceptions of the world and in turn are shaped by them.”

Great neurological breakthroughs are just around the corner!  Sounds familiar.

“Across this country every day, psychiatrists take excellent care of patients in hospitals, offices, and yes, under bridges and in prisons.”

Under bridges?  I don’t think many psychiatrists are working under bridges.

” . . . as we talk about mental health, we need to find simple and direct language to communicate with ourselves, our patients, and the public. We should take advantage of the increased public interest in mental health and partner with allies in the media to amplify our message.”

” . . . partner with allies in the media to amplify our message.”  Dr. Summergrad clearly intends to continue to use the media to polish psychiatry’s tarnished image.  I wonder how long it will take journalists to realize that they are being duped.

Dr. Summergrad encourages his members “…to put aside internecine battles, especially those driven by ideology, and go where the science takes us.”  But in his articles he reinforces all the psychiatric dogma and ideology that drive and underpin psychiatry’s side of the debate.  He routinely refers to psychiatry’s subject matter as “illnesses” and he talks about searching for the causes of these “illnesses” in the brain.  He stresses the fact that psychiatry is a medical specialty, whose members are “physician experts” on mental health, and whose clients are “patients.”

He affords no acknowledgement to the fact that alternative conceptual frameworks have been systematically marginalized and suppressed by psychiatry for decades.  His call to follow the science rings hollow against the backdrop of a psychiatry whose primary tenet is the unproven assumption that all significant problems of thinking, feeling, and/or behaving are brain illnesses, best ameliorated by drugs and other somatic interventions.

The science has been pointing the way for decades.  But psychiatry has adamantly refused to follow.  But we don’t have to wonder or speculate as to what Dr. Summergrad means by putting “internecine battles” aside.  He has already told us:

“[Psychiatrists need to help] . . . others understand what we know so well as physicians—that these illnesses are real, disabling, and strongly associated with medical comorbidity, but also amenable to care, treatment, and the power of contemporary science.”

I think it’s fairly clear that Dr. Summergrad’s recipe for ending the internecine battles is for those of us on this side of the issue to abandon our errors and allow the physician experts to help us understand what they know so well.  And why do they know this so well?  Because they are physicians!  “Trust me, I’m a doctor!”  Real physicians abandoned this line of “reasoning” in the fifties and sixties, but in psychiatry, credential arrogance is still thriving as a substitute for logic and science.

. . .

Dr. Summergrad’s article is pure, self-aggrandizing cheerleading and spin – devoid of serious content.  He describes the APA as  ” . . . this great organization . . . “, and psychiatric activity as  ” . . . our . . . selfless efforts . . .”.  He writes of  ” . . . the strength of [the APA’s] intellectual and human capital…”, and he urges his fellow APA members to embrace their role  ” . . . as international leaders in psychiatry . . . ”

I suggest that a client presenting himself to a psychiatrist expressing this kind of self-congratulatory rhetoric would quickly acquire the label “grandiose”, especially if his actual endeavors were characterized by the kind of spurious concepts, destructive practices and venality that pervade psychiatry.  Organized psychiatry does not engage in much critical self-scrutiny.

Dr. Summergrad’s article contains most of the standard text-bites that we’ve come to expect from psychiatry’s leadership.  These include:

  1. Psychiatrists treat real illnesses.
  2. These illnesses are the most prevalent, most disabling, and most costly of all illnesses.
  3. The great breakthroughs with regards to brain pathology and targeted treatments are just around the corner.
  4. Most of the victims of these illnesses go undiagnosed and untreated.
  5. Many of them end up in jail and prison.
  6. Victims of these illnesses are stigmatized and discriminated against.
  7. Psychiatrists are real doctors – really!
  8. Psychiatrists are selfless, and are dedicated to the care of their patients.
  9. Psychiatry is scientific.
  10. Psychiatry needs to be integrated with primary care.
  11. Psychiatric illnesses are treatable.
  12. Psychiatrists are also victims of stigma.
  13. This stigma is entirely undeserved.
  14. If people understood us, they would agree with us.  We need to get our message out.

Dr. Summergrad concludes:

“Our patients, their families, and our profession need our counsel, guidance, and selfless efforts, so that when we look back, we can all be proud of our work and accomplishments. I am honored to take on this responsibility—to serve and to work for the benefit of our patients, our profession, and our communities—and to work with you to achieve these ends.”

 The claim of “selfless efforts” rings a little hollow when attributed to a profession whose average income is $200,000 (Salary.com), and against the background of ignominy highlighted in Dollars for Docs and various exposés .  But I’m probably just being petty.  I’m sure that Dr. Biederman and all the other psychiatrists who benefitted from pharma’s generous largesse earned every penny.

I look forward to more enlightening messages from Dr. Summergrad.

* * * * *

Dr. Hickey’s post first appeared on his website,
Behaviorism and Mental Health

18 COMMENTS

  1. Dr. Hickey — Thanks again. I get disillusioned beyond what I though possible with every post you create. I trust that you believe that is healthy for me.

    So, in the recent comments showing up on MIA, a survivor stresses the point of honesty as not just psychiatry’s problem, in that their not known for it, but it’s clear solution to its problem with rep and cred. I realize it has not nearly the problems it deserves in these ways and not at all adequate headaches to slow down its ridiculous influence on power relations and the courts. But as far as the honesty that would save it’s ass…

    Were people who became gravely concerned about their sanity or capacity to feel happy and safe in the world to show up at a psychiatrist’s office and say, “Doc, what have I got?” and the doctor replied, “No telling in that sense, I can’t help you like that.” That would be honest? And what are they afraid of, then? If some can decide they have further ability to aid and advise the client without the unrelenting condescension, pressure tactics, and ganging up that they organize in “hospitals”, why can’t they all?

    They got in it for this is why.

      • Dr. Hickey, I saw you considerate reply some previous day, and still mean to read the thread to this article before moving ahead to the most recent post that you have worked so hard to churn out in keeping up the demanding times. Also, the release of angry emotions that informed my initial comment above, what you know to cal postponed affect, along with reading the highly supportive archived first post of Paris Williams, has apparently allowed me to take steps in my recovery process. So I want to respond to your reply forthwith and adjust my remarks, in light of your helpful redirection.

        Their untenable position must bear mostly on the attempts to gain from further exploitation of their proclaimed intentions to work as patient advocates, or at least that seems central to their growing difficulty with self-justification given the level of negative outcomes for their services.
        I can’t see more accurate words for than cheap and shabby for how they mean to consign to the dustbin their failures to date, actually. At other times different adjectives came first, though.

        It isn’t always that the doctors and doctors’s helpers I’ve met started their day intending to wreak havoc on civil and human rights. But in my clearest memory, only one incident stands out in which I saw a patient attack, literally, anyone, and I lived through one unsuccessful attempt directed at me. The first happened in a private room, where the smaller patient standing uncertainly in a cast from foot and ankle to above the knee struck out in annoyance on being forced to participate in health checks, brought a perfectly justifiable anger reaction from the larger attendant, who severely scolded him. Partly, because he had barely to adjust himself to have successfully escaped the breeze of this near miss of a rude light tap, and partly because the psych tech was an Ecstasy head and seemed to have conserved some natural polite restraint despite the substance experimentation, that was the extent of it.

        But I have seen numerous barely legal, questionably legal, unsafe, and ill-considered physical attacks on patients, most motivated by pre-existing animosity. There is no way that force should be thought potentially compatible with therapeutic change. How could the change become anything like therapeutic until the person overcomes the effects of the force on their own some other place, some other time and way. The people who defend this type of “care” are not the brightest folks, no matter how far or high they got so far in their career. Menninger, for example, left something to posterity, sent his mea culpa to Szasz, but how minimal is the efficacy entailed by that?

  2. Hi Dr Hickey,

    “Under bridges?”

    I think Dr Summergrad might have been referring to the times when the psychiatrists take the opportunity to join the big pharma execs on luxury yachts, smoke big Havanas, and snifters of brandy and sail on by all those homeless people they have helped. Well, will help if they ever manage the great breakthrough that’s just round the corner. Puff puff, snift snift.

    Good news is that the new boss same as the old boss. And the public is becoming more aware of the fraud.

    I also note Dr S said “we need to find simple and direct language to communicate with ourselves”. Is he talking to himself? Bad sign lol.

    Thanks for the article. Your last couple have sparked quite a bit of debate.

    Regards
    Boans

  3. Another concise article Dr Hickey. Your counterpoints are like precision bombs. Its pointless to argue with Psychiatry, and only slightly more productive to preach to the Choir here. How do we take our arguments to the mainstream? I cringe when I read Huffington Post. Deep in the comments section there is usually a psychiatrist reassuring the faithful that its “a chemical imbalance” only they can see, and only other special, enlightened, people can understand. Its all very predictable, so ought to be easy to counter?

    • Michael,

      That’s the big question. They have the money, and they have the media in their pocket. My hope is that if we keep pointing out how spurious and destructive their activities are, and how they’re routinely duping the media, journalists will begin to come on board. That will be the turning point. Robert Whitaker used to be a mainstream journalist who set out to write what he thought would be a fairly standard mental health piece. He became alarmed at what he uncovered. Eventually others will follow.

    • I see the issue with attacking psychiatry as a means to reach the public failing because it leaves a vacuum. It isn’t like slavery where it is freedom vs being owned as the struggles of people don’t go away if psychiatry goes away. So, does the public look to the medical community which has an infrastructure in place no matter how pathetic or to MIA which has slim offerings other than bashing psychiatry. I think if you are able to get some grass-roots real care for people, they would beat a path to your door. If you wish to stick with the slavery analogy, think underground railroad.

      This is from a random member of the public with Adjustment Disorder being the only label assigned to me. I took it in stride because it allowed insurance to pay for several psychologist’s visits, and it assisted me in getting my medical doctors to take my physical health seriously instead of just shoving antidepressants at me. I only call this out because I wanted you to know what perspective I come from; I have no skin in this battle from either education or experience.

  4. Dr. Hickey,

    Thank you for highlighting Dr. Summergrad’s groundbreaking approach to psychiatry. He is a psychiatrist who knows the most important job for any Prez of the APA. (#1 rule of thumb for all shrinks aspiring to head up that formidable club: Become the greatest cheerleader!) You did such a splendid job breaking down his message, there’s little more to say on the matter, except for pointing out the mysterious circumstances preceding his rise to power. (I began researching his credentials online and can assure you, he has powers that no mere mortal should possess.)

    Dr. Joseph Biederman famously compared himself to God, but now there’s Dr. Summergrad.

    For whoever would like to observe moment that auspicious signs, from on High, foretold Dr. Summergrad’s rise to the APA stump of greatness, I suggest watching just a bit of the following one hour Youtube (of a talk that he gave on “The Future of Psychiatry,” at the Department of Psychiatry, Universiy of Florida College of Medicine, exactly a year ago).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvhYoKnE_-U

    Specifically, pay close attention to the very first 30 seconds of that Youtube video, which is most unsettling. If you watch it carefully, you’ll see the good doctor standing in the wings, before coming on to the podium, looking rather, well, devious, I think, as his presenter explains that the building has just been struck by lightning.

    She has an unintended deadpan (dignified academic psychiatrist) air about her, as she indirectly informs her audience, that there are no escapes from the coming hour’s lecture.

    There’s really nothing they can do beyond sitting tight through Dr. Summergrad’s talk, as all computer systems are down, even the toilets are not working.

  5. Thank you again, Dr. Hickey, for speaking the truth and being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Those of us who have been unjustly defamed, discredited, and tortured by psychiatrists are grateful for the ethical doctors, nurses, social workers, and journalists who do speak the truth.