Former APA President: “What Does the New York Times Have Against Psychiatry?”


In Medscape, former American Psychiatric Association president Jeffrey A. Lieberman discusses the “indignity” that psychiatry suffered as a result of a recent article by Tanya Luhrmann in the New York Times.

Luhrmann’s article was previously reported by Mad In America.

Lieberman describes Luhrmann’s article as “incredibly unscholarly, misinformed, confused” and “destructive.” He also describes the British Psychological Society’s Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia report as being based in a “preposterous” set of ideas that fail to properly distinguish “symptoms of disorder” from actual “disease.”

“Why would such a report be printed in a widely respected publication such as the New York Times?” asks Lieberman. “What other medical specialty would be asked to endure an anthropologist opining on the scientific validity of its diagnoses? None, except psychiatry. Psychiatry has the dubious distinction of being the only medical specialty with an anti-movement. There is an anti-psychiatry movement. You have never heard of an anti-cardiology movement, an anti-dermatology movement, or an anti-orthopedics movement. What would give an anthropologist license to comment on something that is so disciplined, bound in evidence, and scientifically anchored?”

What Does the New York Times Have Against Psychiatry? (Medscape, February 18, 2015) (Free registration)


  1. “The British Psychological Society rejects the centrality of diagnosis for seemingly quite different reasons — among them, because defining people by a devastating label may not help them.” Couldn’t “defining people by a devastating label” be considered to be an “indignity” perpetrated by the psychiatric practitioners against all their patients? Perhaps this is why “There is an anti-psychiatry movement?”

    Especially since “These categories — depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder — were assumed to represent biologically distinct diseases, and the goal of the research was to figure out the biology of the disease.”

    But, “That didn’t pan out.” So,” In 2013, the institute’s director, Thomas R. Insel, announced that psychiatric science had failed to find unique biological mechanisms associated with specific diagnoses … Diagnoses were neither particularly useful nor accurate for understanding the brain, and would no longer be used to guide research.”

    “What would give an anthropologist license to comment on something that is so disciplined, bound in evidence, and scientifically anchored?” Well, now that the science actually proves is that the ADHD drugs and antidepressants cause the bipolar symptoms, as pointed out in this abstract:

    And the bipolar drugs, the antipsychotics, can cause the central symptoms of anticholinergic intoxication, which are almost identical to today’s definition of schizophrenia.

    “Agents with anticholinergic properties (e.g., … neuroleptics …) may have additive effects when used in combination. Excessive parasympatholytic effects may result in … the anticholinergic intoxication syndrome … Central symptoms may include memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, hallucinations, psychosis, delirium, hyperactivity, twitching or jerking movements, stereotypy, and seizures.”

    It strikes me that demeaning people with unscientifically proven “devastating labels” and creating the symptoms of these devastating “illnesses” with the psychotropic drugs should not actually be considered “appropriate medical care” any longer. Psychiatry is really nothing more than defaming, discrediting, and torturing other human beings for profit.

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  2. “What would give an anthropologist license to comment…?”

    Perhaps because anthropologists are the ones who generally comment on moribund social groups, the commentary should be seen as particularly hopeful.

    I can’t believe that Lieberman has resorted to appeals to the inalienable rights of psychiatry, an entity apparently subject to injury and humiliation. Surprised that anti-psychiatry has arisen? Serious lack of insight here, I’d say.

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  3. Those poor, poor psychiatrists, once again picked on by the NYT. just because they prescribe drugs for conditions they don’t understand and claim to be scientific. I thought it particularly rich that Liebermann accused the author of “equat[ing] symptoms with illness,” when that it exactly what the DSM does from page one onward. I was frustrated I could not make a scathing reply, even though I was logged in. Maybe you have to be registered as a medical professional to comment or something. The comments were pretty offensive to me. One would think the fact that there is such a thing as an ‘antipsychiatry’ movement would give one pause – have not heard of an “anticardiology” or “antiimmunology” movement recently…

    —- Steve

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  4. (from the Medscape article) “There are rigorous principles that govern the process of establishing a diagnosis or refining the criteria by which it is identified.” This may be true, but unfortunately doctors aren’t required to adhere to them and most of the time they simply don’t. See, giving someone a diagnosis for the purpose of obtaining insurance coverage. See, giving someone a diagnosis after talking to them for ten minutes or less. See, lump diagnosing an enormous percentage of your patients with bipolar disorder/schizoaffective disorder. Other fields of medicine absolutely are subjected to criticism, including in NYT articles. Psychiatry is not an oppressed people.

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  5. I just can’t resist saying how amused I am by this article. Psychiatrists have become so used to being treated with undeserved deference that they fall to pieces when they get some long-deserved criticism. I have seen other articles by Lieberman where he makes the same complaint. And his other complaint, that psychiatry is the only “medical” specialty that has a whole movement opposing it, is just a riot. It isn’t an argument against being anti-psychiatry. It is an argument for it.

    This man was the president of the American Psychiatric Association! If he is the best psychiatry can up with as their spokesperson, we in the anti-psychiatry movement should expect to win soon.

    Keep the faith, Doctor Lieberman! Write as many articles as you can.

    Maybe you and I can even debate on television, eh? After all, I am just a lifelong schizophrenic, so you would have nothing to fear.

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  6. I agree. It’s very amusing. The only way to please the likes of Lieberman, what with the likes of Robert Spitzer and Allen Frances taking on that DSM revision they had so much to do with, would be to suppress all criticism. A laughable goal when you can’t even get the rank and file behind your own propaganda. The best he can do is this kind of defensive posturing.

    The news, over the internet anyway, is coming out of MIA now, too. That leaves psychiatry’s top stories Lieberman’s feeble defense and the psychiatry professor who uses Seinfield episodes, you know the sitcom ostensibly about “nothing”, to teach his students. It would seem, all told, that the emperor *cough cough* has very little to hide.

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  7. The basic problem is that all the other sciences are based on science, ie: blood work, mri’s urine tests, etc. Psychiatry is a soft science and has no science to back it up. And now that the DSM V came out they’ve made fools of themselves by accepting money to get a special disease put it by an offering doctor! This would never happen in any other branch of medicine. Of course there is an anti-psychiatry movement, because they have no scientific proof to back up their theories and even the NIMH refuse to acknowledge the DSM anymore because it is so ridiculous.

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