On Canada’s popular national CBC radio program The Sunday Edition, psychiatrist Jeffrey Lieberman today described Robert Whitaker as “a menace to society.” Lieberman is the Chairman of Psychiatry at Columbia University, a former head of the American Psychiatric Association and author of the new book Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry. Whitaker is the publisher of this website, whose 2010 book Anatomy of an Epidemic focused on what science is showing about the long-term effects of psychiatric medications.
During the interview, CBC host Michael Enright asked Lieberman if he was familiar with Whitaker. “Unfortunately I am,” answered Lieberman. Enright then played a clip of Whitaker discussing medication withdrawal problems and research showing that long-term outcomes for people taking psychiatric medications were on average worse than for people who never received any treatments.
Asked for his reaction to Whitaker, Lieberman said, “I have nothing against him personally.” Lieberman then added, “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 then compared taking antidepressants to taking insulin for diabetes.
“Whitaker, he ostensibly considers himself to have been a journalist,” added Lieberman. “God help the publication that employed him.” (Whitaker’s CV is publicly available.)
Enright then asked, “What about his contention that the unmedicated patients did better than the medicated patients?” After a pause, Lieberman responded, “I’d say that’s absolutely wrong. If you do a controlled study with various illnesses, whether it’s schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and you do a randomized study, assign one group to receive whatever the state of the art is in psychiatry including medication, and you assign the other to some innocuous, non-medical type of supportive therapy or whatever, and you follow the people for a period of time, the outcomes will be extraordinarily superior in the treated group… There’s no doubt about it.”
Lieberman did not point to any of the actual studies of long-term outcomes that have been done, and it’s unclear if he was using the conditional future tense as a way of acknowledging that the evidence to support his assertion does not currently exist. It’s also not clear how much time Lieberman meant when he said that treated patients would fare better for “a period of time.”
The Sunday Edition (CBC Radio, April 26, 2015) (Interview with Jeffrey Lieberman begins at 40 minutes, and discussion about Robert Whitaker begins at 51:30.)
A Challenge to Dr. Lieberman — Robert Whitaker Responds (Mad in America, April 26, 2015)