The Future of Mental Health Interview Series, Part II

Eric Maisel, PhD
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The Future of Mental Health interview series continues with interviews this past week with James Maddux (on positive clinical psychology), Lucy Johnstone (on critical psychiatry and psychological formulation), Michael Cornwall (on being present to “madness”), Monica Cassani (on beyond meds: everything matters), Tim Carey (on parenting skills and family mental health) and Sharna Olfman (on the science and pseudoscience of children’s mental health.

Here are some highlights.

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From the James Maddux Interview

EM: Many of our readers will have heard of positive psychology. What’s your understanding of what positive psychology is and does?

JM: For me, positive psychology is not a new kind of psychology involving new theories and methodologies but simply a shift in emphasis (although an important one) from mainly studying and trying to understand human problems (depression, anxiety, aggression violence, prejudice) with the goal of reducing them to studying and trying to understand the positive and healthy things that make life worth living (love, friendship, striving, gratitude, resilience) with the goal of trying to increase them.  One could say that positive psychology is concerned with not just helping people survive but helping them flourish.

Please go to the full interview here.

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From the Lucy Johnstone interview

EM: You are in the forefront of what is variously called the anti-psychiatry movement, the critical psychiatry movement, and the critical psychology movement. Can you tell us a little bit about what concerns you about our contemporary paradigm of “diagnosing and treating mental disorders”?

LJ: To put it briefly, Western psychiatry is based on the idea that the various forms of distress that people can suffer from, such as very low mood, extreme anxiety, hearing voices, unusual beliefs, suicidal impulses, self-starvation and so on—are best understood as medical illnesses with mainly biological causes in our genes and biochemistry. As a result, we expect such people to receive a diagnosis, and to be treated with medication, prescribed by doctors and administered by nurses.

This idea has taken hold so strongly that it can seem bizarre to question it. But in fact there has never been any evidence for the so-called biomedical model of mental distress. Obviously all human experience has biological aspects, but despite what you may have read or been told, no one has ever been able to identify the genes or chemicals that are said to cause ‘mental illness.’ On the other hand, we do have a mountain of research to confirm that all kinds of social and relationship adversities massively increase the likelihood of experiencing mental distress. This includes poverty, unemployment, emotional neglect, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying, and so on, as well as more subtle difficulties such as feeling criticized, undermined, invalidated and excluded. These are the causal factors we should be tackling.

Please go to the full interview here.

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From the Michael Cornwall interview.

EM: You come out of a Jungian tradition. Can you tell us a little bit about what in that tradition still speaks to you?

MC: I’ll be 70 in a couple of months but about fifty years ago I was what gets called psychotic on and off for about a year. I went through it gratefully but hellishly without treatment or meds. While I was still emerging from that dark night I ran across Jung’s collected works and from the first paragraph knew that he personally was no stranger to the nightmare dreamscape I’d barely survived.

It was like finding a coded map of a fellow traveler who knew the alien world I had dropped out of sight into … or was swallowed up by. The dark vision of the heart of darkness I had endured was part of the validating Jungian gift to me- and still is. In that vision the hell of subjective emotional experience mirrors the outer hell of the horror of war and torture and the human madness we all swim in every second. But there’s light too—there is actually real love we can have for ourselves and for others—and hope for a better day.

With that hope as my talisman I’ve sat and walked alongside people in madness for about forty years now as a trembling servant or wound stauncher in the face of that boundless mystery. I care as little about dogmatically being immersed in Jungian theory and fawning for his reified status as a demigod as I ever have about the stupid DSM and psychiatry’s lame, albeit tragically failed attempt to scratch the surface of understanding and responding to human emotional suffering.

Please go to the full interview here.

 

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From the Monica Cassani interview

EM: You have been writing the blog “Beyond Meds: Alternatives to Psychiatry.” Can you tell us what prompted you to write that blog and what its intentions are?

MC: About 9 years ago I started following a blog called Furious Seasons. It was authored by journalist Philip Dawdy. It was the first very intelligent critique of psycho-active pharmaceuticals I had encountered. Blogging was one of the first phases of what social media has become. Furious Seasons had a very active commenting section and there I began to engage with others who were questioning the use of psychiatric drugs.

At the same time I met a neuropsychologist who began to encourage my interest in freeing myself from psych drugs. He said he believed it was possible. I had not met anyone who had said that to me before. My husband began encouraging me to blog as he was already blogging. I had not written anything since college so I didn’t really think I could create anything particularly impressive but one day my first post emerged and they just didn’t stop coming.

The trajectory of the work was an unfolding process and not something I planned. At the beginning I thought I’d document my coming off psychiatric drugs. After that it took on a life of its own and the scope became much bigger than just psychiatric drug withdrawal. It became a sort of information resource both for myself and then for others. I simply collected the information I was finding and researching. It became a documenting and sharing of many natural methods of self-care for finding and sustaining health in body, mind and spirit. It also was a place in which I mused (and sometimes ranted) about wider issues in the socio/political and spiritual realms as they pertain to mental health and the human rights issues that surround psychiatry.

Please go to the full interview here.

 

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From the Tim Carey interview:

EM: You believe that children would be helped and would experience less emotional and mental distress if their parents possessed improved parenting skills. What do you mean by “parenting skills”?

TC: One of the premises of parenting might be that the job of parents is to teach their kids to get along without them. “Getting along without them” involves being able to problem solve and make independent decisions. In order to be effective decision makers and to live satisfying and contented lives, people need to be aware of their goals, desires, and purposes and need to be able to evaluate or assess the extent to which they are heading in the direction specified by their inner standards. I consider parenting skills, therefore, those skills that help children: (1) develop clear and important goals; and (2) figure out flexible and persistent ways of achieving their goals. One of the most important goals to have may well be the goal to create the life you want without preventing other people from creating the life they want. Far more important than the things parents do and say is the attitude they have about their parenting. What they say and do will be the manifestation of their attitudes in any particular context. Attitudes of optimism, of “let them be”, and of joy in watching and helping another life develop and blossom will help parents relish their parenting role and will provide the resilience necessary to navigate turbulent times.

Please go to the full interview here.

 

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From the Sharna Olfman interview

EM: You are a Professor of Psychology at Point Park University, a psychotherapist, and the editor/author of a book series with Praeger Press called Childhood in America. Let’s begin with your latest book: The Science and Pseudoscience of Children’s Mental Health. What are the main conclusions?

SO: Parents have been led to believe that popular childhood diagnoses such as ADHD and Bipolar Disorder are well understood illnesses that can be effectively treated with drugs that correct underlying chemical imbalances in the brain. In fact, even the former director of the NIMH, Dr. Thomas Insel has stated publicly that DSM diagnoses like these are premised on questionable science. Symptom clusters such as hyperactivity, impulsivity and poor attention, can no more be said to be illnesses than fever or rash. Furthermore, not a single DSM diagnosis has been credibly linked to a chemical imbalance. While these widely held and highly persuasive beliefs are mere pseudoscience, there is a rich body of genetic and brain research with far reaching implications for diagnosis and treatment that has gone under the radar. Below are some of the findings discussed in Science and Pseudoscience:

+ Two of the world’s leading environmental scientists, Philip Landrigan and Phillipe Grandjean, have identified 1,000 neurotoxins, that are either used in or are byproducts of industry, that pose a direct threat to the developing brains of fetuses and young children. Several of these toxins have proven links to symptoms associated with ADHD, Autism and Learning Disabilities.

+ Diets that are deficient in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) essential for optimal brain development  have also been linked to children’s psychological disturbances. This research underscores the importance of healthy diet and nutritional supplements for maintaining optimal mental health.

+ Epigenetics – the latest iteration in the field of genetics – informs us that environments can alter gene expression. In consequence, the hunt for the ‘bad’ gene is now considered 20th century science. An example of an epigenetic process that is directly relevant to children’s mental health is that exposure to high levels of stress during fetal and infant development can epigenetically alter regions of the brain that help us to cope with anxiety and impulse control.

+ Research on the enteric nervous system (the neurons that innervate the digestive system) and its accompanying microbiome has revolutionized research on Autism, as has functional neurology with its emphasis on the importance of synchrony among different regions of the brain (imagine an orchestra in which all musicians are playing well but the first violinist is playing a half tempo slower than the other musicians). These areas of research will help solve the mystery of the explosive increase in Autism diagnoses and pave the way for effective approaches to treatment.

Please go to the full interview here.

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To see the whole interview roster, please visit here:

And look for my book, The Future of Mental Health: Deconstructing the Mental Disorder Paradigm, on Amazon.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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