Psychiatrists who believe in and practice the disease model of so-called mental illness to the detriment of their patients are displaying, in my opinion, a trait that the Oxford Dictionary describes as “stupidity” — that is: “behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgment.”
I gradually came to this belief about most psychiatrists as I worked alongside them every day for 28 years in the public mental health system in the SF Bay Area. I’ve probably known 40 or 50 psychiatrists professionally over the past 40 years. I’ve known several of them personally as friends. All of them are bright, accomplished medical doctors who are very dedicated to practicing their specialty of medicine to benefit the health of their patients, as they have been trained to do and as the APA and NIMH reinforces them in doing.
None of them suffer from a lack of intelligence. But only six of them that I’ve known have practiced from a perspective that shows good sense and judgment, and that is because they were not devotees of the disease model of mental illness. Those six medical doctors, like Loren Mosher of Soteria House and my friend and mentor John Weir Perry of Diabasis House, were proponents of a humanistic, heart-centered and non-pathologizing approach to helping people in extreme states and other experiences of emotional suffering.
I’ve previously written about the huge failure of imagination of most psychiatrists that is inherent in their formulation and zealous defense of the psychiatric disease model. I explore that lack of imagination in my article titled “If Madness Isn’t What Psychiatry Says it is, Then What is it?” in the ISPS journal Psychosis. The narrow constraints of the disease model theory and practice create a closed system of thinking where a kind of unquestioning conformity exists — one that lacks the permission for broader imaginative exploration, as was the spark and genesis for the powerful work that RD Laing contributed, for instance. Laing’s heretical rebellion broadened the scope of our understanding. His imagination and brutal honesty allowed him to see the forest for the trees. He could see the bigger picture of the toxic social and economic factors of modern industrial society that alienate and traumatize all of us and our families.
The groundbreaking vision of psychiatrist Carl Jung (who said, “The gods have become diseases… curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room.”) also shows how a broader perspective can help to encourage exploration of our human birthright. We aren’t automatons, faulty beings that need technicians to manage us and modulate an arbitrarily defined range of emotional experience and expression, as psychiatrists seem to do in their assembly-line, med-dispensing function, where they hurriedly scan and adjust the dosages of four or five patients every hour. In contrast, Jung and Perry and other transpersonal and humanistic leaders such as Maslow saw our birthright to include spiritual, soul, psychic, archetypal, mystical, shamanic and mythic dimensions that need to be honored for the sacred manifestations that they are.
Here at MIA I also wrote an article challenging the hubris of psychiatrists that Jung asserted. It’s called “Are Some Psychiatrists Addicted to Deference?” It too focuses on what I’ve come to imagine makes psychiatrists believe what they do and act the way they do towards those they try to serve. Their elevated status as licensed physicians gives them enormous power to dominate in the mental health hierarchy where MDs are held out to be at the top of the food chain. Most psychiatrists that I’ve worked alongside arrogantly expect deference from their patients and co-workers. They take it as impertinence if their ideas and authority are questioned or challenged.
Even though I’ve been speaking out on MIA against the hegemony of the psychiatric power structure and its underlying belief system since 2012, I still want to attempt to further demystify the aura of self-serving legitimacy that most psychiatrists protectively wrap themselves in. I want to do that because of the ongoing chorus of anguish by the people I see every week who have been injured by psychiatry. Dozens of people over the decades have basically asked me the same kind of anguished question: “How can someone like my psychiatrist who is very smart, someone with a medical degree, who has been sitting a few feet away from me for years, keep on totally missing what I need as they persist in treating me like I’m invisible?”
So today, with those many suffering people in my thoughts and that damning question burning away inside me, I decided to write this article on the inherent stupidity of blindly adhering to the failed theory and practice of psychiatry.
The most glaring and tragic fact that shows this blind allegiance to the failed disease model is the real-world track record of that model. There, psychiatry stands alone among all other medical specialties with a death rate of psychiatric patients that has them dying 25 years sooner than the average life expectancy. And this obscene death rate is for so-called diseases — such as what wrongly gets called schizophrenia — that have zero lethal, physical or organic risk. The disease model of psychiatry is also used as justification for true human rights abuses such as forced treatment, medicating children and teens and vulnerable seniors, ECT, psychosurgery and more.
So I think it is fair to say that many psychiatrists display an enormous lack of good sense and judgment — that the stupidity charge that I’m making is possibly deserved.
I’ve seen this disease model-induced stupidity be manifest very clearly when a psychiatrist who has been in the presence of people in emotional distress countless times consistently responds with the most parsimonious amount of empathy and compassion. Because of their true-believer ideology that they were first indoctrinated into in medical school, later reinforced by guild membership, most psychiatrists perceive the suffering person sitting only a few feet away from them through the aperture of pathology. And from that clinically detached, diagnosis-bound vantage point, they emotionally distance themselves and blindly inflict medical interventions that often harm rather than help the person in distress. They also proclaim that such illness is lifelong, and diagnostically label the person in a hope-killing ritual ceremony of identity degradation.
It’s a testament to the power of the brainwashing that has been done to psychiatrists that such a rigid, unscientific and almost religiously zealous belief in so-called mental illness is the hallmark of these practitioners. Psychiatrists are in the firm grip of a collective force field of an almost fundamentalist belief system that blinds them to the harm they unwittingly do and the human rights abuses they commit. NAMI, big pharma, major university research, enormous federal DSM-based program funding and draconian forced treatment laws all combine to reinforce, promote and financially support this belief system. From within the cultic echo chamber of convention and the orthodoxy of medical schools, reinforced by the constant drumbeat of the APA and the NIMH, there is tremendous pressure exerted on the 25,000 psychiatrists in the United States to not deviate from the disease model party line.
The very brave dissident psychiatrists that I’ve personally known such as Loren Mosher, Peter Breggin, Daniel Fisher and John Weir Perry all paid dearly for breaking ranks with their fellow psychiatrists. They were ostracized as class traitors, were marginalized and mocked for their humane approaches to helping people.
I like what the social prophet George Orwell bluntly cautioned about the human proclivity for blindly embracing stupidity: “To see what is in front of one’s nose takes a constant struggle.” In reading Orwell’s 1946 essay, I started to get some more clues to the riddle of why psychiatrists can behave with such a lack of good sense and judgment, can blindly cling to a paradigm that defies the facts, no matter how smart and well-meaning they are. I think old Orwell contributed something more than what is revealed via cognitive dissonance theory, which tells of how we may deceive ourselves and create self-serving narratives that relieve our emotional discomfort even though they clearly are not objectively true.
Orwell wrote, “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against a solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”
We see this dynamic too in Anderson’s iconic story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” which has become a classic idiom about logical fallacies — errors in reasoning that invalidate the argument. In that story the naïve but honest and clear sight of the child was able to see through the hoax that others believed, and soon they began to see through it too:
“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.
The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.
At age 71 now, pausing in these reflections, it seems to me that the real-time flow of history often has a way of blinding us to what came before and what may emerge next. This chapter of how we understand and respond to the emotional suffering of others is clearly dominated by the psychiatric disease model of so-called mental illness. But I believe it will give way to the next chapter that MIA and a vibrant worldwide movement of protest and human-heartedness are ushering in right now.
Every day a growing chorus of voices proclaims the naked truth about the disease model of psychiatry. It’s not a matter of if it will collapse, but when. Psychiatry is based on a logical fallacy — the idea that emotional distress must be caused by physical disease — and for that reason it cannot endure.
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.