From Moses to Jesus to Prozac: A Theory on “Chemical Imbalances” and Faith

Lawrence Kelmenson, MD
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I was surprised when members of my field theorized that emotional suffering (sadness/anxiety) is a physical illness caused by a spontaneous chemical imbalance that takes control of one’s brain. I was stunned when millions eagerly adopted this never-verified idea,1 without any confirming blood test or brain scan.

We’ve all become upset over upsetting circumstances or events. Yet many of these believers either deny the reality of having such reasons for being upset (“My life’s fine; I’ve got no problems. Depression just runs in my family”) or acknowledge reasons but fervently dismiss their reaction to them as unwarranted (“I shouldn’t be getting so upset over such things, so it must be chemical”). They often zealously insist that “antidepressants really fixed my brain chemistry” even after being shown proof that these drugs only work via the placebo effect,2 and even though there’s no way they could distinguish a real effect from a placebo effect. I’ve heard these or similar quotes from many people who’ve come to see me.

I had déjà vu: Where had I encountered such widespread, unshakably devout, illogical thinking before?

Then it came to me. For thousands of years, man has accepted the never-verified idea that our suffering is under the control of an all-knowing/loving god, who’ll heal us if we pray to him regularly (as guided by priests) and “take him into our hearts.” This is parallel to how we now get our ‘chemical imbalance’ healed by regularly asking doctors, who we trust to be wise and caring, for drugs that get taken into our brains.

Both systems utilize parent-like caretakers who alluringly promise easy solutions to life’s difficult realities. Both involve firm belief in a force that’s powerful and fate-controlling, yet completely undetectable (God or an inborn ‘chemical imbalance’). We understandably wish it was true, but on some level probably know it’s highly unlikely. Our faith is reinforced by others around us also believing in it; it seems that if we all pretend together that something is real, then that itself can make it so. We thereby trick ourselves into transiently feeling better upon praying or taking antidepressants, despite their not really doing anything, and despite our troubles still being there.

As Robert Whitaker showed in “Do Antidepressants Work? A People’s Review of the Evidence,” not only do antidepressants’ placebo benefits not last long, but people who take them tend to get more miserable in the long run. This begs the question: Why do they choose to stay with them? Here we find another parallel to other religions: It must be their enduring faith that if they keep believing in ‘chemical imbalances’ and remain steadfastly adherent to pill-taking rituals as guided by their leader, then eventually their patient struggles will be rewarded with everlasting peace and happiness (‘nirvana’ or ‘heaven’).

Why did our society adopt this new faith? Darwin’s and other scientific discoveries in the 1800s-1900s ultimately caused many to question their faith in God. Since everything was now undeniably explainable as a mere consequence of evolution, the concept of some divine master plan became a less plausible explanation for our existence/suffering. Hence, our need for hope of some miraculous but plausible solution to life’s unavoidable struggles became unmet. This likely led to our colluding to found our “depression is a treatable disease caused by a chemical imbalance” religion, since it could masquerade as a credible science. Its seeming to come from science was especially fitting, since it was science that had dethroned God.

It started with the Church of Prozac ca. 1990 AD. That’s exactly when the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans began its big rise (from 6% up to 25%, after staying about 6% for decades).3 Antidepressant use rose 400% during this time.4 This supports the idea that our ceasing to hear God drove us to embrace ‘Listening to Prozac’.5 Along with other factors I discussed in an earlier article, it explains why antidepressants and the chemical-imbalance theory, despite being around since the ‘50s, didn’t catch on until 1990.

religious chemical imbalance faithIt’s likely not coincidence that their symbols are nearly identical: The cross-like medical symbol Caduceus is said to originate from Moses’s affixing a snake to a pole so that his people, who were being incessantly bitten by snakes, could be healed upon viewing it. It occurred as they wandered endlessly through the desert, desperately searching for the promised land;6 it’s all a clear metaphor for man’s unending quest for release from his painful struggles. Jesus later promised to heal his followers just as Moses’ snake-on-a-pole healed his.7 But thanks to Darwin, we’ve had to move out of the “City of God”8 and into “Prozac Nation.”9

As far as me — I’m a realist. So I expect that anything that’s survived since the dawn of civilization, as religion has, will last forever in some form. No doubt people will never give up hope that someday the long-awaited messiah, or the elusive chemical imbalance, or some other future savior, will be revealed to us.

Show 9 footnotes

  1. “Why Has It Taken So Long for Biological Psychiatry to Develop Clinical Tests,” Kapur, S, et al, 2012, Molecular Psych, 17: 1174-9.
  2. The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth, Kirsch, I, 2010, Basic Books.
  3. “Growth of the Religiously Unaffiliated,” General Social Survey 1972-2012, National Opinion Research Center, Funded by National Science Foundation, and PRRI Surveys 2014-2016, as reported in “Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion,” Public Religion Research Institute, Jones, R, Cox, D, et al, Sept 22, 2016.
  4. “Antidepressant Use in Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2005-2008” NCHS Data Brief No. 76, Oct 2011, Pratt, L, Brody, D, and Gu, Q.
  5. Listening to Prozac, Kramer, P, 1993, Viking Press.
  6. Christian Standard Bible, Numbers:21:6-9.
  7. Christian Standard Bible, John:3:14-15.
  8. City of God, St. Augustine of Hippo, early 5th Century AD.
  9. Prozac Nation, Wurtzel, E, 1994, Riverhead Trade.

56 COMMENTS

  1. Nice article Dr. K.

    But many religious people do NOT believe God automatically heals those who pray. I have been praying for healing from the harm my stay in the Church of Psychiatry created. Still sickly.

    The Bible contains many examples of sick or disabled people–good people–who were not healed.

    I think He may be saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.” At least my soul is better. 🙂

    • I remember praying fervently while in the psych annex, for protection of my mind and spirit. I knew every time they gave me “meds”, I was slipping away. I prayed that one person would see that my pain was not only understandable but warranted. I believe for me, that my focus continuing to stay on my faith and not on the self proclaimed human gods, is what literally saved my life. His grace was sufficient for me.

    • Lawrence, this is not your best article. In fact, you know better than this.

      The more accurate version of your theory is that psychiatry is a false religion whose power of deception depends upon mimicking true religion.

      Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt. Those who had faith and humility enough to look upon the brass serpent were in fact healed. Those who were proud or lacked the faith to behold the brass serpent could not be healed, but perished instead. Those who perished may have been too sophisticated to exercise faith in God enough to behold the brass serpent. All they had to do is look. Some things are so simple and true that they escape the attention of those who are too proud to believe.

      Christ will return to earth. He also has power to heal all those who believe in Him and exercise faith sufficient to be healed. His healing comes in His own way and His own time, according to what is best for those who put their trust in Him. Just as Moses lifted up the brass serpent, and those who beheld the brass serpent were healed, so too was Christ lifted up upon the cross. All those who discover how to truly behold Christ will find healing in time, whether in this life or the next.

      It is silly and sloppy thinking to make light of religion in the way that you do. The real problem is that psychiatry is a false religion that mimics true religion. That is why people buy into it. If it were as silly as you make it out to be, no one would be fooled. But as you can see with your own two eyes, many people, if not most people in the world have been duped by psychiatry.

      Think of it. Even the word “psychiatry” means the “medical care of the soul.” What could be more nonsensical than “the medical care of the soul”? In the first place, there is nothing in psychiatry that shows any kind of understanding of what a soul might be. Furthermore, if psychiatrists understood what a soul is they would also understand how ridiculous it is to suppose that the soul can be “treated” with drugs. The entire “profession” is a sham.

      But it succeeds because pseudo-science masquerades as science and medicine. It succeeds because the false priests of psychiatry administer their poisonous sacraments to unsuspecting devotees. It succeeds, in short, because it’s founder, the devil, attempts to usurp the place of Christ as the true Healer and the Great Physician.

      • This site is supposed to criticize psychiatry. Not condemn religion. But if Dr. K wants to compare psychiatry to religion I agree.

        And if a church did what psychiatry does the law would come after them. Kidnapping apostates, locking them in the church basement for pharma torture and other psychological abuse till they recanted (gained “insight.”)

        Psychiatry is more dangerous than any cult because they have legal powers no clergy nor doctors have. Accountable to no one–least of all those they claim to serve. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  2. I agree, our psychologists and psychiatrists do want to take the place of God, and many have enormous god-complex problems. But this is, in part, because the psychologists and psychiatrists entered into a faustian deal with the mainstream religions long ago. An ethical pastor of another religion confessed this to me as “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.”

    http://stateofthenation2012.com/?p=59031

    Not long ago, a second psychologist was sicked upon me, by my childhood religion. As pointed out in that article, the first time a psychologist was sicked upon me by my childhood religion, it was because a pastor wanted to have the rape of my child covered up. And covering up child abuse and rape is the number one actual societal function of our psychologists and psychiatrists, both historically and today.

    https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/01/23/18820633.php?fbclid=IwAR2-cgZPcEvbz7yFqMuUwneIuaqGleGiOzackY4N2sPeVXolwmEga5iKxdo

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2016/04/heal-for-life/

    The second time my childhood religion sicked a psychologist on me was because I’m a credible psychopharmacology researcher, who was pointing out the impropriety of our countries’ completely iatrogenic “childhood bipolar epidemic,” and the iatrogenic etiology of “the sacred symbol of psychiatry.” The negative symptoms of “schizophrenia” are created via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome, and the positive symptoms are created via antipsychotic induced anticholinergic toxidrome.

    So the second time a psychologist, neither time did the psychologist technically work for my child rape covering up religion, but the second one’s wife did. I’d be one of the many “widows” mentioned in the Preface of this book, written by a justifiably disgusted ELCA synod offices insider, in case you don’t know the ELCA is a child abuse covering up religion.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=xI01AlxH1uAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

    He had to come up with a different way to attempt to steal all my family’s money and take control of my “too truthful” and “prophetic” artwork, since I’m an artist that paints the truth about what’s going on in our society. So he claimed he wanted to give me an “artist of the year” award, then said he wanted to be my “art manager.” Sound great, right?

    Except he then handed over a legalese contract proving his goal was actually to steal all profits from my artwork, eventually steal all my work, and all my family’s money. He wanted to take control of my story, accountants, and lawyers. Of course I did not sign that BS “art manager” contract, had to decline the award, and leave my childhood church.

    But make no mistake, our religions have been trusting in the so called “mental health” workers to cover up their sins and crimes for over a century. They’re actually teaching the DSM “bible” religion in the seminary schools today. Which explains, at least in part, why our “mental health” workers have such god-complexes.

    Believe it or not, I actually had to tell that second psychologist that I’m an artist that paints for God, and you are NOT Him, to wake him up and get rid of that lunatic psychologist. Yes, absolutely, today’s psychologists and psychiatrists do have delusions of grandeur their “science” has replaced God, but for good reason. They’ve been the mainstream religions’ child abuse and rape cover uppers, for over a century.

    • Really powerful post, Someone Else. I love the distinction you make between “channeling God,” which is universal, and “playing God,” which is the epitome of toxic elitism. I think that is spot on point. Artists especially get this, from channeling their art. To my mind and from my experience, the creative process is always guided by divine inspiration, one way or another. How could it not be?

      And I happen to believe that healing is a purely creative process, and therefore, from that perspective, it is inhererntly divinely inspired and guided, so no need for anyone to *play* God, is there? We can simply channel what is already there, in abundance! It’s real.

      • Thanks, and I agree, Alex. Both in regards to God guiding the artist’s work, as well as one’s health. But I’m saddened that my childhood religion has lost it’s Way, and became a DSM “bible” and psychologist/psychiatrist worshipping religion, rather than trusting in God.

        You might like that my favorite artist, one whose work inspires much of my work, is Mark Chagall. Both he and I have a love story between all of humanity within our dreams. In my case it’s a “we are one in the Spirit, one in the Lord” love story, and both Chagall and I have survived a psychiatric holocaust. Since Chagall’s work seemingly paints the story of my life and dreams, I like to think his soul and mine, are friends within the collective unconscious.

        And I agree, there’s “no need for anyone to *play* God.” No need for an “art manager,” whose goal is to silence and steal everything from me. No thanks, go away god complexed, child abuse covering up, obviously misogynistic, I want to steal from the widows in my church, criminal Lutheran psychologist.

        Pardon my disgust at a fellow artist, and banker’s son psychologist, who assumed a bankers’ daughter, whose managed lots of businesses in her life, wouldn’t know how to read a legalese contract, and would need someone to “manage” my art business. No, my work, and my Spirit led, anti-child abuse, anti-psychiatry/psychology message, is distinctly the message of a mother, a woman, not a message some child abuse covering up male psychologist should “manage.”

        Goodness gracious, in this sick world in which we live, where Spirit cooking and pedophilia art is all the rage with the powers that shouldn’t be.

        http://ibankcoin.com/zeropointnow/2016/11/26/sick-lets-revisit-the-podesta-penchant-for-pedophilic-cannibalistic-and-satanic-art/

        Of course you will find the Spirit led, anti-child abuse artists as well. And we should NOT be silenced or “managed” by the child rape profiteering paternalistic psychologists. And the psychologists need to garner insight into the reality that they’ve lost control of the narrative, an couple examples.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3n6OGoyIyE
        https://www.amazon.com/Pedophilia-Empire-Chapter-Introduction-Disorder-ebook/dp/B0773QHGPT

        We need to get those controlled with pedophilia out of our government. We need to end the psychologists’ and psychiatrists, multibillion dollar, scientifically “invalid,” primarily child abuse covering up, “mental health” business.

        We need to arrest the pedophiles and child sex traffickers. And those who’ve been profiteering off of covering up child abuse on a massive societal scale, while aiding, abetting, and empowering the pedophiles. They should also be arrested. And that is most of our “mental health” workers today, since they can’t even bill ANY insurance company for EVER helping ANY child abuse survivor EVER.

        https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-child-does-not-have-bipolar-disorder/201402/dsm-5-and-child-neglect-and-abuse-1

  3. From a spiritual perspective, healing happens through the heart. I believe the idea of a higher power is to have a foundational focus of Faith, which can inspire the feeling of love. When we feel love, our hearts are open and expansive, and this creates an entirely different self-perception and experience of life than when our hearts are constricted from chronic fear and hopelessness.

    Spiritual healing approaches the body as energy, which it is, which everything is. Thoughts and emotions are energy, as are the cells and organs of our body. From this perspective, the possibilities are endless because energy is always abundant and infinitely creative.

    Also in the healing communities of which I’m aware, Christ-consciousness, Buddha-consciousness, and messiah-consciousness are in the collective, as are their counterparts. It is in all of us, light and shadow–spiritual beings having a human experience. Again, this is a perspective offered in spiritual communities, not necessarily aligned with “religion,” as we know it.

    What I’m talking about is not at all the same as “old time religion.” It’s about energy, living in heart-consciousness, and aware of our soul evolution as part of our human experience. Overcoming challenges is how we grow in our humanity–how we, both, discover our power and feel our humility. That is the spiritual perspective of healing to which I refer.

  4. Lawrence,
    I spent most of my life as a born again evangelical. I have a ministry degree with a biblical studies major. But in the course of the healing journey my wife and I have been on the past 11 years, I reevaluated everything, including my faith. The cognitive dissonance that had always screamed inside my head on some points between my faith and ‘the real world’ no longer could be ignored. I just didn’t have emotional strength to support anything that wasn’t pragmatically helpful in my desperation to keep me, my wife and our son together and moving forward in our journey.

    And so I will give you that there are many, obvious areas to me in which most Christians engage in cognitive dissonance to uphold their faith and still function in this world. But it’s no different than the cognitive dissonance and blind faith that I see in the mental health experts or the macro evolutionists whom you seem to think are above such human foibles. Come to Ohio, and I’ll share some of my library that reduces many of the materialistic-evolutionary tenets down to what they really are: blind faith of its adherents. I’ve got an especially funny book, just of quotes, of the biggest names in the movement that shows their candor about their faith’s inherent unscientific basis within their own priesthood and yet they still promote it zealously to the public thru their willing conspirators in the media. I’ve often thought of suggesting MIA create a similar book of quotes of the priesthood of psychiatry and big pharma.

    I’ll be honest. I don’t really know what I am anymore. I don’t really fit much in the traditional sense of Christianity, but I do tire of people who clearly don’t understand the bible but love to wrench a few proof texts out to prove this or that point. I just don’t understand MIA’s willingness to promote these facile attacks on Christianity, other than it seems to be politically correct and acceptable nowadays. If they want an honest critique of Christianity, I could give them an insider’s view as someone who has dealt with the problems, but also still sees value in some of the over arching themes and narratives that have helped me and my family stick together and witness her healing in a way that the mental health experts tell me is impossible. It would be a lot more honest evaluation than this critique has been.
    Sam

  5. As a Christian throughly in love with God, I must point out that faith has no physical side effects; some people of faith come to suffer a certain level of entitlement, but even that MUST be present before they believe, in order for faith to exacerbate it.

    Prozac, and drugs like it, cause nasty side effects even in the absence of a consumer’s belief in their efficacy.

    • I’m a Christian too.

      I thought this site was for criticizing psychiatry. Not religion.

      I agree with the premise that psychiatry is a religion/philosophy rather than a science. Dare I say the APA is our new State Church?

      As far as KindRegards’s last sentence, even if a grateful consumer believes in psych drugs the “placebo effect” is pretty limited. Personal experience speaking. 🙂

      • Uh, I thought you agreed recently that psychiatry is a tool of social control. Anyway it is, and I would say this control comes largely via acceptance of its overriding ideology that considers emotional distress an individual defect, rather than a consequence of living under totalitarian rule in service to profit.

          • Taking the Church out of the State required someone to do the Morality Policing. Psychiatrists stepped up and have been duly rewarded for their services. Problem being without an Overseer (ie God) they become god and suffer from delusions they fail to recognise. Hence the high levels of unintentional negative outcoming being done with no one being held to account. They can’t hold them to account because they wrote the Mental Health Act to allow this conduct. God leads astray whom He will, and they have been tested and failed miserably.

            No animal shall kill another animal
            Ammended by decree (1984)
            (without cause).

            Thus with the ability to plant evidence for police and use their services to kidnap and torture folk and exploit the “lawful sanction’ clause of the Convention? We have a winner.

            Or so they thought. Still, I am nothing more than a messenger and a warner.

          • Yes. Of course. Even though Szasz was wrong about God, he correctly understood that psychiatry is a false religion complete with its false priests and false rituals. Szasz understood the threat of the therapeutic state. The therapeutic state is a corrupt form of government that operates as a corrupt form of religion. Unsuspecting victims of psychiatry have fallen prey to the benign tyranny that has replaced God. Psychiatry is a false religion at whose head is the God-state.

    • KindRegards,

      I would even suggest that faith is a VERY powerful force for healing. My wife’s faith, her belief in a higher power, has been instrumental as I’ve helped her move past the lies of the past, but even more importantly, as I’ve helped her ‘restructure’ her internal working model from that of a trauma victim to a more healthy, securely attached person. Without her faith, I honestly don’t know how she would have been able to tear down the dissociation between the various girls. And whether critics want to argue it was a placebo effect or proponents say it truly is Jesus answering those prayers, in the end, without her faith that He was doing it, I’m not sure it would have happened.

      Sam

  6. I started making a similar analogy this year. They might as well be saying people have demons than disorders. Hell I’d prefer that. You can get a demon out by maybe going to church. There’s not much worse than truly believing something is wrong with your DNA and you are only going to get worse.

  7. everything was now undeniably explainable as a mere consequence of evolution

    Another form of faith?

    What Dr. K is referring to here is anthropomorphic religion where “God” is considered to be a big man in charge of everything. However Buddhism, Taoism etc. are more concerned with what might be considered universal intelligence, not a powerful being they must submit to.

    Psychiatry is absolutely a substitute for religion among many “rational” intellectuals who crave spiritual sustenance but are afraid to be seen as religious.

  8. Great blog, Dr K. I abandoned religious faith almost two decades ago, so I didn’t take any offense from your criticisms and comparisons.

    I agree completely that psychiatry is structured like a religion – with faith in the drugs and doctors being the core tenet of its belief system. The individual diagnoses are, to me, simply another manifestation of The Devil (borrowing from Christianity) or “bad” demons/spirits. Psychiatry also requires faith, of course, because it’s beliefs of “chemical imbalances” and “genetic diseases” continue to be disproven or else responsible for only a tiny fraction of what is euphemistically called “mental illness”.

    I have opened my heart to the concept of spirituality and the interconnected nature of all living things, which is a giant leap into the unknown for me. I call this energy Gaia – the great primordial mother – but I struggle to envision this as a conscious being and instead see it as an energy flowing through and connecting all living things.

    I still get a giggle out of the term ‘sky daddy’ in reference to the Judeo-Christian concept of God. The God of the Bible is such a vicious, vengeful, frankly immature “toddler” like being that I can’t bring myself to respect it all as a concept, much less a “loving father”. Any half functioning adult human aught to be able to behave better than that so I just can’t give it any creed.

    Thanks for this article. It seems to still take some bravery to criticize religion as from the comments, I can see that even some outspoken people take offense at their deeply held beliefs being challenged. I appreciate that MIA published this anyway. Good one, Dr K!

  9. You know Doc, I became really fixated by the second letter written by Saul of Tarsus to the Thessalonians.

    (2) The Man of Lawlessness.

    And God sends upon them a great delusion, that they might believe the lie.

    And let me say some of them really do believe they are god. So is this the delusion that God sends? And is there appropriate medication for this delusion? Worth a read if you have the time.

  10. Where I live the local MH clinic, that serves mainly poor and marginalized people, slightly endorses religion in the form of 12 step programs and Celebrate recovery. In addition, half of the staff are marginally trained “peer” support specialist who are hired because they are in a 12 step program. Its this strange mix of psychiatry and religion. As I say, for your mental illness we have pills and for your addiction we have God. There are no psychologists or addiction specialists and only group therapy is offered. The lack of any expertise is astounding and sad. They seem to have no theory of the mind or trauma and appear to make profit off people’s suffering. Can you imagine going to a hospital and all the nurses were just ex-patients!? Why this is acceptable I have no idea.

  11. Thank you for your astute observations, Dr Kelmenson. I was an active believer and participant in the Church of Prozac for twenty years and was also a lifelong indoctrinated believer in Christianity. Six years ago I rejected the indoctrination and became atheist. Four and a half years ago I quit the Church of Prozac and weaned off it. What I have found since rejecting church in all its forms is mental and emotional freedom. I am not broken. I survived numerous traumas from birth onwards and have spent years facing them and processing them and healing from them. Though I am a survivor I am not broken. I am whole and always have been. When I threw off indoctrination and began questioning all beliefs and belief systems I found real freedom.

  12. One time, my fellow patient begged for a placebo. I wasn’t sure why. Placebos work quite well. You would think they cause no harm. Psych placebos still cause dependency and the notion that one is diseased. I believe that placebos only work on humans because we can experience hope and foresight. The animal sense of foresight is minimal by comparison. I don’t think they have any concept of a god, or of praying to something. I don’t think they need to. They seem more secure in themselves than we are.

    I also don’t think the concept of Parent God is present much outside Christianity.