The Dangers of Curiosity in the Mental Health Field and the Family System

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From Daniel Mackler: “I became a psychotherapist and I became really deeply involved in the mental health field. I started reading scientific literature of psychology, of psychiatry, the psychology of mental illness (so-called mental illness), of diagnosis, of the use of medications . . . however what I realized . . . was so much of it was not science at all, it was bullshit, it was full of holes . . . I realized I had a curiosity that was greater than the people who were writing these papers . . . More and more in the mental health field when I’ve kept my curiosity alive, when I kept asking questions and I kept, especially, asking questions to myself as I read the things that I was told were true when I heard other mental health professionals talk, and when I worked in mental health facilities, especially, listening to bigshot psychiatrists and psychologists, I realized: Huh. What they’re saying often does not add up. And when I would ask critical questions — and I don’t mean in a nasty sense or an argumentatively confrontational sense, simply questions in which I was allowing my curiosity free reign and I was trying to figure out if they had blind spots in their arguments, basically I was practicing good science — what I saw again and again was that they didn’t like it. They were threatened by it, they felt attacked by it. And it was like, I realized they were beholden to their lack of curiosity; they were beholden to their lies.

. . . I wasn’t making almost any friends in the mental health field with therapists because they didn’t like my line of questioning. However what I realized is that in my job as a therapist, my ability to question, really to be curious and to ask questions based on my curiosity, and to follow my questions, was something that so many of my clients loved. They really appreciated it. Here was someone who was modeling reflection, modeling looking into them, really trying to figure out where they came from, why they were the way that they were, not saying, ‘Go on medications, and do this, the science backs it up’ or ‘You have a genetic problem, therefore you have a brain problem, therefore you need to take medications and accept this diagnosis’ — I wasn’t saying this, because I didn’t see evidence for it; it wasn’t proven to me. However what I had seen again and again is that when people really engaged their curiosity in looking at themselves, trying to figure out who they were, figure out their story, figure out what their relationship was with their parents once upon a time, create their own narrative, not accept the narrative that was told to them so many times along the way — what I found is that people really could change, and people could become empowered in a whole different way.

Now that’s not to say all of my clients liked that — because I realized there were some people I worked with when I was a therapist who . . . didn’t like being really asked questions, they wanted to be told what should they do, they wanted their pain to go away, and they didn’t want to have to look inside — because what I realized is, not infrequently when people really started looking inside, especially early on, it was incredibly painful. And this brings me back again to my parents. I really think the reason that they weren’t fundamentally curious is it was too painful. Because there are consequences to being curious, there’s consequences to asking questions: real conclusions sometimes are not easy to bear. Sometimes the bullshit that the science field puts out, the bullshit of the mental health field, the bullshit of biology — it’s easy to stomach, it’s comfortable. It’s comfortable to come up with the same conclusions that everyone has come up with along the way, or just maybe to tweak those conclusions a little bit to look like you have a unique perspective on life. It’s easy to follow the rules. It’s easy sometimes to close your eyes and to not think . . . I think often this is the way of the world: curiosity is dangerous. Galileo was dangerous. Copernicus was dangerous. These people are dangerous to the Establishment. And most fundamentally, I think the really curious child is dangerous to the Establishment of the family system — the lies of the family system.”

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Really, really good points. As a psychologist who doesn’t relate well to other mental health professionals, I agree with alot of what you’re saying. Asking questions, reflecting and clarifying what happened to a client is often the most effective and respectful way to do good work.

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  2. Dr. Mackler,
    There is much truth, to what you say regarding Psychiatry and Psychotherapy.

    Re: Psychiatric Diagnosis. The DSM-5 characterizes patients by behavioral characteristics, and ignores Neurological and Neuro chemical testing which is readily available.

    Re: Psychotherapy. Too much is reliant upon responses of the Patient and “Recovered Memories” which are inherently biased and unreliable. The observations of those individuals who love and care for the patient, are too often disregarded and devalued thus, denying the Psychotherapist opportunity to validate the Patient’s responses with witness corroboration.

    All in all, Psychiatry and it follows, Psychotherapy utilize way too many Pharmaceutical Interventions without considering Psycho-pharmacology, Pharmaco-genomics, or Familial Trait Concordance.

    One Strong Pushback: Rigorous Biomedical Science is NOT Bullshit. You crossed a line there.

    Respectfully,
    Dr. BW Tobin, PhD

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    • I’m not a psy or anywhere near ( my goal was to become a psychologist but…) I know that I knew better than the “educated professionals” regarding mental illness and many of its factors based on association for many decades from being around, related to, worked with and the many I was drawn to who came running to me when they didn’t trust their psys or were misdiagnosed or stereotyped due to culture or “race” because of a natural ability to listen and not assume. Nevertheless you made alot of sense. There’s some wicked, arrogant, prejudice psys out there…

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  3. The DSM ll was based upon psychodynamics… Freudian bs. Psychiatrists decided that they wanted to become real doctors so the DSM evolved attempting to characterize mental illness in a manner that would allow shrinks to target brain chemistry… receptors. However, the fact of the matter is that psychiatry is still rather imprecise. Yes, a psychiatrist may be able to accurately diagnose a major depressive episode but prescribing anti- depressants is still tantamount to throwing darts at a dartboard. It’s an educated guess at best and that is being generous. Often multiple attempts must be made before something works. Often serendipity offers help without an understanding of the mechanism as with Ketamine.

    Leaving the DSM ll behind opened up doors relegating bs talk therapy to social workers and mental health counselors allowing for the real work of pushing pills left to psychiatrists who went to medical school which afforded them the knowledge to really not know what they are doing. Are you depressed? Take an MAO inhibitor like Parnate… According to old psych textbooks, it always works. (This is true.)

    Having spent some time working in mental health, I often thought that the people drawn to the profession were crazier than the patients they purported to help. The article, On Being Sane in Insane Places by D. L. Rosenhan supports my contention.

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  4. My onset of “unspecified mood disorder” wasn’t until I was in my twenties and, incidentally, getting a degree in CBT. My relationship with the field changed as one might expect but my curiosity became more than a passion as I weaved through treatment and deterioration.

    By the time my symptoms were in full sustained remission (six years ago), I was so disillusioned with the ubiquity of ego and persistent tunnel vision that I had abandoned concepts that I formally took as gospel.

    Asking questions as a patient more often than not produced a sort of defensive pretention. As a student without the label I had the same experience.

    The demand for specialization is a mixed bag and there doesn’t seem to be a sustainable balance of depth and breadth. To touch on Dr. Tobin’s view of Biomedical Science, I happen to agree fully for largely my own experience with treatment and seeing the treatment in others.

    The field needs to have the conversation that you so aptly describe. It gives me encouragement to read an articulation of that need in your writing. It means a lot to me and I thank you.

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  5. As a retired psychiatric treatment provider/prescriber I totally agree with the writer. As an added note, treatment ( including meds) is often dictated by insurance companies/medicare and the DEA. The entire medical system needs a complete overhaul.

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  6. The mental health industry seems to have no curiosity about clients harmed by their modality, calling us “disgruntled.” They reject that even ethical therapy can be harmful. They never question their modality’s foundation, which strikes me as quicksand: how a subordinating, regressive relationship creates agency and autonomy or how its contrived, asymmetrical bonding somehow make a road toward authenticity.
    https://disequilibrium1.wordpress.com/

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  7. I have been in therapy for 23 years most of the years i took 21 pills daily now my digestive system is very delicate, the meds were necessary at a sertain point. I no longer take medications i had to decide to let the pain surface and work with it. I have been blessed and privileged to have the medical professionals i have; however it also takes patients to get involve with their treatment. At the beginning i could not i was drooling and doing the shuffle, no offense intended to anyone but it was what it was. Everyone is not the same, what worked for me might not work for others; we as patients have to advocate for ourselves, educate ourselves.

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  8. No comments on the impact of curiosity on the family system yet, so I’ll go.

    A curious child in a rigid family structure with skeletons in the closet is a very dangerous child.

    Questioning my own abuse united my family against me.

    Ironically, they took advantage of the broken medical system to try and silence me with forced hospitalization and court-ordered injections when my son was born.

    We’re talking major antipsychotics with horrible side effects.

    I lost my dignity, bodily autonomy and two years of my life but I never backed down.

    First I cut off my family. They abused me my entire life and this was the last straw. Fck the statute of limitations and I hope they suffer the full weight of their karmic burden.

    Next I cut off the medications by demanding a switch to pills and spitting them out for 18 months.

    Finally when the sham court order was over and they had no direct leverage over me I sued.

    They knew they were so fckd the hospital insurance company settled for the entire demanded amount to avoid me taking them to court.

    I now see a psychologist twice a month for my PTSD, the only medicine I use is prescribed marijuana and the occasional ibuprofen, I haven’t spoken to any of my family for 6 years and now I have two loving children with my equally loving wife and aside from daily flashback anger I can say I am genuinely happy.

    I had suicidal thoughts since I was three years old but haven’t had a single flutter of depression since my son was born and I cut contact with my abusers.

    Turns out it was genetics after all: the pile of slimy DNA that is my abusive father and the sycophants that enable him.

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  9. I think the author has excellent points and I have been labeled, paranoid schizophrenic, narcissist, and finally delusional. Why can’t they make up their minds, this is very unsettling to have this many expert diagnoses. To add to my confusion I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease four years ago and I have no signs of the disease.
    All joking aside, this has been a very difficult time for me, and I am baffled by the lack of information to back up these claims of my diagnosis. Who would think it is okay to do this to someone else?

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