Comments by Redmond O'Hanlon, DPhil

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  • Bonnie, glad that you highlighted once again psychiatry’s ridiculous tautologies. You might take some pleasure in my little fantasia on the subject!

    ‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’

    ‘”Oh!” said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark….

    “Ah, you should see ’em come round me of a Saturday night,” Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, “for to get their wages, you know.”…

    “Impenetrable”, said Alice. “I think we’ve had enough of that subject for now.”

    “Now, Humpty, you are an expert on most things: I need your help. I’m very worried about Aunt Matilda. She’s getting schizophrenia, which sounds really frightening, but I don’t know what it is. Do you?”

    “Schizophrenia”, said Humpty Dumpty, grandly, “is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder”.

    “Oh,” said Alice, clapping her hands in delight. “It’s great to hear all that from an expert like yourself: maybe she’s not really ill at all! Can you arrange for a blood test or brain x-ray? I’m going to INSIST we get tests done on her at once: maybe she was just having one of her funny turns, and we can go to Bognor for the week-end after all.

    “Bugger Bognor!”, said Humpty, shifting about uneasily.” It’s not that simple, Alice”, said Humpty Dumpty, who had trained in psychiatry at Cambridge. “We have no x-rays, urine or blood tests to let us be sure that somebody IS “schizophrenic”, or even “mentally ill.”

    “But how, then, can you know EXACTLY what it is?”, said Alice.

    “It’s hard to say exactly what it is,” said Humpty, nervously, “but it’s delusions, hallucinations, impenetrable speech, that sort of thing…”

    “Caused by what?”, said Alice.

    “By schizophrenia, you silly little seven-year old.”

    “So, are you saying that delusions, hallucinations and impenetrable speech are THE CAUSES OF delusions, hallucinations and impenetrable speech, then? Do you think I came up the Thames on a doughnut?” said Alice, in a daze. “You’re just treating me like a fool again; making words mean anything you want them to.”

    “Look Alice,” said Humpty Dumpty, wearily, many admit that the causes of schizophrenia are still unknown; as we used to say in the Royal College, its precise aetiology has not been identified.Now will you PLEASE STOP asking me all these awkward questions: you’re frying my yolk! Just take it from me: after all, I WAS a Cambridge psychiatrist.”

    “But you said its origin lay in a diseased brain”, said Alice, doggedly.

    “I know I did”, said Humpty: “that’s what I was told by my masters.”

    “So, you’re asking me to believe that it’s some kind of brain disease, even though there’s not a single test to prove that there is something actually wrong IN the brain!”

    “That, I’m afraid, is the position, Alice”, said Humpty, crestfallen.

    “But if it’s a very serious biological disease, with no verifiable biological basis, why have so many millions of patients’ and taxpayers’ money been poured into medicines for a disease that doesn’t seem to really exist?”

    “Well, that, I’m afraid, is the position”, said Humpty. “As I said to you some time ago, Alice, it’s impenetrable; an infinite series of variations on an enigma. A real aporia. Most confusing. That’s why I left psychiatry: my colleagues just couldn’t admit that they didn’t really know what it meant or what its aetiology was, and told me not to worry either, as there was plenty of money in it all. That’s why Ludwig, Wittgenstein to you, told me that psychiatry, with its fuzzy, empty concepts would do my head in…would drive me into madness or suicide – and recent research has borne him out. Cognizant of the threat posed by the smoke and mirrors of psychiatry to my delicate shell, he convinced me to leave it altogether and devote myself entirely to the clarity of philosophical reflection, though some of my former colleagues get very angry when I suggest that wherof they cannot speak they should remain silent, or, as I prefer to put it,following dear old Ludwig’s great dictum: ”Davon muss man schweigen.”

    “Oh, dear!”, said Alice.

    “You know, Alice, that word ”schizophrenia” nearly drove me mad: in the hospitals they waved it around and beat us over the head with it to force us into believing that it corresponded to something in the real world. And THAT’S how I learned about the power of certain words, especially “schizophrenia” – which is a very powerful word that makes some people very rich, indeed. Except me, as it’s one of those words for which I have to pay A LOT extra. You should see the queues behind her of a Saturday night when I have to pay out a small fortune to Her Majesty Schizophrenia, Major Depressive Disorder and Colonel Bi-polar Disorder.They’re absolutely ruining me, they are; them and their thousands of medical lackeys, all lined down the Holloway Road with hands outstretched. You’d think Arsenal was playing ’Spurs at Highbury. And the costs of security!!! That’s another reason I had to get out: I was bankrupted by the whole thing, and a promising career soon lay in tatters.”

    “Humpty Dumpty,” said Alice, “I am deeply touched by your sad story, but am as confused as ever by all your word-games and impenetrabilities. I need to go to someone who really knows,” said Alice, storming out, “I’m going to a psychiatrist.”

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  • As usual, Paris’s articles are meaty, absorbing and very well researched. And he’s hit on a very raw nerve here. In Ireland, Tony Humphreys wrote an article two years ago in The Irish Examiner in which he suggested that family might just have a teeny weeny bit to do with subsequent child development. A veritable witch-hunt ensued with the media rowing in shamefully, in a disgracefully populist way. I do hope he reads your piece. You cannot squeeze everyone in, but I do think that Virginia Satir deserves a star mention – not just because I did a great sculpting workshop with her, and she trained my sister! And I do think that the imposition of psychotropic drugs on children has to rank not only as an ACE, but as one of the great crimes against children: every time I look at a photo of little Rebecca Riley, and think of her case, my entire being revolts in anguish and disgust.

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  • Thanks to all of you who wrote such interesting and variegated responses. It seems like I didn’t make it clear that I am ABSOLUTELY OPPOSED to psychiatric diagnosis, hence my insistence on narrative, beyond formulation, useful though that is. (I gave a paper to a critical psychiatry conference two years ago entitled “Psychiatry as potential art-form? Silence, listening and story!”)
    As for drugs, I see very little place for them, except, perhaps, as a minor element in a very short-term holding operation. As for psychiatry, I have no brief whatever for it, and despise its corruption, amorality, and complete absence of thought, except in bodies like the UK Critical Psychiatry Network, several of whom are MIA authors.
    But I have been trying to imagine how the arts, humanities, psychology and philosophy might bring something to psychiatric practice. In my Last tango piece my two big IFS should make it clear that I think that compared to the chances of any real change in the system a snowball’s chances in Hell look very favourable indeed.
    The few thoughts in my piece grew out of a much more extended speculation which I originally called GNOTHI SEAUTON, KNOW THYSELF: TOWARDS A SOULFUL SOMATIC THERAPY. But at the same time I did want to look at what passes for therapy in mainstream psychiatry, and counterpoint this to my Utopian model! So those who picked up this tension/contradiction were spot on. I was delighted, also, to be reminded of Peter Levine’s work, which I know and admire hugely: I’m horrified at my lapsus in forgetting to include him alongside v. der Kolk et al. I think he’s an absolutely crucial figure and represents the tiger in a dark corner that most therapists refuse to look at. What will we do about the Big Bad Body? I believe that trauma and early attachment deficits are registered deep in the body by the pre-linguistic infant, and that much of the self is thus lodged in the involuntary muscle system, so therapy cannot get very far without taking the implications of this on board. As we know, the basis of Levine’s trauma work is somatic experience, with very little chatter! I once did a paper on the importance of touch for healing in which I wondered why most therapies shy away from it completely, except for the body therapists, the Chiron Group et al. Perhaps the Reich story may have something to do with this, as may a fear of litigation. This is where I think music, drama and dance therapies can come into their own, reducing the risks of retraumatization, bringing boundaries, safety and distance.
    Maybe I’m afraid of becoming a complete abolitionist, like Bonnie, lest we lose the wonderful, intelligent, open, creative compassionate people I meet among the 220+ members of the CPN. And if you just take people like Peter Breggin, Joe Glenmullen, Sami Timimi, the late Bob Hobson and MIA’s Robert Berezin: I wouldn’t half mind being treated by them! (Hobson’s Forms of Feeling is my Desert Island no. 1 book.) At a recent conference Peter said to Sami: “Hey, Sami, how come you haven’t been fired yet?”, acknowledging how the psychiatric system normally weeds out people as creative and compassionate as he is in his practice. They surely are the exceptions that prove the rule, but still, they do show what is possible while we’re waiting for the social revolution and the demolition of current psychiatric training programmes.

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