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the committee is indeed aware of the importance of this issue – and there’s the rub.
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I for one I’m grateful to Rob for bringing this to my attention – also, I fail to see how publishing this article can prompt accusations of one-sidedness when it is information that in fact challenges the “MIA line”- provided you bother to read the original article, of course.
That aside, let’s try to rise the the challenge:
I think tutsu is right in that the first problem is that the data is probably wrong and there are people who are both congenitally blind and exhibit symptoms which psychiatrists like to call “schizophrenia”. I hope tutsu realizes that this view is consistent with the “MIA line” and would neutralize the claims of the original research, which seem to somehow point to a biological aetiology of “schizophrenia”.
But let’s assume for a moment that the data is more or less correct and that, at the very least, there is a huge disparity in the proportion of congenitally blind people who exhibit “schizophrenic” symptoms and non-congenitally blind people with those symptoms. A disparity which begs an explanation.
The article in Mind Hacks is a good example of how operating within the confines of the disease model of “schizophrenia” can limit people’s reasoning, even people who rightly question psychiatric diagnostic categories such as “schizophrenia”. Let’s look at the problem form a different angle:
First, let’s do away with the disease hypothesis and adopt a different working hypothesis, the “trauma hypothesis”, which states that psychosis and other traits usually associated with the diagnostic of “schizophrenia” are responses to trauma, particularly childhood or developmental trauma. This is just a working hypothesis so I will leave it wide, without further specifying trauma or what I mean by “response” (whether it is a defence mechanism, “brain damage”, etc.) For now, [developmental trauma > psychosis]
To this working hypothesis we add the data, which we will assume to be right, that congenitally blind people do not develop psychosis.
Now, if we were operating within the disease hypothesis we would be likely to think, like the article’s author, that congenital blindness “protects” from the “disease”. If however we are operating with the trauma hypothesis another possibility opens up: that congenitally blind people respond to trauma differently.
This is a hypothesis that would be in principle easy enough to test: conduct a study on a large enough sample of congenitally blind people (and a control group, obviously; or even better, two control groups: one of sighted people and another of people who lost their sight in infancy but were sighted at birth), a study that looks for developmental trauma (e.g. sexual and physical abuse, bullying, neglect, etc.) and then tries to correlate it with possible responses or effects of that trauma. Then and only then could we start having a reasonable conversation about this.
We might even find out that contrary to expectations (and the assumptions of the article’s author) congenitally blind people experience much lower levels of trauma, to the extent that this alone accounts for the disparity in rates of “schizophrenia”. I don’t think this would be the case, although it cannot be dismissed a priori. It is more likely, I think, that we would find out that congenitally blind people respond differently to trauma. This would hardly be surprising since many of the symptoms associated with “schizophrenia” are connected to the senses: hearing voices, seeing hallucinations, etc. (yes, there are also negative symptoms, but 99 times out of 100 they are not the clincher when giving a diagnostic) so it is logical to assume that people whose senses follow very different developmental paths from the norm will also exhibit different responses to the kind of trauma which causes what we call psychosis in sighted people. We must remember that there is a huge difference between people who were sighted, even for a short time, and then lost their sight, and people who never ever had sight: their brains develop differently (another study waiting to happen).
What the different response to trauma in congenitally blind people might be I would not presume to guess,; “depression”? Who knows – but I’m sure we would find something. Or maybe we would find that the data was wrong after all and that congenitally blind people do develop psychosis after all.
The possibility that congenitally blind people do not develop “schizophrenia” is fascinating, but it does not necessarily mean what people operating within the disease model assume it to mean – and sadly, the type of study they will design and conduct from within that model will (I predict) achieve nothing other than wasting resources and spreading confusion for the benefit of the usual suspects.
In any case, thank you Rob for putting this article up.
Thank you Noel for making this experience of yours public in this way. You ask why bringing up the possible link between trauma and psychosis should cause such panic, but isn’t that the standard reaction to uncomfortable truths? The question is, why is it so uncomfortable? What is so threatening about the idea that psychosis might be caused by trauma?
In part it is indeed possible that it is a question of “dissociation experts” not wanting to tread on the tail of the dragon of mainstream psychiatry. “Schizophrenia” is psychiatry’s turf and nobody wants to start a turf war with the meanest, baddest gang around. Not a lot of people are willing to put their careers, however humble they might be, on the line for the sake of defending a hypothesis – the fact that you seem to be one of them says great things about you.
But I think there is something more to it, because where there’s a trauma there must be an agent of trauma, mustn’t there? The link between trauma and psychosis is an accusatory finger that could potentially point to a lot of nice, normal, loving and well-respected families and, in a wider sense, to society as a whole. This might be particularly true if you refine the trauma-psychosis hypothesis a bit: could it possibly be that psychosis is particularly likely to develop when in addition to trauma the victim must keep the trauma secret, must deny the trauma, because the revelation would implicate those on whom the victim is emotionally dependent? (i.e. close family members) It is Bateson’s “double bind”, which I think should be revisited, adding “trauma” to “double bind”. This is of course a gross oversimplification but still, food for thought.
And of course it isn’t just schizophrenia, is it? Bipolar, Depression, Eating Disorders, Substance Abuse, perhaps even, dare I say it, Homosexuality? (go and actually ask a Catholic priest, you might learn something).
So maybe it’s all about secrets, Noel; and bringing dark secrets out into the open will always make people uncomfortable and look the other way. You might be rocking a bigger boat than you realize.
Yes, no doubt the Roman Catholic Church has a lot to answer for – and I think it is arguably doing so. Unlike many other governmental organizations where the scale of abuse (both in absolute numbers and proportionally) dwarfs abuse in the RC Church. But you won’t hear much about that in the press – or about the difference in compensation awarded to victims of abuse by the RC Church or Government employees (of almost any country you care to look at).
One question about the priest you mention: do you know if when he ent away he was sent away for treatment by a professional therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist who certified that he was “cured”? Look into it.
Let’s take a moment to celebrate that the evil people of NARTH are being stamped out by the Government under the wise guidance of the APA!
Those evil NARTH people… can you believe that they say things like the key to healing emotional distress experienced by people with same-sex attraction is listening to their stories and making sense of their traumatic experiences of abuse and/or neglect. Crazy! Clearly gay people have to embrace that they were born different, with some kind of.. er… genetic or hormonal difference… a… chemical variance (imbalance?). It matters not that after decades of research no evidence of this physiological difference has been found – only people with homophobic agendas care about such small details! But to suggest that the diffrences in gay people could have their origins in systematic emotional neglect or trauma in their developmental years – that is just crazy! Such nonsense has no place in an enlightened society such as ours! It’s all in the genes! Or the hormones! Or a virus! Now that’s what I call proper scientific stuff.
And two days later, the BBC jumps in on it. Love is in the air, clearly:
And of course nowhere in the article a reference to the level of poverty in Ireland back then – you’d think there was a welfare state running in parallel with these evil nuns. Why don’t you take a look at other countries with similar levels of poverty but without evil nuns (i.e. Eastern Europe) and see what happens/ed to teenage mothers and orphans there?
Nothing like a bit of good old Catholic-bashing to give a boost to your career, is there Dr. Healy?
An interesting article, Joanna.
I’d very curious to know your take on genetic research into homosexuality, in what ways it is similar and in what ways different from the search for biomarkers for schizophrenia and other “mental disorders”.
I disagree however with your last paragraph. If we are unlikely to ever have a complete picture of the etiology of “extreme” mental states it is because we stubbornly keep looking in the wrong places and avoiding the obvious questions about the impact of stress on the developing brain and the many shapes which stress can take, particularly in intra-familial relationships. But many of these questions are uncomfortable, and researchers and not just researchers but also sons and daughters and fathers and mothers.
How I’d love to really dig into these subjects, but obviously this is not the best place and format to do it – and I’m sure you have better things to do anyway (me, not so much; the woes of unemployment)
I must really give you a minus point for resorting to a “consensus” – show me a consensus and I’ll show you groupthink, as you of all people should know, dedicated as you are to debunk a great “consensus” (something for which you have my deepest respect and admiration).
Did Christian philosophy facilitated the rise of modernity? There is no doubt a correlation, but you cannot assume causality; rather, I’d say modernity arises as a “heresy” of Christianity, the ultimate form of heresy: the removal of God from Christianity. So, for example, the three theological virtues of Christianity, Faith, Hope and Charity become their three modern materialistic counterparts: Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. I suppose you could call this facilitation, but only in the same way you could say that Hitler facilitated the creation of the State of Israel. For my part I don’t think facilitation is the right word.
In any case, as you’ve probably already noticed we don’t share the same enthusiasm for modernity and its alleged conquests. I’d in fact say that the increase in political freedom brought on by modernity has come at the cost of personal freedom – a freedom which was at its highest in those “dark” Middle Ages. I know this might sound shocking (or just plain stupid) to you, but I would invite you to compare the treatment of “mental illness” in early and high medieval society with its treatment today. And here’s a hint in the form of a question that sounds like a joke: what does European medieval society have in common with the WHO schizophrenia studies? This is of course very debatable, but I find that the best gauge for the level of personal freedom in a society is its treatment of the “mentally ill”.
Moving on to Original Sin and sticking only to its psychological dimension, I would propose this for you to consider:
First, even if you scoff at the notion of the Bible as a divinely inspired text, you should still consider the possibility that the Genesis account of original sin may in fact reflect oral traditions which stretch very far back in time, perhaps -and I know this might sound fanciful- all the way back to the earliest human culture, to the rise of “self-awareness”, the moment of humanization. In other words: we are not looking at a philosophical/religious construct but at the symbolic recollection of an experience.
With that in mind, you can try to look at the doctrine of Original Sin from a evolutionary perspective, so to speak: as the tension between our animal need of assertion and domination on the one hand and our social dimension and the demands of our self-awareness on the other. In this regard, the doctrine of Original Sin is not an extraneous burden on the psyche but an accurate description of what is actually going on in it, as well as pointing to a way out of the conflict.
I’m sorry if this sounds like gibberish, it’s hard to be both brief and clear. Perhaps it’s easier to look at an example in connection with the much-maligned idea of “guilt”: in Steven Morgan’s recent MIA post “Stranger” (which is outstanding, btw) he describes his encounter with Brian, a man tormented because he has “had sex” with his daughter. Now, what does modernity and psychiatry have to offer this man? Alfred Kinsey would tell him not to worry about it, it probably did his daughter good. Obviously Brian, if he is still alive, knows that is not true; he knows he has done something terrible: he feels guilty and he IS guilty. So again I ask you, what can you offer Brian? Suicide? Mind-suicide through drugs and/or medication? Now try to imagine what the doctrine of Original Sin and Christianity in general can offer Brian. Not an excuse, not a denial of guilt, but a genuine way out of guilt.
I imagine many people would not want to give Brian a way out, they would say he has earned his torment and maybe they are right, but to that I would say that Brian’s healing is an important and fundamental part of Brian’s daughter’s healing, who I have no doubt is in need of healing. And of the healing of Brian’s society; Steven’s healing, my healing, your healing.
Misplaced guilt, such as that felt by abuse victims, is a very bad thing indeed, but not all guilt is misplaced and at one point or another all of us will be guilty of something, though hopefully not on Brian’s scale. The concept of Original Sin, if correctly understood, does not bring about misplaced guilt but on the contrary gives us a way out of genuine guilt, that is to say: redemption. I will admit however that this idea of sin and Original Sin is probably more often than not misunderstood and misused, but to deny Original Sin because most people misunderstand it is like denying quantum mechanics because most people misunderstand them.
I’ll end this rambling rant with a note on Hegel. “Authoritarianism” is a modern secular sin, and like all sins we tend to see them in our enemies but never in our friends, much less in ourselves (unless of course you subscribe to the doctrine of Original Sin), in sort, it is not a very useful concept. More useful I think would be to look at the role Hegel and Idealism played in the revolutionary movements of the XIX and XX centuries. All those revolutions promised and believed in Hegel’s brand of “freedom”, a freedom where the individual determines what is right and what is wrong (dialectically, of course). You’ll disagree no doubt, but I think you can clearly join the dots all the way from Hegel’s grand freedom to wholesale genocide and prision-States (the road to Hell is paved with etc, etc.).
Anyway, if you have read this far you will have exercised the very Christian virtues of Patience, Fortitude and Perseverance. Praise the Lord.
I guess one women’s “fascinating paper” is another man’s “load of rubbish that goes to show you can publish anything if you put enough references”.
So it is Christianity’s fault, is it? And not, I don’t know, urbanization and industrialization and the consequent break-down of communities? An urbanization and industrialization which was the direct consequence of the weakening of Christianity from the Renaissance onward – think of the relaxation of the Christian prohibition of usury in the XV century and how that led to the birth of Capitalism (which is to say, a return to the economic system of Ancient Rome, an economy based on overt or covert slavery).
As always the paper in question is written from a purely English perspective, i.e. a Protestant perspective, and it therefore ignores the fact that Protestantism is not in fact Christianism but materialism in Christian clothing (read Max Weber, who was on to something even if he didn’t know what himself).
And Hegel?! Hegel the teacher of Marx and Engels? The godfather of all fascisms? Oh, by all means, let’s have more of him and less of that evil Christianity.
Frankly Joanna I expected more from you, this is incredibly shallow stuff. Anyway, if you want to know something about the Greek and what a great civilization of raping-and-pillaging slave drivers they were (albeit with a great panache for symbolic logic and mathematics) I’d recommend you read some Greek literature (Xenophon’s “Anabasis” would be a good starting point).
Ron, I certainly think you need to look at the (scarce) data there is on reparative therapy rather than repeat misinformation about it. I would ask you to honestly make an effort to look it up (not in Wikipedia) if you have any interest in the truth rather than just confirming your prejudices.
You may want to start with the APA taskforce report, written up by people who absolutely loath reparative therapy, and yet even they could not come up with significant evidence of harm:
And if you want to be fair, you may want to continue by visiting the NARTH website (link in previous comment) – I think you need to ask yourself seriously: how much of what I know about this is factual, how much unsupported rumor and hearsay?
You dismiss evidence of change of sexual orientation, but do you dare apply the same criteria of evidence to the concept of sexual orientation itself? Is there any evidence of it other than self-reporting? The same self-reporting you dismiss in the cases of change of orientation? Any biomarkers?
I will just say one more thing before posting a link to a documentary I think people will find interesting. I absolutely don’t “blame” gay people for having been put in the position of being the enforcers of biological psychiatry; I do blame psychiatry and the psychiatrists who manipulate people who experience same-sex attraction.
The following film has just today come to my attention, I invite people to watch it; no labels in it, just people telling their story. Please give them the courtesy of listening to their stories with the same respect you would like other people to listen to yours. By the way, one of the three people interviewed describes in passing and incident of voice-hearing that I think is very interesting in its own right (it starts at around minute 35)
Since Ron Unger, a MIA author, has stated in his comments that:
“I really don’t agree that people should be able to sell stuff that is unambiguously poisonous as therapy (whether it is a chemical or a psychological method) and the data on reparative therapy is so bad it is clear it has no benefit but incredible ability to damage.”
MIA should have the integrity to invite genuine practitioners of reparative therapy (of which Peter’s terrible experience is not a representative sample) to give a response, as well as ask Ron to post the data he is referring to.
In the meantime people might want to hear the other side of the story, so to speak, and check the following links to form a more balanced opinion on the subject:
Sadly, people do not seem to realize that “gay” is the ultimate psychiatric label and “born that way” the mantra of biological psychiatry at its worst. “Homosexuals”, or rather, people who experience same-sex attraction, did not break free from the prison of psychiatry, they were allowed out. And they were allowed out in order to become the enforcers and bodyguards of biological psychiatry. Who stifles any serious challenge to biological psychiatry and its “born that way” mantra more than any group? Think about it.
Great post, Maria.
Nessa Childers is an Irish MEP and since 2008 Shire Pharmaceuticals pays its taxes in Ireland…
Maria, perhaps you could get in touch with UK journalist Oliver Wright who writes on The Independent UK. He has been writing about Big Pharma lobbying in the UK in these past few days: