Comments by Brett Deacon, PhD

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  • This is what psychiatry has to show after a half-century of intensive research on this topic done by untold thousands of scientists with untold billions of dollars. No biological theory of depression. No biological tests that are clinically useful let alone that demonstrate the long-assumed pathology of the presumed “illness.” Results from a test involving a sheet of paper with some questions and a pencil are more diagnostically accurate than the best neurogenetic variables modern psychiatry has to offer.

    And the authors conclude their findings “should give us pause.”

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  • You make some excellent points. I wish the authors would have used a walking rather than running condition. Almost anyone can walk but if I were depressed and physically unfit, I’d imagine running at least twice a week for 45 minutes would seem like too much. I’m not sure how broadly applicable the implications of this study are. Is the benefit attributable to being in a group, aerobic exercise specifically, exercise in general, or an unknown combination of these?

    And Steve, my thoughts exactly, I would guess they are not allowed to state the obvious. I’m also guessing this unwritten rule is so clear the authors didn’t even try. This would almost certainly result in the paper being rejected from that particular journal.

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  • Richard, thank you for this informative article. I’ve read your essay as well as the original article which is available free and in full here:

    The finding that running therapy is as effective as antidepressants at reducing depression/anxiety in a 16-week study is notable and consistent with previous research. For me, the most significant finding is that antidepressants actively worsened the physical health of people who took them in numerous ways. After 4 months of taking an antidepressant, the average participant gained a whopping 3.3 kg, which is 7.3 pounds. Heart rate variability, blood pressure, and inflammation significantly worsened. In contrast, all physical health measures were either unchanged or significantly better in the running therapy group.

    The authors concluded their article by stating, “Overall, this study showed the importance of exercise in the depressed and anxious population and caution of antidepressant use in physically unhealthy patients. Exercise therapy is therefore a valuable option in mental health care with respect to both mental and physical health and should be considered standard practice for those with depression and/or anxiety disorders.”

    True. But they left out the other equally obvious conclusion based on their findings: an intervention that actively worsens participants’ physical health should not be used when an equally effective alternative exists that does not cause such harm.

    First do no harm. Right?

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  • Yaffa, thank you for this excellent article. I very much look forward to reading this book. I commend Dr. Ophir for the courage to apply a rigorous scientific perspective to this controversial topic. I would say this topic is only controversial because professions and the pharmaceutical industry have yoked themselves to a particular story of ADHD (it’s a valid brain-based mental illness that is effectively treated by stimulant medication that acts on the biological basis of the illness) that lines up poorly with the actual scientific evidence. In theory, rigorous science should matter most but that unfortunately is not how the world of psychiatric diagnoses and treatments work. Those of us who have inhabited this space for a long time wouldn’t be at all surprised to what has happened to Dr. Ophir. Along these lines, I also wouldn’t be surprised if the complaint filed by that “notable expert in the field” was ghostwritten by an author affiliated with the pharmaceutical industry. The experience of psychiatric David Healy shows the lengths to which the psychiatry/pharma partnership is mobilized to stalk, harass, and discredit academics whose work threatens the public credibility of psychiatric drugs (

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  • Thanks Amy for this great article! You wrote:

    Among the limitations acknowledged in the report are its focus on the internet-enabled world. It also acknowledges many unanswered questions, such as:

    “Why is there such an increase in childhood abuse and assault with each younger generation? Is it that younger adults ascribe an expanded meaning to what constitutes sexual abuse or bullying relative to older generations? Does childhood abuse progressively fade from our memory as we age? Or, as a society, have we simply become more abusive to our young? It is perhaps a combination of all of these factors.”

    Research suggests the answer to the question, “Is it that younger adults ascribe an expanded meaning to what constitutes sexual abuse or bullying relative to older generations?’, is a clear “yes,” reflecting a phenomenon called “concept creep.” See here:

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  • Peter, fantastic job in condensing a complex scientific article into this highly readable summary, and linking it with previous research! This kind of journalism is so valuable and hard to find outside of MIA.

    I downloaded the study and was struck by this excerpt:

    “At the end of the study, participants were asked whether they thought they received escitalopram or placebo. In response, 53% of participants in the escitalopram group correctly guessed that they received escitalopram, whereas 15.6% of participants in the placebo group guessed they received escitalopram. Comparison of the two groups showed a significant difference in the ability to correctly detect group membership (χ2 (1, N=65) = 10.46, p=0.01 [two sided]). The ability to guess the correct allocation in the escitalopram group was at chance level.”

    In other words, the blind was broken. If this were a treatment efficacy trial, this result would potentially invalidate the results. One wonders how often this predictable phenomenon occurs in industry-sponsored psychiatric drug trials. It doesn’t surprise me that this critical result is almost never reported as it’s not in the sponsor’s interests.

    Returning to the findings supporting a blunting effect of the “antidepressant,” too little attention has been paid to the myriad possible consequences when people’s emotional responses are diminished. A person who cares less might love family and friends less, have less interest in sex or other potentially rewarding activities and relationships, be more likely to engage in risky behaviour that was previously avoided due to fear of consequences, commit increased acts of violence or self-harm, have less empathy for others, and so on. There is no free lunch. You can’t pharmacologically blunt peoples’ emotions without eliciting a wide range of practical effects, some of which are negative and potentially destructive. I hope articles like this encourage pressure on clinical trial authors to report the full range of effects of psychiatric drugs and not just scores on symptom checklists.

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  • Thank you, Tsotso, for this informative and refreshingly hard-hitting post.

    You wrote: “Scholars suggested that the first step in the knowledge of mental health-related symptoms is understanding “to which organ do the indications of the disease belong.”

    That quote nicely encapsulates the absurdity of the biomedical paradigm. A Nobel prize awaits the person who can locate a hypothetical concept in a bodily organ.

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  • Hi Kate. You said: “In my experience, the borderline personality diagnosis carries a special stigma (example, many treatment providers will refuse to treat any patient with a BPD diagnosis). I was just trying to figure out why that is. As I said, it was just conjecture on my part.”

    For the record, your observation is not just conjecture. See here:

    The diagnosis is inherently stigmatizing.

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  • Jim, I appreciate you and the great work you have done. The fact is, as I teach my students, therapists are a branch of law enforcement. When the circumstances arise, therapists cease being therapeutic and become police. By requirement, as the ethics code dictates. Interestingly, lawyers and clergy are privileged and are not members of law enforcement. But therapists are police. Most clients, I imagine, do not know that.

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  • Bob, thank you for this excellent, timely, and important piece. This is a complicated topic, and it can only be understood and addressed by appreciating that complexity. At the heart of this issue are fundamental questions about the nature of science itself and how the scientific enterprise can be hijacked by bad actors with agendas that are contrary to science’s goal of finding the truth for the betterment of society. We cannot properly understand the story of “antidepressants” without addressing these fundamental scientific issues. And for better or worse, these issues are complex and take a great deal of time to understand and process. Society reflexively trusts science, scientists, medicine, and doctors. The “antidepressant” story is a cautionary tale about misplaced trust in societal institutions gone rogue.

    What we have with the “science” surrounding “antidepressants” is “fruit of the poisoned tree.” There are bushels of fruit, but the tree is rotten to its core, which makes the fruit superficially alluring but poisonous upon close inspection.

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  • Via the process of backward reasoning, the authors of the 1980 French-based DSM alternative concluded that people who failed to appreciate French impressionist paintings presumably suffered from a chemical imbalance, most likely a deficiency of lead. Subsequent theorists posited the issue could be explained by broader dysregulation in the brain’s lead system. Currently, more sophisticated theorists have speculated about the complex interplay between relative surpluses or deficiencies, or various unknown complex interactions thereof, related to lead, cobalt, manganese, cadmium and chromium. Despite these intriguing hypotheses, the emergence of brain imaging and genetic testing technologies, and the increasingly molecular nature of our understanding of paint and paint-related chemicals in the brain and body, these theories remain speculative yet intriguing. That is why the painting industry has pledged $2 billion in research support through 2030, making the 2020s the French “decade of paint.” Unfortunately, to date, neuroscientists (who receive 92% of taxpayer-supported research grants into French impressionist paintings), have yet to confirm these intriguing hypotheses or determine in which parts of the brain and body they might manifest. The French NIMH director counterpart, Jacques Gordone, theorizes there may be a complex, heretofore unknown to anatomists, bodily circuit related to paint-related chemicals determining French impressionist painting assessment and ability, which can best be studied at the molecular or possibly even sub-atomic level. Such research, so his director’s blogs say, may hold the key to revitalizing and revolutionizing the French impressionist painting industry, thereby catapulting French society into a new golden age.

    (Steve: mic drop – your turn!)

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  • Dr. Leventhal,

    Thank you for your article, service to the profession, integrity, and passionate advocacy for this topic.

    I was in a position once to try and fight the good fight. I had a natural soapbox as editor of the Behavior Therapist and commissioned a scholarly work I remain fiercely proud of to this day: I had high hopes that science, critical thinking, and humanism would prevail, encouraging our colleagues to do something to right this obvious wrong.

    The next year, ABCT passed a new by-law expanding the organization’s mission to promoting the cognitive, behavioral, and “biological” aspects of human behaviour. They added the “biological” part so as not to discourage the groundswell of biomedical researchers from the organization. The higher-ups who drove this through had pricey grants for doing biomedical research and were committed to steering modern-day behaviorism in a biomedical direction.

    Behaviorism, as you and I know it, has changed. It is now, at the highest level, “biogenetic behaviorism.” And the leaders of this new field are not receptive to your or my arguments. They don’t care. They have abandoned principles for incentives. All the incentives surrounding their work and jobs align them to adhere to the DSM-based biomedical model. Their livelihoods, reputations, publications, grants, etc. are reliant on following incentives. And the incentive business is thriving.

    Just ask ABCT president Michelle Craske, the driving force behind adding “biological” to ABCT’s mission, who is one of a few experts in charge of UCLA’s grand challenge of ending depression in the world via biogenetic research. I’m not making that up. They think they can rid the world of “depression” via biomedical research. And this from what counts today as a superstar behaviorist.

    My experience is that the only people in our profession who ever publicly say or do anything about this are at retirement age. Like yourself. I tried fighting this fight in the middle of my career. I learned a powerful lesson from it: almost nobody gives a shit, even the ones who should. Sure, many agree in secret, backchannel, say keep fighting the good fight. But nobody cares enough to do anything. All incentives are aligned against this. Which flies in the face of the ultimate incentive for us to have entered this profession in the first place. To this day, I am still reeling from the implications of this reality for how I see my profession. In any case, my best to you. -Brett

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  • Apologies for my lengthy comment.

    It is amazing that these authors wrote such a thorough and thoughtful review of flourishing without once using the word “capitalism.”

    Their interviewees named income and social determinants of health (e.g., “access to food, housing, transportation, and education”) as most important to flourishing. We all know that within late-stage capitalist society, incomes have stagnated, inflation has risen, access to the basic necessities of life has grown more scare, and the rich are richer than ever and have designed and control societal structures that maintain the status quo. But the authors discuss these variables and their relationship to flourishing in terms of “health.”

    To their credit, the authors recognize the influence of social conditions on flourishing. They note: “…we cannot ignore the fact that people are—and inevitably will be—hard-pressed to reach their potential in environments of scarcity or risk, oppression, misrecognition, or violence. Without confronting these critical insights head-on, efforts to promote flourishing will inevitably miss the mark.” Alright authors, nice work, keep going, you’re so close to completing the puzzle…but there the story ends without naming the obvious cause of such environments: capitalism.

    This is akin to a group of tenured professors from ecology, zoology, and microbiology describing the ways animals adapt to their environment and change over time, and how some may be better equipped to survive and reproduce than others, without mentioning natural selection or mutation and using the theory of evolution to tie it all together. One could be helped for theorizing the authors avoided doing so on purpose given how obvious was the final piece of the puzzle.

    In his book Sedated, Jamies Davies had the courage lacked by these authors to directly address how late-stage capitalism causes the toxic social conditions that prevent flourishing, then locates lack of flourishing (many examples of which can be found in psychiatry’s DSM) within the individual and labels it as a health problem. The parallels with psychiatry’s biomedical model are obvious.

    Within this paradigm, both flourishing and “mental illness” are fundamentally “health” problems. Sure, they are related to social conditions, but the problem must be ultimately located within the individual. That way, toxic social conditions are mere “contributing factors” to individual-level health problems, and the cause of those social conditions is let off the hook. This same type of thinking has been brilliantly exposed in Mad in America blogs by Phil Hickey. He noted the example of how the Mayo Clinic describes the causes of depression as biogenetic factors like brain chemistry and relegates social conditions like “traumatic or stressful events, such as physical or sexual abuse, the death or loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or financial problems” as mere “risk factors” ( As with flourishing, environmental factors are “related” to the issue, but the nature of the issue is fundamentally one of the health of the individual, the “cause” of which is located in the person.

    The authors of this article on flourishing are surely smart and informed enough to understand the centrality of capitalism to this area of study. Which makes me wonder why it was not mentioned. The typically correct answer in such circumstances can be found by following the money, or more broadly, the incentives. I have no trouble believing these academics are incentivised to present flourishing as a health issue, heavily “influenced” by social conditions, but not “caused” by them in a manner that capitalism directly produces by design. This is the “third rail” that must not be touched. After all, these authors live in capitalistic societies and risk losing their resources if they question the societal order.

    The problem is, without naming the actual root cause and proposing solutions to address it, nothing changes.

    Want people to flourish? Start by ensuring they can comfortably access the essentials of life (food, housing, education, safety, community, etc.). But capitalism doesn’t do that. And capitalism doesn’t like people (like the authors of this article) saying that in public because if the public knew how badly they were getting screwed, capitalism might be in danger.

    Thought experiment: ask someone living in deep poverty if lack of money necessary to afford the essentials of life is a “contributing factor” or “direct cause” of their failure to flourish. Would they even endorse the idea that they have a problem of “failure to flourish” as opposed to a problem of “having no money”? Does it show privilege for people who have enough money and enjoy good social conditions (like the authors) to view such a person as “not flourishing” as opposed to being screwed by living in a social and economic system that has kicked them to the curb while funnelling society’s wealth to the super-rich and blaming poverty on poor people being lazy and undeserving of the necessities of life?

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  • Peter, thank you for this excellent article. Very interesting and informative. Given the small sample size, statistical fishing expedition methodology, poor sensitivity and specify of test results rendering them clinically useless, and over-the-top claims in the abstract, this article is a prototypical psychiatric infomercial masquerading as science. But informercial for what product? I checked out the conflicts of interest section of the article which says there are none. None, with Alan Schatzberg as an author? No way this article isn’t part of an effort to develop an “anti-suicide” pill or patent a “suicide test” by the authors. My prediction is that another heavily manipulated and scientifically flawed study will soon be forthcoming followed by one or both of the aforementioned products, thereby enriching the authors. We know the playbook by now. The major problem with this study is the possibility that someone might take it seriously.

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  • Exactly, Steve. Now that I think about it, could this be the first entry in what will eventually become a replacement of all standard prescription pills with digital pills? After all, wouldn’t the medical argument (doctors can monitor compliance) apply to ALL prescribed pills? I can even imagine insurance companies and other third-party payers refusing to pay for prescriptions not taken as directed. I’m going out on a limb and predicting within 20 years, digital pills will be common across medicine, adding many dozens of extra billions to pharma profits. I hate to be cynical but when it comes to psychiatry’s biomedical paradigm, my experience is that the reality is always much worse than you think no matter how cynical you are.

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  • Why do we have digital pills?

    “Abilify MyCite is not cheap. Its list price is roughly $1,650 compared to generic Abilify aripiprazole which is $20.” (source:

    That is why we have digital pills. Any other rationale provided is mere window dressing.

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  • “The medical establishment has made wonderful strides in destigmatizing ‘psychiatric disorders.’ However, we have helped to create a devastating stigmatization of emotional distress. Somehow, as it has become acceptable to suffer from a ‘psychiatric illness,’ it has become increasingly unacceptable to suffer from emotional distress and the current medical practice has nurtured this change.”


    First of all, the stigma surrounding psychiatric disorders has worsened as they have become increasingly medicalised. There have been no “wonderful strides.” Second, the author seems not to understand that the allegedly critical distinction between “psychiatric illness” and emotional distress does not exist. DSM-defined mental disorders, at least those related to emotions like anxiety and mood disorders, ARE emotional distress.

    It’s not often that an article conclusively debunks itself in the first three sentences.

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  • Thanks Phil, you make a very important point. By dropping the word “reaction,” apparently without thinking much about the implications of doing so, Spitzer and his DSM-III effectively turned psychological effects into causes. Anxiety for example, when construed as a reaction, is understand as an effect of causes. This naturally leads the clinician to explore those causes and regard them as the real problem, with anxiety essentially a side effect.

    With a stroke of his pen, Spitzer turned anxiety and other reactions from effects into causes. People were now anxious because they had an anxiety disorder. Clinicians became free to disregard the context in which anxiety occurred, assume it must be the product of an illness in the individual, and employ interventions to reduce or eliminate anxiety itself without regard to its cause(s). The seemingly innocuous linguistic change of removing the word “reaction” paved the way for psychiatry to detach itself from psychoanalysis, promote disease theories of its new diagnoses, and go all-in on using psychoactive drugs with the goal of “symptom reduction.”

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  • J. Sunda, well said, I agree. From a historical perspective, this interview is fascinating and illuminating. From a scientific perspective, it is horrifying. Spitzer and his DSM-III team basically just invented diagnoses and criteria sets based on a combination of politics, tradition, and personal bias. Science didn’t seem to enter the picture and to the extent it did, its findings were filtered through political negotiations and task force members pet ideas, rendering it moot. What is shocking is that these diagnoses and criteria sets remain all but unchanged 40 years after the were published. Major depressive disorder is still diagnosed by having 5 out of the 9 symptoms for at least 2 weeks that were invented out of thin air by Spitzer and his team. Except now, major depressive is a “real medical condition” and diagnosing and treating it is “evidence-based.” It is a triumph of marketing and perverse incentives over science and reality.

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  • Bob, thank you for yet another excellent article. Thank you for what you do. Nobody does it better.

    I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ve drafted Word documents. My first thoughts turned to the validity of DSM diagnoses, the critiques of the science and the conclusions from it. Low hanging fruit.

    But those are not the most important points and would result in arguments about minutae that would miss the point. The biggest issue, in my opinion, is philosophical. Thank you for calling this out. Our contemporary science is devoid of it. And psychiatry is entirely unequipped to address it.

    Should we work to identify and pharmacologically treat anxiety/depression/tempers/ passivity/irritibility/etc in newborns/infants/toddlers? Is doing so us engaging in preventive medicine, catching diseases early before they fully manifest? Or is it medicalizing human diversity, the ups and downs of life, toxic experiences and environments, and so on?

    Yes or no. Yes if such psychological experiences are understood as biologically-based medical illnesses, no different than catching a virus or tumor. No if they are understood as experiences that are a product of a person’s history and context. Yes or no.

    What does it mean to be human? Is it part of life to be sad, mad, afraid, bored, lonely, paranoid, guilty, angry, and so on? Are these experiences that can be understood in the context of a person and their history and environment? Are they part of life, understandable via analysis of what we’ve been through and the meaning we’ve made of it, and part of life’s journey? Or are any deviations from happiness and contentment and behaving in societally ideal ways indicative of medical pathology, no different from asthma or diabetes or cancer?

    It m comes down to this. It is an issue of philosophy. What is the nature of being a person living in today’s world? Does it matter a lot? Or not at all. THIS is the question.

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  • Bob, thank you for yet another excellent article. Thank you for what you do. Nobody does it better.

    I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ve drafted Word documents. My first thoughts turned to the validity of DSM diagnoses, the critiques of the science and the conclusions from it. Low hanging fruit.

    But those are not the most important points and would result in arguments about minutae that would miss the point. The biggest issue, in my opinion, is philosophical. Thank you for calling this out. Our contemporary science is devoid of it. And psychiatry is entirely unequipped to address it.

    Should we work to identify and pharmacologically treat anxiety/depression/tempers/ passivity_irritibility/etc in newborns/infants/toddlers? Is doing so us engaging in preventive medicine, catching diseases early before they fully manifest? Or is it medicalizing life?

    Yes or no. Yes if such psychological experiences are understood as biologically-based medical illnesses, no different than catching a virus or tumor. No if they are understood as experiences that are a product of the person’s history and context.

    What does it mean to be human? Is it part of life to be sad, mad, afraid, bored, lonely, paranoid, guilty, angry, and so on? Are these experiences that can be understood in the context of a person and their history and environment? Are they part of life, understandable via analysis of what we’ve been through and the meaning we’ve made of it, and part of life’s journey? Or are any deviations from happiness and contentment and behaving in societally ideal ways indicative of medical pathology, by definition?

    Or are these various forms of unhappiness/imperfection medical illnesses, pathological deviations from the normal state of being a human which is to have no “symptoms,” to be perfectly and happy and content and always behave according to societal normal, of one’s history and environment?

    It all comes down to this. This is the “third rail” psychiatry cannot touch. Happily avoiding the third rail means not ignoring the morality of giving a 3-year-old a psychiatric drug, chalking it up to science and evidence and such. Ditto with giving a presumably fidgety infant. After all, science, prevention of mental illness, benefits of treatment. But this approach has no philosophy of what it means to be human, no understanding of how life can be difficult and make people struggle.

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  • Phil, thank you for this post. I am going to have my 25 first-year clinical psychology students read the Aftab article and your two replies to facilitate a critical discussion about DSM diagnoses and psychiatry’s biomedical model. Thank you for your contribution to this important dialogue. I want you to know that your work is making a difference.

    Louisa, you have identified a critically important issue in this discussion: reductionism, or how to understand the connection between mind and brain. Psychiatry’s clear contention, rarely acknowledged out loud but clearly evident in its DSM and biomedical model ideology, is that the mind IS the brain. This means a problem of thinking, feeling, and/or behaving (i.e., every DSM diagnosis) is, by definition, a brain problem. After all, there can be no mind without the brain, so what else could it be? And psychiatrists are medical doctors who treat illnesses of the body, so therefore it makes sense for them to be in charge of treating psychological problems which are fundamentally brain problems. All other “mental health professionals” are ancillary because they are not qualified to treat the core pathology. Only medical doctors can do so. This is the core philosophical assumption of psychiatry and of healthcare systems based upon this assumption like that of Australia where I live.

    This reductionist philosophy is the equivalent of assuming fussy eaters have stomach pathology, by definition, because the stomach digests food. After all, there is no eating without the stomach. Therefore, fussy eaters need to see internal medicine specialists to treat their presumably broken stomachs, perhaps with drugs, surgery, electric shocks, magnets, or whatever else might correct the presumed (yet unproven) pathology. And why wouldn’t it be so? To the extent they are even relevant, the role of a behavioral specialist is to support the doctor by teaching the client skills to manage their medical illness. And notably, faith in the presumed pathology is so strong because of this reductionist philosophy that actual evidence of pathology is irrelevant. We KNOW there is stomach pathology because it HAS to exist, philosophically, because why else would people be fussy eaters?

    It’s easy to critique my silly eating/stomach analogy. Yes, a stomach is required to digest food, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a defective stomach is to blame for being a fussy eater. Or that the most helpful solution is to intervene at the level of the stomach instead of eating behavior using established psychological principles. And it’s obvious that there are environmental explanations for being a fussy eater. And being a fussy eater isn’t that unusual, exists on a continuum, changes over time with experience, and is probably best not viewed in medical/illness terms at all. Blaming a broken stomach and using invasive stomach-based interventions to fix a presumed but never demonstrated stomach pathology would obviously be considered idiotic, not just by the medical/scientific community but by common sense.

    What’s the difference?

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  • Thank you, Sarah, for this informative post.

    What if every single diagnosis in the DSM has either been simply made up by the experts on its committees based on their subjective hunches or pressured to be created by special interests like BED? What if none of them has ever had any validity despite decades of frantic searching funded by billions of dollars? What if the DSM framers themselves readily admit this?

    What should we do with the DSM? Pretend its diagnoses are valid and place it at the center of every aspect of the system including education, assessment, intervention, access to services, and the legal system? Ok, makes sense, will do.

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  • Thanks, Ben, for this excellent and very important article!

    My question is this: what are the consequences for authors who lie about conflicts of interest? None whatsoever, presumably. The institutions are in on the pharma gravy train as well. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Welcome to the world of medical “science” in which “scientists” are paid spokespersons for drug companies and their products and are enthusiastically supported by our universities for doing so. And in no field is this worse than psychiatry.

    Yay, science!

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  • It’s almost as if psychiatry deliberately lies to the public to maintain its credibility and always gets away with it no matter the evidence. When non-psychiatrists protest, no amount of truth or credibility they possess matters. Perhaps psychiatry is like the big banks – too big to fail. As James Davies brilliantly pointed out in Sedated, psychiatry serves a critical societal role in countries like the US, UK, and Australia. The truth of psychiatric theories and practices may actually be irrelevant, for all practical purposes. And if that is true, I dare any person who interacts with the mental health system to wrap their head around that. I’m many years in and the implications are still almost too mind-boggling for me to process and I’ve seen through the con for a long time.

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  • Great points, Lucy, and I (like Steve) totally agree. I think another issue with “neurodiversity” is one of reductionism – conflating the mind with the brain. The fact that some people behave differently from what society considers “normal” doesn’t mean they have a malfunctioning brain. The word “neurodiverse,” similar to the DSM-5’s new category of “neurodevelopmental disorders,” is used to create the impression that certain people have brains that are fundamentally different than those of “normal” people. But in both cases, there is no evidence for this and what has happened is a rhetorical sleight of hand in which socially constructed differences in thinking/feeling/behaving have been switched to brain differences in order to make these phenomena seem more “real.” And this misdirection works thus bringing about the desired outcomes for the entities who promote the supposed validity of neurodiversity and neurodevelopmental disorders. For those of us who understand the flaws of biological psychiatry and it’s false claims of diagnostic validity and biogenetic causes of psychological differences, the reality that evolution and genetics make us all “diverse” and that this is both expected and beneficial for humanity, and the fact that socially constructed “abnormal” behaviour does not indicate a brain defect, these concepts are just silly.

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  • Phil, I couldn’t resist checking’s website to re-test the basic thesis of your post. Here is the depression page:

    The “causes” of depression include:
    -biological differences
    -brain chemistry
    -inherited traits

    “Risk factors” for depression include:
    -Certain personality traits
    -Traumatic or stressful events
    -Family history
    -Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or having variations in the development of genital organs that aren’t clearly male or female (intersex) in an unsupportive situation”
    -Other mental disorders
    -Abuse of alcohol or recreational drugs
    -Serious or chronic illness, including cancer, stroke, chronic pain or heart disease
    -Certain medications, such as some high blood pressure medications or sleeping pills

    Bingo. The actual causes of depression are designated as risk factors. And what are listed as causes are highly speculative, scientifically unsupported, and to the extent they are even remotely valid, best understood as risk factors.

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  • Phil, I always get so excited to see a new post from you! Nobody critiques psychiatry’s biomedical model better. Have you ever considered compiling your blog posts into a book? It would be a wonderful contribution to the world.

    As always, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this post. Psychiatry requires the biomedical model for its legitimacy as a branch of medicine. It HAS to be true even if it is clearly not. Thus, social determinants “shape” rather than “cause” mental illness. They are “risk factors.” If psychiatry admits they are “causes,” the jig is up. If psychiatry were to admit that psychological problems are understandable reactions to social causes (and perhaps unhelpful psychological reactions to them), this would mean that they are not biologically-based illnesses located within the individual. And if this is true, the core conceptual foundation of psychiatry crumbles and the field has no reason to exist. After all, why would medically-trained doctors be needed to help people with problems in living caused by things that have happened in their lives? If you want to live life better and be happier and more fulfilled, why would you see an auto mechanic, or an accountant, or a medical doctor, as opposed to a counselor, psychologist, personal trainer, or life coach, or better connect with friends and family?

    It is an existential threat to the profession for psychiatrists to acknowledge their biomedical model is wrong, and the few psychiatrists (mostly after retirement age) who have spoken this truth have been swiftly blackballed from the profession. But psychiatrists like recent APA president Vivian Pender have learned there are political advantages to appearing enlightened by pretending to take social determinants seriously. This makes it superficially appear that psychiatry is grounded in reality by acknowledging that psychological problems can be caused by bad things that happen to us. But upon closer inspection, this is smoke and mirrors, as you have brilliantly revealed. What Pender is really saying is this: social determinants are risk factors for biologically-based mental illnesses that must be treated with psychiatric drugs and brain shocks/magnets, perhaps even earlier and more aggressively in the service of “prevention.”

    You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Thank you, Phil, for telling us about the shade of psychiatry’s lipstick. Nobody does it better. Please do keep writing.

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  • They admit they are “still learning” when talking to each other in scientific publications that are read only by other experts. But they lie and say they “know” that mental illness are real brain illnesses caused by a chemical imbalance when talking to the public. Robert Whitaker and Lisa Cosgrove identified the core issue here in Psychiatry Under the Influence – what do we do with a trusted societal institution that is demonstrably incapable of being honest with society?

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  • Peter, thanks for another great article! This study (hi Alex!) makes some great points that together help explain why decades of biological psychiatry research has accomplished essentially nothing of value “that might generalize to real-world patients.” But undoubtedly the same kind of research will continue with the same enthusiasm, unfulfilled promises that are never held accountable that we are on the cusp of a revolution that will transform everything, publications, grants, academic jobs, tenure and promotion, strong reputations, pharmaceutical company gifts, and so on.

    Why? Because this entire research enterprise is not and never has been about helping “real-world patients.” It is about acquiring resources for researchers. That is the point of a publication for a researcher – to pad the CV, get a job, get a grant, become a journal editor, get a book deal, get invited to present highly paid seminars, have people stare at you in awe at conferences, and so on. That is why researchers naively and intentionally engage in scientific sloppiness and misconduct. Trust me, I was trained to do so and accepted this fake world as a seductive and valid reality before a few years of real-world practice knocked some sense into me.

    Research is not about the patients. It’s about the researchers. And it’s not even really the researchers’ fault unless their work is deliberately fraudulent. It’s how the entire system is designed. It’s the natural consequence of incentives being followed.

    The sooner we can all understand this, the sooner we can collectively dismiss almost all of 40 years of biological psychiatry research (and that’s just for starters) into the dustbin of history and start over. But that won’t happen because the influential leaders needed to do this are all beholden to the incentives that drive shitty research. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s difficult to imagine a way out.

    There is a reason why wise practitioners ignore 99% of what counts for psychiatric research and it’s not that they are ignorant anti-science buffoons. It’s that the are switched on enough to see through the con. Because for them, it’s all about the patients.

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  • Thanks for your very thoughtful comment. I’m with you – I want to see a change to the way things are done, not just rant in an echo chamber. Have you read James Davies’ fantastic book Sedated? ( It helped me understand the bigger governmental/economic picture into which the biomedical model fits. There are critical needs in a neoliberal late-capitalist society the biomedical model/”mental health industry” fills that transcend its validity and utility, principally locating problems within individuals instead of social conditions and using psychiatric and psychological “treatment” to get people to be more productive workers rather than fighting for improved social conditions and finding meaning in their lives regardless of the effect on the economy. George Carlin nailed it in 1996: Sedated opened my eyes to this and helped me understand why the current “mental health system” persists despite the obvious and one-would-normally-assume fatal problems with the DSM, psychiatry, use of psychotropic drugs, etc. His thesis is basically that this paradigm is intended to serve the interests of society’s capitalistic economic and psychological ideology (in the Reagan/Thatcher tradition) and not the best interests of the people in it. I find it compelling. And given the continued dominance of the biomedical paradigm despite all evidence indicating it is toxic, I genuinely question whether any amount of evidence of its invalidity and harmfulness can fundamentally change the situation given the powerful interests it serves. Still, I’m going to try anyway. My best to you.

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  • Thanks for your reply and interest in this topic. I wrote an article on this topic that contains direct references (with quotes) to psychiatrists speaking out of both sides of their mouths on the biomedical model of “mental illness”: Why make your own arguments when you can simply quote points made by prominent psychiatrists who in moments of honesty say the quiet part out loud like Kendler did?

    In this MIA post, you can see former APA president Jeffrey Lieberman argue that we shouldn’t be trying to diagnose Trump with a personality disorder because personality disorders aren’t valid anyway (check out my comment):

    Another excellent resource is this article by Leo and Lacasse:

    Consistent with Leo and Lacasse’s article, the gold medal for duplicity has to go to Ronald Pies. Phil Hickey has rightfully eviscerated his BS many times. Here is a good example:

    You raise a valuable point though – wouldn’t it be nice to have a central source that catalogs direct quotes from prominent psychiatrists who argue that mental disorders either are or are not valid depending on which argument best suits the circumstance? I’ll think about putting together such a resource.

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  • Totally agree, Steve. I’ll see your “overprescription” and raise you “overdiagnosis.” I can see an argument that in some cases, taking a psychiatric drug in the short-term that numbs emotions or produces relaxation can be helpful even as we understand the drug is not curing a brain disease, has adverse effects that should be considered alongside its potential benefits, and should only be taken briefly to help a person get through an acute crisis. I’m not saying I endorse this view but I can see how it makes sense and if so that means that at least in some rare cases, prescribing can make sense. However, diagnosis is *always* bullshit in psychiatry. There is never a case where it can be reasonably said that a person truly “has” a mental disorder given that they are all invalid social constructions pretending to be real medical illnesses.

    What percentage of slaves who attempted to escape and were diagnosed with drapetomania actually had the mental illness vs. did not actually have the mental illness? What percentage of people who are grieving a significant loss and are diagnosed with major depressive disorder actually have the mental illness vs. don’t have it? What percentage of people who take an “antidepressant” and experience akathisia have experienced the emergence of latent “bipolar disorder” vs. an adverse drug reaction?

    I have learned much from my time here at MIA and one key takeaway is that “overdiagnosis” is an invalid word in the “mental health” context because this term relies on the demonstrably false premise that mental disorders are valid “things” that some people “have.” But don’t take my word for it, listen to eminent psychiatrist Kenneth Kendler who just said this:

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  • He said the quiet part out loud. This would be the same Kendler who served on the DSM-5 depressive disorders group and argued in favour of stripping the bereavement exception from major depression. He is part of a proud tradition of psychiatrists (Insel, Lieberman, Hyman) who argue that mental disorders either are or are not valid depending on which argument best suits the circumstance.

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  • I don’t see how dividing the world into “neurotypicals” (non-autistic people) and the “neurodiverse” (autistic people) is an improvement over dividing the world into “normals” (“mentally healthy” people) and the “biologically-based mentally ill.” Both promote a biological essentialist view of humanity that is pseudoscientific, stigmatizing, and more likely to divide and harm than unite and help.

    The science is clear: characterizing a psychological problem as a biologically-based mental illness, a “thing” a person “has” that normal people don’t have and is caused by a brain/genetic abnormality, worsens stigma among both sufferers and everyone else. We know this. Yet, this large and consistent scientific literature is consistently ignored by those like this author who claim a desire to “promote acceptance” and “reduce stigma.” Why would those who wish to reduce stigma totally ignore research showing that labeling a psychological problem as a “biologically-based mental illness” worsens stigma? Obviously, they have a different agenda. This agenda is usually to “educate” others that the “mental illness” is “real” and “treatable.” Why would they do this? Follow the money and guild interests and you’ll usually find the answer.

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  • Great article, Peter! This study provides additional, unique, and really interesting evidence that antidepressants are basically placebos (but with adverse effects). I’m not sure from your write-up if the researchers addressed what I see as the biggest problem with using a PRI in a clinical trial: it intentionally biases the study by attempting to stack the deck against the placebo condition. The fact that this biased design feature doesn’t work is poetic justice but for me, the best reason to oppose PRI is that it is basically at attempt at scientific fraud. Whether it works or not is beside the point. A related design feature that is also basically scientific fraud is a drug run-in phase in which all participants are first assigned to the drug condition, and those who do not respond during the first few weeks, or have negative responses, are excluded from the trial. It never ceases to amaze me that such transparently scientifically ridiculous practices are commonplace in psychiatric drug trials published in top medical journals. Just goes to show that drug trials are typically conducted to *demonstrate that the drugs work,* which is marketing and not science, and makes medical journals more like consumer product magazines than scientific publications.

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  • Thank you, Bob, for this informative article. It zeroes in on a very important point. I’d like to point out that these extremely unimpressive findings are in fact quite exaggerated in favor of the psychiatric drug due to problematic design and reporting features in these clinical trials such as use of inactive placebos and unblinding, placebo washout, selective publication of positive trials, etc. It’s entirely possible that with an ethical and unbiased trial design, even these tiny efficacy differences would disappear. However, differences in adverse effects would be pronounced. It’s interesting that *these* visual graphs are conspicuously missing from published trials. Drug companies and their paid psychiatric spokespersons wouldn’t want to paint that picture in prescribers’ minds, would they?

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  • This would be the same Dr. Aftab often called out at MIA for defending psychiatry in the guise of critiquing it (e.g.,

    Three quick points. First, the authors conveniently ignore that the ascendancy of the DSM is a result of psychiatry marketing the DSM-III and the biomedical model, in partnership with pharma, to rebrand itself as a legitimate branch of medicine.

    Second, the authors ignore the single most important conceptual framework of the DSM: the notion that any thought, feeling, or behavior in its symptom checklists are abnormal “symptoms” regardless of the context in which they occur and represent a “manifestation of a pathological condition” (quoting DSM-5). Feel depressed or down 2 weeks after a loved one dies? That is a “symptom” – in other words, not an understandable response given the circumstances but a pathological and deviant expression of a medical illness located within the individual that has nothing to do with that individual’s history and context. That, by far, is the most fundamental conceptual framework embedded in the DSM. This framework is inherently dehumanizing and stigmatizing, transparently ridiculous, and is the core philosophical assumption of the profession of psychiatry without which the profession would have no rationale for existence. No wonder the authors, including the duplicitous Dr. Aftab, didn’t mention this in their “critical analysis” of conceptual frameworks related to psychiatric classification.

    Third, the authors write, “The difficulties and uncertainties that psychiatric nosology faces do not necessarily represent a ‘failure’ of the psychiatric project,” Aftab and Ryznar write, “but could also represent a ‘discovery’ of sorts of the limitations of the project of scientific classification itself.” Bullshit. As Thomas Szasz observed, real medical diseases exist and are easily and objectively proven. Psychiatric “diseases” are difficult to classify scientifically because they only exist in the minds of people who create and use them.

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  • I have a lot of respect for Richard Bentall and have enjoyed reading his book Doctoring the Mind. But he did not “revolutionize psychology.” Basically nothing has changed. I admire his courage in speaking truth to power but let’s not kid ourselves and pretend the biomedical paradigm is any less dominant in psychology due to his (or any other psychologist’s) efforts.

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  • Bob, you have really outdone yourself here. In my opinion, this is the single best piece of investigative journalism I have seen you write, and that is really saying something. Thank you for this incredible contribution. This article is so strongly supported by the publicly available evidence you report here that it seems impossible to critique. Instead, it will likely be ignored. Which brings me to Richard’s astute analysis. Richard, I agree with everything you said. It’s impossible to be deeply knowledgeable about this topic without being cynical. We all know what the media response to Bob’s report will be: nothing, despite the fact this story should be leading the national news.

    The question of how meaningful change can occur is a difficult one to answer. The mass media is incapable of reporting the truth due to conflicts of interest and has the power to set the narrative. My one hope is this – younger people in general are less inclined to trust the mainstream media and are more likely to be politically and socially liberal. Perhaps someday in the future the pendulum will swing in the direction of the truth because they will be less inclined to believe the steady diet of biased information provided by the mainstream media. But they are also heavily medicated and have grown up in a world where the biomedical model is an accepted reality. And in a twisted manner, the neoliberal worldview encourages labelling and medicalizing distress caused by social factors in the name of reducing “stigma.” Young socially liberal people might actually be more prone to support the biomedical model than older generations.

    I agree with you that more than anything else, progress depends on moving away from a virulent form of unfettered capitalism and a global financial system that enriches the wealthy and screws everyone else. Our politicians – mostly older rich privileged white men who are in the pocket of the capitalists – won’t be changing this system any time soon. But they won’t be in power much longer. Young people today face a world where wages have stagnated, inflation is out of control, home ownership and saving for the future are a pipe dream, and the opportunities their parents and grandparents took for granted no longer exist. In 1970, my parents bought a nice home for a price equal to 1 year of a public school teacher’s salary. That same house today would cost the equivalent of 8-10 year’s salary. Young people today don’t stand a fighting chance.

    A movement is growing in the background to change the system and young people are our best hope. This incidentally is why I support Bitcoin (and why El Salvador recently adopted it as legal tender). I’ve come to understand how what we use as money profoundly affects every aspect of society, including so-called “mental health.” See this resource: Once we broke from the gold standard in 1971 and our money became unsound, everything that matters for the health of a society has gone rapidly downhill.

    Bob’s report shows how psychiatric “science” is a thinly veiled exercise in marketing – so thin they aren’t even really trying to hide it anymore. The practice of psychiatry and psychology, as James Davies so thoughtfully pointed out, involve medicalizing and controlling distress caused mostly by social factors in a manner that supports the capitalists’ desire to maintain the status quo that enriches them and screws everyone else. Universal healthcare and a living minimum wage would dramatically improve the lives of millions but would take money from the capitalists and their pawns who control the government. Better to frame socially caused distress as a medical illness within the individual and get “mental health professionals” to use their skills and pills to sedate people who are suffering due to the social conditions caused by toxic capitalism. This frees up Jeff Bezos to spend more money exploring new planets in his spaceship.

    We need a fundamental change from within psychology (psychiatry is incapable of meaningful change) as well as a change in our political and financial system. Bob’s report here shows, better than anything I have ever read on MIA, that modern psychiatry is rotten to the core – very much by choice – and should not be taken seriously by anybody.

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  • Thank you both for this beautifully written and powerful post. Analogies like “low alcohol disorder” are a great way to highlight the absurdity of the biomedical paradigm. I will encourage my students to read this. That said, in order to be accredited, our program is required to train students in the “emotions are illnesses” paradigm and demonstrate they have “competency” in it.

    I fully agree with your point that there is no such thing as “integrating” the biomedical model with a more holistic approach because such integrations still rely on the core assumption of medical illness. That’s why I think the “biopsychosocial” model many hold up as the ideal doesn’t really change anything and is far from a paradigm shift. An actual paradigm shift involves fully rejecting the notion that problems of thinking, feeling, and behaving are medical illnesses. The issue then, for our profession, is that we have to throw the entire educational apparatus out the window and start over from the beginning. In my view, this could be a good thing. However, no program that did so would have any chance of being accredited. This is a difficult problem to solve.

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  • Someone Else, of course you are right. The problem is, speaking about my profession of psychology, we have no idea how to think about and how to help with “social conditions” like adverse childhood experiences. We know how to “diagnose” and “treat” “mental disorders.” We reframe adverse experiences in DSM terms (e.g., losing a loved one = major depressive disorder) and offer techniques to “reduce symptoms,” just as psychiatrists and GPs offer “medications” to “reduce symptoms.” The very defining feature of “clinical” psychology, as opposed to counselling or social work, is “diagnosing and treating mental disorders.” Returning to the title of Micah’s article, “Why not Diagnose Social Conditions Instead of Individual Symptoms?” – my answer is clear: because “mental health professionals” don’t think that way. Our entire system is organised, from the ground up, around a model that is designed (quite intentionally) to locate problems in the individual, ignore social conditions entirely, and provide pills and skills to control thoughts and feelings that are considered “bad.”

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  • Steve, I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but of course you are right. The only person who makes the decision is you. The doctor informs and advises, you decide, period. Anything else is coercion and a violation of your human rights. The entire concept of shared decision making is based on the assumption that a professional gets to decide what you should do, to at least some extent. And any extent to which you are not in control of your decisions is totally unacceptable. Thanks for pointing out what should have been obvious to me. I’ll never think of “shared decision making” the same way again!

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  • One helpful way to promote “clear thinking about biomarkers in psychiatry to avoid bioreductionism” is to STOP calling them “deficits” and “impairments.” These loaded terms are frequently used by researchers to describe biomarkers. They have obvious causal implications – a deficit/impairment is a biological abnormality caused by the “illness.” But with psychiatric biomarkers we have 2 big problems – the “illnesses” are not real and the biomarkers are mere correlates.

    Biomedical researchers use such terms without apparently understanding or caring about their misleading nature. I’ve called out my fellow psychological scientists on this practice a few times and the response I’ve received from top-level, highly published, full professor psychological scientists is best described as a blank stare followed by the annoyance one demonstrates while swatting away a fly.

    It is clear to me that the scientific community generally has no idea how to think properly about biomarkers, the nature of DSM diagnoses, and about reductionism. For starters, I wish professionals who work in this area would read this blog, “The Mereological Fallacy and representational Theories of Mind”: To quote:

    “Stomachs don’t eat lunch. Eating lunch is something that a whole, embodied person does. We understand the role that stomachs play in the lunch-eating process; we appreciate that people can’t eat lunch without them. Brains don’t think. They don’t learn, imagine, solve problems, calculate, dream, remember, hallucinate or perceive. To think that they do is to commit the same fallacy as someone who thought that people can eat lunch because they have little people inside them (stomachs) that eat lunch. This is the mereological fallacy: the fallacy of confusing the part with the whole (or of confusing the function of the part with the telos, or aim, of the whole, as Aristotle, who as usual beat us to the crux of the problem, would say).”

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  • Kindredspirit, this is the best comment I have ever read about Allen Frances. Powerful and spot on. To Frances, psychiatry is fundamentally sound, real mental illness exists, and psychiatric drugs are useful and life-saving. They key, to him, is for psychiatry to be done “correctly,” to diagnose accurately, and to medicate properly when indicated. His apparent problem is that it is done “incorrectly” too often, leading to “misdiagnosis/overdiagnosis” and improper “treatment.”

    He is clearly incapable of acknowledging that the entire enterprise is not only broken but fundamentally rotten. He has too much skin in the game. He is one of the more high-profile examples of a KOL-level psychiatrist who waits until retirement to publicly admit that the profession has “problems” without having the courage to admit what we know they know but won’t say.

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  • Thank you, Jennifer, for this excellent post. With “anti-stigma” campaigns, follow the money and guild interests and you will usually find the partnership of pharma and psychiatry promoting the biomedical model, typically through astroturf organizations like NAMI. Their agenda is not to reduce stigma per se, but rather to redefine stigma as not believing that psychological struggles are biologically-based mental illnesses that require drug treatment from doctors. Not believing the biomedical model means you have “poor mental health literacy.” People don’t naturally see things this way but decades of intensive marketing have changed societal attitudes so effectively that those of who now oppose the biomedical model (which is scientifically inaccurate, philosophically bankrupt, and harmful to public health) are considered ignorant and prejudiced. George Orwell would be impressed.

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  • This article is brilliant. The author wisely speaks of leaving the old (biomedical) narrative behind and I agree with this imperative.

    Speaking as an educator in a psychology training program, the thing is the entire foundation of the profession, as currently practiced, is based on the DSM-focused biomedical model. Training programs are required to follow it to be accredited. We are required to show that our students are competent in using it. What the author is talking about here, to be actionable, involves blowing up the entire profession, training model, accreditation standards, ethics code, everything. And that is why it will never happen. Despite the fact that it should.

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  • Here is an analogy. Imagine we apply the DSM symptom-based approach to medical symptoms. The DSM framers would invent syndromes such as sore throat disorder, cough disorder, fever disorder, difficulty breathing disorder, chest pain disorder, rash disorder, etc. These disorders would be grouped together in sections based on the framer’s clinical judgment – for example, difficulty breathing disorder would be found in the respiratory disorders section.

    Then HiTOPS comes along and says we can do better. Symptoms such as sore throat are dimensional, not categorical. And the DSM way of grouping disorders together relies on expert judgment, so we can group them together empirically which is more sciency. A coalition of HiTOPS academics produces a new model of medical symptoms. There is a higher-order factor of “general medical symptoms,” and several lower order “major spectra” such as respiratory symptoms, cardiac symptoms, pain symptoms, movement symptoms, and so on. Within these spectra are DSM-based disorders such as cough disorder and sore throat disorder (which are often comorbid). What an improvement!

    Imagine the innovation in assessment and treatment this new HiTOPS system will produce! I quote the article cited in Javier’s article: “The assessment approach should help the clinician identify the specific regions of the HiTOP model that are most relevant to the patient’s presenting problems. The flexibility of HiTOP allows the clinician to focus on different levels of generality and type of problem. The clinician would then apply the intervention that is most likely to work, based on the HiTOP characterization of the client’s clinical concerns.”

    As they say in Australia, yeah…nah. It is as useless to understand psychological experiences purely at the “symptom” level as it is to understand medical diseases at this same level. And it’s also philosophically wrong to construe psychological experiences like feeling sad, worried, bored, irritable, etc. as “symptoms.” It’s long past time to retire the symptom-based approach of the DSM and HiTOPS. But researchers continue to be incentivised for using these systems in their publications and grants, and practitioners are incentivised for using these systems in their work, and the entire educational framework of psychology and psychiatry is based on accepting symptom-based diagnosis as valid. The entire system is f$%&#d. The fact that symptom-based diagnosis is invalid and harmful is an inconvenient truth, best to ignore it when there are jobs to be had and money to be made.

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  • It seems HiTOP may be a more scientific way of classifying different types of “symptoms” into categories than the DSM. But like the DSM, it assumes psychological experiences are “symptoms” (i.e., manifestations of a pathological condition) and totally ignores the history and context in which they occur. No matter how much success the authors have in scientifically mapping various types of “symptoms,” their framework can never be useful in actually understanding a person’s psychological experience or of any use to therapists who attempt to understand their clients as people whose psychological experiences are reactions to what has happened in their life and the meaning they make of it.

    I agree with Grace that the UK clinical psychology Power, Threat, and Meaning framework makes so much more sense than HiTOP. The UK framework was written mainly by practitioners who want to be able to understand and help real people. The HiTOP framework is written mainly by American academics who don’t see clients and are incentivised for publications and research grants.

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  • Martin, thank you for contributing this excellent blog post! I look forward to reading your book when it is released. I live in Australia and share your keen interest in these issues. I learned a lot about the political side of this problem from your article. I’d like to share a few thoughts on your commentary.

    You wrote that, “The main problem with DSM-5 is that normal human suffering and frailty is classified as disease.” This leads to understandable psychological struggles in response to bad things happening pathologized as medical illness, leading to medical “treatment” (psychiatric drugs, ECT, etc.). I would argue there is another main problem with the DSM: it is not scientifically credible. The “disorders” therein are not valid, let alone reliable.

    The modern DSM is an invention of the American Psychiatric Association, created out of desperation in the late 1970s to save its image as a credible branch of medicine. DSM “mental disorder” diagnoses have never been scientifically credible but the APA, in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry and other entities, managed to convince the public that DSM diagnoses are “real biological illnesses, just like diabetes.” Australian psychiatry eagerly adopted the American model. As a former American living in Australia, it appears even more entrenched and dogmatic here than in the US, and psychiatry/medicine has no real competition as opposed to the US and especially the UK where psychology is a more prominent critical voice. Historically, Australia has followed what America does based on faith and loyalty. Australia fights alongside the US in wars no matter how unjust or irrelevant to Australian interests. And Australia has adopted America’s uniquely home-grown DSM-based biomedical model for itself. As a bonus, this model is exceptionally useful to the medical profession in terms of power, money, and prestige despite the fact the model is both scientifically invalid and harmful to society.

    There are three additional issues your essay doesn’t emphasize or address that, in my opinion, are crucial in understanding why 1 in 6 Australians take psychiatric drugs. First, psychiatry, in protecting its guild interests, consistently lies about its theories and “treatments,” as Robert Whitaker and Lisa Consgrove demonstrated in Psychiatry Under the Influence. For example, here you can find the official position of Australian psychiatry that its drugs “work by rebalancing chemicals in the brain” ( The Australian Department of Health ( tells the public, “Depression involves changes in brain chemistry and can change the way people respond to their world. Antidepressant medicines can correct the imbalance of chemicals in the brain until such time as the natural balance is restored.” I have complained to the relevant entities about this misinformation and was blown off. Nobody cares.

    Second, medicine (including psychiatry) is trusted by the public. This means that society, including politicians, patients, and the media, is unable to imagine let alone act on the fact that medicine (especially psychiatry) lies about the nature and “treatment” of “mental health” problems. In Australia, doctors run the healthcare system. Other professions like psychology that might challenge medicine are mere “allied health professions,” clearly subordinate to medicine and less trustworthy and credible in the public eye.

    Your proposed solutions seem focused on making accurate information available to the public. I agree with you that such solutions are necessary. However, I doubt they would make much difference to the “1 in 6 medicated Aussies” figure because of the third issue I discuss below.

    Australians trust their doctors. The Australian healthcare system places general practitioners as the gatekeepers to the mental health system. Every person who wishes to see a psychologist and receive a Medicare rebate must first see a GP. As you noted, GPs are inadequately trained for this task and know little beyond the basic version of psychiatry’s biomedical model. Indeed, 1 in 10 Australians takes an “antidepressant” prescribed by their GP. However, society venerates GPs as THE experts in mental health, certainly more expert than the psychologists to whom they refer clients. Even when they refer a client to a psychologist, the client has to come back after 6 sessions and ask the GP’s permission for additional sessions, and the psychologist has to write a report to the GP to ask for permission. In the Australian mental health system, psychologists work for GPs as much as they do for clients. Fundamentally, the mental health system is run by medical doctors.

    The third issue I speak of is this: doctors are incapable of safely and competently prescribing psychiatric drugs. This fact is clearly demonstrated in the US, UK, Australia, and similar countries that have the highest prescribing rates and worst outcomes in the world.

    Martin, I believe that if every one of your suggested reforms were instituted, the societal effect would be minimal. Doctors will keep doing what doctors do – offering psychiatric drugs to people in distress regardless what the science and guidelines say. Unless their practice is severely regulated and restricted, or they are removed from the equation altogether and people can see a therapist/psychologist directly without having to be exposed to doctors eager to medicalize and prescribe, I believe we’re stuck. And such reforms would require regulators and politicians to recognize that the profession of medicine (psychiatry) has lied to us all in order to protect its guild interests.

    On a personal note, Martin, I would be keen to correspond with you about these matters as I am working in this area as well. Please do email me if you see this at [email protected]. Best, Brett

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  • Jon, thank you for this excellent post. I really enjoy your writing! Please do keep it up.

    I’ve been thinking about what you wrote and an observation comes to mind: Peterson’s story only has this happy ending because of his enormous privilege. How many people could afford the treatments he received? How many could take that much time off work yet return to the same high-paying role? I’d guess that the vast, vast majority of other people (95%+) who found themselves in his predicament would have experienced financial ruin and a subsequent lifetime of psychological and physical disability. But due to his privilege, he did not. I am genuinely happy for him to have avoided such (further) hell. But this seems to have made it possible for him avoid confronting some obvious lessons about psychiatry, its biomedical ideology, and its drugs that most others in his shoes would be forced to spend the rest of their ruined lives dealing with.

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  • Phil, thank you for another excellent post. These psychiatrists’ attempts to revise history by exonerating their profession from promoting the chemical imbalance hoax must not be allowed to stand. It is still happening to this day.

    In the article you critiqued, Dr. Aftab said, “Generally, I agree with you that the chemical imbalance was never accepted as the ‘truth’ by academic psychiatry or by our professional organizations. It was likely an advertisement strategy by pharmaceutical companies that took on a life of its own.”

    Here is a link to The Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website page on the topic of “Medication for Mental Illness”:

    I quote:
    “How do medications treat mental illness? Medications work by rebalancing the chemicals in the brain.”

    Nothing has changed.

    I’d also like to speak to the biopsychosocial (BPS) model Pies venerates. If you read Engel’s famous article, he never actually articulates such a model but instead denigrates medicine in general and psychiatry in particular for being overly biological and paying only lip service to the psychological and social. I would expect that Pies’ favored version of the BPS involves physical pathology (e.g., chemical imbalance) plus psychosocial factors. And if so, that makes “mental disorders” fundamentally medical diseases. Psychosocial factors are relevant to cancer and diabetes, but these are literal diseases of the body, and it is understood that despite their relevance psychosocial factors do not alter the obvious reality that the condition in question is a medical illness. This is what I expect Pies and other psychiatrists who fancy themselves enlightened for adhering to the BPS do – construe psychological struggles as medical diseases caused by physical pathology but also acknowledge the relevance of psychosocial factors. From this perspective, the BPS is not fundamentally different than the disease model. You can put lipstick on a a pig but it’s still a pig.

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  • Jon, you are jumping to conclusions. Wait…that gives me an idea for an invention…

    I really appreciate the great work you do. Thank you for contributing this article. The reference to one of my favorite movies was great. “What . . . what would you say . . . you do here?” That is a good question.

    I think one take-away message is that as long as any amount of biomedical model/psychiatry exists, it will cannibalize everything else in it’s sphere of influence.

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  • Phil, thank you for contributing this wonderful article. Brilliant work, as always. I think it’s important that barbaric psychiatric practices like “deep sleep therapy” are not forgotten. A profession with a deep history of engaging in such practices then is surely capable of engaging in them now. I think you are right to highlight akathisia as a modern-day example of psychiatry’s continued willingness to push harmful treatments. I did not know about the changes from DSM-IV to DSM-5 in regard to akathisia. This is appalling, but of course not surprising, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention. A similar attempt by psychiatry to “sanitize” it’s harmful drugs can be found in the change in bipolar disorder diagnostic criteria from DSM-IV to DSM-5. In DSM-IV, it was acknowledged that “antidepressants” and ECT can induce mania, and that such mania should not be used to diagnose bipolar disorder. DSM-5 explicitly states that bipolar now should be considered even when it is clearly induced by a depression drug or ECT. And psychiatry has a new term for antidepressant-induced bipolar disorder: bipolar III.

    This is an actual quote from a psychiatrist’s report describing the experience of a young man who fell victim to antidepressant-induced akathisia: “In hindsight, he had experienced an irritable hypomania associated with the antidepressant which unmasked a latent BAD. This is colloquially referred to as BAD III, and is a useful diagnostic indicator of bipolarity.”

    Have they no shame?

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  • Outstanding work, Bob. I am so grateful for you and all that you do.

    What I find most troubling is this thought: what if the truth Kavanagh revealed about asenapine is broadly applicable to psychiatric drugs in general? I have no trouble believing the the poor efficacy and safety of asenapine – based on an honest and rigorous scientific assessment – applies to all or almost all drugs marketed as antidepressants, mood stabilisers, antipsychotics, etc. The implications of this possible or likely reality are staggering. It’s hard to disagree with Richard’s point that capitalism is ultimately responsible for this state of affairs.

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  • This is a serious question: what if the roles were reversed? What if a high-profile psychologist invited a high-profile psychiatrist to be interviewed, in a similar back-and-forth-manner? To be followed by several high-profile psychologists rebutting the remarks of the psychiatrist? As far as I know, this has never happened. I have extensive experience trying to arrange such a conversation/debate. There is a reason it has never happened.

    In a brief window in time, decades ago, such an exchange sort of took place in this journal issue: Kind of, but not really. Shortly after this joint journal was started, launched in the spirit of collaboration between psychiatry and psychology, psychiatry elected to disengage from it.

    Irving Kirsch threatened the house of cards too much because he had a mountain of compelling scientific data to support his position. He had the temerity to observe that antidepressants don’t work, according to the scientific methods we use to evaluate how a drug work. Psychiatry (i.e., the APA) decided the journal was not in its best interests to continue to support. Thus endeth the “scientific” collaboration between the professions.

    The first rule of the DSM’s lack of validity is that you do not talk about the DSM’s lack of validity.

    The second rule is that you DO NOT talk about the DSM’s lack of validity.

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  • Wow…the interviewer, Dr. Aftab, comes across as smug and condescending. This interview is a perfect example of the mental gymnastics psychiatrists engage in to avoid acknowledging or dealing with the consequences of the fact that the DSM diagnostic system is not valid. It also demonstrates the contempt psychiatry has for psychology which is viewed as inherently inferior. I have the utmost respect for Dr. Johnstone. She is brilliant, articulated her case with class and strength, and didn’t let him get away with it. We need to see more exchanges like this in high profile places. I for one would be delighted to be able to “rebut” the remarks of a psychiatrist in such an exchange, though I think the best person for that job is Phil Hickey!

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  • Hi Richard. That’s great to hear! I found that forcing myself to 100% eliminate biomedical language like “symptom” and “disorder” in my work with clients changed my perspective in a way that was really helpful and clarifying. But its was also difficult because I had just spent almost 20 years thinking in those terms. I taught “abnormal psychology” for a decade and published articles in journals that wouldn’t accept your paper unless you used DSM concepts and treated them as valid. I’ve been fully free of biomedical terminology now for about 4 years. It’s been great except for the year I spent working in a psychiatry clinic where most of my clients first saw a psychiatrist who loaded them up with drugs and labels. It was a struggle to do right by my clients – always my #1 priority – and deal with the politics (and eventually, threats of retaliation and losing my license and career) of working with psychiatrists whose dangerousness to their clients is matched only by their arrogance. I hope to start a blog series about that year here soon. Keep up the great work, mate.

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  • Steve, you made some great points in your last post. The psychiatrists I know and have worked with believe they are fixing broken brains. They view their drugs as chemical imbalance fixers that restore health to malfunctioning brains. They believe the mind is the brain, which means that a mind problem (i.e., any DSM diagnosis) is by definition a brain problem. What else could it be, right? They are so certain of this reductionistic argument that there is never any perceived need to actually test for brain pathology – it is simply and confidently inferred. Anyone who questions it is smugly viewed as ignorant and/or having an irrational vendetta against psychiatry. Ultimately, I think the most central aspect of psychiatry is that in order to justify its existence, psychological problems are required to be medical problems. They *have* to be. If they are not, then it makes as much sense for medical doctors to “treat” problems of the mind as it makes for priests to do surgery.

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  • Rosalee, thank you for your kind words! I plan on blogging again soon.

    Steve, I think when the word “symptom” is used in the mental health system where the biomedical model reigns, it is typically used in a literal medical sense, not a general, metaphorical, non-medical sense. People in the system are told by professionals (particularly psychiatrists) their psychological experiences are “symptoms” of “mental illness.” I think the word “symptom” is powerful, insidious, and absolutely essential to the telling of the “mental illness” story. Psychiatry has successfully sold to society and its “patients” that psychological struggles are manifestations of real illnesses, caused by biogenetic abnormalities, which are no different to other medical illnesses. The word “symptom” is essential to this way of thinking. In fact, the entire “mental illness” story is embedded into this word.

    We think in words. When the word “symptom” is applied to psychological experiences, it conveys the message that such experiences are pathological and deviant manifestations of a real illness from which the person suffers. “Symptoms” are inherently bad and need to be “treated” and alleviated. A person who has “symptoms” is fundamentally different from normal, healthy people who are not ill. That person’s psychological struggles are abnormal expressions of a medical illness presumably rooted in abnormal biology, whereas the psychological experiences of normal, healthy people are reactions to their environment and are just part of life. I think all of this meaning is built into the word “symptom.” And MH professionals are taught to think using the word “symptom” early and often, so much so that it strikes them as bizarre to question the use of this word. Even people like the behavioral geneticist described in this article, who acknowledge that the concept of mental disorders is invalid, can’t help viewing psychological struggles as pathological. Indeed, a commonly used term for the study of psychological problems is “psychopathology.”

    Indoctrination into thinking in terms of “symptoms” occurs in college where students take “abnormal psychology.” All commonly-used abnormal psychology textbooks follow the DSM in lockstep and treat DSM diagnoses as scientific fact. Students are not taught to think critically about diagnoses or the biomedical model and are instead encouraged to think about psychological issues in terms of symptoms and disorders/illnesses. They are tested on their ability to recognize and memorise DSM symptoms and disorders. The graduate training of MH professionals emphasizes this narrative even more. The more highly educated MH professionals are – as in PhD clinical psychologists and psychiatrists – the more their education emphasizes DSM-based thinking about psychological experience.

    In my experience, very few MH professionals are capable of thinking about psychological experience without thinking in terms of “symptoms” and disorders/illnesses. They literally can’t wrap their head around the idea that psychological struggles might not be “symptoms.” They have no knowledge, training, or philosophical/theoretical framework for an alternative perspective. They have no alternative vocabulary. If psychological struggles are not “symptoms,” what are they? To answer that question, a MH professional has to have a clear philosophy of what it means to be a human being living in a challenging world, and theoretical knowledge of the causes of and maintaining factors of psychological struggles that is independent from the DSM-based biomedical model. The only MH professionals I know who can do this got there by educating themselves.

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  • I have a follow-up comment. I Googled the following phrase: “[ECT] is the most effective treatment for depression” and what showed up is what I predicted. Psychiatry departments and psychiatry researchers often make this specific claim which, as Read, Kirsch, and McGrath laid bare, is complete bullshit. My Google search finds psychiatrists from countries around the world making this claim, often in peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, with no scientific justification, as if it is simply taken as a matter of faith. This fits my experience with Mayo Clinic psychiatrists. Obviously, belief in the safety and effectiveness of ECT without regard to the actual research is a faith-based pillar of the profession. A few examples (of many):

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  • Ashley, thank you for contributing this very informative article! By modern scientific standards, Read and Kirsch are right, there is no scientific justification for using ECT. Psychiatry should be ashamed for deeming this procedure to be scientifically credible. I have always been extremely skeptical of ECT but never knew the evidence was this pathetic. I feel embarrassed because I should have known the full story about the science. Nobody teaches this stuff because articles like this – which speak the truth via critical scientific analysis – are so rare and don’t make it into the textbooks. And psychology training doesn’t touch on it hardly at all and we allow psychiatrists to pronounce what the evidence says. Thank you. Your article is one I won’t forget. I’ve already sent it to several clients.

    I worked at the Mayo Clinic for two years. Psychiatrists there often described ECT as the most effective “treatment” for “depression” – by far. The “by far” was often emphasised, as if the evidence base was so solid as to be beyond reproach. They were so quick to recommend ECT to depressed clients. In fact, they routinely provided it to depressed teenagers. I once had a teenage client there who became depressed in the context of negative life events and had “failed to respond” to a trial of an “antidepressant” (which, research clearly shows, don’t work in adolescents and probably do more harm than good). He was then started on ECT. Never saw him again. I imagine thousands of other adolescents have been so “treated” by Mayo Clinic psychiatrists.

    Note: Mayo Clinic endorses the chemical imbalance cause of depression, and the notion that “antidepressants” correct a chemical imbalance, on its website. The section listing causes of depression includes the following causes: “biological differences,” “brain chemistry,” “hormones,” and “inherited traits.” The psychiatrists who author its website just can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that negative life events can cause “depression.” I know those people, worked with them, and it doesn’t surprise me at all. Negative life events are merely “risk factors” to them, not causes. This pathetic obliviousness to scientific and common-sense reality fits my first-hand observations of the psychiatrists I worked with and shared clients with, and was formative in shaping my opposition to psychiatry’s invalid biomedical model.

    Psychiatric organisations promote the myth that ECT is a last resort treatment, given only to older depressed people who have failed every possible alternative. This is a PR stunt and bears no resemblance to real-word practice. I see clients of all ages, with all manner of struggles, who are recommended ECT, or agree to ECT, or are forced to receive ECT, by psychiatrists who falsely portray this “treatment” as highly effective and safe, despite it being neither. I work in private practice now in Australia. I saw a client who received ECT at age 14. Last week, my 40-something client struggling with anxiety saw a psychiatrist for the first time who recommend ECT, TMS, and “antidepressants.”

    Once again, this situation reveals the reality Bob Whitaker and Lisa Cosgrove laid bare in Psychiatry Under the Influence: the profession of psychiatry cannot be trusted to provide the public with accurate information about any of its “diagnoses” or “treatments.”

    Ashley, thank you again for your work, it is most appreciated.

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  • It’s fascinating to see the eminent Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, acting as de facto spokesperson for the APA, claim that the personality disorders invented by the APA and published in its DSM are not valid.

    From the article: “…(Lieberman) dismissed the possibility of a personality disorder because he claimed that character structure is not something that psychiatrists should ever even consider. “A diagnosis of Personality Disorder (narcissistic or otherwise), while plausible,” wrote Lieberman, “is of limited significance, as they lack well-established scientific validity.”

    This claim, by itself, is worthy of a front-page news story. A high-profile psychiatrist and former APA president has publicly claimed that psychiatrists should not diagnose personality disorders because they are not valid. The implications and questions surrounding this claim are profound!

    Why would the APA, in its DSM, include diagnoses that experts acknowledge as invalid? Why hasn’t the APA removed personality disorder diagnoses from the DSM, or come clean to society that these diagnoses are invalid? There are entire therapeutic industries geared toward diagnosing and treating personality disorders. What are we to think about such industries if the problems they target do not exist? School children around the world are taught in “mental health literacy” programs that personality disorders are valid illness. The university education of every mental health professional includes learning about DSM diagnoses, including personality disorders, based on the understanding they are valid. But, as Lieberman admitted, they are not.

    This is not a small problem.

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  • Micah, thank you for this excellent article!

    The author acknowledges that the very identity of psychiatry requires psychological struggles to be considered medical illnesses. From this perspective, psychological struggles are diagnosed as “mental disorders” and viewed by psychiatrists as “things” people “have.”

    He also understands that critics of psychiatry reject being pathologized in this way, and frames the issue according to two questions: (1) What kind of understanding of the situation should the clinical encounter aim for?, and (2) What is the therapeutic aim of the encounter as a whole?

    Well, it’s a start. But he ignores the most directly relevant and important question: are psychological struggles actually valid medical illnesses, real “things” people “have”?

    We all know the answer: no, they are not. A massive scientific enterprise, despite rampant fraud and misconduct and public deception, has failed to produce any convincing evidence that psychological struggles are medical illnesses. DSM diagnoses are invented concepts, not real illnesses, that people only “have” in a hypothetical sense. And these concepts are neither reliable nor valid, which means they are not scientifically credible. But, as demonstrated even by an author like this who seems somewhat enlightened, psychiatry cannot acknowledge this reality because doing so is an existential threat to its credibility and existence.

    To acknowledge this reality is to ask, why should medical doctors assist people with psychological struggles that are not medical in nature? The obvious answer to this question hits too close to home. And so this is the best even the most progressive voices in psychiatry can do: ask their field to be open-minded, and call for openness to alternative perspectives, while retaining their identity as medical doctors who treat “patients” suffering from “symptoms” caused by DSM-invented “mental illnesses” that are assumed to exist not because there is any valid scientific or humanistic reason to believe this, but because their credibility and paycheck depend on this assumption.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair

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  • Peter, I am grateful to you for penning this fabulous report. Seriously, this is an outstanding piece! It should be read far and wide. Imagine if basically the entire clinical trials literature on the modern generation of psychiatric drugs (i.e., since Prozac, if not before) is corrupted in the same way? I have no trouble believing that Study 352 and 329 are not exceptions but representative examples of a literature so hopelessly corrupted that it’s findings have no truth value whatsoever. And of course, this literature is the source for “clinical practice guidelines” and “evidence-based practice” in medicine. Most clients I see have been unwitting victims of such practices from doctors who have no idea about the issues you raised. The scope and ramifications are truly mind-blowing. Thank you for what you do. And please keep up your great work.

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  • Thank you, Bob, for this brilliant article. Your message is of great societal importance. I’d like to add the observation that in contrast to the 25% prevalence for past-year “mental illness,” lifetime prevalence estimates are approximately 50% (e.g., More sophisticated studies show that the vast majority of the population will meet diagnostic criteria for one or more “mental disorders” by middle age (e.g., My point is this: an additional reason for criticising blaming gun violence on the “mentally ill” is that most people are members of that group.

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  • Wonderful article as usual, Phil. I appreciate you and the great work you do. Regarding Dr. Pies’ “myth” that psychiatry as a profession endorsed the chemical imbalance theory, here is a quote from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) official website:

    “How do medications treat mental illness? Medications work by rebalancing the chemicals in the brain.” (

    The Australian government, presumably in concert with the RANZCP, also promotes the chemical imbalance theory. For example, this Department of Health pamphlet claims, “Depressive disorders are thought to be due, in part, to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Anti-depressant medication treats this imbalance.” ($File/whatdep2.pdf).

    Nothing has changed.

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  • Hi Julie. Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I appreciate your perspective and honestly all that you have to say! Nothing you’ve written has insulted me and I’m glad you are free to speak your mind, as you should be. I’m just trying to wrap my head around what kind of environment MIA is for someone like me, whether or not I belong here and in what capacity, and whether or not I can ever contribute anything of any kind to MIA that can be seen for what it is and isn’t misconstrued in a manner that creates more of a problem than it’s worth for me.

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  • Not having gone through such an experience myself, I definitely cannot *understand* what it’s like. Which is why I said I’m “well aware” of the hell survivors experience, as opposed to “I understand” it, but that language obviously struck you as too far. What language do you recommend to convey the fact that I have read extensively first-hand accounts of bad experiences in the MH system, and discussed such experiences extensively with my clients, and witnessed such experiences first-hand, and know all about how and why such experiences are dehumanising, disempowering, debilitating, and based on a rationale of scientific BS that crumbles with even a small amount of critical analysis, and have fought this BS paradigm aggressively at great risk to my career and livelihood?

    I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t practice medicine. I’m a psychologist and I reject psychiatry’s biomedical model.

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  • Hi Julie. Can you please clarify which statement you believe is unfair? I’m not sure which profession “psych” represents, and I see psychiatry and psychology as different, in some ways quite fundamentally, though I know in the real world they are often 2 sides of the same coin. I’m well aware of the hell survivors have gone through and am grateful not to have gone through it myself. My question to the new “sheriff” was asked in the spirit of clarifying whether some groups here are extended the latitude to violate the posting guidelines whereas others are not.

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  • For what it’s worth, I emailed Ben Carey in 2015 shortly after the special issue of the Behavior Therapist ( criticising the biomedical model was published. This was kind of a big deal in that it included articles from a host of prominent and credible authors that basically ripped the biomedical model to shreds. I’m posting the email below; Carey’s reply was “I will take a look at the issue, thanks for sending. I am long familiar with all these issues, good to see more discourse on them. I look forward to reading the latest.” That was all the reply I received in response to what could/should have been a bombshell story.

    I also note that in 2015, Carey accepted the “Distinguished friend to ABCT” award from the Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies. This award was bestowed on him by ABCT for penning stories friendly to the organisation’s ideological positions. I was disappointed in my organisation for what I saw as compromising a journalist’s objectivity by essentially rewarding/bribing him for his friendly work, and I was surprised he accepted an award so obviously and awkwardly associated with journalistic bias.

    Long story short, my experience suggests Ben Carey isn’t likely to champion this issue, though I could be wrong.


    Email to Ben Carey sent Oct 14, 2014:

    Dear Mr. Carey:

    I’m writing to inform you about an important scientific development that may be of interest to you for an article. My name is Brett Deacon, and I am an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wollongong (Australia; I recently moved from the US) and member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT). I am also editor of the ABCT journal, the Behavior Therapist.

    This month’s edition of the journal is a special issue devoted to critical analysis of the biomedical model (it’s available here, select the October 2015 issue: In this issue, numerous highly respected authors take aim at the biomedical model of psychological problems. This model posits that psychological problems are brain diseases caused by biogenetic abnormalities and emphasizes biological research and treatment. This approach has dominated mental health research and practice in the US since 1980 and has been embraced as the status quo in psychiatry. The biomedical model is the declared position of the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is also becoming increasingly apparent that the biomedical approach has been a failure, and in some respects has made matters worse. Until recently, academic leaders who do not support the biomedical model have largely avoided acknowledging their concerns in public. However, given its societal implications, this uncomfortable topic is too important to ignore. Our special issue was published to contribute to a growing critical analysis of the biomedical approach.

    This special issue features 11 articles that present critical analyses of different aspects of the biomedical model. Collectively, the authors contend that the biomedical approach is based on flawed assumptions and that the available scientific evidence does not support its validity and utility. For example, authors offer compelling defenses of the following claims: (a) the chemical imbalance theory of depression is not scientifically credible, and never has been, (b) industry-funded drug trials are better regarded as marketing than science, (c) psychiatric medications appear to worsen the long-term course of the problems they are used to treat, and (d) the directors of the National Institute of Mental Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse are misrepresenting scientific knowledge to market biomedical ideology.

    Contributors to this special issue include award-winning scientists and journalists, three ABCT presidents, the president-elect of the British Psychological Society, and individuals from clinical psychology, counseling psychology, journalism, neuroscience, psychiatry, and social work. This is an all-star cast of highly credentialed authors that cannot be dismissed as “anti-psychiatry” conspiracy theorists. The issues raised in this special issue cut to the very core of the American mental health system and argue that we have been heading in the wrong direction for too long and now require a course correction.

    I am writing to you in the hope of drawing national attention to the special issue because of its societal importance. Our special issue is also an unprecedented development in the American scientific community and I wish to encourage further discourse on this topic among professionals and the public. If you are interested in further discussing this matter, I would be most eager to speak to you. Thank you very much for your consideration.

    Warm Regards,

    Brett Deacon, Ph.D.

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  • Fiachra, the problem is when the treatment causes the illness, psychiatrists may interpret this as the treatment “unmasking” a secret illness that was there all along. I see this all the time. Here are two examples (of many more) from my experience in the psychiatry practice:

    -Client is a man in his 20s who recently became depressed in the context of severe stress and was prescribed fluoxetine (Prozac) by his psychiatrist. He soon developed “severe agitation and insomnia” (quote from medical chart), which are common adverse effects of this drug. After these “symptoms” didn’t improve on a benzo, discontinued Prozac, another antidepressant, and an antipsychotic, he was referred to a highly biomedically-oriented psychiatry clinic called the Black Dog Institute where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. From the chart: “In hindsight, he had experienced an irritable hypomania associated with the antidepressant which unmasked a latent BAD (bipolar affective disorder). This is colloquially referred to as BAD III, and is a useful diagnostic indicator of bipolarity.” He now believes, based on what he has been told by psychiatrists, that he is mentally ill due to a malfunctioning brain with a chemical imbalance, and will need to be on medication for the rest of his life. He feels hopeless and was recently suicidal while thinking his life was over and he could never attain his longtime goals. He now takes a “mood stabiliser” and an “antipsychotic” and has been told he will need to do so for the rest of his life. He was referred to me to learn some “skills” to manage his bipolar disorder.

    -Client is a woman in her 50s who recently became depressed in the context of major life stressors. Last year she was given an SSRI antidepressant. Shortly after the dose was doubled, she experienced mild mania (increased energy, goal-directed behaviour, decreased need for sleep) for the first time in her life. Her psychiatrist diagnosed this as the emergence of latent bipolar disorder unmasked by the antidepressant. The client now takes lithium, an antidepressant, and an antipsychotic. She recently switched psychiatrists with the goal of going off her medications. Instead, her new psychiatrist doubled the dose of each drug to “stabilize” her. She did not protest but was disappointed. She complains now of weight gain (30 pounds), fatigue, and being in a fog. Her psychiatrist assured her these are not adverse drug effects despite each being a well-known effect of the drugs she is taking. She was referred to me to learn some “psychological tools” to cope with her “bipolar symptoms.”

    These cases are not outliers. I saw clients with similar experiences on a daily basis working in a psychiatry clinic. Needless to say, I am very, very glad to be working now in my own private practice.

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  • Someone Else, you may be interested to know that the DSM-5 (2013) quietly changed its tune on antidepressant-induced mania. As you noted, DSM-IV stated that manic episodes caused by antidepressants should not count as bipolar disorder. As described in this Psychiatric Times article (, “DSM-5 now considers that mood elevation with antidepressants justifies the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, whereas earlier editions considered it a drug-induced reaction.” I wasn’t aware of this change until I started seeing clients with clear antidepressant-induced mania being diagnosed by psychiatrists with bipolar disorder and given drug cocktails consisting of a “mood stabiliser” and “antipsychotic” as a result.

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  • Auntie, your common sense suggestion seems totally reasonable. In my view, there are any number of things a knowledge non-psychiatrist professional should be able to convey to clients about psychiatric drugs, that are well-established scientific facts that are important to know for informed consent. Certainly the information in the patient information leaflet is an example. Another example is what credible clinical practice guidelines recommend for the “treatment” of various problems. So, one answer to the question “under what circumstances can a psychologist convey information to a client about their psychiatric drugs,” might be when this information is scientifically bulletproof, relevant to the client’s concerns, and has not been shared by/discussed with the prescriber.

    A different answer to this question was given to me by my psychiatrist colleagues and government regulatory agency: never. This answer was based on a different consideration than the common sense one mentioned above. According to these sources, the wellbeing of the client takes a backseat to a more important consideration, namely the possibility that a medical doctor might be upset at the psychologist for undermining their “treatment.” In their view, saying anything at all to a client about their drugs, under any circumstances, risks undermining medical treatment, upsetting the prescriber, having a complaint filed, and severe penalties against that psychologist. I reiterate that this was the advice given to me by the governmental regulatory agency that handles complaints against healthcare providers. In such an environment, doctors (like the child psychiatrist I described above) can routinely violate clinical practice guidelines, unethically withhold informed consent, and distribute drug cocktails of questionable safety and no established efficacy without any concern about negative consequences. And clients, their families, and well-informed non-physician professionals are helpless to do anything about it. This is the healthcare system in which I work.

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  • When I worked at the psychiatry practice mentioned above, I sometimes provided accurate information to my clients about the psychiatric drugs they took that I deemed important for informed consent given the client’s concerns. Examples included information that “antidepressants” can cause emotional blunting and mania (in cases where this had obviously occurred), and that antidepressants aren’t necessary to correct a chemical imbalance that causes depression and need to be taken for life like insulin for diabetes (in case where this rationale had been given by the prescriber). In each case, I was careful that the information I provided was scientifically bulletproof, was conveyed in a respectful manner that did not disparage the prescriber, and was conveyed *not* as advice but as information for the client to consider and discuss with their prescriber if they wished so they could make an informed decision about their care.

    When word reached my psychiatrist colleagues that I was occasionally conveying such information, I was told to stop, was threatened with being reported to the regulatory body, and told that this would likely result in the loss of my license and would destroy my career. I subsequently spoke to the regulatory agency directly and asked what information a well-informed psychologist can convey to clients about their psychiatric drugs they have been prescribed. I was strongly advised not to provide *any* information about drugs to clients. Better to refer the client back to the prescriber, or to contact the prescriber myself to discuss concerns. If the prescriber learned I was providing information about drugs to clients, they might make an official complaint that I’m operating beyond the scope of my practice, and this could result in loss of my license. I asked the government official a question: “are you saying there is literally no scenario in which any psychologist can provide a client with any information about medication they have been prescribed by a doctor?” He said, “yes.”

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  • Marilyn, thank you for this excellent post. I feel compelled to reply because of the idea that it is surprising that a psychiatrist would prescribe an “antipsychotic” to an 8-year-old. I think most people have no idea what the practice of psychiatry involves in the real world, where 8-year-olds are routinely given drug cocktails including neuroleptics. This idea should be surprising, but it is not to those familiar with real-world practice.

    I worked in a psychiatry and psychology clinic last year. The clinic employed an experienced psychiatrist who specialised in working with children and adolescents. Families from all over the area sought out this psychiatrist as there are few child specialists and they are in great demand.

    The clinic used an electronic medical record that showed what psychiatric drugs clients were prescribed. Out of interest, I kept track of the psychiatrist’s prescribing habits in the medical record. Here is a list of drugs prescribed to clients of this psychiatrist seen during a specific, representative week:

    -9-year-old girl on fluoxetine
    -12-year-old boy on sertraline
    -13-year-old girl on methylphenidate, fluvoxamine, and quetiapine
    -13-year-old boy on methylphenidate, fluvoxamine, and quetiapine
    -14-year-old boy on methylphenidate, dexamphetamine, sodium valproate, risperidone, and quetiapine
    -14-year-old girl on fluoxetine and quetiapine
    -15-year-old boy on fluoxetine and quetiapine
    -16-year-old boy on olanzapine, risperidone, and quetiapine
    -16-year-old girl on fluoxetine, quetiapine, and methylphenidate
    -17-year-old boy on dexamphetamine and lisdexamfetamine
    -17-year-old girl on aripiprazole, risperidone, and sertraline
    -17-year-old girl on diazepam and escitalopram
    -17-year-old girl on lorazepam and quetiapine
    -17-year-old girl on aripiprazole, risperidone, venlafaxine, and sertraline
    -18-year-old boy on fluoxetine and quetiapine
    -19-year-old girl on lorazepam, sertraline, and quetiapine
    -(note: all clients were on one or more psychiatric drugs)

    The list above reflects a typical week in the practice of a highly experienced and qualified specialist in child psychiatry. Based on my experience, this psychiatrist’s clients and their families were not adequately informed about adverse effects, or the lack of scientific evidence for these drug cocktails, or the existence of alternative evidence-based psychological therapies for the problems these drugs were used to “treat.” In other words, there was no informed consent, which is an ethical violation. None of these clients were referred to a psychologist for help with the issues (mostly stress, anxiety, depression, and family problems) that prompted them to come to the clinic.

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  • I realise I am not capable of meeting the purity test requirements of those who dominate the comments section here. This is true despite my rejection of the biomedical model, which I describe on my own professional website ( I’ve said as much in many blog posts and published articles (e.g., I have given dozens of free copies of Anatomy of an Epidemic to my clients in the past year. I reject the notion of “mental health,” as opposed to “mental illness,” and I talk to my clients all the time about this. I could go on and on, but what’s the point? I do not belong here, according to the culture of the comments section at MIA, and I’ve finally come to understand that. People who share my scientific values do not belong here. This helps to explain why MIA has made basically no inroads, and indeed has no chance of making inroads, in the world of non-biomedically-oriented “mental health” professionals who care about science, as long as the present culture remains intact. I’m sure I will get flamed for saying this but I’m also sure this is true, and I have a very educated opinion about this based on extensive personal experience. And that is why I have come to recognise the futility of being an active member in the comments section of this website. And so, with respect, I am bowing out of discussions here. I wasn’t planning on writing this but felt compelled to do so to respond to some recent posts. That’s it for me, thank you.

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