Poverty of Thought

Steve Balt wrote a post about some of his take-away thoughts from the American Psychiatric Association conference.

Commenters responded with thoughtful, illuminating insights about the gestalt of extant American psychiatry.  I was gratified to read that David Healy‘s Pharmageddon book is being cited as important.  He emphasized understanding the history of how capitalistic forces have emerged as the predominant force in shaping psychiatry and in shaping policies and practices which directly affect patient treatment (I refuse to use the word, care, relative to psychiatry and mental illness treatment, because it has specific meaning in the helping professions, and it is absent here.) and patient outcomes.

Steve’s post and your response, along with Emily Deans’ highlights a type of “poverty of thought” rampant in organized psychiatry. One cannot successfully treat people without the people. The old adage, “the surgery was successful but the patient died,” is apt for this field, too.

From assessment – how do you know you’re asking the right, germane, and appropriate questions? (glaring example: asking patients about suicide plans instead of about intolerable psychache and unbearable distressors. The first results in patients’ loss of civil rights and incarceration/observation, etc., the second SHOULD result in an urgent/emergent treatment intervention to lower the levels of immediate distress and to devise a treatment plan to reduce/eliminate the causative distressors. But that would mean knowing the patient, his living conditions and intervening where social justice is required. Ew. Messy. Takes longer than writing a prescription.)

To patient relationships – currently based on legal coercion, deception, and adverserial threat

To treatment – psychotropic medication, invasive surgery, inducing seizures and electrical stimulation, plus a dollop of who-knows-what talk therapy

To outcome goals – treatment adherence (do patients name their goals of being that of treatment adherence? /derisive snorting) which are unrelated to patients’ perceptions and functions in quality of life

Everything. Everything is oriented toward the psychiatrist. These are psychiatrists‘ interests at work. Patients are simply objects upon which to act, and are the means toward psychiatrists’ rewards: professional reimbursement, the source of research funds, the means to publication, and fodder for career recognition and success.

It’s Alice down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass.

It’s wrong.

But that it’s making more psychiatrists increasingly uneasy and uncomfortable is a good thing.  Eventually, that uneasiness will increase until it becomes an unbearable, distressing force, and action will become inevitable, if not impulsive. (Yes, I’m making a sarcastic swipe at extant suicide risk assessment, but I’m not going to advocate for incarcerating the poor psychiatric victims – in this case, the psychiatrists.  Maybe a little cognitive behavioral therapy so that they can recognize their distorted thoughts, and a round of ECT to jolt them out of their depression about their situation…)

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Letters to Children and Other Juveniles

A little while ago, I dropped in at one of the many libraries in the area that sell books and ephemera.  A nondescript thin unmarked cover demanded closer inspection. In muted gold script, the title emerged, Letters to Children by Beatrix Potter, Harvard University Press.

Inside were several otherwise unpublished tales embedded in very kind and respectful letters to children that Potter had written.  Like another favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle, she was careful to get out of her own way and write of salience and thought-provoking ethics which all ages could enjoy and take away the gifts of essence.

It occurred to me that the ever louder and defensive whining tales of woe coming from self-proclaimed “good” psychiatrists might benefit from a session or two with Potter’s and L’Engle’s stories.

Here are some of the take aways for them:

1. Who is the subject of the tale?  Patients (others) or self (psychiatry and psychiatrists)

2. Who is the hero? See #1

3. Who and what constitutes the villain?  Patients, insurers, third party reimbursers, employers (hospitals, institutions, jails, prisons, lawyers, universities, patients), laws, regulations, society, colleagues, non-psychiatrists health professionals

4. What needs to happen for the hero to triumph? Patient compliance, better financial renumeration, more professional power, greater professional autonomy, more prestige (all this assumes psychiatry is the hero)?  Or in the case of patient as hero, recovery, respect, successful societal integration, independence, personal autonomy, belonging, self-efficacy, prestige, greater financial renumeration?

5. What are the dangers interfering with hero triumph? What are the resources the hero brings to bear on the dangers?

OK, so with that in mind, have fun re-reading your childhood favorites.  And take a gander at two recent posts penned by psychiatrists who define themselves as “good guys”, but do not specify exactly what that means for readers. The Steve twins – Drs. Moffic and Balt, have a go and try to engage with commenters who self identify primarily as people who had experiences as psychiatric patients and family of psychiatric patients. Refer to the list above and see if you can’t help them out in their obvious confusion and self-contradictions.

Hint: psychiatry’s subject is supposed to be patient well-being and health derived from a respectful and trust-based relationship with patients