Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Christians and the Psychiatric Culture

Last night I finished reading a book I mentioned here a few weeks ago, Will Medicine Stop the Pain?: Finding God’s Healing for Depression, Anxiety, and Other Troubling Emotions by Elyse Fitzpatrick and another biblical counselor, Laura Hendrickson, a physician who formerly practiced psychiatry. The book targets women since, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, twice as many women as men will experience depression in their lifetime.Hendrickson not only prescribed antidepressants to her patients but for a period took them herself to treat diagnosed depression and bipolar disorder. She candidly relates her experiences with childhood rejection, subsequent emotional instability, and drug-induced confusion including suicidal and homicidal thoughts. Other first person accounts from Christian women who have struggled with depression appear throughout the book.

The authors explain how modern psychiatry frequently operates on the premise that human beings are reducible to our biochemical components. Intense emotional pain is therefore concluded to be the result of physical disease. They contrast this materialistic perspective with a biblical view of the person as consisting of the uniting of the outer man (the physical body including the brain) and the inner man which is referred to biblically by terms like the heart, mind, spirit, and/or soul. Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson acknowledge that the body can affect and influence the heart and vice versa. They also concede that there are real, empirically verifiable diseases of the brain (as well as brain injuries) that can have negative effects on one’s perception, cognition, and moods. However, they point out that there are no tests for so-called imbalances in brain chemistry for which antidepressants are said to be correctives. They also claim that emotional pain is intended to inform us what is going on in our hearts so that we might avail ourselves of the resources that are ours in Christ to experience heart transformation.

Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson take great pains to caution readers currently on antidepressants against deciding to go off them without medical supervision.  One of the medical professionals frequently cited is Joseph Glenmullen, a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and is also in private practice. I had seen him on ABC's Prime Time Live two years ago and had thought at the time of picking up one of his books but never got around to it. (Dr. Glenmullen's responses to Prime Time viewers' questions about antidepressant side effects and withdrawal are available here.) Glenmullen authored Prozac Backlash and more recently, The Antidepressant Solution which I’m in the midst of reading.

While he prescribes antidepressants on a limited basis, Glenmullen has been a very outspoken critic of the pharmaceutical companies' campaign to market them to physicians and the general public. He believes that the majority of Americans currently taking them are doing so unnecessarily. He is also very concerned that many physicians, who are often reliant upon the drug companies for their information about the drugs and their effects, are ignorant about antidepressant dependence, withdrawal, and how to safely taper patients off them. It’s frightening to learn how misleading pharmaceutical companies have been in their pushing of various medications, many times suppressing evidence of ineffectiveness and/or harmful side effects. According to Glenmullen, ample evidence exists indicating that in some people, antidepressants can create the very symptoms they were prescribed to treat. And in some cases, such a dependence is built that serious symptoms can result from forgetting to take the pills at their proper time. When this happens, patients often think that they are having a relapse when, in actuality, the drug is responsible for their problems.
I can't recommend the above books highly enough to those taking antidepressants (whether male or female) and those who care about someone who is. Readers may also be interested in acquiring a Mars Hill Audio Journal interview with David Healy, a British psychiatrist and author of The Antidpressant Era and more recently Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression on antidepressants and the concept of disease.

When one takes into consideration that the disorders the psychiatric community labels people with, are not scientifically validated, there is much cause for both alarm and caution. I’m especially concerned because I know numerous Christians who have bought the well-publicized line that taking antidepressants is analogous to taking insulin or other medication designed to treat biologically detectable illnesses. In a chapter on biological psychiatry in his book Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture, David Powlison makes what I believe is an accurate observation:
The church typically lags a bit behind the culture's way of thinking. But the ethos and practice of biopsychiatry are deeply affecting the church already. If it's broken, or even just not working optimally, it can be fixed from the outside by a drug: better living through chemistry. In your ministry and in your church you are probably already facing the ethos and the practices. Many people in both pew and pulpit are on mind-, mood-, and behavior-altering drugs. We all increasingly face the ideas and knowledge claims, too. The cover story in Time magazine informs the everyday queries and choices of Christian people. Eventually such ideas make it into the educational system as the received wisdom of the culture with which to disciple the next generation (p. 243)
The more believers uncritically accept the therapeutic ethos that so permeates our culture, the less relevant and precious the gospel will seem.

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1 comment:

Joey said...

thank you for your insightful review of these books and this topic. the church has already been taken by the lies of psychiatric drugs, and we cannot stand by and uncritically accept this. God bless!