Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Voice Crying Out in the Therapeutic Wilderness

Amidst the biological or sociological reductionism and denial of human depravity that characterize so much of the thinking coming from mental health professions, this essay by Dr. Richard Friedman in today's New York Times is a refreshing oddity. Swimming against the tide of searching for mental illness behind every conceivable instance of bad behavior, Dr. Friedman suggests that in many (if not most) cases, the cause is something that psychiatry can neither diagnose nor cure - meanness.
When have you ever heard of a therapist telling a patient that he is mean or bad? Probably never. It’s not fashionable in our therapy-friendly nation, where people who behave obnoxiously are assumed to have a treatable psychiatric problem until proven otherwise. Nothing in the human experience is beyond the power of psychiatry to diagnose or fix, it seems. But even for me, an optimist and a proponent of therapy, things have gotten a little out of hand.
Dr. Friedman later asks whether we must "turn everything we don’t like about our fellow humans into a form of psychopathology?" That's a very important question but I don't think the tendency to boil everything down to psychopathology is primarily motivated to explain away the misbehavior of our neighbor so much as it is to excuse and justify ourselves. Psychiatric and psychological theories easily become sophisticated tools which we employ to aid us in our suppression of the truth.

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