Monday, November 27, 2006

What's Wrong with a Child? The Tragic Consequences of Biopsychiatry's Naturalistic Worldview

The second in a series of articles the NY Times is doing about the increasing number of American children whose difficulties are diagnosed as serious mental disorders is entitled "What's Wrong with a Child? Psychiatrists Often Disagree." The piece could have been more accurately called "What's Wrong with Psychiatry?" for it dramatically illustrates the highly subjective nature of psychiatric diagnoses.

The article opens with an introduction to Paul Williams, a 13-year-old who "has had almost as many psychiatric diagnoses as birthdays."
The first psychiatrist he saw, at age 7, decided after a 20-minute visit that the boy was suffering from depression.
A grave looking child, quiet and instinctively suspicious of others, he looked depressed, said his mother, Kasan Williams. Yet it soon became clear that the boy was too restless, too explosive, to be suffering from chronic depression.
Paul was a gifted reader, curious, independent. But in fourth grade, after a screaming match with a school counselor, he walked out of the building and disappeared, riding the F train for most of the night through Brooklyn, alone, while his family searched frantically.
It was the second time in two years that he had disappeared for the night, and his mother was determined to find some answers, some guidance. What followed was a string of office visits with psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists. Each had an idea about what was wrong, and a specific diagnosis: “Compulsive tendencies,” one said. “Oppositional defiant disorder,” another concluded. Others said “pervasive developmental disorder,” or some combination. Each diagnosis was accompanied by a different regimen of drug treatments. By the time the boy turned 11, Ms. Williams said, the medical record had taken still another turn — to bipolar disorder — and with it a whole new set of drug prescriptions.
“Basically, they keep throwing things at us,” she said, “and nothing is really sticking.”
A caption beneath a photograph of Williams reads "In his short life, Paul has taken antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, sleeping pills and so-called mood stabilizers." One can only wonder what such a combination of drugs is doing to this young man's developing central nervous system, not to mention other organs. Consider the fact that despite use of terms like "disorder," "diagnosis," and "illness" there are no medical tests for any of the conditions listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders and there is even further cause to question the wisdom of administering mind-altering drugs to children or, for that matter, adults to whom psychiatric diagnoses have been given.

According to Duke University professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, Dr. E. Jane Costello, psychiatry's system of diagnosis is "
still 200 to 300 years behind other branches of medicine." This assumes, of course, that psychiatry is a legitimate medical practice, lagging behind its elder siblings. But other than the fact that its practitioners are licensed physicians with the authority to prescribe medication, what is it that biological psychiatry has in common with other fields of medicine which do not rely solely on emotional and behavioral symptoms to determine the existence of disease? To what extent is biological psychiatry a medical science? These are questions that even those within the profession have asked. In his letter of resignation from the American Psychiatric Association, the late Dr. Loren Mosher wrote:
"Biologically based brain diseases" are certainly convenient for families and practitioners alike. It is no-fault insurance against personal responsibility. We are all just helplessly caught up in a swirl of brain pathology for which no one, except DNA, is responsible. Now, to begin with, anything that has an anatomically defined specific brain pathology becomes the province of neurology (syphilis is an excellent example). So, to be consistent with this "brain disease" view, all the major psychiatric disorders would become the territory of our neurologic colleagues. Without having surveyed them I believe they would eschew responsibility for these problematic individuals. However, consistency would demand our giving over "biologic brain diseases" to them. The fact that there is no evidence confirming the brain disease attribution is, at this point, irrelevant. What we are dealing with here is fashion, politics and money. This level of intellectual /scientific dishonesty is just too egregious for me to continue to support by my membership (emphasis in the original).
I realize that to many, the idea of questioning the validity of biopsychiatry is tantamount to rejecting heliocentricity but that is just a testimony to how successfully pharmaceutical companies have indoctrinated the public (and in many cases, general practitioners) with their reductionistic philosophy of human nature. In his book Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression (chapters from which can be read here), Dr. David Healy, notes that the class of antidepressants known as SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) has "given rise to a new language in which we understand ourselves - a biobabble to replace the psychobabble of Freudian terms that so coloured our identities during the 20th century."

To borrow terminology from the sociology of knowledge, the drug companies, in concert with the psychiatric community, have been highly effective shapers of America's plausibility structure. Leslie Newbigin, in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society defines and describes plausibility structures as:

...patterns of belief and practice accepted within a given society, which determine which beliefs are plausible to its members and which are not. These plausibility structures are of course different at different times and places. Thus when, in any society, a belief is held to be "reasonable," this is a judgment made on the basis of the reigning plausibility structure.
Biological psychiatry, like counseling, is an inescapably hermeneutic exercise. The individual seeking to assist another in resolving intra-and/or interpersonal problems inevitably makes assessments and judgments about what is going on in the individual's life. These judgments assume a system of values and beliefs about human nature, motivation, and behavior.

Multiple interpretations can be offered to account for whatever emotional and behavioral symptoms an individual reports. Likewise, multiple conceptions of what is in need of being changed and how that is to be accomplished exist. Counseling and biopsychiatry, therefore, involve placing the counselee or patient in some larger contextual framework of meaning. In other words, all approaches to counseling and/or psychiatry seek to make sense of a person and his or her situations in terms of a broad interpretive framework or worldview. Given this fact, as well as the serious health risks associated with psychiatric medications, I'm dismayed by the relative absence of Christian leaders sounding cautions against psychiatric labeling and medicating.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hey, I Think I Remember How To Do This

The lack of activity here over the last week was due to illness that slammed into me with hurricane-like force last weekend. Last Saturday evening I started to experience chills and fever making for a very aggravating and restless night of tossing, turning, and sweating, with little sleeping. This went on for at least one more night, accompanied by a marked decrease of appetite (dry toast, broth, and ginger ale was my portion for a number of days) and a perpetual state of feeling exhausted. Whenever I was able to catch some shuteye, either in naps during the day or at night, it was never enough. I repeatedly awoke feeling just as tired as if I had never slept.

As you can imagine, my interest in blogging (reading others' or posting to my own) and most everything besides lying down and trying to get some rest, was non-existent. It's amazing how discomfort has a way of readjusting priorities. Before the onset of this bug I eagerly and regularly checked my inbox, RSS feeds, and stat counter to see what was new. But I went for days not caring about any of that stuff. And now that I finally feel like I'm on the upswing, I think it's wise to take some of that attitude with me into the days ahead. In the midst of my misery I enjoyed a certain liberty from technological tools that all too easily become masters.

I'm happy to report that my appetite returned in time enough for me to enjoy the excellent Thanksgiving Day meal my wife prepared for our family yesterday. Fortunately, the aromas of food didn't make me nauseous at any time during my illness. As the smells of her cooking wafted through our home on Wednesday, I feared that I might have to settle for being just a spectator at the next day's evening meal. But that wasn't the case and the fact that I had not yet fully recovered from the flu led to some moderation that might not have been otherwise exercised.

Anyway, I wanted to let regular readers (if any remain) know why things have been so quiet here. Soon I'll be posting some of the things that were occupying my mind prior to my impaired health.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

On Faith

Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham and Washington Post writer Sally Quinn are the moderators of a new online discussion of religion and its impact called On Faith (HT: The Pearcey Report).

Given that people like Al Mohler, Daniel Dennett, Marcus Borg, Karen Armstrong, John Dominic Crossan, Sam Harris, Rick Warren, and Brian McLaren are among the panel of 50 leaders and scholars who will be participating in the discussion, the conversation is sure to be lively. The moderators pose questions to which panelists respond. Readers are invited to express their thoughts on the question and comment on the panelists' answers.

Here's the first question: "If some religious people believe they have a monopoly on truth, then are conversation and common ground possible? If so, what would be the difficulties and benefits of such a conversation?"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Toys for Tots Says No Jesus Dolls Under the Tree This Year

I actually think the Marine Reserves made the right call here and I can't understand why the doll's maker would be surprised by their decision. The manufacturer's director of business development says the dolls were intended as "three-dimensional teaching tools for kids." I suppose that's one way of describing them but in this case they were clearly intended as evangelistic tools in which case it would be inappropriate for a branch of the U.S. military to distribute them.

After you've read the story, check out Steve McCoy's reaction to the doll (about which you can find out more by clicking the picture).

From beliefnet:

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES, Nov 14 - A talking Jesus doll has been turned down by the Marine Reserves' Toys for Tots program.

A Los Angeles company offered to donate 4,000 of the 1 foot-(30 centimeter)-tall dolls, which quote Bible verses, for distribution to needy children this holiday season. The battery-powered Jesus is one of several dolls manufactured by one2believe, a division of the Valencia-based Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co., based on Biblical figures.

But the charity balked because of the dolls' religious nature.

Toys are donated to kids based on financial need and "we don't know anything about their background, their religious affiliations," said Bill Grein, vice president of Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, in Quantico, Va.

As a government entity, Marines "don't profess one religion over another," Grein said Tuesday. "We can't take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family."

Michael La Roe, director of business development for both companies, said the charity's decision left him "surprised and disappointed."

"The idea was for them to be three-dimensional teaching tools for kids," La Roe said. "I believe as a churchgoing person, anyone can benefit from hearing the words of the Bible."

According to the company's Web site, the button-activated, bearded Jesus, dressed in hand-sewn cloth outfits and sandals, recites Scripture such as "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." It has a $20 (euro15.60) retail value.

Grein questioned whether children would welcome a gift designed for religious instruction. "Kids want a gift for the holiday season that is fun," he said.

The program distributed 18 million stuffed animals, games, toy trucks and other gifts to children in 2005.

UPDATE - 11/16/07: Toys for Tots announces: "The Talking Jesus doll issue has been resolved. Toys for Tots has found appropriate places for these items. We have notified the donor of our willingness to handle this transaction."

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Academic Theology as a Servant to the Church

On the heels of participating in a forum on the emerging church at Westminster Seminary (the audios of which are available from Westminster Bookstore), Scot McKnight recently gave a much-needed reminder about the need for academic theologians to learn how to speak to and write for lay people. Here's an excerpt:
The simple facts are these: lay folks aren’t learning what seminary professors are teaching their students-who-have-become-our-pastors, at least not as effectively as seminary professors sometimes think. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again — hoping I’ve got some new readers or some who skipped previous posts: there was a day when seminary professors and Christian college professors wrote books for layfolks, and layfolks read seminary and college professors. At that time, very few pastors wrote books — they preached and pastored.
Times have changed. Seminary and college professors are intoxicated with their rhetorics and they have learned the game, the fun game, of writing for their peers. So, they now write learned monographs — and I’ve got a little satchel of such books myself. A Light among the Gentiles and Jesus and His Death. All of this proves that we — evangelicals — have fulfilled Carl Henry’s dream or Mark Noll’s warning — that we make a contribution to culture, to theory, to education, and to intellectual history. I believe in such work.
But, not at the expense of the church. And that’s exactly what has happened. (I happened to write the other day to a seminary president about this, a person I’ve never met but whom I’ve read, and he said, “Let’s talk.”)  Here’s the truth: people have asked me if I’ll lose my reputation as an academic if I write for lay people; and I’ve been told not to write on a blog (because that is non-academic). My response has been the same: what I do, I hope, is for the glory of God and for God’s people. I love academic theology, but the academic theology that is truly designed to do what it can do better end up in the Church. Back to the observation: theological rhetoric is intoxicating, but our task is to communicate the gospel to our world in such a way that it “sings and stings.” And the time is now for seminary professors and college professors to re-learn what our task is all about. We might teach seminarians and students at advanced levels, but the fundamental goal of all Bible knowledge is to communicate that truth to ourselves and to others so that we can live it out. Not just so that we can communicate within the guild and to fellow pastors, but so we can talk to Emily Johnson and Fyodor Czechin about their issues so they can learn to live as Christians today.
Scot goes on to give some pointers, drawn from his own experience, on how we can learn to do that.

Scot's exhortation reminded me of that from another of my former professors whose wedding of theological scholarship and love for God's flock has been very influential in shaping my own aspiration to be a bridge between theological academia and the local church - Wayne Grudem.

In his 2000 Presidential Address to the members of the Evangelical Theological Society titled "Do We Act as if We Really Believe that 'The Bible Alone, and the Bible in its Entirety, is the Word of God Written'?", Grudem asked his fellow theological scholars to consider the following suggestions:
  1. Consider the possibility that God may want evangelical scholars to write more books and articles that tell the Church what the whole Bible teaches us about some current problem.
  2. Consider the possibility that God wants the Church to discover more answers and reach consensus on more problems, and wants us to play a significant role in that process.
  3. Consider the possibility that God wants evangelical scholars to speak with a unified voice on certain issues before the whole Church and the whole world.
  4. Consider the possibility that God may want many of us to pay less attention to the writings of non-evangelical scholars.
  5. Consider the possibility that God may want us to quote His word explicitly in private discussions and public debates with non-Christians.
  6. Consider the possibility that the world as we know it may change very quickly.
Thank God for those who contend against the tendency to sever doctrine from life and study from piety.

"Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart...To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful." -
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III. VI. 4.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Depression - It's Not Just for Grown-Ups Anymore

Mollie Murphy, a four-year-old girl in England, sad because she wasn't admitted to the same primary school as her friends from nursery, has been diagnosed by her family doctor as suffering from stress and depression and according to this Daily Mail opinion piece (HT: Psych Watch), her mother has been advised to put her on an antidepressant.

Jill Parkin, author of the Daily Mail article, expresses what I think is appropriate dismay over what little Mollie and children like her are learning and what it says about our culture:
...she's in danger of being taught a very dangerous lesson, before she can even read or write. It's a lesson that goes like this: Got a problem? Pop a pill. Finding life hard? Blame someone else.
Treating a little child with anti-depressants because she didn't get into the school she and her parents wanted is not just ridiculous and unnecessary, it is the most shocking example yet of a culture of dependency in which life's setbacks are not simply challenges to be confronted and overcome, but are medical conditions to be diagnosed and treated by 'professionals'.
I may not be a doctor, but this I can be sure of: little Mollie will get over her temporary sadness far faster without medical intervention. She needs a dose of good parenting and common sense, not Valium.
Mollie was alluded to this morning in a news segment Good Morning America ran on depression in infants (estimated as occurring in one in forty). ABC is also asking readers to vote on whether they would allow their baby to take antidepressants if doctors determined that he or she was depressed. After I voted a few minutes ago, 1,631 people had responded "Absolutely not. It's not safe," 315 replied "No. Babies can't be depressed," and 93 said "Yes. If the doctors thought it was safe then I'd be okay with it."

Two weeks ago I asked with tongue slightly in cheek, "
Can fruit-flavored, infant-formula antidepressants be too far off?" In light of the above, I'd like to ask a different question. How long will it take?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

John Stott Praying for Apologists

Jeff Clinton's posting the following quote from John Stott's Your Mind Matters prompted me to take the thin volume from my shelf and thumb through it once more. As Jeff points out, though over 30 years old, Stott's petition is as timely today as when originally penned. I wonder, then, why we don't hear it uttered more frequently in our churches. The kind of laborers Stott prays for are not the kind that usually come to mind when we ask the Lord to send workers into his harvest :
I pray earnestly that God will raise up today a new generation of Christian apologists or Christian communicators, who will combine an absolute loyalty to the biblical gospel and an unwavering confidence in the power of the Spirit with a deep and sensitive understanding of the contemporary alternatives to the gospel; who will relate the one to the other with freshness, pungency, authority and relevance; and who will use their minds to reach other minds for Christ (52).
I was surprised to see that my copy of the book is clean, free from any underlining or marginal scribbles. That probably means that I first read it prior to getting into the habit of marking books up as I read them or I just thought it was all so good that I would have marked everything! Here's another of Stott's many noteworthy thoughts concerning why the fact that human reasoning is fallen is no excuse for failing to engage people intellectually in our evangelism:
It is quite true that man's mind has shared in the devastating results of the Fall. The "total depravity" of man means that every constituent part of his humanness has been to some degree corrupted, including his mind, which Scripture describes as "darkened." Indeed, the more men suppress the truth of God which they know, the more "futile," even "senseless," they become in their thinking. They may claim to be wise, but they are fools. Their mind is "the mind of the flesh," the mentality of a fallen creature, and it is basically hostile to God and his law.

All this is true. But the fact that man's mind is fallen is no excuse for a retreat from thought into emotion, for the emotional side of man's nature is equally fallen. Indeed, sin has more dangerous effects on our faculty of feeling than on our faculty of thinking, because our opinions are more easily checked and regulated by revealed truth than our experiences (16).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ed Welch on Biblical Counseling

Listen to Mark Dever talk with Ed Welch of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation about his testimony and a variety of topics including recovery groups, codependency, medicating depression, "integrationism" and "nouthetic" counseling, and the role of counseling in the local church. (HT: Greg Linscott)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Helm's Deep

That's the name of philosopher and theologian Paul Helm's new blog where he will occasionally post papers that have been accepted for publication but have not yet been published.