Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Psychotherapy and Being "Normal"

This is one I've been thinking of writing for some time. Just hadn't had the time or presence of mind to do so. Pun intended.

Psychology and psychiatry (somewhat incorrectly dually referred to from herein as "psychotherapy", because I can.) have gained in vast popularity over the last few decades. I'm sure a great many people will take offense when I now refer to them as largely a pseudoscience, at best.

It's a great industry devoted to telling people they aren't normal. For some things, being "born that way", now equates normal, so is okay. Left-handedness, for instance, once thought of as an aberration, is now "normal". So no one minds lefties anymore. In an earlier edition of the DSM, (DSM-III-R), homosexuality (and any/all mentions thereof) was fully removed as a mental illness, and became normal.

Blue eyes are normal. Black hair is normal. Lots of things are the societal version of "normal". As much as it can be said otherwise, "abnormal" still carries with it a lot of negative connotations. I know, as well as most anyone else, that abnormal simply means something that falls outside of what is common. If everyone in your entire city has brown eyes and blonde hair, a redhead with green eyes would be considered "abnormal". That doesn't mean this individual is bad. We're all aware of that, but abnormal still tends to equal "bad" in the minds of most that hear the word.

Moving from that, we're not all the same, as humans. No matter what anyone says, everyone is different. As a species, we share collective similarities. As a gender, we each share collective similarities with members of our own. Outside of that, every single other aspect of ourselves is different from everyone else. Period.

Normalcy then becomes increasingly hard to define. Which characteristics are normal? Which are abnormal? Which are disordered? What are the criteria involved in these definitions? Who decides them? (These are rhetorical, as I know the answers already.)

Emotionally, and mentally, humans vary greatly. I find it almost ludicrous that there is a set definition for mental/emotional normalcy, and anyone that falls outside of it, needs to be loaded up with psychoactive drugs in order to have their square peg roughly shoehorned into the round hole of normalcy.

Now, when I say "largely" a pseudoscience, it's because at some levels, certain people are broken. Those humans who, due to their mental differences, are completely unable to function in society due to hallucinations, urges to commit acts of violence, and the like, do require treatment. That is an illness. It is something with an immediate, verifiable cause of harm. Something dangerous. I can equate that with a physical illness, because both are able to cause visible, testable harm. There is no question about it.

Now, for instance, saying a child has "ADD", or is "hyper", and shoving Ritalin down their throat? Unacceptable. I was one of the 1980's Ritalin kids. Why? I talked to the other students too much.

It wasn't until years later that they realized that there was nothing wrong with me, in terms of "hyperactivity". It was because I would absorb everything I was supposed to learn that day, faster than the other kids, and therefore became bored. That's when they took me off of the stuff. (I had discontinued the use of it myself before that.)

Now, can one say that the things that are currently part of my brain were put there at birth, or caused by years of Ritalin? Funny, how the drugs for normalcy, require more drugs to offset what they do.

I digress.

If a person is fully able to function in society, is not an immediate danger to themselves or others, why are they not normal?

I posit this: Normalcy is subjective to the person experiencing it.

Am I less cheerful than other people? Yes. Would a psychotherapist then call me "depressed"? Sure would. Would they then try to prescribe me something for my "illness"? Without doubt. Why? Because it's not "normal" to be very depressed, right?

Says who? It's normal for me.

Normal, adjective:

1.conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.


So, by that, something that is usual and regular for me, would therefore be normal to me.

I'm also a lot of other things that they'd absolutely love to prescribe medication for. All because they fall outside of the standard of normalcy that they've established.

Again, for me, they're my day-to-day. They don't feel aberrant, wrong, bad, or broken to me. I am not plagued by hallucinations, delusions, or thoughts of violence.

I'm also bothered by how willing people are to leap into these never ending bottles of pills they know almost nothing about, save what they've seen on a 24 second television spot. People so desperately fear being "abnormal", that they're willing to throw chemicals into their body that they're almost wholly ignorant of, just to fit this concept of "normal".

Psychotherapy, much like medical science of the physical body, should be saved to treat actual, harmful illnesses. Not to force people into what I believe to be an artificial standard of normalcy.

6 comments:

Smirking Cat said...

While studying Psychology myself, I learned there are generally 3 types of people who study psychology: 1) the idealistic types who think they can save the world, and then burn out very quickly; 2) the control freaks who like power and labelling; or 3) the people who use a psych degree as therapy, sharing way too much personal information in class.

Andrew said...

You're wrong--patently and objectively wrong. The goal of the mental health establishment is not to dictate normalcy to us as consumers. Much like the rest of the medical community, it exists to help people live better, more able lives.

No modern psychotherapist would ever force a patient onto medication against their will--and not even primarily because most psychotherapists are not MDs and cannot prescribe medication. Moreover, cognitive and behavioral therapy works. There is a substantial body of scientific literature on this and I suggest you read it before making any more grandiose claims. The establishment of which psychotherapists are a part is in place to offer to people but one possibility of finding relief. If it is not a possibility you find appealing, then you need not participate.

You complain about how people who deviate too far from the mean are not treated with respect, yet in your language you yourself are guilty of marginalizing these people. If you've had bad experiences with mental health practitioners, then you have my sympathy and I wish you the best in your search for solace. But it doesn't have to be like that for everyone with every care provider. You're not protecting anyone from anything by saying things like this and by elevating yourself onto some kind of ivory (or perhaps merely off-white or eggshell) tower you demean the people out there who are struggling to live their lives with the help of treatments that already carry more than enough stigma.

Black Thirteen said...

First, Andrew, you can say I'm wrong all you like.

But I'm not buying what you're selling.

It's absolutely to dictate normalcy. Otherwise why would there be a "standard" for what is "normal"? One that constantly changes based on the current state of society?

Also, as I stated at the head of the entry, I was using "psychotherapy" to dually include both psychiatry and psychology. I'm aware it's rather incorrect to lump them as such, I was doing it for the ease of typing.

Though, involuntary medication is sort of a standard of the institution. In fact, psychiatry is the last place in medicine that one can still have involuntary treatment forced upon them.

Point is, they aren't out to help people. They're out to make them feel inadequate, and abnormal. To demonize ordinary differences in personality.

To put a fine point on it, an altruist gives away help because he can. A businessman sells a product, that he convinces you that you can't live without, even if you can.

Which of those do you think psychiatrists are? And by extension, the psychoactive medication arm of the pharmaceutical industry.

Andrew said...

It's absolutely to dictate normalcy. Otherwise why would there be a "standard" for what is "normal"? One that constantly changes based on the current state of society?

It's called the Zeitgeist and it has existed for centuries before anything resembling established psychiatric medicine came about.

Though, involuntary medication is sort of a standard of the institution. In fact, psychiatry is the last place in medicine that one can still have involuntary treatment forced upon them.

This is just incorrect information. Involuntary medicine is absolutely not a standard of the institution. Moreover, you can't just say things like this without any supporting evidence. You're making a positive claim, so the burden of proof is on you.

Point is, they aren't out to help people. They're out to make them feel inadequate, and abnormal. To demonize ordinary differences in personality.

If anyone is out to do any of those things it is yourself. It doesn't take a conspiracy to make someone with clinical depression feel that way--it happens on its own. But even with treatment (which has undergone sufficient scientific testing to ensure that it is safe and beneficial to at least some statistically significant number of people) it can be difficult to feel like a healthy person when there are people like you spewing garbage like this down from your white towers.

To put a fine point on it, an altruist gives away help because he can. A businessman sells a product, that he convinces you that you can't live without, even if you can.

Which of those do you think psychiatrists are? And by extension, the psychoactive medication arm of the pharmaceutical industry.


First of all, psychiatrists don't stand to gain anything for prescribing medication. They aren't in the pocket of this imaginary conspiracy you've cooked up. Whether they are employed by a hospital or in private practice, they have no interest in whether the pharmaceutical manufacturers are turning a profit.

Second of all, psychiatrists need to feed themselves and their families, much like general practice doctors, nurses, surgeons, dentists, and other medical professionals. So unless you also claim that nobody in all of modern medicine is an altruist and is only in it for personal gain, that's not going to hold any water. And even if that is what you're saying, it's conspiratorial nonsense and I'd like to see your evidence to back it up.

Third, I am in no way claiming that all of the care providers and manufacturers in the world are beyond reproach. But there exists no evidence for a widespread conspiracy behind any of these organizations that dictates "normalcy" to the public. Dubious business practices can be found in any industry and do not contest the longstanding scientific support for the efficacy of psychiatric treatments.

To conclude, what you are doing here is a classic example of the argument from personal incredulity. You lack any evidence for your claims, but instead present your inability to conceive of things being otherwise as your evidence. This is a logical fallacy.

Black Thirteen said...

It's called the Zeitgeist and it has existed for centuries before anything resembling established psychiatric medicine came about.

I fail to see how this is relevant.

It doesn't change the fact that psychiatry/psychology define "normal" based on what they want it to be, at any given time. Like homosexuality, which, (as I pointed out) was a "mental illness" until the DSM-III-R.

Moreover, you can't just say things like this without any supporting evidence. You're making a positive claim, so the burden of proof is on you.

It's my blog. If you don't like something I say, feel free to research it. Psychiatry is the last place in medicine where one can have involuntary treatment forced upon them.

ut even with treatment (which has undergone sufficient scientific testing to ensure that it is safe and beneficial to at least some statistically significant number of people)

Prozac and most antidepressants in said family have shown the same efficacy as a sugar pill.

Not to mention they include fun side effects such as "increased risk of suicide" (real helpful, for an ANTIdepressant), loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, insomnia or hypersomnia, and various others.

it can be difficult to feel like a healthy person when there are people like you spewing garbage like this down from your white towers.

Ludicrous ad hominem attacks with no basis in reality will be ignored from herein. Just to let you know. "White towers" indeed.

First of all, psychiatrists don't stand to gain anything for prescribing medication. They aren't in the pocket of this imaginary conspiracy you've cooked up. Whether they are employed by a hospital or in private practice, they have no interest in whether the pharmaceutical manufacturers are turning a profit.

Drug companies routinely fund much of the research conducted by psychiatrists, advertise medication in psychiatric journals and conferences, fund psychiatric and healthcare organizations and health promotion campaigns, and send representatives to lobby general physicians and politicians.

A United Kingdom cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the influence of the pharmaceutical industry in 2005 concludes: "The influence of the pharmaceutical industry is such that it dominates clinical practice.

http://www.publications.parlia
ment.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmhea
lth/42/42.pdf


Systematic reviews have found that trials of psychiatric drugs that are conducted with pharmaceutical funding are several times more likely to report positive findings than studies without such funding.

http://www.nihcm.org/finalweb/
spending2001.pdf


http://observer.guardian.co.uk
/uk_news/story/0,6903,1101680,00
.html


(Links were truncated, because Blogger messes them up.)

So, before you make claims like "psychiatrists aren't influenced by pharmaceutical companies", you might want to do your research.

You lack any evidence for your claims, but instead present your inability to conceive of things being otherwise as your evidence. This is a logical fallacy.

Except I do have evidence. So...

Thanks for playing. Come back another time.

Darrell said...

This is a year out-of-date, and perhaps only you will see it, but that is at least the intent. It's funny: I agree that "normal" isn't the best thing for society to strive for, because I think it stigmatizes far too many people and stunts human development. On the other hand, I am strongly tempted to argue against anything you say, because you have shown yourself to be abnormally--I said it--incompetent in basic human decency, so a social system designed by you would have a minimum of positive utility for humans as a whole. I cannot believe that you dared to say you thought that calling a child a "fuck trophy" was great, among other things. By the way: of course you had things handed to you. You survived childhood and learned English, didn't you? Face it, you are dependent on other humans. If you managed to do things "on your own" in society it's because not as many people got in your way as would interfere with others.