The continuing history of psychiatric abuses.

(Page 3 of 3)

Researchers found that "psychotic symptoms had abated in the Soteria patients to the same degree as in medicated patients. Even more striking, the Soteria patients were staying well longer. Relapse rates were lower for the Soteria group at both one-year and two-year follow-ups. The Soteria patients were also functioning better socially -- better able to hold jobs and attend schools."

Picked at ruthlessly by influential psychiatrists, project leader Loren Mosher, a former director of the Center for Schizophrenic Studies at the National Institute of Mental Health, lost his NIMH money. Soteria faded from memory. The most recent study of the Soteria data, done by researchers with no hand in the experiment itself, found that "only 31 percent of Soteria patients who continued to avoid neuroleptics...relapsed during a two-year follow-up period, compared to 68 percent of those treated conventionally with neuroleptics."

Whitaker does not frame his attack on psychiatric practices with a fully formed, radical critique of the entire psychiatric project. Although many of the chilling anecdotes he tells raise the question, he does not stress the idea that standard psychiatry might simply be wrong about what it's dealing with. Thomas Szasz, a corrosive skeptic of the view that so-called mental illnesses are always the result of biological ailments such that the sufferers should be relieved of both responsibility and liberty, declares openly that mental illness is a myth. By showing us the crimes that psychiatrists have defined as cures, Whitaker raises disturbing questions about psychiatry's founding definitions. But because he rarely raises the question of exactly what behaviors got people condemned to mental institutions, he may give psychiatry's notions of illness more credence than they deserve.

More cautious, or more circumspect, than Szasz, Whitaker merely writes that "the American belief that schizophrenics necessarily suffered from a biological brain disorder, and thus needed to be on drugs for life, wasn't true." Whitaker, lacking the professional need to assert known causes and cures that drives psychiatry, is willing to say that the jury is still out on the real nature of the problems that psychiatry deals with. But he's sure that the methods it has used to deal with them have been, and continue to be, mistaken, frequently with tragic consequences.

Psychiatry throughout its history has blithely relied on the gambler's wisdom that you can't beat something with nothing. It thus comes up with a continual series of absurdities and abuses disguised as therapy, only openly admitting the failures of the previous "therapy" once a new one materializes. But contrary to popular belief, psychiatrists still don't know what causes schizophrenia, don't know how to cure it, and in fact don't even seem to know what it is. (Whitaker recounts experiments showing that psychiatrists are easily confused about how to properly diagnose this centerpiece mental illness.)

This book's message, delivered artfully and intelligently, is that there have been hundreds of thousands of Jonika Uptons -- victims of psychiatric pretensions and controls -- and that there still are today, despite the industry's consistent insistence that it finally has the right cure.

Psychiatry may very well be the arena where an elite guild with cultural power has done the greatest amount of damage by lording it over powerless individuals. Whitaker's book does a singular service in reminding us that authority of all sorts -- medical, state, or the unholy combination of both that has frequently defined psychiatry -- is always in danger of shifting into tyranny.

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