My career in therapy has been a long and varied one, spanning four decades and calling on different aspects of my presented self. One of the odder things about therapy, I’ve discovered, is that it comes with little in the way of a code of conduct as opposed to other situations you find yourself in — little, that is, beyond showing up, paying your bill in a timely fashion, leaving when the session comes to an end and not upending any of the shards or vessels that might be lying around the office in homage to Freud’s passion for collecting antiquities.
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It seems that Americans are in the midst of a raging epidemic of mental illness, at least as judged by the increase in the numbers treated for it. The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from one in 184 Americans to one in seventy-six. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. Mental illness is now the leading cause of disability in children, well ahead of physical disabilities like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, for which the federal programs were created.
GABRIELLE GIFFORDS’S remarkable recovery from a bullet to her head has provided a heartening respite from a national calamity. Representative Giffords’s husband describes her as a “fighter,” and no doubt she is one. Whether her recovery has anything to do with a fighting spirit, however, is another matter entirely.
Robert Whitaker’s brilliant book Anatomy of an Epidemic asks a simple question.Why , if psychiatric drug treatments are so efficacious, has the number of people on disability for mental illness more than tripled in the last 25 years? Most doctors and researchers answered this question by stating that the numbers have increased simply because we are diagnosing more people with mental illness. In response to this stereotyped dismissal of his data, Robert began to do more research on the efficacy of known psychiatric treatments. And then, while poring through the psychiatric scientific literature on treatment effectiveness for the last fifty years he found an even darker question beginning to emerge. “Is it possible that psychiatric drugs are actually making people much worse?” Could it be that far from “fixing broken brains” the drugs being offered actually are worsening, and even causing, the very illnesses they claim to heal? …