The DSM-IV-TR (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Version IV with Text Revisions) is the most recent manual developed by the American Psychiatric Association, one used by health professionals to classify various psychological disorders, generally referred to as mental illnesses.
The DSM-IV-TR is used around the world, along with two other manuals (The ICD-10 produced by the World Health Organization and The Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders produced by the Chinese Society of Psychiatry).
Each diagnosis is number-coded and depending on the country, may be used by hospitals, clinics and insurance companies.
Some postmodern thinkers and particularly anti-psychiatry groups say that the DSM-IV-TR, along with its counterparts, constructs (as in creates) rather than classifies mental illnesses. For those unfamiliar with this idea, it might take a while to understand just what these thinkers are saying. But in a nutshell, postmodern critiques of the DSM-IV-TR argue that certain illnesses are, in a sense, created by the way that those with social power interpret unusual behaviors. In more common parlance, these thinkers say that those who benefit from the status quo tend to label certain people who behave differently from the social rules and expectations of the day.
These kinds of conceptual and historically based critiques of the DSM-IV-TR and of psychiatry, in general, tend to draw on the work of thinkers like Michel Foucault, Thomas Szaz, R. D. Laing, Ram Dass, David Lukoff, Stanislav Grof, L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of Scientology) and others.
Other critiques focus not so much on the issue of the DSM-IV-TR’s analytical validity but on the possibility of negligence by incompetent practitioners.
Debates also exist about the relation between psychiatric classification, on the one hand, and cultural, political and economic realities on the other hand, the most visible example being the link between pharmaceutical companies and the discipline of psychiatry, and a less visible example being political in-fighting among psychiatrists.
While some readily dismiss the DSM-IV-TR as a kind of 21st-century witch hunter’s manual, we’d do well to remember that psychiatry (along with its diagnostic tools) is a developing science.¹ And human beings do live in a social and largely organizational world, and those who differ dramatically often do suffer, and in violent cases, cause others to suffer (or die).
The fact that psychiatry is a developing science is often overlooked or negatively construed by its more forceful critics, while embraced by its supporters. Regardless of one’s philosophical position on this point, sociologists will rightly note that the DSM-IV-TR still enjoys a high degree of societal legitimacy and legal power.
To this Ofer Zur, Ph.D. adds:
The DSM is a political not a scientific document. It pathologizes women, children, and minorities. It defines existentially normal behaviors as mental illnesses. It is a money making endeavor for psychiatry and other mental health professionals. It ‘dares’ to define what is normal and what is abnormal and who should be free or detained against their will…[one may find] a detailed critical article about the DSM at http://www.zurinstitute.com/dsmcritique.html » See in context
¹ As I write this a new DSM V is currently being forged, among much debate and controversy. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DSM-5
A lot of New Age writers and alleged channelers talk about or, perhaps, dispense supposed “messages” from Gabriel, along with other angels. While this kind of stuff can be compelling, especially if someone is searching for a higher purpose in life, we really have no way of telling if it’s real, imagined¹ or purposely made up by scammers.
The same charge, of course, has been made against organized religions. Their discourses about angels are often said to be divinely inspired. But… who’s to say for sure?
¹ It would be relatively easy for someone to fool themselves into thinking they were divine prophets for some angel or higher being. All they’d have to do is get in a comfy chair, relax a bit, slip into a slightly meditative consciousness, and then let their imaginations or subconscious run wild. Most likely, this is what Jane Roberts did, who claimed to channel the entity Seth. Another possibility, usually dismissed by contemporary psychiatry but a possibility nonetheless, is that a malevolent spiritual being influences the channeler. So the person is channeling. But not what they think they are.
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Michael Clark, Ph.D
- Uriel, a ‘forgotten’ Archangel (deaconjohn1987.wordpress.com)
- Peter Gabriel (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Invoking Archangel Gabriel (mytruthsetsmefree.wordpress.com)
- Angels, we affirm: I graciously receive my personal power and use it to my Highest Good. | RenamixTech (angelicwords.wordpress.com)
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- Marlene Swetlishoff – Archangel Gabriel – 12 January 2012 (aquariuschannelings.com)
- Suzanne Poulson Spooner – God & Gabriel Message – 2 January 2012 (lucas2012infos.wordpress.com)
- God and AA Gabriel ~ New Year’s Message “Live as if You are the Architect of Greatness” (tauksuzanne.com)
- Archangel Gabriel… Please assist and bless my daughter! Thank you! | RenamixTech (angelicwords.wordpress.com)
Jim Hendrix (Johnny Allen Hendrix, 1942-1970) was a legendary rock guitarist and songwriter whose innovative, haunting, and almost voodoo-like technique has influenced music and musicians to this day, to include the classical violinist Nigel Kennedy.
Hendrix’s song lyrics often point to a kind of gnosticism – “Have you ever been experienced? Well I am.” He also sings about his psychiatric diagnosis: “Manic Depression’s a frustrating mess.”
Although his work touches on mysticism, it seems to be influenced by heavy drugs and arguably not a form of mysticism that leads to a healthy spiritual life.
For decades it’s been rumored that Hendrix put LSD tabs underneath his headband while performing live. So drug-filled perspiration from his forehead would apparently flow down into his eyes to be absorbed there into his bloodstream, almost like a time-release mechanism that kept him high. (Another version of this urban legend is that he cut his forehead before putting the LSD tab on top of the wound, and then covered it with a headband.)
Hendrix died in 1970, probably due to an unintentional overdose of sleeping pills, taken after a night of partying. He was only 27 years old, an age which seems to have an uncanny and tragic significance in rock music.
His career and death grouped him with Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones as one of the 27 Club, a group including iconic 1960s rock stars who suffered drug-related deaths at the age of 27 within a two year period, leaving legacies in death that have eclipsed the popularity and influence they experienced during their lifetimes. Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse were later added to this list, also dying at the age of 27.¹
In hindsight, its tempting to ask if Hendrix’s life would have turned out better if only he’d hooked up with some kind of spiritual guide or director.
It’s a moot point, of course. His greatness as a guitarist was probably linked to his lifestyle choices. So we might say that he was a great artist but not a great mystic.
Having said that, he certainly didn’t let fame go to his head:
“I feel guilty when people say I’m the greatest on the scene… Your name doesn’t mean a damn, it’s your talents and your feelings that matter. You’ve got to know much more than just the technicalities of the notes; you’ve got to know what goes between the notes.”
- ICT Pick: Jimi Hendrix, “West Coast Seattle Boy” (indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com)
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- Did Jimi Hendrix and Ted Nugent ever Jam together (wiki.answers.com)
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- VIDEO: Jimi Hendrix Death Announcement (ABC News 9-18-70) – RIP Jimi, The Experience Always Lives On! (psychedelichippiemusic.blogspot.com)
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Timothy Leary (1920-1996) was an American psychologist who believed that mind-altering substances such as THC and LSD facilitated self-discovery.
Leary’s ideas remain controversial, not only because he advocated what in many countries is illegal, but also because an increasing body of scientific research suggests that street drugs can be deleterious to users’ physical, psychological and spiritual health.
The Christian scholar J.N.D. Anderson questions whether the experiential quality, orientation and commitment of drug induced mysticism are equal to those of the sincere seeker who aims to know and serve God, and in so doing, encounters grace without chemical intervention or, for that matter, direct personal effort.¹
Some minority groups claim that drugs like THC, if taken ‘responsibly,’ are liberating and therapeutic. But the vast majority of people see illegal drugs as debilitating and enslaving.
Another perspective deconstructs the issue by noting that alcohol was once prohibited but is now legal.
Meanwhile, medical watchdog groups and organizations critical of allopathic medicine say that some legal medications have serious long-term side effects that can be harmful to patients’ health. Tom Cruise, representing the views of the Church of Scientology, has taken an extreme position in this controversy with regard to psychiatric medications, one not necessarily reflecting the varying needs of different individuals over the course of a lifetime.
These contemporary issues about the safety and efficacy of so-called ‘drugs’ and ‘medications’ aside, Leary’s popularity among the hippies of the late 1960′s is attested in the Moody Blues song “Legend of a Mind” (1968):
He’ll fly his astral plane.
He’ll take you trips around the bay.
He’ll bring you back the same day.
¹ See J. N. D. Anderson, Christianity and Comparative Religion, The Tyndale Press: 1970, pp. 20-26. Of course, one could argue that praying the Rosary, for instance, is a technique and therefore an “effort” to attract graces. And other Christians, especially fundamentalists, ask God to “cover them” with Jesus’ “precious blood” in order to be washed of their sins, just as most Christians invoke the “Holy Spirit” to come and shower them with grace. So although many uphold Christianity as a religion where grace comes without any special effort, this might seem a bit misleading. However, the Christian asks, whereas some conjurers may command spirits to protect or assist them–spirits which they believe are essentially under their personal control. Moreover, some meditators say that once they achieve a certain level of awareness, their meditative technique – be it a mantra, the development of inner silence or assuming bodily postures – will undoubtedly lead to mystical experience. By way of contrast, Christians hope for assistance but never command nor expect with certainty, for this kind of attitude is anathema to having a humble relationship with God who created them. In a nutshell, a sincere Christian would never claim to be able to control or have mastery over God’s supernatural graces. And that’s why it’s so distasteful to them when some New Age enthusiasts use the term “Christ Consciousness” as if to imply that, by perhaps listening to a mediation CD or through some other store-bought technique, one can definitively turn on God’s grace like water from a tap.
- Book Notes – Peter Conners (“White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg”) (largeheartedboy.com)
- Timothy Leary’s 90th birthday today (boingboing.net)
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- ‘Acid Christ,’ ‘White Hand Society’ reviews (sfgate.com)
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R. D. Laing (1927-1989) was a Scottish existential psychiatrist whose views about the psychiatric classification and treatment of mental illnesses like schizophrenia remain influential within anti-psychiatry groups and among some humanities students.
In the The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise (1967), Laing makes a case for the ‘inner adventurer,’ saying that Western culture tends to exalt outer-worldly adventurers (such as Christopher Columbus and Neil Armstrong) while denigrating inner-worldly ones.
Outer adventurers are usually high risk takers and may die from their dangerous pursuits (e.g. Apollo I, Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttles). But as a culture we don’t say the deceased were ‘crazy’ for taking such high risks. Rather, we regard them as heroes.
Laing says this is not the case with most inner adventurers (Vincent Van Gogh comes to mind as a possible exception to Laing’s claim, although his genius was not fully recognized until years after his death). When most inner adventurers fail to achieve worldly recognition we tend to categorize them with unpleasant sounding labels that effectively rob them of their intrinsic human dignity.
While Laing says this is a cultural process, it gets it start in the family dynamic. Not unlike the sociologist Erving Goffman, Laing believes there’s often a tacit, largely subconscious dynamic within families to characterize a certain family member as “ill,” thus marginalizing them. According to this perspective, much undealt with complexes, tensions and dysfunctional family dynamics are thrust upon the individual seen as “sick,” who unfortunately bears the brunt of the whole family mess.
From a religious or spiritual perspective, this view possibly relates to the Hindu idea of karma transfer, along with the Catholic ideas of ‘victim souls’ and ‘taking sins.’ Historically speaking, the dynamic is also reminiscent of the ancient practice of community scapegoating.
In his years of work as a psychiatrist, Laing tried to discern and reassemble allegedly encrypted patterns of meaning within the seemingly ‘nonsense’ utterances of schizophrenic speech.
In short, Laing suggests that ideas about madness rest on biased interpretations of largely misunderstood experiences and behaviors. By the same token, as a doctor he tries to cure patients, as if to imply that his own way of seeing things is more authentic than theirs.
Like him or lump him, on the whole, Laing’s work raises worthwhile questions about social power, conformity, the status quo, deviance and the idea of mental illness. Laing’s opponents tend to accept the idea of mental illness, saying that it’s a serious, difficult and potentially life-threatening issue. They also say that Laing and other anti-psychiatry groups advance a romantic, one-sided scenario and make untenable claims that don’t fit with the vast majority of cases.
- Would You Want A Psychiatric Patient Living Next Door? (psychologytoday.com)
- New Research Shows Psychiatrists Believe More Than Half Of Their Patients With Schizophrenia Are Non- Or Only Partially Adherent (medicalnewstoday.com)
- China’s Psychiatric Mistreatment of Political Dissidents (psychologytoday.com)
- Letter: China’s Mentally Ill (nytimes.com)
- San Francisco’s Homeless Mentally Ill: Still Neglected (psychologytoday.com)
- Erving Goffman archives (stat.columbia.edu)
- A new level of chutzpah in psychiatric ghostwriting (mindhacks.com)
- Mental Illness (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- It’s Not Always All In Your Head (prweb.com)
- Mind: A Fate That Narcissists Will Hate: Being Ignored (nytimes.com)
- Doctor, Is My Mood Disorder Due to a Chemical Imbalance? (psychcentral.com)
- Psychiatric Misadventures (jeanettebartha.wordpress.com)
- Psychiatric Misadventures by Paul R. McHugh, M.D. (jeanettebartha.wordpress.com)
- The Illusions of Psychiatry (nybooks.com)
- The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why? Because (wheretheclientis.com)
- How do a psychology and psychiatry consultation differ? (zocdoc.com)
- Experts: Insanity hard to fake for Norway killer (msnbc.msn.com)
- Where is its mind? What the battle over the ‘bible’ says about psychiatry (recoverynetworktoronto.wordpress.com)
- Mainstream psychiatry is failing – but there is another way (guardian.co.uk)
- Antidepressants Given More Widely (online.wsj.com)
But the distinction between sanity and madness isn’t always cut and dried. Madness usually is a matter of degree.
Psychiatry talks about “borderline” psychosis, a shadowy place where small triggers could send the disturbed and unstable toppling over the edge.
We also hear of the “temporary insanity” plea made by court defendants, indicating that madness could be impermanent.
The Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing suggests that unconscious family agendas and social hypocrisies could force individuals into a kind of madness or into adopting the role of the madperson. Laing claims that the current understanding of madness rests on biased interpretations of largely misunderstood behavior patterns.
Having said that, Laing as a psychiatrist does try to cure patients, which suggests that he sees his particular perspective as more ‘authentic’ than their own.
Not unlike Laing, the French postmodern thinker Michel Foucault argues in Madness and Civilization that the idea of madness is socially constructed. To say that something is socially constructed is a way for social thinkers to suggest that truths are relative to cultures, subcultures and history. And in Foucault’s analysis, social power plays a large role in the formation of these relative truths.
Foucault says the 18th century rise of insane asylums in Europe is linked to the ideological and political concerns of the day. Most notably, a new faith in medical science replaced superstition after a centuries long spell of repressive, imaginary thinking, which historian Daniel Boorstin blames on the medieval Catholic Church.
Interestingly, some contemporary Catholics see psychiatry as a toolbox for Satan because it tends to downplay the idea of spiritual powers, both good and evil. Other contemporary Catholics, however, uncritically accept the latest psychiatric claims and procedures, not really realizing that this represents just another belief system and its tangible expression.
Laing, as well as the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung and the Czech Stanislav Grof, suggest that madness, with proper professional guidance through crisis periods, possibly is a necessary stage leading toward a more comprehensive form of psychological health.
According to this perspective, psychological instability may be part of a natural process of healing, transformation and genuine becoming. Indeed, Laing says that psychiatric breakdown could be better seen in terms of a potential breakthrough.
Jung, himself, experienced a well-documented ‘creative illness’ that lasted five years. During this period of inner searching Jung minimized his official duties. He painted, made sandcastles by the water’s edge, engaged in a kind of creative visualization and explored the contents of what he understood as the collective unconscious. In contrast to Laing’s theory about scapegoating within families, Jung wrote that family ties helped to keep him sane during this period.
The history of religion and myth reveals different ways of distinguishing the mad and the sane.
The distinction is present throughout Jewish scripture and the Christian Bible. In keeping with the idea of a positive, therapeutic kind of madness, Daniel of the Old Testament, for instance, correctly interprets the tyrant King Nebuchadnnezzar’s dream as a sign of the dreamer’s impending madness. Daniel’s warning to repent and thereby ward off a curse of madness is ignored by the King who later wanders the land, eating grass like an ox for seven years. Afterward, however, Nebuchadnezzer repents and is reconciled with God (Daniel 4).
Some of the people at the time of Jesus thought he was mad (Mark 3:21; see also Deut. 28:28; Hos. 9:7; Jer. 25:16).
Today some non-Christians hold the view that Jesus was an egomaniac. We must ask, however, whether a mere egomaniac devoid of authentic spiritual power could launch a Church that would endure cruel and frightening persecutions, expand and, indeed, thrive 2000 years after his death.
In ancient India, the book of Manu, primarily a law book influenced by caste-related beliefs, separates the mad from the sane.
In Greek mythology, Euripides’ play Heracles (416 BCE) personifies Madness as the daughter of Heaven and Night, sent to drive Heracles insane.
Madness has mounted her chariot
Groans and tears accompany her
She plies the lash, hell-bent for murder
rage gleaming from her eyes
A Gorgon of the night, and around her
Bristle the hissing heads of a hundred snakes¹
Considering the global reality of war, horrendous human rights violations, environmental destruction, crime and violence, it might seem that Madness, in all its dreary dementia, rules the world.
And the American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86) had this to say about possible connections among the idea of madness, hypocrisy and social power.
MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
‘T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,-you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.²
¹ Euripides, cited in Eric Flaum and David Pandy, The Encyclopedia of Mythology: Gods, Heroes, and Legends of the Greeks and Romans, Philadelphia, Courage Books, 1993, p. 99.
² Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Part 1: Life (11), Boston: Little, Brown, 1924; Bartleby.com, 2000. www.bartleby.com/113/
Search Think Free » Beatnik, Macbeth, Mental Illness, Friedrich Nietzsche
- The Mental Health System: Leprosy, Foucault and The Soteria Project (slideshare.net)
- Being mad is one thing, going mad quite another | Darian Leader (guardian.co.uk)
- The Evolution of Society, Madness and Social Media (newcommbiz.com)
- Living with psychosis: ‘I’m mad, but not bad’ (independent.co.uk)
- Raoul Moat was ‘driven to the brink of madness’ (mirror.co.uk)
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In psychology and its more medically legitimate sister, psychiatry, neurosis is a less serious mental disorder or condition than psychosis. Examples of neuroses would be phobias, obsessions, anxiety, depression, hysteria and hypochondria.
According to these disciplines, the neurotic hasn’t lost his or her grip on reality but experiences anxiety to a degree that can have a negative effect on judgment.
Psychosis, on the other hand, is generally regarded as a non-violent or violent ‘break with reality’ where normal judgment is severely impaired or non-existent.
However, some sociologists say notions of reality and normalcy are culture-bound, while not a few philosophers continue to debate the nature of both reality and normalcy (e.g. normalcy as an ethical good).
In addition, theologians along with spiritual and religious lay persons often include their particular interpretation of God and spirituality as factors in conceptualizing the real and the normal.
In short, the idea of neurosis is, perhaps, not without validity but also open to critical debate on various interconnected fronts.
Search Think Free » Alien Possession Theory (APT), Compensation, Defense Mechanism, Madness, Obsession
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According to this view, possession may be temporary or permanent.
Exorcism prayers and rituals of various complexity were developed over the centuries by the Catholic Church to repulse what are regarded as spiritual attacks from Satan. One example of an exorcism prayer is Prayer Against Satan and the Rebellious Angels, published by order of His Holiness Pope Leo XIII.
The Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung used the term ‘possession’ to describe the unhealthy influence of an archetype on the ego. Jung’s discussion of the archetypes includes the idea that many are equivalent to the pagan gods which are lesser than God.
The claims of contemporary psychiatry complicate the idea of possession. Materialist psychiatrists no doubt would look to delusional systems possibly rooted in faulty brain functioning as an explanation for the belief in possession.
It’s also possible that faulty brain functioning and spiritual attack go hand in hand. Just as a hacker finds weak spots within a computer’s operating system, the devil, one could argue, exploits physiological vulnerabilities within human beings.
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Psychosis is usually defined within psychological and psychiatric circles as a fundamental “break with reality.” According to prevailing theories, this apparent break with reality is caused by some combination of biological and environmental factors, resulting in a kind of mental breakdown or disintegration where normal judgement is severly impaired or entirely lacking. This break can be non-violent or violent, temporary or permanent.
Psychiatrists like R. D. Laing and Stanislav Grof emphasize not just the negative but the potentially transformative positives that could follow a breakdown, providing it’s been competently handled and followed through. Laing, in fact, says we should try to think in terms of a potential ‘breakthrough’ instead of an irreparable ‘breakdown.’
This approach arguably has merit but most mental health professionals are quick to point out that psychosis is no trivial matter and should not be overly romanticized. While some may recover and flourish after a psychotic episode, others may never fully recover–even if a positive family and social environment is in place.
This is a point that some anti-psychiatry critics tend to overlook or perhaps try to explain by claiming that positive family members only appear to be helpful. The social network of mentally healthy “normals,” they argue, subtly scapegoat the individual in question because of that individual’s difference from the social norms and expectations in which they must live.
What’s at stake here is the definition of mental health and normalcy.
In the sphere of religion, similar difficulties arise when we try to define psychological health and normality. In New Testament times, for instance, some believed that Jesus Christ was insane or possessed by a demon:
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub[a]! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons (Mark 3:20-22, NIV).
While Christian believers might see Jesus rebuking his accusers with the dignity and intelligence of God’s only Son, some nonbelievers see Christ as a misguided egomaniac:
So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.” (Mark 3: 23-30).
Even today, Christians of different denominations suggest that Satan may try to enslave victims in a psychological, social and spiritual hell.
Meanwhile, the Catholic hierarchy advocates the use of psychological profiling and, when required, treatment according to the norms and standards of contemporary psychiatry.
To complicate matters, many sociologists suggest that notions of reality (i.e. as something to ‘break’ with), health and normalcy are somewhat culture-bound. And philosophers continue to debate the nature of reality and question whether normalcy really is an ethical ’good’ to be cultivated by individuals.
Moreover, theologians and spiritual lay persons often include their particular understanding of the self, God and spirituality as factors in conceptualizing the real, the healthy and the normal.
To sum, when we consider the diverse sociological, philosophical and spiritual perspectives available to us today, psychosis appears to be a complicated idea somewhat difficult to define. Indeed, the idea of psychosis may involve biological, environmental, social and spiritual factors.
In the 21st century, however, psychiatry is vested with the legal authority to make definitive assessments in this regard. Not surprisingly, the relation between these legal powers and individual rights and freedoms differs somewhat among countries and regions.
- Brain Scans, Algorithms Used to Predict Risk of Future Psychosis (psychcentral.com)
- Brain Analysis Can Help Predict Psychosis (nlm.nih.gov)
- Psychosis project divides experts (theage.com.au)
- Understanding Psychosis (ravenbanshee.wordpress.com)
- Diagnosis: EXTREME PSYCHOSIS (graceabonillo.net)
- Psycho (crisskross.wordpress.com)
- US expert slams Patrick McGorry’s psychosis model ” CCHR International (sanpedro69.wordpress.com)
- Stigma adds to burden of psychosis (tricitypsychology.com)
- Psychosis journal club (interdisciplinary) meeting, 11 Nov, 13:00 (doctoralschool.wordpress.com)
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Szasz, Thomas (1920 – )
Hungarian psychiatrist and author of many books, including his best known work, The Myth of Mental Illness (1960).
Almost a decade before collaborating with The Church of Scientology, Szasz argued that the science behind psychiatry provides an example of scientism.
For Szasz, the term mental illness is a socially constructed myth rather than an actual fact. He believes that the concept of mental illness is generated within, not above, other historically positioned truth claims.
Written before Henri Ellenberger’s The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) and Michel Foucault‘s poststructural analysis, Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961), Szasz’s work is often on the reading list for undergraduate courses in the Humanities at liberal-democratic universities.
Critics of Szasz’s perspective point out that psychiatry like any other science is in a constant state of development. Depending on factors like the patient’s actual condition, the competency of the psychiatrist and the political climate of the country in which assessments are made, it may be used for good or ill.
Szasz continues to be prolific, however. His latest publications contain some sociological and philosophical insights but seem to represent the unrealistically polarized views of a somewhat isolated but well-meaning humanitarian (e.g Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry, 1988; Psychiatry: The Science of Lies, 2008).
Most recognized psychiatric associations have rejected his ideas, a situation which some say resembles an orthodox Church marginalizing heresies.
The polarization of anti-psychiatry vs. psychiatry is a sad state of affairs because it probably makes otherwise intelligent figures like Szasz more uncompromising and extreme, lessening their ability to see other perspectives.
When someone is convinced they’re right and the other is entirely wrong, constructive dialogue usually disappears.
» DSM-IV-TR, Madness, Postmodernism, Unconscious
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