Thursday, 29 December 2011

Robert Whitaker at Gothenburg

So, I went to Gothenburg, Sweden, last month where Robert Whitaker was giving a talk about his latest book Anatomy of an Epidemic, a lecture arranged by the Family Care Foundation.

The point of departure in his book is Whitaker's puzzlement about, that despite the claim that pharmacological treatments have improved treatment options within psychiatry, and therefore the lives of “mentally ill” people, an increasing number of these “mentally ill” people become chronic, on disability pay, suffering through more and more serious “side”-effects, and exposed to a greater and greater risk of early death.

To find answers to his questions, Whitaker conducts a thorough review of the research in the field of psychopharmacology in its entirety, and concludes that the picture painted by this research is somewhat different than the one psychiatry has delivered to the general public.

Whitaker's book, like its predecessor Mad in America , is a disturbing read. One thing is to see how the actual science in the field clearly and unmistakably proves psychiatry's storytelling about biological brain diseases and the superiority of psych drugs in their "treatment" to the public over the past decades to be just that: storytelling, with no basis whatsoever in any scientific evidence. This is what everyone familiar with the scientific research has known for a long time. Another thing still is to see the suspicion, which even many critics will not dare to covet: that psychiatry – almost from the outset – has understood that its own tales of the wonders of  psychopharmacology are lies equal to the stories of biological brain illnesses, so unmistakably confirmed in Whitaker's book by quote after quote of “expert” statements about the matter.

Like most other critics, Whitaker ended his lecture with the inevitable, politically correct: "I do know, that many people feel they are being helped by psychiatric medications, so there is a place for these drugs in treatment."

In the discussion that followed, I asked him why, after just presenting the scientific data - which all state one thing: that if people feel helped by psych drugs, then this must be attributed to either a placebo effect, and/or simply the fact that their judgment is impaired due to the drugs' influence, so in actual fact, there is no place for the drugs in "treatment",  in as far as this "treatment" is meant to truly help people in crisis - he still decided to end his presentation with what could be described as an apology for said presentation.

In the last chapter of Anatomy of an Epidemic, Whitaker takes a thorough look at the Finnish Open Dialogue approach, which, with its well-documented effecacy, is an alternative to the current biomedical approach to emotional crisis. Yet even Open Dialogue uses psych drugs -- in a very limited capacity, especially when it comes to "anti"-psychotics, and only as a "last resort". In answer to my question, Whitaker said he would like to see projects like Open Dialogue initiated, but with just one difference: no use of psych drugs at all. I would really like to see that, too! Like  Whitaker says, mankind has survived for thousands of years on this planet, without these drugs, so…


 The slides for Whitaker's presentation are here.

Thanks to Paul Englar for his huge help with the translation of this blog post.