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Psychiatrists are dreaming

by Vincenzo Minissi

[English Version by Laura Barnaba and Kate Ruddle]


I must admit I sort of like psychiatrists. All the psychiatrists whom I have met were peculiar people. All very open to talk about their problems, doubts as well as their optimistic desires to change things which they know nothing about. I am not being sarcastic: while other branches of medicine share a determinism grounded on a solid empirical basis, psychiatrists stand like a coloured spot in the grey landscape of healers. Unfortunately the law enables psychiatrists to prescribe treatments (from psycho-pharmaceuticals to electric shock treatment) which may be a serious threat to their clients’ health (and I don’t mean only the clients’ psychological health).

One could also object that general practitioners, with no specific knowledge, can prescribe these treatments. Another objection is that the most powerful drugs, the ones derived from opium, can be purchased on the street. Nevertheless, it is necessary to take into account a hypothesis which, if true, can bring us to the conclusion that official psychiatry is very dangerous because of the damage (even irreparable) that it can do to people who, willingly or unwillingly, go to see a psychiatrist.

All schools of psychology agree with the basic assumption that the professional choice of an adult represents an attempt to deal with and to solve personal problems which date back to infancy and/or adolescence. Lawyers, judges and policemen are generally people who have problems with rules, rules to be followed or to be broken; architects and town-planners are people who need places to be planned in an artificial and unnatural style; doctors are the professional category with the greatest number of hypochondriacs or to the contrary, people who break the most general common sense rules for a good health. Have you ever asked your dentist whether he is afraid of dentists? Have you ever seen a graduate engineer solve a simple everyday problem with a simple tool, such as a tin-opener or a carburettor?! Have you ever met a person with a degree in foreign language who speaks the language he is qualified to teach completely fluently as well as with a perfect pronunciation?!


I have never trusted Italian Universities much. I have often advised young people not to attend Faculties which will not guarantee a job, nor give them an adequate scientific training. Again I faced the same motivation: the wish to know something more about one’s own central problem. Among all professional workers, psychologists are the ones who most openly and sincerely acknowledge the link between their problems and their professional choice. In their curriculum vitae a personal analysis is often mentioned as a favourable point (I recently viewed many job applications sent by psychologists). This is something that I approve of.

But what does all that mean? Can we conclude that the ones who build our bridges, treat our health problems, design the brakes of our cars, plan the space we live in, are invariably guided by such complexes and idiosyncrasies to such an extent that our lives are in serious danger?

To some extent we would think so. Nevertheless we all agree that technological progress, allopathic medicine and rational planning of space have improved our lives. The improvement has sometimes caused damage to the environment in both developed and developing countries, but this is a different topic and I will not go into it now. In sum, one feels better if one goes to see a dentist, wounds aren’t treated with urine anymore, cars are getting safer and safer; so, what is the control mechanism that -for example- prevents a mad engineer from building a rubber skyscraper if this was his dream as a child?


K.R.Popper stated that a scientific theory is more reliable the more it can be discussed and confuted. But we don’t need to quote Popper. As for our example, an engineer must prove the feasibility of his project according to hundreds of rules, manuals, simulation programs which have worked successfully for thousands of years. Also, he must convince someone to finance the project. In turn this "someone" must have acquired credibility as well as the trust of others, in order to manage big amounts of money. The designer of a bridge has to be on the bridge when this is tested. I am not sure if this habit is out of fashion, but set apart those with a suicidal tendency, it is another example of a control mechanism against professional workers who are excessively attached to the idea of following their personal fantasy. The control mechanism might not be perfect, but on the whole it has worked: most of mankind is satisfied with it and keeps working for errors and attempts to improve the control mechanism.


Let’s go back to psychiatry. According to the aforementioned theory that the choice of a profession is a working through of a previous experience, a future psychiatrist as a child had a problem with mental health. I don’t mean that he himself had a mental health problem. It might have affected a relative or a friend of his. The point is that the future psychiatrist meets "mental health" and started elaborating this area. Actually all of us have an experience of some degree of "madness" in our life, but the way one reacts, one’s attitude, varies a lot from person to person. Some people consider madness to be a deviation; they adopt an attitude of censorship and repression. Some people see madness as an example of genius and creativity, so they show interest and admiration. Some other people consider madness to be a question of misconstrued logic, and they face it with appropriate tools. As it was in past epochs, madness continues today to be treated in different ways from society to society: mad people may be locked up or burnt, may be adored as one close to Gods or may become the object of philosophical discussion.


According to psychiatrists, mad people are "ill". It is hard to understand why psychiatrists come to this illogical conclusion. We do know how scientific medicine defines illness in today’s world: it is an organic alteration of physiological tissues or systems and it can be diagnosed with the aid of empirical observation. Herpes, hearth failure, anaemia and viral illnesses can all be diagnosed thanks to very accurate and reliable instruments. A psychiatric dysfunction can only be measured by testing the patient’s way of thinking against that of a "normal" person. In the fifties, Gregory Bateson’s research team in Palo Alto was able to create experimentally schizophrenic symptoms and dynamics. For example, staging a conversation between two psychiatrists who both came to believe that the other was a mad patient. Pharmaceutical industries have been giving large amounts of money to compliant researchers. The latter are seeking to uncover the organic or genetic origins of the more common mental diseases, still no conclusive evidence has been found.

The lack of conclusive evidence for the genetic origin of mental disease seems to be of no interest to psychiatrists: They dream of a forthcoming crucial discovery that will definitively unveil the mystery which has persecuted them since childhood. Other professional workers are persecuted by the same mystery: Psychologists for example.

In the past psychologists have drawn up very elaborate hypotheses explaining the origin of mental disease. They were sometimes wrong, but each failure represents also an additional step towards the ultimate goal of this hard task.

By the way, a crucial point is that a psychological theory can simply be confuted on condition that is be based on elements and hypotheses which can be verified within the conventional frame of logic and research methodology. If one wishes to maintain that a subject has become paranoid because as a child he had an authoritarian mother, one has simply to quote a sufficient number of cases in which this pattern is recognisable and appears to be plausible (of course a few exceptions are possible).


Psychiatrists have metaphysic hypotheses which they attempt to demonstrate as being true by using clearly false empirical data, or by performing a true act of faith disguised as positivistic trust in "scientific progress."


An acquaintance of mine - a very worthy person- believes that plants think. He literally makes up and exaggerates all evidence in support of his fascinating hypothesis. Once- at this stage I had not realised that it was impossible to convince him of the contrary- I told him that as an amateur botanist I saw that the physiological structure of the plant could not possibly allow it to think. He then whispered to me with complicity "Sooner or later we’ll discover that somewhere plants do have a brain!" This nice person holds conferences, teaches, acquires proselytes. He is considered to be "quite peculiar" but he has never dreamt of abolishing the Forester Police and giving plants group therapy against fire.


On the contrary, psychiatrists fiercely attack those who doubt the scientific nature of their hypotheses. To unsatisfied clients they reply by saying: "Who can believe a schizophrenic?". But when the same patient claims to be "cured" thanks to some strange poisonous cocktail of psycho-pharmaceuticals, he is then considered to be reliable and is shown off as living proof the validity of the psychiatrist’s hypothesis. I do suspect that the great number of suicides committed by paranoid individuals who, obtained a gun licence after psychiatric examination, is just another tragic aspect of the patient-psychiatrist relationship. Another example of this perverted relationship was quite common some time ago in mental hospitals which forcefully "admitted" patients. When wanting to leave, the latter accepted to undergo experimental pharmacological treatment given by some enthusiastic and inexperienced young psychiatrists. Madness and stupidity not being synonymous, the patients could easily demonstrate that they had recovered by hiding their symptoms for a certain period.

It was not a difficult task, since psychiatrists had personal great expectations about the new treatment being successful and their hypothesis confirmed. Therefore patients were discharged from hospitals, the psychiatrists were content and the case story could often be published in a scientific journal. But patients would have to be admitted again some months later. Some intelligent patients repeated the trick several times before the Health Services realised what was going on and, somewhat embarrassed, warned the new doctors about it.

Another funny aspect of psychiatry is the paradoxical relationship that psychiatrists have with psycho-pharmaceuticals.

Every psychiatrist knows that psychotropic substances, tranquillisers and neuroleptics have inconstant and unpredictable effects on symptoms, inasmuch as double-blind trials have shown only insignificant difference between the effects of the drug and the placebo.

After a very stressful day a psychiatrist friend of mine used to put three drops of a famous tranquilliser in his camomile tea. Then he would go to bed. I noticed that three drops can be considered to be a homeophatist dosage: three drops cannot even have an effect on a small mouse! In reaction to my remarks he would grumble and claim that the drops made him calm down and therefore sleep better. He was indeed using a drug as a placebo! Among all the young psychiatrists whom I met he was one of the smartest and was very open to confrontation. He was measured and hesitant when prescribing drugs to patients.

Another psychiatrist told me about some colleagues of his who took antidepressants in order to fight eiaculatio praecox. The antidepressant held a chemical substance which, as side effect, caused a temporary congestion of the seminal canal, therefore mechanically blocking the way of seminal fluid. Actually this side effect is only produced when the substance is taken at high dosage. So we can maintain that the positive effect of one single pill is due to the ritual which has the effect of reducing anxiety.

We then find amongst psychiatrists a blind and irrational faith in substances which are known to be toxic and to induce addiction in the individual; also the unpredictability of the effect of psycho-pharmaceuticals on symptoms is well known; all these examples are signs of the "faith" psychiatrists have in "their Church" and its obscure and unpredictable gods, gods one must protect oneself against, by means of drugs, ritual and other initiatory behaviours, hoping that finally Good will triumph. It is a real religion, which, when professed in special places of worship (such as hospitals, clinics and psychiatric departments), can administer terrible treatments, such as electro-convulsive therapy: when even the magic drug proves to be unsuccessful, God’s wrath must be appeased by an even more ferocious ritual.

Everybody who has studied the human mind, knowing psychiatric disturbances to be its most terrifying manifestation, can understand both the helplessness and the frustration that one feels when faced with the sufferings that a mental disturbance can provoke.

"Where Angels Fear" is the title of a collection of writings by Gregory Bateson and his daughter M.Catherine. It is reasonable to think that in order to overcome this fear, psychiatrists have chosen pseudo-scientific theories which they hope will gradually help them to face the problem.

But they keep on failing, whilst other methods (for example psychotherapy and intervention within the family and educational structures) reach better and better results, inasmuch as we can now doubt whether psychiatrists are acting in good faith.

Psychiatrists’ research and propaganda, financed by big pharmaceutical companies in order to maintain an exclusively pharmaceutical approach to psychic disturbances, as well as the endless suffering of patients and their families and the high costs that society has to pay, make the psychiatrists’ dream unacceptable.

It is high time that we wake them up.


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