Sunday, September 19, 2021

Accepting uncertainty in psychiatry

Psychiatry has difficulty dealing with the limits to its knowledge about mental illness (see eg. previous post). Owen Whooley in his book On the heels of ignorance: Psychiatry and the politics of not knowing highlights how psychiatry has dealt with its ignorance by holding out the expectation that it will eventually find the answers to mental illness. Of course these are never fulfilled. People do need understanding and treatment for their mental health problems and these aims may explain, but do not justify, exaggerated misrepresentations about what psychiatry does know (see eg. another previous post). 

Psychiatry needs to accept the inevitable uncertainty of its practice. Actually, psychiatry’s expertise should come from recognising this is the case. It may worry that it will lose its authority if it shares this truth with people, but the profession’s continued existence should not depend on psychiatrists having to, as Whooley says, “affirm the ‘knowability’ of mental illness”. “We are all complicit” in accepting psychiatry’s “inflated hype”. 

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