Saturday, October 27, 2012

E Fuller Torrey attacks "The new antipsychiatry"

E Fuller Torrey has upset Robert Whitaker (see Dear Dr Torrey: Please stop the lies) because of his response to a post by Sandra Steingard on the Mad in America blog (to which she has also replied). Fuller Torrey says that the Mad in America blog has become "one of the new antipsychiatry centers". I've said in a previous post that I get irked sometimes if I'm seen as an anti-psychiatrist.

I mentioned Fuller Torrey in my Critical psychiatry book (see relevant passage). In 1974 he wrote a book  called The death of psychiatry, which agreed with Thomas Szsaz, who unfortunately recently died (see previous post and Guardian obituary), by opposing involuntary psychiatric interventions and the insanity defense. Fuller Torrey subsequently changed his mind and now advocates for forced treatment through being founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center and executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute. He doesn't mention The death of psychiatry in his list of books on his "about" webpage on the Treatment Advocacy Center website. I did a critical review of The invisible plague, a book which is on the list.

I don't think I'm as ignorant as Fuller Torrey says I am by questioning what it means to say that schizophrenia is a brain disease. As I keep saying, please do not misunderstand me. Of course, schizophrenia is a brain disease in the sense that mental health problems, just like our normal and everyday behaviour, thoughts and emotions, are due to the brain. That's mere tautology. But Fuller Torrey is claiming more than this. He's suggesting there's brain pathology, and the evidence for this is lacking.

As for anosognosia, which started this spat off, I think it's stretching a point to regard lack of insight in schizophrenia as the same as anosognosia caused by brain injury or stroke. But I doubt whether there's anything to be gained by arguing with Fuller Torrey about it. He's too stuck in his reaction formed from giving up his Szaszian views from the past. His worldview means too much to him (see previous post about this point in relation to Robert Whitaker) to give it up. 


Altostrata said...

Excellent points, Dr. Double.

Anonymous said...

"Of course, schizophrenia is a brain disease in the sense that mental health problems, just like our normal and everyday behaviour, thoughts and emotions, are due to the brain."

That passage is so clumsy and poorly expressed, when in fact it should be the primary thing you've come understand in your entire life.

Michael Ten said...

Great post. Mad In America is an interesting site and Anatomy of an Epidemic is an interesting book. (:

Ramiz Raza said...
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Anonymous said...

I have to say that in my opinion, Torrey is delussional and he may be mentally ill too. But he is on the rigth part of The Force. He is not liing, but is delusional, he bealives in his arguments. He cannot be free from subiectivism because his sister was "schizophrenic". Have he same genes that lead to such illnes?. Probably yes. Put him under observation for 2 weeks, to see if is mentally ill. Psychiatrists must be checked to.

Anonymous said...

"Our normal and everyday behaviour, thoughts and emotions" are not totally controlled by the brain. The other organs of the body also play a considerable role in the nervous system and our experience of emotions and thoughts. Many cultures have believed that the belly is the seat of the thoughts, and the "new" western concept of the "enteric brain" seems to be bearing some of this out. Also, the physical heart -- long considered the seat of the emotions -- has also been shown to have receptors for a wide variety of neuropeptides. There seems to be a lot more going on than just the brain.