Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Oversimplistic psychiatric treatment

Analysis of prescription data in England in 2017/8 found that 16.6% of the population received a prescription for an antidepressant, 3.1% for a benzodiazepine such as diazepam and 2.3% for a z-drug night sedative, such as zopiclone (see Public Health England review). For talking therapies, there were 1.69 million referrals in 2019/20 to Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) (see annual report). Psychiatric treatment, both medication and talking therapies, is therefore frequent. 

Consistent with this high level of treatment, around one in six adults surveyed in 2014 met the criteria for a common mental disorder (see Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey). IAPT is seen as a treatment for common mental health problems. I have argued (see previous post) that the distinction between common and severe mental health problems in the NHS can become confusing when people are referred on from IAPT to secondary care services. IAPT is essentially a non-medication service. Psychological therapy is also provided in secondary services but very few patients treated in secondary services do not also take medication. People seen in IAPT may well be taking medication, but the expectation usually is that this aspect of their treatment will be managed by the general practitioner (see previous post about role of primary care in mental health treatment).

Concern has been expressed about people becoming over-reliant on medication in psychiatric treatment (eg. see @JDaviesPhD’s tweet). I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised when medication is sold as an easy answer to mental health problems that people may want to take it. The rhetoric for IAPT has also encouraged seeing psychological therapy as a panacea for mental health problems (eg. see previous post). 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not being nihilistic about outcome for mental health problems. Plenty of problems can get better spontaneously and over time. But I think services would benefit from becoming more realistic about the nature of mental health problems and what can be done about them. It’s not always as simple as taking a tablet or going for a few sessions of therapy, not that these might not be helpful as long as we realise their limitations. As I said when discussing the response to mental health issues created by the coronavirus pandemic (see previous post), I don’t want to discourage people from coming forward for help if they need it. I just think services need to stop exaggerating the benefits of treatment. Mental health treatment can be helpful, but it may not necessarily have all the answers.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Towards a definition of relational psychiatry

Having renamed this blog 'relational psychiatry' (see previous post), I probably should make more of an attempt to define relational psychiatry. As Richard Gipps says (see last post), the term "doesn't yet have an established use".

Relational psychiatry takes an anti-mechanistic approach to life, including human life. Despite its attractions from Descartes onwards (see eg. previous post), a mechanistic conception of nature fails to provide a complete characterisation of living systems (see eg. another previous post). Medical psychology therefore needs to take a pragmatic anthropological approach as a mechanistic psychology is impossible to realise in practice. It needs to focus on the person-environment interaction.

The implications are that there is nothing else apart from the therapeutic relationship, both individual and group, in psychiatric treatment (although I agree with Richard that this position forms part of the definition of relational psychiatry, as it doesn't' necessarily follow from what I am saying about mechanistic psychology). I also agree with Richard that actual clinical practice is not necessarily the same as theoretical practice. Relational psychiatry does need to actually make psychiatry more relational. This means that practice needs to be truly person-centred (see eg. previous post). As Richard points out, the current Royal College of Psychiatrists' curriculum doesn't even make this clear. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

What’s a relational psychiatry?

I've mentioned some of the reasons before (eg. see previous post) why I've changed the name of this blog from critical psychiatry to relational psychiatry. I'm grateful to Richard Gipps for this guest blog to develop the notion of relational psychiatry.


What is it for a psychiatric theory or practice to be 'relational'?

Whilst (thanks to Harry Stack Sullivan and Stephen Mitchell) the phrases 'interpersonal psychiatry' and 'relational psychoanalysis' already exist, the term 'relational psychiatry' doesn't yet have an established use. Our question then becomes not 'what does 'relational  psychiatry 'mean?' but instead 'what's it reasonable and useful to use these words for?' In what follows I distinguish three different uses. My point in doing this is primarily to urge that they not just be folded up together. There's nothing incoherent about the idea of being relational in all 3 senses. But we become mired in disreputable conceptual confusion as soon as we mistake the reasons for believing in one form of relationality as reasons for believing in another.

1) Relationality as articulating the locus of psychopathology and apt treatment 

Consider the difference between these two sets of treatments:

i) Drug treatments, ECT, DBS, neurosurgery, hypnosis, cathartic psychotherapy. Whilst questionable in practice (think e.g. of compliance and expectancy effects), an intelligible assumption is that these treatments work, when they do, in a way we might describe as 'from the inside out'. In play here is the idea of something like a localised underlying fault. The aim is to treat this, release the patient from their 'inner' disturbance, so they'll be able to freely flourish in the world again. What is appealing about this idea of psychopathology and intervention is the way that it promises a simplification of complex clinical pictures and treatments. A whole wealth of symptoms can now be explained in terms of a single underlying cause, and it's by treating the single underlying cause that the whole wealth of symptoms can be quieted. Medications could of course be prescribed not to treat singular underlying biological causes of psychopathology, but to intervene in a psychopathological process of whatever sort. Even so we can readily understand the rationale of using medication to treat a condition by treating its putative underlying neurological cause. 

ii) Occupational therapy, family therapy, behaviour therapy, therapeutic communities, open dialogue approaches. An intelligible assumption about these treatments is that they work 'from the outside in'. That is, they aim to re-set the patient's relationships with the physical and personal world by intervening in the context of these relationships. The idea is that practice, or repeated exposure, here will lead to the laying down of healthier dispositions and forms of self-regulation.

In relation to these two visions, a 'relational psychiatry' might be understood as being in the business of reminding us just how autopoietic we are. That is to say, it may remind us that we really do enact - i.e. ongoingly constitute - ourselves in our relationships with our worlds and with others. These enactions may be of both healthy and mentally disturbed casts of mind. Now, talk of causality which presupposes that all causes are of the 'underlying' form, and which thereby ignores the systemic aspect of state formation and maintenance, is rife in such psychiatry as is bioreductionist. And because we habitually think in terms of linear causality, we can miss this circular self-creating aspect of human life. And so we can plump for treatments of type i) when treatments of type ii) - which aim to alter our enactions rather than alter their only putative underlying, inner, causes - may be more effective and less damaging.

Here I want to point out that simply acknowledging that many aspects of human life are permeated with what we could call 'relational causality' doesn't mean that all aspects will be so permeated. For example, certain genetic disorders could inevitably come on line at a certain point in someone's development, inexorably unfolding into a clinical picture. You can't philosophise your way to the irrelevance of linear and 'inside out' causality in human life. All you can do is point out the fallacy of assuming that 'underlying' causes are the only relevant causes in the psychiatric domain. I'd also like to point out that other rationales than the treatment of underlying neurological causes can be offered for why we might use, say, a pharmacological treatment. For example we might think that depression, say, is caused and maintained by a patient's interactions with their environments, and use a medication to help lever them out of one self-maintaining mode of interaction into another, happier, self-maintaining state.

2) Relationality as an anti-monadic philosophy of human existence

Consider next the following two visions of human mindedness:

a) On the first view, to have a mind is to enjoy thoughts and intentions and beliefs and perceptions - and these are all inner entities or inner processes. We infer to them in others by examining others' outer behaviour. We look inwards at our own inner states to find out what they are. These inner states actually cause our outer behaviours and expressions. As well as being hidden away behind our behaviour, and so being inner in that sense, they may also be inner in the literal sense - consisting in states and processes of the brain that's inside our skull. To the extent that the outer world and other people are involved in our inner mental states, this is merely by way of providing these states with content through their causal relations to the inner ('functionalism' and 'identity theory' in the philosophy of mind are examples of this vision).

b) On the second view, to have a mind is to enjoy cognitive (thought-involving) and conative (will-involving) capacities. These are not helpfully thought of as intrinsically 'inner' or 'outer', although we can sometimes hide them (so in that sense alone they can sometimes be called 'inner'). To believe or intend or perceive or think is not to have inner states or processes in play, but to enjoy particular intentional relations to our life worlds. ('Intentional': not 'intended', but rather: 'replete with intentionality or directedness'. When I think of you, you are the 'intentional' object of my thought.) Not being entities, beliefs etc. don't have constitutions and so aren't helpfully thought of as 'identical with' brain states. Instead they're more like sets of dispositions to engage in certain verbal and non-verbal actions. We don't need to look inwards to find out what we ourselves think or intend; in fact we're not usually in the predicament of needing to find that out: instead we can just avow or express, rather than report on or express judgements about, our thoughts and intentions. To have a mind, we can also say, is to essentially be in relation to others. We aren't monads who merely contingently happen to have relations to an 'external' world. Rather, and to borrow the terminology of the existential phenomenologists, our existence is characterised by being-in-the-world and by being-with-others - where the hyphens are designed to show how we're (to now use another one) 'always-already' in relation to a world and to others.  

So, might we say that a 'relational psychiatry' is one that is committed to the image of humankind we find in b), and that a non-relational psychiatry has got stuck with a)? Well, we can say whatever we like - but it might not be useful. Daseinsanalysis in the hands of Medard Boss, for example, pitted Heidegger's relational conception of human mindedness against the sometimes rather non-relational vision served up by Freud. But the clinical boons of this reconceptualisation were not vast; reading his work we're treated to long animadversions on Freudian concepts but little by way of novel psychopathological or psychotherapeutic insight. Furthermore, whilst psychoanalytic concepts (transference, defence mechanism, projection, primary process, etc.) often have a non-relational (and objectifying) 'inner mechanism' twang about them, this tells us nothing about the use to which they're put in clinical practice. And it's in that use, rather than in their twang, that their meaning and value lie. (I've critiqued elsewhere John Heaton's far more recent critical evaluation of psychoanalytic theory along similar lines.) In sum, because the idea of a 'non-relational' psychology or psychiatry is, on this understanding of 'relational', basically just a nonsensical muddle about human existence, it's not really clear that talk of a 'relational psychiatry' amounts to anything much either. And those who hope to reap rewards for clinical practice by cutting down the confusions that clinicians can get into in reflective moments, whilst ignoring how the clinicians are actually practicing, are after an easier win than is truly available.

3) Relationality as characterising the treatment medium

Consider finally a third sense of 'relational':

This is the one contained in Stephen Mitchell's notion of 'relational psychoanalysis'. Paramount here is the idea of the clinical relationship as itself (part of) the medium, and not merely the vehicle, of change. Sometimes one finds a clinician defending, say, cognitive therapists against the charge that such therapy ignores the importance of the therapeutic relationship. As Judith Beck writes, for example, cognitive therapy ‘requires a good therapeutic relationship. Therapists do many things to build a strong alliance. For example, they work collaboratively with clients . . . ask for feedback . . . and conduct themselves as genuine, warm, empathic, interested, caring human beings.’ However, as psychoanalytical psychotherapist Jonathan Shedler (caustically yet aptly) responds, ‘This is the kind of relationship I would expect from my hair stylist or real estate broker. From a psychotherapist, I expect something else. [Beck appears] to have no concept that the therapy relationship provides a special window into the patient’s inner world, or a relationship laboratory and sanctuary in which lifelong patterns can be recognized and understood, and new ones created.’ Shedler’s optimism regarding his hair stylist and estate agent perhaps warrants some 'cognitive restructuring', but his point about the therapeutic relationship stands. What a relational psychoanalysis does is use the therapeutic relationship itself as the medium of change - rather than merely form a good relationship which facilitates an independently intelligible therapeutic process. Part of this involves developing such an alliance with the patient as can itself be internalised into a healthier self-relation. Into a self-relation, that is, which intrinsically undoes and wards off such psychopathology as stems from a harsh, unforgiving, lonely-making, self-relation (i.e. stems from the 'superego', 'toxic introjects', 'ego-destructive internal objects', etc). But in the psychoanalytic context one will be expected also to carefully attend to the transference dynamic manifest in that relationship. The closeness of the therapeutic relationship also potentiates the transference in both its negative and positive aspect. Relationships which keep in the polite and friendly zone are not going to allow the patient's underlying fearful expectations to be truly experienced and challenged. When the transference relationship does become the medium of therapeutic change, however, the idealising feelings toward the analyst which guard against unconscious expectations of being hurt or let down or judged can also be made clear. This all makes for a genuine experience - not only of a trust and loving acceptance that can be internalised into a sense of self-worth, but also of profoundly difficult latent expectations of that sort which drive mental illness and which can finally be deconstructed.

As regards a relational psychiatry, I note that although in the UK all trainee psychiatrists are required by the GMC to be able to develop therapeutic alliances, and to have some familiarity with psychoanalytic concepts, they aren't required to have expertise in psychotherapy, let alone in working with or in the transference. Unless we're promoting a radical change in psychiatric practice - in the direction of contemporary psychoanalytic psychotherapy - it won't do to borrow Mitchell's meaning for 'relational' to explicate 'relational psychiatry'.

Conclusions

At this point I should perhaps own that I'm rather 'relationally' minded in all 3 of the above senses of 'relational'. What I want to stress here, however, is the absence of any necessary connections between the 3 above-described forms of relationality. I want to stress this because I think that a clear danger of talk of 'relational psychiatry' could be that the term becomes woolly, and unwarranted support for one of the relational notions above gets drawn from one of the others. Such illegitimate arguments would quickly invalidate the approach.

To spell it out, we may (rightly or wrongly) think that serious psychopathology is sometimes sustained by certain largely unconscious dismal beliefs about self-in-relation-to-other. (Perhaps I have a largely unconscious habit, for example, of expecting others to be dismissive about my concerns - so I tend not to let either myself or the other know about them.) And these beliefs may be considered to be sustained just by default rather than through any activity on the subject's part - in the same way that the reason the colour of the living room curtains remains self-same day to day isn't because anything is actively maintaining it, but rather just because nothing comes along to change it. In this sense, then, we don't here have a relational conception of psychopathology in the sense outlined in 1): the depression isn't here considered as autopoietically or systemically maintained. Perhaps you'd have to really dig out such underlying beliefs with psychoanalysis. Yet this psychoanalytic therapy might well be relational in sense 3): it might require a canny working in the transference before this patient's depression is going to shift. And perhaps if this therapist has got interested in philosophy, his underlying vision of what it is to have beliefs is relational in sense 2). Nothing, however, dictates that this shall be the case: he may work in the transference whilst maintaining a psychopathological theory which deprecates the idea of an ordinary ongoing interpersonal enaction of psychopathology - seeing it instead simply as something which manifests in his patient's life, bodying forth relentlessly from 'underlying' disturbances in self-image - and he may moonlight as a Cartesian philosopher who eschews a conception of human beings as constituted by their relations to the world and to others. Constitution is not necessarily causation: We may maintain the significance of causal relations between self and world whilst deprecating the idea that we are constituted by our world-engagements. Or we may have a fully relational (in sense 2) conception of our existence - i.e. see what we are as constituted by our relationships, rather than as monads whose minds consist in a pure interiority - whilst maintaining the value of a pharmacological treatment which aims to causally alter our mood state. Perhaps, as suggested above, the drug treatment could tip us into a different level of self-sustaining equilibrium (i.e. affect our relational nature in sense 1), and this new manner of world-relation be understood (in sense 2) to genuinely constitute a new form of mindedness.

To end: is there nothing which binds together these different senses of relationality? Well, consider that you're attracted to a monadic (non-relational in sense 2) conception of human existence. You're also not a dualist, let's say, but - despite not thinking that mind consists in immaterial spirit - you're nevertheless attracted to the idea that mind must at least consist in something. Understanding as we all do that the brain is rather important for mental functioning, and not being persuaded by the 'extended mind' theorists (who take mind to consist not only in internal but also in environmental states and in the interactions between these), you tend to think your mental states consist in your brain states. And, unlike most materialists, you're also not a functionalist (i.e. you don't think these states are individuated by their worldly causes and bodily effects), and so you're  moved to think them individuable without reference to anything outside your head. With that conception of the mind in play, what might you now think about mental illness? Are you likely to think it non-relational in sense 1) as well? I think many people are intuitively inclined to answer 'yes' to this - but, speaking for myself, and following the logic of the argument, I just don't see it. For surely you could either think that depressed or delusional mental states, which allegedly 'just are' brain states, are self-maintaining underlying causes of the depressed or delusional actions they inspire. Or you could think take these inner brain states to arise and be causally maintained by the interactions in which the person engages. And so even whilst cleaving to the most fully 'materialist' and 'internalist' conception of mind we can imagine, there's nothing here which ought to make you generalise from your non-relationality (in sense 2) about persons to a non-relationality (in sense 1) about psychopathology and treatment. You might well do this, because like many of us you get muddled about what's entailed by what. The relational psychiatrist, however, is not required to follow you in that muddle.


Richard Gipps offers broadly psychoanalytic psychotherapy and is an associate of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford. He is the web secretary of the International Network for Philosophy and Psychiatry and blogs at Philosophical perspectives on clinical psychology and the pain that breaks.

Friday, December 18, 2020

How to change mental health services

As I said (see last post), I am grateful for Lucy Johnstone summarising our disagreements about psychiatry. Basically, I think this boils down to the best way to effect change in psychiatry. Lucy talks about creating an alternative to mainstream psychiatry. Certainly psychiatry does need to change. It is too dominated by a biomedical model of mental illness, which in fact is outdated in terms of recent conceptual developments in biology, psychology and philosophy.

Lucy thinks that there is evidence that paradigms in psychiatry are changing. I'm not so convinced. As I have always said, the wish to find a physical basis for mental illness will never go away completely. However, I think the realisation of the extent to which that wish cannot be fulfilled can change. As it keeps emphasising, mainstream psychiatry is actually more pluralistic than simplistic critiques of the biomedical model seem to imply. The balance of perspectives can change and I think this should be the aim of any critique of psychiatry.

I have no objection to alternatives being set up. However, these do need to have firm conceptual foundations. I just think that Lucy's understanding of the notion of 'illness' is wrong. She's right that mental illness should not be understood as brain disease. But she doesn't want to use the term 'mental illness'. Of course I know that people have used, and continue to use, the term to mean brain disease. But this is mere conjecture, however much it may seem to make sense to them. Even mainstream psychiatry admits that it has not yet proven that mental illness is brain disease. The reason for this is that it cannot. The change that needs to happen is that mental illness should no longer be seen as brain disease.

I'm grateful to Lucy Johnstone for this comment on my previous post about 'The overemphasis on psychiatric diagnosis', which I'm posting as a guest blog. Lucy contributed a chapter to my edited book Critical psychiatry: The limits of madness


I am glad Duncan thinks the Power Threat Meaning Framework, as summarised in the recent ‘A Straight Talking Introduction to ...’ series, offers a valuable way of gathering information about people’s problems, and usefully emphasises the role of adversity in distress. We have significant agreements in our views, and, as we have discovered over the years, some significant disagreements too. Nevertheless, in contrast to many Twitter debaters, we are mature enough to remain civil and respectful in our discussions! 

The principal points of disagreement in this case are: 

Firstly, Duncan's statement: "PTMF wants to abandon the connection between mental health problems and the sick role, which is why it is so controversial". This doesn’t really capture the PTMF position. For a start, we don’t accept the concept of ‘mental health problems’ as somehow different or separate from emotional distress and suffering. We do, however, acknowledge the obvious fact that such suffering can be sufficiently overwhelming to interfere with one’s life. In such a case, formal exemption from duties by something equivalent to a doctor’s certificate may be needed. However, this doesn’t have to take the form of a psychiatric diagnosis, and in fact the main PTMF document shows that assessments of eligibility and rights do not have to be, and are not always, diagnostically-based (pp. 297-9). It discusses various alternatives, such as expanding the current custom of using a generic, non-medical term like ‘stress’, or more radically, as advocated by some service users: "... a universal rights, asset-based perspective as an alternative to the humiliating requirement to demonstrate enough impairment to access essential financial support" (Beresford et al., 2016). 

Secondly, Duncan argues that "getting caught up in the argument about whether mental health problems are illnesses is actually deflecting us from this more important task of a critiquing mental illness as brain disease". But if we substitute the term ‘emotional distress and suffering’ for ‘mental health problems’ in his sentence, then we can see how problematic Duncan's statement is. People can, of course, choose to describe their difficulties in any terms they please, but as professionals we need to acknowledge the giant, unevidenced leap from ‘emotional distress’ to ‘illness’ with all its well-documented consequences – stigma, shame, social exclusion, effects of psychiatric drugs, obscuring of personal meaning, and so on. 

I have been noticing various attempts to square this circle – to retain the concept of ‘illness’ and everything that depends on it – by claiming that ‘illness’ is really just a shorthand for the personal experience of suffering and consequent dysfunction. This manoeuvre simply doesn’t work (as explored by James Barnes in this blog post). As I put it in a recent interview, in real life, people who come into contact with mental health services ..... 

.... are all bombarded with messages about “mental illness” being “as real as a broken arm”, and needing to be managed by drugs “just like diabetes”. Even the dubious compromise that is the “biopsychosocial” model — a way of acknowledging some role for psychosocial factors while at the same time instantly relegating them to “triggers” of a disease process — is not much in evidence on the ground. And furthermore, the biomedical message is reinforced by the fact that these labels are applied by doctors and nurses, working in hospitals and clinics, who use not just the labels themselves but the whole medicalized discourse of symptom, patient, prognosis, treatment, relapse, and so on. 

Furthermore, I pointed out that:

I have yet to hear any real life service user say, “Although the doctor told me I have schizophrenia I’m not too worried, because ‘illness’ is really being used as a metaphor for suffering in this case and it doesn’t exclude personal meaning”. I am sure readers are aware that the consequences of being diagnosed — such as being sectioned, forcibly injected, and so on — are not just metaphorical ... Essentially, we need to acknowledge that we are not dealing with patients with illnesses, but people with problems. We cannot make the necessary shift to a more appropriate and humane system unless we are prepared to drop the whole biomedical discourse altogether.


I believe that this radical process of change is already underway, and that what we are witnessing, in increasingly fractious social media exchanges, is the painful process of moving from one paradigm of care to another. In such a situation, the interminable ‘debates’ which so quickly slide into personal attacks can actually be a distraction, which is why I now largely avoid them. We need to focus on developing alternatives. The PTMF is an imperfect, evolving attempt to contribute to this process, and to reach a point where we can acknowledge that human emotional suffering, even in its more devastating forms, is neither disease nor illness.


Dr Lucy Johnstone is a clinical psychologist, trainer, speaker and writer, and a long-standing critic of biomedical model psychiatry since her original book Users and Abusers of Psychiatry (first edition 1989). She has worked in adult mental health settings for many years, alternating with academic posts. She is the former Programme Director of the Bristol Clinical Psychology Doctorate, which was based on a critical, politically-aware and service-user informed philosophy, along with an emphasis on personal development. She has written and trained extensively on the subject of psychological formulation as an alternative to psychiatric diagnosis. Lucy is lead author, along with Professor Mary Boyle, of the Power Threat Meaning Framework, published by the British Psychological Society in January 2018. This ambitious document offers a conceptual alternative to the diagnostic model of psychological and emotional distress. Lucy currently works as an independent trainer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Person-centred care in psychiatry

I mentioned before (see post) that the Royal College of Psychiatrists had set up a scoping group to make training more person-centred. It produced its report in 2018 (see subsequent BJPsych Bulletin article and BJPsych International article).

What I tend to emphasise about person-centred care is the fundamental change in perspective required to shift from a physical disease model of mental illness, and illness in general, to a holistic perspective (eg. see previous post). Human beings are organisms, not machines (see eg. previous post), so medicine needs to focus on persons, not just their bodies. Certainly for mental illness, there’s not much point just focusing on the brain (see eg. another previous post).

Monday, December 07, 2020

The overemphasis on psychiatric diagnosis

Having a psychiatric diagnosis for some people may be important. It identifies that they are unwell: the implications of the diagnosis may have more social advantages for them than disadvantages. Others may not find a psychiatric diagnosis so helpful. For example, they may feel it hasn’t really helped them understand the problems they have with their mental health. 

I am thinking about these issues as I have just read The straight talking introduction to the Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF) by Mary Boyle and Lucy Johnstone. This book gives an introduction to what it calls an alternative to psychiatric diagnosis. Although it mentions psychological formulation, it doesn’t really talk about how mental health professionals undertake a history and mental state examination of people presenting with mental health problems. It provides, however, a valuable framework for obtaining and evaluating this information in terms of power, threat and meaning. 

If the aim of psychiatric assessment is to provide understanding of mental health problems, then a diagnosis may not necessarily be the most immediate concern. What is more important is to understand the family and personal context of these problems. Appreciating this context may not provide proof of what has caused them, but it may give some indications. Describing these reasons may well be more complex than what is conveyed by a single-word diagnosis. 

So, could psychiatry survive without a diagnostic system by focusing on providing understanding of mental health problems? Such a way of practising would have benefits, as it would avoid treating mental health problems as brain disease. But the trouble is that diagnosis is needed as a term for entry into the sick role in society. PTMF wants to abandon the connection between mental health problems and the sick role, which is why it is so controversial. 

PTMF admirably emphasises that damage to mental health can be caused by trauma and other external events, and that this damage is more to do with how people have been treated by others than what they have done themselves. In this sense, mental health problems are an understandable, even expected, response to people’s situations. But of course there are social consequences of mental health problems. Although psychological problems are the defining feature of why people present to mental health services, services cannot ignore the social dysfunction caused by these problems. Both psychological and physical ill health can cause social dysfunction. 

PTMF advises us not to see mental health problems as illness. However, if only because of the social dysfunction caused by both physical and mental illness, the term ‘mental illness’ can still be meaningful. Both mental and physical illness have personal implications. I’m not against other professionals besides doctors being able, for example, to sign a certificate that someone is not fit for work. But that’s essentially the same as what doctors do for illness in general. It seems unnecessarily strict to insist on not using the term ‘illness’ in relation to mental health problems. 

We do need to move on from an incorrect notion of mental illness as brain disease. But I think that getting caught up in the argument about whether mental health problems are illnesses is actually deflecting us from this more important task of critiquing mental illness as brain disease. The primary argument is that it is incorrect to reduce mental health problems to brain disease, not that mental health problems are wrongly seen as illnesses.

Monday, November 30, 2020

The need for a new medical model: A challenge for biomedicine

At the end of the last post, I said that George Engel did not define the biopsychosocial model in the eclectic way in which it tends to be used in modern psychiatry. In his seminal article in Science, he proposed his biopsychosocial model as a new medical model to challenge biomedicine. The biopsychosocial model is not only a challenge for psychiatry, but also for medicine in general. I'm not convinced people have often even read Engel's paper when they discuss the biopsychosocial model.

As I said in my article

The appeal of Engel’s model was its critique of biomedical reductionism. In his original paper, Engel talked about neutralizing “the dogmatism of biomedicine” (p. 135). He commented on the enormous investment in diagnostic and therapeutic technology that emphasizes “the impersonal and the mechanical” (p. 135). He quoted from Holman (1976),  who argued that:

[T]he Medical establishment is not primarily engaged in the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and the translation of that knowledge into medical practice; rather in significant part it is engaged in special interest advocacy, pursuing and preserving social power (quoted on p. 135).

Engel acknowledged the interest in the biopsychosocial model amongst a minority of medical teachers, but also emphasized the difficulties in overcoming the power of the prevailing biomedical structure.


As Engel explained, “medicine's crisis derives from the same basic fault as psychiatry's” (p.129). By defining disease in terms of somatic parameters, physicians can make the incorrect inference that they "need not be concerned with psychosocial issues which lie outside medicine's responsibility and authority” (p.129). Medicine has tried to correct this imbalance over recent years by attempting to make its training and practice more patient-centred. It hasn’t always been very successful in this aim and medicine still needs to be rethought in the way suggested by Engel (see eg. post on my personal blog). Healthcare has corrupted its mission and still needs to change (see another post on my personal blog).

Historically there have been various culturally derived belief systems about illness and disease. It wasn't so long ago that people in the West still believed in humoural explanations of illness (see eg. previous post). As Engel pointed out, "the biomedical model is now the dominant folk model of disease in the Western world" (p.130). However, even within the West there is still much take up of alternative and complementary medicine. Nor have traditional indigenous views globally been completely colonised by biomedicine (see previous post). 

The problem with trying to conceptualise mental health problems as physical disease is that it leads to polarised positions between biomedical reductionism and a stance which argues that ‘mental health problems should not be seen as illness’. Representatives of the latter view, which Engel called ‘exclusionist’, would be Thomas Szasz (see eg. previous post), Lucy Johnstone (see another previous post) and Peter Kinderman (see eg. yet another previous post). There have even been these Szaszian tendencies within the Critical Psychiatry Network (see eg. previous post). 

As Engel said, “the reductionists are the true believers, the exclusionists are the apostates” (p.130). But, in fact, both biomedical reductionists and the Szaszian position are wrong, as illness is not so much a physical disease as a "person-centered, harmful, and undesirable deviation or discontinuity . . . associated with impairment or discomfort" (p.130 of Engel paper, quoting from Fabrega, 1975). A technical distinction is made in the literature between illness as an experience and disease as physical pathology. In these terms, mental illness should not be reduced to physical brain disease (see eg. my Lancet Psychiatry letter).

Illness is most frequently first identified by people having symptoms or noticing signs. Building on the dissection of the body in medieval Europe, the Cartesian view of disease as the breakdown of the bodily machine did not take an organismic view. This more wholistic viewpoint in fact tended to take an equally erroneous vitalist perspective (see eg. previous post). In the nineteenth century, the application of the anatomoclinical method, relating signs and symptoms to physical pathology, was remarkably successful. But as Engel said, "at a cost" (p.131). From his point of view, “We are now faced with the necessity and the challenge to broaden the approach to disease to include the psychosocial without sacrificing the enormous advantages of the biomedical approach” (p.131).

People may have underlying disease which hasn’t yet presented with symptoms and signs. Furthermore, patients need to be interviewed by doctors to understand their presentation. Broader socioeconomic conditions may well be important. Psychosocial factors determine even whether patients present to doctors. How patients react to treatment options can also affect outcome. The doctor-patient relationship itself is a powerful factor in treatment. All of these factors are outside a narrow biomedical framework which Engel called the “requirements of a new medical model” (p.131).

As Engel said, medicine has to “take into account the patient, the social context in which he lives, and the complementary system devised by society to deal with the disruptive effects of illness, that is, the physician role and the health care system” (p.132). The boundaries between health and disease are not absolute and both patients and doctors can have views about what counts as the sick role. It is patients and doctors, as far as possible together, that determine what should be regarded as illness/disease.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Debate about models of mental health problems

As Anne Cooke et al (2019) say in their article, "There is considerable debate about the nature and causes of ... 'mental health problems', and therefore about the best way/s to intervene". They juxtapose the frameworks of the 'medical model' and the 'psychosocial model' and point out that there have been attempts to create an intermediate 'biopsychosocial model'.

I think the debate is more complex than this polarisation may suggest. The article defines the 'medical model' as denoting "the idea that mental health problems are best understood as 'illnesses like any other'". Even though there may be people that define and apply the 'medical model' in this way, I think most people do recognise a difference between mental and physical illness. Again, some people may want to minimise the difference between mental and neurological illness (eg. see previous post), but psychiatry is a separate speciality from neurology. The reason for this is that the two specialities deal with different kinds of medical problems. Those that want to work towards merging neurology and psychiatry at least realise we have not got there yet.

The article references Mary Boyle to define the 'psychosocial model' as a "framework that removes biology from the position of privilege in favour of a focus on the relational, interpersonal and social contexts of distress". This is fundamental to a critique of the biomedical model in that we need psychosocial explanations of mental health problems rather than reducing such problems to brain disease (see eg. previous post). 

What worries me is the way the 'biopsychosocial model' is seen as a way of reconciling the 'medical model' and 'psychosocial model' in the senses defined by the article. Engel's biopsychosocial model is is fact the same as the article defines as the 'psychosocial model' (see eg. previous post). True, the people that the article references in relation to the definition of the 'biopsychosocial model', such as Allen Frances (see eg. previous post) and Robin Murray (see eg. another previous post), do use the term in an eclectic way. But this was not what Engel meant.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Changing the medium of psychiatry to relations

Dumas-Mallett and Gonon (2020) helpfully summarise the bias in biomedical psychiatric research. They also describe how these misrepresentations are spread through the mass media and call for the public to receive correct information.

The trouble is that they do not want to go as far as questioning biological psychiatry per se. That's what's really needed to make progress. Biomedical psychiatry holds out the attractions of a predictive and systematic way of understanding and treating mental health problems. No wonder people hope it may be true and psychiatrists act as though we have got there, or at least are not far away from it.

But as the article says we're being misled. It’s not only the message that is wrong but also the expectation about what can be achieved. Do we really think we can solve the problem of consciousness (see previous post), or more generally how life originates from inanimate matter? As Kant said, this is an insight which is denied to us (see another previous post). 

But that doesn't mean that psychiatry is defunct. It should never have had such fanciful notions. Nonetheless people still need understanding and treatment for their mental health problems.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Psychiatry has the wrong biology

Daniel Nicholson (who I’ve mentioned before eg. see previous post) has a paper on ‘Is the cell really a machine?'. As he says, "The conventional mechanical, reductionistic, and deterministic view is gradually giving way to an understanding of the cell that emphasizes its fluidity, plasticity, and stochasticity." Human cognition also needs to be understood in this dynamic, integrated, enactive way as it is embodied in the brain and the body more generally, and embedded in the environment, which is social and cultural, affording various possibilities of action to the person (see eg. previous post).

We need to move on from a mechanistic approach to life in general, including human life, to a more interpretative one (eg. see previous post). The advantage of seeing life as self-organising is that its plasticity is acknowledged without neglecting its ongoing stability (see another previous post). Cells and bodies are not well-defined structures but actually stabilised processes. What persists over time are their form not their matter. As David Nicholson says, “Cells are empirically revealing themselves to be inherently dynamic, self-organizing systems that respond stochastically and nonlinearly to environmental stimuli.” Cells and life in general are not determined spatiotemporal arrangements (see eg. previous post). 

Psychiatry needs to take on board this need for a more dynamic biology, not only for clinical practice but also for research (see eg. previous post). The physical disease model of mental illness is outdated because of progress in understanding not only in human cognition, but also more fundamentally about life processes (see another previous post). 

Psychiatry deconstructs itself, wow!

I made a serious attempt in a previous post to deconstruct the American Psychiatric Association in how it presented itself at an annual meeting. Actually I'd already realised (in another previous post) that Stephen Stahl and his NEI Psychopharm had done the job of hilariously self-deconstructing psychiatry, however undeliberate, in its series of videos. Unfortunately the congress opener for the 2011 NEI Global Psychopharmacology Congress that I mentioned in that post seems to have been taken down. As far as I can remember it had Stephen Stahl dancing in it. Anyway, you can laugh at the more recent 2019 NEI Congress Opener. And you can still see Stahl starring and dancing in this video about DSM-5.

More seriously, Stahl explains that he had to take Psychiatra-Gain to deal with the boredom he was feeling in working with patients (see another video). This created his Alice in Wonderland worldview (see video). It leads to trying out lots of medications on patients in a fun way (see video), although the original psychotropics are still the best (see another video). Thank goodness someone at least is taking psychiatry seriously.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The violence of psychiatry

I've said before (see eg. tweet) that it's not surprising psychiatry is controversial when it has the power to detain people against their will on the basis of their health or safety or for the protection of others because of mental disorder, which are criteria that are bound to be open to interpretation. It is the dominance of the biomedical model in psychiatry that causes problems. The criteria in mental health legislation that allow coercive treatment are too wide to prevent abuse (see previous post). The UK government is currently producing a White paper for reform of the Mental Health Act but almost certainly will not go far enough - at least initially - to preserve the dignity and respect of detained patients (see eg. another previous post). There does need to be a campaign to stop psychiatric abuse (see yet another previous post).

More generally psychiatry's tendency to reduce people to objects means that its practices are too restrictive and not therapeutic enough. This tendency has increased over recent years with the overemphasis on risk. Community care has become as bureaucratic at times as the worst institutional practices of the asylum. 

My hope is that the government will produce a green paper to discuss these issues more widely, but I suspect it will go straight to a White paper because of the independent review led by Simon Wessely. There needs to be renewed debate about these issues, as it has been paused by the coronavirus pandemic. My personal hobby horse has been that detained people should have a right to a second medical and non-medical opinion of their choice. Both detention and treatment decisions should be adjudicated by a single judge in the Mental Health Tribunal (doing away with the need for medical and lay members). Second Opinion Approved Doctors (SOADs) will also no longer be needed and anyway have tended to become a 'rubber-stamping’ exercise. The Mental Health Act arm of the Care Quality Commission needs to be given the specific responsibility of preserving the dignity and respect of detained patients. Its role in maintaining basic human rights needs to be reinforced.



(With thanks to a tweet from @Heather28258253)

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Embarrassing use of the term ‘anti-psychiatry’

I’ve mentioned before (eg. see last post) that it was David Cooper that first used the term ‘anti-psychiatry’. Adrian Chapman has an interesting article about him. He references a Guardian piece by David Gale, who saw Cooper for therapy for 4 years. 

As Chapman says, “Cooper overreached [himself]”. This is, I think, a rather generous assessment of what happened to Cooper’s anti-psychiatry, which as RD Laing said became rather embarrassing. Chapman also notes that Adrian Laing, the son of RD Laing, in his biography of his father says there was only ever one anti-psychiatrist. That was David Cooper. Those that still use the term ‘anti-psychiatry’ generally don’t mean Cooper when they use the term. Instead they are usually trying to denigrate criticisms of psychiatry (see eg. previous post).

It’s also rather outrageous to include classic works like Erving Goffman’s Asylums and Michel Foucault’s History of Madness within a denigratory use of the work ‘anti-psychiatry’ (see another previous post). As I’ve said before, I think people should stop using the term. It was a historical phase that psychiatry went through, which actually was not as negative as is commonly made out. Psychiatry needs to learn to take on board criticisms of its tendencies to reductionism and positivism.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Renaming this blog

This blog has been renamed ‘Relational psychiatry’ from ‘Critical psychiatry’. It’s not the first time I’ve renamed a website. My ‘Critical Psychiatry website’ (now largely defunct) was original called the ‘Anti-psychiatry website’, but I changed the name because of the confusion it caused (see previous post). Doing that hasn’t stopped me wrongly continuing to be called an anti-psychiatrist.

‘Anti-psychiatry’ was a term originally used by David Cooper (see my book chapter). It was also used by mainstream psychiatrists, such as Martin Roth, to denote what he considered to be an international movement against psychiatry (see another previous post). Anti-psychiatry came to be most associated with R.D. Laing and Thomas Szasz, who actually had very different views. It is generally seen as a passing phase in the history of psychiatry, although Bonnie Burstow tried to resurrect the term ‘antipsychiatry’ without the hyphen (see previous post). If the term now means anything, I think it should be reserved for the abolition of psychiatry, which is the sense in which Burstow meant it. Cooper’s anti-psychiatry became a rather bizarre mixture of family, sexual and revolutionary politics, which even R.D. Laing found embarrassing (see my Lancet Psychiatry letter). Laing himself was taken up by the counter-culture of the 1960/70s and ultimately became more interested in personal growth and authenticity than changing psychiatry.

The trouble with Roth’s use of the term is that anti-psychiatry wasn’t merely a negative contribution to psychiatry. There were excesses but the extent to which anti-psychiatry provided a critique of reductionism and positivism in psychiatry was of value. There are problems with a mechanistic approach to mental illness. I have been trying to get this message across by using the term ‘critical psychiatry’. But I think we now need to move on from an outdated physical disease model of mental illness to a more relational mental health practice (see previous post).

I’ve always emphasised the continuities of critical and relational psychiatry with mainstream psychiatry. I also do not agree with the approach of the ‘drop the disorder’ movement, which is leading to too much polarisation and misunderstanding (see eg. previous post). Recent developments from anti-cognitivist phenomenological and enactive accounts of psychopathology may well help relational psychiatry to come afresh at the modern crisis in psychiatry (see previous post).

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Understanding psychosis

At least the new guide Understanding psychosis: Voices, visions and distressing beliefs is clear that psychotic experiences do not result from a brain disease. The document has been edited by Anne Cooke from the original British Psychological Society (BPS) publication Understanding psychosis and schizophrenia. Anne was also one of the co-editors of the BPS report on Understanding depression, which I defended as a helpful, balanced report in my last post.

If only to show that I'm not merely a BPS acolyte, just to reiterate, I have been more critical of the psychosis report than the depression one (eg. see previous post). A strength of both reports is that they provide personalistic explanations of mental health problems, taking a holistic perspective rather than narrowly focusing on the brain. But I don't think, for example, that the psychosis report makes clear that psychotic symptoms can occur in delirium and dementia (see eg. previous post). Nor that psychosis may well not be associated with people asking for help because they have no insight into their problems. For example, it does not distinguish dissociation from psychosis (see eg. another previous post). 

Another strength of both documents is the attempt to explain mental health problems in everyday language. Psychiatry is not an exact science and therefore controversial, and unfortunately debates can become polarised. I would like to see more focus on the BPS position expressed in both documents that mental illness is not a brain disease (see eg. my Lancet Psychiatry letter and previous post). 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Understanding depression

The new British Psychological Society (BPS) document on 'Understanding depression' has created controversy, at least on twitter. For example, @ProfRobHoward sent a tweet saying that it is "stigmatising and politically motivated", and @wendyburn in her tweet linked to what she called a "powerful and disturbing" blog post by Lucy Dimbylow (@lucywriter), who in turn had sent a tweet saying the report "trivialises depression, gaslights sufferers and suggests it's [depression's] not even an illness".

Actually the report says there can be advantages in thinking of depression as an illness and some people find medication helpful. Depression of course can be a normal experience and there can be benefits for some people of 'normalising' depression. The report also makes clear that depression can be debilitating and associated with psychosis at the other end of the spectrum. A strength of the report is that it provides personalistic explanations of depression, taking a holistic perspective rather than narrowly focusing on the brain.  I don't think the report is misleading or undermines depression as an illness. It is a helpful, balanced report written in everyday language.

The argument on twitter about whether depression is an illness deflects from taking on board a key message of the report that depression is not a brain abnormality. I wish these debates would become less polarised and focus on the fact that depression is not the result of a brain disease. The symptoms and signs of depressive illness, although enabled by the brain, are not merely epiphenomena of a causal brain process. Depression needs to be understood in interpersonal context. Maybe that's why some people feel so threatened by the BPS report, because they know that depression is not a brain abnormality but wish it was. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Fear of stopping antidepressants

In a trial of withdrawing antidepressants in patients who no longer needed the medication, Eveleigh et al (2017) found that half of the patients in the intervention group did not comply with advice to stop antidepressants. Only a few of the patients who were willing to follow the advice actually managed to stop, which was about the same number as in the control group who stopped their medication in the year of the study without the specific intervention. The patients in the intervention group also reported a higher rate of relapse than the control group.

To investigate further why so many people were unwilling to even try stopping their antidepressant medication despite the medication not being indicated, Eveleigh at al (2019) interviewed some of the participants in the trial. They found that fear (of recurrence, relapse, or to disturb the equilibrium) was the most prominent barrier, and prior attempts fuelled these anticipations (see eg. previous post). Another important barrier was the notion that antidepressants are necessary to correct deficient serotonin levels (see previous post). As Verbeek-Heida & Mathot (2006) found, the fear and uncertainty about stopping were stronger than the fear and uncertainty about continuing. Users of antidepressants tend to think they are better off 'safe than sorry' by continuing medication (see another previous post). Patients are uncertain and fearful about what they will be like without medication (Leydon et al, 2007).

The evidence for what it is worth is that continuing antidepressant treatment reduces the risk of relapse. Relapse rates in discontinuation trials can be substantial. Although fear of relapse may be biasing the results of such studies through unblinding, doctors have to be realistic that discontinuing antidepressants may not be easy. Patients tend to think doctors should take responsibility for initiating contact about discontinuation (Bosman et al, 2016), but in practice this tends not to happen. A good proportion of the increase in antidepressant prescribing over recent years is because of long-term repeat prescribing (see previous post). 

Taking antidepressants can be identity altering (see previous post). Patient's preferences and concerns affect their decisions about medication (Malpass et al, 2009). These sort of factors should have been obvious to doctors (see my book chapter). As I keep emphasising, psychological factors cannot be denied in causing antidepressant discontinuation problems (see eg. previous post). The question is whether they are a sufficient explanation or whether underlying clinically significant brain changes also contribute (see last post).


(With thanks to a MIA blog post by Peter Simons)

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Outcome-based prescribing

In her recent MIA blog post, Joanna Moncrieff concentrates on what psychiatric drugs actually do. She's right that it's commonly wrongly assumed they are correcting some sort of brain imbalance, which she calls the disease-centred model of drug action (see eg. previous post). 

She also mentions the harms caused by psychiatric drugs. For example, antipsychotic medication can cause brain shrinkage, although I think the clinical significance of this finding is unclear (see eg. previous post). Antidepressant discontinuation problems may have become better recognised since a formal complaint made to the Royal College of Psychiatrists two years ago (see eg. previous post). I actually think that believing the disease-centred model of antidepressant action is likely to increase the risk of discontinuation problems (see another previous post). 

Joanna defends what she calls a drug-centred rather than disease-centred model of drug action (see eg. another  blog post from her). As she also notes, psychiatrists may have an outcome-based understanding of drug action, without necessarily any apparent particular commitment to an explanation of the drug's action. I certainly don't believe in the disease-based model, but still prescribed psychotropic medication when I was working because the evidence, for what it is worth, is generally said to be that such medication is effective within NICE guidelines. It was difficult for me to refuse a request for medication within these parameters. This is despite my scepticism about the evidence (see eg. previous post) and recognition that any effect may be due to placebo (see eg. another previous post). I don't want to undermine people's belief in their medication, but not everyone is helped in the clinical trials and the difference between placebo and active medication in these trials is generally much smaller than most people realise. Because of psychological factors, I was very aware of the risk of discontinuation problems and often it seemed easier for patients maintained on medication to continue with it rather than stop (see eg. another previous post).

An advantage of the drug-centred model is that it makes us realise, as Jo says, "how little we really know about these drugs". Modern psychopharmacology started with the introduction of chlorpromazine in the 1950s. When testing drugs for treatment of protozoal infections and parasitic worms, chlorpromazine was noted to have strong anti-histamine properties. It was therefore investigated with allergic patients and reported to cause drowsiness. This 'drowsiness' effect was explored by Henri Laborit, a French surgeon, using chlorpromazine to potentiate anaesthesia with other agents by preventing surgical shock. He reported it induced 'detachment' in his patients, suggesting it produced an 'artificial hibernation' because of its hypothermic and hypnotic qualities. Jean Delay and Pierre Deniker, therefore, investigated the potential for the drug on its own at higher doses in calming manic patients. Their papers talked about chlorpromazine causing a 'chemical lobotomy' different from other sedatives. They coined the term 'neuroleptic syndrome' referring to a slowing down of motor activity, affective indifference and emotional neutrality. Trials of chlorpromazine undertaken by Heinz Lehmann in Montreal facilitated the new drug's introduction to North America. Extrapyramidal effects, such as parkinsonism, were difficult to differentiate from any anti-psychotic properties.

Imipramine, the first antidepressant, has a similar chemical structure to the phenothiazines, like chlorpromazine, but different psychoactive effects. Initial trials in schizophrenia failed but it was said to be spectacularly effective in vital depression (see previous post). As Jo says, the SSRI antidepressants seemed to be "relatively innocuous" compared to the tricyclic antidepressants, like imipramine. She speculates about how they might be "changing the brain in significant ways that we do not understand".

The trouble is that these are only speculations and psychological dependence could be a sufficient explanation of antidepressant discontinuation problems (see eg. previous post). I agree with Jo that we should concentrate on psychiatric harm (see eg. another previous post) and the way to do that is to be much clearer about the pharmacological effects of psychotropic medication. I was much cleare about the effects of neuroleptics and tricyclics when I first started in psychiatry than SSRIs which are relatively inert.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Psychiatry and its critics

I've mentioned before (see previous post), that it's about time we moved on from the debate about 'anti-psychiatry'. It is generally seen as a passing phase from the 1960s/70s in the history of psychiatry. The trouble is that the term continues to be used (eg. see Psychology Today blog post). Part of the reason for wanting to move on is because of the confused way in which the term is used, which the Psychology Today piece to me seems to exemplify.

As I've also mentioned before, there actually was some value in the work of anti-psychiatry (see previous post). It shouldn't be seen merely as a negative contribution to psychiatry. As I wrote in my editorial, "it is difficult to accept that there was no value in the approach and what may be more beneficial is to look for the continuities, rather than discontinuities, with orthodox psychiatry" (see also my essay review). Personally I've always tended to emphasise the links of critical psychiatry (which I differentiate from anti-psychiatry) with mainstream psychiatry (see another previous post).

The term 'anti-psychiatry' was coined by David Cooper (see eg. previous post). It came to incorporate earlier writings by R.D. Laing, Michel Foucault, Erving Goffman and Thomas Szasz. It was most associated with the views of Laing and Szasz, who actually had very different perspectives (see eg. another previous post). Szasz, for example, equally rejected both mainstream psychiatry and Laing’s views. The emphasis on therapeutic communities in the Laingian version of anti-psychiatry led to positive developments such as the Philadelphia Association (see previous post) and the Arbours Association. The anti-institutional concerns of anti-psychiatry contributed to the rundown of the traditional asylum, with political impact such as that of Franco Basaglia in Italy (see previous post). The application of social labelling theory to mental illness, for example by Thomas Scheff (see my book review), had particular implications in the study 'On being sane in insane places' by David Rosenhan, which caused a crisis of confidence for psychiatric diagnosis at least for American psychiatry (see previous post). This was countered by the development of DSM-III. There were also international perspectives to anti-psychiatry, such as: French anti-psychiatry, particularly identified with Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari; Frantz Fanon in Algeria; and Jan Foudraine in the Netherlands (see my book chapter).

Maybe the term 'antipsychiatry' (without the hyphen) should now be reserved for the argument for the abolition of psychiatry (see previous post). But, I'm afraid it's still being used in the same way (eg. in the Psychology Today blog post mentioned above) as it was originally by mainstream psychiatry to denigrate any criticism, including valid criticism, of the biomedical model in psychiatry. I think this usage goes back to articles such as that by Martin Roth (1973).

In the article, Roth frames the debate about anti-psychiatry as an attack on the deterministic scientific nature of psychiatry. He recognises that this issue raises difficult philosophical questions and creates a need to reconcile deterministic concepts of causation with the inner experience of free will. He sees psychiatry as making progress towards this end by, for example, being able to describe the medical and social profile of those who commit suicide. He believes the Enlightenment represented the replacement of moralistic and transcendental attitudes with rational and deterministic explanations. 

Roth is correct that the conflict between determinism and free will is ultimately unresolvable. However, critical psychiatry does not take the same positivistic view of biological and biomedical sciences. In fact, the postpsychiatry version of critical psychiatry explicitly sees such a modernist agenda as untenable (see eg. previous post). 

A mechanistic worldview, which Roth calls science, confers an apparent advantage by providing a predictive and systematic way of understanding and manipulating nature. However, this leaves the phenomenon of life in an equivocal position because it cannot be totally stripped of its intrinsic purposiveness (see previous post). Rene Descartes (1596-1650) regarded both animate and inanimate matter by the same mechanistic principles. Animals are therefore machines; and human physiology is also mechanistic. Descartes stopped short, though, of including the human mind in this mechanistic framework. The soul was denied any influence in physiology. Descartes, thereby, avoided the materialistic implication that man himself is a machine. 

Although Georg Ernst Stahl (1659-1734) claimed erroneously that living things possess a vital entity, his dualistic notion was different from Descartes, in that he differentiated organic life from the inorganic, not the soul from the body. Unlike Descartes, the soul and body were not separate but integrated in the organism. Stahl originated an organismic perspective in the life and human sciences. This perspective formed the basis for Stahl having an emphasis on psychosomatic medicine, and a focus on clinical medicine rather than the physical sciences. 

Despite what Roth implies about the modernism of enlightenment thinking in the second half of the eighteenth century, the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was clear that it is absurd and futile to expect to be able to understand and explain life in terms of merely mechanical principles of nature (see previous post). A mechanistic conception of nature fails to provide a complete characterisation of living systems. Organisms, unlike machines, are self-organising and self-reproducing systems. Different modes of explanation are therefore required for teleological and mechanical points of views. 

What's needed is a pragmatic approach which focuses on nature and experience and the centrality of the organism-environment interaction. Life’s dynamic, systemic and purposive character needs to be promoted as a way of moving on from physico-chemical reductionism, which tends to eliminate the meaning of human action. Life is continuously and dynamically preserving its internal environment and is therefore a perpetual stream of matter and energy, better understood as a process than a static unchanging entity (see previous post). 

Roth rightly recognises that it is the mechanistic approach to mental illness that is being criticised and notes the difficulties in identifying the social cause of mental illness. But his reason for rejecting a social perspective is not valid. This is because he expects social explanations to be determinist, which they are not. Moreover, he resorts to genetic factors to avoid environmental explanations. I agree with Roth’s conclusion that constructive endeavour is required to resolve the manifold problems of contemporary psychiatry. However, his labelling of any criticism of the biomedical model of psychiatry as ‘anti-psychiatry’ has hidden the extent to which the critique of reductionism and positivism in psychiatry is valid. Modern apologists for psychiatry by labelling their critics as ‘anti-psychiatry’ are doing the same. Instead they should examine how much psychiatry reduces people to objects and uses an inappropriate mechanistic psychology and biology.