Monday, July 25, 2011
Jill Bolte Taylor, Nora Volkow, Husseini Manji, Hagop Akiskal, Marsha Linehan, Fred Gage, David Braff, Nancy Andreasen ...
Likewise, hats off to the authors and commentators and film-makers who connect the dots and challenge us to connect our own: Robert Whitaker, Pete Earley, John Gartner, Jonah Lehrer, Katie Cadigan ...
Not to mention some of my favorite bloggers: Therese Borchard, Willa Goodfellow, Gina Pera ...
Plus no end of the unsung, those in the trenches, responding to the call, refusing to take no for an answer, rolling up their sleeves and doing - doing, doing ...
But scroll through my recent blog pieces and you will also encounter a number of individuals I have felt duty-bound to call out for their flagrant violation of the facts. Spirited and even heated discussion has a way of moving the conversation forward, but only when the facts are honored. In some strange and ineffable way, we move closer to an ever-elusive truth. Humanity is served.
The individuals I have singled only seem to serve themselves. Coincidentally, these individuals happen to be psychiatrists. So, without further ado, my first annual (or whenever) Psychiatric Exasperater Awards ...
Earlier this year, Andrew Nierenberg, professor of psychiatry at Harvard and a prominent researcher into mood disorders, purported to “repudiate” and “refute” compelling evidence raised against indiscriminate use of antidepressants and antipsychotics by Robert Whitaker, author of “Anatomy of an Epidemic.”
Had Dr Nierenberg accomplished but one one-hundredth of his stated mission, I would have thanked him for profusely for adding his learned voice to a badly needed dialogue. Instead, Nierenberg - obviously without having even read Whitaker’s book - resorted to ad hominem attacks (comparing Whitaker, whom he referred to as “ignorant,” to Sarah Palin), faulty marshaling of facts (such as misrepresenting one key study as “retrospective” when it was in fact prospective), and a very sick attempt at humor (such as showing a slide with a fake insulting black box warning appended to Whitaker’s book).
In the end, the only thing that Nierenberg proved was his own intellectual bankruptcy. As for Whitaker, we are still awaiting a credible response from someone with an MD.
(See Whitaker vs Quack Psychiatry - Part II.)
Earlier this month, Peter Kramer, clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, published an article in the NY Times, entitled “In Defense of Antidepressants.” Dr Kramer is author of the 1993 “Listening to Prozac,” the product of a far more credulous age when researchers and clinicians and patients alike believed in miracle treatments for illnesses we actually still know next to nothing about.
In his article, Dr Kramer presumed to respond to an uncontradicted scientific study with his own speculation. Just that - speculation, no facts, no science. Moreover, Dr Kramer willfully ignored both the leading real-world clinical trial that cast considerable doubt on treating depressed patients like guinea pigs, as well as very strong evidence of the very harmful effects of prescribing antidepressants to substantial portions of the population.
We would all benefit enormously from an intelligent discourse on when and when not to use antidepressants. On that vital point, Dr Kramer had nothing to contribute. Instead, in defiance of both reality and “first do no harm,” Dr Kramer would have the general public believe it is still 1993.
(See Peter Kramer and Antidepressants - Oy!)
The June 19 Newsweek contained an article by Stuart Kaplan, clinical professor of psychiatry at Penn State. The article - “Mommy, Am I Really Bipolar?” - is adapted from his new book, “Your Child Does Not Have Bipolar Disorder.” Asserted Kaplan: “There is no scientific evidence to support the belief that bipolar disorder surfaces in childhood.”
Except, of course, for a whole bunch of kids who cycle in and out of depression and mania.
Well, no, says Kaplan. These kids are really ADHD or oppositionally defiant. Or have something called “temper dysregulation disorder.” Anything but bipolar. The following flat-out misstatement screams for the return of the Star Chamber: “The description of childhood bipolar disorder by its advocates is dramatically different [from adult bipolar].”
No it’s not.
Had Dr Kaplan stuck to the facts, he could have assisted us in our understanding of how best to improve the lives of kids in obvious distress, not to mention their families. Instead, by dogmatically clinging to an absolutist position, Dr Kaplan came across as the head cheer-leader in an academic food fight. Unfortunately, this food fight involves the well-being of our children.
(See The Child Bipolar Diagnosis is Under Attack - Yet Again.)
Reading Allen Frances on Psychology Today and the Psychiatric Times is as painful as viewing a painting by Thomas Kinkade. Dr Francis, professor emeritus at Duke University, headed up the DSM-IV of 1994. With the unveiling of the draft DSM-5 in Feb 2010, Dr Frances returned to the spotlight as its loudest and most inept critic.
Essentially, there are two Dr Frances - the one who fell in love with his 1994 opus and will brook no changes, and the one who feels he has sinned against humanity for his 1994 opus and likewise will brook no changes. In either case, his arguments come across as disordered and bizarre.
In citing numerous experts critical of DSM-5 changes, Dr Frances overlooks the obvious, namely that most of the problems faced by those working on the DSM-5 are the direct result of the Frances-led failures in bringing the DSM-IV into some kind of alignment with clinical reality back in 1994. The critics of the DSM-IV are justifiably legion. Not a peep from Dr Frances on this.
Dr Frances, by virtue of his elder statesman status, was in the enviable position of setting the tone for the debate, and thus informing us all on the challenges of taking diagnostic psychiatry into a new era. As it happened, intelligent expert commentary never materialized. Present and future generations of those seeking professional help will end up paying dearly.
(See The Dimensional Side to Personality.)
With a major paradigm shift underway, we are living in an age of both inspiration and exasperation. The “inspirators,” though clearly the wave of the future, are by no means infallible - hence the need for spirited conversations. The “exasperaters” see themselves as guardians of the old paradigm and are often right a lot of the time, hence - again - the need for spirited conversations.
Unfortunately the exasperaters cited here add nothing to the conversation. To the contrary, they come across as authoritarian, anti-intellectual, and as maladaptive reactors to their changing environments. Hysterical reactionism is always a response to progress, which is good news. The bad news is that as the paradigm further shifts, we are likely to witness much more of this type of behavior.
Stay tuned for my next crop of annual awardees. I guarantee you won’t have to wait a year.