Mad Science

Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs

Kirk, Gomory, & Cohen

Reviewed by Mira de Vries

If you are planning to read only one book about what's wrong with psychiatry, this one is an excellent choice, provided you are proficient in academic English.

The weathered critic of psychiatry will not find any freshly uncovered facts or novel points of view in this book. As the authors themselves state in a footnote, “Writings critical of psychiatric thinking and practice run in the hundreds if not thousands.” What makes this one so worthy of appreciation is the way the arguments are organized, without the excessive emotionality or lapses of logic that mar other books on the subject.

Proceeding through the history of psychiatry, the authors explain that how it has always been portrayed to us is not how it really is. Psychiatry doesn't eradicate disease the way vaccinations or antibiotics do. If it did, there would be increasingly fewer people with psychiatric diagnoses, instead of exponentially more. Programs to treat people while living in the community are just as coercive as the state hospitals of the past. The criteria for psychiatric diagnoses are neither reliable nor valid. Psychiatric drugs are no more effective than placebos. “Since the very beginnings of hospital psychiatry, an 'effective' treatment was one that could disable the person receiving it.” The authors do not oppose taking drugs, they only oppose forcing people to take them or stop taking them.

Like most critics of psychiatry, the authors end their writing by suggesting an alternative. Unlike most critics, the alternative they suggest has not yet been tried and proven ineffective. Their alternative is that psychiatrists should not be allowed to coerce people, write prescriptions, or gate-keep public services. Hurray.

Being right and well-written are fine literary qualities, but they don't protect the vulnerable among us from pseudo-medical imprisonment and chemical abuse, just as another widely read and respected book extolling the virtue of chastity failed to protect the most vulnerable members of the church from sexual abuse. Priests take vows of celibacy but are not castrated. Likewise, psychiatrists vow to do no harm, but are not divested of the privileges, not to mention profits, that tempt them to ignore the falsity of their profession's claims. As the authors acknowledge, psychiatry is “too big to fail.” The vested interests of various powerful parties are simply too huge.

In my opinion real improvement will come only when the bulk of the lay public, and in their wake politicians and judges, lose faith in psychiatry. This book will open their eyes, but only if they read it.

MeTZelf thanks the authors for the complimentary e-book.

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