review by Mira de Vries
Johnson cries out in frustration at being unsuccessful in persuading his colleagues to stop mistreating psychiatric patients. He laments that even David Healy who has lectured and written extensively against psychiatric drugs betrays dissident psychiatrists and damaged patients by endorsing electroshock.
Johnson provides neither new evidence nor personal experience to support his position against drugs. Instead he refers to books by Whitaker and Breggin – indeed highly recommendable.
But Johnson must not have read Breggin’s book very well, because Breggin rejects the idea of mental illness. Johnson doesn’t. He states “Don’t try and define what mental health is. There is no need to.” Yet he does try to define mental illness as “once the mind no longer relates to the reality of its owner.”
Referring to it by various terms, including “mental illhealth” (sic), he states that it is always caused by fear. In infancy these fears are justified. A baby is dependent on adults for survival. In adulthood they are “obsolete” leading to “a pathology of denial” he posits.
Like Breggin, Johnson places the onus of people’s sanity on their parents:
He satirizes the DSM thus:
“…this is how [the DSM-IV system] would apply to leg pain. …your doctor says – “you’ve got a broken leg. I’m not the least interested in finding out what led up to this. In fact we have recently adopted a significantly novel approach – we’ve decided to be entirely neutral as to whichever causative factor might have led to this break.”Humorous as this sounds, it is unpersuasive. A physician can set a broken leg without knowing what broke it. The need to know "what led up to this" regarding non-somatic complaints is precisely because no break or other anomaly can be identified.
Johnson’s method of treating mental illness is, according to him, supporting the person emotionally by talking to him. Like so many writers on both sides of the psychiatric divide, bio versus babble, he portrays his method of treatment as being spectacularly effective. He even claims to have used it successfully while employed at a prison – a job he admits to having attained through nepotism, though he couldn’t keep it for long. To his credit he does insist that treatment should be voluntary.
How talk can do such a spectacular trick he does not say. Instead he provides examples of lengthy conversations he allegedly had with patients. Such cases must be either fabricated or gross violations of the patients’ privacy which neither changing their names nor obtaining their consent can justify. Since he says that these are transcripts from tapes, it’s probably the latter. Nevertheless, what his fail-proof method is and how it can be learned by others remains obscure.
What is truly spectacular about Johnson is his illogic. No doubt some people do cope with “obsolete fears” whether or not he has hit on a method for making the “symptoms evaporate.” But surely it is absurd to assume the same cause for whatever brings millions of people in contact with psychiatrists. Such sweeping generalization disregards the diversity of humankind. And how does Johnson explain psychiatric intervention with people who have until then functioned perfectly well and normally all their lives, or conversely, people who have functioned poorly since infancy when these alleged fears were not yet obsolete? Does Johnson reject psychiatric intervention concerning people who have legitimate fears or problems not stemming from fear? Does he send such clients away?
Yet more examples of his illogic: