Monthly Archives: October 2011

Behaviorism and Sin

I am writing this post in response to Jeanne’s last comment concerning the concept of sin.  This takes us a little outside the normal orbit of this blog, and also outside my field.  But since behaviorism is a way of looking at human activity, and sin is an alternative way of looking at the same phenomenon, it might be helpful to examine the concept a little and draw comparisons between the two perspectives.

For the behaviorist, human activity is a natural phenomenon that can be studied and understood through the normal scientific methods.  These methods include: observation, record keeping, forming hypotheses, testing hypotheses, developing general theories, and keeping these theories under constant review in the light of further observation.  Science is the business of looking for patterns – regularities – similarities – even between things that seem very different.  A physicist sees a child throwing a stone in the air and at the same time sees the moon rising over the horizon, and he recognizes that the movement of the moon is essentially the same phenomenon as the movement of the stone.  This is a truly incredible breakthrough, in that the two things seem to have so little in common.  Similarly, a behaviorist looks at a child helping his younger sister tie her shoes and another child kicking his sister in the head, and sees similarities – a pattern.  Here again, a great breakthrough in understanding.  Behaviorism, like all science, is neutral.  Behavior is not good or bad – it just is, and it occurs in accordance with certain fairly well understood principles.  Individual behaviorists, of course, take moral positions, but we recognize that these are simply expressions of our personal preferences.  I, for instance, take the position that behavior which harms other people is wrong.  But if you were to say to me:  what do you mean by “wrong”? the only answer I could give you would be – I disapprove of it.  In that sense, the concept of wrongness is contentless – it has no definition over and above an expression of personal preferences on the part of an individual or group of individuals.

The concept of sin is an attempt to provide content to these personal expressions of preference.  The reasoning goes like this.  God made the world.  God made man and put him in the world.  God proclaimed certain rules for man.  When man breaks these rules he violates God’s law, and this is a sin.  Sin, according to this perspective, is any act that is against the law of God.  There are a number of problems here.  Firstly: the question of atheists.  Are they exempt from the law?  Wouldn’t you expect atheists to be extremely wicked, predatory, harmful people?  In fact, this is not the case.  Most of the atheists I know are about as selfless and giving as the next person.  Secondly, and more importantly, is the difficulty of defining “God’s law.”  Religious leaders have traditionally claimed an ability to discern this law and an authority to promulgate and enforce it.  But they differ so much in their edicts that it is difficult to take these claims seriously.  The Catholic Church, for instance, says it’s a sin to practice any kind of birth control – that God is offended if a man puts a rubber sheath on his penis prior to sexual intercourse.  Other sects say –  No, this is cool – God doesn’t mind that.  The Muslims, I believe, say that gambling is a sin – that God is offended if a person goes to Vegas and plays the tables or rolls dice or whatever.  Other sects say – No that is ok – and even provide bingo nights as a way of raising money!

Now I’m aware of the fact that religiously inspired thinkers have, through the ages, attempted to provide the various religious commandments with a rational underpinning.  In my view these attempts have not been successful.

My primary objection to the notion of sin, however, is that it undermines human dignity and value.  The Christian notion of sin involves far more than individual wrongdoing.  Embedded deeply in the Christian notion of sin is the tenet that man is inherently prone to wickedness, and can do nothing good by his own efforts, and can only achieve anything of lasting or intrinsic value by the direct grace of God.  This grace can only be obtained by man “giving himself” humbly to God, through, of course, the mediation of His ordained ministers.  In my view this is not only false, it is blatant, unprovable, Medieval rubbish, and it is offensive and degrading to men and women everywhere.  It is also an extremely advantageous philosophy for the various religions!

Now it is sometimes argued that the notions of good and evil are so deeply embedded in human consciousness that they must involve more than the arbitrary injunctions of civil and religious leaders.  And I think there might be something to this notion, but I see it in very different terms.  In my view man is born with certain basic “hard-wired” drives.  These are:  self-preservation; reproduction; pursuit of novelty, and … possibly? … a drive to safeguard the clan.  The clan is a vague concept – embracing immediate family and other individuals that the child encounters socially during his very early years.  These drives, of course, are modified by learning and experience, but the child grows up with these hard-wired drives existing within him and “nudging” his behavior in various directions.  For the most part the drives are mutually compatible, but it is easy to see how conflict might arise between the putative altruistic drive and self-preservation: helping others versus helping oneself.  And I believe that it is on this conflict that religious and political leaders through history have constructed their elaborate theories of right and wrong, good and evil, sin and righteousness.  In addition, it is easy to see how an inborn sense of loyalty to the clan is transformed, through various conditioning experiences, into the behavioral phenomenon known as patriotism

Obviously I’m aware that the position sketched out above of a primitive altruistic drive is fraught with problems.  Many theoreticians would maintain that there are only two basic drives – pursue pleasure and avoid pain – and that all subsequent motivators and our sense of good and evil are built on this basic structure through environmental influences.

So there it is – that’s where I’m coming from when I say that sin is a contentless concept.  It has no meaning other than the arbitrary and self-serving meaning that religious authorities give it.  Civil and political rulers through the ages have used religion – and in particular the notion of man’s inherent sinfulness – for their own ends.  The message has been – “don’t worry about how much we oppress you; don’t worry about your poverty and deprivation.  You don’t deserve anything better, and anyhow, you’ll get your reward in the next life.”  And of course, the religious leaders walk along locked in step with this pernicious doctrine.  Religion has always been the sidearm of civil government.

In her comment, Jeanne had expressed the belief that the concept of sin has “…as much ‘content’ as ‘psychosis’ or ‘neurosis’…”  And of course here we are in complete agreement.  My primary argument against the APA and DSM is that the concepts “mental illness,” “psychosis,” “neurosis,” etc., have no intrinsic content.  The APA has abandoned the term neurotic, but retains the term psychotic to describe what would normally be called “craziness.”  The concepts of sin and mental illness have in common that they both purport to be explanatory when in fact they are merely descriptive.  And even their descriptiveness is dependent on a man-made and rather arbitrary listing. I have discussed this distinction between explanations and descriptions in detail elsewhere.

Grand Rounds at Laika’s MedLibLog

Jacqueline (aka Laika) has this week’s Grand Rounds up at Laika’s MedLibLog.

One might wonder if many posts could be found that fit the theme:  Data, Information, and Communication.   There are approximately fifty posts in this Rounds, so many that you will want to go back several times, so as not to miss anything interesting.  Dr. Herb Mathewson has a post – Want to Go Dutch…or French…or German? – on learning about other countries’ healthcare systems.  There are several posts about social media and medicine – too many to mention, but obviously a source of information for those interested in learning more about this subject – most appropriate for those of us who are of an older, pre-computer age.  Some posts are very serious (My Review of Lifetime’s Movie: Five), while others, such as  ZDoggMD’s Doctors Today, are of a lighter nature.  Stop by and have a look.

Homosexuality

In a recent comment on my last post Jeanne raised some important questions concerning homosexuality.  These are issues where considerations of political correctness and religious dogma have stifled genuine discussion and dialogue.  I will try to address these questions openly and straightforwardly.

The sex or gender of a person expresses itself in five general ways.

1.  Every cell of the body is recognizable under a microscope as male or female.

2.  Anatomically:  The male develops testicles; the female develops ovaries.  These differences are discernible in the embryo within a few weeks of fertilization.

3.  Secondary sex characteristics:  The male develops a penis and the seminal ducts.  The female develops a uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina, and clitoris.  Additional gender characteristics become evident at puberty.  Male:  facial and pubic hair, deepening voice.  Female:  breasts and pubic hair.

4.  Endocrine system:  The pituitary gland releases gonad-stimulating hormones into the bloodstream – constantly in males; on a 28-day cycle in females.

5.  Behavior.  In animals these gender-specific behaviors tend to be stereotyped and rigid.  In humans there are some uniformities, but there is also a very substantial influence from environmental factors (especially the social environment).

In most people these five factors all show the same direction – all five factors indicating male; or all five indicating female.  Individuals in which all five factors don’t agree are called hermaphrodites.  There are five sub-groups.

1.  True hermaphrodites have ambiguous gonads; or a testicle on one side and an ovary on the other.  This condition is very rare.

2.  Pseudomales have female cells but male sex organs.  These individuals are usually sterile.  Sometimes at adolescence the breasts enlarge.  Incidence is approximately 1 in 2000.

3.  Pseudofemales have male cells but female external sex organs.  Ovaries are missing.  At puberty breasts do not develop and menstruation does not occur.  Incidence is approximately 1 in 2000.

4.  Male pseudohermaphrodites have male cells and have testicles, but gonaducts and external sex organs are female (to a greater or lesser extent).  Testicles are often undescended.  Incidence is about 1 in 2000.

5.  Female pseudohermaphrodites have female cells and ovaries, but during fetal development male hormones are produced, which results in various degrees of maleness in appearance at birth and throughout life.  Incidence, again, is about 1 in 2000.

There is a sixth group, in which the first four factors all show the same direction, but the individual desires to live and function like the opposite sex.  Sometimes the person acts on these desires.  These individuals are called homosexuals, or in modern terminology, gays.  The condition admits of degrees with regards to the kind of behavior involved and the frequency of these behaviors.  Some individuals are bisexual – i.e. they engage in both heterosexual and homosexual behavior.  As to why homosexuality occurs, there are four theories:  genetic; endocrine; psychosocial; and a mixture of two or more of the above.

With regards to which theory is correct, I think there are two general points.  Firstly, a great deal of research is being done in this area, and secondly, people have taken deeply entrenched positions for reasons that have nothing to do with genuine scientific understanding.  There is also a school of thought that says it is wrong to even enquire as to the cause(s) of homosexuality – that focusing on homosexuality is inherently stigmatizing, and presupposes that the condition is somehow wrong or aberrant.  In my view, there is nothing stigmatizing about the desire to understand.  A botanist studying the phenomenon of blooming in no way detracts from the beauty of the flower.  And, in any case, the human quest for knowledge and understanding won’t be stifled by dictatorial fiats.

Human existence, although laden with the potential for great happiness and fulfillment, is not always easy.  As children we learn that toys break and vacations come to an end.  And throughout life we experience incidents of loss, grief, and heartache.  Pain, bereavement, and disappointment are an intrinsic part of the human condition, and often there isn’t the familial/social support to carry us through these difficulties.  Some of our difficulties are of our own making, but this is difficult to admit.

All of this results, in some cases, in a kind of smoldering resentment or anger, but with no legitimate target for these feelings.  So we invent targets: blacks, Jews, Mexicans, and of course, homosexuals.  The latter group has had a particularly rough road, ostracized as they were by church and state alike.  Why do people express such negative feelings towards homosexuals?  Here again, there are lots of exotic theories.  My view is simply that they were taught to express these kinds of feelings by their role models, and were rewarded in both tangible and subtle ways for these expressions of hatred and disapproval.  Sometimes these feelings of hatred are expressed as violence and even murder.  Both secular and religious leaders have contributed to this violence through the ages.

The genetic theory of homosexuality is attracting a good deal of support at the present time, largely because it is seen as relieving the homosexual individual of guilt.  The reasoning (often unspoken) seems to be that either he was “born that way” (and therefore can’t help it) or he is a wicked, immoral person. Now for me, “immoral” has only one meaning – harming others.  Whether two men (or two women) engage in sexual behavior simply is not a moral issue.  We may find it difficult to understand or identify with, but that’s immaterial.  I find sky-diving more-or-less incomprehensible, but that doesn’t make it wrong, and certainly doesn’t give me the right to direct my anger or violence towards people who engage in the sport.  A man who engages in consensual sexual activity with another man has no more onus to defend his behavior than a person taking a walk on a summer evening, or playing ball with his children.  Perhaps the most fundamental principle of behaviorism is that behavior is behavior is behavior.

So for the behaviorist, the idea of letting the homosexual “off the hook” by asserting the genetic theory is irrelevant.  He (or she) is not on the hook to begin with.

The determinants of behavior are well-known and well-understood in general terms.  How these determinants work out in individual cases, however, is almost impossible to establish.  You can stand at the mouth of the Mississippi and know with 100% certainty that some of the water running past you comes from the Little Bighorn River.  But it is impossible to identify the actual molecules of water that came from this source.  Similarly, we can talk authoritatively about how parents influence their children’s behavior through reinforcement, punishment, modeling, etc., but we can’t pick out one specific behavior and reliably relate it back to a specific parental practice.

Although a good deal of research is being done on the genetic theory at the present time, the results are often difficult to interpret.  It is widely reported, for instance, that having an older brother increases the probability of a man being gay, and that each additional older brother increases these odds.  By way of explanation, it has been proposed that the male fetus provokes a maternal immune reaction (an antigen) that becomes stronger with each successive male fetus.  Subsequent male fetuses are attacked by this antigen, resulting in less masculinization in utero.  However, the phenomenon can be equally well explained in psychosocial terms.  A mother who has had two, three, or even four boys desperately wants a daughter, and raises the youngest boy in a feminine sort of way (through the usual methods of reinforcement, encouragement, etc.).  It’s not being suggested that she sets out deliberately to feminize her son, but rather that her deeply felt desires express themselves in ways that lead to this outcome.  Some researchers maintain that you can’t become homosexual in this way.  But I think this is more a doctrinaire issue than an established fact.  I have worked with many homosexual individuals over the years, and a number of them have expressed the belief that these kinds of psychosocial influences did have a formative effect on their sexuality.  In the late ‘60’s I was doing a research internship at a juvenile offender facility.  One of the clients was openly homosexual.  At one point I asked him if he had any idea why he was homosexual.  “I was raised in a house full of women,” he replied.  “They dressed me in silk gowns; they did my hair and my fingernails.”  And he shrugged.

Genes determine structure.  Structure, of course, in turn, has an influence on behavior, but it is by no means the only such influence.  Genes, for instance, determine that we have legs, but it is our early experience that determines largely whether those legs will be used for ballet dancing or soccer or for kicking people in the head!

And so the debate continues.  Here’s my position.  Genes determine whether we have male or female cells and male or female anatomy.  I also believe that genes determine whether we have sexual yearnings towards male or female partners.  These yearnings are wired or programmed into the brain in the form of arousal at the sight of certain anatomical features.  Cleavages, for instance, have an arousing effect on men; strong well-developed muscles have an arousing effect on women.  The precise nature of this “wiring” is not known.  Various researchers have identified small differences in brain structure between homosexual and heterosexual individuals.  And, of course, there has been a great deal of interest in X928 – the “gay gene.”

But this is where the plot thickens.  The wiring, although genetically determined, does not manifest itself until several years after birth.  This is not unique in nature.  Babies, for instance, are endowed genetically with the ability to walk upright, but this ability doesn’t emerge for about a year.  So between birth and puberty there is a relatively long period in which basic drives can be modified by psychosocial influences.

What seems evident to me is that for a male individual to reach puberty with clear heterosexual yearnings he needs to:

–          have male cells;

–          develop testicles, a penis, and seminal ducts in utero;

–          have a pituitary gland that secretes testicular androgens;

–          have the appropriate neural “wiring,”

and to have been raised in an environment that fostered (or at the very least didn’t stifle) these yearnings.

It is likely that the “wiring” admits of degrees with regards to strength and direction.  In other words, a person who is born male, cellularly and anatomically, may be “wired” strongly male or weakly male.  Similarly for babies who are born female – they may be wired strongly female or weakly female.  Admittedly all this is speculative, because I don’t know the nature of the “wiring,” but almost every human characteristic admits of degrees, so it seems a reasonable assumption.  It is also reasonable to believe that the pituitary secretions can vary in strength from person to person.

The rest of the story I think is clear.  People “wired” strongly will experience exclusively heterosexual yearnings at the onset of puberty; people “wired” weakly will also experience heterosexual yearnings unless their psychosocial environment has been such as to nudge them otherwise.  Or perhaps we have to distinguish between wiring and programming?  My knowledge of neurology is very limited, and I don’t have any precise or definite information in this area.

It will be argued by some that the wiring is rigid and cannot be modified by environmental factors.  But consider this.  The only drive in man stronger than the sexual drive is self-preservation.  This drive prompts us to flee overwhelming danger.  Soldiers, however, because of their training and other environmental influences, routinely behave in ways directly contrary to this drive.  Similarly, people on hunger strike suppress their desire to eat.  Neural wiring and/or programming, like almost everything else in the human body, is modified and sculpted by experience.  We are what our histories have made us.  This includes, but is not limited to, our genetic histories.

Some of the psychosocial factors that could conceivably nudge an individual towards a homosexual orientation are:

–  having a parent who wanted very much to have a child of the opposite gender and who treats one as if he or she were of the opposite gender;

–  having a same gender parent who was particularly ineffective or particularly obnoxious

–  being severely ostracized during childhood and adolescence by same-gender peers

–  (for girls) being sexually abused by one’s father (or other males)

–  disappointment in heterosexual relationships pushing a person back to the safety of same sex friendships.  (Culturally there is an expectation that we will form a heterosexual significant-other bond as adults.  People who don’t do this successfully in a heterosexual way can of course stay single. Or, if their heterosexuality was marginal anyway, they can reach out towards a homosexual relationship.)

The central point here is that what we think of as the male role (or the female role) is actually an extensive collection of specific behaviors that are developed and maintained through modeling on others and by being reinforced.  If the reinforcement doesn’t occur (for whatever reason), or if in fact punishment occurs, then the behaviors in question will tend towards extinction.  But humans are very adaptable, and if opposite-gender role behaviors are reinforced instead, then they will be emitted, and may become habitual. That’s the kind of organism we are.  We adapt.  We go with the flow.  During childhood we do the things that bring us good feelings and positive attention, and we learn to avoid the behaviors that bring us pain or disapproval.

The major need in this area is for clear thinking.  The various doctrinaire stances are unhelpful.  Sin is a contentless concept.  As long as people are not harming one another, blame is an irrelevance.

Although the APA formally demedicalized homosexuality in 1974, there is still a widespread belief in the mental health community, and in society generally, that homosexual individuals are not quite ok – that they are “messed up” – that they have more emotional problems than heterosexual people.  But I’m not aware of any research that supports this position (except for the side-effects of systematic persecution, which has fortunately abated considerably in recent years).  Homosexual individuals are as varied in their presentation as heterosexuals.  Some have their stuff together; others less so; others not as all.  But first and foremost, they are people, with the absolute right to be respected and treated as such.

Now obviously this is contentious stuff.  I’m not claiming that I’ve got everything right.  As I stated in the text, some of my ideas are speculative, but I believe that the position sketched out above is consistent with the facts.

Homosexuality: The Mental Illness That Went Away

Post edited and updated January 2, 2013, to reflect clarifications as a result of interactions with the many people who have left comments.  I thank them for their input.

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According to the American Psychiatric Association, until 1974 homosexuality was a mental illness.  Freud had alluded to homosexuality numerous times in his writings, and had concluded that paranoia and homosexuality were inseparable.  Other psychiatrists wrote copiously on the subject, and homosexuality was “treated” on a wide basis.  There was little or no suggestion within the psychiatric community that homosexuality might be conceptualized as anything other than a mental illness that needed to be treated.  And, of course, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness in DSM-II.  (The DSM – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – is the APA’s standard classification of their so-called mental disorders, and is used by many mental health workers in the USA and other countries.)

Then in 1970 gay activists protested against the APA convention in San Francisco.  These scenes were repeated in 1971, and as people came out of the “closet” and felt empowered politically and socially, the APA directorate became increasingly uncomfortable with their stance.  In 1973 the APA’s nomenclature task force recommended that homosexuality be declared normal.  The trustees were not prepared to go that far, but they did vote to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses by a vote of 13 to 0, with 2 abstentions.  This decision was confirmed by a vote of the APA membership, and homosexuality was no longer listed in the seventh edition of DSM-II, which was issued in 1974.

What’s noteworthy about this is that the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses was not triggered by some scientific breakthrough.  There was no new fact or set of facts that stimulated this major change.  Rather, it was the simple reality that gay people started to kick up a fuss.  They gained a voice and began to make themselves heard.  And the APA reacted with truly astonishing speed.  And with good reason. They realized intuitively that a protracted battle would have drawn increasing attention to the spurious nature of their entire taxonomy.  So they quickly “cut loose” the gay community and forestalled any radical scrutiny of the DSM system generally.

The APA claimed that they made the change because new research showed that most homosexual people were content with their sexual orientation, and that as a group, they appeared to be as well-adjusted as heterosexual people.  I suggest, however, that these research findings were simply the APA’s face-saver.  For centuries, perhaps millennia, homosexual people had clung to their sexual orientation despite the most severe persecution and vilification, including imprisonment and death.  Wouldn’t this suggest that they were happy with their orientation?  Do we need research to confirm this?  And if we do, shouldn’t we also need research to confirm that heterosexual people are happy with their orientation?  And if poor adjustment is critical to a diagnosis of mental illness, where was the evidence of this that justified making homosexuality a mental illness in the first place?

Also noteworthy is the fact that the vote of the membership was by no means unanimous.  Only about 55% of the members who voted favored the change.

Of course, the APA put the best spin they could on these events.  The fact is that they altered their taxonomy because of intense pressure from the gay community, but they claimed that the change was prompted by research findings.

So all the people who had this terrible “illness” were “cured” overnight – by a vote!  I remember as a boy reading of the United Nations World Health Organization’s decision to eradicate smallpox.  This was in 1967, and by 1977, after a truly staggering amount of work, the disease was a thing of the past.  Why didn’t they just take a vote?  Because smallpox is a real illness.  The human problems listed in DSM are not.  It’s that simple.  You can say that geese are swans – but in reality they’re still geese.

The overall point being that the APA’s taxonomy is nothing more than self-serving nonsense.  Real illnesses are not banished by voting or by fiat, but by valid science and hard work.  There are no mental illnesses.  Rather, there are people.  We have problems; we have orientations; we have habits; we have perspectives.  Sometimes we do well, other times we make a mess of things.  We are complicated.  Our feelings fluctuate with our circumstances, from the depths of despondency to the pinnacles of bliss.  And perhaps, most of all, we are individuals.  DSM’s facile and self-serving attempt to medicalize human problems is an institutionalized insult to human dignity.  The homosexual community has managed to liberate themselves from psychiatric oppression.  But there are millions of people worldwide who are still being damaged, stigmatized, and disempowered by this pernicious system to this day.

Legacy of Abuse

Psychiatry likes to present itself as a helping profession, but even a cursory look at its history suggests otherwise.  Here are some of the “treatments” that this pseudo-science has promoted for its pseudo-illnesses.

STERILIZATION

It is estimated that 65,000 people were sterilized in America under various eugenic statutes.  This practice, which was used between the 1920’s and 1970’s, was aimed at “undesirables” which included the so-called mentally ill.

HYDROTHERAPY

This involved suspending the client in a cold bath for hours and even days at a time.  It was widely practiced in the early decades of the twentieth century.

HYSTERECTOMY, OVARIECTOMY, AND CLITORIDECTOMY 

These “treatments” were also used in the early decades of the 20th century.  The theory was that insanity was caused by pelvic irritation which was “cured” by these methods.  Robert Whitaker (Mad in America) reports that Clitoridectomy “did not disappear altogether from American asylums until at least 1950.”

SURGICAL REMOVAL OF OTHER BODY PARTS

Removal of teeth, colon, appendix, fallopian tubes, cervix, and other parts were all used as “treatments” for the hapless residents of American asylums.

INJECTION OF ANIMAL HORMONES

Extract of sheep thyroid was popular.

DEEP SLEEP THERAPY

This involved putting patients into a deep drug-induced coma and leaving them in this state for days on end.  Mortality rates of 6% were reported.

FEVER THERAPY

Fevers were induced by hot baths, electric heaters, and even deliberate infection with malaria.

EXTREME COLD THERAPY

Patients were refrigerated for two or three days at a time at temperatures as low as 20° F below normal body temperature.

INCARCERATION

Between 1900 and 1950 discharge rates from the asylums were extremely low, reflecting a belief that containment was the “treatment” of choice.  Conditions were often brutal and degrading.

INSULIN COMA THERAPY

Administration of insulin to a non-diabetic person results in a reduction in blood glucose. If enough insulin is given, the individual goes into a coma.  During the 1930’s and 1940’s, psychiatrists in Europe and America promoted the preposterous idea that coma induction of this sort, when repeated often enough, was an effective “treatment” for residents of the asylums.  The procedure caused severe and permanent brain damage.  This “treatment” was common even up to the early 1950’s, even though the apparent efficacy of the “treatment” was nothing more than the docile child-like state that resulted from the extensive brain damage.

METRAZOL CONVULSIVE THERAPY

This “treatment” consisted of injecting the patient with Metrazol (a synthetic camphor).  Metrazol is toxic, and the injection produced an epileptic-like seizure.  The effect on the patient was extremely unpleasant and terrifying.  Patients were usually exposed to multiple “treatments,” resulting in permanent brain damage.

ELECTRO-SHOCK THERAPY

Here electric shock was used to induce the brain-damaging seizure.  Psychiatrists hailed this “treatment” as a great therapeutic breakthrough, even though it was widely recognized that the “therapeutic” agent was the destruction of brain cells in the cerebral cortex, with consequent loss of higher cognitive functioning.  This “treatment’ was used extensively even in recent times.  In 1955 Lauretta Bender, a renowned psychiatrist, reported that she had administered a twenty-shock “treatment” program to a two-year-old infant!

PRE-FRONTAL LOBOTOMY

This involved drilling holes in the side of the head, inserting a scalpel, and then moving the scalpel up and down, severing the front part of the brain from the rest.

 

All of the practices outlined above were barbaric, and most involved permanent damage to the victim.  Yet psychiatry embraced them whole-heartedly.  The misgivings of objectors were treated with cavalier dismissal.

It is particularly interesting that each of these “treatments” was backed up by spurious and simplistic theories, and these theories were promoted as vigorously as the brain illness nonsense of today.

The widespread and destructive “treatment” of ordinary problems of living with dangerous drugs, and the wanton disregard of the collateral damage, is just the latest page in psychiatry’s legacy of shame and abuse.  The pushing of drugs is not as overtly barbaric as the “treatments” of former years, but as the number of people involved is so much higher today, the total damage inflicted is probably greater.

Many authors have written extensively on this facet of psychiatry’s history – but Robert Whitaker’s treatment of this subject in Mad in America is especially worth reading.