Anis Shivani reviews Richard P. Bentall’s Doctoring the Mind: Is Our Current Treatment of Mental Illness Really Any Good?
In the 1960s, a movement called “antipsychiatry” (prompted in Britain by R. D. Laing and in the U.S. by Thomas Szazs) questioned the basic assumptions about mental illness and its treatment. Not only psychiatry, but methods popular earlier in the twentieth century, such as the prefrontal leucotomy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and insulin coma therapy, lay thoroughly discredited. The anti-psychiatrists encouraged treating the patient as a whole person, putting his “madness” in the social and environmental context. Unfortunately, with the passage of the counterculture the medical establishment returned with a vengeance to explaining mental illness strictly as a manifestation of physical disorders of the brain and treating it with particular medications.
Dr. Richard P. Bentall, professor and practitioner of clinical psychology in Britain, who earlier wrote Madness Explained: Psychosis and Human Nature (2003), exposes the highly dubious nature of reigning presumptions about the causes and treatment of mental illness. He favors the “recovery-oriented, autonomy-promoting” model, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, over the “paternalistic-medical” model, which favors reductionist diagnosis, genetic causation, and reliance on drugs to correct so-called “chemical imbalances.” Bentall explores why the biomedical approach has become dominant, instead of a social approach to madness, which was gaining traction in the 1960s. There is little evidence to show that psychiatric drugs are effective in the long run; by making spurious connections between damaged brains and drugs alleged to overcome such disfigurement, the medical profession ignores better treatment options.