I was having a heated discussion today about the somewhat contrived nature of modern psychology – at least fringe psychology. You see, as I understand things (with said understandings relatively biased and, I’ll admit, somewhat limited in an overall general way, so definitely don’t take my word for anything, ever) certain psychological and sociological principles seem to come about nowadays by self-actualizing university students who pan the streambed of human behavior for anything they can write about in their capstone, thesis, dissertation, whathaveyou…
Take the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Every year some psychologist or psychiatrist somewhere invents a new mental disorder. Thousands upon thousands of new classifications for ticks and twitches, impulsions and compulsions suddenly crop up in text books all over the place, seemingly out of nowhere. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans in the peak segments of that particular Bell curve had healthy, functional limbs, and then suddenly, in 2003, Restless Leg Syndrome everywhere. Then pharmaceutical companies rolled out certification and treatment programs for hospitals and clinics, there’s a surge in insurance claims for pharmaceutical drugs like Robinirole, Pramipexole, Carbidopa/Levodopa and Pergolide… Efff that, I say.
What you basically have is this huge market structure built around students needing to justify the money they spend on their education for a stamp of approval from the university priesthood of those “in the know.”
You see, said student needs to come up with something novel that’s worthy of a PhD, so that she can get a good job and pay off all of her school debt (funny how that works, huh?) – Pharmaceutical companies need illnesses to treat in order to insulate their profit margins, and big universities need to have a carrot to dangle for prospective suckers. So you have this whole infrastructure of establishments that depend on each other to survive, each one acting as self-appointed guardians of a very embarrassing and unfortunate pyramid-operation – which I suspect is completely emergent, by the way. I highly doubt that there’s this grand conspiracy involving knowing parties from each establishment – it’s probably more like enterprising organizations recognizing and taking advantage of opportunities as they come up: Oh, as a pharmaceutical distributor, I see that some psychiatrist somewhere has just conceptualized a new mental disorder, with double blind studies attached – how can we capitalize on this new discovery? What sort of chemical concoctions can we come up with that would treat this new disorder? Stuff like that…
What you end up with, each year, is a couple hundred thousand ways to describe addiction – patterns of chemicals produced in the brain during a repetitive action/environmental stimuli/thought. Aside from genetic mishaps, psychosis, certain autisms and learning disorders, that’s what compulsion is, isn’t it? An addiction. General Anxiety Disorder? Well, that’s addiction to adrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Yep, that’s an addiction to dopamine, endorphins and serotonin dumps that happen after a certain action is performed and repeated. Biologically, what’s the difference between cigarette addiction and video game addiction in the brain? I suspect nothing. I bet anything that can be perceived as rewarding can become an addiction if the associations are right. Where’s my all-encompassing Grand Theory of Addiction? Why these contrived categorizations where there doesn’t need to be any categorization? I see one solution to the whole problem – make university free. If you shift university from a for-profit organization to a public institution, I bet the whole academic value-system changes. I bet you’ll get more selective and streamlined standards for scientific degrees – and subsequently better science. As things are right now, certain fields are essentially principle-farmers, cashing in and exploiting the next BS thing a student can come up with.
Personally, I see ambiguous and vague schools of psychology disappearing altogether, as neuroscience, biology and ecology begin to blend into something entirely less confusing and more streamlined for ACTUAL progress. And don’t even get me started on bullspit homeopathy, chiropractic, herbalists, reflexologists, and acupuncture phonies.
I guess my second point is that there are many camps within psychiatry – many different approaches. There’s the approach that assigns a disorder so that pharmacies can toss pills at you – these camps think the answer to a life problem is some pill or other – and then there’s the Biopsychosocial approach to identifying, diagnosing and treating psychological disorders. Some psychiatrists can prescribe medicine, but most psychiatrists in the BPS camp believe that psychological problems (excluding those of the genetic/brain/learning disability assortment) can be handled by identifying the trigger for certain thoughts and chemical imbalances, and replacing them with other associations – essentially replacing a harmful association with a healthier one.
My point is: be careful. We all have problems that need fixing, demons that need exercising – but make an effort to become a student of your own biology, so that you don’t get taken for a ride. Knowing what we know about how some parties author certain mental disorders, if a mental health professional is too eager to sign off on some prescription or other, chances are you need to be looking for someone else. And stay the heck away from subluxation-chiropractors, acupuncture, psychics, homeopaths, naturopathic doctors, herbalists, reflexologists and charlatans.
Thoughts? Leave a comment.
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Shane Lindemoen is an American author, journalist, and an occasional literary critic; he is also the National Affairs Editor of Secret Laboratory. Shane is a self-described “poor white boy from the east side who happens to read about politics and stuff.” He has a science-fiction novel set for an August 13 release called Artifact – published by Boxfire Press. You can learn more about Shane’s upcoming novel at www.boxfirepress.com. Also, check out Shane’s blog: www.shanelindemoen.com