A renegade psychiatrist called Thomas Szasz published a best-selling broadside called The Myth of Mental Illness, suggesting that psychiatrists were pernicious agents of social control who locked up inconvenient people on behalf of a society anxious to be rid of them, invoking an illness label that had the same ontological status as the label “witch” employed some centuries before. Illness, he truculently insisted, was a purely biological thing, a demonstrable part of the natural world. Mental illness was a misplaced metaphor, a socially constructed way of permitting an ever-wider selection of behaviors to be forcibly controlled under the guise of helping people.
The problem was exacerbated when some psychiatrists sought to examine the diagnostic process. Their findings dramatically reinforced the growing suspicion that their profession’s claims to expertise were spurious. Prominent figures like Aaron Beck, Robert Spitzer, MG. Sandifer and Benjamin Pasamanick published systematic data that dramatized just how tenuous agreement was among psychiatrists, even the most prominent ones, regarding the nature of psychiatric pathology; consensus barely exceeded 50 percent whether the subjects were patients in state hospitals or out-patient settings. And in 1972, a systematic study of diagnostic practices in Britain and the United States found massive differences: New York psychiatrists diagnosed nearly 62 percent of their patients as schizophrenic, while in London only 34 percent received this diagnosis. And, while less than five percent of the New York patients were diagnosed with depressive psychoses, the comparable figure in London was 24 percent. Further examination of the patients suggested that these differences were byproducts of the preferences and prejudices of each group of psychiatrists, and yet they resulted in consequential differences in treatment.
Shortly thereafter, a cleverly designed study by a Stanford social psychologist, David Rosenhan, appearing in the august pages of Science, poured gasoline on the flames. Rosenhan had eight pseudo-patients (including himself) show up at a dozen psychiatric hospitals complaining they were hearing voices and uttering the words “empty,” “hollow,” or “thud.” The so-called patients otherwise presented their normal selves. Seven received the diagnosis of schizophrenia, the eighth was labeled manic-depressive, and all were hospitalized for terms as long as 52 days.
To address the embarrassment, one of the profession’s internal critics, Robert Spitzer of Columbia University, persuaded the American Psychiatric Association to authorize the development of a new diagnostic manual. The document he and his Task Force produced, approved and published in slightly modified form in 1980 as the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM III for short) launched a revolution in American psychiatry whose effects are still felt today. Versions III R (revised), IV, and IV TR (text revision) and DSM 5 (to be released in 2013) have been produced with numbing regularity.
All sorts of anxieties that are in reality part of the normal range of human emotion and experience have been transformed by professional sleight of hand into diseases. The upshot, they contend, is that whereas thirty years ago less than five percent of Americans were thought to suffer from an anxiety disorder, nowadays some widely cited epidemiological studies have decreed that as many as 50 percent of us do so.
Among the most zealous critics of the expanding psychiatric empire have been two unlikely souls: Robert Spitzer, the principal architect of DSM III, and Allen Frances, who played a similarly large role in the construction of DSM IV. As the latest edition of that tome, the largest thus far and the most delayed, struggles to be born, those assembling it have been assaulted by Spitzer and Frances for creating a version built on hasty and unscientific foundations; they claim it pathologizes everyday features of normal human existence, and that, like its predecessors, it will create new epidemics of spurious psychiatric illness. Allen Frances, in particular, has taken to uttering frequent mea culpas, taking the blame for loosening the criteria for diagnosing autism in DSM IV, and thus, so he claims, sowing fear and mislabeling thousands and thousands of children.
Horwitz and Wakefield rightly place the DSM in its various post-1980 incarnations at the center of their explanation of how we are to account for the massive growth in the numbers of people diagnosed with pathological anxiety. DSM III “solved” the legitimacy crisis that psychiatry faced in the late 1970s. As long as one employed its methods and categories, high levels of agreement among psychiatrists confronting the same case were all but assured. In that sense, psychiatric diagnosis became, as statisticians would put it, more reliable. How was that feat accomplished? By rendering the diagnostic process mechanical, employing a tick-the-boxes approach to deciding whether or not someone had a mental disorder, and if so, what disorder it was. Display any six out of ten symptoms, and voilà, a schizophrenic. Tick another set of boxes and you had General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and so forth. A given patient might potentially have several “illnesses” at once, a problem alleviated by setting up a hierarchy of psychiatric diseases and awarding patients the most serious of them, or by creating a category called “co-morbidity” and thereby accepting the presence of multiple illnesses. The overlap in symptomatology between two schizophrenics with the “same” disease might be as few as two out of ten symptoms.
Why is psychiatry forced to rely on a grab bag of symptoms to make its diagnoses? Because, fundamentally, it has nothing else to offer. The cause of the overwhelming majority of psychiatric disorders remains as obscure as ever. Periodic weightless claims, endorsed by credulous science journalists, that schizophrenia is triggered by a newly discovered gene or by a dopamine deficiency in the brain, or that people suffering from depression have a shortage of serotonin, which can be reversed by taking a Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) such as Prozac to immerse their synapses in a serotonin bath, are so much biobabble — scientific nonsense that has proved good marketing copy for Big Pharma but is otherwise worthless.
As the manual went through successive editions, however, and as its categories were simplified to make the job of epidemiologists easier and cheaper, the effect, as Horwitz and Wakefield argue, was steadily to enlarge the numbers of ordinary people drawn into the ranks of the mentally unstable, often to a spectacular degree. And because of the seemingly scientific basis of the labels, the consistency with which cases were diagnosed, and the translation of human judgment by means of this verbal alchemy into statistics, the multiplication of the anxious and nervous (as with other psychiatric categories) has proceeded in relentless fashion.
Read the article in full, then filter transsexualism through Horwitz and Wakefield's findings, particularly the current rush to transsexualize young rebellious/lesbian females and children who do not conform to the ever tightening Gender Straight Jacket. As out dated as Freudianism is today, at least Freud would have applied psychoanalysis to first diagnose and then utilize to treat the trans patient, whether that analysis took months or years. Head doctors today are much more concerned with quick expediency coupled with a quick buck while what is REALLY best for the patient lingers nowhere in the distance.
On a good note, we are seeing more and more similar books and articles taking psychiatry to task. The trans politic would have you believe it is merely a handful of radfems and bloggers like myself viewing psychiatry's motives and methods with a critical eye, clearly the article proves they couldnt be more wrong. While we bloggers and radfems are also filtering the Male Medical Machine through a feminist lens, there obviously are others in the medical community using serious critical analysis/ethics to do the same. This is a real beginning of the dismantling of the DSM as it is known, putting the brutalizing end to the trans disorder finally in our sights.