Google News Alerts tossed up a link to an interesting book review this morning -- interesting enough that I pre-ordered it from Amazon. The book, Doctoring the Mind by Richard Bentall tackles some of the same issues I ruminate about here.
Bentall's thesis is that, for all the apparent advances in understanding psychiatric disorders, psychiatric treatment has done little to improve human welfare, because the scientific research which has led to the favouring of mind-altering drugs is, as he puts it, "fatally flawed". He cites some startling evidence from the World Health Organisation that suggests patients suffering psychotic episodes in developing countries recover "better" than those from the industrialised world and the aim of the book is broadly to suggest why this might be so.
The reviewer tells us:
The first answer, he suggests, is a greater regard for the role of adverse circumstances in provoking mental illness. If bad things happen to people, this is registered in their bodies' chemistry ("a troubled brain cannot be considered in isolation from the social universe"). The second answer is a concomitant respect for the power of interpersonal relationships to ameliorate these effects. One of the concluding chapters, entitled "The Virtue of Kindness" (the subject of the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips' latest book), asks if psychotherapy can help. The short answer is yes, because a person, unlike a drug, can learn to listen to another's story.
I have struggled with what it means that we are so willing to accept as gospel theories about mental illness that keep coming up as unsupported by research. The latest example:
New research dismisses the widely held notion that a "depression gene" makes a person facing stressful life events more likely to develop depression.
In 2003, mental health researchers announced that a genetic variation that affected the body's serotonin levels increased a person's risk for major depression if they endured several emotional events. Yet efforts to repeat and confirm that study's findings have been inconsistent, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Now, scientists reporting in The Journal of the American Medical Association say that genetic variation of the serotonin transporter gene, or 5-HTTLPR, may have no effect on depression risk.
How is it that we, especially here in the US, are so willing to accept anything that sounds scientific even when it is not supported? Why is it that sounding technical and scientific is enough to override any and all other possibilities?
Also this morning, following a comment on the IAJS* email group, I read a piece by Marie Louise von Franz -- "C. G. Jung's Rehabilitation of the Feeling Function in Our Civilization".** Those of you who are familiar with the MBTI know that "feeling" in the typological sense does not equate to emotional but is instead about values and is, along with "thinking" a rational function. In her lecture, she said,
"The contemporary Zeitgeist belittles feeling...
I don’t think that we can achieve much if we remain on the level of “reasonable” materialistic thinking—it it not altogether wrong; it is wrong only if we infer “that is it...
I want to reflect on this further, but my intuition tells me this is part of what is at the root of the current sorry state of affairs in mental health. Technical thinking, the dominant thinking mode of modernity, devalues thinking through the feeling function, the kind of thinking that values, for example, what Bentall refers to when he points to the currently undervalued place of listening, via depth psychotherapy, in treating the problems now considered to be "mental illnesses".
* IAJS -- International Association for Jungian Studies
** Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, Spring 2008, Vol. 2, No. 2, Pages 9–20 , DOI 10.1525/jung.2008.2.2.9