Archives for May, 2011

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Medications: Scientific Miracles or Potent Placebos?

Sharing my journey through the mental health system, and especially my successful withdrawal from psychiatric medications, seems to have struck a chord with readers. Many have left comments stating their own desire to break free of pharmaceuticals. A few visitors have expressed reservations about my stance on these issues, because they have found psychiatric drugs helpful and life-enhancing.

The two positions (a belief in the value of medications and a desire to break free...
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How Healthy Is Your Metaphor?

If ‘mental illness’ has failed as a metaphor for psychic distress, as I’ve argued, how do we explain the obvious fact that some people have so much trouble with their minds? Whether we speak of an adolescent hearing voices and drifting out of touch, or a young woman paralyzed by anxiety, or an older man with no desire to live, we see mental problems all around us. Why raise a fuss and...
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Mental Illness: Mistake of a Lifetime

For most of my life, the idea that people could suffer diseases of the mind seemed obvious. As a young boy I'd watched my mother cycle through many psychiatric hospitalizations and rounds of shock treatment. Although she never seemed any less miserable upon returning from these confinements, I accepted that she needed them.

After she eventually killed herself, I concluded that the treatments hadn't worked, not that she'd been misdiagnosed.

During my first year at...
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The Basic Steps of a Spiritual Path

Although psychotherapists long shied away from discussing spirituality, people suffering from depression and the clinicians who treat them are learning that symptoms diminish with spiritual practice. Many mental health clinics now offer meditation classes along with cognitive behavioral training, and therapists have begun to ask clients about transcendent beliefs.

These developments promise to advance the struggle against depression, which until recently was treated in purely “mental” terms. By including the soul as a participant...
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Repaying the Past

Twelve Step programs tell addicts to make amends. Many religious traditions admonish adherents in the same vein. Good parents and judges recognize that justice is better served with restitution and pleas for forgiveness than mere retribution. With so much wisdom advising us to clean up the past, pay for our mistakes, and ask forgiveness, we can be sure there is something healing about doing so.

But it's not always easy. The Twelve Steps of...
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Mental Software vs Brain Hardware

My last essay attracted more attention than any of my others. A number of fellow bloggers posted links to it, and a couple of mental health activist sites picked it up. This was very gratifying, but in reading the comments here and elsewhere, I see that more must be said about "mental illness" as a dead concept. In particular, I should propose alternative ways of viewing conduct problems.

As The Death of...
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The Death of Mental Illness

In writing this post, I may be crashing the American Psychological Association's annual blog party. Naturally, I'm in favor of joining others to increase awareness and reduce stigma around psychiatric problems. But despite the spirit of solidarity, I'm perhaps an outsider, because I no longer believe 'mental illness' serves as a helpful concept.

In this era of burgeoning diagnoses, it's a bit awkward to declare our great emperor, the Diagnostic...
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“Chasin’ After Some Finer Day”

Withdrawing from my last psychiatric medication has reminded me how much the pills taught me. Until recently, I believed their tutorage instructed me only about dreadful side effects, about feelings of dependence, and about the sad fact that pharmaceuticals couldn't save me. But now I see how they also enhanced my understanding of the mind and its sensitivity.

A little over two weeks ago I took my final buproprion dose. I had already tapered...
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Honoring the Inner Reptile

By now, most of us have heard of the triune brain concept. Proposed by neuroscientist Paul D. MaClean, it provides a straightforward way of viewing the mind's function and evolution.

MacLean divides the brain into three levels, which can roughly be described as cognitive, emotional, and instinctual. Because of its simplicity, the model has been criticized by some experts, but it has become quite popular just the same. I bring it up because...
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Growth Resisted, Growth Embraced

Did I protest too much?

In a recent comment exchange with a reader, I found myself arguing a position that once felt important to me. Namely, I insisted that emotions constitute a central and vital feature of human life. Although on some level this is obviously true, I took it further and stated, in essence, that a life with less feeling is a life less lived. However, as I thought about the conversation afterward,...
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