The book is by Richard Bentall and seems to not be available in the US right now.
In an earlier book, Madness Explained, Bentall was at pains to distinguish his approach from other anti-psychiatrists – for example, RD Laing, whose radical views were discredited because of his flamboyant lack of rigour and attendant inability to accept criticism. Bentall, as this book attests, is a different kettle of fish. With patient persistence and without recourse to rancorous diatribes, he has appraised the scientific evidence for the success of contemporary psychiatric treatments and come up with a dismal report. It is probably the very balance of his approach that drives his opponents crazy.
Doctoring the Mind is an attempt to clarify the dense array of evidence offered in Bentall’s earlier work. The result is a much easier read. It is also, for that reason, more disturbing…
…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. (full review)
Uh, that startling evidence is old news to any of us familiar with Robert Whitaker’s masterpiece, Mad in America.
Here it is important to explain something that is not always understood, which is that mental “illness” is not strictly comparable with physical illness. There are several reasons for this, one being that the aetiology (causation) of so-called mental disease is not yet identifiable in the way that, say, measles is. The precise causal relationship between or mind and body remains misty, but that strong emotional states have an impact on physical states is recognisable in everyday life. We do not feel fear because we have paled or experience anxiety because we sweat. We blush or, if we have penises, have erections because strong emotions trigger these normal physical responses.
The question then becomes this: are distressing mental states the result of impaired brain chemistry or is it the other way round? Does trauma, whether singular or chronic, as in the long misery of an abandoned child or the recurring anxiety of an assaulted one, alter the subtle chemistry of the brain to affect subsequent states of mind? This debate, as Bentall demonstrates, is not only still on, but is heated.
Sounds like an interesting book.
The Times Online has another article on this book today. (I wrote this post yesterday)
Hat tip: OzJThomas