It certainly beats getting your head shrunk. According to Neuroscience News:
A new study*, published in Psychiatry Research, has concluded that psychiatric diagnoses are scientifically worthless as tools to identify discrete mental health disorders.
It doesn’t surprise me. Medicine is as much art as science, and the hardest stuff has to be head medicine. We barely have definitions for things like “mind” or “consciousness” so treating what we assume are mental disorders is just tinkering with a black box.
Doctors are more like engineers, anyway. They do a lot of measuring and experimenting and they expect a lot of failure. They fiddle with complex systems in the hope of optimizing them.
That’s fine when it is knee pain or ulcers or gout or somesuch. But the head is a different place and the medical approach isn’t cutting it. Here’s from the study:
Lead researcher Dr. Kate Allsopp, University of Liverpool, said: “Although diagnostic labels create the illusion of an explanation they are scientifically meaningless and can create stigma and prejudice. I hope these findings will encourage mental health professionals to think beyond diagnoses and consider other explanations of mental distress, such as trauma and other adverse life experiences.”
People are different. Response to treatment, even with well-established drugs and other therapies, varies considerably.
A pragmatic approach to psychiatric assessment, allowing for recognition of individual experience, may therefore be a more effective way of understanding distress than maintaining commitment to a disingenuous categorical system.
There’s more, but it feels like piling on:
Professor John Read, University of East London, said: “Perhaps it is time we stopped pretending that medical-sounding labels contribute anything to our understanding of the complex causes of human distress or of what kind of help we need when distressed.”
People need head therapy. And they need to rely on psychiatry to provide some of it. Obviously people have access to other kinds of help—counselors and psychologists and whatnot—but psychiatrists have an M.D. attached to their names and that has some pull.
We’ve a lot to learn about the mind. I don’t mean to pick on the shrinks. This study is a critique of a standard diagnostic manual that doctors use. A big complex system like that can often seem real and can replace thinking with simple heuristics, making tough decisions easier. That’s all fine and good, but sometimes the uncertainty is more important.
I suspect advances in neuro-imaging will start to pay off and we’ll get clearer ideas about some mental states. Research in artificial intelligence will teach us a lot about behavior, I think, even if we don’t want to hear it! In the mean time, enjoy the mystery, and feed your head.