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Bruce Levine says psychiatrists aren't as smart as plants

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:10pm

Psychologist Bruce Levine, who I have never met, is coming to Keene, NH to promote his new book, Surviving America's New Depression Epidemic, with a reading at my favorite bookstore, The Toadstool at the Colony Mill on West Street.  I watched his video on blip tv and was impressed.  He rails against a purely pharmacologic approach to problems in living and argues that there is so much more we can do to handle the stressors in life than "taking the pill."  While I return that day from meeting with friends and colleagues at the U. of Hawaii in Honolulu (poor me) I'm going to try to make it to his 2pm reading and then interview him for a podcast at 3:30 pm.

Levine's arguments are reminiscent of Thomas Szasz, MD (remember "The Myth of Mental Illness").  I've been playing audio clips of the Szasz/Ellis debate to my students in Clinical Psychology and I think Szasz, while dramatic, makes important points when he says that psychiatry is often about "money and power."  Here's an excerpt from Szasz:

...Chemotherapy is a fancy term for drinking martinis under medical auspices, except the martinis are much more poisonous, much less effective and much more expensive and Blue Cross pays for it. It's a racket, of infinite proportions now! It validates the patient as a patient, and the psychiatrist as a doctor. They are both crooks in this situation.

With Ellis responding in kind:

...I think that Dr. Szasz and many of his supporters do paranoid thinking when he makes statements like “physicians are arch criminals.” That is a demagogic statement! Some physicians, some of the time, very damn few, but the ones for example who served Hitler, some of them were arch criminals. But most physicians are merely incompetent, stupid, misguided, etc....

When it comes to Asperger's, I have seen very little real help from psychiatrists and pharmacotherapy, other than treating co-morbid depression and related problems.  As for Asperger's, per se, there is clearly no medication therapy and any implication that one exists is nonsense.  This also is true for very misguided physicians who promote chelation for autism, which has no scientific support and which is probably dangerous.

Bruce Levine says "psychiatrists are not as smart as plants" when he discusses their obsession with medication for common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, while ignoring practical changes that might help.  I'll be sure to ask him what he thinks of the Szasz position that psychiatrists are "corrupt" or Ellis's that they are "merely stupid."

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