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Psychiatric medication and the truth claims of the medical model

Posted Feb 11 2013 6:05am

Psychiatric medication can be seen in two different ways: as a tool or as a claim to the truth.

As a tool it can be simply evaluated. Does it improve the quality of life or not? It should have no prior assumption of value. There should be just one simple question that you would ask of any tool claiming to help: does it work or not?? To what degree does it help and to what degree, if any, does it hurt? Is the possibility of help worth the risk of hurt? I know people that in my opinion have been greatly helped by medication. I know many others it has been ineffective for. Unfortunately I know of far too many it has harmed, sometimes in ways not open to change. The research I know about says that its claims to effectiveness are inflated and its risks consistently downplayed or even ignored. Like all tools it seems to me a matter of individual choice. I would be very wary though of anyone who tries to tell me what I must or must not do without being willing to address the only issues that matter. Does it improve the quality of life and what potential costs does it carry with it that may cause further problems?

The real problem with medication is not its claims to be an effective tool. It is in its claim to be the truth. As a tool it can be judged on the data. As a claim to the truth it is a matter of faith. And when the two get mixed up the result is tragic.

Medication as truth is the ultimate pillar of the medical model. And the medical model, as argued many other places on this blog, offers a distorted view of mental health issues, but more importantly a distorted picture of people and what life is really about.

It pictures a science that is more coloring book and crayons than it is science. It is bad philosphy dressed up in a white lab coat. It tells you neurology and biochemistry causes and ignores the fact it is also caused. It doesnt understand the role of meaning in human life and relegates human connection to a symptom of biological functioning. It assumes illness is more important than injury and in doing so removes the ethical context from the pain and trauma so many have lived with. It tells hurt people that  they are simply sick and in doing so add injury to injury.

Medication “proves” the medical model and the medical model “proves” medication. If medication is worth the bucks then there must be a disease to medicate. If there is a disease then the medical thing to do is medicate it. Medication gives legitimacy and power to those in a medical role. Those in a medical role give legitimacy and power to those peddling medication. And everybody makes money. A lot of it.

The operation of the mental health system based on the medical model requires the acceptance of the value of psychotropic medication as an article of religious faith. It is an article of faith that many have a profound stake in defending. But it is a claim harder and harder to defend. As a tool medication has without doubt helped many people. As claim to truth it has hurt countless others.

If we are to have a humane mental health system we must not allow anyone to be defined as less than human.

And there is much work to be done to that a reality for everyone.


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