By Dr David Laing Dawson
Let me make a simple bold and somewhat profane statement about anti-psychiatry. Which I take to mean, really, anti-medical-pharmaceutical-psychiatry.
When I entered medical school and later psychiatry, I would have been content to believe that all these psychiatric illnesses were entirely “psychological” in origin and form. It was the 1960’s so I was even quite ready to believe that all this insanity was really a sane response to an insane world.
Insanity is fascinating. I have spent hours talking with, listening to people who believe the CIA is watching them, their phones are bugged, the television sends them messages, they are emissaries of God, the voices tell them they must kill someone, they are controlled by radar, Xrays, Radio waves, microchips, which in turn are controlled by the police, shadowy evil figures, particular races, the CIA, the Mafia, Martians and Venusians. The devil has figured in many of these conversations. God in many others.
I have talked with people who fear to leave the house, who keep the blinds down lest the watchers watch them, people who can’t cross an open patch of land, people who must count the ceiling tiles, who must pray every time they think a bad thought, people who must have every sequence of action and thought end in an even number.
I have talked with people too depressed to talk, to move, to shit, to piss. I have talked with people too agitated, too distraught, too full of dread to sit. I have talked to people who assumed I came from either God or The Devil or both or either. I have talked to people who could not complete a single sentence without it wandering elsewhere. I have written questions on paper for people who feared to talk at all. I have talked with people who keep their eyes on the door, or on the ground.
I write fiction and plays. Dreaming up historic, family, life event, and even intrauterine causes for mental illness is fascinating. I have entered a patient’s delusions. I have explained to a woman who thought her self to be Queen that I was the Prime Minister and therefore, in our parliamentary democracy, someone she could listen to. I have talked to “the illegitimate son of Adolf Hitler”, to a man who could “whistle up the wind”, and to women who set themselves on fire. I have talked with a man who killed two children and then their mother.
I would actually be content (but for the suffering from depression of my own mother) to have these people in humane mental hospitals, fed and clothed and active and cared for and available for me to talk with, explore, dialogue with, interpret, help to find a psychological cause, a trauma, a series of adverse childhood experiences that might explain their perceptions of reality. In fact I have done all of these. I have sat next to a manic with arm on her chair to comfort without touching, on a mattress on the floor with a man wanting to kill somebody, in parking lots and back porches. I have talked with a “King of Kings.”
It is fascinating. It is human. It is dramatic. It is sometimes comedic. It can provide me with wonderful fodder for my fiction, my plays.
But I am also a doctor. And as much as I romantically like the idea of being an Alienist, living in the manor house of the large Asylum and dining with the “lunatics”, or setting them free to roam a Grecian Isle, I must try my best to relieve their suffering. And, it seems, that from the mid 1960’s, just when I entered this field of psychiatry, we began to develop pharmaceutical agents that actually work, that relieve suffering, that restore functioning, that control these terrible illnesses.
My patients want their suffering relieved. They want their function restored. They want their illnesses controlled.
So, my anti-psychiatry friends, I must continue to prescribe drugs, relieve suffering, help restore functioning, and forgo the psychoanalytic pleasures, the philosophical, poetic explorations, the mad interpretations, just as I must insist on vaccinations for all children, and forgo all the wonderful and fanciful spiritual and moral interpretations of spots, and fevers, and delirium of the early 19th century.