By Marvin Ross
Social workers can and do play a significant role in helping the mentally ill to recover when they work with psychiatrists, nurses and occupational therapists. In my personal life, I’ve just witnessed how a knowledgeable and caring social worker can impact recovery from psychosis in an inpatient setting.
Sadly, the training that many social work students (and others like psychologists and counsellors) receive from some institutions does not aid in that role. Susan Inman, the author of After Her Brain Broke, Helping My Daughter Recover Her Sanity, has long complained about the lack of science and medical training for many of these professionals. She said:
“Many credentialed mental health clinicians have never received science-based curriculum on severe mental illnesses. Too many are still being trained in the parent blaming theories which contemporary psychiatric approaches to schizophrenia have long since left behind.”
For a number of reasons, I had occasion to look at the mental illness course being taught at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario and it confirms all that Susan had to say. The course is called “Critical Issues in Mental Health & Addiction: Mad & Critical Disability Studies Perspectives for SW”. Part of the course objective is to:
“explore contributions from critical disability studies, mad studies and the historical influences of sanism and eugenics on contemporary mental health practice. Addiction will also be briefly explored within these contexts.”
Then, this is added
“Throughout the course guest speakers may be invited to share experiences and analyses on course themes from ex-patient, survivor, consumer, service-user, and mad perspectives.”
Nowhere do I see anyone coming who can provide the medical perspective which would include the physiology and treatment of mental illness. Given that McMaster has a world-class medical school and one if its teaching hospitals is a psychiatric facility, this is very troubling. It would be so easy to find a psychiatrist to talk to the class or to take a field trip to the local psychiatric hospital.
One of the readings in the first week is “Geppert, C. (2004). The Anti-Psychiatry Movement Is Alive and Well. Psychiatric Times 21(3), 21. Retrieved December 4, 2009”. This article is no longer on the Psychiatric Times website that I could find and the professor referenced it in 2009. It would be nice if the professor asked his students to read something like Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry by Dr Allen Frances. There are many comparisons of these two approaches in that article and students should have an opportunity to see both sides.
Another set of readings for this course is by Geoffrey Reaume who is a professor of disability studies at York University in Toronto. His view of Mad Studies can be summed up by a quote he gave to an article on Mad Studies in University Affairs in 2015. He stated that “People with PhDs had oppressed mad people throughout history. I wanted to help liberate this history from the shackles of the medical model.”
Dr Frances had this to say in the article I cited above (for psychologist also read social worker):
“Psychiatry is far from perfect, but it remains the most patient-centered and humanistic of all medical specialties and has the lowest rate of malpractice among all specialties.
Psychologists criticize psychiatry for its reliance on a medical model, its terminology, its bio-reductionism, and its excessive use of medication. All of these are legitimate concerns, but psychologists often go equally overboard in the exact opposite direction—espousing an extreme psychosocial reductionism that denies any biological causation or any role for medication, even in the treatment of people with severe mental illness. Psychologists tend to treat milder problems, for which a narrow psychosocial approach makes perfect sense and meds are unnecessary. Their error is to generalize from their experience with the almost well to the needs of the really sick.”
And he added:
“For people with severe mental illness (eg, chronic schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), a broad biopsychosocial model is necessary to understand etiology—and medication is usually necessary as part of treatment. Biological reductionism and psychosocial reductionism are at perpetual war with one another and also with simple common sense.”
Another author used quite a bit in this course is Bonnie Burstow of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. Dr Burstow is the creator of a scholarship in Anti-Psychiatry Studies. I’ve done two Huffington Post blogs about Dr Burstow. The first was entitled The Truth Behind U Of T’s Anti-Psychiatry Scholarship and the second was Time For U Of T To Rein In Its Anti-Psychiatry Activist It is worth noting that OISE is a post graduate school on teaching, learning and research. Nothing to do with science or medicine.
In my second Huffington Post blog, I had this to say about Dr Burstow:
Burstow does not believe that the brain is capable of becoming ill, and that therefore mental illness cannot exist. Her doctoral thesis, according to the media spokesperson at her institution, was entitled “Authentic Human Existence: Its Nature, Its Opposite, Its Meaning for Therapy: A Rendering of and a Response to the Position of Jean-Paul Sartre” in 1982 at the University of Toronto.
Dr Burstow is the author of a book called Psychiatry and the Business of Madness which is not one of the readings for this course but exemplifies her position. Blogger, Mark Roseman wrote a very lengthy and detailed critique of this book which is well worth reading.
Roseman defines anti-psychiatry as:
a position that psychiatry is 100% flawed, has no redeeming features, is built on a stack of lies, necessarily does harm to all who encounter it, and must be abolished in its entirety. Moreover, the real proponents of antipsychiatry do not want to seriously engage in discussion with the broader community. They are not interested in critique, or divergent opinions, but only discouraging those seeking treatment, and attracting new followers to their movement.
The course does discuss medication but this is the description of that:
“The Biological Mind: What are some of the critiques of the role of medication and the psychopharmaceutical industrial complex? How does neoliberalism matter in mental health? How do we think critically about suicide and self-harm?”
Here is the recommended reading:
Cohen, D. (2009). Needed: Critical thinking about psychiatric medications. Social Work in Mental Health, 7(1-3), 42-61.
Medawar, C. & Hardon, A. (2004). Sedative hell. In Medicines Out of Control? Antidepressants and the Conspiracy of Goodwill (pp. 11-27). N.P., Netherlands: Aksant.
Whitaker, R. (2001). Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus-p.3-19.
White, J., Marsh, I., Kral, M. J., & Morris, J. (Eds.). (2015). Critical Suicidology: Transforming Suicide Research and Prevention for the 21st Century. UBC Press. – Introduction
The titles give it all away. Whitaker, of course is an infamous anti-medication proponent and I have critiqued his views a number of times as have others more qualified that I am as in the debate between Whitaker and Dr Allen. The teaching of anti-psychiatry did not include anything pro-psychiatry and the discussion of medication contained no information on the benefits of medication. Should students not be given an opportunity to see the other side? McMaster and its teaching hospital has many first rate psychiatrists well versed in their specialties. I’ve observed the near miraculous results that properly prescribed medications can have on severe psychosis. Neoliberalism did not come up once.
The bottom line is that no one who graduates from this course will be capable of working in a psychiatric setting with patients. Hopefully, none of them will. The effective social worker I cited at the outset is a graduate of another university.