Tag Archives: The Hamilton Spectator

Read Media Reports on Mental Illness With a Critical Eye

By Marvin Ross

Despite the best of intentions of most reputable papers and their editors, nonsense still gets published. Much of that nonsense pertains to theories of mental illness.

A perfect example of that was in my own local paper, the Hamilton Spectator on September 21. The Op Ed by a social worker was headed “Bad Behaviour is Bad Behaviour. Period.” The author, Alexander T. Polgar PhD, RSW, is a forensic social worker and public safety consultant. His PhD is in social work and RSW means that he is a registered social worker.

Dr Polgar was objecting to a recent report by the John Howard Society of Ontario which pointed out that many in prison in Ontario have untreated mental illness and that people often have to commit crimes in order to get mental health treatment. One of the authors of that report said that “Ontario must stop punishing people for their mental health issues and take ‘bold and immediate action’ to decriminalize mental illness.”

Now Dr Polgar objects to the fact that the primary premise of that report is that “mental illness is a medical problem” and he comments that this speaks “to the success with which bad behaviour has been and continues to be medicalized”. He goes on to say that “throughout history, those who behaved badly or strangely were considered to be possessed by demon spirits and the solution was to ‘beat the devil out of them’”.

He says, we no longer beat them in Western cultures but we do punish them in a variety of ways including incarceration. He then adds that the medical model of madness continues to compete with the demon-possessed causes of bad behaviour. Freud, he said began to change that with a focus on family dynamics, social conditions and various relational issues. That gave rise to psychotherapy, counselling, behaviour modification and family therapy. Not surprisingly, he cites Thomas Szasz and RD Laing.

But, the resistance to Freud, Szasz and Laing are the result of two problems – the human proclivity to abdicate familial and social responsibility for troubled children who become dysfunctional adults and a profit driven pharmaceutical industry who can provide a solution that justifies the abdication of reponsibility.

He concludes his piece by saying that “we cannot and should not tolerate from anyone bad behaviour. This includes bad behaviour from those we currently label as the mentally ill.”

And, finally “the best place to modify these socially unacceptable behaviours contrary to the views of the above cited report, is in correctional institutions and in community based correctional programs provided by behaviourally trained personnel far better resourced and equipped than they are now.”

Unfortunately I can’t give you the link to the article so you can read it for yourself as it is one of the very few articles that the paper did not put online. They may have read my letter to the editor with copies to the senior editors which they did not publish.

But, who is Dr Polgar? Well, interestingly enough, he has been prosecuted by the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) for the unauthorized practice of psychology. In 2006, the CPO applied to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for an order to desist. It was alleged that “he held himself out as a person who is qualified to practice in Ontario as a psychologist or in a specialty of psychology. The Application also related to allegations that he performed the controlled act of communication of a diagnosis in the circumstances described in the Regulated Health Professions Act, without being a member authorized by a health profession act to perform the controlled act.”

The case did not get to court as Dr Polgar agreed that “Without any admission that he has done so in the past, Polgar agrees that he will refrain from communicating in any report to any client or other person, any diagnosis, meaning any statement identifying, as the cause of a person’s symptoms, a neuropsychological disorder or a psychologically-based psychotic, neurotic, or personality disorder. It shall not be considered a violation of this agreement for Polgar to make and communicate social work diagnoses as that expression is defined by the OCSWSSW.” (the College of Social Workers)

The second link downloads the CPO Bulletin and details of his unauthorized practice can be found on P 10. http://www.cpo.on.ca/Search.aspx?searchtext=Polgar

The moral of the story is to read with a very critical eye. Fact checking does not always catch everything.