Tag Archives: psychology

The Importance of Alternatives: Critical Psychiatry and Narrative Therapy

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. But, still, people in the feline flaying business can get so accustomed to the accepted techniques they forget there may be alternative approaches available.

That this idea can be applied beyond the delicate art of cat skinning has been the subject of a couple of the articles I’ve written during my three month long absence1 from My Last Nerve. Both of these articles relate to psychiatry and our approach to mental illness and I’m going to build on them here.

Critical psychiatry: Thomas Szasz and an alternative to the disease model

Dr Thomas Szasz

The idea that psychological and behavioural problems are diseases of some description is now firmly embedded in the popular psyche.

We’ve all heard about depression being some sort of neurochemical imbalance, or how attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is likely caused by faulty genes. In this view, people with schizophrenia are wired wrong and need to be dosed with heavy meds (whether they like it or not) to keep those buzzing live wires from shorting out.

It might not enjoy the same level of publicity or acceptance but there is an alternative approach to mental illness. Many of its proponents belong to the “critical psychiatry” movement and some of them go so far as to reject the legitimacy of the phrase “mental illness” outright.

The best known of these is Thomas Szasz, one of the fathers of critical psychiatry, and a man for whom the words “radical”, “controversial” and “maverick” could have been invented (some of his critics might be inclined to add “mad” to that list). Continue reading


Memory in Autism: Interview with Dermot Bowler

Flaking Seaside Mural (Essaouira, Morocco)

Flaking Seaside Mural (Essaouira, Morocco)

Take a minute out from whatever you’re doing, close your eyes, and think back to your last holiday.

The minute’s up. Done it? Of course you haven’t: nobody takes orders from online text. In which case while I’m rambling on here try to imagine closing your eyes and remembering your last holiday.

But trying to imagine remembering something is quite a feat of dissociation; you might have to close your eyes to achieve it. So close your eyes and try to imagine yourself closing your eyes and…

You get the point. Hopefully by now there are little stories and images from your last holiday bobbing around in the back of your mind. How lovely. The way that will have happened, that little exercise in memory recall, probably seems completely “normal” to you.

But many people would remember a moment from their last holiday much in the same way that you remember, say, the boiling point of water in Kelvin1: as “an isolated fact without much self-involvement”. So, your way of doing things (so ego-driven! why do you always put yourself at the centre of everything?) isn’t that normal after all. Continue reading

Forever Unfulfilled: Attention-Deficit, Addiction and the 21st Century Brain

This was written back in January but is, I hope, still relevant. I welcome all comments or e-mails on this topic – please do get in touch.

Photograph (C) 2007 James Brooks

The disconcerting background noise rumbling under the crystalline digital audio of the internet age is intensifying. The unsettling idea that our use of modern technology is somehow rewiring our brains has found increasing expression over the last couple of years. And from the titles of the (mostly American) books propounding this hypothesis it would seem that the neural re-fit is a bit of a botch job. There’s Mark Bauerlein’s thundering The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future, UCLA Professor of Psychiatry Gary Small’s iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind and Maggie Jackson’s Distracted: the Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.

Attention, and our decreasing ability to pay any, is a key issue. You don’t have to look very far to see the harbingers of Jackson’s “Dark Age”. Just witness the crisis in publishing as we’re unable to give books – those weighty slabs of text with all their snaking, idea-laden prose – our undivided. Newspapers are similarly too much. We substitute with skim-read internet articles and the inane volleys of YouTube. Blogs look overlong and unwelcoming. Twitter, with its 140-character-per-post limit, would seem to be about as much many of us can handle. Continue reading