"Mental Healthcare" Finally Gets Something Right
I’m not usually a fan of psychiatry or even psychology. I think the whole “mental health” field is in the business of making “illnesses” out of every little personality quirk. I think they’re part of a larger plan to take away our autonomy, undermine our ability to think and make decisions for ourselves, and ultimately make us all dependent on Big Pharma and Big Brother.
Of course a “mental health professional” would probably say I’m paranoid.
Psychiatrists and psychologists themselves are victims of this plot to some degree too. A handful of loud voices get the final say in what gets designated a mental “disorder” and what doesn’t, and often this doesn’t agree with the opinion of the majority of doctors. But once something gets labeled a “condition” they’re bound to treat it “appropriately” (that is, prescribe drugs) or face consequences.
For the most part I think “mental health professionals” are a bunch of holier-than-thou yahoos. They’re people who are afraid of thinking for themselves, so they’ve picked a profession that uses checklists to “diagnose” people. And of course they’re in it for the money.
But here and there are a handful of “professionals” who really do care about helping people. Once in awhile, a rare few are willing to buck the system and risk the wrath of Big Pharma by thinking outside the box. It doesn’t happen often—but it’s happening right now. And Big Pharma ought to be shaking in its shoes.
300 years ago we might have called them saints. Today we call them crazy. Who’s right?
If you had a friend who told you they heard voices in their head, you might be a bit concerned. And if they said the voices told them to do things, you’d probably be convinced they had a real problem,. Because we have a name for people who hear “imaginary” voices—schizophrenic. And we all know that being schizophrenic means you’re crazy, that you’ll likely end up one of those scary people you avoid at the bus stop or on the subway.
We know that people who hear voices are probably dangerous, or at least a danger to themselves. We know that the most important thing for schizophrenics is to make the voices stop. And we know that as much as we might not like the idea, there’s only one way to do that: drugs.
Of course this is a relatively modern idea. People have been hearing voices for as long as humans have existed. Long ago, these people would have been tribal shamans, believed to be in contact with the spirit world. More recently, such voices would have been ascribed to God or the Devil. The annals of Christianity are filled with people who heard voices—only we didn’t call them crazy. In fact, we called many of them saints.
Today, however, admitting to hearing voices is a sure ticket to a psychiatric ward and heavy medication. It doesn’t matter if the voices are telling you that the NSA is spying on you or that you should have eggs for breakfast. It’s seen as something so far out of the norm that it can’t be tolerated, and Big Pharma has the cure.
But here’s a real shocker: a growing movement within psychiatry says that everything we think we know about this phenomenon is wrong.
Hearing voices doesn’t necessarily mean you’re mentally ill
You read that right. Here’s a fact few people in the “mental health” industry likes to talk about: many, many of us hear voices in our heads. It’s not uncommon at all. For some people, it only happens once or twice in a lifetime. For others, it’s a daily or even ongoing occurrence. But since no one wants to be carted off to the looney bin, if the voices don’t interfere with day-to-day life, most people who hear them simply don’t talk about them. You probably know one of these people, even if you don’t realize it. You might even be one yourself.
However, hearing voices can disrupt your life, especially if they say negative things or tell you to do something dangerous. This is the kind of situation that usually sends people into the mental health system. Once there, they’re told that the voices are imaginary. That they should be ignored. That they need to be silenced. And the primary tool for doing this is powerful and dangerous antipsychotic drugs.
But a small but growing number of “mental health professionals” is taking a radical new stance: instead of trying to silence the voices, they’re telling patients to talk to them instead. What they’re telling their patients goes against a hundred years’ worth of psychology, but it’s working. They’re telling them two revolutionary things: The voices are real. And they don’t have to disrupt your life—you can change your relationship with them.
Instead of trying to medicate the voices away, they’re telling patients to engage with them. To have a dialogue. To listen to what the voices have to say—without necessarily acting on it—and have a conversation about what they —the voices—are trying to achieve. Some therapists are even talking directly to their patients’ illusory voices—asking why they’re there, what they want, and so on. The results have been extraordinary.
This really shouldn’t be surprising. After all, these are the same type of tools we “sane” people use to deal with negative self-talk. It’s the kind of thing that’s covered in any good stress management program. And one emerging theory about schizophrenia is that it’s a sort of amplified version of negative self-talk—that somehow, the schizophrenic is simply unable to recognize the “voice” they hear as their own inner voice, instead hearing it as a completely separate entity.
This new way of thinking about schizophrenia says that the goal shouldn’t be to make the hearer’s voices go away. Instead, it should be getting people to develop a sort of working relationship with them, incorporating them into their lives in a positive way. As one clinical psychologist put it, “Voices themselves are not a problem; it’s people’s relationship with them that’s important.”
I’m stunned and pleasantly shocked to see this concept gaining traction. Antipsychotics are some of the most dangerous drugs out there. And even worse, they’re the first class of drugs to have a “smart” sensor embedded in them to track their user.
That’s a lot scarier than hearing voices.
The fact that there are therapists who are willing to buck the status quo and refuse to prescribe this mark of the beast gives me a bit of hope. Maybe—just maybe—the mental health pendulum is beginning to swing back in the direction of saints instead of psychotics.
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