“ We Don’t Treat Disturbed People; We Treat Disturbing People”
Thomas Szasz, M.D.
Founder of Radical Psychiatry
Author: “The Myth Of Mental Illness”
Forty years ago, when both Arleah and I were beginning our practices, we committed to a principle, that we have never wavered from. We took the position that we would not work with patients/clients who had decided to manage their psychological challenges by depending on the regular use of psychotropic drugs (anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, strong tranquilizers;
and all medications that were designed to act on the mind). We made this decision for three reasons. The first concerned the implicit barrier that these drugs created between therapist and patient – we never knew, conclusively,
who we were talking with – the drugs or the person. Second, the drugs were quite effective in eliminating both high and low mood swings leaving the person in an emotional no-man’s land, going thru the motions of life. And lastly, the drugs created a kind of addiction to what we called, “symptom – patching.”
“Hope trips” replaced real progress. As one depressive episode ended, another one quickly took its place. Patients rarely, if ever, discovered the bottom line cause of their misery. So why do so many people medicate? Because it seems to be an easier and less painful alternative to doing the hard, and often painful work of looking inside themselves.
So, what does this all have to do with the price of bananas and the crazy culture we are now living in? It speaks to the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of American society. We are not the most drugged and chemically dependent culture on the planet, by accident. We cannot resist the lure of immediacy – the seductiveness of solving problems, right now, is irresistible. And we reject the notion that a quick fix almost always creates more problems than the original dilemma. Every time there’s a mass shooting or a natural catastrophe the public and the media demand that “something has to be done.” We have no better example than the damaging and dysfunctional reaction to Covid-19. In the face of evidence to the contrary, we punished young entrepreneurs and abused countless numbers of children. We destroyed hundreds of thousands of businesses, crippled and infantilized a huge swath of the labor force, and without compunction, set back the emotional and intellectual development of a generation of our children. And we all capitulated in a vain and doomed attempt to control the uncontrollable; avoid pain and discomfort; and spread massive distrust in our previously respected institutions. Worst of all, we taught the citizenry to fear each other and isolate ourselves in self-made ghettoes of paranoia and suspicion.
Given this cultural horror show, there are lessons to be learned. First, and foremost, I hope we learn that there is a necessary limit to our need to control everything in our world. Too little control is a prescription for chaos and animalistic brutality. Too much control is a prescription for totalitarianism and fascism. Every time I heard a public figure talk about “defeating” Covid, I was convinced that ignorance and stupidity knew no boundaries. Viruses were around before the arrival of the human species, and they will, without a doubt, survive us.
I hope that we also learn that the solution to any problem simply creates a new set of problems, hopefully less bothersome than the original one. So, when we contemplate a proposed solution to a problem, we first need to identify the new problem that will be created, and ask ourselves if we really want to deal with it, or we may just want to live with our current challenge.
And lastly, I hope that we understand that all problem resolution is an exercise in managing change; and that all meaningful change is fraught with loss and pain. Painless change is not only illusory, it is dangerous. It allows people to stay in denial, and experience, sooner or later, the devastating impact of the early avoidance of loss and pain.
These principles are not only operative in the evolution of whole cultures. They have critical impact in our business lives and our personal relationships. Businesses don’t implode because of external forces. They die from the suicidal misunderstanding of change and the desperate attempt to avoid pain. Likewise, marriages crumble when couples collude in a pact to not deal with the individual losses in their lives, and refuse to help each other heal. Life is not that difficult, or that complex. But it does require the courage to take the risk of facing oneself.
Morrie Shechtman; August, 2022