The Public Interest

Politics and mental illness

Ken Livingston

Winter 1999

IF life becomes difficult or confused, a visit to a psychiatrist or psychologist may seem in order, largely because we assume these professionals operate like other doctors. By listening to a description of symptoms, asking astute questions, and sometimes performing various tests, a medical specialist arrives at a diagnosis. More often than not, this diagnosis reflects an understanding of why things have gone wrong, not just what is amiss, because it is based on a chain of sound scientific research into the etiology of the disorder. For that reason, modern physicians can tailor a treatment that is specific to the illness, or, at worst, can inform the patient that there is nothing to be done. But Herb Kutchins and Stuart A. Kirk, authors of Making Us Crazy: DSM: The Psychiatric Bible and the Creation of Mental Disorders, suggest that in the case of the mental-health professions, the situation may be quite different from what we expect.

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