If I seem somewhat skeptical of psychologist and psychiatrists, it is only because of my experiences with them. As an Engineer, it seems to me there is some sort of wall in the laws of physics that would prevent us from truly understanding how our brains work. After all, the amount of data needed to model the human brain would exceed the capacity of the human brain. It would be like asking a toaster to understand its own workings.
I guess the other problem is that no one ever seems to be cured of "mental illness" or at the very least, the cure rate is astoundingly low. I put "mental illness" in quotes simply because the definition of what is, and is not, mental illness changes over time - in our lifetimes, for example. When I was a youth, homosexuality was deemed a form of mental illness. In the early 1970's, this was changed, and today, fear of homosexuality is now deemed an illness. I mean, this is progress, I guess, but "science" should be about the scientific method, and not about prevailing social values. But that sort of is the definition of many mild forms of mental illness - that a person doesn't conform to societal norms. So today, we diagnose people with depression or Asperger's syndrome, when their behavior is not in line with societal norms.
Don't get me wrong, there are bat-shit crazy people in the world, and the only humane thing to do with a guy who is hearing voices or screaming at birds in the trees, is to medicate them and put them in some sort of humane institution - so the rest of us will be protected from them. Selfish, I know, but I have this weird aversion to being pushed in front of a subway train - so that some crazy fucker can have his "right" to piss all over the place and sleep on a bench or in a tent under the freeway. Oh, but that would be humane - to let people live as feral humans?
There are people with severe mental illnesses. But treating them isn't very profitable, I guess. You get a small stipend from the government and that's about it. But treating hysterical middle-class people, that rakes in the dough! It is like the deal with Dentists - they are needed desperately in West Virginia, but there is no money to be made from such a practice. On the other hand, prescribing adult braces and teeth whitening in rich neighborhoods will buy you a Ferrari. Don't get me started on Veterinarians! Telling little old ladies that their 18-year-old cat needs $5000 in chemotherapy is scandalous.
But I digress. There are Doctors, and Dentists, and Veterinarians and even Psychologists and Psychiatrists who try to do the right thing. There are some who are really evil, of course, others who just want to make money and don't see themselves as evil, and yet others who are merely flawed human beings.
Growing up with crazy people and being attracted to crazy people (at least when I was younger) I ended up knowing a lot of psychologists and psychiatrists. And some of them were flawed people, many were unprofessional, and... others? Well, I wouldn't let them change the tire on my car, much less work on someone's brain. Let me give you some examples of what I am talking about.
1. Dr. Fred was my Mother's Psychologist, and my Brother's (a clear conflict of interest) and I dated his daughter (and she dated half the boys in town). I remember going to their house and it had that quiet aura (and you know I don't believe in auras) of a crazy house. I digress a bit here, but I felt that same quietness three other times in life. My brother's girlfriend's house was quiet like that. She was a little off, her brother was institutionalized, and her Mother was "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" on some sort of massive depressant all the time. The other time was a friend of mine from school whose Mother had killed herself with an O.D., and he lived in the house, alone, with his Dad. It was deathly quiet. A friend of mine whose brother committed suicide also lived in a quiet house. There is a "crazy" aura about some houses, but it isn't haunting, only something about the people living in them.
Dr. Fred's daughter did believe in auras, however, and she got into some sort of cult ("Eckankar" or something like that) and was crazy as a loon. The point is, here is a guy treating two people in the same family (who are no doubt talking about one another in "therapy") but at the same time, his own family is basically a booby-hatch. I mean, if you can't straighten things out in your own home, do you have any business helping others?
Like with most "patients" my Mother and Brother were never "cured" of anything, but he did manage to invoice my Father for his services! And maybe that is the source of my skepticism about psychologists - in the 1960's and 1970's, it became fashionable to have an "analyst" and be "in therapy" and talk about "your problems". And maybe this helped some people. But maybe for many more, it was just a trendy fad - an expensive trendy fad that faded from the scene once we (as a country) ran out of money in the 1980's.
2. Bruce was a psychologist and a professor - head of his department, in fact. He had spent many years in school, getting a Bachelor's, then a Master's, and finally a PhD in Psychology. He worked in the field for several years, before switching to Academia, where as a professor, he published articles about gender identity and sexual orientation.
Bruce was over 40 years old when I met him, and it was at that time he decided to come out of the closet as gay. It was kind of shocking, in part, that this guy who devoted his life to studying the field of human sexuality and who had counseled countless others, couldn't figure out his own life. When I met him, he was always hanging around with 30-something pretty twinks, you know, the kind who wear Izod shirts and deck shoes and who are deathly thin, had short hair and were slightly effeminate. I was wearing leather jackets with a v-neck white t-shirt, long hair, dirty jeans, and riding a motorcycle, so I didn't really fit into his crowd.
Bruce wasn't crazy - that I know of. But on the other hand, it kind of freaked me out that he had such little understanding of his own mind, but at the same time, felt qualified to advise and counsel others. It made me a little wary of trusting what a Psychologist had to say about anything - that, and my other experiences.
3. Dr. Bill was my boyfriend Ron's Psychiatrist. I met Ron in college (he has since passed on, sadly, at age 53) and at first I did not realize he had some pretty severe anxiety problems. His main problem, of course, was that he was a flaming homosexual, but his parents didn't accept him for who he was. And he was the kind of kid you knew was gay by the third grade.
School with ruthless for him. Kids would call him names and beat him up after class. One group of boys would drag him into the boys' restroom and shove his head in the toilet and flush it - a form of torture known as the "swirly" in high school. Sometimes they would give him a "yellow swirly" and you can sort of figure out what that means.
Shockingly, he became very anxious about going to school. I mean, why is that? Who doesn't look forward to getting harassed and assaulted every day of their lives? High school - government school - sucks. I had to deal with similar shit, but on a lesser scale. Fortunately, I have a stronger personality, but in retrospect, high school and junior high school was six years of chronic depression. Waking up every morning with that pit in your stomach - I know that feeling.
And it's only gotten worse since I was in school. Facebook and Twitter have taken the toxicity to a whole new level. That's why when I hear my Christian friends tell me they are home-schooling their kids, I say, "good for you". Whatever toxicity they learn from "Creation Science" (which can be unlearned in short order) has to be better than the toxic level of hatred one gets in public (or even private) schools. Bullying sucks.
So Ron was sent off to Dr. Bill, because, you know, the problems he was having in school were his fault. I mean, that makes sense - all the other kids are adjusting just fine, so it must be something wrong with Ron! The School Psychologist and counselor thought so, anyway. So anyway, Dr. Bill prescribes the first of many prescriptions for serious anti-anxiety medications that have some pretty severe side-effects, and Ron becomes addicted - to Psychiatry. He buys a copy of the Physician's Desk Reference and spends all day thinking about "his problems" and researching what his "meds" are all about. Being crazy guy becomes an identity for him.
The problem was not necessarily Ron, who I thought was a pretty normal young (gay) man. The real problem was a school and parents who couldn't accept him for who he was, and a school system willing to look the other way when bullies beat the other children. After all, the bullies keep the other kids in line, and often these bullies are favored students - athletes or teacher's pets. And the kid who is making the "wild accusations"? Well, he's a weirdo anyway.
What was even worse, was that as Ron got better, they kept sending him back to school, where he would suffer more, have an "episode" and then drop out. He kept doing this until he was nearly 21. I guess they threw him out of school at that point, and he did what he should have done all along - take the GED and get a high school diploma. But no, his parents and "doctor" thought he should finish school as that would be good for him.
I mention conflict of interest a lot here, and it raises its ugly head here. I started going out with Ron - unaware of the extent of his past history. Again, I came from a family of crazy, so to me he seemed "normal." Dr. Bill was concerned about who Ron was seeing and wanted to talk with me. So I said OK and made an appointment. I went in and we talked for an hour and I don't recall much about what was said. But I thought it was a bit unprofessional to go behind Ron's back - so to speak - to talk with other people in his life. Worse yet, he handed me a bill for $150 for a "counseling session" - which I could ill-afford as a college student delivering pizzas. Even worse, they hounded me for payment. I think it was only when I made a veiled threat about the State Board and conflict of interest, that they dropped the matter.
Maybe Ron had severe mental illness problems. Maybe not. It wasn't like he was hallucinating, hearing voices, or screaming at the birds in the trees. He wasn't violent or self-destructive. He held a job and owned a car. He was a productive member of society. Part of me wonders, however, if he didn't get sucked into this "I'm mentally ill" mentality and then lived up to those expectations. I guess I'll never know for sure, but all I know in retrospect, is that Dr. Bill was the third wheel in that relationship, which fell apart rather quickly as a result.
4. Dr. Love was hip with all the kids. Sort of a "Dr. Ruth" for the college set, he broke the mold and raised eyebrows by publishing comic books about sex education and drug use. He was a nice man, an academic like Dr. Bruce, but a little weird, in some respects.
He also was horny. I guess you can't be a "sexologist" without sampling the candy - after all, if you study sex all day long, eventually your brain will react, right? It wasn't until he died, that I read his obituary than I realized I was not the only student he made a pass at. The "condolences" section of his obit included many accusations by former students of improprieties and sexual advances he had made over the years. It sounded a lot like the accusations leveled against Kevin Spacey (Kevin - call me!).
He was a nice guy, too, and had great advice to give. But on the other hand, trying to "hypnotize" 20-something students and then putting his hand on their thighs, well, today that would get you boiled in oil, at least on the Internet. He was married, too!
Again, someone who was giving advice to others, but whose personal life was a train-wreck. And by making passes at sexually confused young men, perhaps damaged some people for life, or so they will claiming the lawsuit against the University, I am sure (where's my check?).
5. Dr. Evil practiced "aversion therapy." Mixing his religious beliefs with science, he claimed he could "cure" homosexuality through electronic shocks. I never met him personally, but I met his son - whose Dad I worked for. Dad was convinced that "no son of his!" was going to be gay, but the truth was, the kid was a queer as a two-dollar bill. So Dad shopped around until he found a doctor who would promise to "cure" his son of this evil.
The therapy worked like this. They hooked up electrodes to the hapless lad and showed him racy photos of men and women. When he saw the photo of a man, a slight shock would be administered, to "train" his mind to think that men were bad and that women were good.
Of course, it didn't work. The poor kid now has a kink for electric shocks administered by Playgirl hunks. Dr. Evil no longer practices "aversion therapy" as it has basically been outlawed. He didn't do much good for this kid, and in fact, a lot of harm.
As for Dad, he divorced and remarried and his new wife talked some sense into him. He accepted his son for who he was, and in fact, kind of went overboard. He tried to set me up with his son, and implied I might make partner that way. I appreciated his newfound enthusiasm, but politely declined as I was already spoken for.
Today, "aversion therapy" has fallen from favor, but there are still a few "doctors" out there claiming they can cure us of our predilections. And who knows? Maybe they are right - and maybe 20 years from now, they will rewrite the psychology books, yet again. But I kind of doubt it - it is a lot easier to just go with the flow, rather than try to change who you are.
* * *
These are just four examples from my life. Every psychiatrist and psychologist I've met in life has turned out to be a little wacko, a little unprofessional, or a little of both. And this is not to be unexpected. Why? Because they are just human beings, frail and fragile as the rest of us. But for some reason, if someone has a diploma on the wall or wears a white lab coat, they will surrender their lives to them.
Hell, I have a diploma on the wall - I wouldn't take my own advice about anything! I don't suggest you do either, which is why I don't give advice.
The same is true of religious leaders - the psychologists of an era before psychologists. Maybe the confession booth has been replaced by the analyst's couch, I don't know. But it strikes me as the same shit, different day, and the guy giving advice, in both cases, might not have his own shit together. We look to a religious imam for enlightenment as to what God wants of us or to answer unanswerable questions in life such as "what happens when we die?" or "why are we here?" or "what is consciousness?" and expect a 30-year-old who went to Seminary School to have all the answers - even though his life experience on this planet is about the same as ours, perhaps less.
Even if you find a good Priest or Psychologist, the benefits you receive from them are only going to be proportional to how truthful you are with them. If you lie to your doctor, well, odds are, he isn't going to advise you well. A lot of doctors can tell when you're lying, of course.
For example, I have a relative who takes anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medication. He washes these down with beer and marijuana (and no, we don't hang out as a result). I asked him if that was a good idea, as one of the medications explicitly says it should not be taken with alcohol. I also asked him if his "doctor" knew he was smoking pot. "Of course not!" he replied, "If I told him that, he wouldn't prescribe these other drugs for me!" You lie to your doctor, you aren't going to get better.
That being said, I haven't heard of anyone being "cured" of mental illness. Maybe they exist, but I've never heard of it. The most I hear about are people who are medicated time and time again. They feel a little better (like a college roommate I had) and decide to go "off their meds" as the side-effects, as I noted, can be pretty severe. They have an "episode" and then end up in an institution or jail and are re-medicated. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. It is like a slow form of torture. And as a result, they don't seem to live as long, from what I can gather - and from what I have seen firsthand.
Of course, to some, this is heresy. We cannot question the almighty doctor! Everything they say is true, even the things they say that contradict what they said last week - or next.