Sunday, May 20, 2018

Are All Psychiatrists Crazy?

Psychiatry was quite a fad back in the 1960's - even middle-class people went to a "shrink" or an "analyst" to discuss their angst.   Today, it it less popular among the bulk of Americans, only because insurance no longer covers this expensive treatment.   But are psychiatrists themselves a little crazy?  I think you have to be a little nuts to become one, quite frankly - and many have admitted as much to me!

Back when I was a kid in the 1960's and 1970's, going to a psychiatrist was a common thing among the middle-class.  It was, in fact, sort of a perverse status symbol, that you had some sort of angst about the modern world, and could afford to spend an hour every week talking to someone about your deepest feelings.   Psychiatrist jokes were common with comedians.  Being "analyzed" was featured in movies, such as Annie Hall.  Bob Newhart did a show where he played a psychiatrist - and not for insane people, but rather for common folks with quirky complexes or anxieties. Charles Shultz featured Lucy as a 5-cent psychiatrist, as shown above.  It was a thing back then.

Of course, back then, the psychiatrists, like the "pain doctors" of today, were also your drug dealers.  Feeling a little stressed?  Go do the nice doc, and he'll write you a script for some Quaaludes.   It was a booming business, and so long as the insurance company paid (as they do today with Oxycontin and "sports medicine" clinics), the party kept going on.   But eventually, Quaaludes were outlawed, and after some prominent overdoses involving other depressants, the whole idea of "better living through chemistry" started to fade from the scene.  The coupe-de-grace was when companies cut benefits, such as mental health counseling, from their insurance plans.

But hey, by then, it was the late 1970's - the "me" decade.  Downers were out, cocaine, was in.   Snort a line and you're king of the world!  No time for angst and doubt now - in fact, going to a "shrink" was no longer seen as a status symbol, but a mark of weakness.   Psychiatrists had their hands full with really mentally ill people by that point, anyway - many victims of the "free love" and drug era of the previous decade.

Along the path of life, I've met many a psychiatrist and psychologist, and quite frankly, I always thought they were the blind-leading-the-blind.   Their personal lives were often train wrecks, yet they were dispensing advice to other people.   What's more, they often were a little crazy themselves, and more than one admitted to me that they got into the field to better understand their own problems.

My first exposure to a "shrink" was my Mother's psychiatrist, who also "treated" my brother, which arguably is a conflict.  He sedated Mother with Librium, which didn't seem to help with her underlying problems - alcoholism and an inability to come to grips with her sexuality.  In fact, I doubt my mother ever mentioned the latter to her doctor (out of some sort of stupid, outdated concept of shame) or admitted to the former.   If you lie to your psychiatrist, you aren't going to get better.  Yet most of the patients I've known have told me things that their doctor should know about - but they feel too embarrassed to admit them.  How can a shrink do you any good if he has an inaccurate picture of you?

The problem with Mom's doctor went beyond that.  I ended up dating his daughter, and she was a nice girl, but decidedly mentally ill.   Their house was a crazy house.  I don't know how to explain it - I don't believe in auras or that nonsense.  But at least three four times in my life, I have been in houses where you can tell crazy is going on.  They are deafeningly quiet.   The first was my brother's girlfriend's house.  Her mother was sedated beyond all belief - sort of like Mary Hartman.  Her brother was also crazy - institutionalized, actually - again having more to do with his family not accepting his sexuality than anything else.

The house was deathly quiet.  Even when the television was blaring, it was deathly quiet.  I don't know how to describe it, but it was like the soul was sucked out of the place.  Later on in life, I would meet a very nice young man whose Mother committed suicide.  He and his Dad lived alone together, in the same house his Mother died in.  That house was very quiet as well.  And I just thought of it, my friend whose brother committed suicide also lived in one of these "quiet" houses as well.  Maybe it is a matter of my perception.  Maybe there is something to this aura nonsense.  Probably the former.

Anyway, my girlfriend's house - which was also my Mother's and brother's psychiatrist's house, also had that deathly quiet aura about it.  One day we were there, in her room, and we started talking about horses, for some reason.  "We have a horse!" she said.   This was odd to me, as I had been in their barn and never saw any horse.  She took me outside to a shed, and opened up the door, which appeared to be stuck.  Inside the darkened shed (with no open windows) was a sad-looking old mare, standing in its own filth.   I was appalled.  Apparently, they had bought the horse ages ago, lost interest in it, and basically fed it once in a while and very rarely, cleaned out its shed.

Welcome to crazytown.  Population, one family.

I kind of became skeptical of psychiatrists at that point.  How could this guy help my Mother and brother, when his own household was so messed up?

I met a few more head shrinkers in my life.  One was the head of the psychology department at a school I used to go to.  He was a very nice guy, but wanted me to come back to his office with him, after hours, so he could "hypnotize" me.  He put his hand on my inner thigh, and I figured out quickly what he really wanted.   And he was married, too.  Another psychologist I met in academia finally came out of the closet at age 45.  He liked to hang out with the pretty boys, so I was safe around him.  But it amazed me that someone who is supposed to be giving advice to people, particularly young people, couldn't figure out his own life very well.   He admitted to me that one reason he got into the field was to deal with his own issues about sexuality.

And these were not bad guys - I liked them both in spite of their faults (and hoped they did vice-versa).  But the point is, where they in any position to be doling out wisdom of the mind to other before getting their own house in order?

But of course, he got his PhD in an era where homosexuality was considered a mental illness.   So maybe he was a victim of the era.   But I didn't really feel he had his shit together - any more than any other person does.   And that is why I am not a fan of gurus, religious leaders, and whatnot.  The idea that some of us, having lived about the same short time-span on this planet, and having about the same life experiences, have some special insight into life that others of us don't have, seems kind of ridiculous.  I mean, you go to shrink school or priest school, and they teach you in a few years, all the secrets of life that the rest of us don't know?   I highly doubt that could happen.

As I noted before, I doubt the human brain can accurately map out the human brain.  It just seems to be patently obvious - you cannot put more information into a vessel than it can hold, and us trying to understand how our brains work is like a toaster telling you how it works.   It is a noble effort, to be sure, but it seems like a divide-by-zero error to me.  If we truly understood how our brains worked, down to the most minute detail, we would become Gods.   And that ain't about to happen.

But on the other hand, perhaps if we knew the basic structure of the brain and how it works and malfunctions, it might be illuminating.   One of the most insightful books I ever read, was not about psychiatry or the human mind, but was a Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) concerning neural networks.  Reading about how neural networks - which are based on the design of the human brain - work and malfunction was illuminating.   Trying to train a Maverick Missile to identify Soviet tanks by optical recognition was almost comical.   What was intended was for the network to "learn" what a Soviet tank looked like, as opposed to a NATO tank.   What the system actually learned was to identify the difference between spy photos (grainy, out of focus, and dark)  of Soviet tanks and "beauty shots" from tank manufacturers (bright, focused, and clear) of NATO tanks.  What the system actually learned was to aim at dark and obscured objects.

Sort of reminds you of how teenagers learn.  You try to teach them one thing, but they are learning something else entirely - often the opposite of what you intended!

But I digress.

My next experience with the head shrinkers was a little scary.  I was dating a young man who had anxiety problems - again related to sexuality.   He was mocked and bullied in high school, and instead of graduating and putting it as far behind him as possible, he had an episode and ended up in a hospital.  This resulted in him staying in high school until he was 20.   The problem was "high school" and the cure was "more high school."   It was like torture.

So they medicated him and got him hooked on the psychiatry gag, such that he adopted mental illness as a hobby.   As I noted before, one problem with mentally ill people is that they are selfish they are introspective and think the world revolves around them.  The "cure" for this is to spend hours each week talking about themselves with a doctor, which makes them feel even more important and their trivial problems even larger than they are.  The cure is to throw gasoline on the fire.   Oh, and by the way,  no one has ever been cured by psychiatrists or psychologists.

What scared me about his doctor was that he asked to see me (and charged me for the visit as well!) and during our "session" he told me a lot of confidential patient information about my friend. Not only was it a conflict for him to see me at all, but to tell me doctor-patient confidential information was beyond unprofessional!

We ended up seeing a counselor at school, and his advice to me was "run away as fast as you can!" which turned out to be good advice.   It is difficult, if not impossible, to form a healthy relationship with a crazy person.  It is hard enough to do it with someone who is "normal" (whatever that is).    As I noted above, even "professionals" in this field have a batting average of .000 in terms of effecting a cure.   What are the odds you'll be able to work things out with someone who is off-kilter?

This is not to say that we don't have empathy for folks who are crazy.  The problem is, as I noted before, they are often selfish and look at the world through a crazy prism, where the world is a merry-go-round, and they are in the center.   And the rest of us are just wallpaper.   So when you shoot up a school, well, those aren't real people you're killing, right?  It is just another first-person-shooter video game, and you've got the high score!

And that brings us to the present.   While having an "analyst" was all in vogue in 1968 in the Mad Men era, today the shrinks are busy with more serious problems - young people (and it usually is when this sets in - around 18-22 years old) going crazy and becoming violent.   No longer is the bread-and-butter of the business some bored housewife who is anxious about the "rooskies" dropping "the big one" or the helter-skelter of "modern" living.   No longer is it some young executive who is overly stressed and wants a happy pill.   No, today, it is really crazy people doing very bad things - to themselves or others.   And a lot of the work ends up being forensic.

Are people today crazier than back in 1968?   Perhaps so.   We watch far more television these days, and the Internet - well, you get the idea.   It is possible to be a "little" off and still be functional in society.  But if you spend hours every day on a conspiracy theory site, an ISIS recruiting site, or an alt.right discussion group, you can go from a little off to way off in no time.

And then there is depression.   People watch too much television and get depressed, because their lives are not as fabulous as the people on TeeVee.   They end up watching other people cook, dance, remodel homes, or build trebuchets in their back yard, rather than doing things themselves.  As a result, they develop learned helplessness, a condition that occurs when people start to think nothing they can do can change their world, even a little bit

Of course, the cure for this is simple - no pills, no analysts are needed.   Simply cut the cord on cable, and spend less time on the Internet.  Get off Facebook and Twitter.  Stop watching other people do things and do things yourself.

You will be a lot happier in life and actually get shit done as well as save money.   Instead of watching TeeVee, getting depressed and sending out for pizza (and feeling worthless as a result) you can make your own meals, save money, and put money in the bank (and pay off your debts).   Who knows, maybe you'll be the one on reality TeeVee.   I think so many Americans feel so useless and depressed these days that reality TeeVee is running out of people to feature, as most Americans are couch potatoes whose only shot at fame is to be the victim or witness to some regularly occurring mass-shooting.

Of course, a lot of other things have changed since the 1960's.  We all saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and thought that mental institutions were cruel and should be closed.  So we did.  We closed them and opened homeless shelters - medicating millions of people who should have been in a controlled environment.   They get better, stop taking their meds, and then get worse - in a never-ending cycle of misery.  A worse form of torture, I could not imagine.  And yet, we thought mental institutions were cruel.   Go figure!

I am not sure what the point of all of this was.   A reader sent me an article about how guaranteed basic income was a good idea - an article written by a psychiatrist.  And my gut reaction was, other than playing outside of his sandbox, that most psychiatrists and psychologists are looney-tunes.  If you can't spot the obvious flaws in "guaranteed basic income" then you really don't think very hard.

But I guess it illustrates how some folks are willing to believe anything said by anybody who has a set of "credentials" - no matter whether these credentials are relevant to the line of work they are in, or whether, in fact, those credentials really qualify them in their own field of work!  Think about this:  Whenever some "crazy" guy shoots up some place with a gun (like this week, last week, 20 minutes ago, whatever), a number of "expert witnesses" will appear at trial to argue whether the person was sane or not.  If sane, we can put him in the chair and fry him (hooray!).  If not, he ends up like John Hinkley, a quasi-celebrity who is now living at home with his Mother.  How nice for him.

The point is, in this "science of the mind" we have, you can line up and equal number of experts in the field, who will come to opposite conclusions (crazy or sane) in almost every case.  And maybe because I used to be a lawyer, that I am skeptical of "expert witnesses" because in many cases, they say what you pay them to say, and not what is necessarily the truth.   And juries, baffled and confused by a litany of degrees and awards, will buy a credentialist argument, and assume that whatever the credentialed guy says is true.

And before you take me to task on that, let me remind you that Ben Carson is a neurosurgeon.

Would you go to him for advice... on anything?