On Friday evening, June 9 I had the privilege and pleasure of creating conversation with prize-winning journalist and prominent psychiatry critic Robert Whitaker. Our topic was “Mad in America: Drugs, Diagnosis and Development” (an event sponsored by the East Side Institute). Aided by invitingly probing questions from moderator Janet Wootten and many members of the audience of 100+, Robert and I improvised our way through 90 minutes of listening for offers and “yes, and-ing” them. When the event was over, we had created a collective story of how emotional distress got to be medicalized and individualized, the pain and destruction of this, and the resistance and hope displayed by those developing alternative practices.
And even as we created a never before heard “we” voice, our separate and distinct voices could still be heard loud and clear. That evening, with Robert, Jan and the audience, I once again experienced the dialectical magic of improv.
Robert Whitaker is an expert on psychiatry and how diagnosis and drug treatment came into existence and took over psychiatry and our culture. He commandingly narrates the details of psychiatry as pseudoscience and its institutional corruption. His respect for and awe at the vast array of emotional diversity human beings create is as apparent as his intellectual prowess in exposing psychiatry’s hoax. That evening, the combination was irresistibly educative and developmental.
Much of my contribution to the conversation had to do not with the hoax of psychiatry but with its roots in the hoax of psychology and, in turn, psychology’s roots in mythic conceptual understandings of Western philosophy. Here are a few examples. Psychology sold us the idea that we are isolated, self-contained individuals. It taught us to think of people in terms of dualisms, like “nature vs. nurture.” It told us it can discover everything about us by taking us out of our social world and taking us apart, hoping no one would notice that doing this so distorts and destroys us that any “findings” of psychology must be invalid.
I love to share these things with people and I always learn from such practical-philosophical conversations. Having Robert as my conversational partner and fellow improviser was a powerful reminder of how stories transform in the activity of telling them. My story got both richer and more accessible and I think his did too.
I invite you to listen to this audio recording of “Mad in America: Diagnosis, Drugs and Development” and tell me what you think. Send a comment, a question, a story!