The Myth of Mental Illness
The above is the title of an important book by Thomas Szasz. Mental illness still dominates a significant portion of our health care system and it still has major conceptual problems. Of course, as a clinical psychologist, I was schooled in it. I actually came to love Carl Jung’s work a lot more than Sigmund Freud’s but his work still dominates.
And so we again return to where we live on the cusp. Over the decades I found nonphysical problems related to mental and cognitive issues to be far removed from “illness” and often nuanced. And when we move away from the dominant model, we find suitable alternatives. Unfortunately the insurance industry dominates the field and therefore may dictate treatment or at least what it is called. What it is called will often influence what is done. Substantial reform is needed.
Some of the Issues
When my wife and I personally confronted issues for remarried families (aka stepfamilies) we learned important lessons. An important initial lesson was that the process is a matter of adjustment, not psychopathology. Certainly there were some people with substantial disturbance from other causes but we learned to begin with our model of adjustment. The couple was focused on initially. Too often the mother or stepmother was put in therapy as if they were the problem although they may have shown the greatest distress initially. And we were resistant to putting children in therapy because adjusting to a new family was not pathological in almost all cases. Because of our approach we could structure an information system and found that generally the family could take over adjustment and handle their own future after very few sessions. See our book Stepfamilies: Professionals and Stepcouples in Partnership by Mala S. Burt, M.S.W. and Roger B. Burt, Ph.D.
Another major issue is what is termed post traumatic distress disorder or PTSD. The military is wrestling with removing the word disorder because it proves to be a bar to veterans getting help with their adjustment. Does anyone really believe that someone should go to war and kill people daily or risk being killed daily while suffering stress and not need to cope with management and an enduring reaction. I shared my perception with some friends who were veterans and found them in tears when I suggested they were not “sick” although there were still issues decades after their war experience.
Enduring and Broad Issues
Those are just two examples of the reality of a world far more nuanced than what is described as mental illness. We can go on between things like personality diversity, numerous personal management needs as we pass through stages of our life. When I first came into the field the predominant viewpoint was that our development was finished in early adulthood. Absurd.
Management of life experience continues throughout life and it would be best if we approached our lives in that fashion. Take an area of life experience and we see that there is change, stress and adaptation. It would help if we defined a type of insurance that was appropriate and took these issues out of the hands of insurance companies focused exclusively on profit.
Life on the Cusp
Yes, here is that cusp again. Each of us is different with a raft of different experiences. We work for stability and commonality and often success. But it would help if we understood the richness of our diversity in the sense that much of the issues are not pathological and that our views from the cusp feed creativity, diversity and innovation. And life can be difficult, even jarring. From time to time we need to seek expertise and guidance but we generally do not need to cast it all into psychopathology. There are problems out there with profound biological origins where the person needs substantive help but very often management and guidance are what is needed.
Gaia’s Majesty-Mission Called: Women in Power by Roger B. Burt
Roger B. Burt’s Amazon home page
Creating Characters and Plots by Roger B. Burt
Stepfamilies: Professionals and Stepcouples in Partnership
Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health by Roger B. Burt