An Undisciplined Psychiatrist

January 5, 2006

I’m reading an interview with Alice Miller who wrote ‘For Your Own Good’ and it has triggered off another connection with Jeff Schmidt’s book ‘Disciplined Minds’, which is about why a professional’s first duty is to maintaining the status quo.

I wrote a while back about other connections with Disciplined Minds and I’ll use the same quote here:

People’s mental problem’s often appear as deviations from social or legal norms and therefore are problems for the status quo as well as the deviant individuals.
The problems of both would be solved if troubled individuals abided by the values of the status quo, and of course the mainstream mental health system more often that not works to alter behaviour in that direction. But attempting to adjust people to the unhealthy society that caused their problems in the first place may not be the healthiest approach for either the individual or society

He goes on…

Evidently it is not the place of clinicians to question the health of the society to which the patient must be adjusted. Their ‘legitimate’ professional concern is how best to bring about the adjustment. In this alone, they are expected to use their creativity. The few who do raise questions are seen as getting political…”

In the interview with Alice Miller she is talking about how her theories break away from traditional Freudian analysis, which attributes innate destructive drives to the child, and instead says that it is trauma inflicted on the child by the parents that causes behaviour problems. Naturally our abusive society does not want to hear this and so the professionals refute the idea – even though it makes complete sense to the layperson.

There must be something in this. The patient loves it but the psychiatrist hates it. We’re taught to respect the psychiatrist as the expert but we need to remember the patient is actually the expert on their own feelings (as ‘non-professional’ counsellors tell their clients) and if something seems to click with them then we should pay attention.

Anyway, here’s something from the interview with Alice Miller(she starts off referring to her first book):

In The Drama I’d hoped to reach the professionals, my colleagues; so I spoke in psychoanalytical language. Meanwhile I went beyond this language, and I don’t use it anymore: I no longer try to reach people trained as I was. Even as they deny what I wrote, their patients say, “She describes my own experiences. I know what she is talking about.”

Why do some professionals deny what you’re saying?

Because they are not allowed to face reality. You know, it was interesting. The first time I talked on these ideas was when I spoke to about three hundred analysts on the narcissism of psychoanalysts. They were so surprised, because it was very unusual to hear a colleague side with the child. First they reacted naturally, were just grateful and did not show much resistance to their feelings. They thanked me and said, “But how did you know it was my life you described?” And I said, “It was my own life I described.” Many men had tears in their eyes. Then I tried to publish this article in a German professional review, but the editors refused it. Resistance was already established. They sent it back because they had to see everything as Freud would have; otherwise it is frightening or dangerous. The International Analytic Society published it in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. But the German review, Psyche, did not. It was too provoking for the Germans. “

Even when Alice Miller’s analysis of childhood trauma is so brilliant her explanation for the reason mainstream professionals reject her work feels a bit thin. I don’t know if other people have felt this but I have often thought the explanations for the vagaries of professional behaviour were always a bit lacking. Alice Miller says her fellow psychiatrists were “not allowed to face reality” and while this is true I feel that it’s not enough of an arguement to confront the entrenched mainstream view with. Fortunately with the aid of Disciplined Minds we can now say that the psychiatrists are responding to their first duty as professionals which is to maintain the status quo and fend off any challenges to it.

As we know professionals maintain the status quo so that existing power structures and the people at the top of those structures can remain where they are . What’s especially important here though is that the power structures are (by definition) abusive and in all abusive situations not only does the victim receive the blame (see Derrick Jensen for elaboration on that concept) but the abuse is actually one of the methods that the power structure uses to strengthen and maintain it’s position. This means it is doubly important that the professional psychiatric community represses Alice Miller’s writing. Fortunately she has turned away from them and is now attempting to communicate directly with us peasants. This is of course thoroughly unprofessional behaviour :-)

Please note that I am not trying to pick on Alice Miller for failing to have an in depth explanation about professional behaviour, until I read Disciplined Minds I had never seen an adequate rebuttal to their ‘normal’ attitudes anywhere.
Further evidence of Alice Miller’s lack of professionalism can be found in the same article:

“As her writing progressed, Miller’s view of the child became more and more opposed to that of traditional Freudian theory. Miller at first dedicated Thou Shalt Not Be Aware to Freud on the one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary of his birth. “His discoveries of the survival of childhood experiences in the adult unconscious and the phenomena of repression have influenced my life and way of thinking,” she says. “But I came to different conclusions than Freud when I could no longer deny what I learned from my patients about the repression of child abuse.””

Alice Miller clearly has respect for the opinions of non-professionals, but even worse (from a professional viewpoint) she has respect for the opinions of the people who have come to her for help. How she ended up being not just unprofessional but also nice to people who put her in a position of power over themselves is anyone’s guess. Most people in empire culture will automatically exploit any power imbalance as an opportunity to act out their own trauma and actually listening to ‘weaklings’ is most definitely not part of that scenario .

As a footnote; I was reading this passage of the Alice Miller article:

“It wasn’t until I wrote my books that I found out just how hostile society was toward children,” she says. “I have come to realize that hostility toward children is to be found in countless forms, not only in death camps but throughout all levels of society and in every intellectual discipline — even in most schools of therapy.”

I could hear my 3 year old daughter doing something in the other room to make our 1 year old cry. I immediately felt my anger rise as it always does in this situation – the chance to ‘protect’ one child is of course the prefect opportunity to vent anger toward the other one and although I can usually stop myself acting out this stuff I certainly can’t stop the feelings appearing as if by magic from the depths of my subconscious. I’m pleased to say that this time I didn’t attempt to solve the problem by venting my anger.

As always the work of changing the world to be a better place turns back inward to our children and then ultimately to ourselves. It’s hard work, but I have to focus on making myself a better place too otherwise my attempts to make the world a better place will be nothing other than a hypocritical exercise in displacement – and very probably misguided as well.


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