Friday, July 22, 2005

Rebecca Hartong on Schaler

----- Original Message -----
From: "Rebecca Hartong"
Sent: Friday, July 22, 2005 5:20 PM
Subject: Comment for Szasz Blog

In regard to the 7/22/05 post "Questioning Mental Illness" --
I listened to the Lehrer show interview and found it interesting. I'm
curious how Dr. Schaler explains something like autism. Brain disease?
(Are there diagnostic laboratory tests that can be performed to detect
autism?) Or is it a freely chosen behavior?

Rebecca Hartong


Dear Ms. Hartong:

Look in a standard textbook of pathology and see if autism is listed there.
If it is not listed, ask a pathologist why it is not included. If it is
included, then autism refers to a disease. There are specific physical
signs that meet the nosological criteria for disease classification. I
would be surprised if these are well defined and predict the label of

All behavior is freely chosen, there is no such thing as involuntary
behavior. Behavior means mode of conduct; deportment. A seizure, for
example, is not considered behavior. It is a neurological reflex. Autism
is generally regarded as a developmental disorder, not a mental illness or a
disease. Children labeled autistic have difficulties learning certain
cognitive tasks; they generally do not display the kind of psychological,
emotional, and social competence necessary for self-sufficience, autonomy.
Do they do things they want to do? Of course. Does their behavior seem
irrational, self destructive, etc. at times? Certainly. Can behavior be a
disease? Never. Diseases are only of the body. This said, I am no
specialist on what is labeled autism.

Thanks for writing.

Jeff Schaler

Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.
Department of Justice, Law and Society
School of Public Affairs
American University
4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20016-8043 USA
Office telephone 202.885.3667, cell phone 240.460.0987
E-mail: Home page:

Questioning Mental Illness

The Brian Lehrer Show

Questioning Mental Illness
Friday, July 22, 2005
Listen to it

Decades ago, psychiatrist Thomas Szasz shocked the mental health establishment by suggesting that mental illness is a myth devised to stigmatize individuals for their unacceptable behavior. Despite the advent of Prozac and Zoloft, the idea still has its supporters.

Oregon Mulls Prescriptions for Cold Medicines

A followup to my earlier post on pseudoephedrines: Oregon, the bastion of freedom known as state-supported suicide, is considering making decongestants prescription-only.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Sex on the brain

Sex on the brain
by Mark Pilkington
Thursday July 14, 2005
The Guardian (UK)
Under the auspices of Utah's Lighted Candle Society (LCS), [Judith] Reisman and Victor Cline, a clinical psychologist at the University of Utah, began raising money from American conservative and religious organisations. They hope to raise at least $3m to conduct MRI scans on victims under the influence of porn and so prove their theories correct. They foresee two possible outcomes: if they can demonstrate that porn physically "damages " the brain, that might open the floodgates for "big tobacco"-style lawsuits against porn publishers and distributors; second, and more insidiously, if porn can be shown to "subvert cognition " and affect the parts of the brain involved in reasoning and speech, then "these toxic media should be legally outlawed, as is all other toxic waste, and eliminated from our societal structure ".

What's more, people whose brains have been rotted by pornography are no longer expressing "free speech " and, for their own good, shouldn't be protected under the First Amendment.

Brian's Blog
The Official Blog of The Brian Lehrer Show

July 21, 2005

Cruise Correct?

Decades ago, psychiatrist Thomas Szasz (that's "SAHZ", it's Hungarian) proposed the crazy idea that the concept of mental illness is bunk. Unlike, say, cancer, it's difficult to definitively diagnose or prove a mental problem. What's more, the idea of mental illness has been used in the past to stigmatize and punish individuals whose behavior is frowned upon, like homosexuals.

But is America ready to dump the insanity plea?

And what would happen if everyone just went off Prozac and Zoloft?

Could Tom Cruise really be right? (Szasz did work with the Scientologists' Citizens' Commission on Human Rights).

Tune in tomorrow to hear Jeffrey Schaler, a Szasz disciple and the proprietor of the szaszblog.

In the meantime, send us your questions, suggestions, rants, and raves!

Posted by leboheme at 04:51 PM

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Szasz, Cruise, and Schaler: Stop Making Sense
by John Grohol

Szasz, Cruise, and Schaler: Stop Making Sense

by John Grohol

Psych Central
Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I admire Jeffrey Schaler, a psychologist and a devout Szaszian, because I’m in agreement with many of Szasz’s views about mental illness in general.

But I disagree with the premise of his blog entry about Tom Cruise’s antics criticizing psychiatry and his dismissal of Scientology’s influence on Cruise’s carefully scripted public comments.

But so much of this is semantics. Does Schaler’s argument make as much sense if you use the much more widely-accepted term, “disorder” for these conditions, rather than the medical term, “disease”? Most of the professionals I know and have worked with in the field recognize mental disorders are not the same as medical diseases, and also recognize that we’re at the infancy of understanding them. (It’s often other, third parties that simplify these concepts to a point of blurring the lines between them, not the professionals who treat people.)

. . .


War of the words: Harvard doc KOs Scientology-backed documentary

War of the words: Harvard doc KOs Scientology-backed documentary
By Jessica Heslam
Tuesday, July 19, 2005 - Updated: 07:30 AM EST

He won actress Katie Holmes' heart and lured millions of Americans to this summer's blockbuster ``War of the Worlds,'' but not everyone is eager to jump on the Tom Cruise bandwagon.

A Harvard doctor turned down an offer from filmmakers after learning the Hollywood A-lister's religious group - the Church of Scientology - was behind it.

Founded by the Church of Scientology and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, the Citizens' Commission on Human Rights is producing a series of documentaries on the mental health system - with a focus on human rights abuses.

The group recently contacted Dr. John Abramson for an interview. Abramson, a Harvard Medical School clinical professor, penned ``Overdosed America,'' a book that criticizes the drug industry.

But Abramson declined the offer when he learned the church's stance on psychiatric drugs. The short documentaries will be part of a Los Angeles exhibit and distributed for educational purposes. A longer documentary is also in the works.

``I have nothing against Tom Cruise. It's the absolute position against the drugs that I don't want to be associated with,'' said Abramson, who said some people can benefit from drugs.

And the Harvard doctor turned down the offer in the weeks before ``TomKate'' and a series of public rants by the Scientology-obsessed Cruise.

Cruise has blasted actress Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants to treat her post-partum depression and got into a tense beef about psychiatry on the ``Today'' show with Matt Lauer. The 41-year-old Cruise has said he overcame dyslexia through Scientology. He became a Scientologist after the release of ``Top Gun'' in 1986.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Brian Lehrer will explore "decades long influence of Thomas Szasz"

Perhaps someone can offer more detail, but I was greeted this morning by a promo for WNYC radio's Brian Lehrer show that promises a discussion about Thomas Szasz this coming Friday. The show airs live at 10 am (EDT). It is available via a live Internet broadcast, and is also archived as a Podcast. Click on the title of this post for links.

If you don't yet listen to Podcasts, probably the easiest way to locate, download, listen to, and archive them is with iTunes, which can be downloaded free. (Podcasts are recordings in the MP3 format. iTunes is available for both PCs and Macs.)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Thinktank: "Pleasure Drugs" to boom

Mind-altering drugs could be as common as coffee within a couple of decades, to boost performance at school and at work, to "unlearn" addiction, and to erase memories of distressing events such as a terrorist attack, according to a government think-tank.


Sir David King, the Prime Minister's chief scientific adviser, who led the think-tank, said: "We are on the verge of developments that could possibly move us into a world where we could take a drug to help us think faster, relax, sleep more efficiently or even subtly alter our mood to match that of our friends."


One problem raised by the report is that the pharmaceutical industry might change its focus from drugs that treat mental health to cognitive enhancers, "mental cosmetics" and treatments for addiction. "The pharmaceutical industry may not make new medicines for mental health conditions," he said.

Full Story

Foresight Report

Kessler on Cruise

July 10, 2005
Cf. Cruising Szasz

My esteem for Tom Cruise has gone up sever notches because of his interest in Szasz's writings. Since he's a powerful voice in Hollywood, he can write out psychiatric mendacity from his movie scripts or at least demonstrate psychiatric quackery with the story line should the opportunity arise - I think the movie "Rain Man" may have been a recipient of Cruisian influence - how? One, by showing that Raymond (Hoffman's character) had reasons for why he did what he did and why he say didn't want to fly - he knew the safety record of every single airline. Two (at least it was obvious to me), at the end of the movie, Raymond was asked to make a choice between the assylum where he stayed which he had made his home and had all the things he enjoyed and going with his younger brother. What he did (his
solution to the dilemma) could have been interpreted two ways. The conventional way of interpreting his "autistic" silence was that he was not ready to go into the real world and cope with the pressures he would encounter - that is the way I believe most people viewed Raymond - Tom Cruise's character was playing a conventional person - not a Szaszian - and believed Raymond was best left at the assylum. The way I interpreted it was much more subtle - Raymond actually loved both his brother and the assylum - he really didn't want to offend either by making a choice - he knew if he made a choice it would also be upsetting to himself as well - he just didn't want the pressure. So he allowed the choice to be made for him, avoiding the dilemma and making both satisfied that the best choice was made. This was perfect to me - I used the approach that behavior has reasons. I wonder if the director and Cruise (as well as Hoffman) knew that they knew.

Martin Kessler

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Prominent Psychologist Faces Whippits Charges

A prominent psychologist who specializes in eating disorders faces criminal charges after she inhaled propellant from whipped cream cans and collapsed on a supermarket floor in May, police say.

Full Story

Considering she thinks dieting is ineffective at weight loss, and wants "Truth in dieting" laws passed, isn't this just a stunt to get "harmful" products removed from store shelves? All she'll get is a slap on the wrist, but she hopes the publicity will lead to bans on products containing N2O.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Hear Music When No One’s There? You’re Hallucinating

“Seven years ago Reginald King was lying in a hospital bed recovering from bypass surgery when he first heard the music. …Each day, the music returns. …Last year, Mr. King was referred to Dr. Victor Aziz, a psychiatrist at St. Cadoc's Hospital in Wales. Dr. Aziz explained to him that there was a name for his experience: musical hallucinations. …There is no standard procedure for treating musical hallucinations. Some doctors try antipsychotic drugs….” (New York Times)

Another part of living medicalized. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a hallunication is the "Perception of visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or gustatory experiences without an external stimulus and with a compelling sense of their reality, usually resulting from a mental disorder or as a response to a drug."

See: ”Mental Illness: Psychiatry’s Phlogiston” by Thomas Szasz

Cross-posted at The Foundation for Economic Education

P.S.: There's a great 1950 Irving Berlin song called "(I Wonder Why) You're Just In Love," which has wonderful lyrics, including (with my commentary):

"I hear singing and there's no one there [auditory hallunication]
I smell blossoms and the trees are bare [olfactory halluncination]....
You don't need analyzin' [Szaszian!]
It is not so surprisin'
That you feel very strange but nice....
You're not sick [Denial]
You're just in love"

Hear the music and read the lyrics here.

Parkinson's drug Mirapex accused of causing gambling addiction

I'm sure you'll all scoff at this one.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Scientists finally find effective schizophrenia treatment


According to researchers at the Yale School of Medicine,

"Cigarette smoking may improve attention and short-–term memory in persons with schizophrenia by stimulating nicotine receptors in the brain, according to a study by Yale School of Medicine researchers in the June issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry.

"Persons with schizophrenia smoke two to three times more than smokers without mental illness, said the researchers. They found that when study subjects with schizophrenia stopped smoking, attention and short-–term memory were more impaired, but, when they started smoking again, their cognitive function improved. No effects from stopping or resuming smoking were observed in smokers without mental illness.

"Participants with and without schizophrenia were then asked to smoke while taking a drug called mecamylamine, which blocks nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the brain, preventing the nicotine from acting on those receptors. Mecamylamine blocked the ability of smoking to improve cognitive deficits in schizophrenia, but not in persons without mental illness. The findings suggest that when people with schizophrenia smoke, they may in part be self-medicating with nicotine to remedy cognitive deficits."

The implications are quite profound. Cigarettes will eventually be available by prescription only to people diagnosed as mentally ill. This will lead to a huge number of previously undiagnosed people eager to qualify as mentally ill so they can obtain cigarettes. This will not be difficult since smoking is itself evidence of mental illness. Libertarians will loudly demand medical tobacco laws. Physicians who prescribe too many cigarettes will land in jail. The Association of American Physicians & Surgeons will expand its Communicate and Cooperate project to include reporting cigarette abusing patients to law enforcement. With exclusive access to the slimming benefit of smoking, schizophrenics will be the only people in America who are not diabetic. Reason magazine will feature a piece by Sally Satel urging mandatory smoking treatment. China will become the major source of illicit tobacco in the U.S., each pack having a street value of $1,500. Massive federal funding will be directed to our Chinese allies in their war to eradicate tobacco crops. The Chinese will be be able to buy our best military armaments, and we will give them logistical support. Cigarettes will be offered as inducement for schizophrenics to join the all volunteer armed forces in their Indonesia campaign. Tobacco will replace meth as the number one drug of abuse in America.

But then I jest, don't I?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Cruising Szasz by Jeffrey A. Schaler

Cruising Szasz
Jeffrey A. Schaler

Actor Tom Cruise created quite a stir on June 25 when he called psychiatry a “pseudoscience,” asserted a chemical basis for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder doesn’t exist, and said that anti-depressant drugs masked problems-in-living. He used the actress Brooke Shields as a case in point, citing her postpartum depression, engendering a fair amount of hostility from those who disagreed with him, including Ms. Shields. The New York Times published her rejoinder on July 1. Cruise was criticized by psychiatric apologists and sycophants as irresponsible and dangerous for speaking his mind – and the truth.

A lot of people seem to have misunderstood what Tom Cruise said. It is not necessarily the case that he’s a Scientology-brainwashed wacko, or that his ideas about psychiatry even came from the Church of Scientology. Cruise learned a lot about psychiatry from the writings of psychiatric abolitionist Thomas Szasz. Throughout the world, Szasz is considered an intellectual heavyweight, someone whose ideas about medicine, disease, science, liberty and responsibility should be taken seriously.

Cruise has read a lot of Szasz’s writings and he admires Szasz a great deal. (See a photograph taken last year of Szasz with his arm around Cruise at His words echo Szaszian ideas. Szasz has upset many psychiatrists over the years because he is a member of the psychiatry and psychoanalysis clubs criticizing its own. In real science this is expected to occur in order to advance scientific knowledge—theories must be falsifiable. In pseudoscience, such criticism is forbidden.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA), responding to Cruise’s comments on NBC’s Today Show, asserts in a press release dated June 27 that “science has proven that mental illnesses are real medical conditions . . . and that it is unfortunate that a small number of individuals and groups persist in questioning its [mental health’s] legitimacy.”

Is this claim by the APA actually true, or is it political rhetoric? Why would the APA be upset with someone who questions its legitimacy, disagrees with its ideas, explanations, and policy recommendations regarding “mental illness?”

Actress Brooke Shields is understandably upset. She responded to Cruise claiming she has a disease caused by changing levels of estrogen and progesterone during and after pregnancy. This disease allegedly kept her from being the “loving parent . . . [she] is today.” It is difficult to argue with someone who uses her own experience to prove that something is scientifically correct. If one shows how she is wrong, one can easily be accused of lacking compassion. Compassion has nothing to do with the truth. Critics of psychiatry are frequently accused of lacking compassion. I fail to see how depriving an innocent person of liberty, forcing a person to take drugs she doesn’t want to take, and shocking her brain with electricity against her will—all done in the name of treating mental illness—are indications of compassion.

What of the substance of Cruise’s arguments? The truth is science has never proven that mental illnesses are “real” medical conditions, anymore than it proved homosexuality is a disease. (Homosexuality was declassified as a disease by the APA in 1973, largely due to the writings of Thomas Szasz.) The truth is standard textbooks on pathology do not list mental illnesses among real diseases like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and syphilis. Why? Because only the body can be sick, not behavior.

Certainly people exhibit irrational, socially unacceptable and abnormal behavior for all sorts of reasons. But it is wrong to call behaviors diseases. Diseases refer to physical lesions, wounds of the body, not behaviors, conduct, or deportment.

In other words, Cruise is right. The truth is there is no evidence to support the idea that anti-depressant drugs cure or restore chemical imbalances, even though they may certainly help people to feel better about themselves. Szasz pointed this out years ago. These drugs influence chemicals in the body, but then everything we do is accompanied by chemical and electrical changes in the body. This is simply not the same as saying the changes in our body make us do this or that. We cannot tell who is depressed by drawing blood, studying fluid balances, or looking at pictures of the structure and function of the brain. There is no such thing as asymptomatic “mental illness”—yet there most certainly is when it comes to real diseases like cancer and heart disease.

Szasz is best known for his insistence that “mental illness” is a metaphor, and that we go astray if we take the metaphor literally. Yet belief in mental illness is not his main target. In Szasz’s view, individuals should be free to devote themselves to any variety of psychiatric belief and practice. What Szasz objects to is forcing people to see (or not see) a psychiatrist, to reside or not reside in a mental hospital, to partake (or not partake) of drugs, and to believe (or not believe) in any specific set of ideas. Cruise, again echoing Szasz, rightly objected to the involuntary administration of psychiatric “treatments.”

One way people try to discredit both Szasz and Cruise is by playing the Scientology-is-a-cult card. Today, it is as fashionable to criticize Scientologists and Scientology as it was to criticize Jews and Judaism in 1930s and 1940s Germany. Scientology is recognized by our federal government as a religion and demands the same respect and tolerance we show any other religion. Instead of asking why Scientology endorses Thomas Szasz’s ideas, we should be asking why other religions do not.

The rule of cults is “thou shalt not disagree.” Break the rule and you break the spell. Cruise broke a rule: Thou shalt not criticize psychiatry. Some say psychiatry is a cult. What is most upsetting to those in the psychiatry cult? That someone who attracts a lot of attention should dare to point out that the emperor called psychiatry has no clothes. That is exactly what Mr. Cruise has done. In so doing, his head sticks out above the crowd, to be sure, speaking truth to power, but largely because he is standing on the shoulders of Thomas Szasz.

[Cf. The enemy of my enemy is my friend at ]

Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D., a psychologist, is a professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs. His latest book is Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics (Open Court, Chicago, 2004). He is the owner and producer of and his website is

Thursday, July 07, 2005



From: "Sergio Ivan Linares" <>

A therapist is a puppet of the State, betraying his patient

He is more than a fool.

Psychiatrists analyzing, using nosology

is a waste of time, for himself, for the patients.

He hides in his own misery of truth-lies. He knows what's the

true. He deceives himself, he is wasting his time and the patients

time. He is the same of a patient is: IRRESPONSIBLE

War of two religious worldviews

The Washington Times
War of two religious worldviews
By Keith Hoeller
Published July 7, 2005

While it's generally best not to get medical information from either Hollywood celebrities or the mainstream media, the recent debate between Tom Cruise and Brooke Shields illuminates two important First Amendment issues: freedom of religion and freedom of the press. For these two actors hew to two very different philosophical and religious views of human nature and the mainstream press has decided to support one view over the other.

While Mr. Cruise believes problems in living are not caused by "mental illnesses" cured by psychiatric drugs, Miss Shields believes the opposite. Unfortunately for Mr. Cruise, Miss Shields' views have in effect become America's state religion, which is widely supported by the mainstream media.

On NBC's "Today" show, Mr. Cruise said he had carefully studied the history of psychiatry, that it is a pseudoscience, that children are being put on psychiatric drugs against their will, without their parents knowing the side-effects, that Ritalin is a drug available on the street, that there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance, and that psychiatric drugs do not cure anything but merely mask the real problems.

All his statements went against the dominant ideology, as espoused by "Today" host Matt Lauer. To get his points across, Mr. Cruise had to interrupt Mr. Lauer, who kept framing the questions within the framework of psychiatry.

After his expression of a heretical view, the mental health movement's high priests promptly went into action. The American Psychiatric Association and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, both heavily funded by drug companies, assured the public Mr. Cruise was wrong and the mentally ill need and benefit from their daily psychiatric drugs.

The New York Times, which routinely publishes opinions favorable to psychiatry, promptly published an op-ed by actress Brooke Shields, who has just published a book blaming her loathing of motherhood on "postpartum depression" and crediting antidepressants with making her a happier mother.

However, neither the APA, nor NAMI, nor Miss Shields offered any credible scientific evidence to support their claims that depressed people have a bona fide chemical imbalance that is cured by antidepressant drugs.

For in fact psychiatrists have yet to conclusively prove any mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance of any kind. They have yet to develop a single physical diagnostic test to prove anyone even has a mental illness. And yet everyday in America people are either forced, coerced or misled to take psychiatric drugs to solve their personal problems.

Many psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, theologians and philosophers of all stripes have been criticizing the shaky scientific status of psychiatry for decades -- long before the Scientologists.

Mr. Cruise came under personal attack from critics who refused to address the issues. Instead of being depressed and taking psychiatric drugs, Mr. Cruise was madly in love without taking any drugs. Worse, he repeatedly expressed his love for Katie Holmes in public. There must be something wrong with him, the media insinuated.

Instead of belonging to a mainstream religion, he belongs to Scientology, which has studied psychiatry extensively. At a time when the Catholic Church has been sending sexually abusive priests to psychiatrists instead of to jail, Scientology may well be the only religion to routinely criticize the use of force and fraud by psychiatrists and the drug companies.

Joining with psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, author of "The Myth of Mental Illness," Scientology founded the Citizens Commission on Human Rights to help Americans who feel their civil rights have been violated by the mental health movement.

Like Red-baiting of the 1950s, when people were silenced just by calling them communists, the mental health movement has gotten good at Scientology-baiting, and the media have jumped on the bandwagon. Reporters or editors often ask me if I am a Scientologist when I express views critical of psychiatry. Other non-Scientology critics report similar experiences.

While we supposedly live in a country where freedom of religion is a fundamental principle, this freedom has often not been extended to minority religions or to nonbelievers.

In a country where mental health has become the exclusive state religion, backed by mental health laws, police powers, forced incarceration and drugging, it would be nice if the free press supported freedom of religion, instead of stifling it.

Keith Hoeller is editor of the Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry, Seattle, Wash. Copyright © 2005 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Cruise's rant under analysis

New York Daily News -

Cruise's rant under analysis
Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

When Tom Cruise railed against psychiatry and antidepressants on the "Today" show, many people wondered if the high-strung actor wasn't in need of a shrink himself.

But the "War of the Worlds" star was really giving voice to widely held suspicions that Freud and his followers are quacks - and that drug companies are concealing important information about their mind-mending products.

Cruise went a step further and criticized actress Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants to treat the postpartum depression she suffered after the birth of her daughter. Cruise also declared there was no credible science to back up most claims of mental illness, an assertion that flies in the face of a century of documented research.

"These questions have been answered" by technology that reveals mental illnesses as diseases, said Dr. Peter Kramer, a psychiatrist and author of "Against Depression."

For Cruise and others who attack psychiatry, therapy and the use of drugs to treat mental illness, their criticisms may disguise an ideological agenda that is not really about medicine at all.
Some have speculated that Cruise has been influenced by Dr. Thomas Szasz, who is associated with libertarianism and believes that mental illness is a myth used to justify state-sponsored social control through medical treatment. Szasz co-founded an advocacy group that is sponsored by the Church of Scientology, a religion Cruise adheres to.

The church's position on mental illness includes striking similarities to that of Szasz. But the Rev. John Carmichael, president of the church's New York branch, insists that its stance is not based on Szasz's writings.

"These attacks tend to have some political or religious agendas thrown in where it's not always clear that the ultimate target really is psychiatry," Kramer said. "There really may be some other, ultimate target."

Cruise's remarks came on the heels of "One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture Is Eroding Self-Reliance," published in April. Co-written by a psychiatrist and a philosopher, both of whom are scholars at the politically conservative American Enterprise Institute, the book argues that an entire industry built on our presumed psychological trauma is threatening the American "character" of stoicism and courage.

The authors, Dr. Sally Satel and Christina Hoff Sommers, diverge from Cruise in that they acknowledge mental illness exists and that therapy and medications are appropriate for some people.

But they wonder what Americans' unquestioning acceptance of therapeutic techniques in classrooms and other nonmedical settings - a phenomenon they call "therapism"- says about how we think of ourselves as human beings. Much of the time, such self-examination turns ordinary human experiences of sadness, anxiety and neurosis into pathology, the women write.
"Psychotherapy has oversold itself as offering salvation," Sommers said.

"This country was forged on the American creed: a combination of self-reliance, problem-solving, personal responsibility, striving for excellence.

"'Therapism' is an alternative life philosophy. It does not emphasize stoicism and reticence and problem-solving. It's about self-absorption, it asserts the essential fragility of human beings," she said. "In a way, what we're seeing is that American society is now somewhat divided: The creed's still alive, but you also find those who are very much trying to replace it with therapism."

Americans may be especially receptive to such arguments at this moment in U.S. history. In the past year, drug companies have faced mounting criticism over their concealment of damaging information about the effects of antidepressants on children, as well as what they knew about the risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack from using arthritis medications.

Those scandals, arising out of a backdrop of multibillion-dollar campaigns to market prescription drugs to consumers in advertisements and the tendency of industry to test its own products, are stirring intense debate within the medical community about how doctors and patients alike should interpret information about these medications.

Critics of the drug industry, while careful not to endorse Cruise's views, said he has nonetheless forced a national conversation about the regulation, marketing and use of the drugs in the United States.

"By raising this question, he has put it on the table," said Dr. John Abramson, a family doctor and author of the book "Overdosing America," which takes the pharmaceutical industry to task for its marketing strategies.

"He has put it on the table in a way that's easily rejectable, but I am sympathetic with Tom Cruise's position because doctors and the public really can't get the accurate information, so the perception that these drugs are supposedly overused is a reasonable one and is a product of the best scientific evidence not being available," Abramson said.

But if Cruise's rant hit an already-sensitive nerve in America, the source of his criticism of the drugs - rooted in his belief in Scientology - is separate from that of consumer watchdogs who are challenging the companies on the basis of their business practices.

That's a distinction the average person won't make when they consider Cruise's position, but it is one that makes all the difference in whether someone will reject the concept of treatment outright or take a more measured view, Kramer said.

In many ways, the "War of the Worlds" actor's comments reflect broader societal battles between faith and reason, Kramer said. In addition to the therapy-prescription drug debate, conflicts are raging over whether to teach children creationism or evolution, as well as over whether abstinence-only education or curricula that discuss a variety of options, including condoms and contraceptives, best reduce rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Which means that observers can't chalk Cruise's stance up to, well, mental illness. Instead, it shows the often uncomfortably close relationship between philosophy or politics and the behavioral sciences.

"I don't think one has to be mentally ill to hold false beliefs," Kramer said. "There's a broad problem in this country regarding science on the one hand and emotion, religion and idiosyncratic beliefs.

"As a culture we don't always give science or medicine primacy and that's problematic. We endanger ourselves."

Ironically, scientists used to be called on to offer opinions about issues of the day, rather than celebrities, Kramer noted.

"Freud and Einstein wrote about matters of war and peace. Here, we have the excess in the opposite direction where you have people with very little scientific background giving opinions about medical and scientific matters," he said.

"Probably we are better off without either," he added.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

SF Outdoor Smoking Ban Hard to Enforce

Lawlessness was rampant Friday on the green green grass of San Francisco.

On the first day of the ban on smoking in public parks, countless smokers were lighting up, inhaling, blowing gray curlicues into the glorious afternoon sunshine and generally flouting society's newest edict.

"You got nothing else to do out here?" said Joe Gallo, a visitor who was celebrating his arrival from Boston an hour earlier with deep draws on a Cohiba cigar in the middle of Union Square.

"I mean, we've killed 100,000 Iraqis, and the president has lied to us, and you're telling me this is the most important thing you have to worry about in San Francisco," Gallo said. "Amazing."


Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who last year wrote the ordinance that is believed to be the most comprehensive outdoor smoking ban in the United States, was getting just a bit fired up herself about the city not living up to its end of the deal.

"Our job is to write the law," she said. "We're not supposed to enforce it. This is frustrating."

"When I (heard) that nothing is being done, I thought 'Wow, that's outrageous,' " she said. "This is the law of the land."

Full Story

Friday, July 01, 2005

Photograph of Thomas Szasz and Tom Cruise, circa 2004

Drug Prohibition Hysteria: Fentanyl Edition

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Drug abusers are increasingly turning to a slow-release form of a powerful painkiller for a quick and dangerous high, University of Florida researchers warn. The trend is raising alarm as the number of people dying from an overdose of the drug fentanyl, an opioid 100 times more potent than morphine, rises.

Addicts are misusing a clear patch that transfers a controlled dose of fentanyl through the skin into the bloodstream over the course of a few days, UF experts say. The adhesive patch is typically prescribed to treat postoperative pain or chronic pain conditions, but in some cases is being misused, often with deadly consequences.


Dr. Albert Ray, medical director of Pain Medicine Solutions in Miami and a past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, said that the UF study brings necessary attention to the importance of physician and patient education regarding addictive disorders.

“There is nothing wrong with the patch, the problem is with addictive disorders,” Ray said. “Any drug has the potential for abuse. This study is useful for raising awareness of the need for educating prescribing physicians on the importance of screening and monitoring their patients for addictive disorders in order to help decrease the abuse of the patch.”

From a University of Florida press release, June 30, 2005

Shock & Awe at Home

Shock & Awe At Home

Sandra Day O'Connor Resigns

Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court and a decisive swing vote for a quarter-century on major legal issues, announced her resignation today effective upon the confirmation of her successor.

Full Story

Decongestants Targeted in Meth Crackdown

Makers of cold medicine are reformulating their products to make it nearly impossible to convert them into illegal methamphetamine in the crude home labs that have sprung up across the USA.

For years, meth addicts have purchased large quantities of over-the-counter decongestants, such as Sudafed, that contain pseudoephedrine. Pseudoephedrine can be cooked with household products into methamphetamine, a highly addictive illegal stimulant.

In response, many states have passed laws that make it more difficult to purchase the medicine. Some now require people who purchase it to show identification and register in a ledger. Others require drugstores to place the medicine behind the pharmacy counter.

Full Article