The science of the mind.

Author:Lemay, Raymond
Position::Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

It was good to read Paul C. Vitz's article about "psychology in recovery" (March 2005). Important things are going on today in psychology, and the positive psychology movement is a breath of flesh air.

I do take exception, however, to a few of Dr. Vitz's arguments. Are neurosciences really the "hard" sciences Dr. Vitz makes them out to be? From a purely organic point of view, and using the current computer metaphor, scientists do not understand memory, cognition, or the mind. Though the brain might be "harder" than the mind, does Dr. Vitz suggest that the probing and prodding of something tangible like the brain is somehow an improvement?

Dr. Vitz makes another curious assertion when he says the discipline of psychology has become more modest because of the new successes of psychiatry and the biological sciences. He bases this argument on the fact that "today people suffering from depression, obsessions, and many other psychological problems take medication, which tends to be more effective, immediate, and cheaper than long-term therapy."

Such an argument, however, is clearly not based on the facts, at least as one might gauge them from recent medical journals. There is the ongoing controversy about the effectiveness of medications when compared to active placebos. Moreover, many forms of psychosocial therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, have been found in many cases to be as, or more, effective than pharmacological therapies.

And then there are all those nasty side effects. If anything, the true effectiveness of biopsychiatry has been in convincing us that we should take seriously and invest billions in what amounts to a very dubious program.

What is more worrying, though, is the disease-mongering encroachment of biopsychiatry into the realm of problems of living. Pharmaceutical companies and biopsychiatry have been attempting to seduce us with the notion that there is a magic pill for whatever ails the human body or mind. The modest effectiveness and the harmful side effects of most of these "lifestyle medications" leave little doubt that such a strategy will be deleterious to individuals. And the social costs to civil society will also be immense, as more and more problems of living are interpreted as being "caused" by genetic, organic, chemical, or physiological dysfunctions--rather than by the loss of self-discipline and the virtues rediscovered by positive psychology. The victim mentality, which seems to be one of the...

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