UNITED STATES: Psychiatry: Is President Bush insane?

Nushin Namasi, who supported President Bush, rejects the use of psychiatry to criticize his mental condition:  We as a society cannot tolerate the use of psychiatric evaluation to punish those whose only transgression may be a dissenting opinion, nonconformity or bucking the system. According to Wiggins and Schwartz in their lecture {5] at the University of Zurich upon receiving the 1998 Dr. Margrit Egner-Stiftung prize, psychiatry is in a crisis because its conceptions of mental illness and patients are too restricted and abstract:  To wit: 

Psychiatry is in a crisis because it “lacks a conception of healthy mental life; i.e. it lacks an understanding of psychological normalcy. As a result, most aspects of patients’ lives are perceived in pathological terms.”[6] Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association, also concurs. According to Seligman, research in psychology/psychiatry has focused primarily on the negative mental effects of isolation, trauma, abuse, physical illness and other experiences and the concentration on the negative often blinds the researcher to the many instances of growth, mastery, drive and insight that developed out of “undesirable, painful life events.”[7] Thus, during his term as president of the APA, he called for seeing beyond the remedial and becoming a positive force for understanding and promoting the highest qualities of civic and personal life, exploring what made human life most worth living, most fulfilling, and most enjoyable and most productive. Bandura, too, argued that “the field of psychology is plagued by a chronic condition of negativity regarding human development and functioning. We are more heavily investing in intricate theories of failure than in theories of success.”[8]

Psychiatry is in a crisis because “psychiatry lacks adequate conceptions of the many disorders of which it speaks. It has forsaken all serious attempts to understand the patient’s experiences, deeming any such attempt unscientific. As a result it has reduced mental disorders to a list of observable symptoms.”[9]

Psychiatry is in a crisis because it “lacks therapies appropriate for mental disorders due to this lack of conception. Thus treatment procedures have become simplistic and reductionistic; therapies are now primarily pharmacological and behavioristic.”[10]

The danger of a psychiatry in crisis where the understanding of a patient is insufficient to distinguish between mental illness and mental health means classifying and treating perfectly normal people as mentally ill.[11] In the words of Wiggins and Schwartz:

 “Currently, in the United States, there is no adequate conception of mental health. By default, then, mental health comes to mean social conformity. For children this means conformity to the expectations of parents, teachers, school counselors and other adult authority figures. Mental health in adults means conformity to society’s expectations.

There exist large numbers of mental health experts or professionals-social workers, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and so on-who are prepared to misdiagnose nonconformity as a mental disorder. Such misdiagnoses occur readily when the only categories that mental health professionals possess are categories of pathology, and when the criteria for mental pathology are as simplistic and reductionistic as they are today.

The social and political forces at work in America today remain, of course, very far from those in Hitler’s Germany or Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. But from our vantage point, the condition of psychiatry in the United States today is not that far from what it was in those countries. The crisis we have described entails psychiatry’s lack of any firm grounding in a humanitarian and ethical understanding of the people it treats. Without this understanding, psychiatry could easily become the pawn of a variety of external forces…”[12]

In this case, George W. Bush is a nonconformist. When the United Nations voted against invading Iraq, they expected Bush to conform to their single-minded dictate and line of thinking, just as had all the other previous American Presidents.

RH: While I do not take sides in this professional argument, it seems clear that we must prevent people like Hitler from gaining power. The mental health of a national leader is more important than his physical health. Since Bush won the elections, it is hard to describe him as a nonconformist.  Hitler won an election too, so is he a nonconformist?  There is a difference. Bush maintained the old system, while Hitler overthrew it. Can any Germany specialist tell us if, from Hitler's speeches before the election, Germans knew what they were getting into?

[5] Osborne P. Wiggins, Ph.D. and Michael Alan Schwartz, M.D., “The Crisis of Present-Day Psychiatry: The Loss of the Personal.”
[6] Ditto
[7] Seligman, Martin E.P. “Positive Social Science” (President’s Column), APA Monitor, 2, April 1998
[8] Bandura, A. “Saying No to Negativity” (1999).
[9] See Wiggins and Schwartz
[10] Ditto
[11] Ditto
[12] Ditto
[13] Tedeschi R.G and Calhoun L.G. Trauma and Transformation: Growing in the Aftermath of Suffering. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (1995). Furthermore, investigators have found that personal growth might follow events such as death of a loved one (Nerken, 1993), life crisis (Hager, 1992) or a period of “psychological disequilibrium” (Mahoney, 1982). In Mahoney’s model, following disequilibrium, there could be a return to the status quo (no change) or restructuring occurred. Restructuring leads to a new synthesis. In Hager’s model, an individual coping with an issue first entered a period of chaos and disorganization. This disruption functioned as a gestational period that allowed the person to formulate a new construction of reality. More recently, researchers have written about people able to exceed previous levels of functioning following traumatic events. This ability has been termed “thriving” (O’Leary & Ickovics, 1995), “transformational coping” (Aldwin, 1994), “quantum change” (Miller & C’deBaca, 1994), and “posttraumatic growth” (PTG) (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995).

Nushin Namazi quoted Osborne P. Wiggins,  and Michael Alan Schwartz,  “The Crisis of Present-Day Psychiatry: The Loss of the Personal”, the address they gave at the University of Zurich upon receiving the 1998 Dr. Margrit Egner-Stiftung prize, to stress the danger of using psychiatry to evaluate the mental health of leaders like President Bush. Miles Seeley disagrees: I look forward to a qualified American psychiatrist and WAIS member dissecting the allegations of  Wigman et al. I am not professionally qualified to do so. However,  my years of experience at Menninger, my close friendships with perhaps 100 psychiatrists and psychologists, and my experience sitting in on treatment sessions with international patients, gives me the right to dispute their characterization of how American mental health professionals think and how they treat patients. For example, to say that they have "forsaken all serious attempts to understand the patients' experiences" is sheer nonsense. That is precisely what psychiatrists do. I could go on and on, but I will leave the rest to the pros.

RH: Wiggins and Schwartz clearly represent one side of a professional argument about which I know nothing.

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on:   http://wais.stanford.edu Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: December 5, 2004