When is ‘Normal’ a pathology?

23rd April, 2012 by Jon Chapman

The continuing story of the medicalisation of ‘normal’ experiences…

An article in this month’s edition of ‘Therapy Today’ examines the intense debate surrounding the latest proposed revision of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It;s thinking has already started to influence practice in the UK.

The implications of the revision seem to be that physical or biological causation is no longer necessary for a psychiatric diagnosis – so that what are generally accepted to be normal (if distressing) human experiences, such as symptoms of grief in the months immediately following a bereavement – are now categorised as a treatable psychiatric condition. This in turn allows the psychiatrist to prescribe medication, when some form of therapy or other support may be equally if not more effective. Equally disturning is the growing trend to prescribe to children for a growing range of ‘disorders’ such as ‘oppositional defiant disorder’ – symptoms for which would seem to fit nearly every teenager in the country at some time in their adolescence.

To some this is nothing less than an ideological battle centred on the medicalisation of everyday experiences. ‘You can’t be sad any more; you have to be depressed. You can’t be shy any more; you have to have social anxiety disorder……psychiatry and therapists have jumped on the bandwagon because it creates more ‘patients’ for them to treat, and so we make money out of people’s distress.’ (Pete Sanders, trustee of Soteria Network).



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