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Book Review: The Creation of Psychopharmacology By David Healy

Summary:
A historical look at the emergence and development of psychopharmacology (psychiatric drugs) from the earliest time of psychiatry to the end of the 20th century.  Particular attention is paid to the impact psychiatric societies, economic systems, cultures, and drug companies have had on psychopharmacology.  Psychiatric drugs explored in-depth include chlorpromazine and SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors aka antidepressants).

Review:
I was quite excited to learn about the topic of this book, as psychopharmacology is one of the key aspects of psychiatric treatment.  It is therefore unfortunate that the author, Healy, allows his own biases to get in the way of presenting factual information.

The first portion of the book that discusses asylums and the original drugs discovered by scientists to work on psychoses does present the facts in an unbiased manner.  Unfortunately, Healy could not possibly write in a much more boring manner.  I have never in my life read a text that is so stale, and I do read scientific nonfiction for work on a fairly steady basis, so this is not a bias of my own against scientific writing.  The man just drones on and on.

The larger problem  arises in the second half of the book when Healy arrives in the 20th century.  Healy’s obvious anti-drug and anti-psychiatry bias emerges.  He flat-out gets facts wrong and displays paranoia, ranging from the typical conspiracy theory that the mental health community is in league with the drug companies to the more extreme idea that depression shouldn’t be treated because then there would be no more art or spirituality.  He also claims that personality disorders should not be treated, comparing such treatment to cosmetic surgery.  This claim is offensive and harmful to people who wish to become higher functioning, happier individuals.

Healy goes on to offer predictions as to the direction psychology and psychiatry will take in the 21st century.  Now that we are a decade in to that century, I can definitively tell you his predictions are wrong.  He argues that an increasing number of drugs will be used to remove most individuality and that therapy will continue to fall by the wayside.  In fact, the first decade of the 21st century saw a new movement toward CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), which are all about helping an individual change their harmful behaviors, thoughts, and tendencies purely through therapeutic techniques.  Healy is attempting to fear-monger his readers into believing psychiatry and psychology wish to drug us all up, when in fact the mental health community wants to use what works best in each situation.  Contrary to his claims, there are in fact biological bases for some mental health issues.

Although his facts are accurate in the earlier history of psychopharmacology, the second half of the book presents false facts and harmful ideas.  Due to this fact, I cannot recommend this book.  For an educated look at mental health and drugs, take a look at the DSMIV and the PDR.

1 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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