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Welcome to my blog, a place to explore and learn about the experience of running a psychiatric practice. I post about things that I find useful to know or think about. So, enjoy, and let me know what you think.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Shrinks" Review-Introduction

Jeffery Lieberman's, Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry, has been in the air lately.  There was a piece in the NY Times that claimed Lieberman claims there is no evidence for the effectiveness of psychoanalysis, and in response to that, I wrote a post about some of the supposedly non-existent evidence (Analytic Evidence).

In a series of tweets in reference to my post, @1boringyoungman asked if any groups had commented on "Shrinks". For my own unconscious, narcissistic reasons (more evidence), I read this as something like, Has Dr. Lieberman commented on my post?, to which I responded, "Not to my knowledge."

In turn, @MichaelBDonner tweeted, "Hard to comment without seeming defensive. He doesn't like psychoanalysis." To which @Drjlieberman eventually replied, "Not true."

MBD: What's not true? You do like psychoanalysis?

JAL: Yes.

MBD: You like psychoanalysis. Good to know. Didn't come across to me. I stand corrected. My apologies.


After this exchange, I decided I wanted to read the book. But I didn't want to buy it, because I didn't feel like contributing to Lieberman's income. I tried the NY Public Library, but there were like 30 holds ahead of me (also my card has apparently expired and I have to go to a branch to renew it, which I'm too lazy to do because I don't know where I put the card, since I usually just use their app to check out books).

So I bought it. The $14.99 Kindle version, as opposed to the $21.17 hardcover version.

My plan was to read it in its entirety and then write a review, but I'm finding it hard to get through. It's engaging enough as a read, I'll give it that. But the tone is quite disparaging. I'm trying to keep an open mind while I read it. Maybe he has some valid points to make. Research in psychoanalysis is notoriously complicated and controversial, since it's innately a non-manualized treatment, and it goes on for such a long time, and it's so dependent on the particular dyad, and much of the research doesn't correspond with the kind of controlled studies we're used to seeing for drugs or short-term, manualized treatments. So maybe I can learn something.

But the tone is kind of like, "This is what those silly, misguided shrinks think, but of course, we know better, wink, wink." The thing is, thus far, and I'm about a quarter of the way through, he hasn't explained what's wrong with what those silly, misguided shrinks think, or why we know better. He just states it as fact.

But along with prescient insights, Freud's theories were also full of missteps, oversights, and outright howlers. We shake our heads now at his conviction that young boys want to marry their mothers and kill their fathers, while a girl's natural sexual development drives her to want a penis of her own. As Justice Louis Brandeis so aptly declared, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant," and it seems likely that many of Freud's less credible conjectures would have been scrubbed away by the punctilious process of scientific inquiry if they had been treated as testable hypotheses rather than papal edicts.

The next paragraph goes on to describe the way Freud would megalomaniacally discredit anyone who didn't agree with him, which is true, to the best of my knowledge, but doesn't it sidestep the question of why oedipal theory constitutes a misstep, oversight, or howler? Are readers just supposed to accept that this is so, without an explanation of what's wrong with it? Papal edict, indeed.

The only "evidence" Dr. Lieberman has supplied for why analysis is no good is in descriptions of incidents like Wilhelm Reich's Orgone Accumulator. Somehow, this ridiculous idea of Reich's discredits all of psychoanalysis.

Another problem. The book describes the history of psychoanalysis. I'm not a historian. In fact, I'm kind of the opposite of a historian. If it didn't happen in 1492 or 1776, I don't know anything about it. So I'm willing to assume that this history is accurate. But Lieberman treats the history as though that's all there is to know about analysis. It's analogous to saying, "I've studied the history of Bellevue Hospital, so I know everything there is to know about the care of psychiatric inpatients."

Sure, it's fun to read about what a jerk Freud was, and who he kicked out of his circle when, but that doesn't tell you anything about the practice of psychoanalysis.

Lieberman makes a point of describing the way he cured a patient of his conversion disorder with an Amytal interview. Nice work, Dr. L, but do you think that means you conducted an analysis with the patient? Or do you think that means analysis is useless, since conversion disorders were what Freud initially treated, and they may respond to medication? And does that, in turn, imply that you think today's analysands all sought out psychoanalysis as a treatment for their conversion disorders? Or that conversion disorders are all that can be or should be or are treated by an analysis?

To me it seems like the book is intended to escort the lay reader into the sacred halls of neuropsychiatry and biomarkers, to convince the unwary reader that any psychiatric treatment that doesn't involve medication, or lasts longer than 30 sessions, is bogus. And that the true psychiatry, the kind that Lieberman practices, is scientifically valid and effective. Just like the rest of medicine. That's his agenda, I get it, but I think he's misleading.

And speaking of misleading. I saw the following image in the April 17th edition of Psychiatric News:


There's Dr. Lieberman in his white coat, like all psychiatrists wear, getting ready to lead a discussion on May 18th at the APA meeting, on psychiatry's past, present, and future. And there's his book, Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD.

That's funny, because the book cover on Amazon, and the one on my Kindle, looks like this:



Same title, same author, but look! Who's Ogi Ogas? I googled him, and it turns out he's not a Dr. Seuss character. He's a computational neuroscientist, science book author, and game show contestant. Dr. Ogas won half a million dollars in 2006 on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

He co-authored, A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire, which was published in 2011. One description stated:

The researchers wrote a computer program to capture sexual queries in publicly listed catalogs of Web searches. They later categorized the searches and did some number crunching. They estimate that their research reflects the online behavior of 100 million people.

Does any of this disqualify Ogi Ogas as a co-author or whatever he was of Shrinks? No, of course not. But why did JL chose him? Surely there must have been someone better suited.

And finally, the hubris. Lieberman offers a comment about the misguided patient who sought out Wilhelm Reich's care:



You use the word, "confidently", you throw in a couple of science-y sounding brain structures, you mention medication by its class, and CBT, the acceptable therapy, and what do you get? Optimistic, normal, symptoms controlled.

That was easy!

And this pretty much says it all:



I really hope the book starts to redeem itself at some point, and I'm not just out $14.99.



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