Let me first state, as clearly as I am able: I am not against the use of psychiatric medications in the treatment of psychological disorders. I’ve seen countless individuals benefit from this approach. Whenever I say this, my thoughts turn to a young boy whom I worked with at a residential treatment center. He was about 11 at the time and when he was admitted to the center he was so scattered, unfocused and distracted that, literally, he was often unable to finish a sentence. Having a conversation with the guy was nearly impossible. Due in part to hs inattentiveness, his behavior was also deplorable. However, about 2-3 weeks later, after some careful medication management he had morphed into a pleasant, coherent, young man who, although still distracted at times and aggressive and defiant at others, was a greatly more pleasant person to be around and caused less trouble. (Some may be quick to point out words such as ‘zombification’ and phrases such as ‘societal control’; quick to point out the idea that a populace who is calm, quiet and subdued is one who is more easily controllable by the powers that be. I would be one of those persons to point this out but I’ll save my conspiracy theories for another forum).
I’ve also seen the other side of medication. The stomach aches, dry mouth, headaches, tremors, heart palpitations, abuse, overdose, addiction, cost, bouts of suicidal ideation (yes, let’s remember that some medications can actively contribute to suicidal gestures) and for many folks, trial after trial of medication on top of medication that simply does not work. While I have my ideas about how medications are largely a product of corporate doings and produced solely for profit and power rather than the betterment of mankind this is not the argument put forth here…well, at least not the only argument. My main concern lies in reductionism. Medication based therapy assumes a “sum of parts” model of human existence. Inherent in a medication based approach to mental health is the (although a laypersons term) “chemical imbalance” theory which states, basically, “human behaviors and emotions are nothing more than the complex interaction of chemicals in the brain”. Psychopathology then, is the result of an imbalance of these chemicals. I acknowledge that I am not a physician and I have only a mild understanding of brain physiology but this idea causes my personal chemicals to feel a little unbalanced themselves. This theory assumes that the love I have for my wife, the deep emotional encounters I’ve had with clients in the therapy room, the depth of my appreciation for music can be quantified, explained and reduced to gammapropylene 24 combined with 2 parts phenyltriptamine (those are made up chemicals by the way…I may have accidentally stumbled upon the chemical compound of the McRib!)
While I can’t say that I have all the answers, I can strongly state belief that the human condition is much more than this. I don’t know how much more and I don’t know why, but I know and believe that I am more than just a sum of parts. Enough bricks, arranged in the proper manner will make a house. But only a human interpretation and a more powerful and deeper experiencing of this conglomeration of bricks will make the house a home and I don’t believe chemical combinations can accurately encompass this. The problem of medication is that it assumes the power of reducing human beings to a quantitative state of chemicals and interactions. This, then, also robs us of our place as uniquely transcendent, destroys the idea of free will and renders us machine like automatons, ripe for manipulation. The problem of medication is that it reduces us and ,therefore, robs us of the power to be human.
Recommended reading: The Meaning of Anixety- Rollo May