I admire Jeffrey Schaler, a psychologist and a devout Szaszian, because I’m in agreement with many of Szasz’s views about mental illness in general.

But I disagree with the premise of his blog entry about Tom Cruise’s antics criticizing psychiatry and his dismissal of Scientology’s influence on Cruise’s carefully scripted public comments.

But so much of this is semantics. Does Schaler’s argument make as much sense if you use the much more widely-accepted term, “disorder” for these conditions, rather than the medical term, “disease”? Most of the professionals I know and have worked with in the field recognize mental disorders are not the same as medical diseases, and also recognize that we’re at the infancy of understanding them. (It’s often other, third parties that simplify these concepts to a point of blurring the lines between them, not the professionals who treat people.)

Disorder means, literally, lack of order. Order means normalness, a sense of routine or a sense of peace of being. Of being ordered within oneself, within one’s life. “Ordered” can take on so many meanings here, but generall, those who have a “disorder” are people who recognize something is terribly wrong with their lives and they are seeking help to put things back into place, back into order. Disorder is the term more generally used to describe depression, anxiety, panic, ADHD, etc. And it seems entirely appropriate.

But back to Schaler’s argument — that Cruise is right. Cruise is not right when he criticizes an entire field based upon only a loose understanding of the terminology involved. They say that the way a person defines an argument is as important as the argument itself (Logic 101). So if one defines the argument as “Mental disease isn’t a ‘true’ disease like cancer or Parkinson’s, therefore anyone trying to treat this ‘disease’ is flawed in their methods and idealogy of treatment,” one walks away saying, “Yes, you’re right! By darn it, what’s psychiatry treating anyway??! There’s no ‘depression tumor’!”

However, if you broaden the argument to be more representative of the general field of knowledge of human behavior and human disorder, defining the terms as “disorder” and treatment as including the wide range of treatments used and available for mental disorders–ranging from medications, individual psychotherapy, group therapy, support groups, psychoeducation, bibliotherapy, play therapy, biofeedback, EMDR, etc.–suddenly, the original argument looks a little silly.

There is a century’s worth of research to back up these things too. It’s not like research and science into human behavior started a decade ago. It started back in the late 1800’s! And while our understanding of human behavior has advanced significantly since that time, most scientists will openly admit our understanding of the mind is minimal compared to our understanding of nearly every other human organ. I’m not a big advocate of psychiatric drugs, but I also don’t go around telling people they are not the answer to their problems. That’s not my responsibility to do so, and for most people who take them, they seem to feel better for doing so. How can science argue with someone feeling better about themselves? How can Cruise? How can Schaler?? Should we deny people these treatments because some are philosophically opposed to them?

Cruise makes no sense in his criticisms, and Schaler’s defense of his comments, from a Szaszian perspective, parrot this nonsensical nature. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at psychiatry, psychology, and the broad field in general (and professionals and researchers have been making a lot of them for decades). But here’s a snippet of what Cruise was claiming:

Tom Cruise: Well, look at the history. Jung was an editor for the Nazi papers during World War II. [According to Aryeh Maidenbaum, the director of the New York Center for Jungian Studies, this is not true.] Look at the experimentation the Nazis did with electric shock and drugging. Look at the drug methadone. That was originally called Adolophine. It was named after Adolf Hitler. . . [According to the Dictionary of Drugs and Medications, among other sources, this is an urban legend.] (Courtesy of The Blogora)

As you can see, Cruise includes in his criticisms half-truths about psychiatry and psychology’s history, to distort the facts. Cruise wants us to believe that his opinion on medical research should be held to the same standard as a medical doctor or PhD researcher who actually understands how to objectively evaluate and compare research findings. But he has no credentials in this area, and so his comments, while entertaining, certainly shouldn’t be given any more weight than anybody else’s.

The gist of the argument to me and to most others I know is this. People experience problems in their lives. Some people refer to these problems as “disorders.” There are many effective, scientifically-proven methods for treating these disorders. Some of those methods include medications. In most cases, people are helped by the medications and feel better after taking them. They also feel more capable of dealing with the problems in their lives. Hopefully most people stop taking the medications when the problems in their lives are satisfactorily resolved. And that’s it. No judgments, no pronouncements from on high. That’s what people deal with in their daily lives.