YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 13, 2012

The “Brain Trust” at UCLA

Blue EagleThe discourse on mental health is troubling, for psychosurgery in the form of lobotomies were deployed for many decades before they were stigmatized.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/29/index-to-lobotomy-blogs/.) Moreover, the notion of psychiatrists or other mental health workers proposing medical interventions in the body, particularly the brain, arouses fears that government surveillance (mind-control and/or mind-management, even psychosurgery on imprisoned black people) are the intended outcomes. Meanwhile, amateurs write self-help books that instruct the unschooled masses with remedies that are wild surmises and/or quackery.

As I have shown, there is a basis for such “paranoid” ideation in ordinary people, for the structural-functionalists (misnamed) in sociology and the burgeoning field of social relations at Harvard and other elite universities did draw upon authoritarian social theory and testing to weed out potential radicals and to direct popular opinion along “progressive” lines, i.e. lines that would support FDR’s New Deal and the welfare state generally. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/12/12/white-rage-black-surrogates/, especially the introductory lines identifying the academic pedigree of Dr. Bertram P. Karon.)

Dr. Karon holds that schizophrenia is not a genetic disease requiring sedating medication, but rather (controversially) proposes that psychoanalytically oriented therapy can provide cure. He stresses the widespread need of people generally to have a willing ear to listen to her or his troubles. Given that health insurers (including Medicare) are reluctant to pay for anything but short term counseling and medication, one wonders if willing friends and relatives are not called upon to listen to those of us with emotional difficulties that are manifested in biological symptoms and general misery. For the willing ear, the key would be in not judging the speaker, and in controlling one’s own emotional responses to loaded material, a feat that few of us are up for, especially in our youth (or in the endless youth that the rhetoric of “family” or the fashion industry promotes: see https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/).

BrainTrust

Yesterday I received a magazine from the UCLA Health System David Geffen School of Medicine, featuring an article by Dan Gordon, “Brain Trust,” a six-page article soliciting support for the Neuropsychiatric Institute as directed by Dr. Peter Whybrow, a celebrity neuroscientist and psychiatrist. The article caught my attention because it represented, as “interdisciplinary” social theory, exactly the same social theory that I had encountered in the UCLA Department of History as I pursued my doctorate. This social theory was “progressive” in that it stressed the “interactions” between genetic inheritance and vaguely defined “environmental” influences.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/.)

But the focus in the essay was obviously to locate “brain disorders” as subject to medical interventions, combining [cognitive behavioral] “therapy,”  molecular biology, MRI scans, genomics, and  pharmaceuticals, while holding out hope for surgery that would cure such ailments as bipolar disease, perhaps even depression, insomnia, obesity, Alzheimer’s and so on.

Here are some representative fuzzy quotes:

“Thomas Strouse, M.D., medical director of the Resnick Hospital, notes that when the NPI first opened its doors, the prevailing theories were that manic depression, severe depression and even schizophrenia were attributable to parental missteps. ‘Now,’ says Dr. Strouse, ‘we tend to understand most major mental illnesses as brain diseases that are the manifestation of a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors.’

“This recognition of a genetic-environmental interplay comes after a period some 20 to 30 years ago, during which most of the focus was on the biological. ‘Biology is not destiny. That also is something we have learned in this explosion of knowledge that is behavioral neuroscience,’ says Dr. Whybrow. ‘The brain learns from what it encounters. Thus, while the genes inherited from our parents help to shape our path and the vulnerabilities we carry, it is experience and those who nurture us that eventually determine who we are.’

“The implications of this understanding are profound. Where once it was thought that people were entirely responsible for their own mood and behavior, and then it was believed that any aberrant behavior was simply a product of wayward brain chemistry, it’s now clear that both a person’s developmental path and his or her biology play a role, along with a third significant factor: the social environment. Even with medication interventions, the best results are achieved with medication and supportive therapy that calls for an understanding of the person, the family and the environment.” (U Magazine, Winter, 2013, pp.16-17)

The late Louis Jolyon West

The late Louis Jolyon West

What was glaringly absent in the article was the role of flawed institutions in promoting “brain disorders.” The word “institution” was never mentioned. “Lifestyle choices” and hopeful subjection to the regimen of  the federally funded “Nexus Project” (with its “interdisciplinary” and “community” focus), now in progress, were mentioned. In other words, we are sort of on our own, but can look forward to the “magic” of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, according to “Fawzy I. Fawzy M.D., the  Louis Jolyon West Professor of Psychiatry and and Biobehavioral Sciences and executive associate director of the Semel Institute.”

Beggars can’t be choosers.

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