YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 12, 2013

The Wall Street Journal discovers lobotomy craze for vets

VA quackeryAs late as today, December 12, 2013, The Wall Street Journal, has discovered that traumatized veterans of WW2 and even later conflicts were routinely lobotomized, a procedure that is said to have its greatest application in the 1940s and 1950s. Written by Michael M. Phillips (pages A1, A8-A9), the author relies on “dusty” boxes found in the National Archives.  The surgery was primarily applied to “depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals.”

Where have journalists been all these years? Even anti-science, anti-psychiatry students of the history of medicine consider this lurid chapter to be closed, though my blog index to lobotomies remains popular. See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/29/index-to-lobotomy-blogs/.

But even more relevant to the WSJ alarming discovery is the series on military psychiatry, which remains in a primitive state, perhaps owing to the assumption that wars are inevitable, and that fighting men are expendable, whereas blundering diplomats and governments are not. Above all, we must maintain hierarchies and obedience to our betters, a message amplified by such favorite television series as NCIS, where the good father (Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon) protects his cohesive fighting family, ever the uncomplaining “team.” https://clarespark.com/2010/04/22/links-to-blogs-on-military-psychiatry/. On blundering diplomats see https://clarespark.com/2013/08/31/the-devil-in-history-a-j-p-taylor-vs-r-palme-dutt/ (with an addendum by Niall Ferguson).

As I have argued before, WSJ, like Fox News Channel or Commentary is an outpost of the moderate men. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/.) I had hoped that the WSJ article would exhibit some homework in other archives, hence pointing to our continued confusion over the causes of anxiety, depression, “shell shock,” “PTSD,” and other mental illnesses that might be preventable without the taboo associated with any of the “personality disorders” said to be curable now with cognitive behavioral therapy, guided by DSM-5.  (See https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/nobody-is-perfect/, one of my items in the lobotomy blogs.)


The point of this blog is that ordinary people take the rap when our “betters” give the orders and fail in their jobs to keep individual, social, and international peace. Is it possible that our world is run by quacks? Are we quacks for trusting them? If so, what can we do about it? Leave your comments on the blog.


May 18, 2013

Friendship in the era of anti-Freud

Paul Prud'hon, 1793

Paul Prud’hon, 1793

The publication today of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 manual, reminds us that insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies alike have no interest in Freud’s “talking cure”—which simply meant that relief from psychogenic symptoms could be alleviated by telling a neutral party (the psychoanalyst) in a protected, safe (confidential) setting about the traumas and family relationships of early childhood up to the present; in the case of Freudian therapy, such memories were usually repressed but dredged up through free association and transference, in which the analyst was the recipient of feelings about the parent that gradually, under the guidance of the analyst, were traced back to the family of origin. Presumably psychogenic symptoms would abate.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_cure.)

The un-ambivalently bourgeois Freud and his methods are now not only under attack by postmodernists and Foucauldians, but by his old enemies, those who believe that human suffering is inevitable in this, the Devil’s realm, and that freedom from what are now deemed to be “personality disorders” can at best be alleviated with pills and behavioral cognitive therapy, a form of short-term “affordable” therapy that ostensibly rewires the brain. (It is derived from Behaviorism, and was seen as torture in Clockwork Orange.)

While I was briefly teaching at California Institute of the Arts, a form of therapy called “Re-evaluation Counseling” was in vogue and several marriages broke up as a result, for it was my theory at least that partners in “co-counseling” (never married to each other) had never experienced being listened to for one hour as they brought up troubling experiences from their past. Such rare attention to old troubles was an impetus to romantic love (as I speculated). (On this method and its origin, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-evaluation_Counseling.)

Which brings me to the subject of this blog: how even one intimate, strictly confidential friendship can partly substitute for the loss of Freud and his methods.

First, despite the romanticizing of the nuclear family by politicians and churches, the family of origin is a hotbed of potential trauma that can haunt the adult throughout life, poisoning all relationships and causing chronic illness. I have no doubt that rivalries for the favor of either Mother or Father are real, however out of fashion “Freudians” may be. But we must bury such rivalries (with either parent, or with siblings) for the sake of the “family unity” that is favored by demagogues of every stripe.  I refer not only to Oedipal feelings or to “the Elektra complex” but to the fierce resentments inflicted through sibling rivalry. Our feelings toward parents and siblings, however, must remain “pure” and unambivalent, for ambivalence is a no-no as we celebrate Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or the birthdays of childhood rivals whom we are not permitted to resent, even as they displaced us or bullied us in untold and/or repressed family dramas. (For more on this, see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/, and https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/.)

How can friendship alleviate these forbidden, often sick-making feelings? My first advice is not to expect family members to substitute for the undivided attention of a friend. Parents and siblings are the last persons who want to hear about their lack of parenting skills or other deficiencies, some structural and not their fault at all.

Second, the friend must be one who has been tested through time not to gossip and to keep confidences; also to be non-judgmental about the expression of negative feelings. Such a person will presumably  have enough self-knowledge to be an appropriate recipient of such personal confidences and not to be freaked out.

If we are so unlucky not to have such a buddy, then do what I do: cuddle up to the great fiction writers and poets. Most of them were Freud’s inspiration too, as he freely admitted. Besides the Greek dramatists, many of the greatest contemporary novelists of the last two centuries were such resources, whatever their politics. Personal favorites of mine are Benjamin Disraeli, Herman Melville, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow. Melville, for instance, threw his inner feelings and ambivalence wide open for all readers to witness, to mull over, and to apply to one’s own closest attachments.

Above all, however, read the post-Freudian attachment theorists: you won’t find many feminists recommending them, for they  emphasize the danger of careless separations between mothers and infants: John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott and Margaret Mahler. (For my summary of how hasty maternal separation from infants and small children can cause panic attacks and separation anxiety, see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/. For my blogs on Freud and anti-Freudians see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/. For an even more negative view of DSM-5 than mine see http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21578050-single-book-has-come-dominate-psychiatry-dangerous-shrink-wrapping?fsrc=scn%2Ftw%2Fte%2Fpe%2Fshrinkwrapping.)

Panic Attack George Grie

Panic Attack George Grie

December 18, 2012

Blogs on mental health

Virginia Woolf, suicide

Virginia Woolf, suicide

Most of this website is devoted to our political culture and its bizarre evasions of mental health issues. I blame this on an aversion to anything smacking of [the Jew] Freud and his followers in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically-oriented therapies. We would rather look to religion, myths of the happy family, the notion that this is “the best of all possible worlds,” and pills as prescribed by much of the psychiatric profession. Our continued blindness to the psyche, our obliviousness to problematic institutions, and to problems in families will only lead to more mass deaths of the shocking character of Newtown, December 14, 2012.  We will continue to “undo” these preventable catastrophes in a desperate and fruitless attempt to escape from reality–whether from scapegoating or from premature diagnostics.

https://clarespark.com/2014/03/20/role-models-talcott-parsons-and-structural-functionalism/ (the ruling paradigm for mental health today)



https://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/ (on the Foucauldians)



https://clarespark.com/2012/12/09/neurotic-vs-objective-anxiety-dsm-iv-and-beyond/ (retitled Holiday blues and unhappy families)




https://clarespark.com/2012/12/12/white-rage-black-surrogates/ (takes up the recent flap on Jamie Foxx on SNL)






https://clarespark.com/2010/11/29/index-to-lobotomy-blogs/ (don’t miss case 123, before and after: truly remarkable and awful)

https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/ (some on military psychiatry, some on ideology of progressive psychologists and writers)



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/).


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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