Psychiatry’s cause for anxiety

Focus on people, not technology or the DSM, to treat mental illness … Dr. Tom Burns talks to Matthew Reisz in this interview-article from 2013 as posted on the Times Higher Education website:

“The DSM, in Burns’ view, has now become a bloated “committee-driven tool, where everybody lobbies for their particular diagnosis, so it includes ludicrous things such as ‘oppositional defiant disorder’.”

“A leading psychiatrist has criticised ‘ultra-scientific’ approaches to mental illness and the harm wrought by the hugely influential American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM] …

Long before he became professor of social psychiatry at the University of Oxford, Tom Burns had first-hand experience of what was at stake. His mother had a nervous breakdown when he was 15, and he and his brother spent the next 20 years coping with the recurrences. Looking back, he believes he learned three central lessons.

‘It taught me that psychiatric treatments do work,’ he says. ‘They make a fantastic difference. They are not trivial, they are as good as anything you see in surgery or anywhere else in medicine…I also saw that there are limits to what we can understand, limits to what can be done – you have to live with that and not keep demanding that everybody can be cured.’

Yet Burns also could not help noticing that ‘some psychiatric teams were markedly better than others. The things that distinguished the better teams were not the treatments they had available in terms of drugs – they were the same for everyone – but the fact that they were able to maintain a more durable, sensitive focus on the individual.

‘The thing I took from that and that has never left me is that psychiatry is utterly based in and dependent on a relationship. It is not a secondary, luxury add-on. It is the core of the activity. What I feel anxious about in modern psychiatry is that we have become quite preoccupied with the technology and, certainly in our writings, downplay the importance of continuity of care and relationships’ …”

Read more here.

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