ISEPP member, Steve Spiegel (firstname.lastname@example.org), is an independent natural scientist and theoretical neuroscientist. His experiences with mental distress initiated an investigation into natural human suffering and the pseudoscience of the medical model of mental distress. Steve is currently producing video lectures and launching a free therapy program that unifies alternatives to drug therapy into a single, comprehensive program. Steve was interviewed by ISEPP's Michele Paiva about his experiences. The content of that interview follows.
I grew up near Portland, Oregon, and now live nearby, in the Pacific Northwest. I embraced natural science at an early age from my enjoyment of natural environments and my father’s advocacy. I was fortunate to live with atypically positive experiences of emotional well-being through my youth until I experienced trauma during early adulthood.
I did not serve in the war in Vietnam but was nevertheless traumatized by my unique experiences related to the war. The trauma derailed my life. Instead of continuing on a path that garnered positive social and economic support, I felt alienated from my community and began experiencing social ostracizing and economic hardship. Extremely distressful experiences were enlightening; I could not have imagined extreme emotional suffering (pain) during my happy years. Thus I came to understand mental distress as a social welfare problem of natural emotional suffering from unusually distressful experiences rather than a disease.
I investigated my perception of mental distress and human psychology as a social welfare problem with psychology theory to better understand it and explain it. It took me a couple decades to understand basic psychology theory and feel that I could not explain my theory of mental distress without neuroscience support. Thereafter, I investigated neuroscience for a decade until I gained an undergraduate level understanding that I felt informed my psychology theories.
My perception of basic empirical neuroscience was radically different than mainstream neuroscience; I felt that mainstream neuroscience was missing important implications from basic neuroscience while focusing on more obscure investigations. Thus, I began more recently to investigate neuroscience theory.
Please note that I consider myself a “theoretical neuroscientist” but not a “neuroscientist;” I am comfortable with the first label but not the second. I challenge the mainstream perception of accepted, elemental empirical neuroscience (cellular and tissue neuroscience) so I consider myself a “theoretical neuroscientist.” However, I have only an understanding of basic elemental neuroscience (little understanding of molecular neuroscience) so I do not consider myself educated enough to defend the label “neuroscientist.”
The greatest shock in my research was realizing that psychiatry’s neuroscience dazzles with complexity while contradicting the most fundamental principles of every science that informs it. Psychiatry’s neuroscience contradicts the most basic tenets of: 1) general science, 2) biology, 3) physiology, 4) natural science, and 5) the philosophy of science.
First, psychiatry’s neuroscience contradicts the most basic principle of general science - parsimony. Science theory is based on parsimony - Occam’s razor: fewer assumptions make better science. Neuroscience theory has lost sight of this tenet of science. Neuroscience theory was brilliant in pursuing empirical neuroscience to make the astonishing breakthrough of discovering the basic functions of a neuron cell - cellular neurophysiology.
Neuroscientists deserve substantial admiration for this complex achievement. However, subsequent neuroscience theory has embraced the complexity of neuroscience from a religious rather than scientific perspective. Psychiatry’s current neuroscience theory is not concerned with the number of assumptions that it makes; it crosses the line that separates philosophy and science.
Second, psychiatry’s neuroscience contradicts the most basic principle of biology; biological reductionism states that an organism is understandable through its biology. Consistently, neurology is the biological (medical) science that investigates the brain and nervous system. In contrast, psychiatry investigates a philosophy - a philosophy of mind; it contradicts biology theory to investigate a non-physical entity.
Third, psychiatry’s neuroscience contradicts the most basic principle of physiology; physiology investigates organisms at various organizational levels and explains organs at the tissue level - with tissue physiology.
Physiologists explain the function of organs of the body with tissue physiology and only tissue physiology; in contrast, neurophysiologists try to explain the brain with cellular and molecular physiology. For instance, physiologists explain organs like the heart with tissue physiology after describing its function more generally as a pump nourishing the body.
Physiologists explain how muscle tissue makes the heart and its chambers and pushes the blood throughout the body by flexing heart muscles, how connective tissue creates valves to produce directional flow, how nervous tissue creates a periodic spark to flex heart muscles, and how epithelial tissue creates pipes to carry the blood throughout the body and allow nourishment to pass through the pipe walls. Physiologists can only explain our organs with tissue physiology and only tissue neurophysiology can explain the brain.
Investigating molecular neuroscience to understand human psychology is analogous to investigating the molecular structure of pistons and spark plugs to understand the function of an automobile engine. Physiologists explain organs with tissue physiology; molecular physiology is far too complex to explain an organ and attests to an unscientific embrace of complexity.
Fourth, psychiatry’s neuroscience contradicts the most basic principle of natural science; natural scientists consider human nature to be based on simple principles hidden beneath an appearance of complexity.
Our most eminent natural scientists (Einstein, Greene, Weinberg, Lewin) contend that human nature is a function of simple principles that are obscured by a manifestation of complexity. In contrast, psychiatry refuses to consider simple principles. Psychiatry models the brain after computers that operate on the simple principle of binary science and yet refuses to consider a simple principle of binary neuroscience. Psychiatry’s embrace of complexity is unscientific.
Lastly, psychiatry’s neuroscience contradicts the most basic principle of the philosophy of science: falsifiability (Popper). The philosophy of science contends that true science theories can be differentiated from pseudoscience by falsifying them - identifying the assumptions that can disprove the theory.
The philosophy of science expects scientists to explain how to disprove their science theories - to falsify them. Falsifiability is a process of identifying assumptions as potential sources of disproof; this separates real science from ad hoc and post hoc theories. Psychiatry is so comfortable with limitless assumptions (obscure theses) that the philosophy of science has never been considered or mentioned in psychiatry theory; this is an unscientific acceptance of complexity.
I got involved in producing my videos because the predominance of criticism of mainstream mental health care is written by academics and professionals for academics and professionals; there is a lack of overviews for the general public.
At the ISEPP conference in Philadelphia five years ago, I was impressed with Lloyd Ross’ attempt to communicate with the general public at libraries and with pamphlets for doctor’s offices. More recently, I felt frustrated with my efforts to communicate an overview of my criticisms of mainstream mental health care aimed at academics (and professionals); I do not speak their language.
About a year ago, I thought that I was better able to communicate with the general public and decided to try. Communicating with the public is now done by YouTube so I thought that I would develop a half hour video lecture aimed at the general public.
The DSM and the Medical Model is a new video lecture that provides the general public with an overview of criticisms of mainstream mental health care. It is a sharp rebuke of psychiatry and its disease narrative of mental distress. I seek feedback about the video from the MIA and ISEPP communities before a final editing and widespread distribution; I also seek feedback about how to distribute it. This video lecture is intended to give voice to the disenfranchised faced with the injustices of their interaction with the mental health care system; it pulls no punches. It lays bare the counterproductive nature of the medical model and the pseudoscience and elitism that support it.
The DSM and the Medical Model: 1) introduces the medical model of mental distress, 2) introduces an alternative, social welfare model, 3) describes criticism of the medical model, 4) describes obstacles for changing paradigms, 5) describes the harm of the medical model, and 6) advocates true justice and support for the disenfranchised. The social welfare model of mental distress is an important alternative narrative that fills the void created by the bankruptcy of the disease narrative.
The first section of the video introduces the medical model of mental distress (the disease model) and the DSM that describes it. The medical model narrative is a classical paradigm as introduced by Thomas Kuhn in his landmark book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A classical paradigm is a complete world view; it is difficult to challenge because terms have interrelated connotations and contexts that support the existing narrative. The video also describes the difficulty of imagining emotional suffering greater than experienced.
Section Two introduces an alternative, better narrative of mental distress- a social welfare model of natural emotional suffering and natural, “anti-social” reactions to the suffering. Emotional suffering is described as varying in direct proportion to the degree of the distressfulness of personal experience. The aversion of extreme emotional suffering is described as emotionally painful- sensed similar to physical pain.
Section Three is an overview of criticism of the medical model of mental distress. It begins with a brief history of the DSM- psychiatry’s attempt to explain its medical model. The video criticizes the DSM for its: 1) lack of validity, 2) lack of reliability, 3) discounting personal histories, 4) discounting the intensity of distress, 5) ambiguous category boundaries, 6) common symptoms for categories, 7) stigmatizing clients, 8) promoting self-fulfilling prophecies, and 9) ignoring its cultural biases. Besides summarizing popular criticisms of the DSM, this section also addresses the scientific absurdity of the new DSM-5 changing its definition of a “mental disorder” without commenting.
Section Four discusses vested interests- obstacles to changing narratives. Besides psychiatry and Big Pharma, several other groups are also identified as strongly vested in the medical model. The annual profit from sales of psychotropic drugs as medicines will be edited to reflect the correct figure of 18 billion dollars.
Section Five discusses the harm of treating a social welfare problem as a medical problem as documented in Robert Whitaker’s classic book, Anatomy of an Epidemic. First, the medical model harms mental health by gaslighting emotional sufferers- by advocating that natural emotional suffering is instead a disease. Secondly, the medical model harms mental health by stigmatizing emotional sufferers as having a malfunctioning brain. Thirdly, the medical model harms mental health by promoting drug abuse by falsely describing psychiatric drugs as medicines- treating a biological problem. Lastly, the medical model harms mental health by promoting “coercive therapies.” Denying basic human rights to people suffering emotionally from unusually distressful experiences is absurdly cruel; it worsens outcomes that include suicide.
The conclusion is an appeal to challenge the medical model narrative and “coercive treatments.” It tries to voice the tragedy of considering natural emotional suffering (and natural, “anti-social” reactions to the suffering) to be a disease. I welcome comments and feedback on the video. Please email me at UAT@NaturalPsychology.org.