Humanizing Madness: Psychiatry and the Cognitive Neurosciences
“Humanizing Madness” is an intriguing and insightful book into the nature of psychiatry, although it may not be aptly titled. The book does discuss psychiatry and the cognitive neurosciences, but more specifically its purpose is to discuss what is currently wrong with the major theories in psychiatry and to suggest a theory that will provide a future path for psychiatry to follow. This book may not be for the beginner in psychiatry, but students of psychiatry will find it a valuable alternative view on what they may otherwise be taught in university programs without questioning many of psychiatry’s outdated and as McLaren expresses, ineffective and flawed theories which tend to disagree with each other anyway.
McLaren divides “Humanizing Madness” into three sections, the first giving an overview of psychiatry, its history and theories. Then he demonstrates what theories can be used to create a focused future path for psychiatry, and finally, he discusses mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and anorexia and how changes need to be made in their definitions and understanding to bring about more effective diagnoses.
Among the theories McLaren shows as severely flawed are behaviorist models, psychoanalysis, and eclectic models of psychiatry. Most importantly, McLaren states that no real foundational theory exists for psychiatry. While definitions of mental disorder exist, no real definition of mental order or normality has been determined. Until it is determined what a normal mental state is, psychiatry cannot accurately determine what is a mental disorder.
To determine what is the suitable definition of mental disorder and normality, the field must be narrowed down to being based on specific tenets. McLaren makes clear that psychiatry must focus on being rational, understanding that human behavior is not random, and that any theory of the mind must be able to account for mental disorder. He rejects simple ideas that mental disorders result from chemical imbalances, although he spends considerable time arguing that the mind can affect the body. (Whatever the mind is, the definition for which he also debates).
In the end, McLaren’s thesis is that “human behavior is the outcome of a complex interaction between an emergent mind and the physical body.” While psychiatry has focused on depression as the most popular mental disorder, McLaren believes the focus should be on anxiety, which is the result of the “fight or flight” instinct in most creatures; traumatic events that cause anxiety can lead to depression, so consequently anxiety deserves to be studied as a source of depression. McLaren emphasizes that the human mind does affect the human body, as in cases of mass hysteria, anxiety, and fear that create panic attacks.
Ultimately, McLaren says that any theory of the mind has to provide a rational explanation of mental disorder. He boldly speaks his mind throughout the book, backing up his points with multiple examples, and he is not afraid to cry “Humbug!” when necessary. McLaren has been practicing psychiatry since 1977 in Australia. His discussion of his own education and the shortcomings of the education system he went through as well as weaknesses in current psychiatric practices demonstrate that psychiatry has many more steps to take before it is a completely effective science. I believe “Humanizing Madness” may well lead to a new understanding of mental illness in future years as younger psychiatrists read his book and follow his example in rejecting the ineffective theories he derides.
For more information about Niall McLaren and “Humanizing Madness,” readers may visit www.LovingHealing.com . While this book is academic and not light reading, anyone interested in the mind will benefit from reading “Humanizing Madness,” and students of psychiatry will find it invaluable.
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., author of The Marquette Trilogy
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