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Psychiatry Now Admits It's Been Wrong in Big Ways - But Can It Change?

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When I interviewed investigative reporter Robert Whitaker in 2010 after the publication of his book Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, he was not exactly a beloved figure within the psychiatry establishment. Whitaker had documented evidence that standard drug treatments were making many patients worse over the long term, and he detailed the lack of science behind these treatments.

For Anatomy of an Epidemic, Whitaker won the 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award for best investigative journalism. This and other acclaim made it difficult for establishment psychiatry to ignore him, so he was invited to speak at many of their bastions, including a Harvard Medical School Grand Rounds at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he faced hostile audiences. However, Whitaker's sincerity about seeking better treatment options, his command of the facts and his lack of anti-drug dogma compelled all but the most dogmatic psychiatrists to take him seriously.

In the past four years, the psychiatry establishment has pivoted from first ignoring Whitaker to then debating him and attempting to discredit him to currently agreeing with many of his conclusions. But will Whitaker's success in changing minds result in a change for the better in treatment practices?

I was curious about Whitaker's take on the recent U-turns by major figures in the psychiatry establishment with respect to antipsychotic drug treatment, the validity of the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental illness and the validity of the DSM, psychiatry's diagnostic bible. And I was curious about Whitaker's sense of psychiatry's future direction.   


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