Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Myth of Mental Illness and the Late, Great Thomas Szasz

For those who know me, you know that I dislike diagnoses. My clients have to specially request a diagnostic code to put in the little box their insurance demands in order to reimburse them. I treat people, not diseases. I treat people, not disorders. I treat people, not symptoms. I work at treating them with respect--respect for the ultimate fact they while I guide a healing process, it is the client who cures herself. Or to use words Dr. Szasz might use, it is the client who solves her own "problem in living".

People come to me with vexing life problems. They have chronic pain that has mystified a handful of competent physicians. They have had anxiety since grade school, and it has now blossomed into panic attacks. They feel depressed and unmotivated. They have failed to lose weight despite having tried a score of conventional means. My job is to look at the individual in front of me, and learn what ails her and how it may have come to be so. I apply a kind of scientific method where I form hypotheses with the help of the individual in my office, and we challenge the hypothesis with a treatment plan--if it works, it was likely true, or at least close enough to true to solve the problem.

Dr. Szasz and I have had our differences on some delicate points--can some of this material I help to discover and interrelate be hidden in the unconscious, and my client not know about it? Can historical events cause strange symptoms today that the client has not chosen as a solution, but rather that seem to have chosen her? Can my client essentially develop symptoms that solve a problem in an unfortunate way that she is consciously, directly, unable to alter? Is there a scientific way to apply psychotherapy? Dr. Szasz was quite clear that the answer to all of these questions was no. I, on the other hand, am clear that the answer is yes.

Those minor differences aside, the legacy of Dr. Thomas Szasz is immeasurable. He championed the human mind. He fought the psychiatric state--the ability of the government to control individuals by means of their mental state. He fought the medicalization of psychology, thus attempting to empower the individual to change himself rather then being at the mercy of a physician. Dr. Szasz did not believe in "helpful coercion" --a phrase that chills the blood. For me, reestablishing or maintaining the power of my client to change is the essence of good therapy.

Center for Conscious Living.......a name with a meaning. I see my task as helping you, the client, my employer, to improve the quality of your life by guiding you to discover and use your personal power to change. Yes, I guide and you do the rest of the work. Sorry, but there is no magic pill. What there is is power--the power you discover to help yourself! The joy of my work comes from seeing clients find and utilize their power and--um--get me off the payroll (not that I would mind if they gratefully paid me forever.....). Stop therapy because you are better, not because you are bored! Contact Dr. Low at the Center via e-mail:, or phone. 630-249-1983. I look forward to hearing from you!

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