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Popular myths about our brains

Posted May 31st, 2011 in Blogs by admin

I came across this great article in Smithsonian, that I’m reposting here.

Top Ten Myths About the Brain

When it comes to this complex, mysterious, fascinating organ, what do—and don’t—we know?

  • By Laura Helmuth
  •, May 20, 2011

1. We use only 10 percent of our brains.

This one sounds so compelling—a precise number, repeated in pop culture for a century, implying that we have huge reserves of untapped mental powers. But the supposedly unused 90 percent of the brain is not some vestigial appendix. Brains are expensive—it takes a lot of energy to build brains during fetal and childhood development and maintain them in adults. Evolutionarily, it would make no sense to carry around surplus brain tissue. Experiments using PET or fMRI scans show that much of the brain is engaged even during simple tasks, and injury to even a small bit of brain can have profound consequences for language, sensory perception, movement or emotion.

True, we have some brain reserves. Autopsy studies show that many people have physical signs of Alzheimer’s disease (such as amyloid plaques among neurons) in their brains even though they were not impaired. Apparently we can lose some brain tissue and still function pretty well. And people score higher on IQ tests if they’re highly motivated, suggesting that we don’t always exercise our minds at 100 percent capacity.

2. “Flashbulb memories” are precise, detailed and persistent.
We all have memories that feel as vivid and accurate as a snapshot, usually of some shocking, dramatic event—the assassination of President Kennedy, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the attacks of September 11, 2001. People remember exactly where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, what they saw or heard. But several clever experiments have tested people’s memory immediately after a tragedy and again several months or years later. The test subjects tend to be confident that their memories are accurate and say the flashbulb memories are more vivid than other memories. Vivid they may be, but the memories decay over time just as other memories do. People forget important details and add incorrect ones, with no awareness that they’re recreating a muddled scene in their minds rather than calling up a perfect, photographic reproduction.

3. It’s all downhill after 40 (or 50 or 60 or 70).
It’s true, some cognitive skills do decline as you get older. Children are better at learning new languages than adults—and never play a game of concentration against a 10-year-old unless you’re prepared to be humiliated. Young adults are faster than older adults to judge whether two objects are the same or different; they can more easily memorize a list of random words, and they are faster to count backward by sevens.

But plenty of mental skills improve with age. Vocabulary, for instance—older people know more words and understand subtle linguistic distinctions. Given a biographical sketch of a stranger, they’re better judges of character. They score higher on tests of social wisdom, such as how to settle a conflict. And people get better and better over time at regulating their own emotions and finding meaning in their lives.

4. We have five senses.
Sure, sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch are the big ones. But we have many other ways of sensing the world and our place in it. Proprioception is a sense of how our bodies are positioned. Nociception is a sense of pain. We also have a sense of balance—the inner ear is to this sense as the eye is to vision—as well as a sense of body temperature, acceleration and the passage of time.

Compared with other species, though, humans are missing out. Bats and dolphins use sonar to find prey; some birds and insects see ultraviolet light; snakes detect the heat of warmblooded prey; rats, cats, seals and other whiskered creatures use their “vibrissae” to judge spatial relations or detect movements; sharks sense electrical fields in the water; birds, turtles and even bacteria orient to the earth’s magnetic field lines.

By the way, have you seen the taste map of the tongue, the diagram showing that different regions are sensitive to salty, sweet, sour or bitter flavors? Also a myth.

5. Brains are like computers.
We speak of the brain’s processing speed, its storage capacity, its parallel circuits, inputs and outputs. The metaphor fails at pretty much every level: the brain doesn’t have a set memory capacity that is waiting to be filled up; it doesn’t perform computations in the way a computer does; and even basic visual perception isn’t a passive receiving of inputs because we actively interpret, anticipate and pay attention to different elements of the visual world.

There’s a long history of likening the brain to whatever technology is the most advanced, impressive and vaguely mysterious. Descartes compared the brain to a hydraulic machine. Freud likened emotions to pressure building up in a steam engine. The brain later resembled a telephone switchboard and then an electrical circuit before evolving into a computer; lately it’s turning into a Web browser or the Internet. These metaphors linger in clichés: emotions put the brain “under pressure” and some behaviors are thought to be “hard-wired.” Speaking of which…

6. The brain is hard-wired.
This is one of the most enduring legacies of the old “brains are electrical circuits” metaphor. There’s some truth to it, as with many metaphors: the brain is organized in a standard way, with certain bits specialized to take on certain tasks, and those bits are connected along predictable neural pathways (sort of like wires) and communicate in part by releasing ions (pulses of electricity).

But one of the biggest discoveries in neuroscience in the past few decades is that the brain is remarkably plastic. In blind people, parts of the brain that normally process sight are instead devoted to hearing. Someone practicing a new skill, like learning to play the violin, “rewires” parts of the brain that are responsible for fine motor control. People with brain injuries can recruit other parts of the brain to compensate for the lost tissue.

7. A conk on the head can cause amnesia.
Next to babies switched at birth, this is a favorite trope of soap operas: Someone is in a tragic accident and wakes up in the hospital unable to recognize loved ones or remember his or her own name or history. (The only cure for this form of amnesia, of course, is another conk on the head.)

In the real world, there are two main forms of amnesia: anterograde (the inability to form new memories) and retrograde (the inability to recall past events). Science’s most famous amnesia patient, H.M., was unable to remember anything that happened after a 1953 surgery that removed most of his hippocampus. He remembered earlier events, however, and was able to learn new skills and vocabulary, showing that encoding “episodic” memories of new experiences relies on different brain regions than other types of learning and memory do. Retrograde amnesia can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury (ask an NFL player), thiamine deficiency or other insults. But a brain injury doesn’t selectively impair autobiographical memory—much less bring it back.

8. We know what will make us happy.
In some cases we haven’t a clue. We routinely overestimate how happy something will make us, whether it’s a birthday, free pizza, a new car, a victory for our favorite sports team or political candidate, winning the lottery or raising children. Money does make people happier, but only to a point—poor people are less happy than the middle class, but the middle class are just as happy as the rich. We overestimate the pleasures of solitude and leisure and underestimate how much happiness we get from social relationships.

On the flip side, the things we dread don’t make us as unhappy as expected. Monday mornings aren’t as unpleasant as people predict. Seemingly unendurable tragedies—paralysis, the death of a loved one—cause grief and despair, but the unhappiness doesn’t last as long as people think it will. People are remarkably resilient.

9. We see the world as it is.
We are not passive recipients of external information that enters our brain through our sensory organs. Instead, we actively search for patterns (like a Dalmatian dog that suddenly appears in a field of black and white dots), turn ambiguous scenes into ones that fit our expectations (it’s a vase; it’s a face) and completely miss details we aren’t expecting. In one famous psychology experiment, about half of all viewers told to count the number of times a group of people pass a basketball do not notice that a guy in a gorilla suit is hulking around among the ball-throwers.

We have a limited ability to pay attention (which is why talking on a cellphone while driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving), and plenty of biases about what we expect or want to see. Our perception of the world isn’t just “bottom-up”—built of objective observations layered together in a logical way. It’s “top-down,” driven by expectations and interpretations.

10. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
Some of the sloppiest, shoddiest, most biased, least reproducible, worst designed and most overinterpreted research in the history of science purports to provide biological explanations for differences between men and women. Eminent neuroscientists once claimed that head size, spinal ganglia or brain stem structures were responsible for women’s inability to think creatively, vote logically or practice medicine. Today the theories are a bit more sophisticated: men supposedly have more specialized brain hemispheres, women more elaborate emotion circuits. Though there are some differences (minor and uncorrelated with any particular ability) between male and female brains, the main problem with looking for correlations with behavior is that sex differences in cognition are massively exaggerated.

Women are thought to outperform men on tests of empathy. They do—unless test subjects are told that men are particularly good at the test, in which case men perform as well as or better than women. The same pattern holds in reverse for tests of spatial reasoning. Whenever stereotypes are brought to mind, even by something as simple as asking test subjects to check a box next to their gender, sex differences are exaggerated. Women college students told that a test is something women usually do poorly on, do poorly. Women college students told that a test is something college students usually do well on, do well. Across countries—and across time—the more prevalent the belief is that men are better than women in math, the greater the difference in girls’ and boys’ math scores. And that’s not because girls in Iceland have more specialized brain hemispheres than do girls in Italy.

Certain sex differences are enormously important to us when we’re looking for a mate, but when it comes to most of what our brains do most of the time—perceive the world, direct attention, learn new skills, encode memories, communicate (no, women don’t speak more than men do), judge other people’s emotions (no, men aren’t inept at this)—men and women have almost entirely overlapping and fully Earth-bound abilities.

Read more:

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Brain science research close to reading minds?

Posted May 30th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

A team of scientists from the Centre for Innovation in Neuroscience and Technology at the University of Washington is one step closer to mind read, peering into the deepest recesses of the brain to watch words forming.

The finding could one day allow those with severe disabilities to ‘speak’.

Using electrodes, the researchers found the area of the brain that is involved in creating the 40 or so sounds that form the English language.

They then discovered that each of these sounds has its own signal which they believe could eventually allow a computer programme to read what people want to say by the power of their thoughts.

Led by Eric Leuthardt, they studied four people who suffered from severe epilepsy who each had 64 electrodes implanted into their heads.

The subjects were asked to make four repeated sounds- ‘oo’, ‘ah’, ‘eh’, and ‘ee’.

The team then monitored the Wenicke’s and Broca’s areas of the brain for signals related to speech formation.

They were then able to pick out the corresponding electrical signals, and while these four signals will not be enough to form sentences, further research could lead to this becoming possible.

“What it shows is that the brain is not the black box that we have philosophically assumed it to be for generations past,” the Daily Mail quoted Leuthardt as telling the Sunday Times.

“I’m not going to say that I can fully read someone’s mind. I can’t. But I have evidence now that it is possible,” he added.

Leuthardt also found that the brain generates a signal when people just think about the sounds – but it was very different to when they speak it.

This has led to the implication that doctors could one day read people’s private thoughts as well as what they want to say.

And it is hoped the research will one day give people with locked-in syndrome the chance to speak – as currently electrode treatment on the brain can be carried out those that are severely ill.

It could, in principal, also lead to technology that could read the mind without surgery – and even lead forms of communication, which work, only by thought.

The research was published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

Comments Off on Focusing can make you deaf and blind

Focusing can make you deaf and blind

Posted May 29th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

How can someone with perfectly normal hearing become deaf to the world around them when their mind is on something else?

New research by the University College London suggests that focusing heavily on a task actually shuts out perfectly audible sounds.

‘Inattentional deafness is a common everyday experience,’ explains Nilli Lavie from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University College, according to a report in the journal Attention, Perception and Psychophysics.

‘For example, when engrossed in a good book or even a captivating newspaper article we may fail to hear the train driver’s announcement and miss our stop, or if we’re texting whilst walking, we may fail to hear a car approaching and attempt to cross the road without looking.’

Lavie and her doctoral student James Macdonald devised a series of experiments designed to test for inattentional deafness, the report said.

In these experiments, over 100 participants performed tasks on a computer involving a series of cross shapes. Some tasks were easy, asking the participants to distinguish a clear colour difference between the cross arms.

Others were much more difficult, involving distinguishing subtle length differences between the cross arms.

Participants wore headphones whilst carrying out the tasks and were told these were to aid their concentration. At some point during the task a tone was played unexpectedly through the headphones.

At this point the experiment was stopped and the participants were asked if they had heard this sound.

When judging the respective colours of the arms – an easy task – around two in 10 participants missed the tone.

However, when focusing on the more difficult task – identifying which of the two arms was the longest – eight out of 10 participants failed to notice the tone.

The new research shows that being engrossed in a difficult task makes us blind and deaf to other sources of information.

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Crossing your arms relieves hand pain

Posted May 23rd, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Crossing your arms across your body after injury to the hand could relieve pain, researchers suggest.

The University College London team, who undertook a proof-of-concept study of 20 people, say the brain gets confused over where pain has occurred.

In the journal Pain, they suggest this is because putting hands on the “wrong” sides disrupts sensory perception.

Pain experts say finding ways of confusing the brain is the focus of many studies.

The team used a laser to generate a four millisecond pin-prick of pain to participants’ hands, without touching them. Each person ranked the intensity of the pain they felt, and their electrical brain responses were also measured using electroencephalography (EEG). The results from both participants’ reports and the EEG showed that the perception of pain was weaker when the arms were crossed over the “midline” – an imaginary line running vertically down the centre of the body.


Dr Giandomenico Iannetti, from the UCL department of physiology, pharmacology and neuroscience, who led the research, said: “In everyday life you mostly use your left hand to touch things on the left side of the world, and your right hand for the right side of the world.

“This means that the areas of the brain that contain the map of the right body and the map of right external space are usually activated together, leading to highly effective processing of sensory stimuli. “When you cross your arms these maps are not activated together anymore, leading to less effective brain processing of sensory stimuli, including pain, being perceived as weaker.”

He said the discovery could potentially lead to new ways of treating pain that exploit this confusion.

Dr Iannetti he added: “Perhaps when we get hurt, we should not only ‘rub it better’ but also cross our arms.”

His team, alongside Australian researchers, are now testing the theory on patients who have chronic pain conditions.

A spokesman for the Pain Relief Foundation said a lot of research into relieving chronic pain was looking into ways of confusing the brain and disrupting pain messages.

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Why the current model of business is broken

Posted May 22nd, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

To truly prosper, businesses must move towards positive engagement with employees, suppliers and customers. A new model of business, and indeed free market capitalism, is necessary because the old one is broken and out of date.

In a white paper, “The Game Has Changed: A New Paradigm for Stakeholder Engagement,” produced for the Cornell University Center for Hospitality Research, author Mary Beth McEuen, Vice President of The Maritz Institute, says “In the ‘new normal’ environment, businesses must do more than merely offer a good product or serve to create value…customers, sales partners, or employees, all are looking for relationships with organizations they can trust…organizations that care…organizations that align with their own values. Instead of viewing people as a means to profit contemporary businesses must see their customers and clients as stakeholders in creating shared value.” McEuen argues that traditional business beliefs that brought success in the past will not bring success in the future. People are very skeptical about businesses and a new approach is needed.

Despite the rapid significant changes that have occurred in the world of business, the management philosophy has been anchored in the classical economics view of the company merely as a economic entity that has a goal of appropriating the greatest possible value from all its constituencies. In this view, McEuen contends, management’s core challenge has been to tighten the company’s hold over its stakeholders, find ways to keep competitors at bay, protect the firm’s strategic advantage and allow it to benefit maximally particularly for shareholders. The problem with this philosophy is that it is based on industrial-era paradigms that simply will not work in the new business and social environments.

In my National Post article, I said that the business world is fundamentally a community of people working together to create value for everyone in society, and that the pursuit by leaders of corporate and individual self-interest is a paradigm that has outlived its usefulness. That means a triple bottom line of profitability; social responsibility (both internally and externally) and sustainabililty must drive the capitalist engine. In my Financial Post article, I described some of the commentary at the World Economic Forum, which focused on the need to restrict narrow self-interest at the cost of collective good, and greater social responsibility.

At the crux of both the articles is the issue of a sustainable and equitable economy, and the fallacy that unrestrained economic growth, particularly growth that benefits the wealthiest individuals and corporations, can lead to improved human welfare–or basically, growth at all costs. It is clear now that we have to not just recover from an economic recession, but also reorganize the economy based on the quality of life rather than the quantity of life. The old model of business was based on a world with a small population, and a market economy as measured by GDP. But the world has changed dramatically. We live in a world with a large population and extensive capital infrastructures.  Material consumption and GDP are merely means to the end of improving our well being, not ends in themselves. Material consumption beyond mere need actually can reduce our well being.

From a management perspective, predominant theories of human behavior contained in business strategy and management are still mired in century old theories of transactional exchange and simple Skinnerian behavioral theories, ignoring the considerable neuroscience and human behavior research in the last decade. For example, many business leaders still believe that people make decisions on the basis of rationality and logic, when we know from brain science that emotions always play a pivotal role.

A new model of economy based on the goal of sustainable human well being for all people, not just a few, is needed, measured by factors that show sustainability, social equality and economic efficiency.

This presents a real challenge for the proponents of the current free market system, which would mean implementing economic policy on the basis of issues such as social fairness—something that is often attacked by business leaders and politicians being either socialistic or communistic. Yet, it is clear that the market economy has actually contributed to declining levels of social fairness in our society and increasing numbers of employees and customers are disengaging from businesses.

A new form of capitalism and business would move away from a zero-sum game to one where every stakeholder benefits without trade-offs and where there is a higher purpose that serves as a motivational beacon for the leaders and culture. The new business norm, MCEuen argues, calls for a new set of capabilities within organizations, including social networks as a means of getting work done, deeply engaging knowledge workers in meaningful work and relating to customers in ways that are more personal.

McEuen describes the new business norm, which has, as it’s conceptual foundation, “shared value”—where the total pool of economic and social value is expanded. There are three core premises that underpin this new business norm:

  1. Deeper insights into human motivation and behavior;
  2. An understanding that meaning for people is very personal;
  3. A commitment to the concept that people are at the center of strategy

The old business paradigm was based on the belief that reason and rationality was dominant over emotion. Classical economics, which remains the prevailing paradigm underpinning most business practices, does not recognize that reasons and emotions are always interconnected and cannot be separated. The core of economic theory says that people operate out of self-interest, often through competition. Classical economics further presumes that people are completely rational and wired to make rational decisions based on self-interest. Many management practices are based upon the behaviorist theories of B.F. Skinner who proposed that understanding human psychology was a simple matter of observing behavior, and then predicting behavior, completely ignoring any internal processes. In the past two decades we have come to understand how the human brain and mental processes influence decisions, behavior and social interactions, but this knowledge is not reflected in the current business norm.

Our emotional and rational systems are working in various ratios all the time, intermixing mostly at the unconscious level affecting how your organization and programs are viewed, and whether people feel motivated to buy more, sell more, advocate for, work harder, innovate, create, bond with others… or join the disengaged stakeholders who simply “bear with” the organization as the other side of a transaction.

As part of the old business paradigm, we continue to perpetrate the myth, particularly in the U.S., of individualism. That every individual and company has to struggle to make it on its own. So we’re taught to embrace the notion of man being a Lone Ranger, coming together with others only to accomplish self-interest purpose. Yet, as we know from brain science, our brains have evolved over millions of years in a social context of interdependence. We are “wired” to be social and seek out and develop social connections. In fact, studies have shown that emotions, attitudes and moods can spread among people like a virus. Similarly we know motivation is not only an individualistic thing; we are greatly influenced by the motivations of others, and we are driven by multiple motivations, not just simple material rewards.

True positive engagement in the new business norm recognizes that one size doesn’t fit all because people are not all alike. Meaning in life is very personal because, as we know from brain science, our brains have individual filter systems that function beyond our conscious awareness.

To engage stakeholders in a manner that is meaningful and motivating requires an understanding of what they value, McEuen argues: “In practice, this requires a different paradigm relative to the design of business practices that effectively engage people. Too often, business leaders think first about what the company wants and needs to generate profit. The problem with this approach is that it fails to place equal attention on the wants and needs of the stakeholders.”

To many observers, the old business norm or paradigm is broken and produces some significant environmental, social and economic inequalities and problems. Add to that the increasing cynicism and lack of trust of employees and customers of organizations, and it’s clear it is time for the new business norm to take root.

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The freedom of mindfulness

Posted May 18th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Becoming mindful in your life brings not only an inner peace and sense of purpose, it also brings a sense of freedom.

Virginia Satir was an American author and psychotherapist, known especially for her approach to family therapy and her work with Systemic ConstellationsAlong with Milton Erickson, Satir had an enormous influence on psychotherapy and is a cornerstone for many in the helping professions. One of the works she authored focused on the connection between our senses and the sense of freedom, which preceded a similar current emphasis on mindfulness.

The Five Freedoms – Using Our Senses—Virginia Satir

Satir keenly observed that many adults learned to deny certain senses from childhood, that is, to deny what they hear, see, taste, smell and touch/feel.

The Five Freedoms are:

  1. The freedom to see and hear what is here, instead of what “should” be, was, or will be.
  2. The freedom to say what you feel and think, instead of what you “should” feel and think.
  3. The freedom to feel what you feel, instead of what you “ought” to feel.
  4. The freedom to ask for what you want, instead of always waiting for permission.
  5. The freedom to take risks on you own behalf, instead of choosing to be only “secure”.

Satir’s Therapeutic Beliefs and Assumptions

Satir’s therapeutic model rested on the following assumptions, that:

  • The major goal in life is to become own choice makers, agents and architects of our life and relationships
  • All human beings at heart are beings of love and intelligence who seek to grow, express their creativity, intelligence, and basic goodness; need to be validated, connect, and find own inner treasure.
  • We are all manifestations of the same life energy and intelligence.
  • Change is possible. Believe it.
  • We cannot change past events, only the effects they have on us today.
  • Appreciating and accepting the past increases our ability to manage present
  • The most challenging tasks in life are relational. Simultaneously, relational tasks are the only avenue for growth. All challenges in life are relational.
  • We have choices, disempowering and empowering ones, especially in terms of responding to stress.
  • All efforts to produce change need to focus on health and possibilities (not pathology).
  • .People connect on similarities and grow on resolving differences.
  • Most people choose familiarity over comfort, especially in times of stress.
  • No task in life is more difficult as the role of parent. Parents do the best they can do given time the resources they “see” available to them at any given time.
  • Next to our role as parents, no task in life is more challenging. We all have the internal resources we need to access successfully and to grow.
  • Parents often repeat own familiar patterns, even if dysfunctional.

I AM ME  By Virginia Satir

A poem by Virginia Satir that came to write following a session with a client who had a lot of questions about the meaning of her life. This speaks to the heart of psychotherapists and clients alike.

I am me.

In all the world, there is no one exactly like me.

There are persons who have some parts like me, but no one adds up exactly like me.

Therefore, everything that comes out of me is authentically mine because I alone choose it.

I own everything about me My body including everything it does; My mind including all its thoughts and ideas; My eyes including the images of all they behold; My feelings whatever they may be…
anger, joy, frustration, love, disappointment, excitement My Mouth and all the words that come out of it polite, sweet or rough, correct or incorrect; My Voice loud or soft. And all my actions, whether they be to others or to myself.

I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears.

I own all my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes. Because I own all of me I can become intimately acquainted with me. By doing so I can love me and be friendly with me in all parts. I can then make it possible for all of me to work in my best interests.

I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know. But as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully, look for solutions to the puzzles and for ways to find out more about me.

However I look and sound, whatever I say and do,

And whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is me. This is authentic and represents where I am in that moment in time. When I review later how I looked and sounded, what I said and did,

And how I thought and felt, some parts may turn out to be unfitting.

I can discard that which is unfitting,

And keep that which proved fitting, And invent something new for that which I discarded.

I can see, hear, feel, think, say and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me.

I own me, and therefore I can engineer me.

I am me and I am okay.

Virgina Satir’s well-known books are Conjoint Family Therapy, 1964, Peoplemaking, 1972, and The New Peoplemaking, 1988.
She is also known for creating the Virginia Satir Change Process Model, a psychological model which was developed through clinical studies, and later applied to organizations. Change management and organizational gurus of the 1990s and 2000s embrace this model to define how change impacts organizations.

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How the drug companies are controlling our lives–Part 3

Posted May 17th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Part 1 of this article examined the power and control that pharmaceutical companies have over our medical system; Part 2 looked at how the profession of psychiatry is driven, if not controlled, by pharmaceutical companies. Part 3 presents evidence that questions the effectiveness claims of psychotropic drugs.

The 20th century witnessed the development of three quite divergent explanatory systems to account for mental illness, each offering a distinctly different approach to treatment: Psychoanalytic theory and treatment by psychoanalysis and its variants; a genetic theory of chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain with treatment by prescription of psychiatric drugs; and a behavioral learning theory, offering treatments designed to eliminate the behaviors that characterize the mental disorders. It is clear that the genetic theory of chemical imbalances has gained predominant status in the medical community, government agencies and general populace.

According to Dr. Joanna Montcrieff, a Senior Professor at the Department of Mental Health Sciences at University College in London, co-founder of the Critical Psychiatry Network, and author of the book, The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment, Psychiatry as an institution has long been obsessed with identifying biological causes of mental disorders and with the narrow technical solutions that flow from such a paradigm (Moncrieff & Crawford, 2001). The pharmaceutical industry has helped to reinforce this approach by the promotion of drug treatments, funding biological research and by promoting claims that psychiatric disorders are caused by simplistic biological notions such “chemical imbalances.”

The hegemony of biological psychiatry that now exists stifles other approaches to understanding the complex behaviors that constitute psychiatric conditions. It elevates quantitative positivist research methods, borrowed from the natural sciences. This approach depends on the notion that psychiatric conditions can be conceptualized as discrete entities occurring in individuals, which can be defined independently of their social context. Other philosophical and sociological approaches that seek to understand the meaning of psychiatric disorders at both an individual and social level are relegated to the fringes of psychiatric academia. The biological hegemony has consequences at a social and political level too. By locating the problem as a disease within an individual brain, biological psychiatry diverts attention away from the social and political conditions that help to determine how psychiatric disorders occur and how they are identified and defined (Conrad, 1992).

Psychiatric diagnoses are based on behaviors and mental experiences that are deemed to be abnormal or dysfunctional. They are notoriously difficult to define consistently and even the painstaking construction of standardized definitions, such as those first produced in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) version III, and subsequently revised in DSM IIIR and DSM IV, yield fairly poor reliability statistics (Kirk & Kutchins, 1999). Because there are no natural or physical boundaries to the definition of abnormality in relation to behavior and mental experience, psychiatric disorders are particularly fluid and what counts as a disorder is highly dependent on prevalent social norms and beliefs. Thus many commentators are concerned that the incorporation of more and more forms of ordinary difficulties, such as shyness and childhood behavioral problems under a psychiatric umbrella is an example of the encroaching and inappropriate medicalization of everyday life (Moynihan et al, 2002; Double, 2002).

Pharmaceutical companies are actively involved in sponsoring the definition of diseases

and promoting them to both prescribers and consumers. The social construction of illness is being replaced by the corporate construction of disease. Ostensibly engaged in raising public awareness about under-diagnosed and under-treated problems, these alliances tend to promote a view of their particular condition as widespread, serious, and treatable. Because these “disease awareness” campaigns are commonly linked to companies’ marketing strategies, they operate to expand markets for new pharmaceutical products. Alternative approaches-emphasizing the self-limiting or relatively benign natural history of a problem, or the importance of personal coping strategies-are played down or ignored.

From one perspective, you could say the drug companies are in the business of marketing mental illness. According to Moncrieff and her colleagues, marketing strategies now include attempts to shape psychiatric thought through the academic arena. This is done by a strategy that is conceived long before a product is officially marketed and may involve the promotion of disease concepts and their frequency. A recent guide to pharmaceutical marketing suggests the need to “create dissatisfaction in the market,” “establish a need,” and “create a desire”. A portfolio of articles which promote the disease concept in question and/or the company’s product is constructed for the medical audience. The articles will often be written by a medical writing or education agency and then academic authors will be approached to become authors, a practice known as “ghost writing.” Medical “opinion leaders” are also identified and cultivated as part of this strategy to act as “product champions” (Pharmaceutical Marketing, 2002).

Drug company promotion to the public includes disease awareness campaigns that can be run in countries that do not permit direct to consumer advertising as well as those that do. Patient groups are recruited to give the campaign a human face and supply stories for the media. In some cases high profile celebrities have been included to help the campaigns reach prime time television audiences (BMJ News, 1st June, 2002).

The pharmaceutical industry has helped to promote the idea of the “hyperactive child” since Ritalin, manufactured by Ciba pharmaceuticals (which merged with Sandoz to become Novartis), was approved for use in children in the 1950s. In an early study Schrag & Divoky (1975) catalogued Ciba’s aggressive promotional tactics in the United States, including presentations to Parent Teacher Associations and other parent groups, at a time when direct to consumer advertising was illegal in the US.

There is currently an epidemic of stimulant use among school age and younger children. One survey in the United States in 1995 found that 30 to 40% of school children were taking stimulants (Runnheim, 1996). Prescription rates in the United Kingdom are also rising rapidly. Numbers of prescriptions increased by 30% in 3 years between 1998 and 2001, and the cost of these prescriptions more than doubled (Department of Health, 2002). Although common stimulants are relatively cheap drugs, drug companies have recently been producing new and expensive preparations. This has fuelled huge growth in costs of stimulant prescribing. Stimulants showed the largest increase in financial sales, at 51%, between 2000 and 2001, of all classes of prescription drugs in the U.S. (NIHCM, 2002).

The marketing of drugs for other types of anxiety disorders such as panic disordergeneralized anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder and of drugs for alcohol problems, drug misuse, bulimia, post traumatic stress disorder, menstrual dysphoric disorder, compulsive shopping and intermittent explosive personality disorder, have helped to convince more and more people that they have a mental disorder that needs treatment. In the process, a market for drug treatments has been created in areas where they were formerly not frequently used. The common factor is the identification of a diagnosis or concept that is constituted by behaviors and emotions that have a substantial overlap with normal experience. The condition is then inherently expandable, which allows the drug companies and their advocates to claim that they abhor the inappropriate over-prescribing of their drugs (Barrett, 2002), safe in the knowledge that this will almost certainly occur anyway.

A confidential draft document leaked from a medical communications company, In Vivo Communications, describes a three year “medical education program” to create a new perception of irritable bowel syndrome as a “credible, common and concrete disease.”

A “practical guide” published by Britain’s Pharmaceutical Marketing magazine last year explicitly emphasized that key objectives of the pre-launch period were to “establish a need” for a new drug and “create the desire” among prescribers. The guide instructed drug marketers that they might need to “initiate a review of the whole way in which a particular disease is managed.”

Yet there is no doubt that the expansion of the definitions of psychiatric illness, which now has one in every eight Americans taking a psychotropic medication, has been exceeding profitable. Drug company sales of psychotropic medication went from half a billion in 1987 to over 40 billion dollars in 2008. Atypical antipsychotics, once reserved for the most severely ill patients, are now the top revenue producer for drugs companies, helped by the psychiatric profession’s willingness to even prescribe them to two-year olds.

There is no objective test for external validation of psychiatric disorders. This means the boundaries of normality and disorder are easily manipulated to expand markets for drugs. For example, the Defeat Depression campaign, in part supported by the pharmaceutical industry, advocated increased recognition and treatment of depression in general practice. This coincided with a sharp rise in prescriptions for anti-depressants. The value of the widespread drug treatment of unhappiness in primary care is now being questioned (National Institute for Clinical Excellence, 2003).

In the U.S., drug companies have conducted campaigns to promote the idea that conditions including social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder are common psychiatric disorders requiring drug treatment. This practice has been criticized for medicalizing social and personal problems (Moynihan et al, 2002).Empirical research has shown how the design, conduct and reporting of psychiatric research sponsored by industry can be shaped to convey a favorable profile of the sponsor’s drug (Safer, 2002;Melander et al, 2003).

Depression was once viewed as a state of mind caused by stressful life factors, but today the majority of Americans believe depression is a biological disease caused by chemical imbalance in the brain. This shift in the way “mental disorders” like depression and anxiety are viewed has resulted in profound social and cultural changes.

Anti-depressants are now the most widely prescribed class of medications in the U.S., and many states have enacted parity legislation requiring insurance coverage for mental illness equal to physical illness. Soldiers returning from Iraq are encouraged to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress, and Congress may pass a “Mothers Act” to promote screening new moms for postpartum depression. In many classrooms more than half the students are on medications for attention deficit and similar disorders, and the number of

U.S. children diagnosed with bipolar disorder has risen an astounding 4,000% in the past ten years. Almost weekly we hear of yet another school shooting, with headlines clamoring for early intervention and mandatory treatment of “at risk” individuals.

Since the boom of psychiatric prescriptions began in 1987, adults on disability for mental illness more than tripled to 4 million. Amongst those on disability, the percentage of children has risen from about 5% in 1987 to over 50% today.

Peter Breggin, author of Medication Madness: A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mood-Altering Medications, and Kelly Patricia O’Meara, author of Psyched Out: How Psychiatry Sells Mental Illness and Pushes Pills That Kill, outline in detail the dangerous trend to make psychotropic drugs more prevalent in the general population.

Psychiatric drugs have repeatedly proven to not only be extremely hazardous to one’s health but can be life-threatening and even fatal. Now the Archives of General Psychiatry has released scientific proof that antipsychotic drugs shrink brain tissue.

Science journalist and author, Robert Whitaker, an award-winning medical writer, and author of Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, reports that long-term use of psychiatric medications is actually causing more mental illness — not less. He states “what you find with them when you look at long term outcomes, you see more people having chronic symptoms long term than you do in the unmedicated.”

Whitaker asks a simple question: Why, if psychiatric drug treatments are so efficacious, has the number of people on disability for mental illness more than tripled in the last 25 years? And then, while poring through the psychiatric scientific literature on treatment effectiveness for the last fifty years, he found an even darker question beginning to emerge. “Is it possible that psychiatric drugs are actually making people much worse?” Could it be that far from “fixing broken brains”, the drugs being offered actually are worsening, and even causing, the very illnesses they claim to heal?

If psychiatric medications worked the way they are supposed to, and the way the drug companies and psychiatric industry tells us they do, why are so many people still severely depressed and anxious? At the start of the psychopharmacological “revolution”, when it became popular to blame all illness on “imbalanced brain chemistry”, the percentage of bipolar patients who could return to work was 85 percent. Now it is less than 30 percent.

In 1987 about half a billion dollars were spent on psychiatric medications, by 2010 the figure is closer to 40 billion. If the number of adults diagnosed as mentally disabled has tripled, it’s not because they weren’t exposed to the medication. Actually, in children the disability figures are far more frightening. In 1987 there were less than 20,000 severely mentally disabled children, now there are almost 600,000. That is a 30-fold increase. Part of that is due to the diagnosis of autism, while more is due to the even newer diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children, which has increased 40-fold in the last 10 years! Most frightening are the number of children under six receiving SSI drugs, which has tripled over the last ten years to more than 65,000 under the age of six.

Adverse effects of drugs represent a major public health problem with recent estimates indicating that 1.5 million Americans are hospitalized and 100,000 die each year, making drug related adverse effects one of the leading causes of death (Lazarou & Pomeranz, 1998). Almost 51% of drugs of approved drugs have serious adverse effects that are not detected prior to approval (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1990). It has been suggested that the system for monitoring adverse effects in the United States and elsewhere is inadequate (Moore et al, 1998; Woods, 1999). For example, neither the Food and Drug Administration in America, nor the Medicines Control Agency in Britain, collect routine data on the prevalence and consequences of adverse effects.

The alliance between psychiatry and the drug industry also helps to strengthen the more coercive aspects of psychiatry. The coercion enshrined in much mental health legislation is justified on the basis that psychiatric conditions are discrete medical entities that respond to specific treatments. The most dangerous reflection of this position are legislative proposals for universal mental health screening of children. Once put into place, this would undoubtedly be quickly allied to the use of drugs as appropriate treatment of those determined to be not mentally “healthy.”

The U.S. federal government’s New Freedom Commission supports early mental health screening in the schools. The New Freedom Commission, using the Texas Medical Algorithm Program (TMAP) as a blueprint, subsequently recommended screening of American adults for possible mental illnesses, and children for emotional disturbances, thereby identifying those with suspected disabilities, who could then be provided with support services and state-of-the-art treatment, often in the form of newer psychoactive drugs that entered the market in recent years.

The TeenScreen program (self described as The TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups) has been implemented in specific locations in nearly all 50 states and, yet, a review of five TeenScreen participation parent consent forms for the mental health screening in various towns in Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Missouri make no mention of the psych-screen failure rate. TeenScreen is a very controversial so-called diagnostic psychiatric service, aka suicide survey, done on children who are then referred to psychiatric treatment. The evidence suggests that the objective of the psychiatrists who designed TeenScreen is to place children so selected on psychotropic drugs.

“It’s just a way to put more people on prescription drugs,” said Marcia Angell, a medical ethics lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of The Truth About Drug Companies. She says such programs will boost the sale of anti-depressants even after the FDA in September ordered a “black box” label warning that the pills might spur suicidal thoughts or actions in minors. (The New York Post, December 5, 2004)

The psychiatric profession has been inclined to favor biological models of mental disorder and physical treatments as a means of bolstering its credibility and claims to authority in the management of mental disorder (Moncrieff & Crawford, 2001). Drugs so dominate psychiatric practice that it is not easy to develop alternative forms of treatment, even though some research suggests that patients with severe mental disorders may do well without drugs (Mosher, 1999; Lehtinen et al, 2000).

Research funding to develop behavior therapy has been miniscule compared with the investment that has been made studying psychiatric drugs. Nevertheless, outcome studies for a wide range of disorders show behavior therapy to be at least the equal of drug treatment. Studies have shown behavior therapy is more effective in the treatment of depression (less than half the relapse rate), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Studies indicate no difference in effectiveness for drugs versus behavior therapy in the treatment of some other disorders, for example, in the treatment of phobias and generalized anxiety disorder.

Drug treatment has not yet crashed, but there are ominous signs that we may be headed toward widespread mental disability as a consequence of this misguided treatment of mental disorder. In contrast, behavior therapy is safe and more effective. Given the superior substantive base and the greater promise offered by treatments based on a behavioral approach, more support is warranted for training behavior therapists and for pursuit of basic behavioral research. As a society we need to invest far more in developing this model for treating mental disorder.

Recent studies suggest that talk therapy may be as good as or better than drugs in the treatment of depression, but fewer than half of depressed patients now get such therapy compared with the vast majority 20 years ago. Insurance company reimbursement rates and policies that discourage talk therapy are part of the reason. A psychiatrist can earn $150 for three 15-minute medication visits compared with $90 for a 45-minute talk therapy session. Competition from psychologists and social workers – who unlike psychiatrists do not attend medical school, so they can often afford to charge less – is the reason that talk therapy is priced at a lower rate. But there is no evidence that psychiatrists provide higher quality talk therapy than psychologists or social workers.

We are rapidly becoming a society that seeks “a pill for every ill”; one that looks for simplistic, technical solutions to complex social problems.

Moncrieff and her colleagues argue that the alliance between psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry has several important negative consequences. Firstly, it helps to reinforce a narrow biological conception of the nature of mental disorder. Secondly, it drives the expansion of this conception into more and more areas of everyday life. Thirdly, it is likely to play down the impact of the adverse effects of psychiatric drugs.

This is what makes the marketing of psychiatric drugs into a force for social control and conformity. Personal or social problems are defined as diseases and the authority of psychiatry, backed by the financial muscle of the drug companies, is used to reinforce this view. In the process we are encouraged to radically alter our view of the world and ourselves. We are encouraged to aspire to narrow norms of behavior and taught that anything else is not only undesirable but also unnatural or diseased. We are encouraged to think that changes should be effected not by ourselves on our environment, but by technology on ourselves.

We may be headed to a “Brave New World,” where acceptable definitions of normal behavior are very narrow, and controlled by the drug companies.

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How the drug companies control our lives–Part 2

Posted May 15th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

In Part one of this article I described how the drug companies are making huge amounts of money marketing drugs, particularly psychotropic drugs. Part Two will examine how the profession of psychiatry is driven if not controlled by pharmaceutical companies.

Dr. Joanna Montcrieff, a Senior Professor at the Department of Mental Health Sciences at University College in London, co-founder of the Critical Psychiatry Network, and author of the book, The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment, says, “Psychiatry has therefore become an important target for the large and powerful pharmaceutical industry,” the authors contend. “Drug companies direct lavish advertising and hospitality towards psychiatrists and provide funding for much medical education and some mental health service initiatives.”

The pharmaceutical industry is now heavily involved in the organization of research into psychiatric drugs and the dissemination of research findings. This raises questions about the scientific objectivity of this research and the extent to which the industry is able to shape the research agenda, Moncrieff and her colleagues argue.  Drug companies also provide funds for pro drug patient and career groups and address advertising or disease promotion campaigns to the general public. The drug companies  exert influence at a political level through lobbying and direct funding of political bodies including drug regulatory agencies.

Why this influence is dangerous the authors argue, is because “psychiatry provides fertile ground for pharmaceutical industry profits because it provides opportunities for expanding definitions of sickness to include more and more areas of social and personal difficulty.” The pharmaceutical industry has taken advantage of these expanding definitions by promoting and expanding concepts such as depression, social phobia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and psychosis.

Drugs are the central focus of treatment in modern day psychiatry. The vast majority of psychiatric inpatients are prescribed at least one psychoactive drug and many are on several. The same is true for only a slightly smaller proportion of psychiatric outpatients and many more people are prescribed psychoactive drugs, especially antidepressants and benzodiazepines, in General Practice. Furthermore, most patients who are prescribed psychiatric drugs are told to take them for a period of months, and many are told that they will need to take them for many years or even for life.

The easy way in which pharmaceutical companies have been able to expand their business has been the willing help of the medical profession and psychiatrists, in particular.

Routine marketing strategies include the provision of “hospitality” which can vary from the provision of lunchtime refreshments for local meetings to the financing of meals in expensive restaurants or the provision of expenses paid trips to attractive foreign locations for company presentations. When psychiatrists refuse to see company representatives, they may persuade other members of the mental health team to accept hospitality. The provision of small gifts to doctors such as mugs, pens, books and diaries is also endemic. Drug company logos adorn many psychiatrists’ offices and are encountered throughout psychiatric hospitals and wards.

It has been repeatedly shown that doctors prescribing practices are influenced by interaction with industry representatives and attendance at Drug Company sponsored events (Wazana, 2000). The fact that the industry invested $15.7 billion in marketing in 2000, and that in the United States there is about one drug rep per 15 doctors, also indicates the importance the industry attaches to its marketing activities (Shaunessy & Slawson, 1996, BMJ).

The drug companies’ influence on the medical profession doesn’t stop there. However, the industry now underwrites 70% of research into drug treatments (Bodenheimer, 2000). In addition most drug trials in United States are now conducted by commercial research organizations, called Contract Research Organizations. These organizations have emerged recently and hire out their services to drug companies. Thomas Bodenheimer describes a situation in which hundreds of commercial research organizations as well as academic medical centers and other independent non academic sites compete with each other for contracts to do industry funded research. Obviously if the studies do not achieve the desired results, the organization may jeopardize future contracts.

At an individual level, links between academic doctors and the industry are proliferating and include payment for speaking at conferences, consultancy fees, payment for sitting on advisory boards or boards of directors, and holding equity in a company (Boyd & Bero, 2000). A study of published papers found that 34% of primary authors had substantial financial interests in the work they published (Wadman, 1997). In psychiatry the situation may be even worse. In 2000, the New England Journal of Medicine did not have space to print all the financial interests of the authors of a paper on the antidepressant nefazadone and had great difficulty in identifying an academic psychiatrist to write an editorial on the subject who did not have financial ties with companies that make antidepressants (Angell, 2000).

It was also shown recently that 87% of authors of clinical practice guidelines had some interaction with the pharmaceutical industry, and 38% had served as consultants or employees of companies. Despite this, only 4.5% of guidelines contained any declaration of the personal financial interests of authors (Choudhry et al, 2002). This is a cause of concern since guidelines usually command professional respect and have a strong impact on practice.

Evidence suggests this practice is not uncommon, with one study finding that 11% of articles in 6 major peer reviewed journals involved the use of ghost writers (Flanagin, 1998). A recent study of articles on the therapeutics of the antidepressant Sertraline found that over half were produced by a medical information company employed by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. These articles had higher citation rates and a higher profile within the medical literature than articles written independently.

Advertising in major academic journals provides another mechanism for influencing the message that reaches the public domain. Drug advertisements are now a prominent feature of major British and American psychiatric journals. A typical issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry consisting of about 200 pages of scientific content has approximately 35 pages of drug advertisements and a further 18 pages of advertisements for drug company sponsored “educational” meetings (see for example May 2002 and Jan 2002). Issues of the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2002 had between 5 and 16 pages of advertisements for approximately 100 pages of scientific content.

According to Dr. Thomas R. Insel, of the National Institute of Mental Health, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Psychiatrists have rarely enjoyed a surplus of public trust. During the past 3 years, public trust in psychiatry has been further undermined with accusations that several leading academic psychiatrists failed to disclose financial conflicts of interest.”

According to Loren R. Mosher, M.D., with honors from Harvard Medical School, and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, the American Psychiatric Association “is so dependent on pharmaceutical company support that it can not afford to criticize the overuse and misuse of psychotropic drugs.  Perhaps more importantly, the APA is unwilling to mandate education of psychiatrists about the seriousness of the short and long-term toxicities and withdrawal reactions from the drugs… In my view American psychiatry has become drug dependent (that is, devoted to pill pushing) at all levels – private practitioners, public system psychiatrists, university faculty and organizationally.  What should be the most humanistic medical specialty has become mechanistic, reductionist, tunnel-visioned and dehumanizing.  Modern psychiatry has forgotten the Hippocratic principle: Above all, do no harm.”

In March 2009, the American Psychiatric Association announced that it would phase out pharmaceutical funding of continuing medical education seminars and meals at its conventions.  However, the decision came only after years of controversial exposure of its conflict of interest with the pharmaceutical industry, and the U.S. Senate Finance Committee requesting in July 2008 that the APA provide accounts for all of its pharmaceutical funding.  Despite its announcement, within two months, the APA accepted more than $1.7 million in pharmaceutical company funds for its annual conference, held in San Francisco.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), claims to be an advocacy organization for people with “mental illness,” but its actions indicate otherwise. The group opposed the black box warnings on antidepressants causing suicide for under 18 year olds in 2004, and black box warnings on ADHD drugs causing heart attack, stroke and sudden death in children in 2006, when their biggest source of funding is drug companies.

The financial conflicts between psychiatrists involved with psychiatry’s billing bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV and DSM-V) Task Forces are under scrutiny and the potential pharmaceutical company influence on what “disorders” are included in the DSM.

A study by Dr. Lisa Cosgrove, Ph.D., from the University of Massachusetts and Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Harold Bursztjanin showed that despite the APA instituting a disclosure policy for DSM-V (due out in 2012), only 8 out of 27 members of the DSM Task Force had no industry relationship. “The fact that 70% of the task force members have reported direct industry ties—an increase of 14% over the percentage of DSM-IV task force members who had industry ties—shows that disclosure policies alone…are not enough and that more specific safeguards are needed,” stated Dr. Cosgrove.  Further, “pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in the structure and content of DSM, and in how the symptomology is revised.”

A 2006 study by Dr. Cosgrove and Sheldon Krimsky, a Tufts University professor, determined how 56% of the170 psychiatrists who worked on the 1994 edition of the DSM (IV) had at least one monetary relationship with a drug maker. The study also found that every one of the “experts” on DSM-IV panels overseeing so-called “mood disorders” (which includes depression) and “schizophrenia/psychotic disorders” had undisclosed financial ties to drug companies.  At the time, international sales of drugs to “treat” these conditions were more than $34 billion.

Dr. Irwin Savodnik, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, commented at the time: “The very vocabulary of psychiatry is now defined at all levels by the pharmaceutical industry.”

Gardiner Harris describers his article in the New York Times, how the job of a psychiatrist, Dr. Levin, has changed: “Like many of the nation’s 48,000 psychiatrists, Dr. Levin, in large part because of changes in how much insurance will pay, no longer provides talk therapy, the form of psychiatry popularized by Sigmund Freud that dominated the profession for decades. Instead, he prescribes medication, usually after a brief consultation with each patient…like many of his peers, he treats 1,200 people in mostly 15-minute visits for prescription adjustments that are sometimes months apart.”

“I miss the mystery and intrigue of psychotherapy,” Levin said. “Now I feel like a good Volkswagen mechanic.” He likens his office now to a bus station. In the old days of 45-minute talk sessions, “he knew his patients’ inner lives better than he knew his wife’s; now, he often cannot remember their names,” but the doctor admits, “I had to train myself not to get too interested in their problems.”

Harris cites a 2005 government survey which found that just 11 percent of psychiatrists provided talk therapy to all patients, a share that had been falling for years and has most likely fallen more since. Psychiatric hospitals that once offered patients months of talk therapy now discharge them within days with only pills.

Part 3 of this article will present evidence that questions the effectiveness claims of psychotropic drugs.

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How the drug companies control our lives–Part 1

Posted May 13th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a dystopian—or anti-utopian—novel. The story is set in a London six hundred years in the future. Standardization and progress are valued above all else. Powerful people that resemble today’s corporations create human beings in factories, and condition them for their future lives. Children are raised together and subjected to mind control through sleep teaching to further condition them. All is done in the name of keeping people happy and healthy and free of worry.

In many chilling ways, drug companies promise us a utopian future without pain, without disease and illness, thanks to prescription drugs. But is the cost more than we bargained for? This article will be in three parts. Part One will address the power and control that pharmaceutical companies have over our medical system; Part Two will examine how the profession of psychiatry is driven if not controlled by pharmaceutical companies; and Part Three will present evidence that questions the effectiveness claims of psychotropic drugs.

Dr. Joanna Montcrieff is a Senior Professor at the Department of Mental Health Sciences at University College in London and co-founder of the Critical Psychiatry Network. Some of the following material is adapted from her book, The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment, and a paper presented to the Institute of Psychiatry.

It’s no small accident that pharmaceutical companies have grown so large—their profitability is astounding. In 2001, US pharmaceutical company profits averaged 18.5% of revenue compared with 2.2% for the rest of the Fortune 500 companies (Fortune magazine, April, 2002). Imagine what the figures are today.

Drug manufacturers spend billions yearly on marketing and advertising, far beyond what they spend on research. Billions go into direct to consumer advertising which drums a mantra to the masses: “ask your doctor if (___ medication) is right for you.” Billions are poured into marketing to doctors, including via drug sales reps – one of the most lucrative sales jobs in the U.S.

One ex-drug sales rep, Shahram Ahari, told a Senate Aging Committee that on top of a base salary for starting reps of $50,000, “there were four quarterly bonuses, an annual bonus, stock options, a car, 401k, great health benefits, and a $60,000 expense account.” He said his job involved “rewarding physicians with gifts and attention for their allegiance to your product and company despite what may be ethically appropriate.” Another former drug sales rep and author of Confessions of an RX Drug Pusher, Gwen Olsen, says it’s all about the money. She described her hiring process. When asked why she wanted to become a pharmaceutical sales rep, she said she wanted to help people. The regional manager replied, “If that’s the case, you might want to join the Peace Corps…But if money is what motivates you, young lady, let me tell you how you can retire a millionaire.” Gwen reports that every manager she worked for told her that children are their biggest and most profitable expansion market.

Psychiatric drugs are notoriously high-priced. A year’s supply of one top antipsychotic is $7,000. A journal article in Biosocieties, entitled, “Demythologizing the high costs of pharmaceutical research,” exposes that drug companies widely exaggerate research costs to justify these prices. These companies typically cite a 2003 industry-funded study to claim a tag of over $1 billion to research and bring a drug to market. A new independent analysis indicates the figure is closer to $55 million.

The drug companies leave nothing to chance in their marketing plans however, making pitches directly to consumers. Of all western nations only in the United States and New Zealand, are drug companies are permitted to advertise their products directly to consumers. In the year 2000 alone, 2.5 billion dollars was spent on advertising prescription drugs to consumers in the United States (Public Citizen, 2002). In 1999, it was estimated that the average American saw nine advertisements for drugs every day.There is no doubt that direct to consumer advertising leads to increased prescription of drugs. A recent survey showed that one in five Americans was prompted to call or visit their doctor to discuss an advertised drug (BMJ, News, October, 2002).

And what is the most profitable area of drug sales? Psychotropic drugs. Mood altering and behavior modifying drugs aimed at brain chemistry. Worldwide sales of antidepressants, stimulants, antianxiety and antipsychotic drugs exceed $82 billion a year as of 2003.

Drug company corporate websites tell us of their integrity and utmost commitment to people’s health and well-being. The American Psychiatric Association’s website begins with “Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives” and asserts the “highest ethical standards of professional conduct.” Yet a mountain of evidence points to an entirely different picture.

Most recently, thirty-eight state attorneys won a $68.5 million settlement with pharmaceutical titan AstraZeneca for unlawful marketing of antipsychotic Seroquel for unapproved use. These states also charged this company with failing to disclose the drug’s harmful side effects and concealing negative information about its safety and efficacy. “The company’s illegal practices put our most vulnerable populations at risk, including children and older patients with dementia and other debilitating diseases,” states Illinois Attorney General. U.S. sales of Seroquel brought in $5.3 billion for AstraZeneca last year.

Looking further, it’s evident that the pharmaceutical industry is fraught with fraud. For instance, the new generation of antipsychotics is the single biggest target of the False Claims Act. Every major drug company selling the drugs has either settled recent government cases for hundreds of millions of dollars or is under investigation for health care fraud. Currently, U.S. federal prosecutors are seeking about $1 billion to resolve a long-running probe into Johnson and Johnson’s marketing of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, for off-label marketing of the drug. In 2009, Pfizer reached the drug industry’s biggest settlement, agreeing to pay $2.3 billion to resolve an investigation into the marketing of now-withdrawn painkiller Bextra. Since 2001, drug makers have paid more than $11 billion in off-label marketing and other whistleblower fraud cases.

Drug companies also have an impact on governments and social policy. The industry seeks direct influence at a government level by employing political lobbyists and contributing large sums of money to political parties and campaigns. In the United States, there are more pharmaceutical industry lobbyists than Congress members. The lobby budget for 1999 and 2000, at $197 million dollars, was $50 million dollars larger than the drug industry’s nearest rivals, the insurance and telecommunications industries. On top of this, the industry makes generous contributions to election campaigns, mostly to Republican Party candidates (New York Times, 4th November, 2001). Imagine what the figures must be like today.

A survey in 2006 reported the number of Americans taking antidepressants had doubled in a decade from 13.3 million to 27 million. The use of antipsychotic drugs to treat children and adolescents for problems such as aggressive behaviors and mood changes increased five fold from 1993 to 2002. A 2009 survey found that 73% more adults and 50% more children were using psychiatric drugs than in 1996.

In short, while the biological revolution in psychiatry shows little evidence of being beneficial for patients, it has been very good for business for psychiatrists and extraordinarily profitable for the pharmaceutical industry. The situation is analogous to the alliance of Wall Street bankers and traders, who with the help of some esteemed economists, established acceptance of a rationale for a financial system of great benefit to them personally. In the end, the one-sided nature of the transactions led to an economic crash causing great financial losses for the public. Similarly, psychiatry and drug companies have perpetrated a utopian pharmaceutical mythology that serves their interests very well but has served the public very poorly.

Part Two of this article will deal how the profession of psychiatry has been co-opted by the drug companies.

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“How to help someone who won’t help themselves.”

Posted May 6th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

I recently came across this great article by Lori Deschene, founder of Tiny Buddha, entitled “How To Help Someone Who Won’t Help Themselves.”  Her website link is listed below the article.

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.” ~Pema Chodron

“Recently I got into a hypothetical conversation with someone who very quickly turned hostile and accusatory. Let’s call her Jane. My first instinct was to get defensive, but then I realized this subject was quite raw for Jane, and there was likely something going on below the surface.

Usually when people are combative seemingly without cause, there’s some underlying pain fueling it.

As we got to the root of things, I learned that Jane was holding onto anger toward someone she once loved; and she felt a strong, driving need to convince people that this other person was wrong.

Since she acknowledged that she’d been feeling depressed, lonely, and helpless, I felt obligated to at least try to help her see things from a different perspective. But that ultimately proved futile.

She was committed to being angry and hurt, and all she wanted from me was validation that she was justified.

I kept thinking back to how I felt at 18 years old, reliving scenes of adolescent abuse that I refused to let go of well into my 20s. I spent years stewing in anger because I felt like a victim, and any threat to that comforting sense of righteousness only made me angrier.

Remembering how badly and unnecessarily I hurt myself, it felt imperative that I help her let go. I wanted to help her get out of her own way. I wanted her to do what I had failed to do for far too long.

Seeing that stubborn, bitter commitment to pain reminded me of how angry I was with myself when I realized I’d hurt myself far worse than anyone else—and how ashamed I felt when I realized I enjoyed being a victim, receiving pity, attention, and (what felt like) love.

Suddenly I recognized that I wasn’t just trying to help Jane; I was also judging my former self.

That internal conflict—those confused feelings and mixed motivations—would make it really difficult to offer the type of unbiased, loving support that would allow her to form her own insights if, in fact, she was ready to form them.

Very rarely do people open up to genuine help when they feel like someone is looking down on them or projecting onto them. None of us want to feel judged, misunderstood, or coerced into believing something when we’re not ready.

So what do we want? What is it that helps people create change when they’re struggling and resistant to help?

Since I have been on both sides of the table—and I have felt equally powerless on both—I decided to ask the Tiny Buddha Facebook community, “How do you help someonewho won’t help themselves?”

Some of the answers that resonated with me include:

1. First, check yourself. Do they really need help, or are you pushing some agenda subconsciously or otherwise? Second, let them know you’re there. Third, give them an example to follow. ~Carl B Salazar

2. Let them learn their own lessons. They’re on a journey just as you are, and if you aren’t meant to help them on that path, then that’s that. Show compassion and empathy, but don’t try to change their life. You might do more harm than good if you push the subject. ~Becky Puterbaugh

3. We can stop judging people assuming that they are not helping themselves. Perhaps the helplessness is the sign of their being out of their comfort zone. If we want to help, we can do some positive things like: Give some encouragement or discuss the situation with them and let their own intuition discover the best way to help themselves. ~ Santosh Nag

4. Examine your attachment to their choices. Their challenges and choices are their life lessons, not yours. Is your wanting to help them saying something about you that you need to learn? ~Susan McCourt

5. You can help them by just being there and being supportive. You can still plant seeds. Most minds are so conditioned it is almost impossible to shed any light on their world. So just smile, nod, suggest, and if it does not help then move on with no regret because you tried. ~Skip Blankley

6. Don’t enable them. Put the tools in their hands to help themselves, show them how to use them, step back, and be there when they trip. Love them when they fall. Repeat repeatedly. ~Crystal Boudreau

7. You can’t make people be what you want them to be and you can’t decide what is best for them. You can only choose for yourself. There is a huge difference between can’tand won’tCan’t might be open to help. Won’t can’t be your problem. The best thing is won’tmight not always be won’t. Hope for that. ~ Melodee Luka Kardash

8. Love them until they learn to love themselves. ~ Amber Weinacht

9. Stop trying to make them live as you think they should…How others live is not for us to control, but to learn from. ~ Crystal Sverdsten

10. Let go. They have to help themselves and accept responsibility. ~Viengxay Jimenez

11. Their path is not yours to blaze, and who’s to say they’re not exactly where they need to be at this very moment? ~Fiona Berger Maione

12. Focus on your own well being (boundaries) so that you can provide stable support when they ask for help. Allow them their process no matter how difficult it is to watch. It is neither our right or responsibility to manipulate their journey. ~Robyn Williams

13. People who won’t help themselves usually don’t trust others or themselves. Until they do, help them along by being a friend, but don’t engage in crazy behavior with them. ~Jerelyn Allen

14. How do we know, when we’re in our own little egos, that that person isn’t already doing their work? Sometimes, “helping” someone, means leaving them alone…sometimes, you help just by being yourself and healing your stuff so that others can see the change and know that it’s possible. The best way I’ve found to help others is to try and be as authentic as I possibly can. The rest, well, is just none of my business. ~Amy Scott

15. Don’t turn your back on them. Just accepted them for who they are, flaws and all, then decide for yourself if it is worth it to you. If it is, patience is a virtue. If not, then keep a hand out but watch out for yourself as well. No need for two people who won’t help themselves. ~April Spears

16. Support is important. Talk to your friends don’t leave them when they go through hard times, you’ll need them when you’re going through a hard time. ~Rosemin Bhanji

17. Help them see how their actions impact others (children, spouse or parents). ~Eloise Cabral

18. Open the door. They’ll walk through it when they’re ready. ~Devon Palmer

19. Be a role model. Show them what life is like when you cultivate and cherish the self. ~Steven Lu

20. Stay strong! Use your strength to combat their weakness. It takes time. ~ Laurie Stahl Sturgeon

I ended up telling Jane exactly what was going on in mind—how I’d clung to unfairness for years and missed out on a lot of life in the process. I acknowledged that she is a different person. I then told her that I make no assumptions or judgments about what’s going on with her and what’s right for her, but I’m here if she wants to talk.

I’d like to think that in owning my own stuff I may have inspired her to do the same. Sometimes all we can do to help other people is continue to help ourselves.”