psychology can do more harm than good, asserts retired
psychiatrist Anthony Daniels (pen name: Theodore Dalrymple) in
his book, "Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines
of taking responsibility for ourselves, "checklist
psychiatry" allows us to blame any pattern of behavior on
a "disease," said Daniels, 65.
is not writing books (this is his 23rd), Daniels serves as an
expert witness at murder trials, chases wild boars from his
wife’s garden and dreams of having a tidy study. He and his
wife, Agnes, a retired psychogeriatrician, split their time
between their homes in France and England.
Tribune caught up with Daniels during a recent trip to the
the pen name?
I started writing books, I was a prison psychiatrist, so I
wanted to keep my name separate. I thought "Theodore
Dalrymple" sounded old-fashioned and ill-tempered.
lead with Shakespeare’s King Lear saying mental illness is
"the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are
sick in fortune…we (blame) the sun, the moon and the
hundred years later, it’s still true, but we blame
psychology instead of astrology. We call it progress.
Literature is far more illuminating into the human condition
than psychology could ever hope to be.
giving us excuses for our behavior, you say, psychology
becomes a barrier to self-understanding?
not our fault if we’re obese, for example. It’s a disease.
It’s the food manufacturers’ and restaurants’ fault.
Portions are too big.
are our primary excuses?
genes, evolution, our neurochemistry, our brain scans,
chemical imbalances, our childhoods. I have a friend who goes
up to people at parties and says, "I hate my parents; don’t
you?" People always go on about how their parents caused
all their problems.
Q: Do we
have an epidemic of depression?
loosened the definition of "depression" to include
most forms of unhappiness. The result: 13 percent of adults
(2013 Mayo Clinic) are on antidepressants. Saying
"depressed" instead of "unhappy" means
someone has to cure it for us. Using antidepressants is the
modern-day equivalent of exorcising alien spirits. I like the
quote from the late Dr. Thomas Szasz: "Happiness is an
imaginary condition, formerly attributed by the living to the
dead, now attributed by adults to children and by children to
is profit a factor?
A: For a
doctor to be reimbursed by the insurance company, he must fit
the patient into a category, and the DSM ("Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," the industry
bible) keeps adding more. The new edition (DSM-5) includes
hoarding disorder, penetration disorder, impulse-control
disorder and gambling disorder. You could say I have a
"book-buying disorder" because I cannot walk by a
bookstore without buying a book. Then, you must stay in
therapy so the doctor keeps getting paid. I cite one woman in
the book who has had 4,000 appointments. It’s expensive, so
we justify it.
Q: So we
undergo psychoanalysis, as you explain, "ad
a journey from which we don’t return. The most minor
utterance is potentially the profoundest significance. Thus
criteria of importance are lost. Instead of spending years and
years in therapy talking about yourself so you can find
yourself, you should lose yourself in a cause, interest or
activity. I’m working on three books; they’re my purpose.
The paradox is overtreatment of people who don’t need
treatment and undertreatment of people who are genuinely
disturbed. Bad behavior can be the result of genuine mental or
physical illness, but that’s the small percentage of cases.
there such thing as a perfectly behaved person?
We’re all imperfect, and no one’s life is fully
satisfactory. If there was a perfect person, imagine how
extremely boring he would be.