I'm just bumping up this post, originally from July 2008, because there have been some new comments.
There are a lot of strong opinions out there about psychiatry.
Some people are concerned that the practice of psychiatry has caused harm, perhaps by "over-medicalizing" issues that should be considered matters of personal challenge, character, individual choice & responsibility, spirituality, or normal human experience. Other concerns are that psychiatry is overly influenced by large pharmaceutical companies, whose agenda is to earn larger profits by selling more medication. Critics holding these concerns often consider the results of research studies to be biased, since they have often been sponsored by drug companies.
I think these concerns need to be heard and respected. There are specific examples about some of the concerns having some validity to them. In the history of psychiatry, as in the history of all other human endeavour, mistakes have been made. Small mistakes and large mistakes. On a systemic level, I think some of the core theories about psychiatry over the past hundred years have been laden with huge inaccuracies, despite the many nuggets of wisdom contained within them (Freud's ideas are one example). Many times, attempts at treatment have not helped, or perhaps have reduced a symptom at a very great expense to other aspects of the patient's life. There have been trends and fashions in treatment, such as the widespread use of anxiolytic drugs in past decades--while only later do we discover that these treatments can cause entrenched problems with addiction.
Conversely, there are some testimonial accounts of individuals who have had long histories of conventional psychiatric therapies, who have gone on to thrive once leaving all of these behind (perhaps pursuing alternative or naturopathic medicine, or making some other lifestyle change).
I think it is important to step back and examine the evidence closely, with a critical eye (in future posts I will refer to some of the evidence). I hold that there is a vast body of evidence about psychiatry to look at. And the evidence shows that the treatments are truly helpful. The evidence also shows that the treatments are not perfect, and that typically 30% of people do not have a good response from a given psychiatric treatment. The evidence also shows that up to 30% of patients respond to "placebo treatments". These facts lead to several criticisms about psychiatric treatment: first, there are many (perhaps in the first group of 30%) who have tried "conventional psychiatry" and have found that it hasn't worked for them. Second, there are those who have tried "non-psychiatric" treatments, and found that these HAVE worked for them (perhaps these people are in the 30% "placebo" group). Both of these groups may have a tendency to criticize psychiatry; yet there is another 40% -- a group whose ailments have resolved as a direct result of their psychiatric treatments.
This has always reminded me a bit of other areas of medicine, such as cardiology or oncology: the treatments in these specialties can be remarkably curative for some, only palliative for others, and may not work at all for others still.
I do agree that we must never "over-medicalize" any human ailment. It is rare for a problem to be truly cured by a pill. Usually, for any human concern or challenge, any therapy that helps has to be accompanied by holistic changes in lifestyle & behaviour. For the cardiac patient, this means rehabilitative exercise, healthy diet, no smoking, etc. For the mind, just as for the heart, there are many lifestyle habits that are healthy, restorative, and protective against recurrent illness.
Yet, very often people are too ill to be able to institute the "healthy lifestyle habits". The cardiac patient may require medication to control blood pressure and angina before being able to safely or comfortably exercise. Similarly, there are medical treatments in psychiatry that can hopefully provide enough symptom relief to allow the patient to energetically change their life for the better.
I have observed that the "anti-psychiatry" group can be very vocal. I could understand that the individuals among this group could have good reasons to hold such strong, forceful opinions. But I don't want this site to be a forum to spend a lot of time on this debate, I would rather focus on my own beliefs about ways to manage the mind's symptoms in the healthiest possible ways.