Monday, May 14, 2012

Response to Dr. Wessely

Response to Dr. Wessely

Last Update: 12:25 PM 5/14/2012

Normality or psychopathology of belief or belief system is determined first of all by the intrinsic qualities of belief in question. It is not determined by the fact that belief is shared or not shared: "Delusions are beliefs that are not only wrong, in the sense of not corresponding to the world as we know it, but they must also not be shared with others of the same cultural background."
There are many delusional beliefs that are or were shared, and some of them on a rather large scale. For example, the precolumbian Maya believed, that for the sun to rise they had to offer human sacrifices (of their best and brightest) every day, otherwise all kind of life on earth would come to a halt. This belief was shared very widely in precolumbian Maya culture, which does not make it less delusional.
Breivik's ultra nationalist anti-immigrant ideology is shared by great many people of various cultural backgrounds. The goal of his forensic psychiatric evaluation is to assess his own particular belief system, with all its peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, in order to determine its nature, qualities and psychopathological aspects, regardless of other similar beliefs. In the end, it was him, not others, who took these ideas to their logical (or rather illogical and "sick") extreme, although the (possibly facilitating) role of "significant others" in his case still has to be determined.
Neither the "monstrosity" and "grievous consequences" of his actions nor "popular misconceptions" should cloud the picture. The most important factor in his forensic psychiatric assessment is the presence or absence of identifiable and diagnosable mental illness and the degree of its causal relationship with the crime. In my opinion, whatever it is worth, psychopathological qualities of Breivic's beliefs: their highly systematised, structured, all embracing "world view" quality, along with their unshakable, messianic conviction and "call for action", indicate with high degree of probability the presence of Delusional Disorder, mixed, persecutory-paranoid type, and the direct and overwhelming causal connection of his psychopathology with the criminal act.
The cognitive aspect in psychopathology of Delusional Disorders (abnormalities and/or dysfunctions in concept selection, elimination and confirmation), indicating possible subtle but decisive organic involvement is much under-researched area, probably due to our neglect or inattention to biological aspects of these disorders and overestimation of its psychodynamic aspects. Delusional jealousy, secondary to chronic alcoholism (a very discrete and specific syndrome) is the case in point.
"The... misconception... that the purpose of psychiatry is to “get people off”" might be as wide spread as any other misconception, which does not make it any less of a misconception.
The historically formed legal concept of "NGRI: not guilty by reason of insanity" is a witness to humanity and rationality of a Social System, not to mention other, less important but present factors, such as political and social convenience, expediency and cultural traditions. (E.g.: Disraeli to Queen Victoria: "Only a madman can think about assassinating your Majesty...").
Modern psychiatry, very likely, was born out of the M'Naghten rules, as some psychiatric historians suppose.
And last, but certainly not least, is the difficult and complex subject of "Schizophrenia", its clinical concept (and/or misconcept) and diagnosis (and/or misdiagnosis). The diagnostic label of "Schizophrenia" became so wide spread and all encompassing (because it is so easy to apply, and is applied almost indiscriminately), as to loose its meaning and clinical value. In our rush to nosological (and reimbursement) parity with the rest of medicine we jumped over our heads too soon, introducing the (man made) diagnostic criteria based "nosological" system, which leads to premature ossification and codification of clinical concepts and experience, impeding the independent minded research greatly and precluding the normal development (albeit slow and lagging) of psychiatry as a medical science. Is it not more correct and probably clinically more productive, especially in the field of psychopharmacology,  to return to syndromologically based classification system and to try to define, refine and research these historically formed clinical syndromes further, before rushing to judgements about their pseudonosological "pigeon holes"?
This is what Breivic trial, along with other issues, brings to the front. And these issues deserve a deep and long thought.

Michael Novakhov, M.D.

References and Links

Anders Breivik, the public, and psychiatry : The Lancet

Anders Breivik, the public, and psychiatry : The Lancet

The Lancet, Volume 379, Issue 9826, Pages 1563 - 1564, 28 April 2012
doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60655-2Cite or Link Using DOI


Sanity - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In The Sane Society, published in 1955, psychologist Erich Fromm proposed that, not just individuals, but entire societies "may be lacking in sanity". Fromm argued that one of the most deceptive features of social life involves "consensual validation."[3]:

It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings. Nothing is further from the truth... Just as there is a folie à deux there is a folie à millions. The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.[4]

Fromm, Erich. The Sane Society, Routledge, 1955, pp.14–15.

sane society - Google Search

Erich Fromm - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Social System - Google Search

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    Scholarly articles for social systems theory

    Sociology and modern systems theory. - Buckley - Cited by 1963


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