Gary Greenberg in Bookforum:
In 1917, psychiatrist Thomas Salmon lamented that the classification of diseases was still “chaotic”—a “condition of affairs [that] discredits the science of psychiatry and reflects unfavorably upon our association,” and that left the profession unable to meet “the scientific demands of the present day.” In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association voted to declare that homosexuality was no longer a mental illness, a determination that, however just, couldn’t possibly be construed as scientific. And for the six years leading up to the 2013 release of the fifth edition of its diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, the APA debated loudly and in public such questions as whether Asperger’s disorder were a distinct mental illness and if people still upset two weeks after the death of a loved one could be diagnosed with major depression. (The official conclusions, respectively: no and yes.)
To the diagnostic chaos was added the spectacle of treatments. Psychiatrists superintended horrifyingly squalid asylums; used insulin and electricity to send patients into comas and convulsions; inoculated them with tuberculin and malaria in the hope that fever would cook the mental illness out of them; jammed ice picks into their brains to sever their frontal lobes; placed them in orgone boxes to bathe in the orgasmic energy of the universe; psychoanalyzed them interminably; primal-screamed them and rebirthed them and nursed their inner children; and subjected them to medications of unknown mechanism and unanticipated side effects, most recently the antidepressant drugs that we love to hate and hate to love and that, either way, are a daily staple for 11 percent of adults in America.
It’s not just diagnostic uncertainty or therapeutic disasters that cast suspicion on the profession.