Pseudo-Science and Power: Why M.E. sufferers are so opposed to the psychiatric approach

The psychiatric approach to ME/CFS, developed in the late 1980s, has been one of the most damaging factors in the lives of sufferers with this condition, particulary in its use of an abusive treatment - graded exercise. Their approach has dismayed sufferers, particularly in the UK, where the psychiatric lobby has been very strong. Before it was promulgated, ME patients had supposed that immunologists and neurologists would specialise in ME, not psychiatrists. But in line with the well oiled technique of "sowing doubt" in the media to manipulate and control public opinion, psychiatrists wheeled in their "approach" whenever the "ME question" arose. The effect has been that the media was "bought off" and balanced genuine articles on ME/CFS were cancelled out by "doubt sowing" comments from psychiatists and, until very recently, journalists were completely confused. Even respected papers like "The Times" have been negative about M.E, greatly exacerbating the distress of helpless sufferers. In this way, genuine medical fears and concerns about the sheer prevalence of ME have been silenced and the outcome has been that current UK research into the immunological causes has had to be funded from very limited resources, privately. Happily, the broadsheets have now demonstrated more awareness of ME as a physical illness and even they are publiushing articles saying that ME/CFS is a real illness, after the US Center for Disease Control found organic abnormalities in people with ME/CFS (e.g. different proteins in their spinal cords) and launched a campaign in November 2006 to tell the world (see U Tube "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome").

Those with authentic M.E. (which is not depression) know that there is no connection between the theories of Jung and Freud and their neuro-immune symptoms (e.g.dizziness), their immune symptoms (e.g. sore throat, hot sweats and subnormal temperatures) and their deregulated pain responses to certain foods.

The psychiatrists' language about ME seems to sufferers like "doublespeak" or could be seen as propaganda ( It sows a disabling level of doubt in the mind of the public (a technique like "disinformation") about the authenticity of ME/CFS. They talk about ME being "a very serious illness" and at the same time they prescribe graded exercise. Who, ever, in possession of their senses, prescribed "exercise" for a serious, fatigue illness? We have recently heard reports of UK psychiatrists diagnosing alcoholism as "ME/CFS". It seems that there is an organised group of psychiatrists claiming that ME is a serious and real illness, exacerbated by "faulty" thinking patterns and by lack of activity. But what do they mean? Giving graded exercise for ME/CFS is about as irrational as treating people who cannot convert oxygen to energy, with the "curative" treatment of climbing to the top of Everest. A shortfall of energy in the muscles is at the crux of ME. Sufferers who over-exercise in a normal context risk becoming permanently disabled and wheelchair-bound. On top of this inappropriate treatment, psychiatrists (unlike research physicians) show no interest in meeting and talking with people with ME to learn about the complexities of the social and emotional effects of the syndrome. This does nothing to convince sufferers that they know anything about their condition. What is their motive? Well, we think we know: their professional survival. Please read on.

Medicine and new conditions

Oddly, Western medicine responds to new medical conditions not with scientific interest but with denial. Before the organic (bodily) symptoms of multiple scelerosis was demonstrated, it was subject to an "all in the mind" theory - until it was proved (by advanced brain scanning) to be organic. In fact, MS which also involves nerve damage, is the clue to what has happened in ME. Medical professionals handle new medical mysteries by first labelling them "psychiatric", until proved by recognised science as "organic". When (and if) a technological advance finds the cause, the previous erroneous label is instantly discarded, both by doctors and by the medical media and glossed over (such is the power of the phrase "scientific proof"). Those who promulgated the original, purely psychiatric, theory escape peer discipline for the broken lives and relationships (possibly even suicides) that their earlier diagnosis may have caused. This is odd, since Physicians guilty of serious misdiagnosis or misconduct may be brought before a medical council for lack of professionalism. Why are psychiatrists not subject to such discipline or scrutiny into their "medical" diagnoses? It seems to smack of the indulgence offered to the youngest child in the family.

Is Psychiatry a Science?

Possibly, in the eyes of most physicians, psychiatry is the youngest child of the sciences and is not regarded as an "exact" science by the medical profession itself, but more of a "pseudo science". Few, if any, of its claims can be founded on scientific proofs. The book "Psychoheresy" by Martin and Deidre Bobgan (Eastgate Publishers, California) claims that on the whole psychiatirc treatments either do more harm than good, or could be just as well performed by lay people. The authors state that psychology, on which psychiatry is based, is not scientific and that conflict among many current opposing psychiatric theories is all too plain to psychiatrists themselves.
Furthermore, one leading medical researcher has said privately: "Since so many conditions once thought to be psychiatric have now been shown to be organic, psychiatrists fear that they are losing their profession and have latched onto ME". They also seem to have latched onto other conditions, in fact any condition vaguely similar to ME.

A Crisis in Credibility: realising that science may only be a "theory"

Realising that any scientific "facts" are actually only theories comes as a real shock to a 21st century mind. The media has strenously promoted "Darwinian evolution" (e.g. in David Attenborough's TV nature programmes etc) but there is actually no proof of any "intermediate species", of one species developing into another. There are big gaps in science. If evolution itself is still only an unproven "theory" where does that leave our other ideologies?

Many ME sufferers disbelieved medical assurances in the 1980s and 1990s about the "safety of beef" during the BSE ("mad cow disease") crisis. The words "there is no scientific proof that X is linked to Y" were misleading and meant "No one knows anything about this condition or how it is caused and X could be linked to Y but there is no proof as yet". The public wrongly interpreted this as meaning "As there is no scientific proof, then X cannot be linked to Y". People with ME knew better. They already knew that science is falllible and that often science is only a theory. There is too little critical evaulation of science by the public and the media. There is even less emphasis, in some quarters, of the tentative nature of their knowledge by scientists themselves.

This uncritical approach (pseudo-worship?) by the public and media to scientific statements (pseudo-dogma?) needs constant scrutiny on behalf of those suffering from mystery conditions. In the longer term, in the light of medical failures like BSE and ME, worse could happen. The status of science as a kind of quasi-religion with scientists as high priests (a product of ideology, not reason) needs ongoing monitoring, re-evaluation and reform. Medical science must be answerable for what it promulgates or become, inexorably, an evil and totalitarian force for the suppression of the most vulnerable in society. Should scientists promulgating ideologies, based only on theories control us, anyway? Are theories appropriate to people?

Some ME sufferers are concerned that if something new, say, something environmental, causes an immune breakdown and an ME-like condition in the future, the phrase "There is no scientific evidence that there is a connection between X and Y" will be wheeled out again. The psychiatric lobby will state that these people who cannot walk, talk or think are suffering not from a physical condition, but from their own diseased imagination, inadequacies or neuroses. Such people may soon find that they are denied state benefits. The link with the cause will never be identified.

Why is psychiatry influential at all?

What, one asks, in reality, is the level of seriousness that medical science affords psychiatry? There is clearly a useful and appreciated role in specialist doctors compassionately controlling conditions like psychosis and schizophrenia. But why are pseudo psychiatric explanations being used by reputable medical science to mean "This is something new that we do not understand". Why are aspects of psychiatry used by leading scientists as a non-exact science, with non-exact definitions? Clearly, psychiatry is useful when there is a gap in scientific or medical knowledge to maintain its semi-religious, mystic status (or protect some hidden agenda). Nevertheless, why are psychiatrists so influential and unchallenged in the modern world? The answer may lie in the convenience of psychiatry, its underpinning of modern non-religious ideologies and its popular uses to explain away "sin".

Historically, psychiatry was started by Sigmund Freud who rejected religion. Freud saw man's nature as being in conflict, between basic primitive wants, needs and desires which seek expression (the Id) and the forces suppressing them. When these desires are not expressed or are suppresed by the Superego, which is nurtured by parents, the church, teachers, the denial (theoretically) can make you mentally unbalanced or psychosomatically ill. When the subconscious is in conflict, (theoretically) it produces neuroses and the only way forward is to weaken the Superego (through minimising the conscience or a sense of guilt) to release or minimise these inner tensions.

This makes the therapist into a secular pastor, defeating the Superego, on behalf of the Id. There is a kind of contradiction here, since psychiatrists are called "soul-doctors" (which is the Greek derivation of "psychiatry"). But Freud did not believe in the human soul. Psychiatry has also gained potency by encouraging neo-pagan attitudes to sexual inhibitions, which may be thought useful and convenient in the modern world, for a variety of reasons or because of "decadence".

To ME sufferers, the psychiatric approach means this: ME sufferers are stressed by being inadequate in the battle of life, having suppressed needs, wants and desires. They are "depressed", require "readjustment in their thinking" and "correction" to distorted ideas about their own state of health.

But why do psychiatrists, who are supposed to understand the psyche, fail to understand how deeply this diagnosis insults the intelligence, self-knowledge and survival efforts of people with ME? People with ME are mature suffering individuals, coping with a complex, hidden, immunological condition. Such an approach turns sufferers into immature attention-seekers, hysterics and worse than this: liars. Nothing could be further from the truth. ME sufferers are heroes of hidden endurance.

Inverted Values and Psychiatry

A well-documented weakness of psychiatry in general, raised in the book "Psychoheresy" by Martin and Deirdre Bobgan is that it makes big claims but can actually prove very little. In fact, the book claims that in some cases, psychiatry has been damaging or counterproductive. Psychiatrists have yet to produce convincing proof that graded exercise or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy cures or even helps people with ME (as opposed to people with depression). Only a complete cure would validate a "psychiatric theory" for ME. If it cannot, then psychiatrists must acknowledge that some chemical dysfunction (physical illness) is involved.

Psychiatry denies the existence of sin. Thus it smothers the release of conscience in an act of repentance and renewal. A century after the birth of psychiatry, we live in a cruel, selfish and increasingly callous, decadent age, in moral confusion. Nowadays, we seem to be excusing murderers ("all in their genes or upbringing") and condemning the sick ("inadequates needing reprogramming")? Is society now excusing the immoral and persecuting the most vulnerable? So a child with ME is labelled "school averse" (lazy, anarchic) and its parents are persecuted for being caring. An adult with ME is effectively labelled as a "malingerer" ("mal" meaning "bad") because he is lying to himself and others about the true cause of his illness which is "self-deceptive, inadequate thinking".

But ME is caused immunologically, genetically and even environmentally. By pronouncing at all on ME, psychiatrists wrongly label sufferers as responsible for their socially burdensome illness: as "maladjusted" and/or "inadequate". Hence, sufferers (responsible for their "mental inadequacy") are denied desperately needed support, sometimes by the State, by their partners, relatives and by their friends, support which might give them the energy to recover. This is actually the result of a deeply erroneous approach, previously reflected uncritically by the Press, for which psychiatrists are morally responsible. The tragic and evil mistake over ME (when it is finally proved) will be a "medical" error (one of the biggest ever, from which Western medical credibility will find it hard to recover) not a psychiatric one. It is for the professional medical profession to hold psychiatry in check.

The Integrity of the Soul in ME

One discovers in chronic illness that, like Job in the Bible, maintaining one's integrity really matters. Christian ME/CFS sufferers will fiercely defend their souls from secular ideologies, any attempt to manipulate values and any "spiritual trespass". Spirituality is a realm which does not belong to science or psychiatry. So too will those who are rational and reject religious belief: they have their own integrity. All rational people defend their minds and reason against intrusion. Psychiatrists must not trespass on what is not theirs (the soul belongs to a separate sphere from psychiatry), nor make statements about the state of the souls of sane individuals, about whose condition they know nothing. "Soul-doctoring" of the rational should be out of bounds to psychiatry. Anyway, since Freud believed that all religions are man-made and did not believe Man has a soul, there is no warrant for it. Jung was a Gnostic.

I hope that this explains the fierce conflict in the media and in medical circles between psychiatrists (and their supporting doctors) and ME sufferers, because, by implication, sane, responsible ME sufferers are being patronised by psychiatrists and unfairly labelled as:

a) liars, inadequates, school averse, work averse, lazy, workshy
b) in need of some form of therapy for their mental "maladjustment".

Psychiatry as Job's Comforter

Does psychiatry not understand that ME sufferers are relying on the integrity of their reason/soul to get better? If this last statement sounds dramatic, then the reader needs to turn to "The Book of Job". In this ancient book in the Bible, an agonised, persecuted, tortured sufferer with a terrible skin complaint holds fiercely to the truth about himself and the causes of his illness, in the face of three so-called "comforters" who think they are comforting him (but are actually condemning him), by telling him that he is responsible for his own devastating illness. The end of the story is that the three "comforters" see the error of their ways and repent. The reader knows the cause of the illness - and it is not Job's fault. God has let him have it - for a greater end. God commands repentance and apology from the comforters!

See here the book of Job


In the light of these facts, the motto "Nothing about us, without us" applies to all statements about ME. Medical science needs to develop a much humbler approach to new conditions, wiser, more tentative and more mature. The population need to realise that, in general, science is a tentative voyage of exploration, often just "a theory", a well-financed "theory". Psychiatry is merely "trying things" in M.E. It is not a solution, set in concrete and may be nothing more than a socially-favoured experiment. ME patients must insist on second and third opinions from a range of doctors, and not just from psychiatrists. They must remind all medical professionals that diagnoses must be very carefully weighed and considered. Psychiatrists must allow those ME sufferers whom they claim they have "cured" to be cross-examined by authentic ME sufferers. They need to show interest in the complexity of reactive depressive symptoms in ME. The lives, "character", support networks and survival of adults and children with ME are at stake.

If a psychiatrist with genuine ME is able to respond, we would be pleased to read and even share comments on this site.

To heal the psyche: "Mozart for the spirit, Shakespeare for the heart and The Bible for the soul". As Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) wrote "Medicine heals the body, music the spirit and theology the soul" (Letters) See Music and Immunity

Sites which take a critical approach to psychiatry

Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology

Books which take an analytical approach

"Toxic psychiatry
" : Why therapy, empathy and love must replace the drugs, electroshock and biochemical theories of the "New Psychiatry" by Peter R. Breggin published by New York: St Martin's Press, 1991

"Psychoheresy" by Martin and Deidre Bobgan (Eastgate Publishers, California)

"Skewed: Psychiatric Hegemony and the Manufacture of Mental Illness in ...Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" by Martin J. Walker published by Slingshot 2003

Anti-Psychiatry - a recognised movement questioning psychiatry, involving some leading psychiatrists themselves.