by John T. Lynch
Skeptical Inquirer Book Review, Sept/Oct 1998, Robert A. Baker is professor emeritus of psychology, University of Kentucky.
A classic joke among critics of the typical mental hospital today is: "The wrong people have the keys." Whether the "treatment" experience the mentally disordered receives at the hands of the therapist be that of medication, talk, or a combination of the two, makes little difference. Lasting behavior changes, restored emotional stability, and permanent calm and contentment are rarely seen. Though drugged and tranquilized, the client is in no way, "cured." Even more unfortunate is the fact that there is little in the way of published therapeutic standards, fail-safe or fool-proof treatment techniques, reliable and valid diagnostic tools, or Good Housekeeping Seals of Approval or Consumer Reports checklists to let the average citizen know whether the psychotherapist he or she employs is competent or a quack. Little wonder, therefore, that year-by-year the number of books written by victims of psychotherapeutic incompetence, malfeasance, and sadism continue to proliferate.
Dr. John Lynch's Therapeutic Madness is one of the better and more recent additions to this genre. Divided into three sections, Part I of Lynch's work describes in poignant detail what he and anyone suffering from a painful anxiety-driven case of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) experiences daily: how his successful professional life and ability to function were destroyed, and how he finally sought psychiatric help and acquired a therapist. The most tragic and disturbing part of this section details session-by-session descriptions of Lynch’s incompetent (and herself mentally disturbed) therapist as she stumbles and bumbles her way from one therapeutic blunder to another. Then, when these efforts fail she then turns to her pill pouch and prescribes totally unnecessary and inappropriate tranquilizers and other neuroleptics to numb and stifle Lynch's superior intellect.
Much of the interpersonal interactions and conversational by-play between Lynch and his therapist is insane enough to serve as models for TV episodes of Seinfeld. Toward the end of Section I the therapist's behavior becomes so bizarre the reader forgets that Lynch is supposed to be the patient.
Part II is concerned with Lynch's attempt to determine if: 1) his mistreatment was par for the course; 2) if psychiatrists, as a group, are all as disturbed and incompetent as his own lemon; and 3) if the mental health system itself, is basically flawed. Lynch accomplishes this with a short but incisive review of the anti-psychiatry literature, the literature of psychiatric victimization, attacks on and criticism of the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), and pharmapsychiatry.
Part III of Lynch's book discusses how Lynch managed to use his own religious beliefs and convictions, along with the staunch support of a loving wife, to help him overcome his anxieties and emotional distress. Lynch was fortunate, indeed, to discover that his personal God was a much better therapist than his psychiatrist Grace. While many cautious readers might be inclined to assume that Grace, Lynch's confused therapist, is merely one "bad apple" in the large barrel of healthy and able psychotherapists, it is sobering to discover (along with Lynch) that all of Grace's superiors and other psychiatric consultants asked to review Lynch's records and treatment, could find no fault with anything Grace did or did not do.
Lynch's short, but brilliant and disturbing book about formal psychiatry's inability to deal with his obsessive-compulsive disorder supports and strengthens Lynch's argument and his position that psychotherapeutic incompetence is far from rare and many therapists are, indeed, quite mad! If you ever find yourself in need of one, take care. Be sure that the one you choose is at least as sane and stable as you are.