by Ron Thompson
Linda Andre has spent over 20 years trying to alert the public to the inevitable harm done by the psychiatric treatment known as 'electroconvulsive treatment', or more simply, as ... shock.
Now she's written DOCTORS OF DECEPTION: What They Don't Want You to Know About Shock Treatment (2009), published by Rutgers University Press.
Unlike other books written by former patients of psychiatry who feel their treatment was much worse than any problems they had prior to their encounter with psychiatry, Linda's book is relatively short on her personal story and long on scholarship about the history of shock since it's appearance in 1938. This makes her book at once excellent investigative reporting and serious history, as well as a compelling personal story.
One of many things that suggest the importance of this book is the startling statement that the dangers of shock treatment were far better recognized in the 1940's than they are now.
Andre discusses the main reason such a 'shocking' fact is true.
In two early chapters, she makes a strong case that eugenical thinking, the pseudo-scientific idea that certain races, or certain categories of people, are biologically inferior to others - an idea which had a dismayingly wide vogue for the first four decades on the 20th century - has never really gone away regarding mental patients.
If this inferiority is assumed to be true, then any damage caused by treatment must be of less harm than if committed against 'normal' human beings.
Such a mindset of general discriminatory thought encouraged by the fake science of Eugenics has largely disappeared or significantly eroded, at least in mainstream thought, as applied to African-Americans, women, gays and lesbians, and others
But Andre makes a strong case that it still thrives when applied to mental patients, especially by psychiatrists. I think most mental patients,former or current, voluntary or involuntary, true believers or not in biology as the basis of their problems, would agree.
Next , Andre dissects in convincing detail how the Shock industry, when it came under increasing criticism in the 1960's as part of the general cultural upheaval of protest in that now distant period, decided to adopt a Public Relations strategy rather than a scientific strategy to meet these attacks.
That is, instead of doing valid scientific research on the outcomes of sending electricity through human brains, the shock doctors and the manufacturers of shock machines - which over the years have increasingly become the same people - decided on a pure no-holds barred public relations campaign that is pro-shock and anti-every critic, with especially no-holds-barred opposition to former patient critics. (Andre documents that damning research on the effects of shocking animal brains was done and published in the 1940's and early 50's).
Unfortunately this brazen Public Relations strategy has been a major success over the last 35 or more years.
Andre marshals a large volume of evidence to prove this. Her discussion of the aggressive PR approach by the shock doctors (both in public and behind-the-scenes) with regard to government-funded research, the FDA, professional journals, and the ever-complacent media, are the most revealing aspects of her research. For the really determined reader, she provides 30 pages of footnotes.
Along the way, she discusses the story of Marilyn Rice, the once highly placed government economist who lost her professional working knowledge as a result of shock, who then became the first major ex-patient activist against this particular psychiatric mistreatment, and eventually friend and mentor to her successor, Linda Andre.
She reports her conversations with some of the major shock doctors or propagandists she has confronted, with one particularly charming or chilling description of how a doctor tried to convince her that any damage to her memory or IQ had to have one of three or four other causes, but could not possibly be due to shock.
The final contribution of Andre's book is in a late chapter which discusses whether ect (shock) treatment should be banned, and what the moral context of that debate should be. In this chapter, which is in part a return to the earlier charge that shock doctors think in terms of eugenics about their patients, she charges that there is an unpleasant hidden moral agenda concerning the use of shock that lies beneath the overt or publicly professed reasons for the treatment.
Her indictment of this hidden moral agenda could hardly be harsher. It's on p. 271 of the book, and I will not spoil it for the reader by trying to give it in shorthand here.
Any particular faults in this book? Not really for this reviewer. Although it's true that shock doctoring can fairly be called an industry, I probably would have used the word profession much more often, if only because members of a profession are held to a higher standard or performance and ethical behavior than members of an industry. On the other hand, since we've had such a recent avalanche of stories on how so many in the medical profession and in research are embracing conflicts of interest and the ethics of entrepreneurialism rather than the ethics of science and of being professionals, maybe Andre's not wrong to refer relentlessly to shock doctors as an industry.
Last, this superior example of in-depth investigative reporting seems particularly relevant to recommend to those in the Washington area. This is because, even though there are some very good stories in big regional papers around the country about the mounting concerns of 'biological' psychiatry in more and more categories of psychiatric patients, the Washington Post (along with the New York Times) is, for reasons not entirely clear, peculiarly neglectful and incompetent in its coverage of psychiatry.
This is an especially tragic dereliction of journalistic duty if the paradigm of brain-centered biological psychiatry, triumphant since about 1980 over person-centered psychiatry, has really been about the stealth rebirth of Eugenics and has had nothing to do with actual science.
This means that the community of our national political leadership located here in Washington is woefully uninformed, at least through the papers it is most apt to read, about an issue that many groups around the country are increasingly concerned about.
Linda Andre has been a well-known speaker on the issues surrounding shock treatment for many years. The book she has now written about the moral and scientific issues surrounding that treatment deserves wide attention.