Science Isn't Golden

Matters of the mind and heart

Speed-Diagnosing Contest Run by Psychiatric Times

Online competition to assign psychiatric labels fast promises gold rewards

Years ago, I wrote a play called CALL ME CRAZY, a comedy-drama with music that is about psychiatric diagnosis. Realistic, serious scenes alternate with broadly, even sophomorically comedic ones. One of the latter is a quiz show called "What's My Diagnosis?!" In that scene, the quiz show host introduces Dr. Slip and Dr. Grip, two psychiatrists who are the contestants and tells them that a patient will be brought onstage, and "As in many real mental health facilities, you'll have just a few minutes to make your diagnosis!"

I wrote that scene because I knew that many therapists diagnose their patients within just a few minutes. In fact, when the play is performed, I include in the program a Playwright's Note, in which I say that everything in the play is true, especially the parts you will be sure I must have made up.

Many years ago, I learned that that quiz show scene was even truer-to-life than I had realized, and just today, it happened again. Years ago, I happened to meet a woman who had worked in the office of Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist who spearheaded the creation of the third and third-revised editions of the American Psychiatric Association's unscientific and often harmful manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. She told me the following story: Several women worked in Dr. Spitzer's office, and one day they were joined by a woman from a temporary placement agency who was answering his phone. The woman who worked there regularly heard her take a call that was for Dr. Spitzer and say, "He just went up on the ward to do a diagnostic, so I am sure he won't be back for at least an hour or two." At that point, said my informant, the regulars waved their hands at the woman on the phone and said, "No, no! Ten minutes!"

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This morning brought news that I at first was sure must be a joke, a clever satire aimed to reveal the utter irresponsibility and carelessness of the mental health establishment, but no, it is not a joke. Psychiatric Times is holding a speed diagnosing contest. Really. You can find it at

http://goforthegold.psychiatrictimes.com/?GUID=5AB103D6-FCB0-4577... It is called Diagnostic Champions' Challenge.

It seems that anyone can enter, and the prize is, according to information on the site, "real gold." I wish they would use the money instead to redress some of the life-destroying harm that so many people have suffered as a result of being given a psychiatric label. Curious, I chose the username "shockedandappalled" and was immediately in the game. The time pressure is intense, and I answered every question and did poorly. Why did I do poorly? You have just seconds to answer each of twenty questions, many of which are constructed to make it look as though various psychiatric drugs are helpful for people given particular labels and all of which are constructed to make it look as though there is solid science to support them. How did I do? Badly. 24 out of a possible 63 points. Clearly, I have no business giving people psychiatric labels.

The editor of Psychiatric Times, to whom letters may be sent, is James L. Knoll IV, MD, and his email address is knollj@upstate.edu

 

©2013 by Paula J. Caplan                                     All rights reserved

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., a clinical and research psychologist, is an Associate at Harvard University's DuBois Institute and former Fellow in Harvard Kennedy School's Women and Public Policy Program. more...

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