Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Rose Garden of Ignorance

Before the current autism spectrum categories existed, some children who would today be classified as autistic were diagnosed as having "childhood schizophrenia." They were believed to inhabit a seductive world of hallucinations from which they could be coaxed back to reality through a lengthy course of psychoanalysis.

I remember being given a Rorschach inkblot test as a child, when I was young enough to be unaware of its ominous significance. (Thankfully, I wasn't packed off to an institution afterward, as some children of my generation were.) At the time, I just thought it was one of those picture puzzles with hidden shapes, like in an activity book for children.

I often bought paperback books at school, when they handed out those Scholastic Books fliers for kids to order from. One book that I bought, which was a bestseller in the 1970s, was called I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. It was a novel about a teenager who had been diagnosed with "childhood schizophrenia."

The book begins with the main character, Deborah, being taken by her loving parents to a mental hospital where she will be cured of her terrible illness by the efforts of a brilliant, insightful, and hardworking psychiatrist. Deborah doesn't seem to notice the change in her surroundings much, as she spends most of her time hallucinating a vividly detailed assortment of godlike characters and fanciful landscapes.

Well, except when she starts cutting herself. Could Deborah's self-injury have anything to do with the trauma of being separated from her home and family? Not according to the author, who blithely explains that one of Deborah's imaginary characters told her (for no apparent reason) to do it.

Just about everything Deborah does, throughout the entire book, is described as a consequence of her hallucinations, until at the end the heroic psychiatrist convinces her to choose sanity. Whenever Deborah gets upset about anything, it's because her unconscious mind is full of fear and anger, personified by the hallucinations. If she has any problems speaking—ditto. There's an explanation and a miraculous psychoanalytical cure for everything.

It's a neat little non-falsifiable paradigm with impeccable internal logic and no basis whatsoever in reality.

Hard to believe that large numbers of medical professionals and other well-educated folks actually thought that stuff made sense, isn't it?

Well, actually, considering all the ignorant crap that's being said about autistics today—no, it isn't.



  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 7:27 PM  

  • John, take your twisted vendetta somewhere else.

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:43 PM  

  • While in training I had several opportunities to visit the "locked down" ward of the psychiatric unit.

    Two things struck me:

    1) I couldn't tell all the time who were the patients and who were the doctors and nurses, and

    2) The distinction seemed so arbitrary at times that I had an irrational fear that they would not buzz me out.

    I never understood how psychiatrists could know with any certainty why somebody was doing something.

    By Blogger Club 166, at 9:00 PM  

  • I beg your pardon ... I never promised ...

    And if I were into hallucinate a tree drugs would I hear it if someone cut it down :)

    I imagined a psyciatrist in my illusionary universe the other day.

    By Blogger laurentius rex, at 4:35 AM  

  • Exposing a fraud is not a vendetta.

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 6:40 PM  

  • Club166, did you ever hear of the study that Rosenhan did? Was a very interesting study into the magical thinking that goes on in psychiatry ;)

    By Blogger David, at 2:26 AM  

  • Grinker mentioned the Rosenhan hoax in his discussion of the history of psychiatry in Unstrange Minds.

    Rosenhan (and the others who helped him) sure had some guts...

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:34 AM  

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