February 23, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Psychiatry Ascribes Empty Names to Clusters of Symptoms

Schizophrenia doesn’t exist. People exist with various behaviors, but schizophrenia is an empty label, an expert says.

Read Medical Xpress for a brief look into the sausage-making behind psychiatric diagnoses. What do the words schizoaffective disorder, psychosis spectrum syndrome, or delusional disorder mean? The very terms seem to give ontological status to something in patients, but nobody knows what those things are, because they vary from person to person. It’s like applying sticky notes to water waves at the beach. The labels don’t stick, they only apply to gross phenomena, and they provide no understanding either of the cause or the cure. What’s more, the labels can actually make things worse by causing family members or friends to look at patients differently.

These are some of the warnings in this article. We’ve seen the problems with the DSM-V “Bible” of diagnosis used by psychiatrists (3/20/14, 5/18/12). Now, Professor Jim van Os from Maastricht University Medical Centre is ready to junk the term “schizophrenia” and some others. For illnesses lumped into the word “psychotic,” he says, the symptoms are too complicated to diagnose or treat with one-size-fits-all categories.

Currently, psychotic illness is classified among many categories, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, depression or bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and others, he explains.

But categories such as these “do not represent diagnoses of discrete diseases, because these remain unknown; rather, they describe how symptoms can cluster, to allow grouping of patients.”

This allows clinicians to say, for example, “You have symptoms of psychosis and mania, and we classify that as schizoaffective disorder.” If your psychotic symptoms disappear we may reclassify it as bipolar disorder. If, on the other hand, your mania symptoms disappear and your psychosis becomes chronic, we may re-diagnose it as schizophrenia.

That is how our classification system works. We don’t know enough to diagnose real diseases, so we use a system of symptom based classification.

Definitions provided in the DSM-V and other manuals often disagree. How precise or helpful is a definition for schizophrenia like “a debilitating neurological disorder”? What psychiatrist really knows what the cause of a cluster of symptoms is, let alone what to do about it? Os notes that “people with this psychosis spectrum syndrome display extreme diversity (heterogeneity), both between and within people, in psychopathology, treatment response, and outcome.”

Physician, heal thyself. When you can identify a known physical cause for a known neurological disorder (say, autism or Tourette’s or a concussion), you are a doctor. When you appeal to mystical forces that have names but no scientific rigor, you are acting like a witch doctor. Diagnose yourself first. You are trusting in flawed opinions of people who don’t know everything. Toss out the flawed DSM‘s and go to a Bible-teaching church to learn about the true nature of man from the Creator’s manual of the body and brain.

“Mental illness” is a made-up term, like dark matter. It’s a placeholder for ignorance. The only one who understands minds is the Spirit that gave birth to them, the Creator God. If a patient’s brain is perfectly fine, spiritual problems can cause outward symptoms. Repeated choices to tell lies, for instance, can become a hardened habit like any other bad habit that must be overcome consciously with guidance and prayer. Patterns of violent outbursts also require spiritual advice from those who know the Creator’s diagnostic manual, the Bible. Memorization and meditation of appropriate Scriptures can bring healing, sometimes rapidly, sometimes gradually. But telling a patient or his parents that he has schizosophoxymoronia—what good is that? It’s as meaningless as saying he has a bad case of gribbleflix. Patients so labeled receive a latent impression that they are incurable, or that they have an excuse for bad behavior. Give them hope. Take them to the Great Physician. He’s on the prayer line 24 x 7.

The Scriptures are filled with comfort and advice for “soul” (psyche) health. Some examples:

  • Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
  • “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Jesus, in Matthew 11:28-30)
  • No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (I Corinthians 10:13)
  • The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
    The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
    The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
    The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
    The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
    The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
    They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
    Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
    Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
    In keeping them there is great reward.
    Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
    Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
    Let them not rule over me;
    Then I will be blameless,
    And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
    Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    Be acceptable in Your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:7-14)
  • Those who love your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble (Psalm 119:165, and the whole psalm).

The book of Proverbs is another rich resource for enriching mental and spiritual health.

Many cases of so-called “mental illness” are caused by sin, like bitterness, anxiety, anger, selfishness, ungratefulness, guilt and pride. The Bible is filled solutions to these root causes! It doesn’t attach empty labels to clusters of symptoms, but identifies the root problem and the cure. Repentance from sin and faith in Christ, who paid the penalty for everyone’s sins and rose from the dead, is the open door to the Great Physician’s office. The narrow doorway requires dropping one’s baggage and coming sincerely by faith. It leads the suffering sinner to forgiveness and a life of hope and healing. “Burdens are lifted at Calvary,” one hymn says. The hope of eternal life in Christ’s resurrection is a “living hope” that puts the sufferings of this life in context. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2). Peace? Hope? Joy? There’s mental health by definition!

Exercise: For those who know their Bibles, how would you assist someone with the following problems? Think of specific Scriptures that would apply. Find out if the person is trusting in Christ before offering help on lesser things.

  1. Post-traumatic stress disorder
  2. Persistent nightmares
  3. Gullibility
  4. Bad language habit
  5. Defensiveness, lashing back at criticism
  6. Laziness
  7. Fear of trying something new or different
  8. Hanging around with bad friends
  9. Insomnia
  10. Hypochondria
  11. Late habit
  12. Overly talkative or overly shy
  13. Poor study habits
  14. Negativity
  15. Clutter habit, or the opposite, extreme orderliness
  16. Prolonged grieving

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Comments

  • James Healton says:

    Before I go to my disagreement with this article, I want to first make it clear that I am a young earth, Biblical creationist and that I find your scientific critique of the Darwinian “consensus” brilliant, compelling and often amusing. But on this, the rare occasion, I think you have done a disservice to the public by supporting the idea that mental illness is, as it were “all in the mind” and therefore solely treatable by mental effort in the context of Christian discipleship. As a pastor, I have witnessed the effectiveness of medical treatment, including pharmacological measures and ECT, in treatment of severe cases of mental illness. I have also seen how beliefs among Christians like those you express in this article have unnecessarily delayed and hindered genuine relief from the worst symptoms of a mental illness.

    In my experience, when people finally realize that more prayer, Bible study or efforts to apply Biblical admonitions are failing to help overcome their mental illness and that applying the wisdom God has provided to men (as in agriculture – Is. 28:23-29) in the area of medical treatment is, in fact, Biblical, they finally begin to experience substantial progress in healing. My own mother, a godly woman who loved the Lord and served Him faithfully for most of her life twice fell into prolonged bouts of deep depression. These episodes were not explainable as due to situational, moral, spiritual or attitudinal problems. Anti-depressants alone seemed not to work but ECT eventually did provide the breakthrough that resulted in a rapid recovery and resumption of her normally cheerful and outgoing disposition as well as her ability to fruitfully worship, pray, study the Bible and grow in grace. I could give many other examples in my own pastoral experience where medical intervention made a crucial contribution. The usual pattern I find is that the medical intervention leads to enough relief from their symptoms that they can then begin to find help from so-called “talk” therapy, including of course, Biblical counseling and Christian discipleship.

    Of course we are only at the beginning of understanding how diseases of the mind are generated by bodily dysfunction and the physiological reasons why some medical measures have proved efficacious, but to assume, as you seem to do, that there is no connection between mind and body and that people just need Biblical counseling is misguided and even harmful. The author of the article upon which you commented has what appears to me to be a pointless point. Yes, the definition of a mental disease is somewhat arbitrary and very debatable but to the one who is suffering from a mental illness, whether it is called “bi-polar disorder” or “schizophrenia” or some other name is irrelevant. They are experiencing the painful and debilitating symptoms of a disease from which they need relief. In many cases, approaching their disease solely through appeals to their minds will not yield results. The mind is so far inhibited by the bodily disease that such an approach will not work.

    Again, I find your usual commentary absolutely sound and delightful but this one, I think, was potentially harmful in its support of a “mind only” approach to the treatment of mental illness.

    • Editor says:

      Thank you for writing, James. I do not intend to convey the impression that symptoms people suffer are imaginary or unreal, such that they can just snap out of it with some appropriate verbal counseling. The mind-body connection is very complex and mysterious; I certainly am not saying there is no connection. Each can affect the other. I watched in dismay as both my parents lost their ability to function due to age-related dementia, a physical cause that produced very obvious “mental” effects. No amount of Biblical counseling could help that, although they did seem to experience calm when I prayed with them or sung hymns or hugged them.

      But if ECT has proven effective in cases you mentioned, then we basically agree that some physical cause has impinged on the mind in some way, such that a physical therapy led to relief. This is where the “medical” part of psychiatry can be effective to bring the patient to a point where the mind is not inhibited from meditating on the counsel of God. We need medical doctors for all kinds of things. Many physical dysfunctions, including toothache, can produce “mental” problems such as depression, but is it fair to call that a “mental” illness? I think we would agree that the error begins when Christians begin trusting the secular worldview of the mind and soul. As the article stated, psychiatry cannot even classify conditions, let alone understand them. Why not start with the Creator’s diagnosis?

      There is a great deal of literature on Biblical counseling as an alternative to secular psychiatry. I don’t think any of the leaders of that approach would deny the role of medical intervention for the range of bodily dysfunctions that produce mental consequences. You have my full support in that. God bless you as you try to help people who are suffering. I agree that sometimes what is needed is a drug or a hug. Thanks for sharing your insights and experience.

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