Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pill Pushing

For some reason that is still incomprehensible to me, many Americans view psychology with a deep suspicion. Medication, on the other hand, is considered the best medium to deal with pretty much any physical or emotional issue.

Pharmaceutical companies go to incredible lengths to promote their goods. Back in New Haven, I once witnessed an extremely shameless attempt at pill marketing. In a neighborhood coffe-shop, cardboard sleeves for coffee cups were decorated with little packs of extra-strength painkillers. There was absolutely no supervision over the access to these pills. Nobody seemed to care that even little children could get as many pills as they wanted.

It seems very strange to me that people are so nonchalant about the amount of chemicals they put into their own bodies. For the most part, they don't look for any other ways to resolve their problems before turning to medication. People who come to visit me are often surprised that I don't have a medicine cabinet and can't believe that I live my life absolutely medication-free. It seems somehow wrong that taking pills would be seen as normal, while anybody who lives without them is perceived as strange.
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pretzelboy said...

I think your comment that "many Americans view psychology with a deep suspicion" is overly vague. University psychology departments tend to be a diverse group of people doing extremely different things from each other all shoved together in one academic department because what they do has something to do with human cognition, persoanlity, perception, or behavior (or rat brains or animal cognition.) I've talked to a number of fellow grad students who either majored in psychology or are doing graduate work in psychology who have deep suspicions of some of the other branches.

That said, I totally many Americans tend to be way to quick to pop pills, hoping for a quick fix rather than dealing with their real issues.

Clarissa said...

I meant, of course, that people don't turn to psychologists to resolve their issues.

pretzelboy said...

Sorry about any less than kind comments yesterday in the post about asexuality. Anyway, I was thinking about this topic as well. In both this post and the one on asexuality you say that Americans have a deep suspicion/fear of psychology (as a field of knowledge), meaning they are hesitant to go to psychologists for help with their problems. I think that there are reasons for this. I've spoken with more than one person who doesn't want to go to therapy to get help with their problems because of bad experiences with therapists in the past--especially people who were forced against their will to go to therapy as children/adolescents. And others have had bad experiences with therapists as adults. Of course, there are good therapists and there are not-so-good ones, and there is no one-size-fits all: if someone wants therapy, they need to make sure they can find someone they feel they can trust. But a few bad experiences can easily turn someone off.

And then there was the disaster with therapists implanting false memories of horribly traumatic events in people, resulting in a number of people being falsely accused of doing horrible things to their loved ones. That didn't help psychology's reputation, and the repercussions are still being felt.

Also, in my own experience with online asexual discourse has , I've seen a lot of mistrust and suspicion of therapists, especially because many therapists (but certainly not all) are inclined to think of asexuality as a problem to be fixed or assume there is likely some (negative) psychological cause that they need to find, or they regard it as a disorder. (i.e. hypoactive sexual desire disorder.) But many asexuals quickly dismiss these and they will very quickly point out that the DSM used to regard homosexuality as a mental disorder, but now homosexuality is considered normal variation. Having read the history of the 1973 decision to (sort of) remove homosexuality from the DSM, I'm not inclined to think it's a very good analogy, but that's completely beside the point. What is important is how that history is understood by people and how they invoke it to understand the present.

The asexual community is a fairly new phenomenon largely made possible by the internet, and because asexuals tend to see asexuality as a (minority) sexual orientation and/or sexual identity, the LGBT community seemed like a very natural place for many to look for inspiration. (Again, whether this is a good idea or not is irrelevant. My point is simply that it has a powerful effect on asexual discourse.) As with the other examples, people are sometimes suspicious of psychology (most have no idea that psychologists and psychiatrists are different) either because of their own past experiences or because of a sort of cultural-knowledge of some of the shadier aspects of psychology's past.

Clarissa said...

I'm sorry but you are obviously one of the people who views the suggestion to go to a psychologist as offensive and as suggesting that someone is "pathological" or "broken."

In my view, it makes sense to visit a psychologist any time you are puzzled by anything in your own behavior.

Not a therapist though, because those rarely often any insights. Just my personal opinion, of course.

pretzelboy said...

I have had positive experiences with psychologists in the past (and some less-than-positive ones as well.) I think that the issue is that (especially given the cost), people see the role of psychologists as helping them with their problems. If I feel that something is a problem, and someone suggests going to a psychologist to get help with it, I'm not going to feel that they telling me that I'm broken or that is pathological, etc.

But if I feel that something is simply part of who I am and I've come to accept it, and someone else insists that it is a problem, that's going to be felt very differently. Because many asexuals have had the message communicated to them that they are broken, and have had the message communicated that asexuality is pathological, it's going to create a heightened sensitivity to things that can be (rightly or wrongly) interpreted that way. I think that that is what has happened in this case.

Anonymous said...

Lets abandon that black/white broken-needs-therapy/not broken - does-not-need-therapy approach...

The person who's question started everything was worried about her condition and asked for advise. Of course chances are she is genuinely asexual and just needs acceptance and tolerance. But chances also are that she is experiencing hormonal imbalance or psychological problems...
Why is it wrong to suggest she should see a psychologist or psychotherapist (or to wonder why nobody suggested it), and OK to suggest hormonal checkup or "acceptance of one's asexuality"? In my opinion just assuming "genuine asexuality" without enough information supporting that hypotheses with respect to a particular person is as justified as assuming psychological problems, as Clarissa did... Either both approaches reflect personal bias, or Clarissa's opponents operate under assumption that "acceptance" should ALWAYS be a default option. The interesting question is then - should "acceptance" always be the default option, or promoting "acceptance" may distract some people from solving their problems?

If the person who asked a question is genuinely asexual, seeing a decent therapist would still be a good idea, in order to make sure it is indeed asexuality, and help the person with self-acceptance and resisting the normative culture...

Anonymous said...

Just read the reference in the parallel "asexuality" thread... So the issue is indeed about "acceptance" being the default option in any situation...

Then I must question the definition of "acceptance". Since when did "accepting a person" transform into assuming person does not have any problems? Since when mentioning a possibility of a problem is disrespect? Maybe I am not a liberal after all, but I think respect is about honestly naming things as one sees them, especially when actually asked for one's opinion. Honestly describing the subjective reality does not have to be related to disrespect, or hate, or expressing one's superiority... Not giving honest feedback is disrespect.

Anonymous said...

Suppose I have an opinion that people who's only response to problems is to pop pills (since this thread is actually about pills :) ), and who do not seek medical and psychological help, are avoiding looking into their life onto so many levels.

I am not going to demonstrate in front of the pharmacy and demand explanations from random people purchasing pills. But within the frame of some discussion about that topic I will express my opinion. Now, if somebody will insist that I have to keep my opinion to myself out of acceptance of somebody's choice to pop pills - that person may go to hell. His/her opinion is not entitled to be the ONLY opinion presented to those yet undecided. And I will think he/she is even more screwed than I thought before.

Clarissa said...

Thank you, V., for a great, logical and eminently reasonable response.

This "acceptance" mantra hides a lot of things. Some of them are an actual indifference towards others and a fear to have one's own actions questioned.
Thank you again!

pretzelboy said...

In most contexts, I actually tend to have a certain suspicion of the self-acceptance mantra I've been using. I've used it here largely because, after reading about the experiences of a lot of asexuals, on this particular issue I've come to feel that self-acceptance is the best way to go. Which isn't to say it's the best way to go on every issue. (But where sexuality is concerned, there is huge variation among people, but we we are bombarded with messages about what people are "supposed to be like", I think that it is particularly important for people to come to understand and accept what is normal for them, rather than what our culture seems to say is normal for everyone.) And self-acceptance isn't the solution to people's problems--often it's just a start, and it can help to create a framework for people to think about their problems.

Everyone has issues to deal with, and the question is how. Sadly, we live in a culture where often people turn to meds (alone) because they want a quick fix without having to change anything in their life-style or do serious self-reflection. Sometimes meds can be helpful--in conjunction with interventions, possibly including psychotherapy.

Genuine self-acceptance requires quite a bit of self-reflection, coming to understand oneself, and I think that's what's important. Regarding asexuality, one big problem with seeing a psychologist about the matter is that most don't know anything about the topic, and very few are well-informed. I first heard about asexuality when I decided to go to a psychologist to better understand my sexuality (or lack thereof) as I had been confused about it for a long time and I figured that psychologists should know about the matter. The therapist asked me if I had ever looked into asexuality, and when I decided to identify as asexual he was supportive, but he really didn't know much of anything about it other than that it exists. And that may be a lot more than a lot of psychologists.

Clarissa said...

Dear pretzelboy, I have no doubt whatsoever that you are a great person and a wonderful human being. So please don't take what i'm about to say as an attempt to offend you.

The way you participate in discussions is very unproductive because it can't fail to alienate people you are talking to (which I'm sure you really don't intend). Somehow, it feels that you just don't listen to what people say. It seems that you catch one word of what someone said (or what you think someone might have implied), and then you go on a long and very convincing disquisition that is, unfortunately, unrelated to what is actually being discussed. This ends up by frutrating some of your interlocutors (namely, me).

To give an example, when I talked about the mantra of acceptance, i really did not mean self-acceptance. V. and I were discussing some people's flaunted tolerance that, in reality, masks the desire to destroy all kinds of dissent or even an attempt to think critically. It's shocking to see how people start screaming "tolerance", "acceptance", etc. right when they are being extremely unaccepting of any variance of opinion.

What you say in your last comment is very informative and well-presented. However, your message loses some of its power because of appearing in a wrong context.

In any case, thank you for your paarticipation.

Anonymous said...

I guess Pretzelboy's point was that suggesting medical or psychological explanations is interfering with fragile self-acceptance of the people who do not fit the mainstream (in this case sexually, but in principle in any other way as well). Yes, it is true, but the solution is not to silence other opinions using noble pretexts of acceptance and tolerance, but to take responsibility for making a decision either to work on self-acceptance despite varying surrounding opinions, or to admit that given trait is a problem and work on solving it. In other words - to become less fragile one way or another.

pretzelboy said...

Sorry for going about this in an unproductive manner. Actually, I would have preferred email where things can be more direct (rather than trying to respond to multiple things at once, which can make things convoluted) but there wasn't any contact information, so I used blog comments instead. I don't feel that my goal is to silence anyone. Rather, I had hoped to persuade (but didn't do a very good job at that it seems.)

In my last comment, I was trying to agree in part with the point that simply talking about acceptance can mask other issues, but then explaining why I didn't feel that what was happening in this particular context. Sountbyte anything rarely helps with critical thinking. But they work in some contexts, and can easily become habit, I suppose.

I think that part of the reason I took so many (very negative) implied meanings and responded to those is that a lot of the comments in the blogpost, along with your responses to comments fed into a much larger cultural story and history that asexuals are keenly aware of, but members of the majority likely aren't unless, for some reason, they've spent a lot of time getting to understand asexual discourse. (But unless someone has reason to, why would they? On the other hand, I'm going to guess that you probably didn't do much research on asexuality before making a post on the topic, though I could be wrong, as I often am.)

Clarissa, remarks very similar to the ones you made are frequently to pathologize asexuals, to dismiss their experinces, and to convince them they are broken. (At least, this is how they are often felt at the receiving end.) Even if you didn't intend them this way at all (as I am now convinced you weren't), to people who have experienced that history of such remarks, they can very easily be (mis)read that way.

At present, there is minimal societal recogniztion of asexuality, and as a result, many asexuals grow up wondering if they're "the only one" or feel that there must be something horribly wrong with them. If they try to tell anyone about their asexuality, they are often met with what are felt as very dismissive comments. Or people will tell them how messed up they must be, and how they need to go see a doctor etc. (btw, I've had my hormones checked, and didn't find the suggestion insulting, but it had to do with the way it was made "you might want to do this just to be safe" rather than "that's totally messed up! get thee to a doctor!" Every asexual I've heard of who went to get hormones checked found that they were normal or low-normal.

Anyway, it's within this larger societal context, based on these sorts of experiences of asexuals that comments like the ones made here can be felt as very insulting, demeaning, and pathologizing (even if not in any way intended to be.)

And also, because this is the internet, much of the social-norms that help us be less mean to each other in face-to-fact communication are not active, it's easier to give bad impressions.

Anyway, now that I'm (hopefully) behaving somewhat more rationally than before, hopefully this helps where I (and a few other commentors, it is worth pointing out) was coming from.

I think it is fair to say, that a lot of comments have been talking past each other. If you would prefer me to stop commenting, I could do that (or if you would prefer to continue this via email, there's contact info on my blog.)

Clarissa said...

Dear pretzelboy, of course I'm not suggest that you leave or stop participating in discussions. What you have to say is obviously important to many people (based on the # of comments) and that's good.

As a person who's worried about the well-being of your community, I'm sure you'll appreciate that I'm worried about mine. many many women live sexless lives for purely societal reasons (see my last comment in Asexuality discussion). As a feminist, I'm against gender sterotypes that lead to this.

I'm sure that by now it's become pretty obvious that I would never go to an asexual site to criticize people. I would also never call anybody broken, pathological, abnormal, etc.

I understand what you say about heightened sensitivity. As a Jewish woman, I have this kind of sensitivity to anti-semitic remarks. However,as I argued in a previous post, the best way to determine if something is offensive is, in my view, the speaker's intent.