An recent New York Times article is generating a bit of interest in the mental health blogosphere. Accepting that Good Parents Can Plant Bad Seeds has a huge flaw in its reasoning, that faithful reader Marian pointed out in her comment on my recent post on the same article. The author of the NY Times article, Richard A. Friedman, M.D., has grasped the obvious fact that no two siblings are alike, and they will be treated differently by their parents, but then goes on to say that some children are just plain not nice and that parents have a limited role in this outcome. All this would be fine except that clearly the parents in this article are grieving for a relationship that they do not have with their children. Something is bothering them, too.
Oh, how far we have fallen from the parent blaming of the post-war generation. We have fallen so far away from "blaming" the parent, that we continue to do damage of another sort. The damage is in not getting the help that is needed to reap rewards from the relationship and to heal. Better outcomes are being sacrificed these days in order to save face as a parent. Many parents prefer to believe that their child is the one with the problem.
The central pitch of any child psychiatrist now is that the illness is often in the child and that the family responses may aggravate the scene but not wholly create it,” said my colleague Dr. Theodore Shapiro, a child psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College. “The era of ‘there are no bad children, only bad parents’ is gone.
The quoted paragraph is hard for me to swallow, because I believe that psychiatry (which seems to never get it right when it comes to mental illness), threw the baby out with the bath water when it eventually stopped even suggesting that parents may actually have something to do with their child's problems. Psychiatry became the willing handmaiden of pharma, which proclaimed mental illnesses to be brain diseases. The product literature for these dastardly drugs may as well say in big bold letters - Parents - don't even bother to try to work on your relationships with your children because this is a brain disease, nothing you can do about it.
Dr. David Allen picks up on the New York Times article in his blog, Family Dysfunction and Mental Health and he comes to the same conclusions as Marian and me. He then goes on to say "There are types of psychotherapy which can help people repair dysfunctional relationship patterns, solve problems, and reconcile with their loved ones."
I know that relationships between family members are at the heart of this and so do most people who have received a mental health label, but sadly, many parents will miss out on the opportunity to heal their children because they refuse to even consider that something in them doesn't vibrate well with the other person and vice versa. Relationships are a two way street. I have made the same sort observations in my review of After Her Brain Broke. My point about the book was that the author was too afraid to be seen as not the perfect mother that she was actually standing in the way of exploring better help for her daughter.
From my knowledge of Dr. Allen based on his previous blog posts, he loses me when he insists that schizophrenia is a special case unrelated to what is happening in the family and is the result of brain chemistry run amok. That's why, knowing what I know, it amazes me that he can make the following comment and still believe that schizophrenia is a special case.
It is interesting that next to Dr. Friedman's article is a still from the 1956 movie, The Bad Seed, about a pretty little girl from a fine family who develops into a young murderess for no apparent reason. Such things, unless a baby comes out brain damaged in some way, happen only in lurid novels and movies.
So, if I read the previous paragraph correctly, Dr. Allen believes that beneath all behaviors is reasonable cause. The only possible explanations I can think of why Dr. Allen still wants schizophrenia to be a brain disease, is that it is now totally politically incorrect to "blame the parents" when it come to schizophrenia. Psychiatry won't touch that one with a ten foot pole. The other possible explanation is that he truly does believe that people with schizophrenia were brain damaged at birth. This explanation has so far eluded medical science, I wish to point out. I will write more about the origins of this pervasive don't blame the parent attitude in my next blog post.