The odds are high that someone close to you has been told he or she has a "chemical imbalance" in the brain, but the odds are slim that the doctor who said it could point to any convincing evidence that it was true. The increasing awareness that most biological theories underlying diagnoses of depression, schizophrenia, and other mental problems are based very loosely on accidental drug discoveries and promoted heavily by pharmaceutical companies is the basis for neuroscientist Elliot S. Valenstein's book Blaming the Brain
. Compelling reading for the age of Prozac, Blaming the Brain
looks at the history of medical treatments for psychiatric disorders, and particularly the modern era of drug therapies, with the intent of uncovering whether science or rhetoric determines courses of treatment.
Claiming that there are no widely accepted theories of mental illness and that therapies are guided more by marketing than lab work hasn't won Valenstein many friends in psychiatry, but his scientific credibility is impeccable, and, better for the reader, his explanations of his doubts are clear and sensible. Whether discussing the "good old days" of insulin coma and electroshock therapies (after which drugs seemed a humane godsend) or the modern prospects of scientific research and medical clinics owned and directed by pharmaceutical companies, he maintains a calm, measured style that seeks to clothe the emperor, not replace him. Blaming the Brain is a powerful, thoroughly enjoyable book that will provoke much-needed thought and discussion on all sides of this important topic. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
In the past 25 years, theories of mental illness have shifted from blaming mother to blaming the brain. While the prevailing view is that "mental illnesses are medical illnesses just like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease," and it's estimated that 30 million people worldwide have taken Prozac, the truth, argues Valenstein, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan and the author of Great and Desperate Cures, is that we are only at the dawn of an understanding of mental illness. The studies he reviews indicate that a combination of medications and therapy offers the best chance of success at treating common disorders, although no one knows exactly why. Valenstein does a fine job of illuminating the various interests at work behind the ascendancy of purely biological hypotheses. They appeal to pharmaceutical companies, he suggests, for all the obvious reasons, and he details the impact that these companies have, at every level, on today's psychiatric landscape: from sponsoring research and colloquiums to lobbying government to marketing directly to both consumers and primary-care physicians?the largest prescribers of psychiatric drugs. The companies also, he reports, pressure editors of psychiatric journals, in which they also advertise, to downplay studies that cast doubt on the safety or usefulness of their drugs. Families and patients, meanwhile, embrace biological theories because they relieve them of the burden of blame, and physicians, he says, neglect their responsibility to report side effects to the FDA. This meticulously researched, evenhanded work deserves a large audience. Unfortunately, it's about as exciting to read as the fine print in your HMO contract; Valenstein, who comes out with both guns blazing, concentrates more on clearly digesting the data than on giving the story a human face.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.