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Blaming the Brain : The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health Hardcover – October 5, 1998

25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684849645 ISBN-10: 068484964X

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (October 5, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068484964X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684849645
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #699,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Richard Warner on February 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In the 1940's psychiatrists began the effort to convince humankind that mental illness was an epidemic - a "disease" which could strike anyone at any time. This fear mongering has continued unabated for 50 years despite a complete absence of any solid evidence that mental and emotional problems are caused by brain pathology. Valenstein argues convincingly that psychiatric chemical imbalance theories are seriously flawed and reveals the marketing and hype behind the push to convince us that life is essentially a disease. Psychiatric treatment leads invariably and inevitably to diminishing mental and physical health. Read Valenstein's book and you'll gain a great deal of insight into why that is true.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Armando Machado on November 14, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Valenstein does it again! After his insightful book on the history of psychosurgery, the author, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Michigan University, examines the biochemical theories of mental disorders. In a well-written book, Valenstein (a) describes the history of the major "theories" relating mental disease to brain function, and the history of the main psychotherapeutic drugs; (b) the empirical and logical basis of the claims that mental disorders are caused by chemical inbalances in the brain; and (c) the social, economic, and cultural contexts surrounding the use of psychothrapeutic drugs. Although not a physician, psychiatrist, or clinical psychologist, I admire the book for its extensive review of the scientific literature, for its success at explaining the main ideas about mental disease and brain science to the nonspecialist, and for its thoughtful conclusions. Perhaps the book's greatest virtue is to remind us of how ignorant we still are about the causes of schizophrenia, manic-depressive disorder, and many other mental conditions. In a word, read this excellent book. The writing is also elegant.
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44 of 51 people found the following review helpful By A. R. Cellura on January 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Once or twice a month, in many psychiatric hospitals, researchers present data showing the therapeutic efficacy of a new drug (or tweaked older one with a new label). The charts and graphs about these "silver bullets" usually feature percentages of psychiatric patient improvements over six to eight weeks in comparison with those treated by placebo or competing meds. The sample sizes are typically small and, at least in the many of these presentations that I attended, even the simplest descriptive statistics (means, standard deviations, etc), to say nothing of measures of sample overlap (Cohen's d scores) and meta-analyses, are nowhere to be seen. Nor are they readily available from the presenter. The attending psychiatric staff sometimes raise questions about the area of the brain or nerve receptor the drug targets while they enjoy the fine and plentiful free lunch provided by the sponsoring pharmaceutical company. It would be difficult to conclude other than that issues of empirical validity had been comfortably settled long ago. Thus, these concerns were far beyond the mattering maps of the audience. An earlier generation's favored cure was lobotomy before, in the early 1950s, the discovery of Thorazine's (chlorpromazine) quieting effects ushered in this, now dominant, psychiatric treatment paradigm.

Elliot Valenstein's BLAMING THE BRAIN: THE TRUTH ABOUT DRUGS AND MENTAL HEALTH demonstrates why rationales for this paradigm ain't necessarily so.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Vallenstein in his book explores the history and generation of theories and treatments of mental health problems. He does this in order to later demonstrate in his book how the acceptance of biochemical theories of mental illness and the use of drug treatments to the exclusion of other treatments, are NOT a function of either the validity of biochemical theories or effectiveness of drug treatments.
Vallenstein demonstrates how drug companies and HMO's amongst other interest groups have both pushed biochemical theories for economic reasons: sales of drugs, and reduction of costly treatment time for drugs relative to other treatments.
As part of his analysis, Vallenstien also looks in detail and the consistancy of evidence behind biochemical theories and finds many flaws and shortcomings.
Now Vallenstein doesn't refute that drugs help. He does however challenge the PR regarding how effective these drugs are and how these drugs work. By looking at the complexity of the neurology, he demonstrates how dopamine and other neurotansmitter theories are too simplistic and that certain drugs seem to achieve the same goals but have completely different effects on these transmitters. Consequently, Vallenstein suggests that psychiatrists simply admit that they honestly don't know the drugs work for some people.
Vallenstein in challenging effectiveness claims and theory premises also states that the reasons for mental illness are also more complex. Physiological, behavioral and psychosocial factors should also be part of the mental health assessment.
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