What is Normal?
The Times' "Stone" series has an essay by Gary Gutting (Notre Dame) on psychiatry's upcoming revisions to the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" and what it says not about mental disorders, but about psychiatry. From the essay,
Foucault is, then, right: psychiatric practice makes essential use of moral (and other evaluative) judgments. Why is this dangerous? Because, first of all, psychiatrists as such have no special knowledge about how people should live. They can, from their clinical experience, give us crucial information about the likely psychological consequences of living in various ways (for sexual pleasure, for one’s children, for a political cause). But they have no special insight into what sorts of consequences make for a good human life. It is, therefore, dangerous to make them privileged judges of what syndromes should be labeled “mental illnesses.”
This is especially so because, like most professionals, psychiatrists are more than ready to think that just about everyone needs their services. (As the psychologist Abraham Maslow said, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”). Another factor is the pressure the pharmaceutical industry puts on psychiatrists to expand the use of psychotropic drugs. The result has been the often criticized “medicalization” of what had previously been accepted as normal behavior—for example, shyness, little boys unable to sit still in school, and milder forms of anxiety.