Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Human Enhancement Project in Deep Trouble

So anti-depressants don't work and, it seems, neither does counselling. Ultimately, I think this is because of the extraordinary deviousness of the human mind. Make it feel better in one way and it will find new ways of feeling worse. Depression, as Dorothy Rowe has pointed out, brings its rewards and the pills probably just improve your ability to savour those rewards. Counselling is a different matter. Judging by this article, it can be disastrous in that, in making people confront the sources of their trauma/depression, it makes matter worse. Common sense would suggest that this would be the case but common sense was subverted by the post-Freudian idea that exposing the suppressed trauma would help us to get over it. There is no reason why this should be the case. 'We forget these things for a reason,' as Peter Fonagy of UCL puts it. This is, of course, one more reason why coffee didn't cause the enlightenment - if the action of complex anti-depressants cannot be assessed then the action of a simple stimulant certainly can't -  and human enhancement is an incoherent concept.


  1. Oh dear, depression is good for development, is it? So, a perpetually happy sod like me finds he is even more disadvantaged than he thought... Sigh, I may as well get it over with now....

  2. If you're so 'perpetually happy' ian, why are you replying to blogs?

  3. Just replaying memories in itself isn't going to do good. i think one has to transform the memories; i don't mean falsify them, but see them from an angle from where they're negligible, can be detached and regarded as of no importance. For that one surely must be a different person to the old self; and to become different it's probably wise to stop reinforcing bad memories.

    i think the idea that by wallowing in bad memories, endlessly repeating (and so reinforcing) them, one can take away their sting, is suspect. My sister's been to counselling for years and doesn't seem to have benefited. If anything it's just given her a real grudge against our parents, a desire to extract blood money from them. There is in truth no recompense possible for her psychological troubles, there is no origin which once understood will repair the harm; there is no one to blame who can pay her back; it's just the way things are.

    All her counselling just seems to have equipped her with a vocabulary of resentment and victimhood with which to make her way in life, feeling hard done by and obscurely owed an unpayable debt. She'd do better to try and take an interest in other human beings, but being a sociopath she can't.

  4. phil, you got to share it around, man! anyway, I'm not convinced there's a connection.

  5. Alcohol on the other hand is completely reliable "The source of and the answer to all of life's problems!" as a great philosopher once said...

  6. Damn right Mutley (and Homer) - and the thing about alcohol, like all the great drugs, is that it can function either as stimulant or sedative or both at once. And coffee is very far from being a simple stimulant - again like all great drugs (in non-synthesised form) it's a fantastically complex substance.

  7. Antidepressants and therapy manifesty do work, but only in the right circumstances. In fact for many they are a godsend and the difference between a decent life and half a life.

    Much of the problems both articles cover are the result of wildly unrealistic expectations, imho. It can take years - years, not a few weeks - for serious problems to be dealt with. The patient will need to work hard too, and be prepared for slow progress and some very tough times. Instead many patients and alas therapists seem to think that mental health can be ordered up as if buying a car or a kettle on Amazon. You then sit back, make no effort and whine if top customer service and 100% "human enhancement" aren't immediately forthcoming.

    Doesn't work that way. Never has, never will. The mind doesn't recognize the modern culture of targets and measurable results. X goes into rehab or a hospital and emerges "cured" of substance abuse, depression, childhood trauma, etc, two weeks later is a fantasy. Patients who think otherwise should be told to get real and therapists who suggest instant results are possible should be struck off. Both the articles cited seem to promote misunderstandings like this.

    And when the alternative to treatment is blowing your brains out or, much worse, blowing someone else's brains out, the first things to go out of the window are hoary old allusions to "common sense" (meaning, what?) and philosophical principles. Ruthless practicality over a long period of time - sticking to what actually works, by trial and error with a competent therapist who may or may not prescribe medication - is the only way to deal with a lot of the problems you mention.

    Apologies for long post but irritation at near-total ignorance promoted by the Guardian and BBC is nothing new, I guess.

  8. i don't know if this is just a peculiarity of my life, but the only 3 people i've met who wanted to be counsellors were all sociopaths. Though they were quite different, they all: regarded people coldly and contemptuously, liked to control & manipulate people, and were incapable of affection. Clearly some truth in the Hannibal Lecter thing - Lecter being a psychiatrist.

  9. I have been rewarded in my life and job to come in contact with people in which antidepressants, in all their colourful forms, have worked.

    Even the trial data analyzed in the Norwich research group showed they had an effect but not not enough for what those particular researchers deemed "clinically significant".

    The norwich group have probably secured funding for their upcoming research projects but not really told the medical community anything much the didn't already know.

  10. There will no doubt be another study that says anti- depressants work and another that says they don't and so on. Studies are strange when looking up green teas benefits i found a study which proved it was highly effective against cancer whereas another found that green tea can be highly carcinogenic.
    A few months back a study found out bacon was carcinogenic and you should avoid it altogether (along with ham) and then a few weeks later another said bacon might be good for you if eaten in moderation.
    Then the study which found folic acid can reduce birth defects whereas other studies found it can increase the risk of cancer, particularly colon, in high doses. The last one is quite serious because the government plans to make it compulsary for flour to be mixed with high amounts of folic acid to prevent birth defects.
    So basically my point is distrust studies with a passion.

  11. Now, what's crazy is to say that neither antidepressants or counseling work. Mark is right to say that they do, but not usually alone, and not without effort on the part of the person who needs them. I have seen many, many people in my generation transformed by SSRIs. And my husband, in his scientist days, ran some of the first drug studies for Celexa. He had one woman in the study who began it ready to kill her boss (a florist, and she intended to "prune" this woman's limbs, then scatter rose petals on her body). Happily, she got the drug and not the placebo and my husband watched her personality transform in a matter of weeks.

    Elberry, is your sister a counselor? You said she's a sociopath! But you're right, too, that lots of psychologists are pretty nuts themselves. Well, it is not a surprise. They usually choose this as a profession because there's mental illness in their families/themselves.

    By the way, it should be noted there's a huge difference between melancholia of the garden variety and clinical depression. The latter is a serious disease and it warrants treatment -- not studies that say treatment is worthless.

  12. Luckily, my sister never got to be a counsellor, it was just something she considered. A lot of serial killers apparently fantasize about being authority figures, e.g. cops. i think my sister was fantasizing about having control over people...

    i do know a genuine sociopath who is even as we speak studying counselling at college.

  13. You can always tell a sociopath by feeling drained and somehow cheated after having a conversation with them.