What are some Alternatives to the Medical Model of human distress?
An alternative may be a descriptive, or a biographical, narrative approach.
Symptoms may not be just symptoms, but may be profound, authentic feelings, emotions and moods which are an integral part of a person’s relationships to others or his struggle with actualizing his authentic life.
To dismiss these profound, authentic feelings as just symptoms is to dehumanize the Person (now called a „patient“).
In the book „Toxic Psychiatry“ Dr. Peter Breggin describes some phenomena not as illnesses but as ‚Psychospiritual Overwhelm‘ or ‚Psychosexual Overwhelm‘.
Is a PsychoSpiritual crisis with growth potential, explained away as an illness caused by the brain? An opportunity for Spiritual growth is lost in chemistry. Mystical ideas and discourse may be misunderstood by the uninitiated and labelled ‚psychotic‘.
‚Diagnosis‘ implies ‚Illness‘. However a person’s complex life narrative is NOT an illness. Unless „diagnosis“ is used as a metaphor, e.g. an economist diagnoses (analyzes) what’s wrong with the economy.
Not all suffering is illness! Denying a medical explanation does not deny the reality of suffering! Anguish is real, but does it have to be an illness?
For example, there may have been a history of abuse which led to the person’s current state of extreme emotional distress – leading to psychiatric diagnosis. This can be understood within a ‚Trauma Model‘ rather than a Medical Model! Or as another example, a heavy mystical religious experience which led to the person’s current altered state of mind – leading to psychiatric diagnosis.
During the 15 minute interview with an organic psychiatrist this history may be ignored, and the client walks out of the consulting rooms with the diagnosis of the proverbial ‚Chemical Imbalance‘ and a prescription for a very powerful drug for the long term.
Other alternative approaches may be political or economic. A person’s distress may be rooted in political injury, or in economics i.e. poverty, classism, unemployment.
Medical Model or Social Model?
Is a diagnosis necessary, when it does not benefit, when it does more harm than good?
Included in the harm of diagnosis, is enormous marital, social, communal and economic loss and damage to the client’s self perceptions, leading to failures through self fulfilling prophecies.
Drugs are not ‚magic bullets‘ with perfect magical cures, there are prices to pay.
For thousands of years people have comforted and counselled each other without resorting to the illness concept. We can listen to a person’s life story and description of distress, and offer help without making a psychiatric diagnosis.

Jonathan Fishman

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