Foucault and the Drugging of Society

"You feeling nice and dopey? Good...."

(This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.)

When I lived in San Francisco I worked as an overnight counselor in a lock-down facility housing adolescents with various social and/or psychological disorders. It was rough. There was a reason these kids-who-were-adults-too-early were not allowed to wander around in society. Whenever they were “free” they were incontrollable.

Many had horrible experiences as children–verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, watching day after day of domestic abuse from one parent toward another, drug abuse. This causes nights to be a source of angst for many. Nightmares were normality. I saw teens who would act like adults at 9AM turn into fearful children at 9PM.

One way to help these people cope was to provide them with drugs. I will admit, I often wanted these kids to take their drugs. When they were drugged they were “normal”. Some would do it. Some hated it. Those who hated it knew it doped them up, it slowed their thinking, it calmed them down while taking away their sense of control, their sense of autonomy, their sense of “being”. Nightmares or dopiness? What a choice.

One philosopher/sociologist/historian we encountered in our reading is Michel Foucault. I do not know enough about him to pretend that I can summarize his views on matters, but I do know he was skeptical of modern systems of control like the place I worked and the pharmaceutic companies that provided the drugs. We “knew” what was best for these kids and our “knowledge” was “power”….if they took the drug. I saw the decision as an easy night at work or a hard one. They saw it as their humanity or robotics.

Foucault noticed this. Those of us who do not suffer with mental trauma want those who do to take the drugs because their instability challenges our way of life. We want them drugged. We want them locked away. We would rather pay $200,000 annually to have them taken away then wandering our streets. Is Foucault right? Is our “knowledge” of what they need “power”?

If it were you who had to chose between fearful humanity or numb robotics which would it be? It is easier for those giving the drugs than those asked to take them. Some are not even asked as our love for diagnosing children with ADHD has shown over the years! Is this moral? Are we in “the right” when we drug to control? Or is this mere power disguised as “rightness” and “truth” and “order”?

What do you think? As a Christian theologian what do you say to the drugging of society? What is our response to madness? Should we support it because it is “good” in a utilitarian fashion or should we oppose it because all too often the drugs are not for the worst case scenario but for the control of those whom we find uncontrollable?

About Brian LePort

Religious Studies Instructor at TMI Episcopal (San Antonio, TX). PhD in Religion and Theology from the University of Bristol (Bristol, UK). Married to Miranda Perez. Human to a Cocker Spaniel named Frida. Fan of the San Francisco 49ers, San Francisco Giants, and Golden State Warriors.

Posted on December 5, 2010, in Philosophical Theology, Th.M. Program and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 67 Comments.

  1. While my opinion is certainly an unqualified one, I have always had strong feelings in this area. I don’t think drugs should be used unless someone is an immediate danger or threat to themselves or others. I also believe that we have a real shortage of qualified caring people in this country to work in this field. In conclusion, I don’t believe that drugs control chemical imbalances, instead I think that they actually cause them! It’s pretty sad…

    • Foucault’s concern would be about the mental health industry as a whole. It includes as a technique for enforcing “reason” on those who are designated (recognized?) “mad,” the use of drugs to modify/suppress/”normalize” the behavior of those medicated (and in some cases incarcerated).

      The question of why we are drugging is a good one. What kind of people do we want them to be, through drugs or institutions? What kind of people do we “reasonable” think we are in distinction from these “others,” i.e. the “mentally ill”? In some cases, we simply want the ones receiving drugs to be safe. Yes and amen. But in other cases, it is not as clear what is accomplished, or why.

  2. @Alton: Drugging does seem to be a more “pragmatic” method than embodied care. Where I worked there was always many staff available. Some were teachers, some psychologist, some administrators, but it was still havoc because all had to “live” together (while on the clock) in a locked facility.

    There is no imitating culture in that situation. It is always more like prison. So while caring people do matter, and I’ve been around them, I wonder if there needs to be something more.

  3. Brian,

    You have a basic grasp of Foucault’s understanding of how the world works. Good work.

  4. I think the Gospel message is one of care and concern. If a person is unable to function within society without harming themselves or society then the duty of care involves both caring for the individual as well as society. And this duty of care may mean removing the individual from society where no harm can come to either.

    However its the duty of care to be able to bring a level of healing to the individual so they can function within society. Note… This doesn’t mean to be able to function as society may want them or expect them to moulded…

    As a separated Dad this is a huge question I am currently living with regarding my sons. http://mencanbeabusedtoo.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/children-wrongly-diagnosed/

  5. @Craig: And I think that qualification is a very important one. We often find people fixed if they can function as we’d like and not function as is.

    I am sorry to hear about your children. That sounds like a stressful situation.

  6. Thanks Brian.

    Yes it has been a stressful situation. But its one that I have peace about now. Going through it has shown me the lack of; and hence the need for restoring the true gift of pastoring back to the church.

  7. Brian, this is a really complex issue that needs to be explored more fully by many disciplines. As a Psychology major at Umaine, I was exposed by a Sociology professor to this very issue. That was the beginning of my move away from Psychology. I started to discover that if I were to move towards Clinical Psychology there was a very real chance that I would spend a large portion of my career simply drugging patients.

    It is a shame that many insurance companies will not pay for the cognitive/behavioral treatments that can help people cope without the “robotic” feelings described.

    I currently cannot support drugging the mentally ill, except in cases of trying to protect their lives. I am especially saddened by drugging someone against their will, simply to make them more manageable. It really is a tough situation.

  8. @Craig: Wow, that is a whole conversation in itself! I know that seminarians get a lot of amazing training, but this is one area where I’d venture to guess many would be overwhelmed. How does one pastor parents whose children are supposed to be drugged if they are to be managed? Something all future pastors should think about, especially as drugging becomes more and more common.

  9. @Josh: Not to be all conspiracy theorist or anything, but do you think insurance companies choose to pay for drugs over other forms of therapy because there is a connection with pharmaceutic companies? Is there any kick back involved? Discounts?

    • I agree with Joshua, Brian, your sentiment is not conspiracy theorist. The same holds true with the “cancer industry” (not to side-swipe this post); just do a little “critical” research in this area and you’ll be amazed by the connection (historically) between “Big Pharm” and the medical industry. Even so, I am not trying to impugn the motives of either well intentioned medical oncologists nor psychiatrists; nevertheless, the facts of this relationship speak for themselves.

  10. Indeed there is a lot pastors need to think about regarding what is happening within society and the congregation.

    I think one way forward for pastoral training is all students to be required to do chaplaincy work. This will be a mighty stretch where they will find out they don’t have the answers and likely never will.

    How does a pastor minister to the mentally ill, someone just out of prison, a victim of abuse.. both male / female. Even sexuality and gender issues. (such as this victim of gender reassignment) http://oiiaustralia.com/media/stories/story-r/

    I would say however that if a pastor does grapple with those issues; society would be more willing to allow that pastor / church minister to them.

  11. @Brian: Do not fear sounding conspiratorial! There is a connection between the people who make, pay, and prescribe drugs for the mentally ill. This does not mean that everyone working in the mental health field is involved. However it can be very difficult to work as a Clinical Psychologist completely separate from the demands of insurance and drug companies. The professor I worked with voiced concern over this.

  12. @Craig: Yes, society would give the church that responsibility if she’d take it. I am sure of that! I think we’d rather work on building projects and getting our sermons on local access TV though. 😉

    @Josh: Didn’t someone say that the love of money was the root of all kinds of evil? I think I read that somewhere.

  13. @Brian: Great issue for discussion. I completely agree that we need to be very aware of the power relationships that might be involved in this issue. And, I have no doubt that this is an important part of the medical/insurance response to mental illness. I also think we need to be very sensitive to the fact that we might be medicating people simply because it’s easier for us to manage their problems through medicine.

    But, at the same time, I wonder if we’ve paid enough attention in this discussion to the fact that we are physical beings and that mental illnesses may well have physical causes that can be effectively treated with various medicines. I certainly don’t have the answers here, but I do want to keep in mind the fact that we are physical beings and the significance this might have for understanding mental illness.

  14. @Marc: The medications are used because they do work. I think if they did not do something there would be no reason to use them. Also, I wouldn’t say that all medications are bad. I know that I have seen people where the medications made them much better (at least in appearance).

    The remaining concern is what the the telos of medication. If it succeeds in freeing someone from mental debilitation then that is good. If, like I think many ADHD drugs are doing, it is to control, then this is bad.

  15. @Marc.

    I wonder at what point we consider someone to have a mental illness. Hallucinations / visions are considered as a pointer to mental illness..yet can also be a part of the Christian experience.

    Are mental illnesses a result of environment, organic, spiritual or a combination of both.

    Take depression and grief for example. Do we medicate against this so that people can be happy or do we recognise that these are part of the life journey.

    What is our reaction and perception towards or about someone with mental illness?Do we perceive them to be less then human because they do suffer from something we cannot see.

  16. @Brian: Agreed. The issue cannot be control or we’ve missed the mark badly. If we’re not focused on the fostering the full humanity (i.e. Christlikeness) of the person in question, we’re just trying to make our own lives easier.

    @Craig: I have really appreciated your insights on this post, and I don’t have any simple answers to your comments (as if there were any). I agree that our focus cannot be on what makes us “happy” and that however we respond to such people, we cannot do so in a way that undermines the full humanity of those who deal with “mental illnesses” or other emotional disturbances. Like us all, they suffer from the effects of living in a broken world. But, at the same time, I don’t want to deny our physicality and the possibility that our physical brokenness might impact our emotional/spiritual well-being. As with many things, I don’t think there are any easy answers here.

  17. @Marc I have enjoyed reading and engaging on your blog.

    The pastor of the church that led me to Christ was a chaplain at a mental hospital for 30-40 years. During that time he worked with a psychiatrist who would send some of his patients to him for spiritual counsel.

    Over that period of time he found that the majority of people with mental illness who he ministered to were greatly healed when they were able to forgive; either themselves, another person or thing / situation…whether real or imagined. He would never minister to anyone who wasn’t taking the prescribed medication.

    So we see a great combination of both a medical and spiritual solution to helping people live normalised lives within a community of caring people.

    A few years ago I went through an extremely stressful time. I suffered from a sudden debilitating illness, an abusive wife, homelessness as well as being cut off from and black-banned from the church I fellowshipped at, at the time.
    http://mencanbeabusedtoo.wordpress.com/my-story-part-1/

    I went through depression big time, used medication for a while, but couldn’t handle the taste and quickly went off it. However I did find a good counsellor who helped me through the grieving process and after moving in with my non Christian brother; started to play poker with him at the local pub. There I found a community of non believers who treated me with dignity, respect, and with no judgement……. 😉

    I don’t think we can divide the person from the emotional, spiritual, physical. We need to treat each person as a individual within a collective community in a holistic way which doesn’t put one method above the other.

    Today I still suffer from the effects of the Viral Encephalitis. I met and married a wonder lady, am back in fellowship with another denomination, resuming my theological degree studies with the aim of eventually doing a masters and Ph.d… I think with a pastoral emphasis and in the new year being released as a community chaplain after having spent the last 12 months doing chaplain work with homeless men.

    In my own experience; I found that acceptance within a community is what established the firm foundation of healing.

  18. I think Foucalut’s concern about “power-mongering” might be well founded. Btw, it’s not only “drugs” that are the problem; but it’s also processed “foods” that are staples of the American diet.

    While agree that there are “physical” means (just think of the cross) to subvert and redeem the affects of the “Fall,” at the same time the particular means used are not all of the same value. I certainly think the LORD has provided the means through His redeemed creation to bring healing to us broken souls; but I think we ought to be shrewd in how we consider what are “good” means and what are “bad.” And that part of that arbitration should be to look at what drives and shapes the “purpose” of those means in the first place. Are they to actually and “systemically” treat and heal, or are they to foster an environment of dependence and thus subjugation (I’m starting to sound like a Marxist! 😉 )? I think Foucault’s caution is a good one, actually.

    Just my two beans . . .

  19. @Bobby: Yes, the food discussion is an extension if the drug discussion! My wife has made me aware of this. While it may not be psychological, per se, it does effect our humanity.

  20. This post reminded me of the Marilyn Manson song “Coma White”.

    Personally I would rather those who were a danger to themselves and others put on medicine and kept from harming people. I’d also like them helped to try to overcome that but once they’ve shown a tendency to act out in violence and threaten the safety of others then they need more than just a therapist or psychiatrist or whatever to help them while they work through whatever it is.

    I would choose medicine for myself if it were me.

  21. @Bryan: There are surely times when I would agree. Some people need medications to function. Since I was raised around Pentecostal circles I am all too aware of stories of people being told to ditch the medication and “just have faith” which usually results in disaster.

    On the other hand, I know a lot of people taking medication for a lot of things that I think should be questioned ethically. Again, ADHD is one of my favorite examples. More and more I read that our society jumped the gun on medicating children with ADHD. When I was in grade school I have all kinds of trouble paying attention. I am glad I wasn’t doped!

  22. I think in the case of ADHD, is that really for us (non doctors and psychologists) to decide whether people’s children shouldn’t have been receiving medication for this? In the case of medicating people for conditions like depression, ADHD, anxiety, etc., I would be interested in hearing the informed opinions of actual doctors and psychologists as well. Otherwise we can easily slip into repeating common misconceptions and popular boogiemans (I have in mind the current campaign against vaccines).

    Speaking of praying, there are times that I have been “delivered” of things through prayer. The most notable was being delivered from depression a number of years ago. I wasn’t even expecting it but months after both someone praying for me and answering an altar call I noticed I no longer suffered from the depression that plagued me for years.

  23. @Bryan: Yes, doctors are important, but I am one who thinks the ADHD problem is a whole different category than vaccines. We have seen polio’s effects, but for years “energetic children” was pretty much the definition of children. I remain skeptical of ADHD diagnosis and if I had a doctor tell me that my child would be calmer if I doped him up a bit, I think I’d pass.

  24. @Bobby: Very good wife! I’d run myself into the ground with my life habits if she didn’t keep me on track.

  25. Craig, it sounds like you’ve been on a pretty incredible (and difficult) journey. Thanks for sharing that. And, I completely agree that we humans are complex beings and that any adequate “solution” to the many problems we face will need to be correspondingly multifaceted. I particularly liked the emphasis on community for human flourishing.

    Brian, I think the ADHD example is a good one for your argument. Although I’m sure there are many cases where parents, doctors, and teachers use medication as a necessary part of an overall treatment plan to help children who have difficulty functioning effectively. But, my wife is a public school teacher and I can tell you from her experience that medicating ADHD is often much more about control and convenience than health and well-being. Which, of course, gets us back to Foucault’s point that issues of power and control are thoroughly embedded in every aspect of society, even showing up in the ways that we try to “help” people.

  26. @Marc: Which opens the door to talk about his critique of everything from mental health institutions, to hospitals, to prisons! I think Pat mentioned that above. If any of the (absent) ThM students have anything to add in that regard I’d welcome their input!

  27. I am curious how we draw the line between medication and non-medication when it comes to control. Many of us drink (take) caffeine in the morning as a stimulus. Are we functioning normally at that point when we are under its influence? What about sugar in kids. If kids who routinely have sugar are a bit wild, and taking away the sugar calms them down, is taking away sugar from their “normal diet” that much different then medicating for ADHD? What if the wildness was caused by the energy they get from vitamin B as a part of a high-fruit diet? Would it be okay to change their behavior with diet modification then by removing fruit?
    I think we draw the line at medication because it is a pharmaceutical, and that somehow takes it outside the realm of “normal”. Is that a fair line, and do we apply the same line to non-mental issues. How do we feel about diet pills? How about pills that help lower cholesterol? Regular use of Aspirin to stave off heart attacks? Where is the line between good and non-good?
    I think the reason we come up with different answers here is because we don’t just want to have a good end, but also a good means. Something is acceptable if the end and the means are equally good. We don’t mind changing a child’s behavior by removing sugar from their diet because the means is good and the end is good, theoretically. We might have a harder time taking away fruit to do the same thing. I guess I am wondering (and I genuinely don’t know) why we assume that medication is a fundamentally bad means to a desired end when it comes to what we call “mental illness”. Is this only because of its undesired side effects or is there something more? Do we feel that medication is just a mask that stops the user from dealing with the essential issue? What if the medication gave the user the ability to deal with the essential issue, would it be okay then? What if it still had “mind numbing” side effects? Or do we feel that medication is just a short-cut and that makes it inherently bad?

    • I stumbled accross this website casually and want to make a contribution and try and answer to Adam B. Only forgive my bad English as it is not my native language.

      Your last questions are essential. And a fair answer can only come from analogy (analogy being the only sure science)

      Why do we think it is abnorm-al to take a pill to solve a problem? (norm-al and abnorm-al only mean wether an observation is conform or not to actual norm/ standard/ costums, which can be very relative without any moral connotations) Why is it that we feel that medication is not the anser to solve the illness? First, I think that everybody would agree that a mental illness is any deviation from normal manners and the DSM and other mental books are here to provide precision and quantificatrions about how far a behavior could deviate before it is considered to be a disorder. Once a behaviour is evaluated as abnorm-al, we shall have to treat it. Now, what do we mean by treating or solving the deviance? If we mean by that bringing the subject to a state when such behaviour is absent, then any means that could fullfill this purpose is valid, and it would be far better if the means are natural (herbs, diet, exercises and so on) if not there is the products of the medical research to provide us with help thanks to various medicaments. But if solving the problem means understanding it, this is a radically another matter.

      But how do we know that the deviance is healed? Is that our true aim in the first place? to heal? And what does healing mean? Or has the behaviour only been inhibited? I think it is impossible to provide an answer to this. Facts show that the vast majority of people must keep on taking the medication to remain within the boundaries of norm-ality. Failing to do that leads to problems that were inexistant before. So have we solved the problem? Is this our aim? Or we just want to be pragmatic and feel norm-al on a daily basis to carry on our duties. What sort of society do we want? What kind of persons would we like to be? A creative human being with pleasure and suffering able to make front to problems, try to understand his fellow, or just kind of thoughtless, superficial and shallow creatures, favoring wasy ways and quick fixes.

      I think that anyone could see what the world has became. What the actual way of thought has created, what kind of humanity we fathered. Observing this, we have to take decisions about wether continuing the same road thinking “That’s the way is is” or try to understand why “what is” is so painfull in order to heal it, permanently because a solution that just switch a problem for another is no soution at all.

      Sorry for the lengthy post

      • Said, thanks for the great comments. I’m very glad you stumbled don the site and offered your thoughts.

        I think you raised at least three key issues that needo be addressed in this discussion: (1) what is “normal” and who gets to decide what qualifies as normal?; (2) what kind of persons are we trying to develop/become?; and (3) are we justified in using any means that brings about the desired end? Each of these questions generates difficult discussions. The real point of discussing Foucault in this post, I think, was to point ou the power issues that are involved in all three questions. Brian’s real point isn’t that we shouldn’t use medication, but that we need to think more carefully about the underlying assumptions and implicit power plays that are often involved in the creation, distribution, and application of medical technologies.

  28. @Adam: These are some of the primary areas of debate as I understand it. And I think it is hard to provide a sufficient answer because each base has a given (1) person in relation to a given (2) condition. It is hard to paint with broad brush strokes.

    I don’t think dietary changes are negative because it is more about removing influences that disable the child’s normality. No candy is not the same as the side effects of Ritalin (e.g. http://www.adhdnews.com/adhd-drug-side-effects.htm). In fact, if we allow a child to have a destructive diet filled with sugars we are doing something similar to drugging them.

    Also, what I do not see Foucault doing is criticizing drugs in general. I like Tylenol and Advil more than most twenty-eight year olds! But the issue is control of other. One reason ADHD medication is a good example is because the primary problem with a kid who has ADHD is he is hard to….wait for it…control! So what do we do? We control his/her minds.

    I don’t want to simplify the matter, but I do think it must be something we approach with concern.

    • I guess what I am trying to sort out is if it is the side-effects that bother us or the control itself.

      • I think the side effects are the visible signs that our grasp for control is harmful. It is the “manifestation” that gets our attention.

      • Certainly we wouldn’t say that the grasp for control is always harmful… but if not, then how do we decide that we are grasping to tightly? If it is only the consequences (side effects) then our problem is not with the attempt to control itself, but with the outcome. For example, isn’t discipline (as in disciplining our children) a form of control? And still, we malign anyone who refuses to discipline their children. In fact most would agree (I think) they are doing their children a great disservice by refusing to exert the control of discipline over their children. This gets back to Foucault’s prisons. Yes, prisons and laws exert control over society. Yes, a lecture/classroom setting is not conducive to loud boisterous outbursts from children (we call this disruptive). Society needs laws to function, and this implies consequences (prisons). Classrooms need rules to function as well. Since a level of control is necessary does this make the efforts of society or teaching evil? So I would posit that we are in fact more concerned with the outcome and not the need to control itself.

      • While Foucault’s views are complex, and I do not see myself parroting him, I would say that while you are correct, the grasp for control is not, in and of itself, wrong, what is wrong is the grasp for control masked as something else. In the case of medicating ADHD children we have something that is not really a threat to anyone other than a “norm” we prefer. We speak as if the medications are “helping”, but as the side effects show, this seems unlikely in proportion to the actual problem. Here we have power masked as knowledge grasping for self-interest in the name of the interest of the other.

  29. This is an area that has always intrigued me and putting Foucalt’s perspective on it I think gives it a new spin. I have often been skeptical of the Pharmaceutical industry and the manner in which they push drugs. there is no doubt that they have given us extremely important and life saving medications. However, there does seem to be a point that we are allowing ourselves to be drugged when it perhaps is not necessary. Our current use of drugs is very much a reflection of our culture, especially when it comes to mental health. As Marc noted, there is a place for psychological drugs that are needed to correct very physical ailments. It does seem, though, that in some areas – like ADHD – we tend to prescribe first and think about it later. I wonder if we are merely going to what is convenient to keep our kids under control. I do not want to malign what parent’s are going through in any way but I would like to address whether this is really best practice for the long run. We have major companies creating drugs (with side effects) to meet a need. They push them on the doctors to prescribe. Patients are either strongly recommended by their doctors to give them or they hear about the new medication directly from the pharmaceutical company and demand a prescription form their doctor. Are we sacrificing our children’s long term health by over prescribing these medications? Are we doing our best as parents to rectify the situation. Again I am oversimplifying this, but I think there are some hard questions we need to ask ourselves as a society about how we use these drugs.
    The “Foucaltian” aspect of this comes in when we look at how these drugs allow us to remain in control. In the ADHD example, the parents can have a greater ability to control their overactive child. But for what purpose? I am not greatly knowledgeable about ADHD, but I think ADHD is not a disorder that causes health dangers, but rather causes the child to behave in a manner that violates our cultural norms of propriety and brings great exasperation to the parent. Thus they are out-of-control. The drug then brings them back into a controllable situation. The child has no say in this matter at all. Therefore its use is part of a system to control children not for the health of the child, but for the benefit of the parents (yes, obviously there are benefits to the child in terms of socializing, education, etc.). This is a control system.
    As a fairly new parent, I have been intrigued by the various theories of child raising and what is best for baby from nutrition, schedule, sleeping, etc. Some seem heavily based on control (i.e. Baby Wise) while others are based on the baby following its own schedule. I vacillate between various styles but have noticed that generally, many of the ideas seem to lean towards making the life for parents easier. My son is not old enough to express ADHD and so I cannot as yet fully understand what those parents go through, but I see it as an extension of this in that we are making things easier for parents, instead of what is best for the child. What do we sacrifice in order to obtain this control? What do we gain?

  30. @Brian …

    I think its dangerous to try and force people into one type of learning method… I don’t think ADHD children are out of control; rather for the most part schools don’t know how to stimulate the thinking and creativity of children.

    You have raised some interesting issues about control. The philosophy of Foucault regarding control versus health could be applied to the church and other organisations in general.

    The question we need to keep before us as pastors / teachers is how we grapple with the tensions of keeping control versus health of our church / seminary and engagement with society etc.

    Control may cause an appearance of health; but has it really caused health or brokered masks. Are our belief systems / teachings a form of drug that keeps us under control within the community. As Marc commented before about the need of community to flourish; what really is the basis of our community?

  31. @Andy: I think you bring up a point that several of us have hinted: What is the purpose of using this or that medication for this or that problem? I think it is more often than not the case that the person could function just fine, but they may be a little difficult for us!

  32. Brian:
    Are you saying ADD medicine has no place or use? Kids shouldn’t take it? Or are you saying it’s just over used and parents and doctors too quickly resort to it?

  33. @Bryan: I will admit that I don’t have medical/pharmaceutical training so I cannot say no place, but I will say I am skeptical of mostly every diagnosis. It just doesn’t seem to be something that warrants drugs. Why do we drug is my first concern? If it is because children interrupt our programmatic approach to things like education then I cannot help but wonder if this is a system failure rather than an actual problem with children.

    I couldn’t pay attention to anything but video games when I was in grade school, but do I think I should have been doped? Nope. I am thankful for my memories of my wild imagination and childhood unrest and I turned out to be a fully functioning adult. Much better than living under a cloud.

  34. Skeptical of most every diagnosis that you saw at that place you worked or just in general? Have you ever talked to a doctor or psychologist about this issue? Have you ever experienced being on ADD medicine? Do you know what it feels like? You know adults take ADD medicine too, don’t you? And it’s not because someone else is trying to control them but because they’re seeking some sort of help with concentration.

    I don’t mean to badger you, I’m just curious why you seem to have such strong feeling on this issue.

    Personally I just take a pragmatic approach to this. I don’t have a child who seems to need this type of medicine but if I were having major trouble and nothing seemed to help them I would look into it. If it helps then go for it. I don’t try to look too theologically into this.

  35. @Bryan: I am skeptical that any case of ADHD/ADD is worthy of drugging. I have worked with both youth who take these drugs and those who administer them. While I have not been on ADHD/ADD medication I don’t recall anyone who liked the aftermath.

    I have gone to school with many students training to become professional counselors as well. Those who I have asked about it have serious reservations as well.

    While I understand the motivation for the diagnosis, I don’t think it really makes people concentrate as much as it does dope them.

    It would be interesting to hear from someone who has experienced the medications.

  36. Fair enough. I would be interested too. I’m not an apologist for ADD medication, I just find the widespread distrust and suspicion of it curious and have wondered where that comes from. I know people who distrusts all kinds of things related to medicine and health in general and am usually just curious where that comes from. Given that most people aren’t doctors or scientists I find it odd.

  37. Feed’m Prozac-So I speak as a pharmacist, once part of Big Farma, and also as a pastor. Part of our leper colony in US society are the bi-polars. We have built the ships of anti-depressant U-(SSRI’s) in order that the lepers may be shipped out of our sight without emoting the very realities around them that cause such dolor. Thus, they become faceless so that ‘the reasonable’ can continue on their way inflicting pain via structures of power through knowledge of what is sane. I provides a reasonable life without guilt. No cry of the depressed is heard, they are medicated and afloat on their ship.

    Social order is maintained at the price of the truth so no disordered way of knowing is revealed. We see some sit properly medicated in church ‘services’ unable to ‘feel’ joy or sadness but they do sit proper. They may seem with us but they are truly alone, afloat until they perish. A few have tried to return to the homeland by quitting their meds but find the neuro-chemical rebound overwhelming. The minister is sometimes called at some God forsakened hour to retrieve them out of the rubber room and persuade them to return to the ship (back on the ‘zak’). Perhaps it is certainly easier dealing with them this way than acting like Henri Nouwen as the ads for the next cruise departing from the pain of the Fall is played between downs or time outs. BTW-Anyone have the spread on the Auburn-Oregon game 😉

    Such might be a Foucaultian interpretation of our ‘drugged’ but orderly society from *Madness and Civilization*

  38. I would suggest one book that might have some pertinence to the subject of ADHD (and depression) and the physical/neurological basis, This Is Your Brain On Joy, by Dr. Earl Henslin. While I find the book to be overly pushy (almost at times an advertisement in print) of a “new” type of brain scan, the book does a good job of approaching neurological states/”disorders” from a compassionate angle.

    ADHD, whether considered worthy of drugs or not, is a physical reality. And there are drugs, diet and things that can be used to help the situation. Yes, it can be about control, but it can be about care and protection as well.

    Those with ADHD can put themselves in very threatening situations, because the same neurological patterns that cause a lack of attention and excessive activity can cause a lack of inhibition that often leads to interactions with strangers and the physical environment that can be threatening, as well as socially debilitating habits. That has been my personal experience with my daughter.

    For instance, my daughter has a history of simply wandering off on a whim or forcing/demanding inappropriate physical contact with strangers (and other adults/children). It seems innocent and sweet, but can be permanently damaging when it causes lack of proper socialization – or when it results in the loss of a child.

    I’m not comfortable “drugging” my child, I’ll be honest. I saw the effects of Ritalin in my brother (Ritalin is not being used by my child). I saw also how the treatment created a certain context for my brother to act out and cause greater familial strife than might have otherwise been the case.

    She has only been taking the new medication for two weeks, but in that time I can say that she does not appear “dazed” or “doped.” She is still lively, but has her inhibitions more in check. The drug wears off noticeably, and that has calmed fears of addiction or unhealthy buildup.

  39. @George: Thanks for weighing in here. I appreciated our conversation on Facebook and I thought that you made some interesting points there.

    First, I shared your disappointment that it seemed the school systems made the ultimatum: drug or remove. This seems to me to be further evidence that the system, as is, is more important that the individual. Utilitarianism run rampant.

    Second, it seemed like alternatives–such as cognative therapy and behavior modification–were downplayed in favor of drugs. It doesn’t seem like parents are given many options. Do you sense this? Did you feel like your hands were tied?

  40. @Brian: “Did you feel like your hands were tied?” Absolutely and without doubt.

    Yes, I think the school sees it as drug or remove. I don’t think they care to interact with it at the level of anything but control. So it is important to have your child’s interest in mind, and not just cater to the schools. I am not inclined to believe they have my child’s best interests in mind (whether they have the collective children’s best interest in mind or not). We allowed her to use the medicine on the advice of the doctor, in spite of the school’s obvious desires.

    Yes, I think the school downplayed alternatives. Rather than gathering information over the semester that would help with addressing or changing the behavior, they simply handed us a collected file of disruption reports and teacher/staff frustration to give to our doctor. That was a far cry from assurances we were given at the beginning of the year that they would work with her and test her for participation in alternate programs (we were never offered any such programs or assistance).

    No one has ever mentioned cognitive or behavior therapy as a viable option. Though the school early on spoke of “testing” her, what actually happened was “wait and see.” Our doctor was much more helpful than the school, but of the opinion that the severity of behavior she demonstrated would not be manageable through diet/exercise.

  41. I think Adam B. (see above) is onto something here. I started taking Melatonin to help me sleep. When I told people I was taking this, I was met with initial skepticism. Is this a pill? Some human concoction made to induce sleep? What control are you artificially trying to take over your body?

    I explain with a smile that this is an organic herb, magically crushed into the shape of a little white pill.

    Human ingenuity is not evil in its mastery of creation and its own body. Even if the pill was not an organic herb, if it accomplished the same function in the same manner, I would happily take it.

    Our bodies are broken and diseased, fraught with complications and problems.

    I think what is so frightening about the whole situation is not the drugs themselves or their chosen ingestion by an individual. I think what scares us is the amount of power in the those pills as they are FORCED into another person who has NO CHOICE but to accept that powerful effect in his or her person.

    I may or may not choose to take the drugs, but I would fight tooth and nail for the right to make my own decision.

    • Do we really ‘make’ our own decisions or is our decision- making just an illusion within another’s meta-narrative?

      • : ) Yes I currently hold to a form of libertarian free will. I do not believe it is an illusion contained in a meta-narrative.

        Relinquishing the right to choose for yourself is tantamount to suicide. When someone tries to take it from you, the victim enters into a kill or be killed situation. The penalty for kidnapping is death, Ex. 21:16. I would suggest kidnapping and involuntary drugging are parallel crimes. : )

      • @Jerome,

        Yes. In The meta-narrative of God’s life in Christ 🙂 .

  42. @George: I think medication is easier for the school system. The individual must fit in the system and s/he has his/her worth determined by whether or not s/he helps the system function. If drugs help the individual help the system, and the system can move along without taking time to actually “care” for the individual, then drugs it is! Very disheartening.

    @Stephen: I don’t think this is an issue of medications v. nature. This is an issue of taking medications too far. It is about using medications for the end all answer to everything. It is one thing for medications to assist people with health issues; it is something altogether different when it is about inconvenience.

    Our society acts as if it is giving medication to people to help “them”, but I think it is often the case, as Jerome noted above, to avoid hearing their cry, counseling their depression, and allowing them to express their broken humanity. We’d rather they be “happy”….even if it is purely artificial.

  43. After interacting with Foucault I definitely see how the use of drugs can be a form of power and control. Counseling someone through depression takes a lot of time. Looking at all the things that can lead to depression (diet, sleep, exercise, life choices, pressures in work, relationships, the list goes on) takes time and often feels overwhelming. There usually isn’t a quick answer. Now there are times where depression is a result of a chemical imbalance and drugs can help your body get back to that balance, but how often is someone willing to go through all the steps that are necessary to determine the other factors that might be in play? The pressures of work, school, family, and society often trump the time that it would take to go deeper and see what the underlying issues are. It is easier and quicker to take a pill than to go through the work and time of looking at all the other factors. If you bypass looking at all the factors and simply recommend drugs, then they can then become a form of control.

  44. @Renjy: Yes, at times it may be necessary because of chemical issues but as you note I think too often it is just “easier”.

  45. There is evidence in suggesting that sometimes the chemical issue is caused by the bodies reactions.

    Take some who appear to be feisty angry people who may start fists flying at any moment. It’s not so much an anger issue as it is an addictive problem with the endorphins that are released through the adrenaline rush this produces.

  46. In response to the question, ‘What do I think of the drugging of society?’, I think we should take advantage of the advancements in medicine and use drugs to help people. But it would be ideal if people who need treatment have someone who knows and loves them to walk with them through the processes. When people have mental breakdowns for example, they greatly diminish their capacity to make decisions, so they need the help of people who are not simply trying to “calm them down” but who are caring for their needs–desiring to do what is best for them.

    But what about this vast crowed of people who need help and for whatever reason they have no one to help them? As was mentioned above, they should be treated according to their threat to the rest of society. If they are proven to harm others then they should be medicated to prevent them from doing so. This medication should not be flippant but should be used to protect others. The freedom of the offender should be limited if they chose to use that freedom to hurt others.

    Our responsibility is to proclaim the truth of the gospel that transforms the heart of those who believe it. This should cause people who would not normally care for others to care and help them to find the help they need. And the gospel even goes so far as to change the hearts of those who use their freedom to hurt. Let us believe with greater conviction the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of God.

  47. I don’t think there must be necessarily ill-will from the pharmaceutical companies and the medical institution in promoting the drugging of the mentally disturbed in the sense of proclaiming something and doing a totally different thing as Brian pointed it out. It is probably just the way they have got to help. In their view, probably, there are legitimate reasons to appeal to various drugs in order to “control”. In other words, the use of drugs is justified from their standpoint. We must be careful to not tint the word “control” with bad/good connotations. Instead, we must understand the reality behind the word.
    As the others comments stressed, human reality is seldom simple to understand so a process took place in science involving the breaking down of this reality into various simple aspects and studying each one separately. Medicine didn’t escape this line of thought so various medical specialties appeared. Each one dedicated to some aspect/organ of the human body. Wikipedia lists nearly 50 specialties. Psychiatry itself as a branch of medicine has its own subspecialties. Even the so called alternative or “holistic” medicine has divisions.
    So, the incapacity to handle human problems as a whole led to the appearance of a complex system of scientific, medical and psychological care. One consequence of this is the emergence of a list of drugs. This list is expected to be large as there are numerous medical specialties and subspecialties.
    The result is an apparently massive drugging of people. Drugging is the actual way to help. We have not got any other way-yet. Off course, to the pharmaceutical companies this is a big business and they use it to their benefit promoting the research of new products and would oppose anything that threatens their commerce. This is logical and expected.
    Now, this is the novelty, I think. As human beings we must stop regularly to appreciate what we have done, to question our own thoughts honestly and humbly and find out if anything better could be done. We must stand outside the system we believed in and ask if that’s all what we can give, if this is the world we like to have. If this is unavoidably the way we are meant to live. Being alive means being able to question; to doubt; to think critically beyond the actual reality, be creative. If we don’t question ourselves we are condemned to be always the same without any hope in discovering our potentials. That’s real depression. That’s being dead.
    We have to find out if there is no other ways in approaching our problems. We have been on the same road for so long now so it’s time to stop and appreciate what we have done. Are we satisfied with it? If so then there is nothing to do indeed. If not then we have the obligation as human beings to modestly admit that we were all wrong and think in another way of living

  1. Pingback: Foucault and the Drugging of Society « Near Emmaus

  2. Pingback: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual: Proposed removal of Narcissistic personality disorder | eChurch Christian Blog

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