Unmaking Diagnosis: Gary Greenberg

First Aired: 06-01-2013 -- 3 comments | Add comment
Journalist and Psychotherapist Gary Greenberg

Why did the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual become so controversial? Is it possible to alleviate human suffering without classifying it as a mental disorder?

Gary Greenberg, psychotherapist, author of Manufacturing Depression and The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry, and journalist for Harper’s, the New Yorker, and Rolling Stone, discusses the politics behind psychiatry’s new Bible.


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3 comments on “Unmaking Diagnosis: Gary Greenberg

  1. The Gift of Mental Illness

    Let’s assume all disease, no matter how much suffering it causes, is not out to get us. Maybe disease didn’t evolve to be centered around our destruction but actually plays a delicate role in maintaining balance? If we run with this for a while then what does disease really look like? How would we explain something like mental illness?

    In plants it is easy to see this balance. Fearing disease, tomato farmers gather up all blighted tomato plants to burn at the end of the season. The blight, alternaria, is actually beneficial. During the growing season, it helps make airborne nutrients accessible to the leaves of the tomato plant. As the tomato plant starts producing tomatoes it has a high demand for potassium. If that potassium is not available in the soil the plant takes it from its older leaves. The leaves are still green when they loose potassium. To us they look healthy. To Nature they are ready to be decomposed by the alternaria. Blight is an indicator imbalance and starts the process of that leaf becoming food for future plants.

    No too long ago I was labeled bi-polar. In short, I was told my brain was chemically imbalanced and I would have to be on medication. Sure, I could admit I was imbalanced. I thought I was God one day, Hitler the next, I constantly projected my thoughts onto others, I drank and smoked too much, stayed up late, ate terrible food, and “watched” my relationships fall apart. The message that I couldn’t relate to was that this illness was in my DNA and I couldn’t change it. I wouldn’t believe I was loosing a piece of myself that I’d never get back. It took me many years to realize I didn’t have to be falling apart and I hope my story helps others realize this. Essentially, I began to think of my mental illness like the tomato blight scenario above. Maybe under imbalanced conditions mental illness was “composting” my brain and under balanced conditions was a beautiful part of myself. I apologize for the gruesome imagery but I believe that is close to what happens. Of course, I wasn’t able to verbalize this back then. All I knew was that I had a feeling that life wasn’t so black and white, either mentally healthy or mentally broken. After being on medication for 10 years I asked my doctor when bi-polar balances out. He said never, it gets worse and that if I ever try getting off medication I might have unmanageable symptoms for life. Talk about a return customer! This sure didn’t resonate with me. Later on in my study of mental health I realized this stigma also doesn’t resonate with others who are helping people get mentally healthy again. No doctor can tell you medications work to heal. I have studied medication science. Medications mask symptoms at the price of our health. In short, the science of medication is a science of marketing. If doctors are telling you they are healing you with medication they are lying or instead of chemicals they are now prescribing food, rest, community and cultivating self-love.

    Thankfully, my bipolar was an indicator that my brain needed more nourishment. I found a therapist I could talk to, got more rest, ate better, found friends that I felt better around and slowly transitioned of my medication. To back up, first, I researched how to transition off medication. Then I found a nutritionist to test my mineral levels and create a tailored mineral supplement. Finally, I found a doctor who was willing to prescribe me lower doses of medication to transition off. Along the way, I told my girlfriend and family what I was doing. I took a year to slowly transition off medication. I felt no side effects or symptoms. I have been off medication for three years. I feel continually better. I am now happily married, am active in my community and have a rewarding job. I research and study about healing and share my story with others.

    I am thankful for my bi-polar “disorder.” It has been my turning point. I even catch myself believing it is a gift that I wish others could experience. The reason I do so is because I see others going down a road that I, thankfully, had a mental illness to detour me from continuing on. If we took away all the symptoms away from diseases I believe we’d lose our relationship with Nature. My mental illness inspired me to understand how to live more naturally and this led to a much deeper love for myself, my family and friends, and the world.

    Luke Pryjma


    1. Wonderful story Luke! Thanks for posting this, and the comparison with blight on tomatoes is intriguing —

  2. BTW: Will, that was an amazing interview with Gary. I will be sure to check out Gary’s book on the DSM 5 and how far from reality it is. I am looking forward to understanding the mental health landscape better and this interview helped me see what psychiatrists are basing their decisions on. I appreciated the question of what happens when a diagnosis disappears from the DSM. In fact, the interview was full of great questions and I really appreciated Gary’s candid personality.

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