Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I feel like I've been hearing a lot about Simon Wessely lately. But I've kept my distance, emotionally. ME in the UK, I don't think I've ever quite grasped what it's like there.

But I read a quote in Nassim Marie Jafrey's blog from Simon Wessely today, and it's gotten me pretty worked up.

“Like it or not, CFS is not simply an illness, but a cultural phenomenon and metaphor for our times.”

Seriously? And this man is ostensibly baffled that people would find this offensive. I followed a link to its source at the ME association website.

Here is his main argument:

“I think finally, fundamentally, it is that they [PWC's] cannot stomach the thought that this might be a, quote, ‘psychiatric disorder’. By which they mean — not what I mean — ‘it’s imaginary’, ‘it doesn’t exist’, they are ‘malingerers’.”

So what does he mean by "psychiatric disorder?

“Psychiatric disorders are disorders of the brain but expressed in a way that you can’t see them. I think that schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder, Alzheimer’s is a psychiatric disorder, OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] and autism are psychiatric disorders. Why is Alzheimer’s listed as a psychiatric disorder? Well, largely because it is treated by a psychiatrist.”

And this is where he loses me. What does he mean by, can't see them? They don't show up in MRI's? There's no blood test for them?


Does he honestly believe that the causes of these diseases cannot and never will be seen? Never mind there is already significant evidence for a viral cause of schizophrenia.

What does he think CFS is? "Somatisation par excellence"?
The delusion of fatigue? When there is so much scientific evidence against that?

Wessely thinks all his problems stem from the stigmatization of psychiatry. A stigmatization that shouldn't exist but sadly does. People with CFS turn their noses up at psychiatry. They naively demand the search for "biological" causes.
People with CFS aren't crazy, but they are in far greater need of therapy than medicine. If they would just understand that mind/body - it's all the same thing! Thus follows, therapy/medicine - same thing!

So why even make a distinction between psychiatry and medicine, other than so psychiatrists can keep their jobs?

Actually he does see it that way:

“Obviously I’m of the view that we should treat these disorders equally, which is, I think, getting rid of the distinction between neurology and psychiatry.”

What? OK, all you psychiatrists, congratulations! You're all neurologists now! All you in your private offices, seeing patients on couches, prescribing anti-depressants one after another in no particular order until you find "the one that works", call yourselves neurologists now! Publish a completely biased and unscientific study about how GET and CBT cure ME, and send it into the American Academy of Neurology for publication. Go try that!

I'm getting out of my depth now, but I have to say, the only way CFS/ME is a "metaphor for our times" is if you use it someway as a metaphor for our times in a novel or a movie. Here in the real world, it's just an illness. Maybe caused by a virus, maybe by something else, but whatever the cause, it can, and will be seen.

I think my feelings right now about psychiatry are best summed up by this great scene from Frasier:

It starts at 12:30 and is only a minute or so:

*Update - A good summary of Wessely's behavior in this letter from Malcolm Hooper

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