Family Therapy as An Alternative to Medication: An Appraisal of Pharmland

By Phoebe S. Prosky; David V. Keith | Go to book overview

An Afterword to the Client Essays

Our various emotions—even the unpleasant ones—have functions in our lives. If we are too quick to try to eliminate emotional pain through medication, we may lose important tools that help us find our way. Take, for example, depression. The New York Times Magazine (2002) published an article called “Viewing Depression as Tool for Survival” in which several researchers and professionals are quoted as describing the sorts of purposes depression can serve in our lives. Dr. Randolph Nesse, director of the Evolution and Human Adaptation program at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, protests the idea that depression is simply a matter of disordered brain chemicals. He suggests that depression may have developed as a useful response to situations in which a desired goal is unattainable or “when one of life's paths peters out in the woods.” Depression may help a person disengage from what has proved a hopeless effort or protect a person from jumping ship too rashly. Says Dr. Nesse, “If I had to put my position in a nutshell, I'd say that mood exists to regulate investment strategies, so that we spend more time on things that work, and less time on things that don't.”

In her book Productive and Unproductive Depression (1989), Dr. Amy Gut describes the experience of a biochemist who frequently became depressed when a research strategy he was pursuing went nowhere. When the feelings of despair passed, he said, he saw “an entirely different way to tackle the problem, or else I have recognized that the project was unrealistic.” Dr. Gut states, “I think that depression is a normal mechanism. It's an attempt toward adaptation to a problem.”

Other thinkers on the subject have cited depression as a way to conserve energy and resources in hard times. Dr. Nesse believes there are many varieties of depression, not all of them captured by official diagnostic categories. He feels if depression is a useful defense, it may not always

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