The Anthropology of Medicine: From Culture to Method

By Lola Romanucci-Ross; Daniel E. Moerman et al. | Go to book overview

16
THE "NEW PSYCHIATRY": FROM IDEOLOGY TO CULTURAL ERROR

LOLA ROMANUCCI-ROSS

Many roads led to the "new psychiatry," but perhaps the most compelling path was to be found in the logic of its forensics. Although the forensic aspect of psychiatry was originally limited to advising the courts with respect to personal responsibility for criminal acts, later in the twentieth century it evolved into a process of assessing whether such deviant behaviors were due to specific mental disturbances over which the individual had no control or whether they were the result of deliberate intent.

After many years of professional training in which he or she learned a new language, professional rules about causality, and a new way of relating to self and others, the psychiatrist was guided in such assessments by a taxonomy of mental illnesses ( Diagnostics and Statistical Manual 1994). He later learns the meaning of concensus or difference of opinion with other professionals. Professional notions of causality may or may not coincide with beliefs of other members of the society; professional ideologies and lay ideologies may influence one another, or perhaps they may become confrontational -- a phenomenon that is pertinent to the current discussion.

In time the psychiatrist assisted the courts in deciding whether a criminal offender should go to prison or to a mental hospital. Was the defendant competent to be tried in a court of law, that is, did he understand the charges? The expert made judgments on the possible reversibility of disordered states, on the effectiveness of therapies or medications, and on possible determinable side effects. In short, the expert in psychiatry decided on "dangerousness" to self and others and on the place of madness and/or deviance in society.

Questions about "the place" of behaviors and persons in any society depend on cultural expectations and attitudes; in a sense they are stipulated

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