Pathologizing Can Mean Big Business for Drug Companies

Pathologizing is basically about making an ordinary enough life problem into a mental health diagnosis. An example of this was the subject of the 2007 book Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, by Christopher Lane. I believe the title speaks for itself.

Lane shows how a pharmaceutical company can use pathologizing towards unscrupulous ends and concludes in his book, “Before you sell a drug, you have to sell the disease. And never was this truer than for social anxiety disorder.” Paxil anyone?

Also on the topic of Paxil, Alison Bass wrote Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial, which Arnold S. Relman, M.D., from Harvard Medical School called “a richly detailed account of the disgraceful self-serving ties between drug companies and the psychiatric profession.”

A 2010 article by Tyler Woods, Ph.D., reports that 68% of members of The American Psychiatric Association’s task force that is writing the next (2013) edition of the DSM admit to “economic ties with drug companies.” How do you think this might affect their opinions regarding whether something belongs in the DSM as a mental disorder?

Some of the “conditions” that some factions in the mental health field protest as being pathologized and thus inappropriate for inclusion in the revised edition of the DSM are sex addiction, gender identity disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, female sexual dysfunction, parental alienation syndrome, and obesity. Some of these are already in the current edition of the DSM.

If not all of these are controversial because of iffy connections with Big Pharma, some are. As therapists and clients become increasingly aware of the implications of pathologizing, perhaps we can be more careful ourselves about not “buying into” the costly and misguided labeling of our problems.

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