Happy Birthday, Bill!
On Saturday, May 11, William Glasser turns 88 years of age. Since 1960, when his first book, Mental Health or Mental Illness?, was published, and even before when he began to give presentations to youth authority staff around the state of California, Glasser has been a distinctive, ground-breaking voice in the fields of mental health and education. Books like Reality Therapy (1965), Schools Without Failure (1969), Control Theory (1985), The Quality School (1990), and Choice Theory (1998) appealed to millions of readers and offered clear, reasonable approaches for those working with the mentally distressed, for counselors and therapists, for social workers, and for educators. Some of his best work turned out to be for schools. Millions of students have benefitted from his non-coercive management approach, an approach that improved the lives of teachers as well.
I became friends with Glasser in 2000, which led to our working closely together, beginning in 2003, on what would become his biography. I read most everything he wrote, all of his 23 books and many of his journal articles, and interviewed family members, friends, and colleagues about his career, however it was the almost 60 interviews that he and I did together that formed the backbone for the book. The timing of our work turned out to be important, as he was still strong and sharp as we looked back into his long and impressive career. To pick his brain on important topics in such a personal setting is a privilege I shall always treasure. The book (I think there is a good possibility it will be called William Glasser: Champion of Choice) should be available in a few months.
Something significant occurred within the psychiatric community over the last couple of weeks and it reminded me, in a roundabout way, of Glasser’s basic message. The “something significant” was that the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Thomas Insel, has come out against the long-awaited DSM-V. Rejecting the most recent version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), referred to as the bible of psychiatry, seems to admit what Glasser said for so many years, that it described symptoms, but didn’t define mental illness. People may act differently and even strangely, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their brain is diseased. Psychiatry and the psychiatric drug industry is desperate to discover the biological connection between behavior and disease in the brain, but as yet no connection has been determined.
A recently published book about how the DSM is compiled, The Book of Woe: The Making of the DSM and the Unmasking of Psychiatry (2013), states simply that “Psychiatric diagnosis is built on fiction and sold to the public as fact.” Gary Greenberg, the author of the book and a psychotherapist himself, reminds readers of what people like Glasser have been saying for a long time, that while the public seems to believe that psychiatric diagnosis is based on scientific data and comprehensive research there is still “not one biological test for a DSM disorder.”
My hope is that on this day, Glasser’s birthday, we will appreciate him for creating and refining such an empowering and hopeful explanation of how our brains work and why we behave the way we do. Rather than our being victims of a diseased brain, we can begin to take steps, however small, toward responsibility and happiness. For fifty years he has pointed the way to mental health, emphasizing the importance of the relationships with others in our lives and explaining the power and freedom of our choices. His ideas have meant a great deal to me personally and have added value to my life.
Thank you, Bill. May this day be special in every way!
Here’s a question I honestly wrestle with Jim – we have talked some about it. If the brain is one of the many parts of our physical organism, how is it that we allow for illness in the cells of all parts of our body, but in Glasser’s view, not the brain? Has he addressed this question somewhere in his writing?
In saying the above I certainly am not minimizing the current over prescription of mood altering drugs. It just seems like there might be a middle ground between – no such thing as brain disease, and every emotional outburst or discomfort is a brain desease.
There are examples of brain disease – Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are two such diseases. These conditions have a pathology that can be tested for or seen under a microscope. As a result there is a biological connection between the disease and the behavior or its results.
A growing number of people in the field (Glasser and Szasz were early critics of the mental illness view) are recognizing or maybe admitting that there is no evidence of brain pathology that causes mental distress symptoms. This isn’t to say that mental symptoms don’t symptoms don’t exist. They do exist and they are incredibly powerful. It does say, though, that the answer does’t lie in a diseased brain pathology.
Glasser describes a process in which people, even people with profound dysfunctional symptoms, can be helped to take steps away from the symptoms. He wasn’t as outspoken about brain drugs as people may think. He didn’t want to be known for being against drugs. He recognized that drugs could have a numbing effect that shut down the ability of the brain to create symptomatic behaviors. This numbing effect doesn’t represent the solution, though. Glasser wanted to be known for offering a real solution. He believes people can be helped to choose positive change.
A study published as recently as April 2013 by the University of Michigan Medical School on the activity levels of 2,191 different genes in the brains of 14 people with bipolar disorder, and 12 with no mental health conditions indicated that there is significant differences in the gene expression patterns (transmission of signals across synapses – the gaps between brain cells that allow cells to “talk” to one another) between those with bipolar and those without. When they then compared the brains of bipolar individuals taking antipsychotic drugs to those without bipolar they found that the drugs had allowed the treated brains to create similar brain activity patterns of the individuals without bipolar. These are not the “numbing” drugs of the old days when much less was known about brain function. I have seen the effect of those while working in the mental health field in the 70’s and understand Glasser’s reaction to those at the time.
It seems that we should allow for the possibility that there has been less reluctance to study the brains of deceased people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s than individuals with certain mental illnesses, but current studies do indicate significant differences in the brains of those exhibiting psychotic behavior and those who do not.
A couple of questions I have are these:
1. Why would we allow for the existence of one type of brain disease that manifests in a certain way – but not allow for the same thing with a different manifestation?
2. Are the modern day critics ( those who believe as Glasser does that there is no such thing as mental illness) currently conducting research with patients who have been diagnosed with mental illness, but are being treated therapeutically in a manor they subscribe to with success?
I appreciate the conversation Jim – such an important topic.
As you know, I am an educator and have a limited background in the field of psychology. However, to write Glasser’s biography I basically adopted psychology as a new field and did quite a bit of reading so that I could understand and eventually write with a more complete background. A few of the books I read include –
Mad in America, by Robert Whitaker
The Truth About the Drug Companies, by Marcia Angell
Beyond Prozac, by Terry Lynch
America Fooled: The Truth About Antidepressants, by Timothy Scott
Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm, edited by Nick Cummings
Making Us Crazy, by Kutchings and Kirk
. . . to name a few.Psychology isnt my field, but it kind of has become one of my fields. Since finishing the manuscript I continue to stay in touch with the field’s developments.
A couple things come to mind. I do not mean to dismiss the study to which you are referring, however I will say that it is amazing to me the number of psychological studies that are funded by a drug company. From the beginning their goal is self-serving and biased. It would be interesting to see who was ultimately behind the study you have mentioned.
To my knowledge I don’t believe it is possible to get inside a living brain and see what is happening between the synapses. We are able to take pictures of the brain and see where electrical stimuli are firing, which may involve a small area of the brain or may involve most of a hemisphere. Pictures have been taken of brains that are supposedly depressed and compared them to brains that are supposedly normal or not depressed, and by george, there is a difference. I dont question this. Of course, there may be a difference between brains doing chores at home and brains playing golf with friends, too. As far as depression, though, the question is Do we have a diseased brain that forces us to be depressed (like catching a cold we wake up in the morning and darn, we have depression) or does our thinking lead us into depression?
I’m not sure what gene expression patterns are, but I would agree that we each of a unique set of genes. There has been a lot of focus on understanding our genes in the hope of knowing what makes us tick. The search for a God Gene was big news not so long ago. The idea, I guess, was that certain people would have a propensity for the spiritual. Last I heard the God Gene hasnt been located. I do think that we come wired in a certain way. Each of us, I think, has a uniqe set of wiring. As parents we follow the interests, attitudes, and skills of our children. It is fascinating to see them develop. We see the physical similarities they have to us, their parents, and we also see the emotional similarities they have to us. Yet, they are unique, too. Does our wiring predict our emotional outcome? Does our wiring force into destructive behaviors? I don’t believe it does. Our wiring may contribute to challenges we have throughout life (I think my wiring has not always been helpful to me), but I believe our choice power is incredibly significant.
From a secular perspective it seems to me that choice theory is a very empowering and hopeful approach to psychological distress. From a spiritual perspective it seems that choice theory is consistent with the high regard that God places on our freedom.
Anyway, what do I know?
I do appreciate your perspective on this topic Jim. And I will say to the others who have responded to the notice of Bill’s birthday today that I am personally grateful to him for in particular two of his books – Reality Therapy and Schools without Failure. When I read them in the early 70’s they were most certainly a blessing in my personal life and in my way of choosing to relate to others.
On the topic of mental health, it just seems to me that there is a vast spectrum of issues to consider – all the way from being depressed because of not being able to cope with life (undoubtedly faulty thinking and choice making ability – and not being willing to take personal responsibility) and mental illness. I have lived with someone who’s perceptions of reality were as distorted as those of someone who had ingested illegal brain altering drugs when not on medication – and before there is ever a possibility of teaching her to learn better choice making skills proper psychotropic medications were needed. As great as Glasser’s contributions have been to so many individuals and educators in the area of choice and personal responsibility, for me personally I can’t say that declaring that there is no such thing as mental illness is one of them.
The study being conducted by the University of Michigan Medical School is funded by a private foundation: The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund. I am personally acquainted with a family here in the Napa Valley who are leading out in private fundraising (along with some limited matching government grants) for research specifically on schizophrenia, and am indirectly aware of many other such funding sources for study of brain function.
All this discussion notwithstanding (I know it was to recognize Bill’s birthday) I do celebrate his life of 88 years with everyone else, and pay great respect to his contributions.
Wishing another super year of living to one of my heroes and mentors. Thank you Bill for making the concept of personal responsibility through choice accessible to my high school students. Hopefully together we change the way our country thinks:)
Happy Birthday to a true visionary!
Jim, I like that potential title!
>________________________________ > From: The Better Plan >To: firstname.lastname@example.org >Sent: Saturday, May 11, 2013 7:45 AM >Subject: [New post] Happy Birthday, Bill! > > > > WordPress.com >Jim Roy posted: “On Saturday, May 11, William Glasser turns 88 years of age. Since 1960, when his first book, Mental Health or Mental Illness?, was published, and even before when he began to give presentations to youth authority staff around the state of California, Glas” >
Champion of Choice is more positive than Rebel Psychiatrist; less reactionary and more out front leading the way.