The Creation of Psychopharmacology Summary

David Healy


(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

No one in the United States today could be unaware of the tremendous surge in psychopharmacological drugs. All one has to do is turn on the nightly news or flip through any popular magazine to be bombarded with seemingly innocuous advertisements for feel-good chemicals to cure a hyperactive son, shy daughter, agoraphobic father-in-law, emotionally distant spouse or, indeed, one’s own broken heart. David Healy’s groundbreaking The Creation of Psychopharmacology details the discovery and development of psychotropic medications, the extremely profitable codependent relationship between psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies, and the subsequent impact on the society and the culture surrounding and supporting them. Healy maintains that the rise of antipsychotic drugs, which flooded the marketplace on the heels of the first antibiotics and antihypertensives just after World War II, is as historically significant in the history of medicine as the discovery of penicillin. He furthermore insists on the absolute necessity for far more research on the effects of these types of medications, more specifically their effect on certain types of patients.

In this ambitious and dramatic work, the first to examine the history of psychopharmacology, Healy unravels the complex story behind the emergence of neuroscientific research and paints a picture, not of heroic scientific conquest, but of a mild- mannered takeover, one of serendipitous accidents leading to discovery. During the early part of the twentieth century, psychiatry tended to follow in the footsteps of psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), embracing “talking cures” for the mentally ill. Severely mentally ill patients were called lunatics and locked away in asylums, sometimes with little hope for release. Early chemical treatments, such as lithium (rediscovered in the early 1950’s) and insulin shock therapy, were developed for one purpose, with neither the researcher nor the doctor understanding how these treatments worked. This all changed dramatically during the mid-twentieth century.

The common historical view of psychiatry asserts that the invention of chlorpromazine (marketed as Thorazine and Largactil) in 1952, which successfully eliminated delirium, gave rise to a biologically based scientific psychiatry. This extraordinary discovery dramatically revolutionized psychiatry, changing it from a therapeutic area of expertise whose underpinnings were rooted in psychotherapy to one based solidly on biochemistry, and led directly to today’s severely problematic changes in health care. Before this vital discovery, mentally ill patients in the throes of delirium were often seen as hopeless and left at the mercy of barbaric treatments. When severely psychotic chlorpromazine patients suddenly gained mental clarity, the drug took on the status of a miracle cure; so began the parade of drugs for treating psychosis, depression, anxiety, compulsive disorder, panic attacks, and myriad other mental disturbances. However, large numbers of perfectly normal people, maybe with an individual quirk or two, now came to be labeled as abnormal.

During the 1960’s, the emerging radical antipsychiatry social movement played a role in the surge of psychopharmacological drugs. This group considered psychotherapists such as Freud to be oppressors rather than liberators. By denigrating the study and practice of psychoanalysis through the itemization of its many abuses, this influential movement inadvertently shifted the focus of psychiatry away from psychoanalysis and toward drug consumption. For example, psychoanalysts erroneously, and dangerously, maintained that Parkinson’s disease symptoms resulted from patients’ deep-seated anger and that a cure would be forthcoming only through intensive (and expensive) psychoanalysis therapy. In the light of the negative outcry from the antipsychiatry radicals, many psychiatrists wholeheartedly embraced the move toward the new antipsychotic medications that followed in the wake of the discovery of chlorpromazine and came to view the pharmaceutical corporations as the saviors of their medical practices.

The market for these new psychotropic drugs seemed limitless. Low levels of serotonin, rather than childhood abuse and abandonment, became the...

(The entire section is 1758 words.)