Has shyness been transformed into a mental illness?

Bookslut interviews author Christopher Lane, who argues in a new book that shyness has been transformed in the mental illness ‘social phobia’, partly due to it being used as a political football during a time of theoretical upheaval in psychiatry.

Social phobia is a type of anxiety that is triggered in social situations.

It can be specific to a certain situation, such as eating in public, or more generally associated with interacting with any group.

Some have argued that it is a prime example of where drug companies have picked up on an unpleasant but common anxiety and promoted it as a mental illness to be treated with medication, whereas others feel it is disabling enough to require wider recognition and medical attention.

As in a previous article for The New York Times [pdf] and seemingly in this book, Lane argues that definition is so vague as to be virtually meaningless.

Throughout the book, Lane suggests that the conceptual problems of the DSM arise in part from its weird eagerness to break decisively with Freud. Lane has vividly reconstructed the decision-making process of the DSM-III in the 1970s, showing how scoring points over rival theoretical schools frequently trumped logic or consistency. Insisting on the biochemical nature of all mental suffering leads psychiatrists to turn away from the vicissitudes of the mind — what Lane calls “the strange, unusual turns of consciousness, themselves in thrall to vivid memories, irrational fantasies, persistent associations, and sometimes-inexplicable impulses.” By reducing the complexity of these “turns” into “disorders” — no matter how “multiaxial” — modern psychiatry seems to drain the life out of the mind. Shyness is passionately and compellingly argued, in clear prose that is in turn scathing, hilarious, and sympathetic.

In the interview below, Lane discusses the origins of the book, the implications of shifting from a “reaction-based” to a “disorder-based” model of diagnosis, the differences between psychoanalysis and neuropsychiatry, and the problem of emotional blunting.

Link to interview with Christopher Lane.
Link to book details with excerpt.
pdf of NYT article ‘Shy on Drugs’.

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