Letters to and From the Editor
The Anonymous Psychiatrist
The writer of the two articles “A Psychiatrist’s Choice” and “Psychiatry and Spiritual Healing” (July and August Atlantic) has presented his case eloquently and perhaps too adequately. This writer feels that some qualifications are in order.
Workers in mental illness have long abandoned such absolute terms as normal, cure, recovery. They speak now of favorable milieu, social recovery, hospital adjustment. Behind such guarded terms one recognizes the implicit fact that available means of treatment do not produce cures. At best they represent palliatives aimed at symptomatic relief and control of disturbances such that the patient will be enabled to adjust to the community, his home, or his ward. In professional circles there is no pretense that these techniques lead to a recovery in the medical sense.
On the positive side, this much can be said for the somatic remedies. In selected cases, they do help to reduce symptoms and facilitate a return by the patient to the community. Often the patient is able to resume his life as before the illness. But equally often he is merely a shadow of his former self, even when he does manage to adjust to the home. He is not cured. He has only been helped to live with his illness.
Available research to date has only demonstrated that where two or more therapies are compared, statistically, neither one has been shown to be significantly better than the other; nor is either better than the spoiltaneons remission rate. These studies have many faults and certainly do not tell the whole story, but the research does suggest that one must proceed with caution and avoid sweeping condemnations or glorifications of existing methods.
It is this writer’s opinion that all available methods of therapy in mental illness have some usefulness if applied in the cases where indicated by existing knowledge. Their usefulness is not denied even when they are aimed at symptomatic relief rather than cure. Regardless of the treatment recommended, the therapist is obligated to present all the facts and limitations without exaggeration of either.
Tacoma Park, Md.
I am sure you will get plenty of comment on the two articles by an anonymous psychiatrist. Some of it, I fancy, will be fairly devastating.
I will leave criticism of your author’s opinions to experts, but I do feel constrained to enter a protest against the anonymity. However you look at it, these articles are on highly controversial matters, and for your author to remain unknown seems to me cowardly on his part and illadvised on the part of the Atlantic.
I think your readers have a right to know, in such a controversial case, whose remarks they are reading.
J. H. MEANS, M.D.
It was wit h t he greatest impatience that I awaited the arrival of the August Atlantic with its second article by the anonymous author of “A Psychiatrist’s Choice.”
In his two essays the aging doctor reveals an ignorance of his own field as well as of many modern advances in closely related fields that cannot go uncommented upon.
Specifically, his expectations for “more rapid practical progress” based on purely physical methods of treatment are overoptimistic as well as unrealistic, and he pummels a straw’ dummy when he criticizes “ psychoanalytic methods” for not emptying mental hospitals.
It is painfully evident that he overstates the amount of suffering of mental patients in order to justify the extreme “curative” measures he proposes, for there can be little doubt that the neurotic suffer more mental anguish than the great majority of the psychotic.
He does not dignify his sister field of psychology with a single reference, while sociologists and criminologists will be flabbergasted by his bland assertions concerning the future of chemical and other physical cures for the problem of criminality.
Is it the blissful state of the ignorant which prompts him to boast of the three thousand frontal lobotomies “able to leave the hospital”? Decapitation, I submit, is equally effective in emptying hospital beds and every bit as much of a “cure.” Can a frontal lobe operation be called a cure when, instead of returning an active, intelligent, and spirited individual to society, it renders him a spiritless nonentity or else fails to alleviate his illness materially?
Your author paints a misleadingly optimistic picture of the effectiveness of shock therapy, neglecting the fact that those cases which are most benefited by it (affectivc disorders) form a small minority of institutional cases.
He harks back to the theory of inherited abnormality as a cause for social disorder and malfunction, ignoring advances in anthropology, social psychology, and sociology.
He seems unaware of the role played by the school of interpersonal relations in psychiatry propounded by such men as H. S. Sullivan Sullivan’s definition of mental illness as a disturbance in interpersonal relations is clearly incompatible with the doctor’s thinking.
In conclusion may I say that his essays are a sad commentary on the lack of communication that can exist within a discipline and between related disciplines.
THOMAS P. MCGEHEE
Palo Alto, Calif.
The two illuminating articles on psychiatry are indeed challenging criticisms of a popular trend toward a sort of metaphysical dogmatism in psychotherapy.
If psychiatry is still an infant science, then its one hope for real progress is in what our anonymous author calls the concrete scientific approach now demanded by medicine. Preoccupation with general ideas was the bane of all early science as it delayed experimental foundation. If psychology is but little more than chemistry was in the days of Lavoisier, we can see the weakness of mere introspection and amiable philosophizing by those who have but scant scientific and medical training. We can see the importance of our author’s eloquent and eminently fair plea for a more strict medical outlook.
San Diego, Calif.
“Breaking the Star Barrier”
It is gratifying to see the article “Breaking the Star Barrier” by Lloyd Mallan in the August Atlantic, which gives the Navy a great deal of credit for its achievements in rocketry. However, I feel the article neglects a large part of the Navy’s rocket program which is carried on at the U.S. Naval Ordnance Pest Station, located at China Lake, California, approximately 60 miles north of the famed Edwards Air Force Base.
The Naval Ordnance Test Station is engaged in the development and testing of rocket weapons and guided missiles with a complement of some 6000 military and civilian workers including scientists, engineers, and skilled artisans.
Among the accomplishments of the Station are the 5"0 HVAR and the Mighty Mouse rockets which are now in active service use. The Station’s continuing activities in the development of rocket weapons may not be discussed in detail because of the security classification.
Young scientists and engineers have an opportunity here to work with such pioneers in rocketry as Bernard Smith, who is mentioned by Mr. Malian as having art fully dodged the New Jersey State Police in his early rocket experiments. Mr. Smith no longer lives in fear of the police, but has at his disposal several hundred square miles of rocket ranges and the services of hundreds of technicians and engineers.
D. B. YOUNG, Captain. USN
U.S. Naval Ordnance Test Station,
China Lake, Calif.
I am not a science-fiction fan; in fact I didn’t know I was interested in science-fact until I read “Breaking the Star Barrier" in the August Atlantic. Fanciful predictions, like those Collier’s has been running recently, have been rather remote and old-hat Jules Verne and Wells. But Mr. Mallan has made fiction come to life.
The recent Oppenheimer case has proved scientists are humans as well, and fascinating ones too. I was sorry this rocket article could not go into more details about Commander Truax, James Wyld, and those other pioneers of space. I hope you can have Mr. Mallan expand on them for future pieces.
My field, advertising, has no connection with rockets, but I feel in a matter of time all our business will be radically affected one way or another. Factual and fascinating reporting like that in “Breaking the Star Barrier” makes that very apparent — and a good reason, among many others, for writing and thanking you for giving us this excellent article.
WILLIAM T. MCKEONA
New York City
“The Illusion of Security”
This is to thank you and George Kennan for his article “The Illusion of Security" in the August Atlantic. Many others must run into acquaintances, good friends, and relatives, as I do, who are seriously disturbed and sometimes emotionally upset by their aggravated views of internal subversion.
Mr. Kennan sounds a wholesome note which probably is more badly needed by Radcliffe parents than by new graduates.
ROBERT C. SMITH
It is a comfort to a Canadian reader of the Atlantic Monthly to know that, having a choice of commencement addresses, you have selected one which gives your neighbors a renewed faith in the capacity of your country as a whole.
Alas. M. M. BOYD
“The Young Poets”
After a lifetime of restraint, I find myself forced to join the correspondents of the Editor — who doubtless has an ample supply. The occasion, “The Young Poets” in the August Atlantic; the task, to express my approval.
I have felt that the Atlantic, excellent as it is, does incline to names. If this is true, the magazine may lose the touch of dissent that new views (and voices) supply. Admittedly, the concept of dissenting poets presents difficulties, but looking through some recent issues I note that you have given ample space to established poets. Thus it is a satisfaction to read of a new feature, which will diversify your published talent and encourage it at the same time.
JAMES E. MURRIN
CHANGES OF ADDRESS
Five weeks’ notice is necessary to effect changes of address. Please give old as well as new address, preferably supplying actual address label from your copy. Send all changes to THE ATLANTIC, 8 Arlington Street, Boston 16, Mass.