The main character in my new novel has no voice. She’s not me, yet, too, I am muted, most recently, in the relationship with my neurodoc. It’s come to an impasse. He is clinging on with rigid ferocity to the DSM and, though he’s interested in the new ideas of neuroplasticity, he continues to adhere to the familiar-to-him chemical model of the brain, while I demand that he sees my injury as an injury, meaning my issues come out of physiological damage and as the neurons heal, what he calls moods and traits will and do suddenly disappear or flip, something the DSM and chemical models don’t account for.
He’s not alone.
Psychiatry has devolved into prescribing chemicals. Take this and see me in six weeks. If one chemical formula doesn’t work, try another or add another. In the brittle brains of medical specialists, the brain has become a chemical bath that can be manipulated by ingesting or injecting the right solid or liquid chemistry. Forward thinkers aka health policy experts and bureaucratic innovators further maneuvere psychiatrists out of that old fussy model of talking and into dispensing increasingly sophisticated variations of the same type of chemicals. Community-minded forward thinkers look to generics as being exactly the same as brand names: cures for cheaper, thus more responsible to the community, except psychiatric medicines don’t cure. They just mask and symptom manage.
Accordingly, brain injury medical specialists and mental health forward thinkers have evolved treatment beyond the intimate therapeutic alliance between physician and patient to infrequent expert consults and time-limited overview, never mind that a therapeutic alliance is the best buttress against “noncompliance.” When you’re heard and you feel cared for and you’re connected to your physician, especially your psychiatrist, you’re more likely to have your concerns heard, to be given therapy and medicine that’s better suited to your needs, and thus to comply.
But in the forward thinking brittleness of evidence-based modern psychiatry, relationships are obsolete. (That reflects our society; and we wonder why North America is in turmoil.) A relationship that respects and hears the patient, that values their insight and uses it to diagnose and treat, that works with non-medical health professionals, seems to be an anomaly. Add in the lifelong demands of brain injury that’s not static over time, where communication is challenging yet the only type acceptable by the brittle progressive psychiatrists is verbal, and you have an impasse when a patient like me objects to being unheard, devalued, and sexist and culturally stereotyped through the presbyopic lens of the DSM.
If I’d had oodles of money, back in 2009, I would have sought out a psychologist familiar with brain injury. I had been told back in 2001 — and discovered for myself — that you really need a mental health professional who knows and understands brain injury in order to receive good, effective, and understanding therapy to manage the injury and its social, psychological, and economic consequences.
I would now add: needs to be someone who is willing to learn and adopt the neuroplastic model of the brain, to learn how brain injury affects women worse than men, and how gender inequality affects their social and economic lives as well as taking into account cultural differences.
Progressive men who feel proud of how they empower women and grant them equality don’t react too well to women who’ve known all their lives that they’re equal under God and don’t need to be granted it by a man, who come in expecting to have a say in their diagnosis and therapy, even when unable to communicate in the traditional way.
Unfortunately I didn’t have money flowing out of my coffers to afford a psychologist. In Ontario’s version of Canadian universal health care, the government funds only psychiatrists. And so that’s who I had to look for. The University of Toronto has hundreds, almost a thousand, psychiatrists affiliated with their Faculty of Medicine. Of those a handful work in neuropsychiatry, maybe a few understand brain injury, and hardly any work with people with brain injury in the way they need: weekly talk therapy using a team approach with health care professionals who actively treat the broken neurons. The psychiatrist ought to provide the emotional therapy and the others the physiological treatments. Some psychiatrists are joining their psychology colleagues in moving from the DSM and chemical bath model to the neuroplastic model of actually permanently healing broken people. Some so that they can work better as a member of a team; some so that they can actually treat their patients both emotionally and physiologically. I don’t know who would pay when a psychiatrist uses brain biofeedback, for example, as part of their therapy sessions. Our forward thinking bureaucrats and politicians probably ensure it isn’t taxpayer-paid health care. And I don’t think many or any of these psychiatrists are focusing on people with brain injury.
But I bet you no one is approaching reading rehab in the way my neurodoc and I are doing it (even though I became so exhausted emotionally from begging and begging for help that when he finally assented, I could no longer do the work on my own and I’ve become mute in asking for the fullness of what I need). So somehow, though he shot our therapeutic alliance to hell with his rigid clawed grip on the inappropriate-for-brain-injury DSM, he’s committed to going out of his way to help me with regaining my reading. I think that’s a metaphor for my post-brain injury life: every heavily fought-for improvement has come at a price.