Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Review: We’ve Got Issues

Are kids today over-medicated and over-diagnosed by their hovering helicopter parents? Or, is all the medication and treatment necessary to help kids manage their very real mental disorders? Those are the questions Judith Warner addresses in We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication. As Warner explains, she started writing this book based on the premise that today’s kids are over-medicated and over-diagnosed, but as she continued her research, she decided that the media and it’s anecdotal evidence were oversimplifying the picture.

As an engineer, I love that Warner actually researched the topic, and allowed the evidence to influence her thinking. I also appreciated that she has such an extensive reference list, over 50 pages for those who want to learn more. As a reader, I appreciated the well written style of the book. But, as a therapist, I thought the conclusions were too simply stated, and the conversational, anecdotal tone was relied on so much it interfered with a more rigorous analysis.

Surely, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Some parents hover, expect too much from their kids, and pathologize normal behavior. Other parents, certainly the overwhelming majority of the families I’ve seen, are dealing with kids who are clearly struggling, kids who have evident difficulties, and their parents allow medication and diagnosis only with caution and reluctance. But the way to illustrate this truth is through facts and data, and too often Warner relies on examples and stories from the families she’s interviewed. A compelling read, no doubt, but ironic in that Warner is criticizing the very type of research-by-anecdotal-evidence that she’s using here.

Warner also criticizes the mental health treatment in our country, and I don’t think anyone would argue with her. But she illustrates her thesis with a series of examples from many of the families she’s met, who told of shoddy treatment and erroneous diagnosis. Warner complains because there’s no clear path for parents to take, and they end up “wandering in the dark forest, without a compass, as they tried to figure out how to help their son.” Again, although I agree with Warner’s concerns, it’s a sad truth that mental illness and its treatment is so complex that there’s often more art than science involved. The best treatment may involve uncertain diagnoses, trial therapies, and a great deal of uncertainty. There may not be a clear path.

Still, I’m including this book on my blog list because, in spite of its shortcomings, it is a worthwhile and interesting read. With its extensive reference list there’s plenty of material so you can take your own understanding to a much deeper level.

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