The “Roughage” of Life

by | Jan 24, 2015

I wanted to write a follow-up to my blog titled How Counseling is Discipleship: Personal Experience.

In that blog I made reference to an article by psychologist Mark Tyrrell titled,  How to avoid the damage caused by psychological labelling. Here is the lengthily quote I want to deal with.

…although modern society has made some attempts to de-stigmatise conditions such as clinical depression and anxiety, in a way these conditions have actually become more daunting for sufferers through being ‘medicalized’ – they are seen as pathological chemical disorders rather than what Milton Erickson described as ‘the normal roughage of life’.

Having a ‘disorder’ can seem a lot more of a problem than ‘feeling depressed’. So

  • ‘feeling blue’ has become ‘clinical depression’
  •  ‘having cold feet’ about undertaking something difficult is now ‘avoidant personality disorder’

and, as a psychologist friend of mine likes to joke:

  • ‘normal childhood’ is now called ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’

I’m not suggesting that these diagnostic labels have no relevance or value, and for some people having a so-called ‘proper diagnosis’ can be reassuring in an “Ahhh! Now at least I know what is wrong with me!” kind of a way. And I respect that when I am treating people who have been diagnosed in these ways.

But the danger is that if we come to believe we have a ‘disease’ or a ‘genetic condition’ when in fact we are just experiencing part of life’s rich pattern, then we may:

  • feel we’ve lost control over our lives, leading to a deepening of depression and a worsening of anxiety or addiction (after all, if my problems are a ‘disease’, the best I can do is live with it – it isn’t something I can resolve)
  • start to feel we are fundamentally different and weird, instead of just a regular human being struggling with life.

How to avoid the damage caused by psychological labelling

Tyrrell recognizes a number of things common in his profession.

He points to fact that just about everything that ails us has been “medicalized” (he invented the word, not me) and that medicalization has led to the disease model of just about everything that troubles human beings.

Prior to the virtual take over of the culture by psychology a disease was a pathological condition that affected our bodies. The pathology was measurable via medical testing and therefore had an objective basis for attaching a label to a disease.

This is not so with many of the psychological labels handed out now. Today many labels are handed out not an objective basis but on a subjective basis based on how a person feels and what symptoms they exhibit or report to their doctor. Blood tests and other medical testing that do not show tissue damage do not prevent the handing out of a label suggesting a disease hence the medicalizing of the subjective.

Dr. Charles D. Hodges, M.D. and a certified biblical counselor reports in his excellent book, Good Mood Bad Mood-Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar Disorder that he helped a young woman who had the label of Bipolar Disorder. The doctors treating the young woman based the diagnosis on the “chemical imbalance theory” an idea that basically says one or more chemicals in the brain is out of whack thus causing a chemical imbalance and in the young woman’s case Bipolar Disorder. The young woman was treated with various meds to no effect in an effort to correct the supposed imbalance. The problem is no one knows what a normal balance would look like so they end up experimenting with various drugs none of which worked with the young woman.  Hodges turned to the gospel for solutions and helped the young woman see that she was reacting to life’s circumstances in habitual ways that led to bouts of good moods, bad moods. He helped her see her “disease” through the lens of Scripture to the point she recognized she didn’t have a disease at all.

This is the type of thing Tyrrell is talking about without the solution of a gospel orientation to life.

Tyrrell illustrates the point in a humorous way by pointing out that “having cold feet” is now having the “disease” of avoidant personality disorder and that “normal childhood” is a prescription for ADHD.

Tyrrell turns a bit serious when he notes that if our problems are all diseases the best we can do is live with it.. In other words if all we can do is “live with it” it does not offer much hope and as Tyrrell notes may lead to further depression.

I want to commend Tyrrell for recognizing the problem and while I may disagree as to how he would offer hope I certainly appreciate his willingness to try and slow down the idiotic trend to treat everything that ails us as if it were a genuine disease.

Tyrrell cites Milton Erickson who describes some of the problems common to man as the normal “roughage of life.”  That’s a great phrase that translated biblically means life in a fallen world-life in a fallen world that is rough at times.

Later Tyrrell notes most of us are not “weird” meaning we have some “weird disease” but are instead normal human beings struggling with the normal ups and downs of life, the roughage in life or life in a fallen world.

I think it is great that secular people helpers are starting to see the danger of medicalizing all the problems that are common to man. They may not have the best solution but at least some see the danger of labeling things as diseases that are really just part of life.