Dr. Sally Satel is our kind of psychiatrist, and not just because she’s provocative. It’s the head-on way she tackles victimology and indoctrinology.
You won’t find those maladies in any medical encyclopedia, or even in the dictionary. But it’s not hard to imagine their symptoms, and why some people in the medical field find Dr. Satel’s attitudes offensive.
The title of Dr. Satel’s recent book says a lot about her: “PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine.” As The New York Times put it, Dr. Satel’s relentless questioning of psychiatric dogma has opened up public debate.
She certainly has. One of her more controversial themes, for example, is insisting that addiction is a problem of behavior, not a “chronic, relapsing brain disease,” as the National Institu te on Drug Abuse defines it.
She also says that psychiatry is being co-opted by a culture of victimology, which undermines personal responsibility and ultimately damages patients. That’s the part we like.
It seems to us that most people have an addictive personality, obsessive about one thing or another to one extent or another. Some of us are fortunate enough to be obsessive about family an d work, and some unfortunate enough to be obsessive about alcohol or drugs.
But that’s Dr. Satel’s field, not ours. She is a psychiatrist at the Oasis Drug Clinic in Washington, though she is far better known for her writings about political correctness in medicine.
Whether Dr. Satel is compassionate, as some of her colleagues describe her, or coldly lacking in compassion, as her critics describe her, depends on your perspective. If we were being treat ed for an addiction, we would hope to find in our physician both firmness and compassion.
Obviously some recovering alcoholics and addicts take comfort in defining their afflictions as a disease. But just as obviously to Dr. Satel, defining addiction as a chronic, relapsing dise ase is unduly pessimistic, and excusing addicts from responsibility does them no service.
It’s not surprising that Dr. Satel is much admired by conservatives, or that she has become ensconced as a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Conservatives seem to lean toward responsibility and, by contrast, liberals toward empathy.
But patients aren’t interested in such political themes. And neither is Dr. Satel. From the standpoint of patients, treatment really is apolitical, she told The Times. You want to maximize the best interests of the patients so that eventually they can discipline themselves. Get out, get a life. How is that “conservative”?
Makes sense to us. Treatment is apolitical, yet it’s also like politics: The extremes don’t usually work. Responsibility and accountability do work well, especially when blended with compassion.