By Eric Maisel
New World Library, $14.95, 256 Pages
Rethinking Depression is Eric Maisel’s interesting critique of the American mental health system followed by an alternative, self-administered program. The whole concept of a psychological disorder is a “system-wide conspiracy”, he asserts, where ordinary sadness becomes pathologized as a medical condition. Mental health professionals lump sets of unwanted experiences into scientific-sounding categories and big pharma concocts chemical cures of dubious efficacy to “treat” them. This is not a particularly new observation and the alternative that he proposes has a dated feel to it (and, in fact, nearly forty percent of the books cited in the bibliography were published before 1970).
The program that Maisel proposes is an existentialist one, challenging the reader to take on reality and actively work toward a life of meaning. Some elements of this program seem interesting and could be helpful – focusing on the meaning of a situation rather than the mood it provokes, for example. Others seem less so. (The chapter on reciting meaning “incantations” was embarrassing to read.) However interesting or personally meaningful this program might be, there is no more proof that it would work than there is for the diagnoses and treatments that he pillories in the first part of the book.
Reviewed by Chris King