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Elliot Valenstein

Elliot S. Valenstein, PhD, is a professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan. His theories challenge the conventional assumption that mental illness is biochemical, rejecting the 'chemical imbalance' theories used by drug companies in marketing their products, contending people should be suspicious of such claims while suggesting the targets of the marketing are usually medicating themselves unnecessarily.

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In his 1998 book, Blaming the Brain: The Truth about Drugs and Mental Health, Valenstein argues that while psychotropic drugs sometimes do work, they do not even begin to address the real cause of mental disorders, since in his view biochemical theories are an entirely "unproven hypothesis" used to excuse what he sees as often unconscionable marketing practices of the drug industry. Valenstein acknowledges a combination of medications and psychotherapy often offers the best chance of success at treating common disorders, but stresses no one knows exactly why.

Valenstein examines the various special interests behind the ascent in the latter half of the 20th century of purely biopsychiatric hypotheses, which appeal strongly to pharmaceutical companies. Their commercial motives are driven by the enormous, multi-billion dollar stakes involved in the intensely competitive marketing for such drugs as Prozac, Zyprexa, and Zoloft. Aggressive marketing, Valenstein contends, has dramatically changed practices in the mental health profession. He explores other aspects of the growing influence of drug companies, which sponsor research, lobby government officials, market directly to both consumers and primary care physicians (the primary prescribers of psychiatric drugs), and pressure psychiatric journals to downplay studies casting doubt on drug safety and efficacy.

In 2000, Valenstein presented "A Critique of Current Biochemical Theories of Mental Illness" as the keynote speaker at the Behavior Analysis Association of Michigan (BAAM)) convention.

In his 1986 book Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness, Valenstein explores the history of lobotomy’s heyday, in the 1940s and 1950s, while questioning the legitimacy of widespread use of such unproven medical treatments. The truth, says Valenstein, is that we are only at the dawn of an understanding of mental illness. "The factors that fostered (the operations’) development and made them flourish," explains Valenstein, "are still active today."


"Even a surgeon who was convinced that he was not obtaining good results seldom gave up lobotomy. It was difficult to admit that the effort had been completely wasted, especially when other surgeons were reporting success. Rather than abandoning psychosurgery, neurosurgeons much more commonly introduced some change in the operation in the hope of increasing the success rate." Elliott Valenstein, in Great and Desperate Cures (1986).

"The influence of the pharmaceutical companies is so great these days because of the resources they have at their disposal. There are tremendous economic factors distorting the practice of medicine, just as there were in the lobotomy period. It is hard to find any clinicians or researchers who don’t have vested interests in the development of procedures or drugs. I mean that. Of course, they will deny that funding from drug companies has an influence, but it is so subtle that they’re unaware of it themselves." Elliott Valenstein (Stay Free! interview, Fall 2003).


Brain control; a critical examination of brain stimulation and psychosurgery- 1973

Brain stimulation and motivation: research and commentary (Editor)- 1973

Great and desperate cures: the rise and decline of psychosurgery and other radical treatments for mental illness- 1986

Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health- 1998

The war of the soups and the sparks: the discovery of neurotransmitters and the dispute over how nerves communicate- 2005

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Elliot_Valenstein". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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