By Will Self
A psychiatrist who once "treated" me used to recite this rueful little mantra: "They say failed doctors become psychiatrists, and that failed psychiatrists specialise in drugs." By drugs this psychiatrist meant drugs of addiction – and his "treatment" of me consisted of prescribing Temgesic, a synthetic opiate, as a substitute for the heroin I was more strongly inclined to take. So, he undertook this role: acting, in effect, as a state-licensed drug dealer; and he also attempted a kind of psychotherapy, talking to me about my problems and engaging with my own restless critique of – among many other things – psychiatry itself. Together we conceived of doing some sort of project on drugs and addiction, and began undertaking research. On one memorable fact-finding trip to Amsterdam, we ended up smoking a great deal of marijuana as well as drinking to excess – I also scored heroin and used it under the very eyes of the medical practitioner who was, at least nominally, "treating" me.
All of this happened more than 20 years ago, and I drag it up here not in order to retrospectively censure the psychiatrist concerned, but rather to present him and his behaviour as a perversely honest version of the role played by his profession. For what, in essence, do psychiatrists specialise in, if not mood-altering drugs? Or, to put it another way, what do psychiatrists have to offer – over and above the other so-called "psy professions" – beyond their capacity to legally administer psychoactive drugs, and in some cases forcibly confine those they deem to be mentally ill?