Friday, 16 May 2008

Does Gordon Brown have a personality disorder?

Yesterday, The Times published an article of questionable virtue by its resident medical columnist, Dr Thomas Stuttaford, in which he implies that both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have personality disorders.
"...[I]t is interesting that Tony Blair, charming and charismatic as he is, scores a full house of ticks for a histrionic personality disorder, and scores in the boxes of a few other personality disorders too" writes Stuttaford.
And he observes that Prime Minister Brown:
"...shows symptoms of the personality disorders grouped together in DSM4 as cluster A disorders. He is likely to be demanding, self- absorbed, have difficulties in relationships with others, suffer discomfort in social situations with unfamiliar people, have vaguely unsettling inappropriate gestures or facial expressions and may be so focused that he finds it difficult to concentrate on subjects other than that which has caught his immediate attention."
Stuttaford's main thesis is that it takes someone a bit odd to reach the very top. Whilst there may be a kernel of truth to that claim, I'm not convinced that anyone wins from this kind of arm chair diagnosis: It surely detracts from the suffering of those people who really do have a personality disorder, and feeds the cynicism of those who think psychiatrists are desperate to slap a diagnosis on everyone and his dog.

Link to Times article about leaders and personality disorders.
Link to British Psychological Society report on personality disorders (for a roundup, see this article from The Psychologist magazine).

PS. The views expressed in this post are my personal views. I'm not speaking for the Society.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

2 comments:

  1. Most philosophers of medicine and mental health would now agree that to diagnose someone with a 'personality disorder' is a controversial evaluative act. The important point is that such diagnoses are controversial - open to dispute. Diagnoses in physical health also contain large evaluative components - but most of us agree, for instance, that cancer is bad.

    In making judgements of what is disordered, or unhealthy, one must have in mind what is not disordered, or healthy. Where do such judgements come from?

    I don't know Stuttaford but given he feels it is professionally appropriate to diagnosis a man he has never met, perhaps we can speculate that his own conception of a healthy personality resembles something like his own?

    Or to be more generous, perhaps he is using the DSM-IV as a benchmark for normality and health? Personally I do not think staying within the boundaries of that great moral handbook is a recommended way of living one's life, but at least this means Stuttaford is drawing on the reified moral judgements of a group of influential American psychiatrists, rather than simply his own.

    Hopefully Stuttaford, in his article, has illustrated to the 'powers that be' how annoying psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are when they stand on high and proclaim special status as high priests of 'healthy and acceptable behaviour'.

    Even better, he will have illustrated that the personality disorder construct, that Brown and Blair's Government helped to reify in creating the 'Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder' diagnosis, is no more than a highly sophisticated insult.

    Interestingly, Stuttaford's remarkable ability to 'diagnose from a distance' is not just a psychiatric skill. I remember Professor of Psychology Geoff Beattie describing the 'inner pain' of Britney Spears following her head-shaving incident last year. His precise formulation of the function of this 'self-harm' was even more astonishing given he has presumably never met her or her family, and given he is not clinically trained. Such insight, skill and professionalism leaves me almost speechless.

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  2. Postscript:

    It is of note that Thomas Stuttaford is a former Conservative Member of Parliament.

    http://www.journalismfestival.com/festivaldelgiornalismo.php?article95

    Of course, I'm sure his appraisal of Brown is on entirely caring medical grounds.

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