KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf
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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Educating Dr. Joyce Brothers

Psychologist and famous advice columnist Dr. Joyce BrothersMost mental-health professionals know better than to shoot off their mouth on disabilities with which they're unfamiliar without doing a little research first. But psychologist and syndicated columnist Dr. Joyce Brothers apparently doesn't. This unprofessional material appeared in the April 17 edition of her syndicated advice column, run by such newspapers as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Dear Dr. Brothers: I heard an author talking on the radio about so-called adult ADD [actually called AD/HD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder]. He gave a list of symptoms that includes such stuff as being unable to concentrate, forgetting things, having moments of clarity mixed with fogginess, etc. I listened to all the symptoms, but they confused me more than ever. It could describe me—but on the other hand, I think it could describe just about anyone who has a busy life, not enough time and a fair amount of stress. Are we making everything into a disorder or condition, or should I go for testing and see if I have a problem? —D.D.

Dear D.D.: Adult attention-deficit disorder is one of those phenomena that are made for people who consider themselves to be a bit of a hypochondriac. It's not going to kill you, but the symptoms are so vague and widespread that just about anyone could decide that he or she is suffering from its effects. And since there is no real definitive test to tell you whether you have it or not, it can provide hours of speculation and worry.

When we were young, this was a condition that hadn't been defined. Instead, kids like this were called derogatory names in school—lazy, unfocused, distractible, hyper, forgetful, immature and so forth. But a parent with the same faults? Usually the parents "grew up," and whether they were problem kids in school or not, most everyone managed to further their education and get some kind of a job and settle down. They were functioning OK until today, when the medical profession told them otherwise and gave them a label. What if you do have adult ADD? Will you take medication? Or will you just decide to muddle through? You can consult your doctor, or just say the heck with it and keep muddling through. It's your choice.
I don't think that the good doctor has yet joined the twenty-first century; she is apparently still in the age when trepanation was done to release the evil spirits that mental disorders were thought to be. My husband and I have just fired off a letter to her expressing our dismay and disbelief at her mischaracterization of AD/HD and the harm that she may have done:

As members of a family with three generations with diagnosed AD/HD treated with medication and therapy, we are appalled at the unprofessional advice about adult AD/HD in your column of April 17, 2007, which we found online. (We are members of CHADD, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. We were alerted only recently to that particular column by E. Clarke Ross, CHADD’s CEO.)

We expected much better from you, a long-respected psychologist. You wrote that adult AD/HD is "one of those phenomena that are made for people who consider themselves to be a bit of a hypochondriac" and that adults should just "muddle through."

Hypochondriac? We wish that you could have spent a week with our family and observed our 12-year-old son’s struggles in school and socially; 45-year-old Edward’s struggles on the job, in our marriage, and as a parent; and the interpersonal struggles experienced in many life arenas by Edward’s father A.K., 71, all caused by their AD/HD before they began treatment for it. We ask that you read our story, written by Katharine and posted on her blog here. Then tell us, face-to-face, that we are all hypochondriacs. Tell us that we imagined the chaos, the hurt feelings and misunderstandings, the communication difficulties that we experienced daily before the guys began treatment. Even with treatment, there are still difficulties in these areas. Tell us that Edward and A.K. should just have “grown up” and “settled down,” that AD/HD is not a lifelong disability. Not that there haven’t been good days in our home over the years, but we didn’t imagine the bad ones. Therapy and medications have made huge changes for the better in all three guys’ lives, and thus in our family life.

Please, before you do more damage to the psyches of countless people with AD/HD, learn the facts. Read the latest research; CHADD can help you get started with that. Even Katharine, not a physician or mental health professional but a medical copyeditor, can provide you with plenty of online reading material on the subject. Out of self-defense from living in the "House of AD/HD," she’s amassed a great many links.
Want to help educate Dr. Brothers? Please write her:

MMMMMDr. Jocelyn Brothers
MMMMMKing Features Syndicate
MMMMM888 Seventh Ave.
MMMMMNew York, NY 10019


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13 comments:

Willie Hughes said...

Great letter, Katharine. Folks like that poor excuse for a "doctor" should have to live with my 9-year-old son (or yours) for a week. I'll have to check into this CHADD organization; thanks for the reefer.

Katharine said...

Ah—something you and I have in common besides being editors, Willie.

Karoli said...

Thank you for bringing this to my attention, deficient as it may be. I've never been a huge Joyce Brothers fan, and now I'm really not. What a doofus.

Katharine said...

Hey, Karoli, good to see you here again. Please tell everyone you can think of about Brothers's unprofesssionalism. I want everyone to know!

Katie said...

Good grief! I don't blame you for being furious.

I'm reminded of the damage done to a friend of mine by "Doctor" Phil, when he said on his stupid show that CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) was also imaginary and an excuse for laziness. My friend's mother (who didn't deserve the title of mother, btw; totally nonsupportive) made my friend's life a living hell after that. If Dr. Phil said it, of COURSE it was true! [snarl]

You might ask "Doctor" Brothers if she thinks the CDC has made up these diagnoses as well. I'm fairly sure ADD is covered by them. As is CFS. As is fibromyalgia, my own problem that too many people consider imaginary as well.

Katharine said...

Ooh, "Doctor" Phil! He's been investigated for various scams in different enterprises over the years. He's bamboozled far too many people.

TeeBerg said...

I just came across the Joyce Brothers column about "hypocondriacs" being taken with ADD. Good lord. So this is the sort of useful knowledge we can expect from celebrity shrinks. Shows what her priorities are -- and they're not keeping up with the field of psychology. What a she-tard.

On the other hand, I'm so tickled to have happened into your blog! :)

Katharine said...

Hey, TeeBerg—nice to hear from another editor (though sports is about the only topic I don't edit). ;-)

Peter Jaksa PhD said...

Great letter Katharine. Thank you for speaking out on this topic. Dr. Brothers is repeating one of the oldest stereotypes about ADHD, namely that children “outgrow” their symptoms. We’ve known that’s not the case since at least the early 1980’s, but apparently Dr. Brothers is a few decades behind in her research review. ADHD gets misrepresented by the health “experts” in the media more than any other medical condition I can think of. Granted, professional ignorance is bad in and of itself. What makes it doubly worse is when it’s combined with professional arrogance and the unwillingness to admit one is wrong, and to become better educated on the subject. What makes it triple worse is when the ignorant and arrogant are granted a public forum that potentially reach millions of trusting readers, TV watchers, radio listeners, etc. The results, sadly, end up hurting individuals with ADHD and their loved ones. On a larger scale, the misinformation spreads confusion and contributes to the dumbing down of our culture – not exactly what the “experts” should be doing.

Katharine said...

Dr. Jaksa, I'm honored that you took the time to comment on my post.

(Folks, psychologist Peter Jaksa is the founder and clinical director of ADD Centers of America, treats adults and children with AD/HD, and has AD/HD himself.)

I think it's every person's responsibility to speak out to combat ignorance regarding all kinds of mental health issues. If everyone was consistently vocal, just think of how much better the lives of those with disabilities (and the lives of those who love them) would be!

Anonymous said...

I applaud your criticism of Dr Brothers. She endorsed a 2007 book by Dr. Robert Epstein that on page 333 condones paddling in school and physical punishment, which he says is the only way experts know of to control long and short term behavior problems. She should be ashamed.

Betsy Davenport, PhD said...

Oh, my. I have just found this blog (found it awhile back via another link, too). When I heard about, then read, Joyce Brothers' column I immediately wrote to her. Has anyone at all received a reply from her? I would love to share my letter to her, but it's pretty long.

Maybe editormom could suggest something? I can email it directly to you and you may do with it what you will.

I was appalled to say the very least.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Unfortunately, Dr. Davenport, I haven't heard back Dr. Brothers. But I'd very much like to read your later and will consider posting it on my blog, with a link to this particular post. You can send it to me at editormom @ kokedit.com. (Be sure to take out the spaces in that address before sending your e-mail.)

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