Henry A. Nasrallah, MD
Like all other medical specialties, psychiatry has its share of dogmas that are perpetuated via the clinical apprenticeship model from one generation of physicians to the next, despite the lack of hard evidence. They become “articles of faith” that go unchallenged by trainees who acquire them from their supervisors. A dogma masquerades as a truism and eventually becomes a sacred feature of the “clinical lore.”
Sooner or later, however, the bright light of scientific evidence will reveal the ersatz nature of a dogma and it will come crashing down. Similar to a revolution to depose a dictator, the demise of a dogma will have a salutary effect on medical practice and a liberating effect on practitioners.
Here are examples of psychiatric dogmas that were part of my training but have been/or are in the process of being taken to the slaughterhouse of obsolete tenets:
Psychiatrists should not touch their patients. Really! How can we be practicing physicians if we don’t? This dogma arbitrarily sexualized the physical exam, including drawing blood, measuring blood pressure or waist circumference, assessing neuroleptic-induced cogwheeling, or checking the body for a drug-induced rash. This dogma is the antithesis of good medical care for psychiatric patients, who frequently suffer from serious physical ailments and often do not have a primary care provider. It was created during the primordial phase of psychiatry (aka psychoanalysis) and is irrelevant in modern-era psychiatry.