Impact and Controversy
Rosenhan published his findings in Science, criticizing the reliability of psychiatric diagnosis and the disempowering and demeaning nature of patient care experienced by the associates in the study. His article generated an explosion of controversy.
Many defended psychiatry, arguing that as psychiatric diagnosis relies largely on the patient's report of their experiences, faking their presence no more demonstrates problems with psychiatric diagnosis than lying about other medical symptoms. In this vein, psychiatrist Robert Spitzer quoted Kety in a 1975 criticism of Rosenhan's study :
- If I were to drink a quart of blood and, concealing what I had done, come to the emergency room of any hospital vomiting blood, the behavior of the staff would be quite predictable. If they labeled and treated me as having a bleeding peptic ulcer, I doubt that I could argue convincingly that medical science does not know how to diagnose that condition.
Rosenhan replied that if they continue thinking that you still have an ulcer during x weeks despite having no other symptoms of ulcer, that makes for a big problem.
Kety also argued that psychiatrists should not necessarily be expected to assume that a patient is pretending to have mental illness, thus the study lacked realism. Rosenhan called this the "experimenter effect" or "expectation bias", something indicative of the problems he uncovered rather than a problem in his methodology.
The experiment "accelerated the movement to reform mental institutions and to deinstitutionalize as many mental patients as possible".
Read more about this topic: Rosenhan Experiment
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