The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

The Biomedical Industrial Complex As a Barrier to Social Change: What Can We Do?

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 103B Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
Cluster: Mental Health
Eileen Gambrill, PhD, University of California, Berkeley and Jeffrey Lacasse, PhD, Florida State University
Research is of little use if it is not drawn on.  The purpose of this workshop is to recognize the ways in which the biomedical industrial complex hinders conduct and use of research to pursue social change and to identify ways to counteract this influence. It is hoped that participants’ will enhance their skill in understanding related contingencies and detecting and countering related propaganda ploys.  Social change is a very political process.  Those who benefit from current policies and practices harness the help of public relations companies to impede changes that will hurt their interests.  Unless we are informed about related methods such as suppression of competing views, we lose opportunities to promote social change.  Currently there is a huge gap between calls for social justice within social work and what occurs on an everyday basis -- assessment based on a psychiatric view of life’s travails and research often cast in a psychiatric framing in which environmental inequities related to personal problems such as depression are ignored.  Indeed the medicalization of life’s travails has increased as more and more clients, including small children, are placed on medication as treatment for (mis)behaviors which are directly related to environmental variables such as poor quality schools. 

Why has the biomedical industrial complex been so successful in leading social workers down this path which obscures the need for social change to reduce inequities?  Only if we identify the players and their special interests such as the enormous influence of the biomedical industrial complex can we effectively plan for social change.  What questions remain unposed that are vital in pursuit of social change such as: What strategies are used to maintain the status quo?  Who benefits by so many foster children being placed on psychotropic medication?  How can researchers make inequities and their effects more obvious to advocate for social change? 

A format for critically examining related barriers will be provided and participants will have an opportunity to apply this framework to a social change goal and related challenges. This format draws on research concerning environmental contingencies as well as research describing strategies special interest groups use to forward agendas that hinder social change.  The format guides each participant through identification of key players (often global) related to a desired change and their interactions, and goals and strategies they use to impede change.  These include the creation of doubt and confusion, the creation of fear, minimizing problems clients confront such as health hazards and dangerous working conditions, distortion of disliked positions, repetition of favored views in multiple sources, and censorship of competing views.  Countermeasures will be explored including specific ideas for conducting and using research for social change such as making avoidable suffering related to environmental deprivation more visible through use of an Environmental Deprivation Scale completed for each client as a balance to assigning a psychiatric label in practice contexts.

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