I've been thinking recently about Scott Westerfeld's trilogy (Uglies, Pretties, and Specials) and what I think it says about modern psychiatry. The basic premise of the books, for those who haven't read it, is that in the future everyone on their sixteenth birthday undergoes a surgery to make them pretty. It's a post apocalyptic setting, and everyone lives in the cities. Along with the pretty surgery, there is a brains surgery that makes them stupid. The people in charge purposefully damage the brains of most of the population in order to keep them under control. At the end of the first book, we discover there is a cure in the form of a pill and Tally, the heroine volunteers to be the first subject to see if the cure works.
In the second book, Tally has undergone the surgery and through the course of the book manages to heal the brain lesions by herself. But the pill, taken in two parts, she splits with a friend. Turns out the first part of the pill is another brain altering thing, and can cause damage if the second isn't taken shortly after. Because she split the pill, Tally then watches her friend deteriorate in front of her. At the end she is captured and is told she is going to become part of the Specials, the big enemies of the books. Something she doesn't want.
When the third book opens Tally is a willing participant of the Specials, and an enemy to her old friends. Turns out that her brain has been once again altered against her will. This time she has been altered to become what we would classify as a sociopath. She regards anyone not like her, any non-Special, as inferior, and they exist only because she can't be bothered to kill them. She has a group think mentality, and the group leader is best, meaning she has a harder time with independent thought.
Through the course of the book, she learns of this, and when offered a cure (more brain surgery) she refuses. She chooses instead to atempt to deal with this problem on its own. At the end of the book there is an indication that she is indeed headed in the right direction and, though she will never be completely normal, she will be able to function within normal parameters.
So here's what we've got. The physical brain operations come from the outside, the enemies, and are wrong. The pill to correct the stupid surgery is just as dangerous as the surgery itself, can lead to severe problems, and is ultimately unnecessary; for Tally anyway. And lastly that even the most severe brain alterations can be overcome, without the help of doctors, so long as Tally is aware of them.
Now granted Tally is presented throughout the books as someone who is special, and unique. However as the main character she is the one the reader is supposed to identify with. So then what is the message in these books? Is it that brain altering techniques are wrong? Most psychiatry is medicine to chemically alter the brain, and bring in back to more normal functions. Something presented as very dangerous, or evil in the books.