What if Sysadmins Acted Like Psychiatrists?

Philadelphia Psychiatry Protest at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting

Philadelphia Psychiatry Protest at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting

I sometimes run into people that try to tell me that my views on psychiatry are wrong because “depression is a real problem” and so forth.  I’m not, and have never disputed whether or not the phenomena that psychiatrists observe in the DSM are acutally observable.  They definitely are.  It’s what is then done with that observation that sets apart psycho-pharmacology and every other profession of earth.

By drugging to “ameliorate symptoms” (actual words used in drug literature) they’re looking to numb the observability of the symptoms rather than handle the root cause.

Dogbert the Systems Administrator - Dilbert

What if Sysadmins Operated like Psychiatrists?

So, to illustrate this, what if a system administrator operated like a psychiatrist?

Scenario:  A user comes up to the sysadmin, frantic.  He says, “You need to help me – the server is down.”

When asked what behaviour he’s seeing, he says  that there’s a message on the screen saying it can’t connect to the server.

“Ah – so your problem is that you’re seeing an error message on the screen!”

The sysadmin would then have an array of powerful tools at his disposal to handle the problem he can:

  • Hang a piece of construction paper over the screen so that the user can no longer see the error message
  • Install a plugin on his browser to suppress the error message from coming up,
  • Write some dummy code to make the user think the site is working when it’s in fact not
  • Simply power off the computer (as it will then no longer display the error message)
  • Change the user’s computer’s UI language to Icelandic so that he can’t understand whether the software is working or not (“It says – ‘Þessi hugbúnaður er completetely helvíti!’ — that must mean it’s working!!”
  • Hook up a monitor from someone else’s computer to the user’s desktop, so they can think they’re doing work

There are a nearly infinite number of ways that a sysadmin could go about describing the problem describing how the error makes you feel, etc.

One could say that the error message is due to an imbalance of electricity in the computer which is causing it to display an error message, and the handling is to rebalance things so that the error message doesn’t display.

None of these things fix the fact that the user cannot connect to the server and get work done.

Obviously, sysadmins cannot operate that way, as everyone knows that computer systems should work, and a good sysadmin can debug a system, find the root cause, handle it, and get the system working again.

Drug company marketing, however, has been working hard to convince the public that the root cause is a chemical imbalance in the brain (a marketing gimmick) or that the root cause can simply not be handled.  One just “has a condition” which nothing can be done about except making it “easier to live with.”

This video on the marketing of insanity is worth a view.  It’s good to know whether or not what’s been told to you as a “medical fact” is really just a marketing pitch to obscure the fact that the doctors you’re talking to don’t actually know how to handle the root cause of your problems.


I'm a Linux network engineer, a mountain biker, a daddy and a Scientologist. I run the ScientologyParent.com website, am married to a great wife, and have a pair of absurdly cute kids.

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Posted in Marketing, psychiatry
6 comments on “What if Sysadmins Acted Like Psychiatrists?
  1. punkie529 says:

    Wonderful analogy! It always bothers me to think, if I didn’t homeschool my kids, at least one would have teachers after me to medicate him for ADHD. There is nothing wrong with that child that a few trips around the block icon his bike won’t fix.

  2. Patricia says:

    Excellent comparison. Great article, Tad.

  3. I always compare them to car mechanics. I say if you went to a mechanic because your brakes where squeaking and he told you it was impossible to fully understand car engines, but he could give you a drug, that only he could sell you, and you would forget about your car troubles.

    You would call the cops on him for being a drug dealer, and you would know he was no mechanic.

  4. Tyra says:

    Tad, thank you for the incredibly logical, and insightful analogy. It demonstrates the point beautifully! I also find it scary that the “solution”, even if known to not be effective, is looked upon as the desirable one, as it is “quick and immediate”, and the consequences are not fully considered. The problems are there, that is not disputed, I agree; but to get to the root does not need to involve numbing your view and outlook on life. I think maybe handling the problems will take more time and efforts than the person may feel he is able to take on, but “the easy way out” will not address the reason why they got that way to begin with.

  5. Anthony Fox says:

    Great post.

    I think this is the most accurate analogy:
    _Write some dummy code to make the user think the site is working when it’s in fact not_

    Drugs create the illusion that people are doing better when in fact they are deteriorating. Depression is a symptom and historically every generation of “happy pills” has done more harm than good. After a hundred years of failure it’s time to give up that approach.

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