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Medicalization’s Definition, Growth and Development Research Paper

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Updated: May 18th, 2020

Introduction

The social comprehension of health care service provision has changed a lot over the last couple of years. The most notable changes regarding health and illness are the classification of human conditions and experiences from being normal to medical conditions (Micah and Rich 45). Studies have established that no matter the people’s position regarding health care services they will always diffuse through various elements of human life. Medicalization is a contemporary medical subject that has completely changed people’s perceptions about life, medicine, as well as human conditions and experiences they considered ordinary (Best 123). The concept has had a huge impact in the medical realm, as studies show that medical practitioners consider it as an effective tool for increasing the rate of diagnosing various health conditions affecting people.

Studies indicate physicians do not have much influence on the development of medicalization compared to patients, pharmaceutical industries, and policy cover providers (Best 126). In addition, the studies show that medicalization has a bright future. Research on improving its effectiveness is underway, meaning that there is room for innovation (Micah and Rich 51). This research paper will examine the concept of medicalization in terms of its meaning, growth, development, and benefits. The research will also provide examples of human conditions and experiences subject to medicalization.

What is Medicalization?

Medicalization refers to a cognitive process through which behavioural, poignant, or physiological human conditions get pathological classification for medical treatment (Conrad and Schneider 16). The concept of medicalization developed out of research on the causes, nature, and effects of diseases. Human conditions or experiences subject to medicalization undergo medical studies to establish their practicability to identification, deterrence and management. In addition, the process looks up for human conditions that result from body malfunctions. Some of the human conditions subjected to medicalization include sexual abuse, alcoholism, pregnancy, childbirth, obesity, and erectile dysfunction among others (Conrad and Schneider 22). Studies have shown that physicians often look up, and handle these problems.

The main driving force behind the development of this concept is the ability to change people’s attitudes. A positive attitude towards biomedicine allows people to develop deeper knowledge about various human conditions and the best ways of managing them. Medicalization classifies human conditions or experiences as either a sickness or a disorder (Conrad and Schneider 31).

As a psychological concept, medicalization identifies the impact that physicians, patients, and health care providers can have in managing the human conditions. It is important to manage the conditions as either illnesses or disorders because they do not compromise the identity of a society in terms of their attitude towards them, financial obligations, and improved provision of health care services (Conrad 100). In addition, the psychological application of this concept focuses on the impacts felt by people who suffer from the conditions or undergo through the classified experiences. The role of medicalization in the management of human conditions is moving them from social models to medical models.

History and development of medicalization

The concept of medicalization first came into the limelight during the 1970s. It was introduced through sociological and medical literature that focused on promoting the need for increased coverage of medical services. Two sociologists, Ivan Illich and Michel Foucault, developed the concept of medicalization (Best 128). Ivan argued against the overreliance of people on physicians to solve their problems because medical intervention was leading to more illnesses. Ivan further stressed his concern by saying that the society was suffering the greatest loss because people did not have options of dealing with their problems other than medicine (Micah and Rich 58).

Ivan and his friend felt the need to develop a strategy that will make physicians have the ability to deal with numerous human conditions and experiences that were affecting people. The best solution to this predicament was to reduce the power of the people to deal with their conditions and transfer the abilities to medical practitioners. This is how human conditions and experiences underwent pathological classification. Henceforth, these conditions became the concern of physicians (Conrad and Schneider 43). The term medicalization was developed out of this idea. It was used to refer to a process of transforming ordinary human conditions into treatable conditions.

Psychological experts believed that physicians were applying the concept of medicalization even before it was developed. According to the nature of work done by medical authorities, their concern for human conditions and experiences has always been part of their work through social control (Conrad 109). Technological advances and change of perceptions in the society are some of the factors that helped in the development of medicalization. However, studies show that people were reluctant to embrace change because of their perceptions regarding the conditions and experiences subjected to medicalization (Micah and Rich 62).

Most people were unwilling to accept a different life, owing to the fact that things they considered normal were now changing into medical conditions. People went through a phase of denial. Most of them could no longer understand and deal with natural processes anymore as they used to do in the past. Psychological experts argue that human beings are afraid of change for the fear of losing their identity and ability to continue meeting their daily needs (Best 141). Medicalization introduced numerous changes to the lives of people, which they initially struggled to deal with.

Criticisms of medicalization

Over the last couple of years, medicalization has made numerous strides. However, it has not been a smooth ride as the concept has been subject to numerous criticisms. Most critics have expressed their concerns over the effect that medicalization has on people’s lives and the legal power of medical practice. Most people felt that medicalization demonstrated the advancement of a capitalist society that focused on oppressing people (Conrad and Schneider 62).

Some critics also argued that medicalization was overlooking the real causes of the human conditions and experiences that were classified for medical treatment. They believed that some of the classified conditions and experiences were caused by social and economic factors. Medical practitioners were using medical terms to create a mystery out of the concept and to generate a good reason for the need to give those human conditions and experiences pathological classifications. Other critics argued that medicalization was having a negative effect on people’s lives instead of improving the quality of life (Conrad and Schneider 74). They argued that medicalization bleached the ethical code of conduct for medical professionals because it had an orientation towards making profits rather than giving people a chance for a better life.

The critics referred to studies, which established that diagnosis of new health conditions by medical practitioners plays a crucial role in the growth of the pharmaceutical industry. Diagnosis creates an opportunity for health care institutions and physicians selling drugs a chance to increase their profitability (Conrad 117). Pathological classification of certain human conditions and experiences created an opportunity for the health care industry, while people had with limited choices regarding the effective ways of handling natural processes. In addition, the critics felt that medicalization was having a psychological effect on people because of the stigma associated with medical conditions. People were feeling less assured about life because they did not feel normal anymore. Certain natural human experiences such as feeling shy did not qualify for pathological classification (Conrad 121).

The critics believed that pathological classification was necessary only to human conditions and experiences associated with body malfunctions. Critics also think that medicalization has taken away the role of nature in helping people to differentiate between medical and natural conditions. This role remains a preserve for health care institutions and physicians who have the power to decide whether a human condition or experience qualifies for medical treatment or not (Best 160).

Driving forces behind the development of medicalization

Four forces relating to the field of medicine have catalysed the development of medicalization. The four forces are health care professionals, patients, health care institutions, and the society. These forces have had different influences on the development of this concept. In the beginning, physicians had the most influence regarding the acceptance of medicalization (Micah and Rich 80). They were responsible for conducting diagnosis on various human conditions and experiences.

They applied their pathological knowledge and expertise to establish the causes, nature, and effects of the conditions on human health. Then, they would classify the conditions depending on the results of the diagnosis. When people begun to understand and embrace the concept of medicalization, changes were already happening in the medical industry. Corporations in the medical industry such as pharmaceutical companies were slowly finding their position in the development of this phenomenon (Conrad and Schneider 77).

Classification of numerous human conditions as medically treatable, increased demand for medical and pharmaceutical companies had a bigger role to play. Their influence in the development of medicalization was growing fast because physicians had to rely on the availability of medicine to classify a condition as treatable by use of medical means. Another driving force behind the development of this concept has been the patients (Best 203).

People suffering from the classified human conditions and experiences have helped in influencing the acceptance of medicalization and the drugs used to manage their situations. Initially, patients were victims of a change process that did not consider their social needs and the psychological impacts that they were suffering. They had a passive role in the development of the phenomenon, as their work was only to allow physicians to conduct diagnosis on them and prescribe medicine (Micah and Rich 84). However, their influence in the contemporary world has tremendously changed.

Patients had a more active role in the medicalization process, because they have more knowledge about the process. Pharmaceutical companies and health care facilities are using patients to advocate for increased pathological classification of various human conditions. As consumers, patients were also playing a crucial role in encouraging people to accept medication offered by physicians for managing their conditions (Conrad and Schneider 109). Patients were also actively involved as change agents who help to convince the society to change their perceptions about the medicalization and its possible impacts. Society is another force that has highly influenced the development of medicalization. The societal perceptions about disease and medicine played a major role in the prolonged classification of certain human conditions and experiences as being natural (Conrad 129).

This created a need for better strategies for managing the conditions, as people were continuing to suffer under the pretence of adhering to social intervention. However, after some time, people accepted that they needed help, although they feared for the effects of the association with medical conditions. The perceptions that people had regarding medical conditions, made it very hard for patients dealing with the stigma (Conrad and Schneider 116). The society did not perceive medical conditions in good light, thus the reason why most critics of medicalization considered it an imperialistic approach that would make people suffer.

Benefits of medicalization

According to critics, medicalization has increased people’s dependency on medicine and doctors to solve their problems. Psychologists argue that people can be harmed when they depend too much on something or somebody (Best 219). The reason for this is that over dependence leads to people lacking determination and loss of self-esteem. However, this is hard to avoid because people work towards leading healthy and happy lives for a long time.

Medicalization offers protection against factors and elements within the environment that can cause harm to human beings. Studies have shown that medicalization has helped to improve the quality of life for millions of people because of its numerous health benefits (Micah and Rich 91). Pathological classification of certain human conditions as diseases helps to provide the right treatment. Although people considered some of the classified human conditions as natural, studies have established that medicalization has helped to relieve many people of pain and agony they could have lived with for a long time.

Medicalization helped to change people’s perceptions about medicine. People had a negative perception about medicine because they felt it was moving them away from their identity and setting them up for the suffering due to stigma. Medicalization changed people from feeling normal to feel healthier. It has also given people more freedom to enjoy life to the fullest because they do not have worries about their health (Conrad and Schneider 130).

For example, people considered certain human conditions such as depression and bad behaviour as natural and untreatable. However, advances in medical research helped to identify medical approaches of establishing their patterns and providing effective medical treatment. For a long time, people thought that conditions such as bad behaviour among children were a natural and irreversible condition. However, medicalization has helped to develop treatment options that can help a child to change certain traits and improve their behaviour (Micah and Rich 109).

Medicalization of alcoholism

Studies have shown that since the inception of medicalization, people in professions out the field of medicine embraced the phenomenon more that their counterparts in medical practice. Patients and activist groups were very aggressive in promoting the concept, as they sought to cover as many areas of medicalization as possible (Best 300). One of the medicalization areas that received enormous backing from the support groups was alcoholism. In the context of medicalization, alcoholism refers to the prolonged and excessive intake of alcoholic drinks leading to a breakdown in health. In addition, alcoholism also leads to addiction to the extent that abrupt deprivation leads to severe withdrawal symptoms. Alcoholism is a popular area of medicalization because of the fact that it attracts people with shared interests.

The same case applies to the impact that the society had on the development of this concept, because people were working towards achieving a common goal. Medicalization of alcoholism resulted in the formation of the infamous group, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) (Best 320). AA was formed to provide alcoholics with a platform for expressing themselves and managing their situation in the midst of people with similar challenges.

Alcoholism is classified as a disorder because the physical condition of alcoholics results in the disturbance of the normal functioning of the body. AA and other similar groups have continued to exist without the provision of medical treatment to members because alcoholism as a disorder has not received the right acknowledgement from physicians and pharmaceutical companies (Conrad 138). During the medicalization of alcoholism, it was hard for physicians to convince policy cover providers and pharmaceutical companies to back it up because it disorder classification did not prove any connection to an individual’s genes. Instead, alcoholism classified as a disorder developing from bad life choices and social influence. Psychotherapists argue that any research that can prove the existence of a relationship between alcoholism and human genes can have a tremendous impact of its medicalization (Conrad and Schneider 161).

It is important to note that medicalization of alcoholism does not mean that the disorder is treated by the use of medicine. The treatment approach applies a therapeutic strategy that allows the patients to express themselves, accept their situation, and learn tips on dealing with their problem (Conrad 140).

Up to now, alcoholism does not apply as a medical disorder because of the lack of evidence to link it with an individual’s genetic composition. Alcoholism was subject to medicalization because the condition was having serious effects on the health of the addicts (Conrad and Schneider 169). Some of the individuals were even more vulnerable to attack by certain diseases compared to those who took alcoholic drinks on a regulated scale. Studies indicate that most alcoholics are less productive and a huge burden to their family members who have to work to feed them. In addition, the studies indicate that most alcoholics rely on others to sustain their addiction, as they do not have sources of income and cannot do anything without taking alcohol (Conrad and Schneider 180). Therefore, medicalization of alcoholism happened in order to improve the health and productivity of people crippled by the disorder.

Conclusion

Medicalization is a contemporary medical subject that has completely changed people’s perceptions about life, medicine, as well as various human conditions and experiences they considered ordinary. Medicalization refers to a cognitive process through which demeanour, poignant, or physiological human conditions get pathological classification for medical treatment. Examples of human conditions subject to medicalization include sexual abuse, alcoholism, pregnancy, childbirth, obesity, and erectile dysfunction among others. Medicalization has moved human conditions and experiences from social models for medical models. Psychological experts argue that human beings are afraid of change. Medicalization introduced numerous changes to the lives of people, which they initially struggled dealing with. Critics argue that medicalization has increased people’s dependency on medicine and doctors to solve their problems.

Works Cited

Best, Joel. Images of Issues: Typifying Contemporary Social Problems. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2005. Print.

Conrad, Peter. The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders. New York: JHU Press, 2007. Print.

Conrad, Peter, and Joseph, Schneider. Deviance and Medicalization: From Badness to Sickness. California: Temple University Press, 2010. Print.

Micah, Andy, and Emma, Rich. The Medicalization of Cyber Space. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.

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