Actor Tom Cruise now stands in the spotlight not just for his romance with actress Katie Holmes, but also for his comments about modern medicine.
Cover from Brooke Shields' book on post-partum depression
Cruise's interview with Billy Bush of Access Hollywood in late May has raised eyebrows and drawn criticism.
"Here is the thing: you have to understand, with psychiatry, there is no science behind it," the 42-year-old actor said. "And to pretend that there is a science behind it is criminal."
Cruise, a member of the Church of Scientology since 1985, spoke at length about the so-called dangers of psychotropic drugs and treatment.
He said he helped get a young friend off prescription medication for ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. He spoke of replacing the drugs with proper foods and vitamins.
When the conversation turned to the anti-depressant Paxil and conditions like post-partum depression, the comments became more controversial.
"Let me tell you something: it is not a cure and it is actually lethal," he said. "These drugs are dangerous... There is a hormonal thing that is going on that is ... scientifically, you can prove that. But when you talk about emotional chemical imbalances in people, there is no science behind that."
Then it got personal.
Brooke Shields, Cruise's co-star in the 1981 movie "Endless Love," recently penned Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, about her own struggle and the medications and therapy that helped her manage it.
"Look at her life," said Cruise, adding that he cares about Shields and thinks she is "incredibly talented."
Cruise apparently suggested to interviewer Bush that Shields' career had suffered because of her choice to medicate.
When Bush sought clarification, Cruise hedged.
"Look, is she really happy?" said Cruise. "Is she really happy?"
"She doesn't know what these drugs are and for her to promote it is irresponsible," he said. "And I wish her well in life." But, "It is irresponsible to do that."
Shields fired back in the press, saying Cruise's comments were "dangerous."
"He should stick to saving the world from aliens," she quipped, referencing his upcoming movie, "War of the Worlds," based on H.G. Wells' classic story of aliens invading Earth.
And Shields didn't stop there. A few days later, she mocked Cruise's relationship with actress Holmes, who is 16 years his junior.
"If he wants to see Chicago, I've left him two tickets—one adult, one child," she said. Shields is currently playing murderess Roxie Hart in the hit musical at London's Adelphi Theatre.
Some experts think the actor's ability to garner attention with comments about health is unfortunate.
"So how is it that Tom Cruise, whose only educational and professional credentials appear to be that of a Hollywood acting career, gets taken seriously at all when he makes claims about psychology and psychiatry?" said Tarris Rosell, who holds a doctor of philosophy and doctor of ministry and is associate professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
Rosell said Cruise's statements are couched in a fallacious "appeal to authority," adding that the Scientologist "is not a credible critic regarding the general efficacy of psychiatric diagnoses and treatments."
Cruise's comments about psychiatry are hardly new or offhanded.
"I think psychiatry should be outlawed," he said in January 2004.
Dr. James Scully, medical director of the American Psychiatric Association, called Cruise's comment "absurd."
"If someone is suffering and needs to get help," Scully told MSNBC.com, "it would be a shame if they do not get the help that could help them because a celebrity says something."
Scully said he'd welcome a dialogue with Cruise, but not a lecture about Scientology.
"We don't find discussions about Scientology useful," said Scully.
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's best-selling book, Dianetics, is subtitled, The Modern Science of Mental Health. In it, Hubbard sets forth an approach to mental wellness that many professional health organizations still regard dubiously—a fact that leads the church to claim it is the target of a smear campaign by monied interests.
Various individuals have set up Web pages devoted to loved ones they say died at the hands of Scientology's methodologies. One of the most notable is www.lisamcpherson.org, which argues that 36-year-old Lisa McPherson died in 1995 after undergoing an "introspection rundown" at a Scientology facility in Clearwater, Fla. Criminal charges against the church were dropped.
An introspection rundown is a treatment plan designed to handle mental breakdowns. The McPherson case and wrongful-death lawsuit (settled confidentially after seven years) prompted a contract for Scientology members to sign, which gave the church legal rights over the member should a breakdown occur, according to a 2003 Fox News story.
EthicsDaily.com contacted the Scientology center in Nashville, Tenn., but questions about whether Cruise accurately represented most Scientologists were referred to the Church of Scientology in Washington, D.C.
The church in Washington declined to speak about Cruise, and referred questions about mental health to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights.
The CCHR was founded by the Church of Scientology in 1969 as a nonprofit organization "dedicated to investigating and exposing psychiatric violations of human rights."
The CCHR calls the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) a "hoax" and refers to it as a "billing bible." It argues that drug companies and doctors have partnered to push unnecessary medications on individuals, purely for profit.
The CCHR home page currently features a pamphlet called "The Drugging of 'Post Partum Depression,'" which was produced by the CCHR. The 11-page document aims to clear up misconceptions about "chemical imbalances" and anti-depressants.
Its arguments mirror those Cruise made against Shields on Access Hollywood.
Cruise and Scientology haven't been the only ones recently to distance themselves from accepted scientific approaches to psychological problems.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., announced in February a shift away from traditional pastoral care to a "biblical counseling" approach that views Christian Scriptures as having all of life's answers.
Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern, said "fallen human self-interest often masquerades as objective 'science.'"
Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention news service, has published columns by Ted Stone and Philip Barber opposing use of methadone treatment for drug addicts, anti-depressants and attention-deficit drugs.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.