“Mental Illness”, the DSM-5, and Dreams for a Post-Psychiatry World

Laura Delano

May 12, 2013

If, a little over three years ago, you asked me who I was, my one and only answer would have been, “Bipolar.”  It was the word that defined me, that explained my emotions and behaviors, that gave me answers to the questions, Why am I so unhappy?  Why do I want to die every day?  Why is it so hard to get out of bed in the morning, to shower and brush my teeth and leave the house and interact with the world?  Why do I find it impossible to keep a job, a relationship, a responsibility?  Why do I never feel OK? 

The answer always was, “Because I have Bipolar disorder.”  “Treatment-resistant Bipolar disorder”, to be exact, and that was the reason why I continued to get worse, more hopeless and suicidal, more dysfunctional and dependent on my family and my “treatment”, less and less connected to the world.  I knew this to be true, because it’s what Psychiatry told me, and as a good patient, I believed what I was told, even as the drug dosages and pill bottles and DSM diagnoses increased.  For all the chaos and muddled pain and confusion in my world, I knew with perfect clarity that I was “Bipolar.”  It was the only thing I truly knew.  That diagnosis was my anchor in the stormy sea of my life, though it took me nearly thirteen years to realize that internalizing a “Bipolar” identity did nothing to clear up my skies.  These days, the further I get from my psychiatric indoctrination, the more I realize how limiting and damaging, how much of a self-fulfilling prophecy, being “Bipolar” truly was.

During my most formative teen-aged and twenty-something years, I looked to the DSM, and to the psychiatrists who “cared” for me, as my beacons in the darkness.  They promised me answers, they promised me resolution to my pain, they promised to help me understand myself.  They promised to take care of me, to give me medicine that would help me not want to die or hide away from the world anymore, to help me learn how to manage my “illness” and function in the world in a way I could “handle”, given the severity of my condition.  These were powerful promises, promises I desperately wanted to believe, and did believe, for a long time, even as I got progressively worse.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on that time in my life with all the recent news surrounding the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the DSM-5, the medical model of “mental illness”, and the very legitimacy of Psychiatry itself.  The NIMH has announced it will no longer support the DSM-5 because it “lacks validity.”  They and the APA have also acknowledged that despite years of neuroscientific research searching for the biological causes of “mental illness”, they have nothing to report.  Zippo.  Nada.  [Side bar: While the content of these announcements is a big deal— essentially, the governmental and professional representatives of the entire psychiatric Industry have conceded that there is no current evidence supporting the claim that “mental illness” is a valid, medical entity at all— I believe the reasons for the announcements are very ominous and worrisome, as the NIMH is leading the United States down an even more reductionist, dehumanizing path of neuro-based Psychiatry.  This is a topic for another time, however.]

Had this news about the DSM and the entire medical model come out just over three years ago, when I was deep under the spell of Psychiatry, I have no doubt that I would have been faced with a profound identity crisis (one that I have, in fact, worked through these last two and a half years in a much slower way).  What would all of this have meant for me at a time when my day-to-day life consisted of driving to my Intensive Outpatient Treatment program for “Borderline personality disorder”, sitting in intensive psychotherapy for “Bipolar disorder” and “Substance Abuse disorder” two to three times a week, and taking five psychiatric drugs every morning and every night?  What would those thirteen years of “treatment” have been for?  Those countless hundreds of bottles of pills?  The hospitalizations?  How would I have explained all those years of intense emotional ups and downs, scary and painful acts of self-destruction, thoughts of suicide, inability to stay in relationships, and complete disconnect with the human race, if they weren’t in fact “symptoms” of “Bipolar disorder”?  What would my life have meant?  What could it have meant, if I was never “mentally ill” to begin with?

I wonder how many people this past week have asked themselves these same questions, faced with the incredibly painful and confusing realization that what they’ve been told by Psychiatry is, in fact, not true.  I’ve had some time to work through all of this and make sense of my Self and my life in a new way; it has been the scariest and most difficult time of my life, but also the most incredibly transformative and beautiful.  I wish I could hug each and every human being out there who’s believed the “mental illness” story told so persuasively by Psychiatry, and trusted in it, just like I did.  By the time I was twenty-seven, Psychiatry— my psychiatric labels, my psychiatric “meds”, and my therapy— defined my entire world, and shaped the lens through which I saw and made meaning of everything I was experiencing.  I was lucky enough to have a family who never gave up on me, no matter how dark things got, but I believed that because they weren’t doctors, they didn’t know how to truly help me… only Psychiatry did.  I look back to that old ‘me’ and feel deep love for her, for she was kept so in the dark by an Institution that promised to never cause her harm.  If only she saw that it was the “care” she sought from Psychiatry, as well as the internalized “Bipolar” identity, that caused most of her suffering, and the majority of her “symptoms” throughout that time.

Today, in my human family, there are millions of people who wake up every morning to their bottles of pills and their calendars of doctors appointments and their mood charts and their DBT distress tolerance skills and their monthly phone calls to the pharmacy with the elevator music on repeat while they wait on hold.  At least, I can imagine that might be what people’s days look like, for those were my days, and that was me, for many, many years.  That is still me, today, only now it’s a part of my past, a part of the foundation of who I’ve become.  I can never forget my relationship to Psychiatry, nor do I want to, because if I do, I’ll forget what it was like to believe deeply enough in an institution that promised to help me that I was willing to sacrifice my humanity for it.  I see myself in the faces of those who believe in Psychiatry today, whether as patients or as “mental health” providers, and I feel so much love and empathy for them, for the fear and insecurity they might be feeling, for the panic at what life would look like without “mental illness.”

Every day, I awaken to a society under the influence of Psychiatry.  I see evidence of this intoxication in newspapers, on television, on the radio, in conversations overheard on subways and coffee shops, in voicemails and emails from friends, on Facebook status updates, on flyers seeking research subjects, on ad campaigns plastered above the highway, in Homeland and Silver Linings Playbook and Demi Lovato and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Every day, words are written, read, or purchased in the name of Psychiatry, in books, journals, textbooks, essays, articles, and Industry-funded studies.  Every day, Psychiatric knowledge is created and disseminated on the mass scale, solely to expand the breadth and depth of its social control disguised as medicine.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of people are educated by the knowledge institutions of Psychiatry, surrendering their minds to it, whether as high school students, college undergraduates, graduate students, medical students, residents in training, fellows, teachers, instructors, or professors.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of people go to work for Psychiatry, whether as mental health workers, counselors, social workers, psychologists, or psychiatrists.  Primary care doctors, too.

Every day, families say, “I am the proud family member of a person with mental illness,” and every day, families and self-declared “mentally ill” people fight against the so-called “stigma of mental illness.” [For more on this, see Sera Davidow’s great post.]  International non-profit organizations thrive on these campaigns, raising millions of dollars for Psychiatry and the Pharmaceutical Industry.

Every day, thousands and thousands of institutional spaces pump energy into and create profit for Psychiatry, from clinics to day treatment programs to group homes to outpatient programs to inpatient units to detox facilities to buildings in general hospitals to private and public psychiatric hospitals to prisons, and to schools.

Every day, millions and millions of people surrender their bodies, their minds, and their human spirit to Psychiatry as patients, consumers, and clients, whether “voluntarily” or “involuntarily”, whether through overt or covert force, whether they realize it or not.

Today, Psychiatry, bolstered by the psychiatrically dependent industry of “mental health”, is society’s master storyteller about the human experience.  It has effectively constructed medicalized language out of thin air, taught this language to the Western (and, more and more, the non-Western) world, and reinforced its pseudoscientific tenets so subtly, yet with such insidious force, that those who hear these stories receive them with no hesitation, no question, no push back.  Psychiatry thrives on passive acceptance, because people desperately want the story that suffering is a medical “condition”, treatable with a pill and a doctor, to be true.  I know I once did, so very much.

Psychiatry has, with brilliant success, taught our human family to forget its humanness.

Few question Psychiatry’s story that certain emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are “symptoms” of “mental illness.”  That our genetic makeup determines whether or not we have these “mental illnesses.”  That there are life-saving “medicines” out there that will act “against depression”, “against psychosis”, and “against anxiety”, and that will pharmaceutically ease people back to emotional and psychological “wellness”.  That people who hear voices, or go days without sleep and become God, or think about life and death on a daily basis, or have anxiety so intense they want to rip their skin off, are faced with life-long “conditions” that must be accepted and managed with Psychiatric “help”.  That despite decades of failed neuroscientific research, it somehow remains an unquestionable fact that these experiences are in fact brain “diseases” caused by biomarkers that will, some day in the future, be found.

That the human experience, the human mind, and the human soul, can somehow be reduced to neurotransmitters and “brain circuitry.”

Since the dawn of humanity, there has been suffering in the world, and modern Psychiatry has effectively disconnected us from its environmental causes.  On the grand scale, Psychiatry has worked hard to ensure we forget that suffering, so-called “psychosis” and “mania”, and other “abnormal” experiences are healthy responses to racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, religious persecution, war, exploitation, violence, and trauma.  That it is completely healthy to feel disoriented, profoundly sad, anxious, and afraid when faced with the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, the pressure to pay bills and put food on the table, the societal pressure to look a certain way physically, or to be financially successful.  That emotional and psychic pain are a healthy response to being a child or adolescent in the world, as well as to puberty, bullying, pressure, school stress, witnessing divorce, physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, social isolation, or just being “different” from the entirely socially constructed concept of “normal” (whatever the heck that means, anyways).  What does any of this have to do with “chemical imbalances”, biomarkers, and “brain circuitry”?  Why do we think that the true explanation of these experiences must lie in the hands of medicine?  What expertise does Psychiatry have on each of our unique human lives?  Why have we come to believe that human suffering is somehow only seen as valid when it’s been translated into medical, psychiatrized language?

Upon learning about the NIMH and APA announcements, someone asked me yesterday, “Well, if this is true, what should those people out there suffering do?  Where should they go?”  A very valid question, one to which I believe there’s no easy answer.  What I can say for myself is that I started to find these answers when I discarded the idea that I was broken, “ill”, “diseased”, or faced with a life-long “condition.”  The answers came to me when I remembered that I was a human being, and that life on life’s terms is meant to be hard, painful, confusing, and scary, and that there’s nothing “abnormal” about experiencing emotional and psychic pain, however agonizing it may be.  They answers came to me with the recognition that suffering is not something to be dismissed, denied, numbed, drugged, or “treated”.  That suffering carries a deeper message I should take the time to explore and understand with people who treat me with dignity and respect.  That pain can be a catalyst for growth.  That there is inherent importance to the experiences we as a society have deemed “unacceptable” and thus “abnormal”, like sadness, anxiety, panic, fear, or so-called “mania” and “psychosis”, and that these experiences never just happen out of thin air, even when there may be no apparent causes for them.  Just being alive in today’s industry-driven, patriarchal, selfish, and violent society is enough of a reason, in my opinion, to experience any of what Psychiatry would cause “mental illness.”

Thomas Insel, the leader of NIMH, recently said, “Patients with mental disorders deserve better.”  What I will say to this is that human beings who’ve been psychiatrically labeled deserve better.  They deserve the right to be human, just as they are, without being called abnormal.  They deserve to be supported (and only if they desire to be supported) by people who will not claim expertise on their experience of the world, and by people who will not pathologize them or see them as brains with flawed biomarkers or lists of symptoms.  They deserve to be given the opportunity to find their own inner wisdom, instead of sacrificing their agency to doctors who know nothing of their life stories.  I know I deserved that when I was fourteen, instead of being told by a psychiatrist that the intense anger I felt towards myself, my family, my school, and my town was a sign of “mania” and that I was “Bipolar.”  The suffering that we as human beings experience is worthy of dignity, exploration, understanding, and human support; to call it “symptomatic” of a phantom “illness” is to do just the opposite.

I have dreams for a future in which our collective humanity will fully embrace being human for all its pain, beauty, individuality, and opportunity for transformation.  A future in which we don’t need categories, classifications, and medicalized language to describe the often indescribable experience of being alive on this planet.  A future of acceptance, unconditional support, and human rights for each and every one of us, no matter how we feel, think, or experience reality.  I know I’m not alone when I dream this dream.

Laura Delano

Journeying Back To Self: Laura Delano is an ex-mental patient who writes about her thirteen years of psychiatric indoctrination, how she woke up in 2010, and what it’s been like to come off psychiatric drugs, leave the “mentally ill” identity behind, and rediscover an authentic connection to self and world.

“Mental Illness”, the DSM-5, and Dreams for a Post-Psychiatry World Comments RSS

63 thoughts on ““Mental Illness”, the DSM-5, and Dreams for a Post-Psychiatry World

  1. Hi Laura,

    Great job. As to your question,

    “I wonder how many people this past week have asked themselves these same questions, faced with the incredibly painful and confusing realization that what they’ve been told by Psychiatry is, in fact, not true”

    It is not very difficult to answer, many, surely, are sticking to their labels, such as in,

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/05/07/bipolar-writer-comments-on-debate-over-crisis-in-psychiatry/

    (I’ve been posting there as “softwarematters”). No question that for a lot of people it must have been frightening to learn that they have been living by a lie, but the temptations to go back the the old regime must be resisted and probably that is our survivor next’s challenge: educate those who find themselves in the same situation we found ourselves when we said NO to the psychiatric pseudo science. It is OK, and we are here to help you make the transition.

    • Hi Cannotsay,
      Yes, this woman’s post captures so much of what I used to feel, right down to saying to myself, “It has taken me a long time to come to terms with it, but I finally have, and like it or not, it is part of my identity.”

      Leaving my “Bipolar” identity behind was an incredibly painful awakening to endure, and I understand how hard it is for people to come to terms with– whether they’re labeled “mentally ill”, or trained to label people “mentally ill”. I completely agree with you that we need to help build support systems (not Systems ;) ) for those in the process of leaving Psychiatry. It is a scary, confusing, and painful process to have to endure alone.

      Thanks for the comment,
      In solidarity,
      Laura

      • What I most took away from this post is your abundant compassion for people who are faced with the need to reformulate their understanding of their lives.

        Your recognition of how truly difficult it can be to imagine a new self and a new potential future is deeply kind.

        May all those people you want to hug find in their lives a light such that which you hold.

        You’re right, you are not dreaming that dream alone…and all evidence indicates that truth does indeed prevail.

        Thanks so much for being out there and sharing your journey, your process, your wisdom and your heart so generously.

        Love, FRR

        • Dear Faith,
          Thanks for the comment! And thanks for the kindness and compassion that I’ve felt emanate from you ever since meeting here at MIA, and then in person at Occupy APA in Philly last May.

          I know I’ve needed kindness and compassion these last three years as I’ve slowly unpacked what it’s all meant: that everything I believed about myself wasn’t true, what it meant that everything I believed about myself wasn’t true, who I was if everything Psychiatry had told me about myself wasn’t true, and who I could become now that Psychiatry didn’t get to define me anymore.

          It’s been a slow evolution: (1) I believed I was “misdiagnosed Bipolar” (but assumed it was a real “condition” I just didn’t have (I believed this because Psychiatry told me this); (2) I believed I HAD been “Bipolar” but had “recovered” from it; (3) I believed that “Bipolar” was nothing more than a social label to describe the “mental health condition” I’d had and “recovered” from; (4) I realized that thinking about myself as having had a “mental health condition” was just gentler way of saying I’d had “mental illness” (no conceptual shift, just change of words), and that all along I’d just been human, experiencing suffering and pain that had been greatly warped and magnified by the “mental health” world, itself, and that Psychiatry was the only thing I’d actually “recovered” from.

          So, yes… A slow evolution! People stayed patient with me along the way and let me figure things out for myself, which was just what I needed after being told who I was and what to think for so long. I try my best to have patience for those at different stages of the journey of awakening (by ‘awakening’, I mean waking up from Psychiatry), because had I not been supported patiently, I’m not sure I would have made it out. In fact, I wonder if I would have crawled right back into Psychiatry’s arms because it was the only thing familiar to me…

          I think that seeing the world through a lens of compassion makes for a much easier and more fruitful life. One can still feel anger— I feel anger every single day at the state of the world— but when a person operates from a place of understanding (of putting her/himself in the shoes of the other), I believe it allows that person to make much more change and transformation happen in him/herself, and in the world.

          I’m grateful to be on this path with you, for your story, and for your voice!

          Love,
          Laura

  2. I am very sorry that you wanted to die. On the whole, it wasn’t until the baby boom that youth suicide was really considered a problem, with rates next to nill before it. I am a feminist and an anti-racist, and the only thing that works for me, to not feel like I want to die, is effective human communication, workouts make me feel dehumanized and fat, and I just don’t want to be around people who can’t talk to me, I feel are subtly berating me, and generally have a false sense of reality in the form of I came in with assumptions about a nationality called the united states. We are all narcissists and stavers and stupid, and responsible for the ecological crisis, all of which is not true. Yes are energy consumption is too high, yes these accusers are the same types that spend too much when recognizing their own faults and having some humility would easily relieve loans on impoverished countries so they could build better sanitation. On the whole I only find comfort in science, in ecology, in sincere linguistic technologies and modes of being which inspire me to look at an organism instead of a commodity. Instead of something that is going to be my next meal, or my next degree, or my next compliment. I don’t personally believe the desire to die is abnormal human behavior, but on the whole, it is sad, I think.

      • Hi there,
        I think people think about dying for many, many reasons, but for myself, I know in my heart that my urge to die was very tied to the believe that I was “mentally ill” and would thus be different/abnormal for the rest of my life, and only a burden on the world around me. I haven’t thought about dying since I left Psychiatry; in fact, the thought of giving up my place in this world by my own hand is, today, completely out of line with my sense of belonging. This is my own experience, of course; I wouldn’t impose my own understandings of suicide on anyone else’s.

        I completely agree with you that human communication is VITAL (for me) to a sense of inner peace, connectedness, and rightness with the world. When I was on psychotropic drugs, this type of genuine, meaningful communication was completely impossible. I of course was told this was my “mental illness”; I know today how untrue that was.

        Thanks for the comment!
        Laura

  3. Laura,

    I’m guessin’ there aren’t any plans of your becoming a poster woman for NAMI or the DBSA.

    Somehow, I just don’t see your photo on a piece of their propaganda literature, billboard, television ad…

    Call me crazy. I’m just sayin’…

    Duane

    • Hi Duane,
      Your guess is right ;)! I am, of course, always open to having conversations with people involved with NAMI, DBSA, and other similar orgs, though. I love a healthy debate!

      When I was in college, I went to a few DBSA meetings, and then ended up doing an ethnographic study of people who’d self-selected to be a participant in my thesis, which was called: “Psycho-pharmaceuticals and Selfhood: Negotiating Identity as a Consumer of Mood Disorder Medications.” I was obviously searching for myself in that time, and I think I yearned to understand how others had made sense of themselves while on psych drugs. To be honest, I have no idea how on earth I actually finished that thesis, as I was so drugged up and miserable! I remember finishing the last chapter and not even going back to edit the whole thing… I never even re-read it… Still to this day, haven’t… I just submitted it because I “couldn’t handle” working any more on it because of how “destabilized” I was by my “Bipolar.”

      Ahh, what a nice walk down memory lane!

      Glad for your voice, Duane!
      In solidarity,
      Laura

  4. Hi Laura,

    At the risk of seeming ineducable, I must say…I’m still having a hard time understanding why you’ve adopted an “anti-brain-science” position with respect to reforming – or, in your phrasing, abolishing – the mental health system. That is, why must the study of the brain itself be an inherently futile and/or misguided approach to understanding and alleviating severe impairment and/or distress related to psychological functioning? Setting aside the mired ethical terrain of forced treatment, endeavoring to relieve such suffering, as myriad philosophical traditions (Buddhism and Stoicism among the most notable) have done, surely makes sense — doesn’t it? Accepting that such an endeavor is a reasonable one does not logically entail commitment to endorsing the development of pharmacological agents, of course, although searching for drug treatments may also make sense. I’d argue that it does; however, I’d also suggest that pharmacotherapies ought to be understood as adjuncts to psychosocial interventions, rather than the other way around.

    We can also set aside persistent, extreme mental suffering and simply look at what we might call ordinary psychological stress, anguish, suffering (dukkha, in Pali). Assuming we agree on the reasonableness of attempts to understand the causes of this suffering and relieve it to whatever extent possible, what reason is there to summarily dismiss any attempt to do so by way of brain science? Whether we’re talking about the extreme mental suffering (sometimes occurring in the absence of identifiable factors responsible for causing and/or maintaining the relevant state) or what I’ve termed, in a way that admittedly minimizes the phenomenon, “ordinary suffering,” it seems from previous comments of yours that we are in agreement when it comes to this: experience is the phenomenon in question, the mind is the seat of experience, and the brain is the seat of the mind. Thus, the brain is the seat of experience. We are seeking to alter the nature of experience, so we are seeking to alter the seat of experience, i.e., the brain. Surely it is the brain we alter through meditation, exercise, changed perspectives on gratitude or serenity, triumphant rejection of or liberation from an identity which putatively induced one’s suffering…no?

    I’ve come to believe that what we currently call mental illness — a term I use heuristically here for the sake of expedience — is, fundamentally, dysfunction in learning and memory. I should note that I intend a broad construal of those constructs, as memory is not one function at all, but rather numerous, dissociable systems for which the term “memory” is, again, a useful heuristic. At the level of neuroscience, this view can be conceptualized in terms of cell growth, survival, and synaptic plasticity. The link between dysregulation in the neuroendocrine stress response and mental illness (again, a heuristic here) has long been recognized. Now, with major technological advances in recent decades, the link is becoming more completely understood. For each individual, stress response is determined, it seems, by a complex set of factors including the type, duration, and severity of stress that the individual experiences as well as a host of genetic and other environmental factors. For those in whom stressors lead to stress system dysregulation (e.g., the overproduction of glucocorticoids in the adrenal gland, hyperactivity in the hypothalamus, dysregulated glucocorticoid receptor activity in various regions, etc.), the cellular and molecular processes governing neural survival and plasticity can be disrupted such that psychological functioning is compromised. I would argue that just about everyone has less than optimal psychological functioning, but some individuals (myself included), at some times, fall extremely far from optimal on the continuum.

    You throw around terms like “neuro-reductionist,” but what, exactly, does that mean? That we somehow exist outside our physical embodiment? Even if that’s true, the manner in which we do so is obscured from earthly knowledge and, hence, not a promising avenue of research. We know that the brain – thus, experience – can be changed by, e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy. Do you think it is quackery to employ CBT as a means of alleviating a condition someone perceives as problematic, a hinderance to their flourishing (where flourishing is meant to denote the Greek (e.g., Aristotelian) concept of “eudaimonia”)? If so, why? Do you think Epictetus was misguided in teaching the value of what today we might call decentering or psychological distancing? Do you think if Epictetus could have used scientific knowledge regarding the link between stress, neural survival and plasticity, and psychological functioning, he should have ignored it and approached theorizing about distress and mental suffering as though nothing were known of the cellular and molecular processes involved therein?

    As for pharmacological agents…for the sake of simplicity, I’ll first use specific phobias to illustrate the general point I’d like to make. Let’s say someone has a severe phobia of spiders, so severe that it is, by their own account, impeding their flourishing. We know that exposure therapy works very well for helping people to overcome phobias. There’s also a growing body of evidence that d-cycloserine (DCS), an antibiotic used to treat TB, can facilitate extinction learning and memory consolidation. There’s also very tentative, preliminary evidence that DCS paired with CBT for psychosis can substantially improve outcomes with respect to real-world functioning and subjective well-being. DCS operates on NMDA receptors, which are crucially involved in regulating glutamate, a neurotransmitter known to play a central role in regulating plasticity (i.e., memory and learning). I’d argue that while there is unlikely to be any “magic bullet” or panacea in the form of a drug for mental illness (again! heuristically!), there may very well be agents (perhaps DCS will turn out to be one, perhaps not, I use it for illustrative purposes only) that can aid psychotherapies in restoring those cellular and molecular – processes responsible for regulating the growth, survival, and plasticity of neurons. Why shouldn’t we pursue this avenue of research? It does, unfortunately, involve a great deal of what I see as reprehensible cruelty to animals, but so does nearly all medical research, so unless one wants to advocate the abolishment of any medical research that uses animal models (a position toward which I am sympathetic), there’s no reason to support singling out psychiatric research.

    Your experience was one in which you perceive labeling as preceding the problem, and you’ve inferred that the labels caused the problem. I don’t mean to suggest here that you’re wrong; you may be entirely correct, and I’m certainly in no position to say that you aren’t. But, what about those of us for whom the problems are understood to have come prior to any labeling? It can’t be the labels that caused the problems, as the latter existed prior to the former. You seem to be advocating the abolishment of the system that is in place to serve the needs of people who come to be labeled after they themselves have identified a problem(s) which we currently label psychiatric disorder X, Y, or Z. Why not reform the system instead? Otherwise, those of us who seek help in moving closer toward optimal on the continuum of psychological functioning are stuck hoping that our friends, family members, or the wisdom of authors whose books we’ve read will suffice. My understanding of myself did not change when I was labeled “mentally ill,” so I did not need to recover any lost identity (nor have I needed to reclaim one that was obscured). I did need help getting to a place where I am able to achieve (loosely, Aristotelian) flourishing. Meditation, CBT, DBT all helped. Whether or not the psychiatric drugs helped or did nothing is unclear (I have absolutely no reason to think they hurt), but it’s not inconceivable that, say, the SSRI I took for a while may have helped to increase the expression of proteins involved in neural survival and plasticity in certain regions and thereby facilitated the recovery process. Either way, it seems totally reasonable to me that some pharmacological agents — be they known or unknown at present — could facilitate the alterations in learning and memory systems that therapies like CBT accomplish.

    I know this is getting insanely long, and I’ll bring it to a close here. Just finding myself frustrated again…Neuro-reductionist and similar buzzwords/phrases sound threatening, but all it really means is recognizing that our experience can be studied at the physical level. What is wrong with recognizing that and pursuing such study?

    (ducks for cover)

    Best wishes,

    Layla

    • Laura is pretty good at defending her points, I just want to address one point that hits me personally,

      “There’s also a growing body of evidence that d-cycloserine (DCS), an antibiotic used to treat TB, can facilitate extinction learning and memory consolidation”

      When I hear “growing body of evidence” in the context of using some drug to treat some of the DSM invented diseases my mind automatically raises the alarm: some scam is coming. Have you heard about the so called “placebo effect”?, which is so strong that it can be shown empirically that antidepressants are basically “active placebos”.

      I was put on all kinds of “serotonin enhancers” (SSRI and clomipramine) at doses higher than what is normally prescribed for depression (that’s the recommended dosage by the APA) to deal with my phobia to HIV that some shrink labelled as “OCD”. It did nothing whatsoever to it. What the scam did was to cause me all sorts of side effects (dry mouth, short term memory losses, lethargy -so much so that I was given ADHD medication to counter it-) and more importantly, these meds almost killed my liver and kidneys.

      So you can keep your “growing bodies of evidence” to yourself and provide scientifically tested treatments. Other sciences do not appeal to “growing bodies of evidence”, they just make planes fly, they cure cancer, they make HIV a chronic disease, you get the idea, don’t you?

      • “So you can keep your “growing bodies of evidence” to yourself and provide scientifically tested treatments. Other sciences do not appeal to “growing bodies of evidence”, they just make planes fly, they cure cancer, they make HIV a chronic disease, you get the idea, don’t you?”

        Well said! We are being scammed all the time in mental health.

        • If you have followed any of Dr. David Healy’s recent posts, you might be inclined to leave the scientifically tested treatments behind too. These are not without their own biases, observer error and misapplications of the scientific method, a method which philosophers and quantum physicists don’t necessarily embrace in part or whole either.

          I appreciate Laura’s concern and desire to start with our individual human attempts to make meaning from and negotiate our suffering, and to work patiently, lovingly and respectfully from there.

          Laura, I also appreciate your compassion for those for whom diagnoses, labels, and potentially harmful treatments are still part of their meaning making process.

          It is a tangled web we have woven and it may take quite some time for the unravelling.

          Like you, I worry that NIMH’s new direction, brain mapping and other wildly expensive “brain science” research may be the birth of even more powerful spinnerets whose entrapment may extend well beyond that of the current DSM or, at the very least, keep us stuck in a web of diseases and despair.

          • Hi Jen,
            You are right that leaving behind an entire belief system about oneself and one’s experience of the world is definitely not easy! I wouldn’t say that “we’ve” woven it– I’d say that Psychiatry and the Pharmaceutical Industry have woven it and spread it over society– but I do agree that once we’ve internalized it, it can take time to get out of it. That’s certainly been my experience. I think it’s important to acknowledge that those in positions of power are the ones who most often construct knowledge (in this case, medicine and the pharmaceutical industry) and that we as recipients of this knowledge must always push back, challenge, and question. The tricky thing in our case is that pushing back, challenging, and questioning are seen as “symptoms” of “mental illness” (i.e. “lack of insight”, paranoia, etc.) so it makes things more difficult!

            Yes, we have much to fear with the NIMH, and, speaking for myself, I feel a human obligation to speak firmly and determinedly about these dangers (while having compassion for those still indoctrinated).

            With love,
            Laura

          • You certainly nailed it Jennifer! Insel has a long sordid history with BIG PHARMA and the mental death profession, so we can expect more of the same and worse under his ongoing horrific eugenics agenda!

        • You both expressed my thoughts and feelings about more mental death junk science presented as facts and science in the guise of mental health! YUK! URHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

          Consider all the atrocities perpetrated in the guise of eugenics, psychiatry, DSM bogus stigmas, mental health, brain research and other evil victim blaming frauds to serve the power elite.

          Such advocacy for more of the same makes me sick to my stomach, a real physical problem unlike the problems the mental death profession itself creates for the many victims they pretend to help and treat while destroying their lives and profiting from the added suffering and trauma they inflict.

          Thanks cannotsay and Rossa for saying exactly what I felt reading this seeming ad for more brain junk science.

          As far as cognitive therapy goes, this is just one more fascist way to force victims to adapt to toxic environments that traumatize and destroy many people.

    • Dear Layla,
      I promise, there’s no need to duck for cover!! ☺

      It’s good to see you here, and I really appreciate your comment. You’re right that it was long (which is fine, of course!), and I’ll do my best to address all your points. I think I’m going to cut and paste certain lines from yours and respond to them, so that I can stay organized… Bear with me!
      1. You ask why I’m anti-brain science.
      I am not against brain science. There are real brain diseases out there, and people with these diseases seek help from neurology (and other specialties, I’m sure), very rightfully so (I’m thinking of Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, different types of Encephalopathy, late stage Rabies, late stage Syphilis, etc.). The “brain diseases” “treated” by Psychiatry, on the other hand, are pseudo-diseases. They are ‘pseudo’ because there is no biological or reliable genetic evidence of their existence— no locatable pathology or abnormality (of course, there are studies of “schizophrenics” that show brain shrinkage, but in these studies the participants are on antipsychotics; studies of non-medicated “schizophrenics” show no brain shrinkage). Genetic studies to this date that have claimed genetic bases to these “illnesses” are not replicable (see Jay Joseph, PhD’s writing on this).

      2. You differentiate between “persistent, extreme mental suffering” and “ordinary suffering” as though they come from different sources (at least, that’s how I interpreted it because you differentiated between them instead of saying ‘the spectrum of suffering’, or something like that). I’m curious to know what you think there are different “qualities” of suffering, and how do you distinguish between them? How could anyone be in a position to make these distinctions? Why do you think they come from different sources? Additionally, while you didn’t say “life-long”, most people who talk about “severe and persistent mental illness” make the assumption that it’s an organic condition that will be with the person for the rest of his/her life. Is this something you agree with?

      3. You say, “Experience is the phenomenon in question, the mind is the seat of experience, and the brain is the seat of the mind. Thus, the brain is the seat of experience. We are seeking to alter the nature of experience, so we are seeking to alter the seat of experience, i.e., the brain.” There is so much to say in response to this, because I disagree with so much of it, respectfully, of course. One thing we agree on, in general: our biology is at the root of everything action we take, every thought we think, every feeling we feel. Biology is at the root of love, hate, passion, grief, determination, unmotivation, etc., and it has been since the dawn of humanity. Our biology is what allows us to feel, think, believe, etc.

      And here is where I disagree (and I apologize, because I don’t have the psychological lingo that you do as I’m not studying it, and I have a feeling this breakdown of ideas might not be that organized!)
      a. From our mind come our perceptions, memories, judgments, associations, and of course, our consciousness. I assume this is what you mean when you say “The mind is the seat of experience.” Just as I believe the brain is not the mind (which I know you know), I believe the mind is not the soul or spirit. And I believe that much of our suffering comes from the soul/spirit (I do not mean a religious spirit, but the human spirit). (You can challenge me by saying this involves faith, and lack of science, and I would wholeheartedly agree, and also say that Psychiatry as a “medical” practice is constructed upon the same faith, and lack of science, because as the NIMH has just confessed, there is today no evidence of a biological basis for so-called “mental illness”.)
      b. I greatly disagree with your ‘if A=B, and B=C, then A=C’ reductionism of human experience. First, because I don’t agree that each of those things equal each other, and second, because you just can’t reduce the human experience to an equation. Using your logic, I’ll play out a made-up scenario:
      -A child grows up in an abusive household, where he never knows when he’ll be hit, what he should say to not get hit, and he never feels safe. As a teenager, he experiences deep sadness and anxiety on a daily basis (“persistent”, as you would call it) and no one can seem to help him. By this time, he’s gone to live with a foster family because his dad is in jail. He drops out of school, is completely debilitated by anxiety and depression, and starts to get paranoid. He ends up, by his own volition, at a psychiatrist, desperate for help.
      If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying that the “target”, i.e. the locus of the problem, is this boy’s brain, because, as you say, “The brain is the seat of experience.” You believe the answer is to alter his brain, and that this will resolve his problem? I’d be curious to hear your response to this… As I see it, the “target” is not the boy’s brain, or the boy, at all, but rather, his relationship to the environment around him, and the support he needs is not pharmacological in nature, but rather, a way to process his traumatic past. I’m sure his biological has been impacted by his environment (likely, increased stress hormones, who knows what else) but that doesn’t mean the solution is to alter his biology.
      You might give me a response saying, “What about people who have no observable causes for their suffering?” My answer would be that there is always a root cause of suffering, although it’s not always visible, or definable in one way. Life on life’s terms, and everything we witness in the world— the processed food we eat; the violence we witness on the news and in real life; the rise of the internet and the loss of social connectedness; high-pressured American society; all sorts of societal and family pressures in general— there is sooooo much out there that could be at the root of suffering. Just because you don’t have an explicit source of suffering, doesn’t mean the suffering is the direct result of something faulty in your brain. And I’ve found that in honoring my suffering and finding meaning in it, instead of reducing it to a target to be drugged, I’ve found tremendous peace and resolution from much of my suffering.

      3. “Surely it is the brain we alter through meditation, exercise, changed perspectives on gratitude or serenity, triumphant rejection of or liberation from an identity which putatively induced one’s suffering… no?” I agree that my biology is changed by the environment I live in, and by the actions I take (or choose not to take) in the world around me. If I’m not mistaken (and apologies if I am, because I do not have a neuroscience background), biology is not just the brain. Much of our biology is connected to our brains, but what about the thyroid (and the rest of our endocrine system)? Our gut? When I cut out gluten from my diet and noticed that my moods got better and I felt physically much better and thus less stressed out, are you telling me that was all my brain?
      I love reading about meditation research, and how the brain changes through meditation. I am a BIG believer in that and think it is WONDERFUL. But I have to believe that much more than the brain changes, and that much more than the brain is involved in shaping the way we feel in our bodies and in the world. For example, 80 to 90% of the human body’s serotonin is in the gut, not the brain… No one told me that when I was putting SSRIs in my body for a decade. No, they told me it was in my brain.
      Additionally, just because meditation, exercise, sex, prayer, etc. can change the brain doesn’t mean the brain was in a pathological state to begin with. I have no idea whether meditation is suggested to people with actual brain diseases like Huntington’s, but certainly, just because people feel better when they meditate (and there’s increased brain activity) doesn’t mean they were “ill” to begin with.

      4. Somewhere you mentioned stress response. For my lack of “expertise” in this stuff, I do certainly know that increased cortisol (especially sustained increases of cortisol) can be very damaging physically, cognitively, and emotionally. I know there are actual diseases connected to cortisol (am I right in thinking Cushing’s and Addison’s are examples of this?), and again, I am not denying that biology doesn’t play a factor in emotional/psychic well-being. These diseases are not “mental illnesses”, nor are they “treated” by Psychiatrists. They are actual physiological diseases that have an impact on so-called “mental health”, and yes, I agree that they should be treated as “diseases.” (Although I am a big believer in holistic, naturopathic healing modalities, not necessarily allopathic ones all the time, though that’s a topic for another time).
      However, if there isn’t an actual disease process at play, and really, the stress is connected to the relationship between the person and his/her environment, why do you think the answer is to target the brain (which to my knowledge isn’t what’s targeted in allopathic medicine when treating hormone-related diseases) and not to reconsider the way the person is relating to his/her environment?

      5. As to your comment on the “growing body of evidence” that an antibiotic used to treat TB can facilitate “learning and memory consolidation.” Are you saying that using a drug that will damage the body’s natural balance of bacteria is the solution to “treating” a repetitive, often very painful and debilitating set of behaviors that undoubtedly have environmental roots (i.e. at some point in a person’s life, something happened that caused him/her to begin to have fear, and that fear continued to magnify and magnify and manifest itself in behaviors that get called “OCD”)? To me, it’s like giving people with acne antibiotics (when lithium gave me horrible acne, I turned to a doc who gave me antibiotics to treat the acne, and I got sick from the antibiotics, despite having my acne cleared up). In the acne case, it’s saying that rather than help the person look at their diet, at the way they treat their body, at the chemicals in their body, their stress levels, etc., just give them a pharmaceutical agent that will wreak havoc on the delicate state of bacteria in the body’s gut and elsewhere. In the “OCD” case, it’s saying rather than look at the person’s life story and at the trauma somewhere along the way that undoubtedly initiated the series of behaviors deemed “obsessive-compulsive” just mess with their bacteria count. It doesn’t make any sense to me! Plus, antibiotics have so many harmful side effects (including death, when too much good bacteria is killed off).
      There’s so much more I want to say about my thoughts on the innate capacity we have as human beings to heal (evolutionarily, we’ve been around for 200,000 years, and behaviorially, 50,000 years… had to look that up on Wikipedia!), and that while there have been amazing advances in medicine like penicillin, aspirin, and surgery, I believe deep in my gut that it goes against our nature to fiddle with ourselves like we’re science experiments. That’s just my personal belief, I guess, and one left maybe for more of a philosophical conversation… Plus, I want to get to a few more of your points before I have to head out!

      6. You ask me, “What about those of us for whom the problems are understood to have come prior to any labeling?” Likely, you haven’t read my story, because indeed, my problems began well before I was labeled. I do believe that the majority of my problems arose from being labeled, from being indoctrinated into the “mentally ill” identity, and from taking psychotropic drugs, but certainly, I had some very serious issues before I was labeled (it’s why I ever got labeled to begin with). So, I am just like you in that matter.
      As I said in my post, there is great suffering in the world (which you call “problems”). Many people seek support for this suffering, which is a totally natural and healthy thing to do (I am certainly not saying that people shouldn’t want to get support for their struggles). I know you commented on my piece about awakening from a psychiatric indoctrination— I bring it up again because I think it’s particularly relevant to this topic: we as human beings seek answers to our suffering, and for many, there is something inherently intoxicating about getting a label to explain what is often horrendous and painful and confusing. To reduce an entire human experience and life into a label can be a very assuring thing to those who are desperate for answers! I believe it is a profound insult to tell someone his/her “problems” are in her brain (or that the focus of “treatment” should be on the brain), when in truth, suffering happens because we are all in the midst of life on life’s terms, faced with trauma and loss and pain.
      I was once right there with you, thinking that a diagnosis was going to give me resolution, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging (Lightbulb moment of “Ahhh, I feel this way and think this way because I’m Bipolar! It explains everything!”). For years, I felt this. What I’ve learned is that not only is it totally invalidating to reduce someone’s suffering to a label (unless, of course, there is an actual disease at play that is causing the suffering, not a ‘disease we have yet to discover but know we will in the future’, as Thomas Insel would say), but it is just not helpful, or healing. I believe it is dehumanizing.

      This brings me to my final question for you (I wish I had more time to write here but I need to get to the other comments). I remember you saying that you’re not on psych drugs anymore. I’m curious to know, why aren’t you? If you think you have a biologically-based condition, then why don’t you take these drugs? You said you “have absolutely no reason to think they hurt”… If this was the case, then why don’t you still take them?

      Additionally, you say that “it seems totally reasonable to [you] that some pharmacological agents— be they known or unknown at present— could facilitate the alterations in learning and memory systems that therapies like CBT accomplish.” Putting future drugs aside, what are you basing your evidence on that current drugs do this? I’m assuming your knowledge base comes from studies and journal articles you’ve read. I’m also assuming you realize that the vast majority of all pharmaceutical research is funded by the pharmaceutical industry, itself. Does this impact the way you internalize this so-called “knowledge”? Do you not question what you’re told when it comes from the mouths of people who have all the incentive in the world to tell a story of drug effectiveness that might very well not be true? As a researcher, don’t you think you deserve better than to acquire knowledge that is inherently biased and filtered through a profit-driven greed? It’s a bit tangential to the conversation here, but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on that…

      Just like you, my response is getting way too long! One last thing to end with… You said, “My understanding of myself did not change when I was labeled “mentally ill””. I’d like to respectfully challenge you on that. Although I don’t know you and I don’t know your story, I am completely perplexed at how you think you haven’t changed the way you understand yourself in being labeled “mentally ill”. The pre-Psychiatry you likely did not think of yourself as comprised of biologically-based “symptoms” that needed “treatment” (whether CBT or pharmacological). I try to never make assumptions about people’s experiences, but I just find that statement very hard to believe. I can’t help but think the pre-Psychiatry you didn’t see herself as “different”, or “abnormal”, or faced with a life-long “condition”. I don’t want to speculate any further because it’s very uncomfortable for me to make these assumptions, but I’d love to hear more about how you think believing you’re “mentally ill” didn’t change the way you understood yourself. Just believing you’re “mentally ill” is changing the way you understand yourself!

      Layla, I’m so very glad to be having this discussion with you. I’m learning a lot, and I’m really appreciative that you hung in there the last time with the comments, and that you’ve stuck around and are commenting again. I look forward to fruitful dialogue ☺.

      My best wishes to you,
      Laura

      • Thanks so much for bringing this dialogue to MIA. There has been a lot of talk lately re: “What about the people who…?”

        I actually identify far more with the language and concept of neurodiversity than I do with anything like “I was totally fine and then psychiatry duped me into believing I was sick and, look, now I’m all recovered!”

        I am definitely not someone who is quick to dismiss my brain…or my mind…or my heart.

        I know that aspects of my experience are directly related to the functional tendencies of my neural networks and that my brain contributes to my experience, subjectively for better and for worse. However, I do not have a disease.

        I do not find misinformation and industry chemicals to be helpful to me. What I make of my experience and the circumstances of who I am and how I function at any given time are not medical issues.

        Neurology changes. We are constantly evolving.

        If people want to explore learning styles, sensory integration, stress reduction, nutrition, somatic healing, mind-body medicine, etc. – wonderful! All those things may or may not be helpful.

        None of those things are anything that requires medicalization or medical treatment or even much further research.

        It’d *be nice* if the NIMH focused its funding on making non-medical evidence based practices and alternative healing modalities more widely available, rather than wasting money trying to find a disease process where there simply isn’t one.

        I do honor whatever sense a person might make of their life at any particular point in time, but I fail to see what good comes about from considering oneself to have a disease, even in cases where struggle with experience is quite real.

        Thanks again for discussing this. It’s really clear that biopsychiatry is under some very heavy common sense scrutiny. Medical model approaches to human struggle don’t stand up to scrutiny, or common sense.

        Thanks so much for asking questions and for answering them…building ideas, building dialogue.

        Much Appreciation,

        Faith

      • *First: having written out my reply, I see that it is *ridiculously* long, and I want to apologize to all other visitors to the site. I considered editing it down; instead, I am going to go ahead and submit it, but out of respect for others, I will limit my words to this post and commit to leaving this as my final comment here. (This way, any who aren’t digging my stuff will only have to skip over this one :) I hope that eases your annoyance).

        Hi Laura,

        Thanks so much for your detailed response! I’ll try to be as succinct as possible now (still working on the long-winded thing :/) I’ll also do my best to leave out the jargon – my own knowledge is still quite limited, which makes it difficult to say what I mean without relying on such terminology.

        1. I would argue that your examples indicate you are not anti-brain-medicine (i.e., you don’t oppose neurology), but it still seems to me you oppose the scientific study of human experience. Perhaps that’s because you believe it to be fundamentally connected to a non-physical substance of some sort; in that regard, we may simply be at an impasse. I agree there’s a human spirit, but I take “spirit” to be non-literal…thus, I don’t think it’s incompatible with a physicalist picture, nor do I think that picture rules out the possibility of continued existence after death. I certainly don’t believe that viewing ourselves as physical beings in a physical universe in any way diminishes the wonder or beauty or tragedy of human existence (an existence which I believe has all those qualities at once). I also don’t view this ‘spirit’ as unique to human animals – indeed, I believe there is just as much an equine spirit, a canine spirit, a feline spirit, and that those spiritual dimensions to non-human animals also arise from their physical composition. I’m less inclined to think there’s a “repitilian spirit” (though I’m open to the possibility that I’m wrong), and the reason, assuming I’m not wrong, has to do with the particular nature of their physical composition (i.e., their brains lack the requisite components for a spiritual dimension).

        -> …of course, there are studies of “schizophrenics” that show brain shrinkage, but in these studies the participants are on antipsychotics; studies of non-medicated “schizophrenics” show no brain shrinkage).

        There are also studies showing asynchronization of neural oscillations in the brains of people diagnosed with schizophrenia – I can’t remember if any have looked at un-medicated people, so the findings may be confounded in the way you’ve pointed out for gray matter density. Same for decreased connectivity between certain regions that are thought to be responsible higher-order executive functions (namely, integration of information processing within and between neural networks).

        -> Genetic studies to this date that have claimed genetic bases to these “illnesses” are not replicable (see Jay Joseph, PhD’s writing on this).

        Everything in life has a genetic basis – our genetic code is the set of “if…then” statements that determine our response to various environmental inputs (of course, development – throughout the life span – involves the interaction of inputs and “if…thens” in an ongoing interplay). Genetic basis does not mean fixed, of course – the genetic bases of the various cancers are unknown and believed to be complex and highly variable, but there’s little doubt that there is a genetic component to cancer (again, there’s a genetic component to everything). Identical twins do not have uniform outcomes with respect to cancer, so cancer is clearly not genetcally determined (almost nothing is!) but that doesn’t mean genetic make-up is irrelevant (it never is!) Of course, given that genetic make-up is relevant to everything, finding that this or that allelic variant is associated with this or that psychological phenomenon does not tell us anything about whether or not that phenomenon ought to be considered a pathology.

        -> You differentiate between “persistent, extreme mental suffering” and “ordinary suffering” as though they come from different sources (at least, that’s how I interpreted it because you differentiated between them instead of saying ‘the spectrum of suffering’, or something like that).

        I did note the contimuum of psychological functioning and experience of suffering. I also differentiate between persistent and extreme suffering and ordinary suffering, but I mean the difference to be one of degree, not kind. (I defined the former as “extremely far below optimal functioning” on the spectrum, where optimal functioning is relative to the individual)

        -> I’m curious to know what you think there are different “qualities” of suffering, and how do you distinguish between them?

        I think it might be useful to look at non-human animals in trying to respond here. My dog, cat, and horse all show signs of unhappiness when, for example, they would like to be roaming outside but are confined indoors. Back in the day, when researchers used canines and felines the way they still use rodents, depression was modeled in dogs through exposure to chronic, inescapable stress (studies of learned helplessness using eletric shocks to induce despair). The unhappiness from frustration of desire is what I’d call ordinary suffering, the second – persistent, extreme disruption of ordinary psychological functioning as seen in those dogs – is what I’d call, well, persistent and extreme suffering. Behavior is one way to distinguish between the two – does the animal “bounce back” when the situation is changed (horse gallops around with playful bucks then grazes peacefully upon release from the stall) or does the animal show signs of continued dysfunction (not engaging in adaptive escape behaviors when the shocks become escapable again)? For humans, we can often rely on self-report (“I’m interested in doing the things I’ve always enjoyed” versus “nothing seems worth doing” or “I’m able to carry on with my activities despite knowing that the world is full of danger” versus “I’m paralyzed by fears of what could happen if I leave my house/don’t engage in my rituals/etc.”). I know, for me, what is ordinary suffering and what is persistent and extreme…I’d wager that non-human animals do too, even though they can’t tell us about it.

        -> How could anyone be in a position to make these distinctions?
        Again, I think the individual can make these distinctions. I also think family members, close friends, etc. could (in priniciple, I’m not suggesting family or friends “always know best” what’s true of an individual, just that some of the time, others can accurately perceive “she hasn’t been herself lately.” Often, the individual’s assessment and those of close family/friends are in accord – “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately” and “I know, I haven’t been feeling like myself”). We can also make these observations in non-human animals, and, again, I’d bet they can make them too, although the assessment likely looks different given the intrinsic differences in human and non-human animal processing and obviously they can’t tell us anything about what that’s like for them.

        -> Why do you think they come from different sources?
        I don’t think they come from different sources. Again, the distinction I make is one of degree, not kind.

        -> Additionally, while you didn’t say “life-long”, most people who talk about “severe and persistent mental illness” make the assumption that it’s an organic condition that will be with the person for the rest of his/her life. Is this something you agree with?

        No, I don’t agree that the condition of “extreme and persistent suffering” must necessarily be a lifelong one (or even that it typically is).

        -> You say, “Experience is the phenomenon in question, the mind is the seat of experience, and the brain is the seat of the mind. Thus, the brain is the seat of experience. We are seeking to alter the nature of experience, so we are seeking to alter the seat of experience, i.e., the brain.”…I believe that much of our suffering comes from the soul/spirit (I do not mean a religious spirit, but the human spirit).

        Agreed. It just seems we have different conceptions regarding the make-up of that spiritual component.

        -> I greatly disagree with your ‘if A=B, and B=C, then A=C’ reductionism of human experience…First, because I don’t agree that each of those things equal each other.
        Fair enough, that’s where we seem to be at an impasse.
        second, because you just can’t reduce the human experience to an equation.
        It’s not really an equation, it’s just a form of logic. You are using a form of logic as well, it seems (neither the mind nor the brain is the seat of experience, therefore neither the mind nor the brain is an appropriate object of our endeavors to change experience). The difference in our conclusions results from the different premises we endorse, I think, not from the manner by which we reason to our respective positions.

        -> Using your logic, I’ll play out a made-up scenario:
-A child grows up…you’re saying that the “target”, i.e. the locus of the problem, is this boy’s brain, because, as you say, “The brain is the seat of experience.” You believe the answer is to alter his brain, and that this will resolve his problem? I’d be curious to hear your response to this…

        Yes, I think that the boy’s brain has developed (in response to what he encountered) in a way that causes him to have a lived-experience full of pain.

        -> As I see it, the “target” is not the boy’s brain, or the boy, at all, but rather, his relationship to the environment around him, and the support he needs is not pharmacological in nature, but rather, a way to process his traumatic past.

        Relationships are simply two (or more) brains interacting with one another (in using “simply” I don’t mean to suggest there’s anything simple about this interaction). On my view, processing means changing the brain (thoughts arise from *and* act upon the brain; that is – in thinking, the brain is acting upon itself). Pharmacological intervention may indeed be unhelpful at best or harmful at worst. I don’t know how much good comes from “processing” one’s past (certainly that’s a part of the healing process, but I think equally important is learning to feel OK despite the fact that the past can never be “resolved.” To draw from a personal example, the pain I feel from having lost my father to cancer 5 years ago will never be “processed” in such a way that it decreases at all, I don’t believe. I can’t vanquish the pain by talking about it, analyzing it, etc., but I can (and have) learned to go on in spite of that ever-present pain. I do believe this ability to go on has resulted from my brain learning that it can hold that pain and hold hope, joy, etc. all at the same time. Again, I don’t see a difference between “I have learned to…” and “my brain has learned to…” It’s useful to talk about ourselves as something distinct from our brains, just not literally accurate. I don’t think the lack of literal distinction diminishes the significance of my achievement in learning to cope with this pain, nor do I think it means that “I” had nothing to do with it because it was all “my brain.” I’m my brain, my brain is me…for now (perhaps there is a continued existence after death in which the thing that is “I” is manifested in a different way – again, brain and person are conceptually distinct, just not literally distinct in this life. On a conceptual level, the physical form that gives rise to this “I” could be different and still give rise to the very same “I”; there’s no contradiction in asserting that my experience arises entirely from my brain and asserting that my experience could arise just as it does from a system that is not in every way identical to my brain).

        -> …I’m sure his biological has been impacted by his environment (likely, increased stress hormones, who knows what else) but that doesn’t mean the solution is to alter his biology.

        The impasse again. I don’t know what it means for something to be “outside nature.” Nature is physical, so any and all alterations within nature are physical in, well, nature. The boy’s biology – that is, his molecular composition – has been and will continue to be altered by every single millisecond he has experienced…whether we ignore him, talk to him, give him massages, feed him pills, shower him with skittles, etc., any action that inflitrates the realm of his experience will alter him – profoundly or trivially – and any alteration takes place at the molecular level (we can talk about the alterations at other levels – e.g., social interactions – but we are still talking about something that takes place at the molecular level).

        -> My answer would be that there is always a root cause of suffering, although it’s not always visible, or definable in one way. Life on life’s terms, and everything we witness in the world— the processed food we eat; the violence we witness on the news and in real life; the rise of the internet and the loss of social connectedness; high-pressured American society; all sorts of societal and family pressures in general— there is sooooo much out there that could be at the root of suffering.

        Agreed. Absolutely. All suffering has a cause (everything has a cause). We need not identify the cause to operate on the maintaining factors, which are not always (and I would argue, not usually) the same as the causal factors.

        -> Just because you don’t have an explicit source of suffering, doesn’t mean the suffering is the direct result of something faulty in your brain. And I’ve found that in honoring my suffering and finding meaning in it, instead of reducing it to a target to be drugged, I’ve found tremendous peace and resolution from much of my suffering.

        Right, I would argue that “honoring [your] suffering” is something that takes place at the molecular level just as much as everything else. Again, I don’t see how that makes it any less special, amazing, or magical. The universe is no less magical for being physical! In my opinion, it is a historical accident that physical has been conflated with less special/wondrous/magical. Also, the fact that you’ve found it helpful to not reduce your suffering to a physical process does not make it irreducible. Some people find it helpful to reduce in that way, which also does not tell us it *is* reducible. Whether or not it is entirely reducible, however, there are grounds for believing that it is substantially reducible (we know that manipulating cellular and molecular processes in humans and animals changes their experience, so those processes have to at least be very involved in, if not totally responsible for, experience). Given that we know this, and that whatever is not reducible to physical components is beyond the realm of science, we are right to focus our scientific study on the physical components of experience.

        -> [Quoting original post,] “Surely it is the brain we alter through meditation, exercise, changed perspectives on gratitude or serenity, triumphant rejection of or liberation from an identity which putatively induced one’s suffering… no? I agree that my biology is changed by the environment I live in, and by the actions I take (or choose not to take) in the world around me. If I’m not mistaken (and apologies if I am, because I do not have a neuroscience background), biology is not just the brain. Much of our biology is connected to our brains, but what about the thyroid (and the rest of our endocrine system)? Our gut?

        -> Yes, absolutely, the body is a physical system – the brain, I’ve argued, is the seat of experience (without it, there’s nothing to experience the workings of the thyroid etc.). Thus, our experiences are due to the ways in which our brain operates, but the brain is absolutely affected by (and affects) all other parts of the system. In some ways, it doesn’t make sense at all to talk about the brain (or any other part of the system) as separable from the system itself – it’s another useful way of conceptualizing and speaking about something, heuristically. The distinction is conceptual, not literal (kind of like we can talk about the lightbulb as distinct from the electrical wiring, but the whole system is what gives rise to the light that emanates – the light is a product of the whole electrical system that the wiring and bulb compose, neither is more essential than the other in giving rise to the light)

        -> But I have to believe that much more than the brain changes
        If the “spirit” is literally distinct from the system (the light is somehow independent of the wiring and the bulb), then yes, more than the brain changes. If the spirit is simply the end result of the system (the light that is wholly caused by the wiring and the bulb), then no, nothing more than the brain changes. If you want pink lighting, you change the bulb, you don’t try to alter the waves by manipulating the light itself – you change what gives rise to those waves. When my dog seems to be “in a funk,” so to speak, I look for ways to bring her out of it – does she need more exercise? Does she need more stimulating toys around? Does she need extra cuddle time? Those are interventions aimed at physical processes (including those that give my dog her “spirit”). Do you agree that my dog’s spirit is synonymous with processing in her brain? Do you agree that humans and non-human animals are continuous? What am I changing about my dog when I give her more attention, change up the toy basket, or extend the length of our morning walk? Something other than her physical system? Does it make it any less important or significant if it is “just” physical processes I’m intervening on?

        -> …just because people feel better when they meditate (and there’s increased brain activity) doesn’t mean they were “ill” to begin with.

        True (although it’s different brain activity rather than just “increased”). That’s why I’ve wanted to use “mental illness” heuristically. We can call it “madness,” which was around long before the medical model (as was “neurotic”), and have the same conversation. We can call it “psychological functioning that is counter-to-optimal-flourishing.” We can call it “intense and persistent suffering.” The social consequences of using “illness” are important, but what we call the phenomenon in question doesn’t really influence whether it should be understood as something that occurs on a physical level.

        -> …However, if there isn’t an actual disease process at play, and really, the stress is connected to the relationship between the person and his/her environment, why do you think the answer is to target the brain (which to my knowledge isn’t what’s targeted in allopathic medicine when treating hormone-related diseases) and not to reconsider the way the person is relating to his/her environment?

        -> Again, the brain is part of an interconnected system. The question is where dysregulation has occurred. The stress response is governed largely by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and glucocorticoid receptors in brain regions other than hypothalamus are responsible for upregulating (activating) and downregulating (deactivating) the HPA. Dysfunction can occur in any component of the stress response system, which then causes dysfunction in the entire system. A quote from Aaron Beck comes to mind, “Any one instrument in an orchestra can upset the functioning of the entire orchestra.” Beck wasn’t talking about the stress response system specifically, but the analogy works well here too. We want to target the component that is the ultimate cause of the dysfunction (the violinist, say, in keeping with Beck’s analogy), though sometimes the best way to do that is by targeting other, more proximal causes of the dysfunction (the cellists, perhaps, whose altered playing may bring the violinst back into synchrony with the orchestra). Perhaps we want to target the entire orchestra (mindfulness meditation!) because the best way to get the violinst back in tune is by sorting out the lack of harmony amongst the rest of the instruments. Non-human animals experience psychological disturbances as a consequence of stress; interventions on a physcial level (access to preferred environments, for example, which is also a change in how the animal relates to their environment – different environment, different way of relating to it, but it is still a physical change) can reverse those disturbances, repair normal functioning for the animal…why should human animals be any different?

        -> As to your comment on the “growing body of evidence” that an antibiotic used to treat TB can facilitate “learning and memory consolidation.” Are you saying that using a drug that will damage the body’s natural balance of bacteria is the solution to “treating” a repetitive, often very painful and debilitating set of behaviors that undoubtedly have environmental roots (i.e. at some point in a person’s life, something happened that caused him/her to begin to have fear, and that fear continued to magnify and magnify and manifest itself in behaviors that get called “OCD”)?

        Not necessarily. I’m saying that DCS may help learning and memory consolidation (induced by CBT, mindfulness, serenity prayer, AA, etc. etc.) that gets the orchestra back in synchrony. DCS also might not. I’m talking about the in-principle ability of pharmacological agents to have this effect. I don’t know enough about DCS’ effect on bacteria to say whether or not it would damage the body’s natural balance of bacteria. Changing the body’s natural balance of bacteria and “damaging” it are two different things – it might be that DCS merely changes the balance, which then returns to normal after the drug is metabolized out of the system — DCS is not something that would be prescribed for long-term use – IF it turns out to be actually efficacious, it would be so only in intermittent, short-term doses during the process of psychosocial interventions. A quick point about the latter, such interventions (e.g., CBT or mindfulness) can be clinician-delivered or someone could deliver the intervention themselves, by, say, reading a book about CBT and practicing its techniques without a therapist. Anyway, the point is that there may be drugs that operate on cells and molecules in such a way as to enhance the effect of something like CBT. Maybe, maybe not, but there’s no grounds to rule out the possibility a priori. Also, another commenter argued that “growing body of evidence” isn’t what other fields of medicine rely on, but it absolutely is. All of science, medicine included is based on evidence that falls somewhere along a continuum from “non-existent” to “very strong.” Nothing is ever scientifically “proven” and many treatments (like chemo) are very much based on evidence that is not really all that close to “very strong.”

        -> You ask me, “What about those of us for whom the problems are understood to have come prior to any labeling?” Likely, you haven’t read my story, because indeed, my problems began well before I was labeled. I do believe that the majority of my problems arose from being labeled, from being indoctrinated into the “mentally ill” identity, and from taking psychotropic drugs, but certainly, I had some very serious issues before I was labeled (it’s why I ever got labeled to begin with).

        I have read your story; I suppose I should have said, “greatly exacerbated” rather than “caused.”

        -> So, I am just like you in that matter.
As I said in my post, there is great suffering in the world (which you call “problems”).

        I do think it’s fair to characterize impediments to obtainable flourishing as “problems.” This could be lack of sufficient food resources (i.e., starvation, malnourishment), it could be physical deformity (e.g., blindness), and it could be dysregulation in psychological processes (e.g., anxiety-related disturbance in adaptive functioning). We can, and I’d argue should, target all of these problems – help people get proper nourishment, help blind people with either corrective lenses/surgeries or, if that’s not an option, develop braille, train seeing eye dogs, etc., and use psychotherapy along with any other methods we can devise to reduce anxiety-related disruptions (etc.) in closest-to-optimal functioning the person can experience.

        -> I believe it is a profound insult to tell someone his/her “problems” are in her brain (or that the focus of “treatment” should be on the brain), when in truth, suffering happens because we are all in the midst of life on life’s terms, faced with trauma and loss and pain.”

        If you think there is a non-physical component to the universe, I suppose that could be insulting (though is not necessarily). Note that the Dalai Lama – a deeply spiritual person, no doubt – does not object to the brain-targeting approach. Indeed, he welcomes it (see “The Mind’s Own Physician” for conversations between the Dalai Lama and neuroscientists).

        -> I was once right there with you, thinking that a diagnosis was going to give me resolution, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging

        It didn’t give me resolution, peace of mind, or a sense of belonging. It also didn’t give me the opposite of those things. It did nothing in relation to any of those phenomena. The labeling was not a significant part of my experience in the mental health system – it meant little to me – what was significant was the guidance in finding ways to relearn the way I react to/interpret/etc. my experience. I learned to experience differently and it helped; what my therapists and I called the original way of experiencing really didn’t matter to me in the slightest. I was older than you when I entered the system, which may partially account for this difference, and I’d had the good fortune of a mentor who is a philosopher by training and whose work is closely linked to cognitive science; perhaps it was my conversations that her that facilitated my very different experience upon entering the system.

        -> What I’ve learned is that not only is it totally invalidating to reduce someone’s suffering to a label…

        Invalidating for some, yourself included obviously, but not for all.

        -> …it is just not helpful, or healing. I believe it is dehumanizing.
        OK, but some have the opposite experience, so I don’t see how that’s grounds for the position you advocate.

        -> I remember you saying that you’re not on psych drugs anymore. I’m curious to know, why aren’t you?

        I don’t need any. Maybe I did before, maybe I didn’t. Yes, the dominant view/standard line in psychiatry has been that psych drugs are needed on a continuous basis throughout the lifespan, but I’m not arguing that the dominant view is correct. I don’t think it is. I just don’t think that means every aspect of its theoretical basis is also, necessarily, incorrect. I assert that one can have disrupted functioning that occurs on a physical level, reverse the dysregulation that causes that disruption (cancer is dysregulation in cellular processing), and then no longer need the intervention that did the reversing. (Chemotherapy works some of the time, but not all of the time – experts disagree on the appropriate use of chemotherapy. But no one thinks you should stay on chemo after your cancer has remitted. Chemo drugs are also brutal on the body/mind, as many psych drugs are, so even if psych drugs do help at times, I certainly don’t think long-term use should be the norm). Anyway, whether for me it was clinician-delivered CBT/DBT, the psych meds, a combination, or some other thing that reversed my disturbances, I don’t require that intervention at this time. I do continue to practice mindfulness and, in a way, I continue to CBT-myself – just as exercise and diet can promote health after chemo ends, so exercise, diet, meditation, CBT techniques, etc. can promote psychological well-being after acute intervention via psychotherapy and/or psych meds.

        -> if you think you have a biologically-based condition, then why don’t you take these drugs? You said you “have absolutely no reason to think they hurt”… If this was the case, then why don’t you still take them?

        Again, because I don’t need them. Also, while I don’t think they hurt me, I do think there are a ton of problems with current psychopharmacology and that there are very serious risks to taking current psych meds. It’s a huge problem. I just don’t think it’s because the entire theoretical framework upon which psychiatry is built is erroneous. Parts of it may be, and some likely are, but the entire enterprise is not misguided. What is inarguably a very serious problem is corruption and poor science (often the poor science is due to the corruption, though not always). That’s why I’d like to see the enterprise reformed. Abolishment, on the other hand, doesn’t make sense to me.

        -> Additionally, you say that “it seems totally reasonable to [you] that some pharmacological agents— be they known or unknown at present— could facilitate the alterations in learning and memory systems that therapies like CBT accomplish.

        Putting future drugs aside, what are you basing your evidence on that current drugs do this? I’m assuming your knowledge base comes from studies and journal articles you’ve read. I’m also assuming you realize that the vast majority of all pharmaceutical research is funded by the pharmaceutical industry, itself. Does this impact the way you internalize this so-called “knowledge”? Do you not question what you’re told when it comes from the mouths of people who have all the incentive in the world to tell a story of drug effectiveness that might very well not be true? As a researcher, don’t you think you deserve better than to acquire knowledge that is inherently biased and filtered through a profit-driven greed?

        -> Yes, all very serious problems. I don’t think there’s any way to know what the true efficacy of any existing drugs are because there is too much corruption. That’s why I’m mostly interested here in the in-principle point — I’m not trying to say that psychiatry has been successful, only that it could be and that that possibility offers a compelling (though not necessarily final) justification for not shutting down the entire enterprise of looking for pharmacological agents that might help as adjuncts to psychotherapy. We should reform – we *must* reform – but I don’t see how that means we should summarily dismiss the underlying endeavor itself. I think reform is harder when there’s a call for overthrowing the institution rather than overthrowing the establishment – it makes it easier to dismiss the opposition when the opposition says “it’s an outright impossibility that science can reveal anything about the root causes or true/deep/essential nature of human experience; the brain isn’t the real cause of mental suffering, so targeting it doesn’t make any sense.” It gets even easier when the opposition says, “it’s about relationships and trauma, so it can’t be all about the brain.” That just makes scientists dismissive – we need people who have been hurt by the psychiatric system to say “what you are doing is wrong because the way you are doing it is wrong”; saying instead that it’s wrong because “you think it’s biology when it’s really relationships and trauma” is easily met with, “that statement indicates you do not understand what biology is.”

        -> You said, “My understanding of myself did not change when I was labeled “mentally ill””. I’d like to respectfully challenge you on that. Although I don’t know you and I don’t know your story, I am completely perplexed at how you think you haven’t changed the way you understand yourself in being labeled “mentally ill”. The pre-Psychiatry you likely did not think of yourself as comprised of biologically-based “symptoms” that needed “treatment” (whether CBT or pharmacological). I try to never make assumptions about people’s experiences, but I just find that statement very hard to believe. I can’t help but think the pre-Psychiatry you didn’t see herself as “different”, or “abnormal”, or faced with a life-long “condition”. I don’t want to speculate any further because it’s very uncomfortable for me to make these assumptions, but I’d love to hear more about how you think believing you’re “mentally ill” didn’t change the way you understood yourself. Just believing you’re “mentally ill” is changing the way you understand yourself!”

        -> Sure, in a sense believing I’m “mentally ill” changes the way I understand myself. But I don’t put much stock in the semantics around “mentally ill.” I knew I was not flourishing as much as I believed possible long before any labels entered the picture. Heuristically, I think of it as being “mentally ill,” yes, but that doesn’t shape how I understand what was holding me back – I thought of it using the phrase “mental illness” before I was labeled “mentally ill,” but it was after entering the mental health system that I came to earnestly believe I could cease to be held back in that way – I had always held out some hope, but as year after year went by and my best efforts met only with further spiraling down, I wasn’t so sure. Once I began the process of therapy and things did start to change, I became increasingly convinced that I was not doomed to a lifelong condition of “not the self I believe I could be if whatever it is that holds me back were to release its grip.” I never thought of myself as comprising nothing but “symptoms” nor do I now. We can call them symptoms, sure, but I see them as “holders-back” and while I do believe those holders-back are manifested at the level of circuitry, and cellular and molecular processes, I don’t think that means they represent a permanent condition nor something over which I have no power. I saw myself as partly composed of many such “holders-back” before I was labeled and I saw myself in the same way after. I believe I have changed in a way that I am no longer held back such that it demands any concentrated intervention, but I also recognize that I am not immune from such holding-back in the future (nor is anyone — under the right (or, perhaps more accurately, wrong) circumstances, any of us can have our flourishing derailed by psychological dysfunction). I do what I can to preserve and promote my flourishing, while believing it is all reducible to physical processes and while believing it is a beautiful, wondrous, awe-inspiring capacity.

        Thanks again for your thoughtful response.

        Best wishes,

        Layla

        • I was writing my response as you were writing yours, apparently. See below. I’ll just comment that you are operating on assumptions regarding the nature of human beings that are entirely philosophical, not scientific. You keep repeating these assumptions, namely that all experience is explainable in molecules, as if this were indisputable and obvious scientific fact.

          The vast majority of humanity has believed in the presence of the human spirit, mysterious as it is, since before the beginning of recorded history. That belief is also philosophical, but can’t be refuted simply by saying it’s not true. You may choose to believe that we’re nothing but brain, but that doesn’t make it true.

          In the end, I think the proof is in the pudding. We’ve been “studying the brain” for over 60 years and proposing various theories and chemical cures. The results are depressingly clear, as outlined in Anatomy of an Epidemic (Have you read it yet? You had not last time we talked. YOU MUST READ IT if you want to get where this group is coming from!) Whereas it’s equally clear that non-biological, spiritual interventions (for lack of a better word) like various schools of therapy, meditation, and the like, are able to create significant changes in both the spiritual and physiological condition of human beings. That’s not even getting into the various dietary, homeopathic, exercise-based, and other physiological interventions that have been shown to be helpful, but continue to be denied by the Big Labelers of Psychiatry.

          Did you read the recent comments by Tom Insel of the NIMH about the DSM? Even he agrees the labels are crap and do damage, and he’s a psychiatric true believer!

          There is a point where science can’t take us and we have to resort to philosophy. You are now at that edge. You can’t argue people into submission by restating your hypothesis over and over. Maybe it’s time you took a look at your own hypotheses and see if maybe altering them might lead you to a better understanding of the situation you’re hearing described by those who feel victimized by the DSM-based view of mental/emotional/spiritual distress?

          —- Steve

          • Hi Steve,

            I certainly don’t deny that much of what I’m saying is philosophical, not scientific. What I’ve tried to get at is the fact that science can only study what is physical, and there is reason to think that experience is deeply connected to what is physical (e.g., molecular processes) — of course, it’s an open question as to whether or not there’s something else; I don’t claim to know that there isn’t (I personally doubt that there is, simply because “non-physical” doesn’t make any sense to me, but I totally get that (a) just because I don’t see what “non-physical” could possibly mean does not, in any way, prove anything about the existence of non-physical entities, and (b) there’s nothing scientific about my stance). I just want the science of human experience (i.e., psychology) to continue, including the science of human suffering (I do think there’s a distinction between ordinary suffering and extreme, persistent suffering — hence the bit about the learned helplessness dogs versus the wants-to-spend-more-time -outside dogs…I don’t know that it is best understood as “mental illness,” mostly because of what that term has come to connote for most in our society). One needn’t embrace the claim that “everything is physical” in order to agree that “what is physical is very important for human experience.” I don’t think anything you’ve said about “where does intention come from?” is a serious problem for my tangential argument, but I also know plenty of philosophers disagree with me. Anyway, that is a philosophical discussion, of course. I just think sometimes the emotion (completely justified, understandable emotion) around biological explanations for human experience gets in the way of recognizing that biological explanations need not be threatening. The question is who wields biological explanations and what do they do with them, not whether they are wielded at all…

            Thanks for your comments – with respect to what I think is the most important matter (stopping abuses of power), I’m on your side.

            Layla

    • Layla,

      I would have to say that I don’t think Laura is identifying a label as the cause of her distress per se – I would say it is more the use of power and deception to “sell” such a label and thus invalidate the beingness of the person being labeled in this manner which increases rather than diminishes whatever distress a person may already be feeling.

      To reduce someone’s lived experience to a “chemical imbalance” is to eliminate significance and meaning from the person’s response. I would suggest that a “neuro-reductionist” view is one that suggest there is nothing beyond our neurons that defines us as human beings. The natural extension of this hypothesis (and it is only a hypothesis, not a proven law of science) is that the brain causes all behavior and therefore the only thing we can do to change behavior is change the brain.

      The fact that CBT or meditation do result in changes in the brain doesn’t necessarily mean that those changes are the cause of changes in the person. The fact that choosing to meditate can actually alter the brain should be enough right there to suggest SCIENTIFICALLY that there is something more than the brain at work. After all, who decided to meditate? How did that person maintain their commitment/motivation to meditate? What were they trying to accomplish through meditating?

      These are questions of what I can only call a spiritual nature, that regard the meaning and purpose of behavior. These issues of purpose are assumed by the psychiatric model to be irrelevant. You have “symptoms” because your brain is broken. The symptoms have no meaning. Hence, your decisions and reactions have no meaning. The only thing we can do is try to fix your broken brain. That’s a depressing viewpoint!!! And NOT a viewpoint that is a necessary conclusion from being “scientific.”

      I sense that you don’t believe in the possibility of an extra-physical existence beyond the body. You’re certainly entitled to that belief, but it’s not one that is axiomatic. But even if you do, it’s hard to deny that the issue of intentionality and purpose is not adequately explained by any neurological model you can suggest. Perhaps it’s a matter of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, but it seems very clear that a person’s sense of meaning and purpose dramatically effects his/her behavior and mood and thinking. And since it is the brain, in your view that is doing the thinking, feeling and behaving, SOMETHING is affecting that brain that is outside of or beyond its scope. Otherwise, the brain is opposing its own neurochemical imperative, and that makes no sense to me.

      So I don’t think it’s that a label causes distress. I think it is the process of a person in a position of power using that power to invalidate the meaning and purpose in an individual’s experience and hence reducing or eliminating their sense of individual identity and power. I’ve been a counselor over many years, and I can tell you from my own direct experience that people improve generally in direct proportion that they are able to act effectively to control and direct their own lives. To have someone come and tell you that 1) you don’t really direct your own life, it’s your messed up brain that does it, 2) there isn’t anything you can do about it except take my drugs and hope it gets better, and 3) you can look forward to a life of dependency and disability and need to give up on your life goals – well, it would be extremely disheartening to the staunchest of souls.

      The only real defense against such a system is to rebel and refuse to participate. It doesn’t mean science or brain study is out the window. It means that each of us gets to decide for ourselves what our lives mean and what we believe is helpful to us. And it also means that nobody can force or manipulate us into doing something that benefits them more than us in the long run. If brain study leads to something helpful, it can certainly be made available for anyone to see, think about, and use. But seeing people through a distorted lens of assumptions that convey the message that we are not the authors and evaluators of our own lives is inherently destructive and needs to end.

      I hope you can see the difference.

      —- Steve

  5. The suffering that we as human beings experience is worthy of dignity, exploration, understanding, and human support; to call it “symptomatic” of a phantom “illness” is to do just the opposite.

    How right you are, Laura.

    It took so many isolated and dark years for me to learn I deserved better than what psychiatry offered me. I was worthy of the dignity of finding out who I was–or could be–without the pills I was told I would need for life and were “like insulin for diabetes”. Indeed, I could reclaim my dignity by not seeking it in a doctor’s reassurance of an underlying illness. I was not (or would no longer be) just a profit engine for a misguided, faulty industry that proclaimed to reduce human suffering but actually magnified it with tragic consequences for all of society. I did not know it all those labeled and drugged years, but eventually I would walk right out that door and not return.

    I did not die (by suicide) in a pas de deux of therapeutic alliance with my doctor of pseudoscientific lies, chemical arrest/assault, instilled hopelessness, Stockholm syndrome codependency, and adding insult to injury shame of “treatment resistance”. I did not develop the permanent movement disorder of tardive dyskinesia from my neuroleptic consumption. I survived. Miracle of miracles, I survived the barbaric offerings of 21st century American healthcare.

    Here is part of a letter soliciting funds that I received this very day from Brain and Behavior Research Foundation:

    This is a tremendously exciting time for neuroscience. The President’s [Obama] new BRAIN Initiative acknowledges that neuroscience is flourishing and that new technologies are offering never-before-possible vistas into the brain’s complex functioning. The BRAIN Initiative calls for public and private collaboration to support a multi-year, broad-based research program to unlock the mysteries of the brain. Our Foundation’s history of funding innovative brain research places us in a unique position to provide leadership in this important initiative.

    One of our current NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantees, Rafael Yuste, M.D., Ph.D, of Columbia University is involved in launching the project. He says, “The BRAIN Initiative will enable the development of novel methods to identify the root causes and improve the treatments of complex mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder and others. We aim to visualize the activity of neural circuits so that we can identify abnormal activity patterns or abnormal firing of neurons and then correct abnormalities. This should also lead toward prevention and cures for these devastating illnesses.”

    The extra hubris of adding that prevention and cures can be expected in the future in that last sentence goes beyond the pale. I remember so well from my doctors at McLean on down through the years telling me that someday with enough research a “cure” could come about (to fix my abnormal, genetic derived brain illness). And how I wanted that to be true! I finally found the beginning of my cure in India when I was compassionately and convincing assured, “There is nothing wrong with you.”

    My cure continues on here at MIA in finding you last May with the video of your protest the APA in Philly speech. Instantly, it changed me and how I saw myself. A sweeping moment of real recognizing real all over again. Who knew then that I would get to be one of those I wish I could hug each and every human being out there who’s believed the “mental illness” story told so persuasively by Psychiatry, and trusted in it, just like I did. in person?

    • Hi Emily,
      I got the chills when I read that BRAIN Initiative letter… Glad you pasted it in your comment so that we can see what we’re up against. It never ceases to amaze me that I was once a person who desperately WANTED to be reduced to “abnormal activity patterns or abnormal firing of neurons”. I mean, if that’s what life is all about (which, as we know, it isn’t), why even be alive?!?!? What’s the point if we’re just firing (or misfiring) neurons anyways?

      I’m so glad you’ve found your freedom, and continue to find yourself post-Psychiatry, just as I still am (and will be for the rest of my life, I’m sure! I think I will always be finding myself, and I don’t ever want that process to be over, now that I know I’m not faced with a life sentence of “mental illness”!)

      I love thinking about the part of your story when you met the man in India who told you “There is nothing wrong with you.” I got that message in reading “Anatomy of an Epidemic”, Dorothy got that message from that young doctor, and so have many others, and speaking for myself, it was all I needed to begin the journey back to my Self. What a gift that we got these messages (either literally or through reading a book or some other way). It’s a gift I believe each and every person indoctrinated by Psychiatry has the right to receive! The more we all write and speak and protest, the greater the odds that this gift will spread to others.

      So glad to know you, and grateful for your story.

      Love,
      Laura

    • Emily,

      I find it amazing that this great proposed brain neuro-fraud research claims that it will find treatments for schizophrenia and bipolar when they’ve just been declared invalid by the NIMH who I guess will be doling out any grants. Of course, most if not all in the survivor movement have known that the DSM is junk science and their VOTED IN stigmas to push the latest lethal drugs on patent were/are total 100% fraud and the worst medical crimes ever perpetrated against humanity per Dr. Fred Baughman, Neurologist. Dr. Breggin advised anyone falsely accused of being bipolar or some other bogus stigma to ask for the X-ray, blood or other tests that proved the great bipolar or other diagnosis. This did get mental death experts to back off at least many years ago. They have also admitted there is “overlap” between bipolar and PTSD (Same with borderline) Hmmmmmmm! Something smells rotten in Denmark when I find that abused women and children suffering from PTSD and related symptoms are routinely misdiagnosed with bipolar, ADHD, paranoia, delusions and other insult stigmas like borderline more in the past to aid and abet the abusers with more power like themselves. Dr. Fred Baughman suggests something similar by asking the mental death profession to produce the scientific research the proves without a doubt that bipolar or other DSM stigmas are real brain diseases and what kind. NOT.

      Anyway, I have no doubt that the great wizard of Oz, Dr. Insel and his cohorts will just come up with more junk science to push more life destroying stigmas and deadly treatments on more and more victims in the guise of mental health.

  6. Hi Laura!

    A few months ago, you help facilitate the opportunity to share my story here at MIA. I wanted to reply and thank you for the outstanding article here and again state how much I appreciate your voice in these issues.

    After writing “Corrections Officers, Not Clinicians” I have since resigned my position at the secure residential treatment facility (i.e. psychiatric incarceration center) where I worked. I tried to fight the good fight for as long as I could, and it touched my heart to hear persons trapped within that structure tell me that my efforts to change that system and treat them like the human brothers and sisters that they are made a difference. But in the end my soul could just bear it no longer.

    I left without another job, and I’m still unemployed. But even though the money’s running out and I don’t know what I’ll do next, I can’t regret my choice. Here’s what I believe:

    I believe that institutional attitudes toward persons with “lived experiences” of extreme cognitive and emotional states are exactly on par with racism, homophobia, sexism and any other form of bigotry and prejudice. The system talks about persons with lived experiences as “those” people and is more than comfortable with sentiment like “they don’t think like we do” or “they aren’t capable like we are” or “they’re diseased” and “they’re defective.” And yet, most of the time many of the people who much push back against this sentiment never go any farther than talking about the “stigma” of “mental illness.”

    This isn’t just a stigma. It’s pure bigotry. And that bigotry has decimated lives. The history of this bigotry is lobotomy, electro shock, life spans decreased by 25 years on average for persons with “severe mental illness,” drug induced brain damage, physical damage, rampant “patient” abuse in institutions and the dehumanization of an entire “class” of human beings.

    It’s socially acceptable to discuss racism. It’s socially acceptable to discuss sexism, homophobia, ageism. It’s not socially acceptable to discuss the bigotry of society toward persons THEY label “mentally ill.” This MUST change.

    No one is denying the reality of persons experiencing severe cognitive and emotional distress. *I* am denying that the experience of such distress makes a person into another, special “class” of sub-human people. The experience of even severe cognitive or emotional distress is part of the SHARED HUMAN experience. It has never been “us” and “them.”

    Keep the faith, and keep in touch!
    Andrew Yoder
    Eugene, Oregon

    • Dear Andrew,
      As I mentioned to you in an email, I am moved incredibly by your courage and your willingness to share your story with others. I have no doubt that your decision to leave your job, thus putting your financial security at stake, will be an inspiration to others in similar positions as you’ve been. If change (and ultimately, dismantling) is to happen, it has to come not just from the outside, but from the inside, too. I’m sure there are many “providers” out there who “get it” in the way you do, but are unwilling or too scared to take different action. Your courage is inspiring to me.

      You make so many good points in your comment. So many!! Among them is the bigotry inherent to psychiatric labels, themselves. Just as society has systematically labeled non-white people, non-heterosexual people, non-men, etc. as “other” and systematically stripped them of rights, respect, and freedom, it has done the same with people who experience the world in a socially determined “unacceptable” way (emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally, etc.). Those who fight to “destigmatize mental illness” and who tell us we are insulting “the mentally ill” when we challenge the very existence of so-called mental illness are so deeply immersed in the pseudomedical framework of Psychiatry that they fail to see that it is the act of labeling a human being “mentally ill” that is inherently bigoted, oppressive, and dehumanizing, not telling someone experiencing suffering/distress/altered states/etc. that they are not “mentally ill”. I recently lost a Facebook friend that way! She and I had been “voluntary” patients together on a locked ward and in a 10-month IOP for “Borderline” back in 2010, and after reading a recent post of mine, she told me I was deeply insulting her and all people with “mental illness” out there for saying it is a social construct, and that I was totally invalidating her experience. Then, she defriended me! A few years back, I would have done the same thing to me, too, so I’m not hurt or angry.

      I think it’s important, as you said, that we acknowledge that we’re not denying the reality of people with these experiences that get called “mental illness”. Often times, people misunderstand me when I say there’s no such thing as “mental illness” because they think I’m saying that people aren’t really suffering out there, hearing voices, in non-consensus reality, want to die, etc. As a person who has experienced incredibly distressing and painful states of existence, I know firsthand how real those experiences are and, like you, always say that I am not denying them when I say there’s no such thing as “mental illness”. I try to say that it is labeling these experiences as “other” and “symptomatic of disease” that does the true denying of them, for, like you said, it is a part of the shared human experience, and labeling them dehumanizes them. You are so spot on when you say there has NEVER been “us” and “them”; this is one of the reasons why I do not consider myself a part of the “Peer”/”Recovery” Movement, because even that movement further perpetuates that distinction (those of “us” who’ve had “mental health challenges” and “recovered”, and everyone else). Again, a totally BS distinction.

      At the end of the day, we are all human beings feeling human feelings, thinking human thoughts, and existing in our own experience of reality (of which there is no “normal” or “abnormal”). The more we help people shift in this conceptual way, and leave behind the notion that these experiences are medical in nature (except for, of course, when there is an ACTUAL brain disease like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, etc. at play), the better of a shot we have at making Psychiatry obsolete.

      So glad to be a part of this human rights movement with you, Andrew! I hope to meet you someday.

      In solidarity,
      Laura

  7. Laura,
    You wrote: I believe the reasons for the announcements are very ominous and worrisome, as the NIMH is leading the United States down an even more reductionist, dehumanizing path of neuro-based Psychiatry.

    The path is called jobs for the boys (and girls) in neuroscience, government, pharmaceuticals, etc.

    Thomas Insel, the NIMH, Allen Frances, the Brain Project, are part of the psycho-industrial complex that keeps the economy running.

  8. As always, Laura, your writing is beautiful and so important! Yes, the dream for a new and safer future for all is a dream we all share, and it is not unrealistic. It is filled with hope, and hope is life in its fullest for all.

    love, Dorothy

  9. Changing personal identity requires adapting to different, unfamiliar expectations, social roles, occupations, ect. Even when the current identity results in great suffering, change is difficult. Many people will refuse to hear that they can be free, and will defend against it, especially at first. They will deny it.
    Most people I speak to who have “recovered” in the way you did (ie, by realizing that there never was anything wrong or damaged in the first place) feel really angry a few years later. One woman told me she had assumed that her providers had only her best interests at heart, that this was a fundimental agreement in therapy. She was very hurt to realize that her doctors and therapist were actually “assuming the worst” about her. She was in treatment over 15 years!

    • I think you give these so called providers too much credit about what they assumed about this unfortunate woman. Her suffering was just a profit center for them for as long as they could con her and milk her by pretending she was damaged, mentally ill and something was wrong with her to deceive her that she needed their bogus treatments by medicalizing her all too common human problems and suffering and stigmatizing her and invalidating her in the process making her far worse off in the long run.

      Once such victims catch on to the fraud of the mental death profession, hell hath no fury like a normal person scorned, stigmatized, scapegoated, blamed, drugged and filled with self doubt by a con artist mental death expert no better than other snake oil sales men or Elmer Gantry’s of the past.

    • Dear Michael,
      I’m so glad to see you at MIA blogging! I can’t wait to read your post ☺.

      I totally agree that change is difficult, and that many will stay stuck in denial. I was there in the beginning… None of my awakening and subsequent transformation happened easily, or quickly, for me. For quite some time after first waking up, I was full of rage and anger; it ate at me, and all I could think was that I’d had thirteen years of my life taken away from me by Psychiatry. After staying stuck in those thoughts for a while, I realized how toxic theyw ere, and that thinking them was keeping me just as imprisoned by Psychiatry as being on their “medicine” and identifying with their labels had… I saw that if I wanted true liberation, I’d have to leave behind my rage, and transform it into anger that could be channeled productively, as well as acceptance of my past. I still feel anger every day, but it motivates and inspires me, and no longer eats at me (well, of course there are days when it eats at me… It’s just that now I know I have a choice in the matter, and will get myself out of that toxic space pretty quickly when I feel myself slipping there).

      I definitely assumed that my doctors had my best interests in mind. For all I know, a lot of them did (definitely not all of them— I saw some pretty horrible shrinks over the years too!). I see now that they are just as indoctrinated into this false belief system as I was, just on the other side of the desk. They want to believe, and need to believe, that the “treatment” they give is helping people, and that these people have real “diseases.” This is not a justification for Psychiatry, of course, but simply an acknowledgement of just how powerful its paradigm has truly become.

      At the end of the day, I look back at my transformation and see that not a day of it was easy. The most intense suffering and confusion and fear, however, has produced the most transformative changes in me, though, so I’m glad I walked through all that pain and didn’t turn back and run into the arms of Psychiatry, which was all I knew to do for a long, long time!

      In solidarity,
      Laura

  10. I’m really sorry for going back on the earlier promise to cease and desist with comments after that last one. It’s just that I realized I didn’t explain something that I think is really important, which is why I care so much about all this today. First. although I did not think of myself differently because I was labeled (still am, I suppose), I was and continue to be very aware of how other people may view me differently…I don’t disclose anything about my “history of mental illness” in my grad program because I know that it would likely be to my detriment to do so. I want to shake many of my fellow students and yell, “don’t you understand!? The label doesn’t mean anything!” I have absolutely felt the stigma and I think it’s a major problem that our society now understands the psychological phenomena commonly referred to as “mental illness” to be permanent conditions of “faulty brains.” I think that’s an absurd notion — there are no “faulty brains,” in my opinion. Second, I am very concerned about my girlfriend, who is on a whole slew of psych meds. I look at the line-up and think, why? You’re not even diagnosed with the disorders these are supposedly efficacious in treating. Then I think, what is this cocktail of powerful chemicals – the effects of which we know so little about – doing to you, the person I love? What are they doing to your brain? What are they doing to the rest of your body? My psychiatrist (whom I still see despite not being on psych meds myself) has agreed with much of what I’ve said to him about my concerns around her regimen – he doesn’t know her and always points that out, but nonetheless, he has voiced agreement. She’s not receptive to hearing about my concerns. I don’t know what to do. It is personal for me, the movement to stop the abuses of power. I think I got really lucky – I had a very wise mentor going into the system, I happened to find truly amazing treaters, and I emerged a “success story” (so far…). I do believe everything I’ve written here about the brain as the seat of experience and all that. But my reason for caring — for coming here to argue about it with patient, friendly Laura over the last couple days — is not that I must convince MIA bloggers and readers that I’m right. It’s that even though I’ve come to see myself as a supporter, in many ways, of this movement, I still get annoyed by the “my suffering isn’t something physical” talk. Not that there’s anything wrong with believing that – I wouldn’t think it necessary or appropriate to go on and on about why I disagree if there weren’t what I perceive as high stakes involved. But I’m as sympathetic as one can get to the views here – and the movement more generally – without being a part of it, per se yet it does bother me. Finally, I figure it’s good for activists to sharpen their arguments through practice with sympathetic but not convinced folks as much as possible ;)

    Anyway, just want you, Laura, and you, everyone, to know that I don’t come here to defend psychiatry, but to do my best to strengthen to grassroots movement that I hope will topple the current psychiatric establishment. Commenters/bloggers here helped me arrive at the position of advocating for that toppling, and the more I learn, the more it troubles me (professionally, but moreover personally). My nagging suspicions around the gf’s regimen that I tried to push out of awareness have become impossible to ignore since the last time I showed up in the comments here at MIA, and I think everyone here for forcing me to stop ignoring or trying to silence those thoughts.

    I do hope we can keep trying to use scientific inquiry to figure out how best to help people who suffer more than they must, but even I would prefer no science to corrupted, abusive, dangerous science.

    • Thanks for that clarification. You were, indeed, lucky. You found an empowering clinician, which I find to be an increasingly rare commodity. And you have had other privileges that made it possible for you to move in and out of “the system” with some capacity for survival, something many psychiatric victims lack.

      I’m glad to hear you talk about the abuse of power, because that’s what this comes down to and that’s where our interests overlap. Lies are not science, even when they’re put out by doctors. We need to take the power back to define our own experiences, and I’m glad you’re on board for that fight!

      — Steve

    • A perfect example of the blaming the brain approach being bogus and pernicious is when one considers that most of what is falsely labeled as “mental illness” is the normal human reaction to others’ abuse and bullying in homes, schools, work, community and any other place humans gather causing PTSD INJURY and not illness.

      If you read experts on bullying, the target of bullying has normal stress reactions that continue on a downward spiral based on the intensity, time span, more or less viciousness, threat to the target’s safety, ability to perform in school or at work, added stress and damage to the victim’s family, career and so on. If the bullying or mobbing continues, it is simply a matter of time before the target has a stress breakdown because as stress expert, Hans Seyle, shows, all humans have limits as to how much stress they can endure. Some people may react with migraine headaches, some may react with IBS, colitis while others may have insomnia, develop self medicating addictions to deal with the ongoing psychological torture that turns their own body against itself and so on.

      Now, when the target of such bullying and mobbing sees a mental death expert guided by the bogus DSM, the person’s so called symptoms will be taken totally out of context since biopsychiatry refuses to acknowledge it despite their lies to the contrary. All of the above and any other stress symptoms that may have deteriorated to complex PTSD injury given the duration will be superficially matched with junk science DSM stigmas while completely invalidating the victim’s agony from long term bullying and mobbing. If the victim tries to explain such bullying and abuse, the mental death expert falsely accuses her/him of being paranoid, delusional, bipolar, borderline, a substance abuser and any other degrading victim blaming stigmas to further bully and silence the victim to fill them with self doubt, terrorize them into silence to avoid further harm and subject them to lethal cocktails of drugs without informed consent.

      Since our medicalized society demands that we must have a mental death expert validate our reality to get any justice in the courts, work, schools, homes and elsewhere while the whole system is set up to invalidate such victims while supporting the more powerful bullies and perpetrators, it is clear that anyone subjected to such bullying, mobbing or any other social/environmental distress is doomed from the start.

      The mental death profession lies and denies domestic violence, school/work bullying and mobbing and other severe stressors known to cause PTSD INJURY and even suicide per mobbing/bullying expert Dr. Heinz Leymann and many others including Dr. Gary Namie, Dr. Tim Fields, etc. Thus, psychiatry and the so called neuro scientists under fraud BIG PHARMA shill Dr. Insel (see his relationship with PHARMA shill Charles Nemeroff exposed by Senator Grassley) are in no position whatsoever to say anything about the brain until they get honest and acknowledge all the ways that the brain can be made to appear that it is abnormal when it is the bullies and other abusers including themselves that are abnormal or insane causing all the brain and other injuries in the first place!!

      As Robert Whitaker says when exposing this societal delusion, all the targets/victims need is for the mental death profession to tell the truth.

      Once the bullies/mobbers are identified and stopped and the target is validated and reinstated as recommended for decent work environments (See book MOBBING by Noa Davenport)and prevention policies are put in place, the target can resume their lives, the stress reactions will subside and they can become normal again. The brain will recover just fine once the target is no longer subjected to such daily psychological terror and torture.

      So, Lyla, would you say that when the target starts getting stressed and becomes traumatized by long term bullying because he/she needs the job, it’s the target’s faulty brains that caused their PTSD injuries and symptoms?

      How about women and children subjected to domestic violence? See Dr. Judith Herman and Dr. Carole Warshaw, both psychiatrists exposing that biopsychiatry’s sole focus on symptoms while ignoring environmental stressors to inflict life destroying stigmas of borderline and bipolar for abused women and children which greatly harms the women and children all the more and aids and abets the abusers. Again, was it their bad brains that caused their PTSD INJURIES as well as their hopelessness of escape given the invalidation from the mental death profession?

      What you say makes no sense whatever since context is everything when considering somebody’s so called mental state and reactions.

      Otherwise, if someone chopped off your leg and then your leg was examined by a leg chopper denier who wouldn’t consider the context of the chopped off leg, could it be theorized that you had a leg chopping brain disease?

      When you think about it the absurdity is just too much to bare! And to think we can look forward to more of this reductionist garbage pseudoscience that ignores all of human reality. I think it is all too clear who is insane here and it isn’t us!

      • Hi Donna,

        As I said, I don’t agree with the “faulty brain” notion at all, so I certainly don’t think “faulty brains” cause PTSD. I’ve also been diagnosed with PTSD (the description fits for me, whether or not the designation “mental illness” does), and I don’t think I have a “faulty brain” any more than the next person (in a sense, I think every one of us has a faulty brain…that is, no one is a Platonic form). I’m not sure where you got the idea that I don’t think context is of crucial importance, as I don’t see how what I’ve written implies that at all. Reductionism need not be dehumanizing…I’m about as loving and compassionate as a person can get, perhaps even to a fault at times, and I do endorse a reductionist view. That’s where I get frustrated — it’s not reductionism’s fault, it’s a corrupt system’s fault. I can honor my – and others’ – experiences, see a human spirit – in all of us – that needs nurturing, see the importance of relationships, believe that experience is deeply personal and something no one but the experiencer can be an expert on, and still think we’re composed of atoms and only atoms. Neuroscience doesn’t even rely on such a strong view, the science of the brain (which is all neuroscience is) only needs to assume that the brain is involved in experience. Neuroscience is not the enemy – a system that incentivizes hurting innocent people is the enemy.

        Best wishes,

        Layla

        • Hi Layla,

          Glad to hear that you don’t use so called neuroscience to blame the victims for their abuse induced trauma symptoms and other very normal human reactions to life’s many challenges, crises, losses, etc. Sorry to hear about your own bout with PTSD.

          I do find your language very confusing and I must say that the word, “neuroscience” is poison to me because “Dr.” Insel a well known BIG PHARMA shill with cohort “Dr.” Charles Nemeroff is using the term to engage in the latest eugenics agenda to continue to target people abused, bullied and harmed by those in power and toxic environments and stigmatize them as “mentally ill” to keep the evil psychiatry gravy train going no matter what they call it.

          Also, the term neuro is fraudulently being applied to every new fad around, so it’s pretty meaningless now. I am disgusted how everything to do with the mental death profession now has neuro in front and behind it just in case anyone didn’t know they are now about neuro science BS rather than DSM BS! It’s the same old fraud!

          I guess I just don’t understand your take on reductionism since it sounds very negative to me especially when combined with terms like science, humanity and others. Perhaps you might want to read the great book, THE TAO OF PHYSICS, for a very different take on those atoms and molecules you cite.

          Say you want to study a beautiful butterfly so you capture it and pin it to a display board. The problem is when you destroy life to “study” it and make it conform to one’s own beliefs as psychiatry does all too often, the real essense or spirit of the creature or human disappears. That was also the theme of the book, THE COLLECTOR.

          I think we are far more complex than just our atoms and molecules. That reminds me of a woman who went to a great hat maker to purchase one of his famous, highly acclaimed creations. He took some ribbon and created a gorgeous, unique and very fashionable hat and let the woman try it on. When she asked the price and he said $500, the woman complained that the hat was only made of ribbon and shouldn’t be so expensive. Finally, fed up, the creator of the hat pulled on a part of the ribbon so the whole creation came apart. He then handed the woman the ribbon and said the ribbon is free with my compliments.

          I think that is a good example of reductionism similar to what happens when we try to reduce vital humans to separate body parts instead of a more holistic approach.

          Anyway, I find your comments rather confusing and I know you are entitled to your opinions, but as Winston Churchill said, you can’t have your own facts. And wishing or thinking doesn’t make it so.

          Thanks for responding.

          Donna

      • Donna I like referring to PTS and leave off the ‘D’ bit, I also refer to ITS [Iatrogenic Traumatic Stress] because I can’t abide professionals denial that health services can induce their own trauma which can become as or more painful than what took us to services in the first place.
        What saddens me about some psychological interventions is that they can seek to help people ‘cope better’ with their crap circumstances. If someone is being bullied, they need the bullying to stop, not to cope better with being bullied!
        What distresses me for those deemed to be BPD is that if they have experienced appalling lives [which they commonly have], that the diagnosis frames the person as having failed to cope with their trauma, AND it’s their fault, and their expressions of distress are ‘maladaptive’. It’s total invalidation.

    • Hi Layla,
      I want you to know that I’ve read your two most recent posts and want so very much to get back to them… and will do my best to do so when I can make time, as they are worthy of deep thought and reflection… I am so appreciative of our dialogue!

      Best wishes,
      Laura

      • Hi Laura,

        Thanks for this message (and of course no worries at all on responding to my long and winding commentary – I enjoy and appreciate the dialogue we’ve been having, but also understand all too well the unfortunate human condition of so much to do and so little time to do it all!)

        I did want to mention a couple of things (should’ve known myself better than to think I could impose the above-mentioned limit on sharing my thoughts :/)

        I was in (friendly!) debate mode when I replied to your comments, and that framed my response – just want to clarify that I do see and understand the dangers that presently accompany the “mentally ill” label. Although the labels didn’t change how I saw myself in relation to myself (if that makes any sense), it definitely did change how I saw myself in relation to others. I’ve found that some (many) people think they have an inherent superiority over the person who is ‘mentally ill.’ I felt it on inpatient units especially – in my comments on your entry a few months back I mentioned the traumatic inpatient experience I had prior to finding compassionate, skilled clinicians…during that especially, but also other hospitalizations, I felt the powerlessness, lack of autonomy, robbing of dignity that comes with being institutionalized in that way. I also see it in the media, hear it in the public discourse, in the way politicians speak, and – perhaps most disheartening for me – I perceive it in the way some professors and other students in my program talk. Andrew described it perfectly in his comment above – the “us” and “them” mentality, the imposing of “otherness,” the failure to recognize that the similarities far outweigh any differences. I do think that what I’ve talked about as “clusters of phenomena” and “extreme and persistent suffering” are real (your clarification of your views regarding that matter was quite helpful for understanding your position better), but I also agree that a “disease model” is inaccurate. I’m less opposed (theoretically) to the term “mental illness” – I don’t think that’s quite accurate either, but I do think there’s more validity to the conceptualization of these states as “psychologically under the weather” as opposed to “psychologically diseased.” I think it’s clear there’s no disease involved; I find “illness” useful (perhaps mostly because it is a move away from the ‘moral failing’ concept), but I also see the argument for getting rid of that conceptualization — not because it’s not useful in some ways, but because it has become a poisonous conceptualization inextricably linked to bigotry.

        It frustrates me to no end that I feel I can’t speak up in my grad program, can’t disclose my history, can’t tell some of my peers that they’re revealing a profound lack of insight and perspective in the way they talk about mental illness. These are people who have chosen to devote their careers to clinical psychology, yet many of them do not seem to understand a very basic fact: we are all human.

        My thanks again to all for the thought-provoking comments and discussions here at MIA.

        Best wishes,

        Layla

  11. I always knew psychiatry was fundamentally wrong from my first admission, I just didn’t know why, how to articulate it, and how to survive as soon as I walked away. I sent a ‘Do you think you’re God?’ kind of letter at 18 yrs old to my psychiatrist who wanted me on depot injections for life, and I looked at others hollowed out by it and thought there has to be more to living than this.
    Surviving psychiatry wasn’t in itself the end point for me,despite a strong sense of self [I used to be an activist] as there are very few places I fit into now as I failed to ‘recover’ by most definitions. I experience enduring difficulties but we rarely see such accounts other than ‘before’ and ‘after’. Many of my dreams for change in my country haven’t been realised but I hold the hope that others will achieve them.

    • Dear Joanna,
      Thanks so much for this comment. I love thinking of an eighteen-year old woman sending that letter to her psychiatrist (who I’m assuming was male?) What a powerful testament to your spirit in the face of oppression.

      I too do not see surviving Psychiatry as the end point; if anything, I see it as the starting point for a life time of growth and continued awakening. Although I feel a very strong sense of self today, as you do, I certainly endure many difficulties, as I’m a human being, and I’ve discovered that life is meant to be hard. I think that because I know that I’m a human being today, and not a list of “symptoms” of a “life-long disease” it makes me much more capable of moving through intense pain (which happens on a regular basis), and not getting stuck in it. In the past, because I saw my emotional pain as just a manifestation of disease, I never worked to understand it or make meaning of it, because I’d been told it was beyond my control, as my “Bipolar” was a life-long condition that could never be treated. Today, when I feel intense emotional pain, I am able to embrace it and be in it because I know it’s evidence of my humanity; it no longer debilitates me or paralyzes me in the way it used to (of course, psych drugs played a huge role in this debilitation so now that those are gone and I’m relatively healed from that trauma, it’s also easier to move through these experiences). I guess I just wanted to say to you that as a psychiatric survivor, you are certainly not alone with the experience of continued difficulties; I am right there with you, and I think that many, many of our fellow survivors and human beings are, too. :)

      In solidarity,
      Laura

  12. Laura,

    I want to thank you for another insightful heart wrenching post about the horrible bipolar fraud fad. In the past I have thought about various eras where seeming horrible human abuses were perpetrated such as witch burnings, the Inquisition, the NAZI Holocaust and many others. I would feel grateful that I had seemingly been born in a better time. Thanks to biopsychiatry I realized how very wrong and ignorant I was about that and those in power and our social institutions given that now everyone is a target for psychiatric inquistions, witch hunts, eugenics, torture, Mengele type experiments on human guinea pigs, and the neverending rights abuses perpetrated against those falsely accused of being “mentally ill” that Bob Whitaker describes so well in MAD IN AMERICA and ANATOMY OF AN EPIDEMIC that helped save you. Dr. Thomas Szasz warns that it is our responsibility to learn about such institutions so that we won’t be destroyed by them and he sure was right.

    Since I’m older than you, I grew up in a time when biopsychiatry didn’t really exist and children and teens didn’t get stigmatized with bogus psychiatric disorders to push lethal drugs. Since we grew up believing doctors were ethical, honest and wanting to heal people and keep them healthy, it was very hard to imagine the coming crimes against humanity being plotted by the APA and psychiatry in the 1980′s to sell out to BIG PHARMA to give themselves a bogus medical aura with the creation of the junk science DSM.

    As Hitler says, the greatest lies are most inclined to be believed since people can’t imagine that anyone could lie to such a great extent.

    Anyway, I grew up believing that the so called mental health profession was there to help people and talk to them about their problems and I was right for the most part I guess until I wasn’t. We still see so called psychistrists supposedly counseling people and giving talk therapy on shows like ANALYZE THIS, THE SOPRANOS, IN TREATMENT and many other TV shows and movies which is a total lie and fraud meant to trick more victims into this toxic system as Dr. Breggin warns. The so called psychiatrist doing hundreds of 15 minute med checks per week portrayed as the modern day psychiatrist in the NEW YORK TIMES is the poster boy for this bogus profession slapping on DSM stigmas to push lethal drugs.

    So, when the new bogus DSM psychiatry threatened to harm my loved ones because we/they assumed that such so called doctors provided help, we were saved by finding Dr. Peter Breggin’s books like TOXIC PSYCHIATRY and YOUR DRUG MAY BE YOUR PROBLEM among others as well as many other books/articles about abuse, bullying and related trauma.

    Anyway, because you were subjected to biopsychiatry’s toxic garbage of DSM stigmas for most of your life, it must have been harder for you to see through the fraud and lies and realize they were bogus.

    On the other hand, it was hard for me to see it in that I was blindsided by it due to thinking that the mental health system still consisted of talk therapy and actually helped people. Yes, go ahead and laugh…I was pretty naïve. However, given that background without the DSM for most of my life, after my loved ones were exposed to several mental death experts, I finally saw how bogus, fraudulent and evil this system was in that it blames and scapegoats the victims, lies and denies any injustice, abuse or bullying and falsely accuses the victims of being mentally ill or increasingly having the bipolar fraud fad to push the latest lethal drugs on patent that Dr. David Healy describes so well in his book, MANIA, and articles about bipolar psychobabble and bipolar disease mongering. I highly recommend this book to you if you haven’t read it.

    Anyway, forgive me if I get upset with more neuro babble shoved down our throats which makes the exposure of the DSM being invalid junk science somewhat of a hollow victory since we have known that for so long and we don’t need so called complicit experts like Insel to define our reality or expose the truth any more now that we are older, sadder and wiser.

    Anyway, as I’ve said in another post, finding out the truth about bipolar is like finding out Santa and the Easter Bunny don’t exist except at least the latter brought treats while the former doled out poison and life destroying stigma.

    I know I am hard hitting about the outrageous bipolar fraud epidemic, but I think that is all too necessary to counter the mental death profession’s toxic brainwashing and lethal, useless drugs. I give you lots of credit for unbrainwashing yourself and making so much progress. You are a beautiful, intelligent, accomplished and impressive young woman and I am so glad you escaped this despicable fraud.

    I also appreciated your visit to Boston about the new gun laws and making us aware of more proposed rights violating legislation. You are also a very brave woman!

    Always,

    Donna

    • Dear Donna,
      As always, thanks so much for your insightful words (“insight” is a word I love so very much and I insist on using it despite Psychiatry’s horrible cooptation of it!).

      I love reading your comments because you have so much wisdom and you deliver that wisdom in such a passionate, cutting way. Nothing to be forgiven for!! It is amazing to think that in one written statement Insel successfully delivered a message to the world that people in this movement have been carrying for decades and decades. I am thankful that at least the fraud and pseudoscience of the DSM has now gotten out there to the mainstream, although as I said I am of course worried about the neuro future of Psychiatry.

      Although I do believe that the entire “mental health” industry needs to be dismantled, I also believe that there are, in fact, some very good people working in it, who truly do humanistic work. While I envision a future with no System of any kind, I don’t inherently have any problems with people earning paychecks to support others who find themselves in painful, distressing places in their lives. I guess for me the necessary pieces are that (1) the person providing the support does not proclaim any sort of expertise on the person receiving the support; (2) it isn’t under the umbrella of “mental health” because suffering is not all “mental” to begin with and the idea of “mental health” is fatally corrupted by the current System; (3) the person providing the support is in absolutely NO position to ever take rights, freedom, or ownership of self from the person being supported; (4) the person providing the support has deep humility, and respect for the person’s inherent wisdom that they are supported, and sees him/herself as a soundboard off of which the person seeking support will figure out his/her own path forward.

      I actually do believe that there are “therapists” out there doing this work (I don’t think the word “therapy” should be used in the future; I like more human words like “support”); especially in the extensive search I’ve been on this last month and a half for “providers” who help people come off psych drugs, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are truly good people out there who do “mental health” work.

      While I have no interest in long-term reform of the “mental health” industry (I understand that in the short term reform is necessary; I am an abolitionist in my vision, though), I do believe that those working in it today do have the power to come together and demand change. I look to the UK as an example of this, with all the news coming out about the demand for the de-medicalization of so-called “mental illness.” If people in “provider” roles here in the US got together, I believe they could make significant strides, although of course we are more medicalized and pharmaceuticalized, I think, than the UK (maybe I’m wrong in thinking that, though?)

      On a last note, my awakening was not anything I could have done on my own; having my family, fellow survivors and comrades, and friends in my life to support me has certainly been a vital part of my journey. I have learned from so many people, who I’m sure learned from people before then, just as I hope to spend my life passing on my experiences to others. I see the process as an entirely communal, mutual one, which has been really beautiful for me to discover. After so many years of isolation, it feels really good to be a part of something so much bigger than myself— humanity, and the collective human spirit!

      With love and in solidarity,
      Laura

  13. I look to the UK as an example of this, with all the news coming out about the demand for the de-medicalization of so-called “mental illness.” If people in “provider” roles here in the US got together, I believe they could make significant strides, although of course we are more medicalized and pharmaceuticalized, I think, than the UK (maybe I’m wrong in thinking that, though?)

    Laura, we have a tradition of collaborative working and ‘user involvement’ although I’d question how meaningful some of the latter is now. In research funders outcome measures broadly remain the same – treatment adherence and symptom reduction. As for service providers seriously standing together to demand change I wouldn’t be cracking open the champagne yet. There are many issues and negative developments they have failed to stand up and speak out against publicly both for and with us. There wasn’t public outcry over the introduction of ‘Care Clusters’ [I've posted that elsewhere] and ‘Payment by results’ [meaning payment for putting people through "evidence based" treatments]. Many nurses and social workers feel quite down trodden with little power, and psychology, psychiatry and survivor groups can also be in their own corners. We have some truly inspiring critical thinkers like Lucy Johnstone and Phil Thomas, and a sizable and growing group of professionals, but that’s some way from dismantling and replacing existing service provision. I doubt British service users are envisaging psychiatry’s replacement just yet and we don’t have as many developed survivor-led services as I suspect you may have.
    A nurse friend who works in New York tells me that housing is taken more seriously by your services but it is much much harder to get out of US services than it is British services. I think your services are more pharmaceuticalized, we have a big CBT drive here.

  14. This made me smile, especially the bit about getting a priest because I once asked that and got one! I’m not religious [at all] but at that moment I needed to talk about spirits and their souls and I knew the bloke in a dress and dog collar would listen wher the nurses wouldn’t, and he did.
    http://speakoutagainstpsychiatry.org/how-to-escape-from-a-psychiatric-hospital/

    My tip for escaping: when you’ve got leave ‘with a friend’ do it once or twice going for a walk with someone known to staff, then get someone in who isn’t known with someone else waiting outside in a car then drive off somewhere to stay. This means known friend maintains credibility [if needed]and unknown friend can’t be traced.

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