May 9th: 6 years of Struggle for Accessibility, Human Rights, Compassion, and Dignity in the Mental Health System

Dan Edmunds, EdD
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May 9th marks 6 years since I organized the Center for Humane Psychiatry. I had been involved in previous reform organizations, but became disillusioned to find that one of the key principles that I believe is necessary to combat the medical model was never really a part of any of these organizations. This key principle is accessibility to alternatives. There are certain ‘critics’ who are glamorized, given Guru-like status, who write and speak well about alternatives, empathy, autonomy, and so forth but they do not make alternatives accessible. Instead, they charge large fees and rarely if ever involve themselves in situations of dire need. I began to see many people in need who desired just to be heard and validated, who desired better, more caring and compassionate care, but because of lack of resources, were left only with going to community clinics where psychiatric drugs were highly pushed and the person often treated more like a ‘case’ or a number than a person.

After already becoming involved in reform efforts personally, I decided to seek to bring together colleagues, psychiatric survivors, and others interested in changing the mental health system. May 9, 2006, I brought this together with the vision of developing a low fee clinic, therapeutic community project, holding educational lectures and workshops, and educating the public through literature and media. After these 6 years, we have accomplished all of these things. In collaboration with my colleagues here in Northeast Pennsylvania, we have offered assistance to those undergoing extreme states where they may also receive acupuncture and massage therapy in conjunction with psychotherapy, and we have made these services affordable and accessible. In 2010, I actually had some clients who resided in the area and we established a brief, but rewarding therapeutic community setting. The Center was also involved in pro bono work for a Prozac involuntary intoxication case and have helped support many in being able to come off of psychiatric drugs and come to true resolution. Last year, the Center became a research center of European-American University. There are now plans to investigate temple healing in India at a temple where those undergoing extreme states reside. These settings appear highly successful for these individuals, and it is necessary to collect stories and information on what exactly is helpful.  As part of the Center’s work, there has also been a focus on autism acceptance and understanding and to encourage relationship based approaches. I found that many of the organizations claiming to speak for autistic persons had no autistic persons involved, so it has been of importance to work alongside autistic persons and make sure that they are validated in their experience and their voices heard.

I am pleased that these past 6 years, though certainly not without struggle from the establishment and also from the so called “establishment critic Gurus”, has been filled with many joyful accomplishments. I am aware that the entire system cannot be changed by a few overnight, but I know that we have made powerful differences in the lives of those we have been privileged enough to journey with.

These are the principles that the Center seeks to carry forward:

Our work is to fight against oppression and coercion in the mental health system, to eradicate the hierarchical barriers between ‘doctor and patient’, to eliminate the medicalization of emotional distress, and to develop means of helping distressed persons where their autonomy, experience, and dignity is respected. We seek to return a conscience to the field of mental health and create an environment where people undergoing distress feel validated, empowered, and capable.

We believe in the power of the human spirit and each person’s potential to be resilient. We believe that the forging of relationship is a key to emotional healing as well as the ability to help a person explore themselves, their world, society, and the human condition. We we seek to join with people in setting life goals, understanding the human condition and experiences without looking upon the person as defective. ICHP encourages involvement in issues related to social justice and believes that our working together to create a world free from poverty, greed, conflict, and discrimination will go a long way towards the development of true mental health.

We seek to be pro-active and preventative in our care for persons. We promote drug free, relationship based approaches for troubled and distressed children and adults and encourage the development and implementation of community based programs. We advocate for juvenile justice reform and for an education system that inspires a zeal for learning and is respectful of children’s innate strengths and abilities. We believe in the development of community based options. We are opposed to force and coercion in the mental health system.

We seek to provide a place of sanctuary for people in crisis or undergoing extreme states of mind, where they can feel supported and validated, and not be subjected to any ‘treatments’ they do not desire. We believe distressed people thrive in environments that are non-threatening and they feel safe.

We collaborate with and offer consultation to parents, educators, and children and their families to develop relationship based approaches and problem solving towards resolving issues of distress, realizing that people are resilient and capable of healing from distress. We have been successful in helping individuals not have to resort to psychiatric drugs or to be able under the direction of their physicians significantly reduce their use.

We believe the key to this healing is by the forging of relationship and the construction of meaning. We believe that compassion is one of the highest ideals. We believe that psychiatric drugs do not teach new ways of living, thinking, loving, and being, whereas people do. We are particularly concerned about the vast prescribing of psychiatric drugs (many which carry warnings of suicidal ideation, violence, agitation, and aggression) upon individuals’ well being. We are concerned about the unethical conflicts of interest existing between medical psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry.

We seek to provide to those individuals undergoing serious distress a place where they feel safe, secure, and can begin to begin the process of discovery and overcome fear and emotional chains.

We do not feel that locking individuals away in institutions solve human problems, rather it is through compassion, empathy, and seeking to understand our human condition that true mental health will arise. We believe that placing persons in mental hospitals is equivalent to incarceration however the distressed person has committed no crime, rather they are subject to a psychiatric ceremonial where the pschiatrist seen as ‘sane’, interrogates the person, makes a judgment, and then declares a sentence. We believe that psychiatric diagnosis often stigmatizes and limits opportunity for individuals. We believe that modern society is driving people ‘mad’ and that we must have radical transformation of ourselves and our values as well as return to a greater sense of community. We believe those who call themselves therapists must be actively involved in issues of social justice, helping end oppression and encourage liberation for marginalized persons. We recognize that distressed individuals must be treated as persons with respect and dignity. We believe in recognizing that even the most troubled persons and families have innate strengths. We believe that persons need to be given informed consent and not seen merely by a diagnostic label. We believe that ethics must proceed technology. We believe that bio-psychiatry has often used brutal methods (such as electroshock, insulin coma, toxic drugs, and lobotomy) and has evoked much harm in the lives of individuals and does not provide any true answers to the problems of life. We believe that there is no objectivity and science to the process of psychiatric diagnosis and that those diagnosed are often stigmatized and oppressed in society by virtue of this label.

We encourage drug free relationship based, problem solving, and holistic approaches and encourage individuals who choose to use helpful adjuncts such as meditation, acupuncture, tai-chi, and yoga. The International Center for Humane Psychiatry is one of few entities taking a strong stand on social justice issues and seeking to create a mental health system that does not treat people as objects, but persons.

We believe that it is also necessary for us to assume personal responsiblity and accountability for own own actions and choices and to not resort to the use of or embracing of labels to exonerate ourselves and institutions.

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Dan Edmunds, EdD
Dr. Dan L. Edmunds is an existential psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in Northeastern Pennsylvania. His work has focused on drug free, relational approaches for those undergoing extreme states of mind as well as autism and developmental differences. Dr. Edmunds is the founder of the Center for Humane Psychiatry, an emancipatory movement for human rights in the mental health system. Dr. Edmunds has advocated for psycho-social approaches for those in distress that are affordable and accessible. Dr. Edmunds developed a therapeutic community project and is involved with autism acceptance and the autistic rights movement. Dr. Edmunds is the author of BEING AUTISTIC: AN APPROACH TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING AND ACCEPTANCE; THEY SAY MY CHILD HAS ADHD: DEBUNKING THE BIO-PSYCHIATRIC PARADIGM; THE MEETING OF TWO PERSONS; and MYSTICAL METAPHORS. Dr. Edmunds is a frequent speaker on critical psychology issues.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. I’m strongly suspicious and skeptical of organizations that get involved in so called ‘Prozac involuntary intoxication’ lawsuits.

    Everything else you said was okay and somewhat impressive however.

    People who agree indemonstrable modes of ‘disease’ action in indemonstrable ‘brain diseases’ are not, and cannot be, demonstrated to be the cause of problematic behavior, look like hypocrites when they say under oath in court, that a guesswork serotonin reuptake inhibitor drug, is the cause of a problematic behavior. I don’t agree with it, and before too long you have so called alternative mental people standing up in court excusing murder as well as suicide. I maintain that being under the influence of any drug is not enough to absolve you of responsibility.

    There is a lot of money in expert witness court appearance fees to be made by people willing to stand up and blame psych drugs for tragedies.

  2. I understand your concern and there is one so called glorified critic who profitd highly on these lawsuits. I became involved in one situation, which I explored and thought the drug induced some unusual behavior but of course does not completely exonerate then from their actions.

      • I tentatively would like to think about this some more about some more.

        If I put vodka into someone’s orange juice without telling them and they then later crash their car and as a result someone gets killed how much are they responsible? How much would I be responsible?

        It looks as if some psychiatric drug lower what we might normally call the conscience.

        If you are not warned about this how responsible are you for your out of character actions? If other people such a drug companies, know about this but cover it up, or are told that there is strong evidence that this is likely but fail to investigate, how responsible are they?

        • It would take more than a little vodka to cause a DUI. And the difference between SSRI blaming, and drunk people, is that ALL people who have had a significant amount of liquor are impaired if they drive.

          Whereas, all the SSRI blamers point to is speculation on the basis of a minute amount of people.

          Look, I don’t really care if you want to blame SSRIs for someone getting married, buying a new car, getting a second mortgage, voting for a certain politician… it’s ridiculous.

          • Anonymous — What form do you think adverse events from psychiatric drugs take, if not disruption in the nervous system?

            Are you saying psychiatric drugs do not have adverse effects? Or that these effects cannot be overwhelming?

  3. Actually medication is a lot to blame for some people’s problems because instead of helping, it is stopping them from dealing with their deeper emotional problems. People get put on them against their will or under false pretenses and it is sometimes impossible to get off them because of terrific withdrawal problems. Help is not available. I searched high and low to no avail. I agree that just coming off the drugs is not enough. Because nothing remotely resembling the place described here was available where I live, I sat for hours listening to my son dealing with his emotional and psychological problems. He could do it only once off the meds: they had paralysed his prefrontal cortex and his rational thinking. Although I did my best and I have a good relationship with my son, I wasn’t in many ways the right person to help him emotionally because being his mother, I was inevitably part of his problem-family dynamics and all that-somebody like Dan would have come in handy. I felt totally out of my depth at times. Well, nothing is perfect and my son is out of the woods thanks heaven. An alternative to coercing and drugging should be available in every place were there is a psychiatric hospital.

  4. Thanks for redefining what mental health care should be, and putting it into application. I can only hope your model becomes widespread.

    One thing that is disturbing about mainstream psychiatry, is the gap between its claims: “mental illness is easily treated, don’t hesitate to get help”, and the disappointing outcomes from specific treatments shown by clinical studies (except for compassionate care, which seems to explain why the placebo effect is always the dominant curative component in research).

    Having run a center for many years with a drug-free approach, I was wondering if you could comment on what percentage of people failed to heal with your help/approach, and if there is anything to learn from those failures (by opposition to mainstream psychiatry which seems to have a hard time learning from its failures).

  5. Your center sounds very much like what Soteria House was like. How did you get funding to keep your place open and functioning? Your organization sounds like a great and needed alternative to the “wonderful” community mental health centers. The one in my city is awful and you have to fight and kick and scream to get six sessions of psychotherapy with an intern. Everything is run by interns who don’t really give a fat damn about the people coming to the center. It took me six weeks of fighting to get an appointment and the only reason I got it then is because someone gave me the phone number of the hugh mucky muck in the system who oversees the centers in our state. I was fortunate in that I knew who to ask to get the phone number, most people don’t have access to that information. Your place sounds wonderful and it sounds like you actually give real choices to people. So many organizations think that they’ve given people choices by saying, “Do you want this or would you like that?” This isn’t reall choice, and rest assured, there are no true alternatives to recovery and healing when this happens. It’s usually, “Do you want to take this drug or do you want to take that drug?” Thanks for all the good work you do; I know that it’s difficult and time consuming. I wish we had something like this in our area for people in the system.

  6. My drug free work has been highly successful, in the few situations it was not it involved the persons returning to the same dynamics that led to their extreme state to begin with. The therapeutic community project was shor lived because of funding issues, low fee clinic continues which includes access to alternative therapies. Funding for what we are doing now has come from my own personal investment and sale of books, thats all we have to rely on at the moment, but I press on.

  7. Your comment about massage is very interesting. While having no psychotic symptoms (no delusions, no suicidality, no hallucinations, no ideas of reference — the absence of these symptoms was explicitly noted in the psychiatrist’s records), I was subjected to 66 electroshock treatments over a period of 3 years and 10 months on the basis of the MMPI paper and pencil test at age 17 in 1965. I was also subjected to many different drugs: Thorazine, Stellazine, Norpramin, Artane, Ritalin, and others for this period, and for about 4 years after the doctor had stopped shocking me. (He stopped the shocks when I had turned 21, but he continued prescribing medication.) A psychiatrist I consulted soon after I was able to get away from the shock doctor helped me to withdraw from all of the drugs told me that the original diagnosis was gravely in error, and offered to help me sue the original psychiatrist, but I was too traumatized and frightened to consider that idea. I realized at one point during the psychological counseling (talk therapy) that finally helped me to heal as much as possible from the iatrogenic trauma of being shocked and drugged, that for the almost four years I had been shocked, no one had touched me except to hurt me – when I was being shocked. No one touched me for almost four years except when I was being shocked. Your comment on massage as an alternative treatment modality is thus quite interesting to me.

  8. Ernest Hemingway received multiple, I’ve heard as many as thirty, shock treatments in the months leading up to his suicide. Notably, it wasn’t effective then.. why are we still using it? Also, the doctors I have spoke to advise me that you don’t feel anything. Am I the only one not comforted by the assurance of someone who has never had it telling me how their patient feels?