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.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.