Nurses Confront the Myths of Psychiatric Drugs


The July issue of Nursing Ethics takes on the myths of psychiatric drugs, saying that “psychiatric drugs are used only to control ‘patient’ behaviour and do not ‘treat’ any specific pathology in the sense understood by physical medicine. Evidence that people, diagnosed with ‘serious’ forms of ‘mental illness’ can ‘recover’, without psychiatric drugs, has been marginalized by drug-focused research, much of this funded by the pharmaceutical industry. The pervasive myth of psychiatric drugs dominates much of contemporary ‘mental health’ policy and practice and raises discrete ethical issues for nurses who claim to be focused on promoting or enabling the ‘mental health’ of the people in their care.”

Abstract → 

Barker, P., Buchanan-Barker, P., “First, Do No Harm: Confronting the Myths of Psychiatric Drugs.” Nursing Ethics, July 2012 vol. 19(4) 451-463

(Thanks to Chrys Muirhead for sending this to me.)

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. Sometimes nurses who are in diarect contact with the “patients” every day, see more clearly what is wrong or what would help than the psychiatrists who are blinkered by their traning. Sadly the nurses get overruled by the “experts”. I have seen nurses medicating people on the orders of the psychiatrist against their better judgement, knowing full well that the meds are harming the patient.

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  2. Seeing this article gives me a little more faith in nursing, and increases my disgust with social work. I am a social worker who has tried to interest the profession in its ethical obligate to confront the truth of psychiatric drugs. I’ve never gotten a response.

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  3. I ama psych nurse in Canada and I can say that for me and most who I work with that this article is accurate….why? Because we see these people every day and can asses much more accurately the ineffectiveness of these drugs than their psychiatrist ever will. Some do help in the short term just because of their sedating effects rather than their supposed antipsychotic properties. I am working with two people who have successfully had their needs reduced significantly. The goal is zero but it is a long road.

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      • Yes, in my early years (twenty odd years ago). It was standard practice then as now but I left institutional care and came to outreach for the very reason you state. I don’t follow that practice anymore, gladly. My goal with all I work with is less drugs or none if possible. How often did this happen to you?

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        • That was a very reasonable response. Thank you.

          A number of times, is the answer. Eventually you get the message that those who wish to have their way with your body will not tolerate any resistance. Resistance is futile in a situation like that.

          But you never forget your first.

          But let’s not get sidetracked by that, like I said, you gave a very reasonable response.

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  4. Encouraging! The pervasive myth of psychiatric drugs dominates much of contemporary ‘mental health’ policy and practice and raises discrete ethical issues for all professionals (myself included).

    It’s become a bit of a shibboleth for my collegues and I when someone has claimed to read Bob’s book. If they don’t say something like, “after reading Anatomy, I can’t just go back to doing things like I always have” we know they haven’t read it!

    It’s a little like Luther’s “Tower Experience” a conversion experience if you will. That’s why we buy Bob’s books in bulk and hand em out to profesionals in need of saving! Glad these nurses have gotten the “spirit”

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  5. “Nurses Confront the Myths of Psychiatric Drugs” – wrong, this is one article in one journal by one psychiatric nurse.

    Most so called psychiatric ‘nurses’ are happy to play the role of psychiatry’s paid goons, and think nothing of carrying out psychiatry’s dirtiest work of all, the hands on violation of people’s bodies by violent force.

    Every psychiatric nurse has victims who hate their guts.

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  6. Sharing the first draft of ethics-based nursing response to the widespread use of psychiatric drugs:

    “In the absence of compelling scientific evidence for *specific* biological causes for *psychiatric disorders*, the use of brain function perturbing drugs is nothing more than an *experiment*, and therefore should be conducted as such– ONLY upon individuals who give *informed* consent over the age of 21 years.”

    Formulating statements to promote concise communication for the purpose of prohibiting the use of *brain damaging* drugs by prescription; for political representatives, media and the public itself— is an example of psychiatric nursing ethics. It is also a basis for refusing to carry out a doctor’s order as nurses also have ethical obligations attached to their license.

    Just a little FYI… in case it is assumed that the information contained in this article represents the viewpoint of a single nurse…

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  7. Perfect! Psychiatric nurses, IMHO, should be running the psychiatric profession!

    “psychiatric drugs are used only to control ‘patient’ behaviour” no truer words.

    Nurses are on the front-line. Psychiatrists order drugs, nurses deal with the fallout.

    Thanks for the article

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