“Western Psychiatry Could Possibly Do More Harm Than Good”


The Irish Times interviews psychiatrist Pat Bracken, calling him one of those who “push the boundaries of their profession to embrace change.” In the article Bracken speaks of his time working with victims of torture in Uganda: “I became aware that these rural communities in Africa had their own strengths … one can do damage by trying to impose a singular way of understanding and responding to mental health problems.”

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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. I find it interesting that someone who wrote a book entitled: “Mental Health in a Postmodern World (Oxford University Press, 2005).” Also says, “To recover from illness, people need to have a sense of hope, purpose and meaning in their lives and ultimately, this comes more from the culture, economy and relationships they have.”

    There’s nothing “hopeful” in postmodern philosophy. There isn’t any ultimate purpose or meaning to life either in that philosophy. Hmm.

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    • “There’s nothing “hopeful” in postmodern philosophy. There isn’t any ultimate purpose or meaning to life either in that philosophy. Hmm.”

      Its a great “statement” David, and feels like it is issued with paternal certitude, to calm the uncertain mind?

      Can you expand on it though, and explain why you think postmodern thought contains no hope? What is the ultimate purpose or meaning of life, in your humble opinion?

      96% of the Universe is made of dark matter/energy, of which we know nothing? If this means that only 4% of the known Universe contains Light matter/energy, then perhaps the ultimate purpose of life, is to redress this imbalance, as the Universe evolves into a form which perceives and acts upon itself?

      Just image all that Light matter/energy sacrificed to create YOU, David? The Universe perceiving itself?

      Einstein’s most fervent wish, was that we should grow to understand, that the Universe is a friendly place? Perhaps he sensed, that this is indeed, our Universe? Are we *part* of the Universe, or are we *The Universe?* Not easy to get one’s head around when we are forced by survival need, to see the world in *object* separation, which channels our simple cause & effect thinking?

      Is it time to change our *metaphors* of self-definition from *object* to *chemical* so we can grow beyond our *mechanistic* cause & effect logic? Consider;

      A Chemical Universe Within? – A Brave New Idea?

      Object or Chemical Metaphors?
      Huxley accepts the textual facts for what they in fact seem to be and then illustrates them with a telling chemical metaphor that we might now recognize as an early traumatic model for the mystical, perhaps best expressed in this story in the mystical life and psychological sufferings of Dick Price. Here is how Huxley put it in 1944:

      “Nothing in our everyday experience gives us any reason for supposing that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen; and yet when we subject water to certain rather drastic treatments, the nature of its constituent elements becomes manifest. Similarly, nothing in our everyday experience gives us much reason for supposing that the mind of the average sensual man has, as one of its constituents, something resembling, or identical with, the Reality substantial to the manifold world; and yet, when that mind is subjected to drastic treatments, the divine element, of which it is in part at least composed, becomes manifest.” _Aldous Huxley.

      Huxley’s wonderful summation of our everyday experience and the nature of its constituent elements, prompted me to write;

      It seems to me that we mislead ourselves with language of self-interpretation, using external object analogies to describe our own makeup, as if we are an elaborately assembled French clock? We seem to think and communicate in a narrative of a parts like description, which reflects our instinctual awareness of duality?

      A mind-body split which has become dangerously lopsided in our intellectualized, cultural zeitgeist? Is it time for a brave new world to embrace a new idea? That it really is a chemical Universe and we can learn to feel it within, if we can change our metaphors of self-awareness and stop trying to sanctify the mind? That self-deluded Emperor, with no clothes?

      Peter Joseph seeks a Utopian future, based on technology and all those shiny objects of an “out there,” consensus reality, not yet realizing that the real territory and the keys to the kingdom, lie within?

      My statements about keys and the kingdom within lead me back in time, in that circular pattern that seems to be the nature of life’s experience? As if this moment really is eternal, a subtle sense I fell into, back in October-November 2011. After all the reading about the electro-chemical activity of my brain and nervous systems, my taken for granted acceptance of my everyday vocabulary began to change. The notion of object awareness leading to a language inappropriate for an accurate description, of our inner nature had been in the back of my mind for some years. The notion begins to crystallize within my mind, as I try to write about the experience of mental illness, from the inside out.


      Be happy & well my friend.

      Warm regards.


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      • Thanks for your thoughts Batesy. Postmodern beliefs are very common here in the states. It maintains that creation itself was a “cosmic accident” and when we die, existence ceases. They believe that we are born from meaninglessness and return to meaninglessness and in between each person contructs for themselves “meaning” It seems a bit odd to believe that one can come from nothing, end in nothing but in between have so much something! This is where postmodern thought runs headlong into illogic. Everything is true if it’s true for you. That’s just nonsense, but it appeals to the narcissism within each of us.

        About that mind-body split you keep mentioning. Of course I agree that western thought has gone too far emphasizing left brainedness but the answer isn’t to abandon the left but to embrace the right and have a more balanced approach. Not sure if that’s what you’re saying, but extremes in either direction are problematic no?

        Hope Thailand is treating you well,

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  2. Toxic Drugs or Toxic Shame? – The Parental Nature of Society?

    Murray Bowen tells us that society operates just like a family? John Bradshaw in his brilliant “Healing the Shame that Binds You,” explains how shame is used to shape the family & society, by its ability to suppress and even crush, the natural energies of interest & excitement, of curiosity and wonder?

    It begins around 18 months of age, as parental adoration and encouragement turn to admonishment and the restriction of innate affect/emotion? Shame has been long recognized as the *binding* emotion which allows society to function in an orderly hierarchical fashion of perceived rank & status.

    This is perhaps the unconscious motivation in our drive for *diagnosis,* the ranking of another as inferior, or as described by Donald Nathanson, the Pride/Shame axis of all human relationships?

    Can the good Doctor in his need for the pride of deference, as Michael Cornwall points out, be sure that a motivation of good intention, is not driven by an unconscious need, in this Pride/Shame axis of human relationship? Is our current debate here on MIA inhibited by our *objective* analysis, with a lack of awareness, or discussion about *unconscious* motivation? Please consider the effects of Toxic Shame and its shaping of Western Society?

    “My Name Is Toxic Shame

    I was there at your conception
    In the epinephrine of your mother’s shame
    You felt me in the fluid of your mother’s womb
    I came upon you before you could speak
    Before you understood
    Before you had any way of knowing
    I came upon you when you were learning to walk
    When you were unprotected and exposed
    When you were vulnerable and needy
    Before you had any boundaries

    I came upon you when you were magical
    Before you could know I was there
    I severed your soul
    I pierced you to the core
    I brought you feelings of being flawed and defective
    I brought you feelings of distrust, ugliness, stupidity, doubt
    worthlessness, inferiority, and unworthiness
    I made you feel different
    I told you there was something wrong with you
    I soiled your Godlikeness

    I existed before conscience
    Before guilt
    Before morality
    I am the master emotion
    I am the internal voice that whispers words of condemnation
    I am the internal shudder that courses through you without any
    mental preparation

    I live in secrecy
    In the deep moist banks of darkness
    depression and despair
    Always I sneak up on you I catch you off guard I come through
    the back door
    Uninvited unwanted
    The first to arrive
    I was there at the beginning of time
    With Father Adam, Mother Eve
    Brother Cain
    I was at the Tower of Babel the Slaughter of the Innocents

    I come from “shameless” caretakers, abandonment, ridicule,
    abuse, neglect – perfectionistic systems
    I am empowered by the shocking intensity of a parent’s rage
    The cruel remarks of siblings
    The jeering humiliation of other children
    The awkward reflection in the mirrors
    The touch that feels icky and frightening
    The slap, the pinch, the jerk that ruptures trust
    I am intensified by
    A racist, sexist culture
    The righteous condemnation of religious bigots
    The fears and pressures of schooling
    The hypocrisy of politicians
    The multigenerational shame of dysfunctional
    family systems

    I can transform a woman person, a Jewish person, a black
    person, a gay person, an oriental person, a precious child into
    A bitch, a kike, a nigger, a bull dyke, a faggot, a chink, a selfish
    little bastard
    I bring pain that is chronic
    A pain that will not go away
    I am the hunter that stalks you night and day
    Every day everywhere
    I have no boundaries
    You try to hide from me
    But you cannot
    Because I live inside of you
    I make you feel hopeless
    Like there is no way out

    My pain is so unbearable that you must pass me on to others
    through control, perfectionism, contempt, criticism, blame,
    envy, judgment, power, and rage
    My pain is so intense
    You must cover me up with addictions, rigid roles, reenactment,
    and unconscious ego defenses.
    My pain is so intense
    That you must numb out and no longer feel me.
    I convinced you that I am gone – that I do not exist –
    you experience absence and emptiness.

    I am the core of co-dependency
    I am spiritual bankruptcy
    The logic of absurdity
    The repetition compulsion
    I am crime, violence, incest, rape
    I am the voracious hole that fuels all addictions
    I am instability and lust
    I am Ahaverus the Wandering Jew, Wagner’s Flying Dutchman,
    Dostoyevski’s underground man, Kierkegaard’s seducer,
    Goethe’s Faust
    I twist who you are into what you do and have
    I murder your soul and you pass me on for generations
    MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME” _Leo Booth/John Bradshaw.


    Best Wishes.


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  3. toxic shame is at the root of a lot of psychiatric problems. Not evryone suffers from it though. Some people are immune to it or, may be, know better how to deal with it without falling apart: how come? How do you get rid of toxic shame? I have been told by someone suffering from it that you can’t. Being rational is not enough because that toxic shame has blended in so deeply that it has become inextricably part of him.

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