Psychiatric Survivors Speak Up: Harm From Psychiatric Diagnosis, and a Start on Solutions

Clinical and research psychologist Paula Caplan presents “Psychiatric Survivors Speak Up: Harm From Psychiatric Diagnosis, and a Start on Solutions” at the 2012 National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA) Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. Caplan is currently an Associate at Harvard University’s DuBois Institute, working on the Voices of Diversity project, and a Fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program of the Kennedy School at Harvard. She is the author of “The Myth of Women’s Masochism” and “Don’t Blame Mother.” Her twelfth and latest book “When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans” won the 2011 American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence in the Psychology category.

This is latest in a series of conference presentations which will be featured on


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  1. I’ve just read Jeffrey Poland’s chapter “Bias and Schizophrenia”. Absolutely brilliant. Except for one thing: “…critics are not denying that there is such a thing as severe and disabling mental illness;…” Not true, some are. And while people regularly get angry with me because I tell them that *something* has got them labeled and drugged up, and, in case, also committed, that it didn’t happen for no reason at all, I’d say calling this *something* for “mental illness”, “severe and disabling” on top of that, is no less harmful, demeaning and disempowering, than calling it “schizophrenia”, with “schizophrenia” being just one of several possible synonyms for “severe and disabling mental illness”, and the term “severe and disabling mental illness” doing exactly the same in regard to the biases listed by Poland in his otherwise excellent piece, as which the term “schizophrenia” does. So, while Poland successfully deconstructs “schizophrenia”, he fails to realize that if at the same time he wants to maintain a belief in “severe and disabling mental illness” as a valid concept, he renders his previous deconstruction virtually null and void.

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    • Beautifully deconstructed! Thanks.

      “So, while Poland successfully deconstructs “schizophrenia”, he fails to realize that if at the same time he wants to maintain a belief in “severe and disabling mental illness” as a valid concept, he renders his previous deconstruction virtually null and void.”

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      • Thanks, Rossa. Now that I’ve watched the second half of the vid above, I see that, unfortunately, Paula Caplan has the same inconsistency in her argument as Jeffrey Poland. If there is such a thing as “mental illness”, then why wouldn’t there be “schizophrenia”, “bipolar disorder”, “depression”, etc. etc.? And if we can agree that there’s no scientific basis for any of those labels being objectively valid, then how can we, at the same time, claim “mental illness” to be an objectively valid concept?

        Of course existential suffering is real. It’s an essential part of the human condition. It’s always been, and it will always be (the day Big pHARMa invents a pill that cures us from all existential suffering we’ll be history). But is it an illness? Is it something *wrong* with the person? Is the person in some way as a human being flawed, defective? Or is what we call “mental illness” maybe exactly what is the most *right* with the person? Is reacting to life an illness? Something wrong with us, something that should not be? Or is it maybe an ability necessary for our survival, and furthermore for growth and development?

        Yes, I’ve read Laing, and it was indeed the only thing I could read, actually read from cover to cover almost in one day, while in crisis without feeling so totally and utterly *in*validated as I felt trying to read some of the mainstream-bs on, well, “mental illness”. Never mind that Laing does make use of the terms “schizophrenia” and “mental illness”. But he uses them in the framework of existential phenomenology. Not in that of some psychopathologizing sort of would-be medical science or the like. Huge difference.

        IMO, if somebody feels validated by being referred to as “mentally ill”, with or without greater specification, it should have our alarm bells ring. Telling somebody they’re *wrong* isn’t validating them. It’s validating their invalidity. The victim inside may feel good. The survivor will feel assaulted, demeaned, ridiculed.

        I wonder, whether Paula Caplan — or Jeffrey Poland for that sake — ever have had the chance to hear a survivor like Jacqui Dillon speak. If not, I highly recommend it.

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        • Marion, I think Paula would agree with everyone you have said. She’s referring to being taken out of context. I really think that Paula here was simply pointing out the result being that in a legal case a person that was suffering and troubled wouldn’t be seen as having something going on anymore. And she says her statement, out of context, was referred to by I think Justice Souter (but I don’t know; by “someone” anyhow). This is a basic tenet of how you deal with human behavior to begin with. I don’t believe in the penal system. Terrorizing people to behave properly doesn’t get them to behave properly, and it fools those on the other side into thinking that something is being done; when it’s exactly the opposite. It’s investing in and promoting a system which stresses people in a way that (what happens whenever you stress something) eventually something cracks. And you get the behaviors others hate and punish.

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  2. Just a thought for this and other articles and discussions. Has anyone read Destroying Sanctuary: the Crisis in Human Service Delivery Systems. it is based on a paradigm called the Santuary Model and it has some good thoughts on why things seem to be going so poorly. It’s from a more organizational view but I think it has validity.

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