Occupy the American Psychiatric Association

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A small but feisty group of “psychiatric survivors” are demonstrating just how disenchanted they truly are with what they consider to be the cult of psychiatry. Their movement is known as Occupy the American Psychiatric Association, or Occupy APA. They recently protested at American Psychiatric Association (APA) meetings in Philadelphia and in New York, and they are already organizing a similar protest in San Francisco for May 19 of this year.

If onlookers think this group of under 100 protestors are misguided in believing they can take away the power of the psychiatric profession, they should realize that these zealous activists are just getting started. Like the formidable movements against oppression Occupy APA is inspired by – civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights – they are starting small. They say they are speaking for the millions of people whose lives have been devastated by psychiatry, and who cannot advocate for themselves. Occupy APA argues that these victims of psychiatry are a much larger part of the population than is realized and that the pharmaceutical industry and the psychiatric profession represent the all-too-powerful and economically dominant 1%.

All the speakers at the rallies said they had been traumatized by “coercive psychiatry.” Many are angry that they were brainwashed into taking a cocktail of psychotropic drugs that proved to be toxic, addictive and just plain counter-productive. Some of the speakers and demonstrators described being acutely traumatized by involuntary hospitalization and electroconvulsive therapy or insulin shock therapy.  All had been given the debilitating, devastating message that they would never amount to being anything but “hopeless mental patients.” In fact, their experiences were so damaging that they have decided to devote their lives to standing up against this monolithic system, regardless of the personal costs.

Occupy APA says the oppression starts with a psychiatric label. They are saying, “No!” to labels applied to them by psychiatry’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). They say the purpose of that “bestseller” is to perpetuate psychiatry’s profit margin, and to justify and promote coercion. A principal organizer and a keynote speaker at the rally, Ted Chabasinski, said, “You have to understand. An entire industry is making money by hurting us… We are an oppressed group, like any other,” Chabasinski asserts.

The protests, which were held in Philadelphia on May 5, 2012 and in New York on October 6, 2012, were outwardly relatively subdued, well-mannered and self-contained. But the message was riveting. The crowd pressed inward toward the speakers to catch every word. The speak-out started at 1 UN Plaza, the site of many historic human rights protests. The crowd marched from there to the Sheraton Hotel where the APA was holding its annual conference. Protestors held signs that read “Abolish the APA,” and wore T-shirts that read, “Human Rights: Know Them, Demand Them, Defend Them.” They peacefully chanted “What do we Want? Human Rights. When do we want them? Now.” The aim of their San Francisco protest, which is planned for May 19, 2013, is the same as that of their East Coast protests: to attract, not only friends and family, but people who sympathize with movements against oppression in general.

At the Plaza, one speaker after another stood in front of a seven foot picture in which Lucy, the Peanuts character, holds a sign that reads “Psychiatric Help – 5 cents” in which the “5 cents” has been crossed out and “$500” written beneath it.  Each speaker gave eloquent testimony of a journey from trauma and exploitation to survival and recovery.

Occupy the APA deplores the use of DSM diagnostic categories such as Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder to describe its members, preferring instead to use terms like “psychiatric survivor” and “human rights activist.” At Occupy APA Philadelphia, activists from MindFreedom International, the mastermind and key organizer of the Occupy movement, rip up, on camera, paper signs which have psychiatric labels written on them. MindFreedom director David Oaks speaks for all the protestors when he rips a sign that reads DSM and identifies himself as a “psychiatric survivor and activist.” MindFreedom is a network of 100’s of grassroots mental health organizations and 1000’s of individual members.

Chabasinski’s position is fundamentally anti-psychiatry. At an Occupy protest he held a sign which urged us to, “Prosecute doctors who kill.” However, he does admit that “to say you are going to abolish psychiatry sounds a bit romantic.” He says the goal is “to take away the power of psychiatry … to end forced treatment.” Nevertheless, he avidly networks with activists who are less militant or have a different agenda. He endorses many activist organizations which favor alternatives. For example, he enthusiastically supports The Icarus Project, although he doesn’t directly advocate for their goals. The Icarus Project promotes human rights and alternatives for people labeled with mental illness, offering mutual support and networking options to survivors, helping them as Chabasinski puts it, to “overcome the alienation and broken self-esteem our psychiatric experiences have imposed on us.”

The principal foci of Occupy APA SF will be to oppose the DSM 5, which is due to be published a few days before the conference, and to expose the psychiatric abuse of children. Chabasinski explains that the reason the DSM labeling is catastrophic is that once a diagnosis is made, medication is prescribed. He says because people have blind faith in the “religion of psychiatry,” they obediently take the psychiatric medications they are prescribed, many of which are documented to have toxic side effects, which increase the risk of metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, and neurological disorders, such as cognitive decline. Chabasinski says in some cases patients “have lost the ability to regulate moods” due to the use of psychiatric medication. Antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Zoloft and Paxil, can cause suicidal ideation, and even suicide in some cases. Benzodiazapines, such as Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax, are documented to be more addictive than heroin. Moreover, Chabasinki explains, labeling someone with a psychiatric diagnosis gives a very hurtful and destructive message, namely “that something is biologically, irrevocably, wrong with you, that you will never amount to (being) anything but a mental patient.”

And, he says, most people don’t recognize that they too are at risk of being labeled. “The DSM 5 is going to threaten everyone,” Chabasinski says. He argues that the DSM grossly exaggerates the prevalence of mental illness in the general population. “I was adding it up,” he says, the DSM says 17% of the population has this disease; 16% of the population has that… it comes to 350% of the population has some form of mental illness. Of course this is nonsense. But a lot of what psychiatrists say is nonsense.” Yet, he warns, “the APA is powerful enough to enforce it.”

Chabasinski says the abuse of children by psychiatry is a wakeup call to every parent. He says the DSM treats normal behavior of children as a disease. “You take a child who talks back to his parents or is having difficulty paying attention in school. He gets labeled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and gets drugged, is given the message that something is wrong with him.” He argues that, treating a child with psychiatric medication is usually a substitute for therapeutic modalities, for example family therapy, which would search for real solutions.

Chabasinski, who has been networking with psychiatric survivors for a life time, says he believes “most of the stuff they talk of as mental illness are just human reactions, emotions to bad situations.” Adina Lambert, a psychologist practicing in Philadelphia, emphatically agrees with Chabasinski. She is horrified that infants who have tantrums are actually being labeled with dysphoric mood dysregulation disorder and then medicated. She is forthright: “This is criminal.” She says if a child is not having tantrums, then it’s cause for worry.

Dr. John Breeding, Ph.D., a psychologist, refers to the practice of labeling a person with a psychiatric diagnosis, and then simply prescribing the psychiatric medication indicated for that diagnosis, as the “magic trick.” He explains in detail on the YouTube Video, “Mental Health Liberation, Anti Psychiatry Movement Part 1,” (updated 5/5/2007), “once a psychiatrist identifies someone as mentally ill, as having a biological or genetic defect, that absolves everyone from taking responsibility to think any further what is really going on, because you have explained it, that child has attention deficit disorder, the person is clinically depressed, and then, voila, they just need medication”

Chabasinski has recently done pro bono work as a patient’s rights lawyer representing children and adolescents in psychiatric hospital treatment in the San Francisco Bay area. He speaks passionately about a five-year-old he represented. He says when he arrived at the hospital she was “in the quiet room screaming and crying and throwing her body against the wall.” He said, “I asked the attendant, why don’t you hold her and comfort her because that is what she’s asking for?” He says the attendant looked at him like he “had committed some blasphemy. He said he couldn’t do that because she had reactive abandonment syndrome.” Chabasinski said, “He was totally brainwashed by the psychiatric dogma. Any decent parent knows children need love and support to grow. But that seems to be beyond the understanding of psychiatry.” He says with irony that these kids have the “disease of being unhappy,” and asks, “what is the appropriate response to being taken from one’s parent, bounced around from institution to institution?” Sadly, as he says, 70-90 % of institutionalized foster children are in fact medicated.

Chabasinski had an almost telepathic connection with this little girl. He said, she was thinking “she had nothing, had nobody, was not human, that she would never amount to anything but a mental patient.” He felt certain about this because when he was six years old he also “screamed and yelled and threw (his) body against the wall.” He had been wrenched from both his biological mother, and then his foster parents, by the child welfare agency, and then locked up and forced to undergo a series of 20 electro-shock treatments in Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He says he was “an experiment” of the then revered child psychologist, Dr. Lauretta Bender, who diagnosed him as a Schizophrenic. He was then committed to Rockland State Hospital where he remained until he was 17 years old. He has tantalized audiences by facetiously identifying himself as “an unmedicated schizophrenic.” He says, that despite Dr. Bender’s diagnosis, he has never experienced schizophrenic symptoms. He says, with irony, his only psychiatric symptom was “genetic” – he was born of a mother who spent her entire life in and out of psychiatric hospitals. He has felt compelled, these past 41 years, to stand up against “his oppressors,” although he has felt discouraged from time to time along the way. No matter how often he speaks out about his lost childhood, he re-experiences, emotionally, the utter devastation he felt then. He says the pain and trauma never go away.

Some years later, he went on to work his way through college and to graduate with honors. Later still, when he was 50 years old, he became a lawyer. He says now, at age 75, “I have rededicated myself to a life of activism in order to prevent what was done to me from happening to others.” Understandably, he is the harshest critic of psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph Biederman. He calls Dr. Biederman, “a modern day Dr. Bender,” pointing out that Dr. Biederman has received millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies in return for promoting the use of powerful psychiatric drugs, such as antipsychotics, in the treatment of infants with behavioral problems.

Chabasinski speaks nostalgically about a brief, but fertile time, for the movement. From 1971 to 1985, many mental health activist groups formed in various states in America and in Canada, winning local and national media attention. It started for Chabasinski in 1971 with a protest against Bellevue Hospital in New York. He took part, “in a heart beat,” because that was where he had been “electroshocked” as a child. He first became aware of the protest through an article in the Village Voice. The protest was planned by a group called the “Mental Patients Liberation Project,” started by, the now deceased, peer activist, Howard Geld. Geld had been inspired by the “Insane Liberation Front” (ILF), which originated in Portland, Oregon. The ILF is thought of as having initiated the “modern” psychiatric survivor movement, although there have been psychiatric survivors protesting their diabolical treatment over centuries.

During a period of roughly 15 years, Chabasinski had his finger on the pulse of the movement, frenetically travelling from one group to another, from state to state. Chabasinski left a middle class job in New York City to move to Vancouver, where he became active in the Mental Patients Association. Later he founded, with his first wife and activist Judi Chamberlin, a group called Counterpsychiatry in Bellingham, Washington. After that, in 1974, he worked for the Network Against Psychiatric Assault (NAPA) in San Francisco. There he became a protégé of Leonard Cohen who is known for his activism against electro-shock treatments. He went on to help organize “The Second Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression” in Kansas. Then he moved back to San Francisco, where in Berkeley, he achieved his greatest accomplishment for the movement, namely the ban on shock treatments.

Chabasinski says all this feverish activity stopped when, in 1985, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) gained financial control of the movement, thereby crippling it. He says the NIMH succeeded in controlling two successive mental health conferences, first in Baltimore, Maryland and then in Burlington, Vermont. Prior to that point in time these conferences had always been in the hands of mental health activists. The NIMH is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and is the largest organization in the world specializing in mental illness.

In Chabasinski’s account, the NIMH hired an individual by the name of John Rogers and another “hotshot”, to systematically disrupt every workshop the NAPA hosted. In addition, the NIMH promised jobs to, and paid room and board for, “consumers” of mental health services on the condition that they feign political endorsement of the NIMH’s “alternative” approach to mental health. He says that the NIMH lavishly funded the conferences that which formerly mental health activists had ran on a shoe-string. Chabasinski sums up the role of NIMH during this period as follows: “of course if you have the money to pay people to come, it isn’t hard to look credible. Our movement has been completely marginalized now that we have joined the mainstream. Once they started giving out jobs we became weaker and weaker. People in the movement got brainwashed, demoralized.”

In Chabasinski’s opinion, the anti-psychiatry movement has actually gone backward over the past 28 years. He refers to the government-run mental health system as “fascistic” and “Orwellian.” He says that we have only seen the beginning of NIMH’s steam-roller tactics, concluding that as long as organizations such as the NIMH, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, are in control of the funding, those in need of mental health services will be tragically oppressed. Absurdly, the situation is comparable, he says, to a “white citizens’ council paying black people to defend their own oppression.”

Chabasinski articulates feelings about this reality on MadinAmerica.com as follows:

“Now that NIMH and the APA are in control… we are not a human rights movement any more. This movement is not controlled by the people who have suffered under the mental health system, but by that very system. We don’t address ourselves to the general public any more, but to the people who provide the funding. We are now invisible to the media, and to the public. Our legal rights have deteriorated, with vicious outpatient commitment laws in every state. We are a branch of the mental illness system.”

He says the APA understands and makes good use of the power of language, describing the movement as a “recovery” one, and its members as “consumers” rather than survivors. Clearly using the term “consumer” implies an endorsement, rather than a critique, of the system. He adds that “as long as psychiatry maintains its power, ‘recovery’ will mean compliantly taking one’s drugs, and ‘peer support’ will mean supplying the system with cheap labor.” He asks rhetorically, “was Anne Frank a consumer of Nazi brutality? Was Fredrick Douglass a consumer of slavery? Was I a six year old consumer of shock treatments?”, concluding that “those who benefit from the way things are won’t give up their money and power without a huge fight.”

Chabasinski said, “One of the biggest questions people ask is, if we didn’t do it the way we are doing it now, what would we offer instead?” He alludes to Soteria House as an alternative to the biomedical, brain-disease, psychiatric model. It offers an around the clock, drug-free, residential environment which is non-coercive, homelike, supportive and protective. It is designed primarily for people experiencing acute psychotic symptoms for the first time. It is thought of as an early intervention, crisis resolution service. Soteria House offers a nonintrusive, non-controlling, empathetic relationship with a staff specifically hired for their outstanding interpersonal skills and their non-psychiatric training. Research corroborates robust and long lasting recovery: findings indicate former residents of Soteria, when compared to patients of psychiatric wards, had a much better recovery.

In a two-year follow up, the outcomes of former clients of Soteria House were compared to those of a control group from a traditional psychiatric hospital environment. This study showed, former clients of Soteria House were working at significantly higher occupational levels, were more often living independently, alone or with peers, and had far fewer re-admissions. Moreover this was accomplished without neuroleptic drugs and at a much lower cost. The original Soteria House, was founded in 1971 in San Jose, and a second was founded in 1974, in a San Francisco Bay area suburb. Both closed in 1983 for lack of funding although research continued. Offshoots of Soteria have opened in Alaska and internationally. Soteria-Vermont aims to open doors in the fall of 2013.

The original Soteria House was founded by Dr. Loren Mosher, who died in 2004. Dr. Mosher was the first Chief of the Center for Studies of Schizophrenia at the National Institute of Mental Health. He was also the Clinical Director of Mental Health Services for San Diego, California and professor of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine, University of California at San Diego. He resigned from the American Psychiatric Association after nearly 30 years as a member, saying the profession had among other things, violated the “civil rights” of their patients and had been “bought out” by the pharmaceutical industry. In his letter of resignation he described the DSM 4 as a “money-making bestseller. “

In 1974, the Vancouver Emotional Emergency Center (VEEC) gave Chabasinski a safe place to heal and recoup. He had crossed the continent, left his middle class job and stable housing, and his wife, in order to promote the movement. Chabasinski says of the VEEC, “It was like clearing out the poison.” “I was “depressed and overwhelmed.” “I could scream and cry and yell and relive my childhood.” He said that, there, he could have that experience without the risk of being drugged, subjected to electro-shock treatment against his will, put in ”seclusion” or being told devastating things.

Will Hall, who flew in from Portland, Oregon to attend the protest in New York, has been passionate about human rights for the past 29 years. Since 2001 he has been an advocate for mental health, speaking publically about his own recovery. Whereas like Chabasinski, Hall aims to disempower psychiatry, his overall approach, his tactics and semantics, differ notably. While protestors at UN Plaza lambasted the APA, Hall was speaking about human rights to psychiatrists convening in the Sheraton Hotel. He said the talk he gave was so well received that his audience had to move to a larger room. Afterwards, some psychiatrists took him up on his offer to attend the rally at the plaza.

When Hall addressed the demonstrators, he said he was inspired by the gay rights movement. He noted that that movement really developed momentum after a protest at the Stone Wall Inn in 1969, not far from where Occupy NY was convening. There was palpable warmth in the audience towards him as he shared his optimism. He said, that just as the gay rights movement succeeded in getting homosexuality dropped from the DSM as a “disease” some 35 years ago, he predicts that eventually the phenomenon of “hearing voices” will no longer be regarded in the DSM as a symptom of mental illness. Again citing homosexuality as an example, Hall says it is not a disease, rather homophobia is; and that that reversal did not come about because of research carried out by the psychiatric system, but rather because activists demanded it. “This is what it takes,” he said pointing to the crowd with a jutting index finger, “a liberation movement.”

Hall says he’s grateful that both his parents are psychiatric survivors. They equipped him with what it takes to look beyond psychiatry and to instead, seek personal recovery through a community of peers, and ultimately, to become a
liberation oriented therapist and activist. Right before his audience began their march to the hotel he said, “Everyone here, we are really damaged, but we are a movement… a community… we connect with each other… You are all survivors. You’re all here. You’re not dead. You’re not in a hospital… We are an absolutely unstoppable force. We can change the psychiatric system. We can win our liberation.” The crowd whistled and cheered.

Hall is working at a frenetic pace. He is recognized, internationally, as an activist and an inspirational speaker, and as a psychotherapist. He is a consultant to a variety of health organizations, and he is a co-founder of Freedom Center, a support, advocacy and activism community run by people with psychiatric diagnoses. He is a host for the syndicated Madness Radio show and is the co-founder and director of Portland Hearing Voices. Through public education, discussion groups and trainings, Portland Hearing Voices seeks to promote individual and community understanding and acceptance in place of narrow medical diagnosis and stereotypes. He was a co-founder of The Icarus Project, and he is also a writer.

Hall is a skilled and seasoned peer advocate and psychotherapist. Having completed a Masters Degree, he went on to earn a diploma in Process Work, and trained in Open Dialogue.  Process Work, or Process Oriented Psychology, as it is called in Europe, is based on Jungian analytic psychology, systems theory, Gestalt therapy, and R.D. Laing’s work. It was developed by Jungian analyst, Arnold Mindell, in the 1970’s. The website of the Process Work Institute notes that Mindell understood mental illness to be a meaningful expression of the unconscious mind which manifests in dreams, physical symptoms, relationship difficulties, and addictions. Hall describes Open Dialogue as a family oriented, social network approach to helping persons who are experiencing a first episode of psychosis. He says it de-emphasizes pharmaceutical intervention and instead implements a psychotherapeutic treatment plan within 24 hours of contact with the patient. This innovative approach to psychosis, involving the patient’s family and friends, was developed in Finland by Jaakko Seikkula. Research studies of Seikkula’s work have received international attention. They show that the approach, he advocates, is more helpful to people in crisis than conventional treatment. It has better outcomes in terms of reduced hospitalization, less use of medication and lower rates of relapse. Hall says it is based on the theory that psychosis exists in the larger social context between individuals rather than being simply a disorder within a person’s mind.

He takes the best teachings from many schools of thought and merges them into a vision and an approach that are uniquely his own. The dynamics of his multi-faceted practice, whether as an activist, counselor, or consultant, are a reflection of the humanistic and therapeutic values that inspire him.  Although he regards himself and his parents as psychiatric survivors, he baulks at the label “Psychiatric Survivor Movement”, because he thinks that it boxes-in people and is divisive vis-à-vis the rest of society. He prefers the more inclusive nomenclature, recovery movement, because he believes that term embraces everyone affected by human rights.

Actually, Hall dislikes labels in general, and in particular, he detests DSM terminology. He favors a model of human behavior that normalizes the symptoms which are the criteria used to define psychiatric disorders in the DSM. He characterizes his model as embracing “mental diversity”: the full spectrum and, yet, the uniqueness of human experience. All human emotions can be seen as normal responses to a vast and differentiated socio-cultural environment. In his words, “mental diversity is about the relativity of normality. It is cross-cultural. It accommodates diverse expressions of human mind and behavior outside of a narrow medical context.” Hall says all labels erect walls between us, creating artificial divisions which emphasize how we differ from each other, rather than how we can constructively support one another.  He says these walls need to be broken down.  His fundamental point is that whatever you experience, or identify with, is normal for you.  He says, for example, that how you identify yourself (for example as gay, lesbian, transgender, or straight) and what you experience (such as hearing voices, or feeling depressed) are normal, legitimate manifestations of human individuality in our complex socio-cultural environment.

Hall is a model for a drug free recovery.  Obviously, he has a very full, and rewarding life despite his challenges.  “I am a person who is sexually attracted to men, as well as to women, and to transgender people. Does that make me tri-sexual?” he asked the laughing, appreciative crowd at the rally.  “I hear voices, sometimes have suicidal feelings, believe that the universe is talking to me, I fear conspiracies… go into deep depressions, have really intense moods and energies.”  Yet he says, “I don’t have a problem with any of this” and he actively advocates for all these experiences to be de-pathologized and to be no longer used as criteria for psychiatric disorders in the DSM 5.

Hall has published his recovery story on the National Empowerment Center’s (NEC) website. The NEC’s mission statement is to bring the message of recovery, empowerment and hope to people living with mental health issues, trauma or extreme states. He begins, “since I was a child I’ve struggled with extreme emotions, voices and powerful out of body experiences.  I remember falling to the ground once in third grade, writhing in agony because I believed something was grabbing my back.  I saw cartoons projected on the ceiling, and my fear was sometimes so strong I became mute.  I often hid away, alone, overwhelmed and unable to describe what was going on.”  At age 24 he was referred to a psychiatrist, who prescribed Prozac.  It initially had a positive effect, but ultimately caused him to have a terrifying manic episode.  He started to act-out in bizarre ways which he never experienced prior to taking the anti-depressant.  At age 26 he “hit a breaking point… I wandered the streets of San Francisco all night hearing angry voices telling me to kill myself. I ended up in the locked unit of a public psychiatric ward.” But he says the forced treatment he endured proved to be worse than the experience that brought him there: “I went from being a human being to being a mental patient.”  For several months he was forced to take an anti-psychotic, Navane, which robbed him of his identity. And, “it completely changed my personality, made me stupider, slower, and because of the side effects, at times, more desperate and suicidal.”  But in the end, fate intervened: the public insurance, which paid for his treatment ran out, and he was discharged.  That “instantly lifted my depression.”

And yet, “the humiliation of being labeled a schizophrenic, threatened to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  In describing the hospitals, shelters and programs he was put into in the aftermath of his incarceration, Hall says, “I was encouraged to see myself as a broken invalid, to forget my strengths, to see myself as a defective human being… I learned to turn over authority for my mind and experience to doctors and therapists.”

Hall has been drug free and has stayed out of the hospital for some 16 years.  “I reached out to other people who had also been diagnosed as mentally ill and we began supporting each other in discovering our own pathways to healing.  Having people around me who believed in my recovery was crucial.”  He adopted healthy sleep habits, nutrition, meditation and yoga, spirituality, exercise, and acupuncture.

On his website he explains, “Emotional distress is a natural adaptive response. What gets called ‘psychosis’ is not a disease or a problem within the individual but a mysterious break in the social relations between people and a desperate search for a way forward.”  In his therapy practice he helps his clients to embrace these very human experiences.  He states in his website, “My own healing enabled me to understand that each person’s pathway is unique and to develop a pragmatic approach to discovering what works.”  He addresses potential clients, and explains he will help them “learn from who you are, and not to pathologize yourself.”  He says his therapy practice “is very sensitive to power relationships.”  “Traditional treatments disempower and pathologies.”  He expands on this theme, saying,

“All emotional struggles are intimately bound with power, social oppression and rank. When therapists ignore the power relations surrounding us they can end up reinforcing the status quo and blocking change. Everyone has resources within themselves and the capacity to take greater control of their lives.”

He has extensive experience working with “madness” and experiences labeled as psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. “I help each client, and those close to them, to understand powerful emotions, voices, paranoia, isolation, manic states, and mental extremes, not as symptoms of broken brains but as potentially creative and meaningful parts of our selves that make sense when seen in context. We explore the growing edges of change through dialogue, role play, meditation, dream work, conflict resolution, movement, and drawing.”  He says, “I actively involve myself in the work: quiet listening and empathetic support are key.”  He cannot accept insurance for his work, because he does not diagnose or offer mainstream treatment.

Hall makes a distinction between medical diseases and mental illnesses, noting that only medical problems have “physical markers.”  He rejects the idea that “mental illness is like diabetes,” pointing out that arguing that “narrows discussion of possible ways of living with, and recovering from mental illness. And it implies that medical intervention is the only treatment and therefore that it would be irresponsible not to medicate as a standard of care.  And that is not an honest acknowledgement of the prevailing research.”

Hall has published a book, which is intended to assist patients who wish to discontinue their use of psychiatric medication. While its title is Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs he claims his goal “is not to get clients off meds.” He eschews a universal approach, stating that “the goal has to fit the experience of the client, rather than be imposed.” He goes on to say that “actually I think we need to note that many people find sanctuary in hospitals, that diagnosis is useful, and meds helpful, and I acknowledge this diversity.”

Contrary to Chabasinski’s view that the liberation movement has “gone backwards over the past few decades,” Hall sees a lot of progress: “For most people it used to be ‘Mental illness is a disease, here is a pill you take for it.’ Now that’s breaking down.” He attributes this progressive trend to a variety of factors: the growth of alternative therapies, many of which have higher recovery rates, the rise of a holistic medical model, acceptance of multiculturalism, and the increase of interest in spirituality; but most significantly to advocacy by survivor and disability rights groups. The planned occupy APA protest in San Francisco in May is the next step in this process.
Judith Kurens is a freelance writer who lives in New York.

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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.

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