Open the Paradigm


A few years back, I had the opportunity to produce a short film about Freedom Center – a grass roots organization of those identifying as ‘survivors of psychiatry.’ Most had been given serious psychiatric diagnosis, and served time in the grips of psychiatric incarceration. Nonetheless, they were banding together around their shared experiences, and ideas about how we could, or should, support people in extreme mental states.

My interest in making movies does not stem from the allure of Hollywood’s glitz and glam. Rather, a sense that real life is often more interesting than fiction. And so my path intersected with Oryx Cohen and Will Hall, co-founders of Freedom Center.

Freedom Center had been offered an opportunity to tell the story of its work, with a short film as centerpiece, on Global visibility for a community organization that started out meeting in church basements. Hoodies up, voices hushed. On short notice and no budget, we pulled together their story, and the piece became one of the top-rated news items on Forbes for several days running. Exposure to these powerful “survivor” stories, coupled with the overwhelming response on Forbes, awakened me to my part as a filmmaker in making them part of our cultural dialogue.

In the years since meeting Will and Oryx, I have had the good fortune of immersing myself in the world of ‘alternatives to mainstream psychiatry.’ I might also call it the world of ‘alternative research on the science of living.’ What I discovered were countless individuals who have been told their extreme states, or emotional distress, was a disease of the brain, from which they would never recover. The irony is that most of these individuals are now living full lives, holding jobs, starting families. Many have gone through the painful and dangerous process of coming off the psychiatric drugs that were doled out to them as if they were insulin for diabetes. Moreover, they were paying it forward by supporting others with similar experiences. In short, I witnessed proof that the standard of care for mental health had done, in many cases, more harm than good. And found myself at ground zero of a decades-old human rights battleground.

The upshot is that these ‘alternative’ organizations were more than just an option for the people I found myself shoulder-to-shoulder with; they were reframing the message people had been given by a theory that had failed, both as science and as a means of helping them. They informed people that they were not genetically broken, dysfunctional human beings. That with support they could move forward with their lives. Many came to view the experience commonly referred to as “mental illness” or “psychosis” as a natural response to life circumstances; one that should to be understood, journeyed through. And by doing so, individuals could take value from these experiences, rather than view them as symptoms of a hypothetical illness.

Along the way, I have been privileged to hear hundreds, maybe thousands, of people’s stories. I undertook, with the help of Oryx and others in the movement, to produce a feature length documentary, Healing Voices. The film is in production and we expect to have a completed product around the end of this year. I created marketing content for the various ‘Recovery Learning Communities’ in Massachusetts, and saw how the idea of ‘recovery’ differed amongst the (at the time) six organizations funded by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health; ranging from activism in western Massachusetts, to more mainstream out east. I worked on a film about the medical model with Sera Davidow. Another, developed with Brenda Vezina, about the causal relationship between trauma and psychiatric diagnoses. I spent time in South Dakota working with a group of ‘peers’ on media production, exploring the power of storytelling. Conferences. Board work. Personal research, and the writings of Carl Jung, John Weir Perry, and Robert Whitaker. All the while I paid close attention to the portrayal of “mental health” and “mental illness” in schools and the media. I noticed the almost complete lack of discussion about the role of psychiatric drugs in incidents of extreme violence. My oldest daughter was instructed, in a high school health class, to “pick one of these mental illnesses” and write a report about it. I hope she doesn’t lose points due to the necessary lack of scientific citation.

This leads me to the Open Paradigm Project. Less than six months ago, I had the even greater fortune to start working with a small group of fellow producers who had spent a chunk of time traveling and shooting at various conferences. Interviews with notable figures in the movement. Survivor stories. A mixed bag of ‘Mad Media’. Immersing myself in the now 200+ hours of raw footage was like swimming in a sea of the subconscious. I was swallowed whole by the white whale, consumed with the energy to put my still-developing abilities to the best use I could think of. Open the Paradigm.

A fair amount of the footage has been made available on Mad in America, mainly interviews and conference presentations. Much of it is being made available to others who can put it to good use. Our first full production, a documentary about the Hearing Voices movement filmed at the 2012 World Hearing Voices Congress in Cardiff, Wales, premiered exclusively on the site over three weeks ago, and is now available on the Open Paradigm YouTube channel. But the wrinkle of this story comes next. So I digress.

In February, the Open Paradigm Project received an indirect invitation by the White House to provide testimonials for a planned “National Dialogue on Mental Health”. Our understanding was that the White House was open to ‘stories of hope and recovery by non-medical means.’ So we dropped everything we were doing, choosing to produce as many of these testimonials as we could muster, and offer them to this campaign as free content, in the hope that this proposed “National Dialogue” would include at least a representative sample of the perspectives we’ve come to believe in. We figured, if they were going to open a door, we should try to drive a truck through it.

So that’s what we did. We delivered to the White House a sample of people – clearly capable, eminently fulfilled – saying that psychiatry had not helped them, and in fact had become the obstacle they overcame on their way to a fully realized life. And we haven’t heard back. The “National Dialogue” seems to have fallen off the radar, at least for now, but I expect that if and when you do hear about it the message will be that “treatment works”, and, “let’s not stigmatize people with psychiatric diagnosis”, or, “if you see the signs of mental illness in your troubled friend or classmate, make sure they seek help” to get a diagnosis, take medication.  The same old story.

I hope I’m wrong. And I’m not suggesting that people don’t experience periods of extreme difficulty, and that they should not seek help. But help can, and always has come, in many forms – many of them simple, human, gentle, kind and benign – while the evident risk of psychiatric intervention or so-called “treatment” has become the elephant in the room.

Where does that leave us? Well, we’re sitting on an ever-growing mountain of testimonials, filmed with high production value, primarily featuring individuals who have shed, or rejected, psychiatric diagnosis. Family members who regret their well-intended choices. Psychiatrists searching to rediscover the humanity of their work. And the hits just keep coming. We started by dialing into the “recovery” community, and now the rest of the community is dialing us. “Can I tell my story?” “Can you come to Cleveland/North Carolina/Japan? The Vatican?”

As we sat waiting for the White House to make its move, discussing how best to put this content to work, the controversy around the release of DSM-5 heated up. National Institute of Mental Health director Thomas Insel made a move away from the DSM (“lack of validity… patients deserve better”), which was later ‘qualified’ in a joint statement with American Psychiatric Association incoming president Jeffrey Lieberman. Then DSM-5 task force chair David Kupfer’s admission of an absence of biological markers of mental illness (“we’re still waiting”). Even so, the NIMH’s Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) and President Obama’s BRAIN initiative have announced they will continue to look for solutions in biology – an approach that, despite decades of acknowledged failure, Insel proposes to be only “ten years away.”

So what better way to leverage these personal testimonies than on the heels of the so-called “Bible” of psychiatry’s floundering credibility, and uncertain future? On May 19th, in connection to the Occupy Psychiatry protest at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual conference in San Francisco, the Open Paradigm Project launched a social media campaign driven by “stories of hope from people who rejected psychiatric diagnosis”. It is now live on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. The videos will be featured on and offered as free content to individuals, groups, and organizations willing to push these stories through their personal, professional, and social networks. We currently have more than 50 of these testimonials produced, and a dizzyingly limitless opportunity to keep producing them. Alas, the butterfly effect of psychiatry.

Ten years ago, Oryx and Will and other members of Freedom Center gathered underground, fearful of being seen or heard, besieged by a paradigm they had came to know was flawed, and dangerous. Today, that paradigm has been rocked to its very core, and is shifting on its foundations. These testimonials speak loudly about the message of hope and recovery. Hope of a life fully lived, and recovery of the right to face and overcome (or not) life’s challenges with the strengths and gifts we were all born with, rather than the specious promise of a chemically enhanced life-at-ease. These stories teach us about the resilience of the spirit, and the depths of human experience. About our capacity to learn, and to grow.

I did not identify as a survivor of psychiatry. But I do now. We all are, or are coming to be, survivors of an era where one medical subspecialty rose to claim authority over human experience and its travails. As someone who wants to tell stories, good stories, I feel it’s important to remain as objective as possible. But sometimes you reach a critical mass, and the writing is on the wall. As media producers, we have the privilege and responsibility of paying forward the power of these stories. If they can reach a family, or a young person going through crisis, and inform their choices, letting them know that they are not alone – then we can be a part of reclaiming a healthier future for us all. One in which there is always hope, and no such thing as broken.

For information about the on-going campaign, or to contact the producers of the Open Paradigm Project, please visit


  1. I think the above is a great introduction to the new Open Paradigm Project video website where I’m sure many sobering and demystifying stories of hope will be shared for years to come. These videos need to be out there, and the amazing growth we’ve witnessed in video and audio content on alternative interpretations to human distress is any indication, the internet age is going to continue to shovel soil on the grave of the quackery based “brain disease paradigm”.

    Sorry “bio”psychiatrists, your fanaticism, appalling lack of critical thinking, big pharma payola, craven “big lie” PR machine, and all round sheeple groupthink, has become a danger to itself and others. Forget the bathwater, there ain’t even no baby in this tub. Babies are beautiful, precious and valuable things. A mindless secular priesthood that acts as vending machine for tranquilizer drugs and DSM® labels is nothing of the sort and as psychiatry’s credibility gurgles down the plug hole, we can all hear that gurgling sound.

    The world, and psychiatry’s, and the White House’s childish, anti-human belief that a school shooting is a biological function, an excretion of biology about as culturally complex as what Obama’s dog just did on the Oval Office rug, is going to be exposed for the infantile intellectual sloppiness that it is. Nothing can stop the truth train. Those who continue to believe brain disease BS are on the wrong side of history. All aboard.

    No seriously. What kind of a world do we live in where the President of the United States is sitting in the private study located off the Oval Office (a private study made famous by Clinton’s project of mapping of the human body), someone knocks on the door and says “Mr. President there has been another school shooting”… and the response is “the shooter’s body must have caused it, let’s spend billions looking inside the body for the cause of this clearly bodily caused crime”.???

    Nixon once said to David Frost “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.”

    I guess the world is saying to us, when the unlabeled do it (people without DSM® labels slapped on them), it is not a brain disease. When those labeled “mentally ill” do it, it is a brain disease. Kids in Connecticut who play the video game Call of Duty all day and shoot up a school? They “have brains that lack empathy”. Presidents who run targeted killing drone programs?
    Well that’s just foreign policy. No need to “map the brains” of human group behavior, no matter how violent, but the second an INDIVIDUAL does something extreme, thinks something extreme, feels an extreme emotion time to resort to blaming a bodily organ.

    Psychiatry has a brain disease. It is characterized by delusions of pseudo-scientific grandeur. The negative symptoms make it not want to leave its house of cards. It demonstrates poor self care. With every new DSM® edition released, massive weight gain occurs. The patient shows poor insight. Patient believes it is comprised of real doctors. Patient believes computers, tablets and laptops worldwide are still uncritically displaying its propaganda and the public is still buying it. Patient, because of its brain disease, refuses to admit it is ill. After recent NIMH statement, statement became withdrawn. Due to millions of instances of initiating violence against innocent members of the public, patient must be restrained. Spat on human rights, a spit mask may need to be forcibly fastened to its brain diseased head. Patient engages in manic spending of taxpayer dollars, countless tens of billions worldwide over the past century. Has not made good progress since Kraepelin first started slapping labels on asylum inmates.

    Prognosis: permanent, incurable genetic brain disease with a much shorter life expectancy than the real doctors on the non psych ward floors of the hospital where real medicine is practiced. Floridly symptomatic with chronic physician prestige dysmphoric disorder. Dissociating from the scientific method since the days of Benjamin Rush. Patient is preoccupied with an imagined expertise it believes it possesses. Sees visions of progress that don’t exist. Patient hasn’t seen inside the human body since anatomy class 20 years ago back in college yet claims it diagnoses and treats real brain diseases. Patient hears voices, labels them Scientologists and Aids deniers.

    Patient entered school system, chained the hallway exit doors shut and carried out an indiscriminate drugging and labeling spree, going from child to child, and one by one, shooting a drug into each student’s brain with cold, clinical precision while many cowered under desks. Patient entered schools armed with high capacity prescription pads, assaulting innocent children’s growing brains and rifling through enrollment records nationwide hunting for more victims. Patient preyed on the elderly, seeking court ordered forced electroshock against the will of old ladies and their loved ones, patient drugged fetuses in utero, and even desecrated the remains of the dead for its cadaver “research”.

    Patient showed no empathy for its victims. Patient ignores requests to stop acting out, even when issued by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. Full blown, back wards case. The patient’s brain disease is caused by an excess of dopey-men. Blockade of this quackery-transmitter will be necessary. Side effects may include livelihood damage.

    Treatment plan: global grassroots uprising and paradigm shift and a movement for human rights.

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  2. Thank you for your eloquent and heartfelt words, PJ. We are all so lucky to have met you through your masterful editing and now this lovely story of how you came to us. Sending so much thanks from a rest stop on my way to the Hudson Valley. On with the revolution!

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    • I second that. Masterful editing indeed. He’s got a real talent for it. That’s what everyone said about the “Voices Matter” video.

      Speaking of videos…

      This recent video of Will Hall’s presentation to “hospital” psychiatrists is a must see, not only for Hall’s presentation, but for the bone chilling moments in its final ten minutes when the floor is opened up for questions.

      A “hospital” psychiatrist, outraged, in quivering voice, constantly looking up from his angrily scrawled notes and looking across the conference table at his colleagues for approval… fires a high capacity magazine of statements at Will Hall that has to be seen to be believed. The outrage the brain disease imams show when their fundamentalist beliefs are questioned is truly terrifying. The forcefulness that is unleashed on Will Hall is like a psychiatric fatwa. The angry psychiatrist wields a point by point list and fires it off at Will Hall mercilessly. Always beware a psychiatrist wielding a list written on paper! Will Hall has courage stepping into the belly of the beast. It must be said, that many in the audience were respectful of their guest presenter. I’ve seen two of Will Hall’s presentations to physician only audiences. I’ve seen last year’s presentation to the APA that he made, and this one. He was essentially heckled on both occasions by at least some of the professionals in attendance. While most professionals in these audiences watching Will Hall sit respectfully and at least listen to what he was to say, it appears some psychiatrists, are fuming with rage by the time question time begins. The hubris is plain to see. Intermittently explosive viewing.

      (the questioner is video linked from a remote site, sitting at a conference table in some “hospital” viewing Will Hall’s presentation via video link) Final 10 minutes of the video.

      See the video here:

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  3. “…the world of ‘alternative research on the science of living.’

    “I did not identify as a survivor of psychiatry. But I do now. We all are, or are coming to be, survivors of an era where one medical subspecialty rose to claim authority over human experience and its travails…”

    And this:

    “…there is always hope, and no such thing as broken.”

    I haven’t been around here for a few days and this was a great piece to read upon returning. The videos you’ve worked on are beautiful and I really appreciated reading about your perspective. Much respect re: your reverence for the goodness and vitality of the best sort of stories.

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