The Journey of Transformation


A shorter version of Leonard Roy Frank’s “The Journey of Transformation” was presented as a keynote address at the 2007 Annual Rights Conference of the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy [NARPA] at the Radisson Hotel Westside, Los Angeles, on November 15, 2007. It was published in the April 2008 issue of Street Spirit, a monthly publication of the American Friends Service Committee, Oakland, distributed by homeless people in the East Bay of San Francisco.


Epigraph: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  Paul (Romans 12:2)


1. A Path Begins Within


Let me tell you a story. It’s my own, the one I know best, and illustrates in part the theories I will elaborate on later in this essay.

Born in 1932, I grew up in a middle-class family in Brooklyn. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, I served a two-year stint in the U.S. Army. Three lackluster years as a real estate salesman in New York and Florida were followed by my moving, in 1959, to San Francisco, where I soon decided that my life was unsatisfying and that I wasn’t living up to my potential as a human being.

I realized, to paraphrase William James, that there was something fundamentally wrong about me as I then was, and that the way to correct this situation was to make, in his words, “proper connection with the higher powers.” The molting season had arrived: I was ready to shake off the old skin to make way for the new.

So I withdrew from society and undertook a self-imposed and self-directed course of study aimed at making connection with the higher powers in order to achieve self-realization. For close to three years, I devoted myself to my studies, while excluding just about everything else a young person might want to do.

My time was largely taken up with reading. The most important books and authors I remember reading were the The Bible, The Bhagavad-Gita, Confucius, Lao-tzu’s The Way of Life, Mohammad, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” Abraham Lincoln, Leo Tolstoy, William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, Henri Bergson, Mohandas K. Gandhi’s An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Carl G. Jung, Arnold J. Toynbee’s A Study of History, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The learning process was entirely organic. There was no pre-set list of books to be read: each book suggested the next one to be read.

All of this, as might be expected, had a profound effect on me. I was soon questioning everything I believed, and the answers I came up with were more in accord with the beliefs I drew from my reading than with those I previously had held.

My parents, who were then living in Manhattan, visited me several times during this period. They became increasingly concerned about the changes they observed in me. After a while, they hardly recognized me: we were living on the same planet but in different worlds. The changes I saw as positive they regarded as negative and, moreover, evidence of my being “mentally ill.” They urged me to see a psychiatrist and, when I wouldn’t, had me committed.

I was locked up for about seven months, beginning in October 1962, first in the psychiatric ward of a San Francisco hospital for a few days, then in a state hospital in Northern California for about a month, and finally in a private psychiatric hospital located just south of San Francisco.

The case history section of the “Certificate of Medical Examiners” explained the basis for the commitment. It read as follows: “Reportedly has been showing progressive personality changes over past 2 or 3 years. Grew withdrawn and asocial, couldn’t or wouldn’t work. Grew a beard, ate only vegetarian food and lived life of a beatnik — to a certain extent.” Later, I was diagnosed as a “paranoid schizophrenic” and eventually forced to undergo court-ordered combined insulin coma-electroshock “treatment.”

I was subjected to 50 insulin comas and 35 electroshocks, according to my psychiatric records, which I obtained in 1974. The major effect of the shocks was memory loss. My high school and college educations were effectively destroyed. At least as significantly, there remained but few traces of memory for the three years that preceded the last shock session, including the period of study before commitment, which I believe was the most meaningful and creative in my life up to that point.

Although the use of combined insulin coma-electroshock in psychiatry was discontinued around 1965, electroshock (electroconvulsive treatment, ECT) is currently being administered annually to between one and two million people worldwide (including an estimated 100,000 Americans) and can produce similarly devastating effects, especially when applied intensively.

After being released from the hospital, I returned to my studies and spent the next six years, supported by a stipend from my parents, first catching up to where I had been and then moving on to new learning and further development. Following that, I managed my own art gallery in downtown San Francisco for five years, became deeply involved in the psychiatric survivors movement, first, in 1972, as a staff member of Madness Network News, soon after that as co-founder of the Network Against Psychiatric Assault, and now as a member of MindFreedom International.

In 1978, I edited and self-published The History of Shock Treatment and, beginning in 1998, Random House published eight collections of quotations I’ve edited, most notably Random House Webster’s Quotationary, which has now sold nearly 150,000 copies. In 2006, I published on the Internet The Electroshock Quotationary, a freely downloadable 156-page book with a good deal more information than most people would ever want to know about psychiatry’s most controversial procedure.

I want to backtrack now and discuss some of the ideas I may have learned during the period of withdrawal preceding my commitment. I say “may have learned,” for the shock-induced memory loss makes it difficult for me to differentiate between what I learned from my pre-commitment studies and what I learned afterwards when I reread at least some of the books I remembered having read during the earlier period.

A friend who visited my studio apartment during that period in the early 1960s told me many years later that shelves filled with books covered one of its walls, but I remember only a dozen or so of their titles. All the books were destroyed when I was committed.


2. The Path of Satyagraha: Nonviolent Resistance


Gandhi’s Autobiography opened me to a new way of thinking about myself and the world. From that work and other writings of his, I discovered some of the underlying ideas and principles of what became my unwritten credo. But I didn’t just incorporate them into a belief system; where possible, I began practicing them, and still practice them.

I learned from Gandhi (1869-1948) about nonviolence and became a satyagrahi, that is, someone who practices nonviolent resistance to wrongdoing and violence. The root meaning of satyagraha is “holding onto truth,” which Gandhi rendered as “truth-force.” He believed that “exploitation is the essence of violence.” From this, I reasoned that nonexploitation is the essence of nonviolence, so I resolved to cease taking advantage of people.

Gandhi believed there are three possible responses to violence: violent resistance, nonresistance, and nonviolent resistance. Violent resistance is rejected because it perpetuates and increases the violence; meeting violence with violence is like fighting fire by dousing it with gasoline. It also makes the violent resister an accomplice, an active accomplice, in the wrongdoing. Nonresistance is ruled out because it fails to stop the violence and makes the nonresister a passive accomplice and a coward. The only moral choice, in Gandhi’s view, is nonviolent resistance, that is, taking action individually and in groups to end the violence (A) by refusing to cooperate with those carrying out the violence, by ceasing to assist the wrongdoer directly or indirectly; (B) by throwing up obstacles to the proposed or ongoing violence and exploitation through demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, and, if necessary, deliberate law-breaking or civil disobedience; and (C) by serving the common good through purposeful, constructive engagement. As Gandhi wrote, “cooperation with good is as much a duty as noncooperation with evil.”

Gandhi taught me that all people and all animals are part of one family, and that the principle of nonviolence and nonexploitation applies to every member of that family, so I became a vegetarian and, later, a vegan, a non-eater and non-user of all animal products. He persuaded me that God exists, so I became a monotheist. He taught me that “no human being is so bad as to be beyond redemption,” that “given the opportunity, every human being has the same possibility for spiritual growth,” and that as children of “one and the same God” we are “absolutely equal.”

I learned from him, from his writings and his life, that it is possible for a spiritual person to be active in the political/economic world without self-betrayal or sacrificing his or her spirituality. I thus decided that when finished with my studies I would return to the everyday world, pursue some kind of career, and do what I could to make the world a better place.


3. The Path of the Prophets


In his Autobiography, Gandhi named several books that had strongly influenced him during his formative years. One was the New Testament. Although I was born a Jew, I was raised in a more or less secular home and knew very little about my religion or, for that matter, any other religion. One thing I did know about religion, however, was that the New Testament, or Christian Scriptures, was based on the Hebrew Scriptures, which preceded them, so it made sense for me to read the latter before the former.

The Hebrew Scriptures provided me with some of the key guideposts I needed for what was to be my journey of transformation. Because I had no preconceived ideas about the book, I was able to read it with fresh and critical eyes. I soon realized that not all of it was to be taken literally and that some of it was not to be taken at all, that it was part history and part mythology, part wisdom and part nonsense. I found that along with the many beneficial laws and teachings were some harmful and immoral ones. Instead of relying on religious authority, I decided which was what according to my own inner light.

What impressed me most were the words of Moses and the prophets: their teachings about the one God, a living God, a personal God whom human beings can experience directly; their teachings about idolatry, about right and wrong, and about the need not only to avoid wrongdoing but, in Hosea’s words, to “practice kindness, justice and righteousness” and, in Isaiah’s words, “to break every yoke… to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house.” Implicit in their message was the idea that there is a universal moral law, obedience to which is freedom.

The Hebrew Scriptures also taught me a new way of understanding history. Built into the text, as I read it, is a theory of history. In brief: history is His story, God’s story, of His journey from the Garden of Eden to the Kingdom of Heaven. But it is not just God’s story — it is our story as well for it turns out, as I and others believe, that God can complete Her/His journey only with the active and fully conscious participation of humanity. In other words, God needs us no less that we need God. We are, in fact, a partnership, and by working together we can create an earthly kingdom of peace, freedom, and prosperity, a kingdom in which God and humankind can live indefinitely.


4. The Path of the Peacemaker


Next, I turned to the Christian Scriptures, primarily to the example and teachings of Jesus, and found much that fit into my newly unfolding belief system. From Jesus I learned about loving not only our neighbors, but also our enemies; about loving one another as fully as God loves each one of us; about, paraphrasing the Beatitudes, the blessedness of the humble, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; about speaking out on behalf of the voiceless, society’s rejects, the downtrodden and the destitute, and defending them even to the point of placing ourselves in the path of the juggernaut that crushes them so mercilessly; and about trust, courage, integrity, and the centrality of forgiveness — that is, forgiving those who have wronged us and being forgiven by those we have wronged.

The authorities of his time could put up with some of Jesus’s teachings, but what they couldn’t tolerate was his belief that he was God. The Hebrew belief was that all of us are made in the image of God. Jesus believed that he was an incarnation of God: “I and the Father [meaning God] are one.” That was blasphemy in its most extreme form to both Jews and Romans, the latter being occupiers of Judea during the lifetime of Jesus whose religion held that the Roman emperor was God. Jesus paid for his “blasphemy” with his life. I asked myself, was he or was he not God incarnate? And my answer was, yes he was — in the same way that every human being is God incarnate. But if that were true, how is it that we human beings, throughout history, have often been so cruel to one another and to ourselves. Perhaps, I thought, it is because we are unaware of who we truly are and that once awakened from our slumber we would be inspired to act in accord with our godly nature.


5. The Path of History


At one point during the course of my studies, I read several books by the English historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975). His signature work is the twelve-volume Study of History (1934-1961). He found significant similarities in the development and decline of more than twenty of the world’s major civilizations. To me, three of his most meaningful historical principles were “challenge and response,” “withdrawal and return,” and what I will call the chariot metaphor.

Regarding challenge and response, Toynbee wrote, “Civilizations… come to birth and proceed to grow by successfully responding to successive challenges. They break down and go to pieces if and when a challenge confronts them which they fail to meet.”

With respect to withdrawal and return, he wrote, “The creative movement [is]… a disengagement and temporary withdrawal of the creative personality from his social milieu, and his subsequent return to the same milieu transfigured: in a new capacity and with new powers.”

As an example of this two-step process, Toynbee cited Paul, a Jewish tentmaker and probably a Pharisee, who on the road to Damascus experienced a revelation that converted him to Christianity — such as it was, only a few decades after its founder’s death. This led to his “withdrawal” from society for more than ten years, during which time he learned as much as he could about the fledgling religion, preparatory to returning to society and becoming its leading theologian and missionary.

About the chariot metaphor, Toynbee wrote, “If religion is a chariot, it looks as if the wheels on which it mounts towards Heaven may be the periodic downfalls of civilizations on Earth. It looks as if the movement of civilizations may be cyclic and recurrent, while the movement of religion may be on a single continuous upward line. The continuous upward movement of religion may be served and promoted by the cyclic movement of civilizations round the cycle of birth, death, birth.”

Toynbee exemplified the chariot metaphor by making a connection between Judeo-Christianity and the Roman Empire, the former representing a chariot, and the latter, the wheels of a chariot. The new religion was carried forward by the political, social and technological advances of the earth’s once-dominant but then dying empire. The development of the city-state, the postal system, and land and sea transportation facilitated the proselytizing activities of Paul and the other Christian missionaries.

Finally, after some 300 years of persecuting Christians, the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion in a failed attempt to save itself from dissolution. From this perspective, the larger historical purpose of the Roman Empire was to serve as a vehicle for the spread and advancement of Christianity.

Toynbee analogized the current world situation to that which existed during the last days of the Roman era, believing that Western Civilization has replaced the Roman Empire and that some new religion, as yet unknown and about which we have little or no inkling, may possibly arise to replace Christianity and other world religions. He believed that the scientific advances for which Western Civilization has been mostly responsible — such as the printing press, the steam engine, radio, television, satellite communication, and, since Toynbee’s death in 1975, the Internet — would make possible the rapid spread of the new religion to every region on the earth, resulting finally in the unification of the human race.


6. The Path of the Hero


As noted earlier, I recalled having read, sometime during the pre-commitment period, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which was published in 1949. This was one of the first books I re-read after regaining my freedom. Campbell (1904-1987), a scholar of mythology best known for his televised interviews with Bill Moyers during the 1980s, detailed the hero’s journey, basing his work on myths drawn from the world’s cultures, myths that had sprung up more or less spontaneously in various places with little cross-fertilization. He noted that certain themes appeared in many of these myths, and pieced together these themes into a coherent story, which he summarized as follows:

“The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation — initiation — return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

The hero’s journey is not for the half-hearted. The period of “separation,” Campbell’s word for Toynbee’s “withdrawal,” necessarily involves facing oneself up close and personal, which can be very trying. As the Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung (1875-1961) has written, “Nothing is more feared than self-confrontation,” which partially explains why so many people are deterred from ever starting the journey. It is during this withdrawal period that one confronts and is confronted by her or his “shadow” or dark side with its character faults, inferiorities, past transgressions, and unresolved traumas, which need to be worked out to the fullest extent possible.

It is also during this period that the would-be initiate learns a new way of being, thinking, feeling, and acting. Those who begin the journey and stick with it need to have or quickly acquire such traits as humility, honesty, patience, courage, determination, and perhaps most important of all, trust — trust in the process and trust in “the higher powers,” what Campbell named “the seed powers.”

But once the hero resolves to endure the tests and tribulations inherent in the journey, guidance may come from within — and sometimes help from without — and what seem like formidable obstacles may be more swiftly and easily overcome than the hero had originally thought possible. The climax of the withdrawal period, if successful, may be experienced as a “rite of passage” or a rebirth: one moment a caterpillar, this wormlike thing, and the next, it has sprouted wings and becomes a butterfly. At this point, one may be lifted to a higher level of existence and filled with boundless, unconditional love for every living being.

After separation and initiation (the inner journey), we come to the hero’s return (the outer journey), which is fraught with danger but without which his or her journey of transformation is a failure, a wasted effort. According to Campbell, “The returning hero, to complete his adventure, must survive the impact of the world.”

The hero, wanting to share with others the wisdom and love seemingly granted her or him, soon discovers that only those who have themselves been initiated can fully appreciate what is being offered. The uninitiated are likely to see the returning hero as a threat to their sense of self and to their worldly interests, so the hero must be ready, again in Campbell’s words, to “take the return blow of reasonable questions, hard resentment and good people at a loss to comprehend.”

The returning hero is also forced to contend with the character Campbell named Holdfast. “Holdfast [is] the keeper of the past…. He is Holdfast not because he keeps the past but because he keeps.” Holdfast symbolizes the powers that be; he occupies the seat of power and no matter the count, his is always the deciding vote.

Holdfast is the hero’s arch-enemy because he defends the status quo, which the hero wants to replace with new social arrangements. The planet isn’t big enough to accommodate these two; one or the other must go — unless a reconciliation can somehow be brought about. The reconciliation, if there is to be one, requires the transformation of Holdfast, and the hero must take the lead in making that happen.

If the hero accomplishes this task, the way will be open for him or her to do the same with people in the community, or conceivably, society at large. From Campbell’s perspective, “Insofar as the hero’s act coincides with that for which his society itself is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical process.”


7. The Path of Self-Realization


Campbell’s hero is the hero writ large, the hero of the great myths. But the British psychologist P.W. Martin (1893-?), in his little known Experiment in Depth: A Study of the Work of Jung, Eliot and Toynbee (1955), succeeded in bringing the mythical hero down to earth. In fact, there’s hardly any place for heroes, as such, in Martin’s theory. Instead, he focuses on ordinary people following the hero’s path in order to achieve wholeness, or self-realization, in what Jung laid out as the “individuation process.” Martin believed the hero’s journey was, potentially, everyone’s journey.

Martin combined Toynbee’s “withdrawal and return” principle with Jung’s “constructive technique,” to form what he dubbed “the experiment in depth.” Martin believed the experiment in depth, or journey of transformation, may be undertaken alone, with a counselor or teacher (preferably someone who has already made the journey), or with a group of individuals (ideally, in my opinion, including family members) who have decided to embark on the journey together. In the last case, the “two great integrative factors” are “the fellowship of a working group and contact with the deep center,” the deep center being what is called in psychology “the unconscious” and in religion the soul or God’s presence in man.

From the fellowship group, there is emotional and perhaps material support, feedback on one’s thoughts and conduct, advice on solving the numerous problems that may arise, and the joy that comes from working with others in an activity having a transcendent purpose. Martin saw the possibility of the experiment in depth evolving into “a fellowship in depth.” But whether the journeyers choose to go it alone or with others, they do not need to devote themselves exclusively to the enterprise; they can continue, for the most part, their normal social and vocational activities. Rather than “withdrawing” from society for an extended period and then “returning,” the journeyers may choose to make the roundtrip each day. As a practical matter, I now believe this, if possible, is the best way to proceed.

The “constructive technique,” the other part of Martin’s experiment in depth, was central to Jung’s “individuation process,” or method of self-realization. The journey of transformation has one destination: each of us becomes who we truly are. Toward this end, contact with “the deep center” is indispensable, for it is from this source that we receive the guidance and grace necessary to complete the journey.

The guidance comes in the form of symbols channeled into our minds through dreams, visions, voices, fantasies, meditation, contemplation, prayer, intuition, and signs. The difficulty for many of us lies in our inability to understand these symbols, owing largely to our culture’s inattention to the language of symbols. The constructive technique fills this gap in our learning.

Understood correctly, these symbols help us become reconciled with the past, understand the present, and anticipate the future. They serve a compensatory function for certain harmful or unrealistic conscious attitudes. They help keep our egos balanced and our emotions on an even keel by lifting us when we are down and bringing us down when we are feeling self-important. They provide us with the moral imperatives for purposeful and honorable living.

In moments of personal and social crisis, they can be crucial. At those times, they can appear, in Jung’s phrase, as “transforming symbols,” which not only enable us to ride out a particular storm but bring us, individually and/or collectively, closer, even dramatically closer, to our goal. As for the other part of the guidance-grace equation, I believe that trust, self-discipline, and virtue invite grace.

Martin warns prospective journeyers of the dangers of the constructive technique. Here, slightly modified, are a few of them. One danger is accepting the guiding symbols and messages literally or as commands to be obeyed, without regard to common sense and to the laws and mores of one’s social environment. Another danger is hubris — pride or ego-inflation — which may lead to arrogance, misconduct, and the belief that we are able to perform magical deeds. Still another hazard is the use of new-found powers for selfish purposes, that is, using others for our own benefit at their expense, what Gandhi spoke of as “exploitation.”

But for Martin, “the central danger of the constructive technique” is the “failure to be responsible” by over-reliance on our deep center, or by setting up some charismatic person as a God-man or God-woman who will do the necessary thinking and the required deeds for us instead of doing them ourselves. In Martin’s words, “responsibility is the touchstone of the constructive technique.” Yielding to any of these temptations is a sure way to cut short the journey or have it end in disaster.

The American sociologist Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) envisioned the journey of transformation happening on a large scale. He believed that it was possible, under the pressure of necessity and with the hope of ultimate success, for regeneration groups to spring up in scattered parts of the world, spontaneously and simultaneously, and eventually come together to lead humanity in a new direction.

“In relatively short order,” he wrote in The Conduct of Life (1951), “this fellowship may enfold men and women in every country, of every religious faith, of every cultural pattern.” Might not this, or something like this, be a viable way to bring about the unification of our species and the creation of a just and free society, unburdened by strife, exploitation, oppression, and the risk of environmental, economic, or nuclear catastrophe?


8. Coercive Psychiatry


What, if any, is the relationship between coercive psychiatry and the journey of transformation? To answer that question, I return to my personal experience. It’s the fall of 1962; the Cuban Missile Crisis is about to break. Having exhausted my meager savings after three years of being gainfully unemployed and having refused to end the withdrawal phase of my journey, my parents forced on me a premature return, one for which I was not prepared. There followed institutionalization and an attempt by psychiatrists to change me back to the person I had been before starting the journey.

Combined insulin coma-electroshock is the method psychiatrists used to bring this about. The procedure is a form of what is sometimes called “regressive therapy.” The aim was to destroy my memory for what they regarded as the period of my “psychosis,” the three years leading up to my being imprisoned, and thereby restore me to “sanity.” It was similar to a forced religious conversion. Their attempt to destroy my memory for the three years succeeded, but the attempt to convert me, to change me back to my former self, failed. I regard regressive therapy as a brainwashing method involving the deliberate destruction of healthy brain tissue.

Regressive therapy is psychiatry’s weapon of mass brain destruction. There is no way to cause the memory loss that I and hundreds of thousands of others were made to suffer from combined insulin coma-electroshock without brain damage. In a book about contemporary psychiatry for lay readers published in 1942, Manfred Sakel, the Austrian psychiatrist who introduced insulin coma treatment in 1933, stated the rationale for his brain-cell killing procedure:

“With chronic schizophrenics, as with confirmed criminals, we can’t hope for reform. Here the faulty pattern of functioning is irrevocably entrenched. Hence we must use more drastic measures to silence the dysfunctioning [brain] cells and so liberate the activity of the normal cells. This time we must kill the too vocal dysfunctioning cells. But can we do this without killing normal cells also? Can we select the cells we wish to destroy? I think we can.” (emphasis in the original; Marie Beynon Ray, Doctors of the Mind: The Story of Psychiatry, p. 250)

Added to the certainty of brain damage from this hellish procedure was the risk of death: a 1941 government survey reported a 4.9 percent death rate among the nearly 2,500 state- hospital insulin-coma patients covered in the survey.

There is also the certainty of its being an agonizing experience. The iatrogenic amnesia caused me to forget all the shock sessions that preceded the last one. But I remember well what coming out of the last insulin coma was like: there I was, tied to a bed, looking up at hospital-staff personnel (none of whom I recognized) hovering over my body, struggling to free myself from the restraints; there were chills, heavy perspiration, extreme hunger (far worse than any hunger I had ever experienced), needle jabs in my arm, a feeding tube forced down my throat (through which, as I found out later, glucose was administered to end the coma), terror and bewilderment while going in and out of consciousness while gasping for air, as if I were drowning, which in recent years I’m usually reminded of when the subject of waterboarding is brought up in conversation or in the media.

From reflecting on my own experience and that of many other psychiatric survivors I’ve known and read about, I have concluded that mainstream psychiatry plays the role of Joseph Campbell’s Holdfast, the keeper and enforcer of the status quo. As such, one of its functions is to discourage, through intimidation and terror, those inclined to embark on the journey of transformation from actually doing so.

Psychiatry’s message is, “watch out, what has happened to others can happen to you, so you’d better not neglect your duties as student, homemaker, employee, employer, or whatever, by taking time off to become a journeyer.” Another function of psychiatry is to punish, silence, disable, and regress those who, despite the warnings, both spoken and unspoken, become journeyers.

There is little legal protection against unwanted psychiatric interventions and psychiatry’s shock-and-awe methods, especially when the targeted individual is labeled a “schizophrenic,” a person who, by my definition, refuses to knuckle under to psychiatric authority. In our culture, that tag justifies almost any method a psychiatrist might want to use as a supposed “treatment” or “cure,” so long as it conforms or seems to conform to “the community standard of medical care.”

Psychiatric methods today are not substantially different from what they were in the middle of the twentieth century. Like the insulin-coma procedure used then, contemporary techniques — such as psychiatric drugs, electroshock, and lobotomy (and other types of brain operations) — are often experienced as torture and are likely to cause, in varying degrees, brain damage and disability, resulting in the prevention or slowing of personal growth and creative social change. In sum, mainstream psychiatry operates as a major counter-evolutionary force in a society that desperately needs a new beginning.




The American physician Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. wrote in The Autocrat at the Breakfast-Table (1858), “I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it — but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

The journey of transformation has no predetermined schedule and no roadmap; those who undertake it need to chart their own course as they go along. It’s not unlike repairing a damaged plane in flight while piloting it.

The American minister and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in Ebony magazine (September 1966): “Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls.”

The American philosopher Jean Huston wrote in Manual for the Peacemaker: An Iroquois Legend to Heal Self & Society (1995): “We cannot embrace the New Mind by just sitting around and talking about it. It demands that we alter not just our thinking, but our way of living down to the smallest details.”

The American educator Carol S. Pearson wrote in The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By (1989): “While most people are concentrating on the news reported in the media — news that focuses primarily on disasters, wars, and contests — something transformative is happening in the culture that you do not see until you begin to change.”

The Jewish diarist Anne Frank wrote in 1944 (a year before her death at 15 in the Bergen-Belson concentration camp): “How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world!”

These words have been attributed to the German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945): “I am in the world to change the world.”

Individual transformation and social transformation are interdependent; each must accompany the other for either to endure.

We are hard-wired for transformation and lack only the right software.

There are masters, there are slaves — and then there are the free.

Responsibility is the bridge to freedom.

No peace without justice, mutual forgiveness, and reconciliation.

The American writer John Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath (1939): “A fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but on’y a piece of a big one.”

The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote in the preface to Androcles and the Lion (1912), “We are members one of another; so that you cannot injure or help your neighbor without injuring or helping yourself.”

The Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori wrote in The Absorbent Mind (1949): “The greatest step forward in human evolution was made when society began to help the weak and the poor, instead of oppressing and despising them.”

There must be some transcendent purpose that justifies the misery and suffering visited upon humanity throughout its history.

At 17, the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal (December 1820): “The human soul, the world, the universe are laboring on to their magnificent consummation. We are not fashioned… marvelously for nought.”

The French philosopher Henri Bergson wrote in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932): “A decision is imperative. Mankind lies groaning, half crushed beneath the weight of its own progress. Men do not sufficiently realize that their future is in their own hands. Theirs is the task of determining first of all whether they want to go on living or not. Theirs the responsibility, then, for deciding if they want merely to live, or intend to make just the extra effort required for fulfilling, even on this refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of gods.”

The Roman philosopher Boethius wrote in The Consolation of Philosophy (sixth century A.D.): “If God is, whence come evil things? If He is not, whence come good?”

“I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the Lord, that doeth all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

Arnold J. Toynbee wrote in Experiences (1969): “God’s love is unlimited but… his power is not.”

In terms of grandeur, God is to the universe as the universe is to a speck of dust.

The Polish-American rabbi and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in A Passion for Truth (1973): “God’s absence is an illusion.”

It is hard to understate the value of dreams and visions to those trying to approach “the deep center.” As Carl Jung wrote near the end of his life in his essay “Approaching the Unconscious: Healing the Split” (1964): “We have forgotten the age‑old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions.”

This thought from the founder of Islam appears in The Sayings of Muhammad (translated by Abdullah Al-Suhrawardy in 1941), “He who knoweth his own self knoweth God.”

God is one in all; all are one in God.

This passage is from The Bhagavad-Gita, a twenty-seven-hundred-year-old Hindu scripture, “In every age I come back to deliver the holy, to destroy the sin of the sinner, to establish righteousness.”

Because God is seeking us, we will find Her.

Begin within.

In The Dhammapada: The Path of Perfection, a two-thousand-year-old Buddhist scripture, are these words: “Those who fear what they should not fear and those who do not fear what they should fear, tread the downward path.”

The German novelist Herman Hesse wrote in Siddhartha (1922): “We are not going around in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral.”

We are pilgrims on a great cosmic journey.

We are called upon to practice lovingkindness in everything we say and do with all our heart, with all our mind and with all our might.

“Give as you would receive.” (English saying)

They fare best on the journey of transformation who let go without giving up, fall forward when fall they must, and are always ready — if necessary — to take a leap in the dark or in the opposite direction, sometimes both at once.

In the 2001 film Himalaya there was this Nepalese saying: “When two paths open before you, take the harder one.”

The light is reached not by turning back from the darkness, but by going through it.

Paths clear before those who know where they’re going and are determined to get there.

“Wisdom and compassion are two wheels of the cart.” (Buddhist saying)

“When your cart reaches the foot of the mountain, a path will appear.” (Chinese saying)

At Sinai’s summit there is room enough for everyone who makes the climb.

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” (Psalms 23:3-4)

Leonard Roy Frank, a native of Brooklyn, graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1954. While committed to a private psychiatric facility near San Francisco in 1963, he was forced to undergo 50 insulin coma and 35 electroconvulsive procedures, which caused him severe memory loss, wiping out the preceding three-year-period and effectively destroying his high school and college educations. Following years of study reeducating himself, he became active in the psychiatric survivors movement first by becoming a staff member of Madness Network News (1972) and then co-founding Network Against Psychiatric Assault  (1974), both based in San Francisco and Berkeley and opposed to all forms of coercive, fraudulent psychiatric interventions. In 1978 he edited and self-published The History of Shock Treatment. Since 1995, he has edited Influencing Minds: A Reader in Quotations (Los Angeles, Feral House), Random House Webster’s Quotationary (New York, Random House, 1998), and 7 other collections of quotations for Random House. In 2006, he self-published The Electroshock Quotationary, an e-book ( In September 2011, he co-published with Thomas Szasz and edited, The Szasz Quotationary: The Wit and Wisdom of Thomas Szasz, a Kindle book. Since 1959, he’s resided in San Francisco.


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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  1. Leonard, Leonard, Leonard!!! I am so thrilled to see you here and in the same few days that I am also here (my blog and video). I miss you, my dear fellow comrade. I wish I were able to get to San Francisco for the important protest, but it isn’t possible this time for me. Thank you for posting your amazing words above for all to read. On with the revolution……
    Love, Dorothy

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  2. May we *never* forget the history of psychiatry, namely its involvement in eugenics:

    “Euthanasia” the American Journal of Psychiatry, 1942, vol. 99, pp 141-143.

    The American Journal of Psychiatry, the journal of the American Psychiatric Association in 1942 published an editorial endorsing euthanasia and illuminating psychiatry’s central position in making euthanasia acceptable to the parents of euthanasia candidates and to general society. The APA had a debate in which two opinions, one for euthanasia, and one against euthaniasia were published. Then this editorial was published, endorsing euthanasia. The endorsing editorial concluded:

    “…Dr. Kanner opposes [euthanasia] but in his paper presents no arguments beyond the statement: “An idiot child may have fond parents who want him alive.” That is precisely the psychiatric problem this overlengthy discussion has been trying to get at, namely, the “fondness” of the parents of an idiot and their “want” that he should be kept alive. It is this parental state of mind that we believe deserves study–the extent to which it exists, in fact and not merely as a generalization of opinion what underlying factors such as those set forth above are discoverable, whether it can be assessed as healthy or morbid, and whether in the latter case it is modifiable by exposure to mental hygiene principles….If euthanasia is to become at some distant day an available procedure, enabling legislation will be required. The story of sterilization will doubtless be repeated on an extended scale. But legislation may be expected to follow only upon the spread and strength of public opinion, and the nucleus of that opinion should be the attitude of those most nearly concerned–the parents of the candidates for the contemplated procedure. It is in the evaluation and melioration of this parental attitude that the interest of the psychiatrist in the whole question must center.”

    From Dr. Peter Breggin’s website, ‘Toxic Psychiatry. –


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  3. Duane, First I’ll comment on the piece you posted. I knew about this APA article but I never saw it. It’s amazing–imagine that the experts suggests the parents’ desire to protect their child from murder by the State is a psychiatric problem and it might be a symptom of pathology.
    Reading Leonard’s description of the effects of the numerous ECTs is disturbing, and reminds one of current account of political prisoners tortured by American soldiers or their proxies.

    This is the best piece I’ve ever read by you–including your excellent interview/statement in my first book. It is marked by your characteristic eloquence, and your fluid
    and meticulous writing style, in terms of structural organization and perfectly chosen words. In addition the aphorisms are great, including your own. I guess that you have become an aphorist in your own right. Your philosophical position seems to be strikingly similar if not identical
    to mine. I must say that I feel some hurt and resentment that you have been so “prejudiced” (as I see it) against my book because of your objection to my title (even now I’m afraid to use the name for fear of irritating you, although the term has now a common self description among most anti-psychiatry activists) that you are or were unwilling to read my book. You read a few pages years ago but it is very different now. I feel it is important that I make this statement here, but in the past deliberately or not you have ignored emails I sent to you. So even though I am affirming a striking confluence of our perspectives I feel it is quite possible that you will ignore me again, sadly.

    Well I make this statement to whomever will read it. I don’t expect to win any popularity contests. My call to the survivors’ movement, as a perceived outsider (since despite a collaboration of over 20 years I lack the credentials!) is controversial. Partly because it is new and unfamiliar. Most people in the movement have not read Laing. My book was recently warmly reviewed by Professor Daniel Burston, author of the famous Laing biography, who firmly disagrees with my messianic perspective. Despite Daniel’s more
    conservative position, particularly regarding strategy for the mad movement, he refers to my book as “a brave, thought-provoking book.” My point is one does not have to agree with me to appreciate my perspective. Sascha is another example of someone with whom I am in friendly disagreement.

    Let me make a couple points where I feel the greatest resonance. Theodicy–for those who don’t know it is an argument or statement that seeks the effort to justify God’s actions to humanity in a world marked by evil and suffering. God is either all powerful or all good but he cannot be both. If he were both there would be no evil. Like you and Toynbee and process theologians I believe in a God whose love is unlimited, who desires the good. Some people might think such a God is weak but I don’t think so. I won’t get into more detail here. Like you I also believe that ultimately the good must triumph. Another way of saying this is: God is all powerful but his power is conditioned by time, and human freedom. For some reason THIS was the conditions of the manifestation here. God’s project was to manifest Him/Herself in time and history. Time and history have meaning–they are not illusions. But
    if the current situation were to prevail, were to be the last word, life WOULD be absurd. This means that the only completely satisfactory solution to the problems of theodicy is eschatological–it is the eschatological event
    or advent. Aurobindo called it the descent of the Supermind.

    Ivan’s doubts–-I am referring to Dostoevsky with whom Leonard is familiar –will continue to reverberate until the day of the Lord, until the time of redemption, until the kingdom of heaven is realized upon earth. As you state poignantly, Leonard : “There must be some transcendent purpose that justifies the misery and suffering visited upon humanity throughout its history.” Yes I agree. This transcendent purpose is coming of the messianic age, the time of fulfillment, of happiness unblemished by suffering and death. You may not agree with the latter. Many scientists now say the laws of nature evolve. It is my conviction that death itself is not part of God’s plan, although it serves a provisional purpose. You can find an argument for this in diverse sources, for example, the teachings of the Christians mystics I have read like Vladimir Solovyov and Nicolai Berdyaev (and others associated with Orthodox Church over a 100 years ago in Russia), of many contemporary Christian theologians including Jurgen Moltmann and neo-Hindu spiritual universalists like Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I dedicated my book to Sri Aurobindo.

    And as you say eloquently,
    “God can complete Her/His journey only with the active and fully conscious participation of humanity. In other words, God needs us no less that we need God. We are, in fact, a partnership, and by working together we can create an earthly kingdom of peace, freedom, and prosperity, a kingdom in which God and humankind can live indefinitely.” Change “indefinitely” to “eternally” and the sentence is perfect. I agree whole-heartedly. The labor of humanity and God to create the earthly kingdom has always been one of the central precepts of my spiritual credo–-central in the work of my main teacher, Sri Aurobindo. With our assistance God will triumph over all obstacles and accomplish the seemingly miraculous– the end of sufferring, the reign of eternal happiness. But it is a dangerous time now and those of us who oppose the death-loving war-making masters who rule the planet now must do our utmost to save Mother Earth from debacle, save nature from grave suffering. I believe that part of the way to do this is to propagate the messianic vision–like you have done above. One central aspect of the new age, as biologist Bruce Lipton points out, is the transitioning from the Darwinian world of lethal competition to one in which each of us acts as a cell in the multi-cellular body of humanity. And humanity itself must be a steward of the earth.

    Such a vision is beyond the ability of most human beings to imagine right now. Those of us who do imagine are “imaginal” cells of the transitioning organism who must preserve the vision and seek to pass it on. It is a world of unimaginable bliss in the Hindu religious sense of the word.

    Holmes tell us we must sail not drift in order to reach “the port of heaven.” Yes! And you wisely add, “The journey of transformation has no predetermined schedule and no roadmap; those who undertake it need to chart their own course as they go along. It’s not unlike repairing a damaged plane in flight while piloting it.”

    For me because of my own sense of calling, not implying anything about your authorial intention, I read this as a very apt statement about the survivors’ movement, what I prefer to call the mad movement. (One reason I prefer it because it strikes me as more optimistic.) In the Preface to my new book I state that one of the goals of my book is to save people from being destroyed by the mental death system, to warn them about the drugs. I have an entire section in the book on the Mind Freedom Hunger strike. I have interview with Dr Peter Stastny–much of the book is a warning about psychiatric drugs that draws upon Bob Whitaker epochal books. So that part is repairing the plane as it is in flight. Or perhaps I should say changing the poisoned fuel. So after the plane is made ready those in the mad movement need to influence its trajectory, they need to provide spiritual leadership to humanity. And I believe
    the way they can do this is by promulgating a messianic vision just like the one you have formulated above, as well continuing to agitate for change in the mental health system.

    This part of my thesis is the most controversial. I argue that the Icarus Project was originally incipiently messsianic, but for various reasons, they abandoned their messianic perspective. (I discuss this in my book.) And I continue to call for a messianic wing of the broad psychiatric survivors and mad movements.

    I want to make one other point, a theme of my book. There are alarge number of intensely spiritual people in this movement who compartmentalize or privatize their spirituality, the messianic spirituality just like the kind you express Leonard. I think their spirituality should become part of their political activism. I give examples in my book how this kind of fusion of spirituality and political activism took place in other eras. I think Paul Levy, an author and psychiatric survivor, attempts to do this in his writings, and in the small groups he lead. Paul, a cohort of mine, has not been part of the movement, but his willing inclusion in my book is a start. See for Paul work, including his new book Dispelling Wetiko. Daniel Pinchbeck is not a psychiatric survivor but he is also trying to fuse the political and what I call the messianic in Reality Sandwich. Secular leftists may be less resistant to the term utopian.

    I don’t claim to have all the answers. I know I am speaking in very general terms. But I am acting as a spokesperson for a perspective that needs to be embraced by humanity and by the mad movement: I believe that the antidote to the catastrophic that confronts us now in the guise of global warming and other environmental debacles is the messianic vision. There is a brief version of my argument at Thank you, Leonard, for your inspiring essay,

    Seth Farber, Ph.D., author of THe Spiritual Gift of Madness

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  4. I forgot to state the Burston book which Leonard undoubtedly read is The Wing of Madness: The Life and Work of R D. Laing.
    An excellent book- but I did not like the treatment of The Politics of Experience, my favorite book by Laing. SF

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