Earlier today, Matthew Cohen announced the launch of Mad in America’s directory of providers who support psychiatric drug withdrawal. Many thanks to him for his hard work building the technology behind it! The process of putting this directory together has been inspiring and encouraging, and I’d like to reflect a bit about my experiences with it.
First, I think it important to touch on what I see as two of the key principles lying at the heart of psychiatric drug withdrawal. The first is that a person does not need a psychiatrist’s permission to come off psychiatric drugs (unless under court-ordered “treatment”, a crucial human rights issue that I must save for a different conversation); the second is that a person does not always require a psychiatrist (or, for some, a practitioner of any kind) to successfully withdraw from psychiatric drugs. There are plenty of people out there who’ve successfully come off either on their own or with the support of friends and family. At the end of the day, each person has a unique set of life circumstances that factor into the decision to come off— physical health, environmental stressors, access to support and community, financial resources, family and professional responsibilities, etc.— and the more educated about the effects of psych drugs and psych drug withdrawal a person can be, the better equipped he or she will be to successfully come off. [For more on this, see my recent post about my experiences with coming off psychiatric drugs.]
Finding a psychiatrist who understands withdrawal and who supports a person’s right to come off is a huge benefit, of course— there are certainly folks like this in our directory— but at the end of the day, a psychiatrist is not the gatekeeper to a life free from psychiatric drugs. During the many years I spent as a psychiatric patient, I was completely unaware of this. Not only did I believe my psychiatrist had the final say on my meds, but I’d also completely forgotten that as a human being I owned my body and the inviolable right to decide what I did or didn’t put into it. I see the process of coming off psychiatric drugs as a path to the reclamation of agency and ownership of self. Practitioners are but a part of this process.
When it comes to the topic of psych drug withdrawal, there’s no doubt that talking about it, thinking about it, doing it, or supporting someone in doing it are seen as taboo. Despite mounting evidence that long-term use (and, for many, short-term use) of psychotropic drugs creates physical disease, brain damage, cognitive dysfunction, and a 25-year early death, the overarching social narrative remains firmly wedded to the notion that coming off these drugs is, simply, unacceptable. Dangerous. Risky. Harmful. Irresponsible. In other words, the risk of leaving someone with “untreated mental illness” outweighs any of the potential costs of psychotropic drug use. We see this story play out in the media and in popular culture. We see it told in police stations, courts of law, the prison system, and schools and universities. We see it told, of course, in hospitals and clinics and doctors’ offices everywhere. We see the story of the necessity of psychiatric drugs told at the dinner table, in parent-teacher conferences, and in front of the mirror. It’s become as pervasive a story as any our society tells, a seemingly untouchable, unquestionable, capital-‘T’ Truth that no sane or rational person should ever think of challenging.
And yet, despite this powerful narrative that’s laid claim to nearly every nook and cranny of the social, political, economic, legal, and medical landscape, the status quo is being challenged, and change is happening. It’s exciting to write those words— change is happening— because a few months ago, when I began the search for practitioners to include in our directory, I wasn’t convinced it was true. I’m glad to say I’ve been proven wrong: without a doubt, there are people working inside the “mental health” system in non-traditional ways. Some have practiced this way since the start of their careers, and others have left the traditional system after discovering it wasn’t working, instead, forging new paths away from the current “standard of care”— psychiatric drugs— and towards something different. It is nothing short of courageous, and incredibly inspirational, to have encountered so many of these practitioners. After doing due diligence on preexisting lists, scouring the internet for new leads, and reaching out to the community for connections, I’ve communicated with over seventy practitioners who do the work of supporting people as they come off, or reduce, psychiatric drugs. The list will only continue to expand, as I have no doubt that there are many more practitioners out there who are committed to helping people come off— we just haven’t found them yet, or they us. I look forward to the day in which a person in any city in the United States— one day, in any large city in the world— can come to this directory and find a practitioner who supports safe psychiatric drug withdrawal.
A mouthful of initials trails the names of those in our directory, including, in alphabetical order: ABIHM, ABPP, CPC, DO, L.Ac, LCSW, LMHC, LMHP, MA, MFT, MD, MS, MSW, ND, PhD, PsyD, R. Psych, RN, and ThD. Indeed, the type of support provided varies throughout the list: some write prescriptions and taper; others use acupuncture, Reiki, and other healing modalities during a person’s withdrawal. Some use nutrition and supplements, others homeopathy. Many provide psychotherapy, counseling, or coaching for those in the midst of withdrawal. Some of the practitioners in our directory have been trained in the traditional medical model, others outside of it. Some are entirely against the medical model of “mental illness”, and others see merit in it. At the end of the day, this list unifies a group of practitioners from very different backgrounds, with very different protocols, and very different belief systems, around a sole purpose: to support a person to come off or reduce psychiatric drugs.
During the process of building this list, I’ve made new connections with practitioner comrades and friends, tightened the bonds in pre-existing relationships, and learned a tremendous amount about the vast array of support that exists outside the traditional medical model. (I should also add that several folks on the list are currently MIA bloggers!) During my time as a “Bipolar” patient, I would have been truly lucky to have crossed paths with many of these people. It’s filled my heart with a sense of hope to see this directory go up, and I believe more than ever before that despite the “mental health” system’s broken state, there are very good people who work within it, and who have the potential to make profound changes on the inside.
I’d like to share one of the most heartening moments for me during the practitioner search. While poring through the Psychology Today website’s list of psychiatrists— most of whom are deeply enmeshed in the medical model of “mental illness” and in first-line psychotropic “treatment”— I stumbled across a psychiatrist’s profile that caught my eye. He wrote about how, since residency, he had this intuitive sense that psychiatric drugs were not only unhelpful, but often times, hurtful to people. He watched patients get on psychiatric drugs and get worse. For years he was alone with this belief, which he kept close to his chest, until last year, when he came across Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic. Reading it affirmed everything he’d felt in his gut, and gave him the courage to trust his instincts and follow his heart; he continued on alone, unaware that there was a community of fellow practitioners and other people who believed what he did. He’d never heard of the Mad in America website, or the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP), or MindFreedom, until I reached out to him and he reached back. We spoke on the phone for an hour or so and I sensed that an immense relief had been lifted from his shoulders as he discovered he was far from alone with his intuition. I believe that there are more psychiatrists (and psychologists, social workers, nurses, and counselors) out there like this man; his strength in the face of what I can imagine is tremendous professional and social pushback is important to acknowledge.
Other people on this list include a psychologist who’s in the early stages of starting a weekly therapy group for people coming off psychiatric drugs; a therapist who’s had personal experience withdrawing from psych drugs and who uses that wisdom in practice; a doctor who’s devoted his career to writing about and doing psychiatric drug tapering; and a holistic psychiatrist who weaves nutrition, yoga, and spirituality into her practice. As I said, those on this list come from different orientations and have different sets of values and principles. It’s up to those who use the directory to determine who might be a right fit, and who might not be.
As Matthew mentioned in his announcement, Mad in America is reaching out to the community to help grow and cultivate this directory. Currently, there are no practitioners outside of North America on our list, and there is far from full representation of all fifty American states. Help us change this. If you are a practitioner who does this work, or who knows colleagues who do this work, please let us know [see Matthew’s post for details on how to do this]. If you were tapered off of psychiatric drugs by a psychiatrist, or found therapeutic support in a non-prescribing practitioner while you were coming off, or sought the services of an acupuncturist, or a homeopath, or a holistic doctor, we’d like to hear about it. It is so easy to get on psychiatric drugs, yet so difficult to find ways off. Building off-ramps from the psychopharmaceutical highway will create more opportunities for those who seek it to find freedom from psychiatric drugs.
As pushback against the mainstream narrative of modern Psychiatry gains more and more of a foothold, I am confident that it will become less taboo— and, in fact, increasingly more acceptable and encouraged— to help people come off of psychiatric drugs. The practitioners in this directory are the vanguard in this, leading the way towards a new future of “mental health care”, and I hope they inspire those still in the shadows to step out into the light and join this movement forwards. They’ve certainly inspired me.
I’d like to thank Altostrata and Toby Watson for their hard work compiling practitioner lists, which they willingly shared with me, as well as Matthew Morrissey and others involved with building the MindFreedom list of alternative practitioners.
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.