Livestream: Leading Experts to Speak at the Vatican about the Controversy of Children and Psychotropics

Click Here for the Livestream Feed

Next week, June 13, Mad in America will be live-streaming a press event that precedes a conference taking place at the Vatican; “The Child as a Person and as a Patient: Therapeutic Approaches Compared.”

As many interviews and as much coverage as we are allowed from the event itself (June 14-15) will be made available live to MIA readers.  Marcia Barbacki, a principle organizer of the conference – which has been seven years in the making – writes here about its purpose and provenance:

Leading Experts to Speak at Vatican about the Controversy of Children and Psychotropics

by Marcia Barbacki

Psychiatric medications have emerged as a first line of treatment for youth emotional and behavioral problems. Concurrently, the use of psychosocial intervention has fallen. More disturbing is the fact that poor children are disproportionately prescribed psychotropics, especially antipsychotics.

An upcoming June 14-15 conference at the Vatican examines this trend—making accurate information available in an area typically shrouded in industry marketing—and asks, “Are the rising global prescription rates justified by the clinical trial evidence?”

An interdisciplinary team of the world’s leading authorities, including award winning journalist Robert Whitaker (Anatomy of an Epidemic) and acclaimed Harvard psychologist Irving Kirsch (The Emperor’s New Drugs), and many other renowned psychiatrists, psychologists, and critical thinkers will examine and debate the controversy about the safety and effectiveness of psychotropics and other treatments, and conclude that based on the evidence, psychosocial options should be the first choice.

This conference has been 7 years in the making and represents perhaps the best opportunity ever to spread the word about the risks of psychotropics for children and adolescents given that Catholic health care represents 26% of the world’s healthcare, and the Church’s ability to disseminate information to all corners of the globe. We are very grateful to the Vatican leadership for the courage to host this conference despite its controversial nature. A conference on this topic is consistent with the committment to life and family of the Catholic Church.We are grateful to many others in Rome and beyond, who believed in us and our mission over the last seven years; encouraging us and guiding our way to this conference.

We have high hopes for this conference that brings many of the world’s leading experts together to discuss and debate this critical healthcare issue. First, we hope that the Vatican will continue to host efforts to examine the way human problems are approached by physicians and other health care workers across the planet. Specifically, we would like to see another conference in follow-up that brings in service users’ voices and personal stories, and addresses the problems of psychotropic prescription not only with children but across the lifespan, including the frail elderly.

We are looking at ways to disseminate the information from this conference and unbiased information in general about psychotropics to all corners of the world to counter the market-driven information that is ever so available at every level. We are looking into the possibility of making the conference proceedings available on line. If you would like to see this happen please let us know.

We are encouraging in all our presentations that the world wide reach of the Church help make it possible for each and every encounter with a person in distress to involve a risk benefit analysis at the individual level, true informed consent, and the availability of multiple non-medical options that honor personal, familial, cultural, and spiritual preferences.

We are hearing already from press and media representatives. Our hope is that this conference will stimulate much needed debate which will be reflected in the media taking a much closer look and going well beyond the usual industry promotions that dominate the coverage of this issue.

The big picture for us is saving lives and a higher standard of care for services to children. It is time to no longer accept prescriptive practices that do not follow the evidence and increasingly put children at perilous risk for serious health consequences, dependence, and disability.

Our responsibility is heightened here because youth do not have a voice to say ‘no’ to treatments or devise their own, and depend on adults to safeguard their well-being. Moreover, poor children, including foster children, often have fewer adults watching over them and are vulnerable to dangerous drugs used as interventions of control rather than therapy, and therefore require more attention to ensure just treatment. It is our ultimate hope that this conference and the efforts of those dedicated to this topic will actually make a difference in the lives of children who find themselves in harm’s way, children who are often harmed even more by the treatments they receive.

Updates are coming. Please feel free to respond with your support to this blog, and we’ll let the Vatican know that their attention to this issue is so very much appreciated by all of you.

Marcia Barbacki has been a practicing occupational therapist for 30 years with experience working with children, families and older adults in the clinical as well as home setting.


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.


Mad in America has made some changes to the commenting process. You no longer need to login or create an account on our site to comment. The only information needed is your name, email and comment text. Comments made with an account prior to this change will remain visible on the site.


  1. I commend whoever was able to get the Vatican to allow this conference. There’s no doubt that because of the venue, what happens at this meeting will get far more public attention than it would otherwise. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

    Report comment

  2. I don’t think one can overestimate the potential importance of this event, particularly if, as Marcia Barbacki says, it leads to the Catholic Church looking at the wider issue of psychiatry as a whole.

    I am convinced that it is only lack of truthful information, together with an understandable reluctance to interfere in the world of “science”, that has led to the Catholic Church’s silence in this critical area. I have no doubt however that if this information is made available and genuinely understood by the Church’s hierarchy, the Catholic Church will act with the same determination that it is evident in other areas where very harmful ideologies and interests masquerade as science.

    From a purely Catholic perspective I’d add something else: a reassessment of psychiatry and psychology, and of the Church’s care for those people who are now diagnosed as being “mentally ill” must be a fundamental aspect of the New Evangelization. For as long as the Church puts her trust in psychiatry (and in this the sex-abuse scandal is a tragic lesson that must not be forgotten) and fails to care for those whom society now calls “mentally ill”, for as long as it does that, the Church will fail in its evangelical mission in the developed world. The “mentally ill” need the Church, but equally the Church, if it is to fulfil its mission as the Church of Christ, needs the “mentally ill”. I am reminded of Ezekiel 34:4-6, which begins “You have failed to make the weak sheep strong” and ends “no one bothers about them and no one looks for them”.

    I hope and pray that this conference will be the first of many; it would be only fitting that this long-awaited awakening began in the Year of Faith.

    Report comment

    • Morias,

      IMO, the Church and our society are best judged by how we care for “the least of these.”

      Obviously, no person is “less” than another in the spiritual sense, but the “mentally ill” have historically been seen and treated as “less” by fellow human beings.

      I was deeply touched by your words, Morias.
      Thank you so much.


      Report comment

    • Many churches have acquiesced to the medical model and clergy are trained to refer people with serious emotional problems to the “professionals” because it is primarily a medical issue.(“You are not trained to fix a broken leg; neither are you trained to treat the mentally ill.”)”The ‘mentally ill’ need the Church.” Yes indeed! For too long too many in the church have sent them away. The church ought to be in the forefront of showing mercy, kindness, compassion. Perhaps others outside of the Roman Catholic Church will pay attention to this conference and begin to wake up.

      Report comment

  3. This is a tremendous opportunity to bring our ideas into the mainstream … but it won’t happen automatically. The Catholic Church, like any other, is part of society and particularly in cities like Chicago where it’s a big wealthy institution with hospitals, school systems etc. it makes its accommodation with the power structure no matter what the Vatican says.

    Two examples: No amount of encyclicals about the dignity of labor and the right to organize have prevented out-and-out union busting by the Resurrection hospital chain here; and no amount of preaching about a consistent ethic of life prevented hundreds of Catholic prosecutors from supporting the death penalty — even seeking it as often as possible. At one point the church threatened to withhold communion from Catholic politicians who supported keeping abortion legal, but they always had a much more indulgent attitude towards the Catholic prosecutors filling up Death Row.

    I don’t say this to deflate people’s hopes, and still less to run down the Church — just to emphasize we will have to be energetic and creative in order to take advantage of this opening.

    Personally, I can’t wait. If we can get this material in video form online or on DVD, as well as in print, it would open a lot of doors!

    Report comment

    • I have the feeling that a lot of times, when a Church group is spoken of, especially the Roman Catholic Church, it’s the hierarchy of the Church which is referred to. All too often the people who actually sit in the pews or claim identity with a Church are forgotten. I suspect, as you seem to point out here, it’s the people in the pews who we really need to address with this issue. The hierarchy of the Church will most likely give great support to our endeavor but until we get the understanding and support and backing of the average Church member everything will be for nought. Just because Rome makes a statement about something does not mean that it will necessarily be done by the average believer, especially if it contradicts something that they hold dear, like the death penalty or not having to pay workers a decent wage. The Roman Catholic Church came out in support of workers and the right to unionize in 1913 with the encyclical Rarum Novarum (sp.) and yet Catholic organizations all over the country are doing what you’ve described in Chicago and here it is 100 years later!

      How do we engage the average person in the pew to show them how our country and society have been manipulated by Big Pharma? People don’t want to turn loose of their little antidepressants despite the real scientific studies showing that they work no better than placebo. We’re working with belief systems here and not just the religious belief system. Belief systems don’t have to be rational or logical and are very difficult to break. Look at all the parents who willing to believe that their little two year old daughter or son is bi-polar and needs to be zapped with antipsychotics even though we know that these are lethal and toxic drugs, especially for developing brains?! I don’t have a lot of answers on how to do this, just a lot of questions.

      I too am at least a little optimistic here about this development, but like you I think we have to be real about our expectations of what will result from the Roman Church taking a stand against drugging children etc.

      Report comment

      • I am reminded of a parish council meeting of a Roman Catholic Church in southern Louisiana. Ninety percent of people in southern Louisiana are Roman Catholic. The meeting was addressing the topic of unionizing, which the priest of the parish supported and the people in the pews totally hated. At this particular meeting one of the parish priests got up and read a part of Rarum Novarum without telling the parishioners what he was reading from. He then asked what the people thought about what he’d read. The council members started yelling and carrying on and in the end it was decided that it was some kind of “communist” propaganda. They were not pleased at all when the priest, whom they thought supported way too many “radical” ideas anyway, revealed that he’d just read from an encyclical letter, addressed to America, by Pope Leo the Thirteenth in 1913! Did they support unionizing in their community after that? Absolutely not! In fact, it seems that they became opposed to it more than they were before the coucil meeting. Interesting. This taught me a lot about how people in the pews react and think about pronouncements from Rome. In another direction, Pope Paul the Sixth continued the stand against birth control in any form except for the rhythm method and this pronouncement is effectively ignored by the vast majority of most Roman Catholics here in America. The hierarchy can pronounce all they want but that doesn’t mean that the people in the pews ill necessarily follow.

        Report comment

        • “This taught me a lot about how people in the pews react”

          I think you hit the nail on the head here Stephen. We react, while clinging to the mind’s image of a reasoned response. Even though an unconscious urge to maintain a status-quo (internal homeostasis) rules the moment.

          Is madness shunned by consensus reality, because of a dire need to resist internal awareness, and cling to an illusion of rationality? I’m sure the gathering will make all the appropriate noises and gestures, while remaining blissfully unaware of an internal motivation, projected onto the seemingly obvious, in the world “out there.”

          Very few people ever consider the nature of their internal self-differentiation, while acting out habituated social rituals, or have any sense of group behavior as an emotional system.

          Murray Bowen predicted that our ongoing denial of unconscious e-motive functioning, would come to head in this century. Consider his unique wisdom;

          “The main idea presented here is that society appears to be functioning on a less differentiated emotional level than in the past, that this may be related to the disappearance of land frontiers. Man has long used physical distance as a way of getting away from inner emotional pressures. It was important for him to know there was new land for him, even if he never went to it. The end of World War II was an important nodal point in a process in which the world became functionally smaller at a more rapid rate.

          The concept of differentiation of self is important. At the more differentiated end of the scale is the person who can “know” with his intellect, and who can also know, or be aware of, or feel the situation with his emotional system. He has reasonable ability to keep an operational differentiation between intellect and emotions and take action on the fact of intellectual reasoning, that opposes his feelings and the truth of subjectivity. Only a small percentage of the population has this level of differentiation.

          A person can have a well functioning intellect but intellect is intimately fused with his emotional system, and a relatively small part of his intellect is operationally differentiated from his emotional system. He can accurately “know” facts that are personally removed, such as mathematics and the physical sciences, but most of his intellect is under the operational control of the emotional system, and much of his total knowledge would be more accurately classified as an intellectual emotional awareness, without much differentiation between intellect and feelings.

          The person at this level of differentiation does not commonly have a clearly formed notion of fact, or differences between truth and fact, or fact and feeling, or theory and philosophy, or rights and responsibility, or other critical differentiations between intellectual and emotional functioning. Personal and social philosophy are based on the truth of subjectivity and life decisions are based more on feelings and maintaining the subjective harmony.” _Murray Bowen.

          I’m sure there will be much talk about how to “do things” differently, while maintaining subjective harmony. More talk of re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic, so to speak.

          And in the meantime, “the more “things” change, the they………”

          Is it human “doing” that needs to change, or a deeper realization of how we do, being human?

          Best wishes,

          David Bates.

          Report comment

  4. One of the things I hope comes out of this is more parental control. In other words, a parent should be able to decline psychiatric “treatment” for a child, without fear or threat from state child protective services.

    How bizarre is it that a child can be stripped away from their home if a parent refuses to put a kid on mind-altering drugs? Such was the case with this family. –

    I think Ron Paul’s Parental Control bill makes good sense, because it would prohibit federal funds used for mandatory mental health screening. –

    IMO, Vatican is in the position to send a strong message to governments around the world. Namely, that families should not be *forced* to have their children screened or “treated” by psychiatrists.

    And in the U.S., we may *finally* begin to exercise *freedom of religion* as it pertains to the unconstitutional intervention of psychiatry into the spiritual lives of citizens.

    Those are the reasons I’m hopeful that the Holy See is looking into all of this; willing to have dialogue. I have faith the Church will take action.


    Report comment

  5. As a Catholic with lived experience of the need to question the psychiatric standards and practices that were once the basis of my “treatment”, I have thought for years now that the Catholic Church has a responsibility to take a stand on the issue of overuse and misuse of psychiatric medications and treatments. Too many people have been severely harmed. I would think there are philosophers and theologians in the church whose background equips them to know with one quick look that something is terribly wrong, and then hopefully to lend clarity to the discussion. Needless to say, I am overjoyed to see that this conference at the Vatican is happening. Wish I could be a fly on the wall.

    Report comment

  6. Hi Marcia,
    The Vatican conference is a great idea and we have to be thankful for small mercies. One thing that concerns me is the un-invite of the leading expert in this field, Dr David Healy. He was responsible for the warning put on drugs for children, was first to write about creation of pediatric bipolar disorder and the one person who has shown data that antidepressants increase abortion, miscarriage and birth defect rates.

    Whether because of his religion or irreverence to the Catholic hierarchy, not having the world leading expert in this field at this important conference is like ‘cutting off your nose to spite you face’? It seems a bit ecumenical to have no catholic speaker at the meeting (as far as I’m aware) and then un-invite Healy. Is this discrimination of Irish Catholics?

    Report comment

    • “I have recently been disinvited from a Catholic Church linked meeting on psychotropic drugs and children apparently for using an analogy between child abuse in the Church and pharmacotherapy abuse in clinical care.” _David Healy.

      Perhaps its the age-old problem of “paternalism” and an unconscious, internal mechanism, for our human tendency towards denial and cover-ups?

      “Paternalism (or parentalism) is behavior, by a person, organization or state, which limits some person or group’s liberty or autonomy for their own good.[1] Paternalism can also imply that the behavior is against or regardless of the will of a person, or also that the behavior expresses an attitude of superiority.[2]
      The word paternalism is from the Latin pater for father, though paternalism should be distinguished from patriarchy. Paternalism is sometimes thought appropriate towards children and paternalism towards adults is sometimes thought to treat them as if they were children.[3]
      Examples of paternalism include laws requiring the use of motorcycle helmets, a parent forbidding their children to engage in dangerous activities, and a psychiatrist confiscating sharp objects from someone who is suicidally depressed.”

      Interestingly, Robert uses the term “unconscious” in his dialogue with Frances Allen. See here

      Is Robert having unsettling thoughts about what appears to be an obvious cause of our societal delusion, over the merits of psychotropic medications?

      Why does is it seem like, “the more things change, the more they stay…….?”

      Is there an important element missing from our “intellectual” understanding of our own nature? A denial of internal function, based on historical, cultural distortions about the body, and its perceived “influence” on our pious sense of morality? Please consider a “polyvagal perspectve” on;

      “Reciprocal influences between body and brain in the perception and expression of affect:

      Current research in affective neuroscience focuses on brain structures and neural circuits related to specific motivational and emotional processes (e.g., Panksepp, 1998). These important discoveries emphasize cortical and subcortical structures in the emergence of the complex affective S.W. Porges The Healing Power of Emotion (2009,in press) page 2 repertoire of humans and their contribution to social relationships (e.g., Schore, 1994, 2003; Siegel,
      2007). However, underlying these contributions are details of an important and often overlooked neurobiological substrate, the neural circuits mediating the reciprocal communication between body states and brainstem structures, which impact on the availability of these affective circuits.

      These underlying circuits not only promote feelings (e.g., Damasio, 1999), but also form a bidirectional circuit (e.g., Darwin, 1872) that enables mental and psychological processes to influence body state and body state to color and, at times, to distort our perception of the world.

      Thus, the study of affective processes, especially in their prosocial and healing roles, requires an understanding of the neural circuits both between higher brain structures and the brainstem and between the brainstem and the visceral organs (e.g., the heart) mediated through the autonomic nervous system.

      All affective or emotional states are dependent upon lower brain regulation of the visceral state and the important visceral, tactile, and nocioceptive cues that travel to the brain from the periphery. Moreover, there are distinct visceral regulatory states that foster different domains of behavior.

      These states do not preclude the important bidirectional information from higher brain structures.” _S W Porges.

      As people like Jaak Panksepp point out, there is a fierce resistance to internal awareness and some inconvenient research truths, about the nature of our conscious perceptions, and physiological foundations of the mind.

      Perhaps the church is not yet ready to explore its own historical metaphors, about human evolution, believing the mind to have an immaculate conception?

      Personally, I think J.C would approve of cover-ups, although I suspect an understanding of denial and other Biblical metaphors.

      Best wishes to all,

      David Bates.

      Report comment

      • Dam! Typo. Should have been: Personally, I think J.C would NOT approve of cover-ups, although I suspect an understanding of denial and other Biblical metaphors.

        Maybe it was a Freudian slip, like Roberts use of the term “unconscious?”

        Lord forgive me.


        Report comment

      • It’s nice hearing from you Batesy! I hope all is well with you and your family.

        Your question is a good one and I have to say, unfortunately, no mainstream TV (NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, CNN, MSNBC)or print (NY Times, USA Today, Wash Post, Wall Street Journal) that I’ve seen. There’s plenty of coverage from secondary sources. Maybe it’s forthcoming?

        I’m relying on MIA for posting the live streams which I appreciate very much.

        All the best David,

        Report comment

        • Can’t find any references here either, even in the Catholic press.

          Perhaps there is an unconscious reason for a public shying away from any association with “the Controversy of Children and Psychotropics.”

          I’m sure most members of the general public would equate giving psychotropics to children, with madness? Yet of course, we all need to keep ‘madness’ out of sight and out of mind?

          Hence, my apparently bizarre reference to ‘paternalism’ above. No one wants to willingly provoke the emotional outrage, that such public awareness might invoke. “Unconscious mechanisms of cover-up and denial, within us all, perhaps?”

          Perhaps the real reason for a societal delusion about the merits of psychotropic medications, is not so obvious, after all?

          Be well,


          Report comment

  7. Clip 2 includes an interview with Barry Duncan who introduced an interesting concept that might appeal to many of us here at MIA. Barry found the Vatican’s involvement in this effort of pushing back against the drugging of children so important because the church has the power to “push back” against the efforts of Big Pharma. Many blogs and comments have focused on this point. It’s a big challenge to go up against Big Pharma with an alternative message since they have, for all practical purposes, a limitless funding and dissemination stream for their point of view. Mr. Duncan see’s the church as one institution that, if it adopts similar views as those espoused on MIA, could effectively be a foil to the drug industry.

    Interesting idea.

    Report comment

    • David,

      I think many of us agree on Mr. Duncan’s point, IMO, it comes down to the dignity of each human being, in this case the child.

      I hope what took place in Vatican will create some strong inter-faith dialogue. The drug companies are no match for spiritual faith and the religious freedom to say “NO!”


      Report comment

      • I hope that this will influence a large percentage of the Catholic health care providers in the U.S. My 18 year old daughter was forcibly restrained and medicated in a private Catholic hospital run by nuns of the order of St. Joseph. She was horribly abused at this facility and still recovering from the abuse and stigma she experienced there. Having access to private insurance and ‘state of the art’ treatment during a mental health crisis is no assurance that one’s human rights will be respected. The nuns of St. Joseph were the first to open a desegregated hospital in our state. Let’s hope that these nuns and other Catholic care providers show the same progressive spirit and get out of the business of forcibly medicating and shocking individuals. Itis high time that the Catholic Church took a stand against abusive psychiatry and corrupt pharmaceutical marketing in order to protect the marginalized among us.

        Report comment

  8. Antipsychotics prescribed to children is always grievous bodily harm – always. They grossly distort the functioning of the brain and produce inflamed amigdalas and shrunken grey mass in the brain, and no-one bothers tell this to the parents in the psychiatrists office. The approach of psychiatric medicine is not so different from the electric shock treatment and the psychosurgery that came before. If your phone is ringing all day and you can’t cope with it, the psychiatrist comes along with the smile and cuts the telephone cord for you. But you might have important calls, indeed it might be an emergency. And we see thirty years later that they missed many important calls, because now your child is now permanently disabled, is just a twitching mass of cells with obesity and type 2 diabetes, a 25 year shorter life expectancy, and now only half conscious of the world and not conscious of the feelings and the traumas at all, which they take to be a relief. But feeling the feelings and understanding the traumas would have been the only way to heal. Instead you burried me in me as a child, locked the door, and threw away the key. And now I’m abandoned by all. I’m sick. I’ve got a sick brain. It’s not society or psychiatry but Mother Nature’s brain that is at fault, the brains of our perfect children. They spontaneously went wrong. And the psychiatrist and the drug companies and society want to help. It would help if you admitted how satanically evil this is. It would help many children. What do you do instead? Dance around your handbags singing songs about reform and trauma informed care and listening to patients. There is no grasping of the seriousness, the enormous violence, the appalling crime. And we turn third world, poor countries into supplicants for our appalling pharmaceutical companies who role out their program of destroying children’s brains the world over. I think you won’t admit what the evidence shows because it points to a scale of evil you can’t bring yourself even to consider might possibly be true. Well it is true, and on some level, you know it. But you can’t prove it because the experts who prove these things have skin in the game and don’t want it to get fried.

    Report comment