Talk Therapy Can Cause Harm, Too


A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual conference of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). APS was founded twenty years ago by psychologists and neuroscientists who were dismayed by trends in the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA had lost its old single-minded focus on the search for empirically based answers to psychological questions. This may have followed from the fact that the APA’s membership encompassed an ever-larger percentage of practicing psychologists with many immediate, practical concerns. Yet it is these very clinicians who are in such dire need of empirically validated procedures. For example, a common clinical procedure, assumed to be therapeutic, is catharsis. Yet the recent APS conference offered still more evidence that in many if not most instances, catharsis can be harmful rather than helpful. This is a point of view that I had personally expressed in a number of my own publications. Rather than walking away pleased at confirmation of what I had already concluded, I was dismayed by the realization that this newer literature with its important findings was not well known in the clinical community. I thought it might be time to summarize this newer, empirical literature on the effects of the expression of emotion, and on the frequently negative consequences of catharsis, while offering a concise description of the validated alternative procedures.

There are four closely related axioms that can be abstracted from the empirical studies on emotion and its expression. They each offer implications for treatment, or even how individuals should deal with their own experiences of emotional trauma.

1) Expression of strong negative emotions usually enhances the strength of these emotions and keeps them in focus, as opposed to dissipating them. Overt emotional expression, like other behaviors, carries self-defining information. That is, if you see yourself trembling, you’ll be convinced that you are afraid. Screaming will have the same effect. Expressing how frightening it is adds confirmation. Most of us have observed somebody “working himself into a frenzy.” But because of the impact of psychoanalytic thinking in our culture, we assume that catharsis has the effect of dissipating emotion, rather than recognizing the common experience (now supported by research), that fully expressing strong negative feelings will, more often than not, increase the feelings.

2) Given one encounters a distressing experience, focusing on the discomfort will make it worse. Noel-Hoeksema is famous, at least in some circles, for developing the concept of rumination. After a negative experience, asking “what am I feeling”“ ”why am I feeling this?” “What does this mean?’ “How long will this last?’ will prolong the experience. This type of rumination will lead to even more rumination. Changing the focus, being involved in anything that can otherwise engage you, whether sports, other challenges, or other issues in one’s life, can break the cycle. Sometimes the discomfited individual lacks the ability to change focus to something else. In such cases, even keeping the negative event in focus, the ruminating individual can be helped and encouraged to describe the negative event from a third party perspective. Choose a proper alternative perspective, with less negative implications. Describing, contemplating, and appreciating the event from this other perspective, the hurting individual can find a step by step retreat from the purely negative tone of the ruminative cycle.

3) Depression is partly defined by, and largely maintained by, self-focus. Changing to an external focus will help. Helen Mayberg has achieved recognition for deep brain stimulation of Brodman’s area 25 to relieve symptoms of depression. While nobody knows what function Brodman’s area 25 actually subserves, Mayberg’s patients report that when Mayberg turns off this area in the brain, they want to do something. One patient said that if he were home he would clean out the garage. A crucial difference between cleaning out the garage and being depressed is the presence of external focus ─ operating on the world rather than observing one’s feelings.

4) Positive affect is just as important for well-being as an absence of negative emotion. Barbara Fredrickson has explored the benefits of positive affect on health and cognition. Recent research finds that externally focused positive emotion, such as occurs with loving/kindness meditation, has a more powerful effect on health than self-focused positive emotion (hedonism or pride). The work on positive affect is very consistent with Fava’s recommendation to find traits in others that please you and focus on things for which you are grateful as a mechanism for treating depression (Journal of Personality, 2009).

In summary, following trauma, do not focus on the discomfort, do not focus on one’s self other than for positive assessments, and the experience should be reframed so that it is seen in a less negative light. Assuming the presence of therapists, the therapists should be assisting the clients in identifying positives in their daily lives. Identifying personally embraced goals and developing active behavioral strategies for achieving these goals is a useful practical road to shifting the focus away from internal focusing. A seeming contradiction to this advice is seen in the empirically supported technique involving extinction of fear (usually called re-exposure therapy, or flooding). Extinction of fear entails exposing the client to the terror-eliciting stimuli and then waiting the requisite 15 minutes for the terror to dissipate while no actual disaster occurs. But outside of war, extreme fear is not a frequent source of trauma and precipitant to seeking help. There is little evidence that extinction works well with other emotions. And extinction of fear through forced exposure is not really an example of the cathartic method, in that instead of the client emoting, the client remains passive while exposed to the stimuli associated with the trauma.

So why is it that the assumption that the mere expression of emotion is helpful, is still so widely embraced? Freud’s perspective was based on views on energy that were just beginning to be fully appreciated and fully utilized at the turn of the century (1900 not 2000): energy can be converted from one form to another but energy can neither be created nor destroyed. This physical principle was applied to human emotions and formed the basis for the catharsis hypothesis: emotion is trapped in the body where it causes symptoms, and is expunged or dissipated if externally expressed. But as previously discussed, that is seldom what occurs, and Freud’s view of emotion fails to comport with contemporary views of emotion: emotional reactions are determined by how one appraises the situation and/or by which situation one chooses to focus on or appraise. If there is a simple bottom line to this literature, it is that in order to ameliorate distress; quickly find something else to think about. For the longer term, change how you view the situation.

A final note on this issue. Since catharsis frequently prolongs emotional upset, and is frequently utilized, harm is being done. Yet we all believe in the first principle of doing no harm. Hopefully, disabusing the mental health community of the idea that catharsis is generally a good thing, may help us to follow the widely approved maxim: do no harm. Confusion on this topic should no longer be tolerated.


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. This is important stuff. With catharsis, therapists think they’ve accomplished something, clients become addicted to it, emotional habits become engrained, and both sides get frustrated that nothing is essentially changed.

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  2. Perhaps I’m not understanding “catharsis” as you mean it, but I have found that in situations where a person is experiencing recurrent flashbacks and intense intrusive thoughts about an event, it is often helpful and sometimes essential to have them review the traumatic events (which they are compulsively reviewing in any case), and to help the client create a narrative of the events that are causing the anxiety. This is perhaps more akin to “flooding,” but is done differently, where the person is being asked to review the past event with the benefit of a therapist to keep their focus on the description of what happened, rather than losing themselves in the emotion of the moment. The client certainly emotes plenty during this process, but the effect in the end is very calming if the incident is reviewed several times over (sometimes many times) to the point that it no longer seems frightening to the person. The rest of your article makes total sense to me, and I appreciate the summary of the newer research, but I wanted to share that in my experience, some level of release of emotion from past traumatic experiences appears to be quite helpful and brings lasting relief, if correctly approached and used selectively. And it is certainly applicable to many terrorizing situations, such as child abuse, rape, or domestic battery, which transcend warfare. It is clear that the basis of this isn’t just re-experiencing the emotion, but re-evaluating the past experience in terms of present knowledge, rather than compulsively avoiding/re-experiencing the terror of the past. I believe EMDR utilizes some of this thinking and I’ve also seen that be very effective.

    Thanks for the article – you are absolutely right, therapy can be quite damaging, and bad therapy also sets the person up to distrust the next person who offers to help, so it’s a double whammy. We need to be prepared to acknowledge when we don’t have the skills or insight to help a client and refer them on to someone/something that perhaps might, and keeping up with the latest information on what does and does not work is a big part of that.

    — Steve

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  3. I think the issue is when do you discuss the past and when you don’t. For PTSD when the past event involved fear, then extinction of fear will be useful. By definition, PTSD involves generalizing the fear response to current events. Moreover, the PTSD concept involves experiences where the person’s life was actually threatened. But, I think that therapists often assume the emotion at the time of an event was fear, without any evidence. For example, Susan A. Clancy, in The Trauma Myth, discusses the fact that sexual abuse of children rarely involves negative emotion in the child at the time of the event, because at the time the child had no understanding of what was occurring. Therefore, the rationale of extinguishing fear does not fit the situation. Helping individuals find ways to avoid drawing inferences about themselves given their adult understanding of what occurred following child sexual abuse is helpful. It does not require discussing the details of the past. David Spiegel published a study in which he randomly assigned incest victims to talk about life now or talk about the past. There was no difference in outcome. I think that if the past intrudes for the client (as occurs with flashbacks of scenes involving a time when life was actually threatened), then one must address the fear response. But, if the client is focused on current issues and current difficulties, then focus on current issues. Don’t deal with the past. (The Freudian assumption is that the past determines today. A contemporary view is: today determines today.)

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    • That makes sense to me. The past doesn’t determine today, but it sometimes informs the context of what today’s choices are about. I tended to take visits to the past only in context of how beliefs based on past experience seemed to be affecting the present. It should always be clear in therapy that the purpose is to help the client improve decision making processes TODAY, not to try to fix that which is long since over.

      Good point about the sexual abuse – it is more often the reaction of those around the client that has been traumatic, in my experience. I remember some good research that suggested if the protective adult(s) reacted calmly, believed the child, and took action to assure it did not recur, sexual abuse was not especially traumatic in most situations. It seems to feel more weird and uncomfortable than terrorizing, unless a lot of force was employed. The question of “what does it mean about me” seems to be a lot more salient for survivors.

      Although another interesting way to visit the past productively is to talk about when the person HAS been successful or felt good, and help them re-create some of those same conditions today.

      I suppose the place where most therapists go off the track is when they allow their theoretical perspective to blind them to the client’s actual progress or lack thereof. I tended to do things that worked and discard those that did not. I suppose I agreed more with Milton Erickson that “therapy needs to be recreated for each client.” The client him/herself was always my best source of information on what was going to work. That kind of thinking never let me far astray.

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

      —- Steve

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      • I have to say Steve, in my personal observation, out of all human experience what has always stood out to me as the most potentially catastrophic experience in terms of longer term distress is child sexual abuse – even with decent responses and support. The amount of physical force doesn’t wholly determine the level of distress because I’ve seen some survivors who have experienced the very severe end of physical force [and over many years] ultimately find that what the perpetrator said, the words, to be the most crippling and tormenting.

        Many victims of domestic violence will also cite the verbal abuse and humiliation as the lasting trauma, and sometimes even worse than the physical.

        Stalking for example may involve no physical violence but the long term impact can be devastating

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        • If a client feels hurt by a verbal insult, isn’t the problem that the client chooses to believe the name caller. How can one be hurt by another person’s words (short of a physical assault). I also remember Michele Weiner-Davis, talking about a client she had who was raped. The client did not wish to talk about it because she was not going to give the rapist one more moment of her attention. Seems to me a pretty healthy response. Moreover, I recall a fellow student in graduate school, who was raped by an intruder the day before her dissertation orals. We both talked about how what mattered was the dissertation orals. What your committee thinks about you should be of greater importance than what some twisted individual does or thinks about you. Bottom Line: If one isn’t dead, then move on to what you want to accomplish in your life.

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          • “If one isn’t dead, then move on to what you want to accomplish in your life”.

            Be rubbished by psychiatry and permanently labelled in your medical notes which impacts on every contact with healthcare and see how easy that is to do.
            The words of abusers to children can be a lasting imprint and I can think of a couple of friends who would give you very short shrift on this – they ‘moved on’ but their suffering remains prominent

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          • Wow.

            I truly believe in a person’s ability to overcome adversity. Having worked with people with severe and catastrophic disabilities for most of my adult life.

            For instance, folks who were sighted one moment, literally, blind the next; along with a host of other challenges – physical, mental, emotional conditions,

            But I’m dumbfounded by your words. We are complex souls. When trauma happens, many of us need the support of people we can trust, time to heal. And empathy, kindness, especially with ourselves and the feelings that surface from the trauma. Until we overcome it – stronger than before, IMHO (from personal experience as well).

            I just find your words to be pretty hardcore (your last comment). And I think that if I heard them from a therapist, I would just immediately walk out of the office, and not come back. Ironically, a little hardcore on my behalf, I suppose.

            Well, I guess we’re both being honest about how we feel on the subject. That’s always a good place to start (or end).


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          • Jill,

            I’m going to try to be as respectful as possible… Here goes:

            Ironically, I think you made a good case for the harm that can be caused by psychotherapy… particularly when the values and personality of a therapist do not match those of the person seeking *support, understanding, validation and empathy*.


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          • Jill,

            I’ve had time to reflect on what I wrote a few hours ago. Your words surprised me and I felt a flood of emotion (likely based on my own life experience).

            I think my comment was too personal and I apologize for any pain it might have caused.


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          • Ultimately, I think you are technically correct in your statement, but it seems highly simplistic, especially when the person making the verbally insulting remarks about you is a person you need to rely on for basic survival needs, including the need for love and affection. Most clients can’t simply decide, “Oh, I’m not going to choose to believe his words any more.” It is a far more complicated situation, as the person’s identity often becomes enmeshed with the abuse and the abuser.

            As you say, the child doesn’t necessarily see the sexual part as frightening at the time, but the idea that they have to not tell others about it, or that it makes their relationship “special” (later leading to confusion about the goodness/badness of the sexualized relationship), or comments made about the child during the event, and many other things that can happen create confusion, anxiety, and anger.

            I agree with Joanna 100%, the words and other actions surrounding sexual abuse are often much more damaging than the abuse itself. While some people take the attitude of “I’m not going to give the assaulter any more of my energy,” others are not able to do that, and I would not label them “unhealthy” for not doing so. Responses to sexual abuse are wildly varied, and I agree also that the amount of force is only one of many factors (I alluded to it only to respond to Jill’s assertion that fear is not always part of the picture.) And while the research does show that a positive parental response has a pretty dramatic effect on minimizing the trauma in general, individual cases are always different, and sometimes the events are devastating regardless of force or parental response.

            Which is why I said I take each case individually. Sometimes returning to the past is necessary – the client’s behavior makes that clear to me. Sometimes it’s destructive, and the client also lets me know that by his/her response to my questioning. Sometimes some stabilizing activities in the present are necessary to help the person be prepared to confront the past. Sometimes they are the answer in and of themselves. Everybody is different. I think that’s the biggest lesson of all, and the one that makes the DSM/Psychiatric worldview so dangerous: there is NO “right way” to help someone with an emotional/ spiritual issue. It is impossible to generalize, because for each of us, an event takes on a meaning that only we as an individual understand. Psychiatry, as well as a rote/programmatic approach to therapy, strips away the meaning of the events to the client and gives the therapist/psychiatrist/doctor the power to define the meaning for them. And regardless of the spiritual trauma encountered, that is always damaging, in my view.

            People can be tough, but we all heal in our own ways. Therapists should be there to help each person discover their path, not to dictate for them what that path looks like for them.

            —- Steve

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          • I am very surprised by your response here. Not everyone can “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” and move on as if nothing happened! I admire and respect people who can do as you state here after suffering trauma, but I also know that very few people are capable of doing this. People are resilient but it may take many people a number of years to realize this and finally take the power back from the person or persons who traumatized. Not everyone can respond the way that you state here.

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          • Fear does not have to mean having a knife held ones throat. To say that a man raping a young child is not traumatic for that child is simply stupid. Sure in child sexual abuse such physical threats are not usually present, but the abuse itself, even if not full on penetration is incredibly traumatising for a victim. The age of the child has a great deal to do with it. As does the relationship with the perpetrator, the response of those around them, etc, etc. Response is incredibly important. Children need to be allowed to believed and protected, they need to have some understanding of what happened and for many young children, that involves just trying to understand why adults do those things with each other, as they don’t eve have a concept of what sex is. The way the court system responds is also crucially important and the idea that children do not need Closed Circuit Television to testify with is beyond me. Children do not belong in court rooms and the sooner that is understood the better.

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          • I actually like the idea you are suggesting when you say “The client did not wish to talk about it because she was not going to give the rapist one more moment of her attention.” I’m going to keep with the verbal insult example though.

            Much of the ‘cure’ (or recovery) for a person that suffered a verbal insult depends on his capacity to remove from the person that insulted him all the importance or the power that he actually has, that is, to be able to understand how this person is an “impotent” man, a weak person that should not be able to hurt her/him.

            What I don’t agree with you is that you seem to take for granted that such a thing is easy or that just depends on one’s conscious decision. I don’t think that happens like that. I think it should be considered a challenge, something to be conquered (therefore not easy).

            Specially when it’s about a sexual abuse. How could you be sure that what this woman is not talking from simple (and expectable resentment).

            I believe that thinking that we handle other people judgements as easy as if were someone’s decision is illusory and may be dangerous.

            All the best

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    • Thank you Jill for sharing your selection of the empirical evidence available to articulate your views, as an avid and grateful reader of MIA i deeply appreciate the wealth of knowledge and experience that is generated each day on this site. This is the first time I have logged on to share my thoughts on a piece that has caught my eye, and as I do so I am aware of most of the dynamics that constitute my perceptions of myself, and also the myriad of emotional reactions that are released when I put myself forward to participate and thus offer my self up to be judged, applauded, ridiculed or ignored, and this is because I have learned to pay attention. As a committed project worker in a high support mental health facility, a just published author and a graduate of a prestigious art academy in London I have come a long way from the run away, self harming child i was, and remained, for forty years. I apologize in advance for the detour into my personal history, but i feel, presumably unlike you, that my past experiences of trauma, degradation, victory, courage, cowardliness and kindness are implicit in the every day living out of who I am and what I value and how I go out to in the world to embody those values. Your statement about sport or other interests as distractions to be pursued to break the cycle of self obsessed rumination of trauma or grievances seems to me to somehow be evading the issue, they may well serve as temporary diversions, but in truth, I have found that you can run but you can not hide forever. There comes a time when you have to stand still and face everything that has gone into the making of you as a reactionary puppet, bouncing on strings of self pity, shame, rage, despair and hopelessness. For me this took the path of body mindfulness meditation. This was an experience I had to work hard for on my own, yes others helped by pointing the way, but ultimately it is an experience of you sitting still and letting all the demons loose, slowly, patiently and returning to the breath, and then feeling where in your body it burns, it could be your stomach, your heart, your back or your eyes, it could be anywhere, but if you are in pain, it will eventually surface and burn and then the trick is not to allow the script to kick in, to disconnect the interior monologue, to let go of blaming and hating and theorizing and sit in the fire, and then, perhaps, as Thich Nhat Han says so beautifully, you may hear a voice that rises up from some place deep inside, a true voice, the voice perhaps of you as a five year old child, I am here for you, it says with compassion and integrity, I am here for you, and no payment is required.



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  4. Thank you for bringing this subject to light.

    IMO, it’s important for any person to realize the risks, potential dangers of *any* kind of “treatment,” including talk therapy.

    Also IMO, I think it’s important to realize that the beliefs and values of a therapist may not always be a match. There is not only the risk of being re-traumatized by the emotions that come from re-telling a story; there also a risk of becoming dependent on the therapist; talking about the same issues for years, with little or no progress.

    I believe that helping a person begin to realize their own internal strength, coupled with good relationships, a strong sense of community may do more good in the long-run.

    And as Steve points out, EMDR is helpful for many. IMO, prayer, meditation, movement (exercise) and nutrition are good – combinations of therapeutic approaches.

    If therapy is the *only* way to overcome trauma, how is it that people found ways to do so, *long before* Freud’s name was known?
    Mankind has a long-standing *history* of overcoming unthinkable tragedies, natural disasters, famine, war…

    We instinctively find ways to survive. And with courage, to *live* – with, or without a therapist. Sometimes, with some hope and the help of one *good friend*.

    For the record, I’m not against therapy. I’m *for* whatever works. Sometimes, that’s therapy. But not always.


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  5. “because of the impact of psychoanalytic thinking in our culture, we ASSUME”

    Minds me of the old joke about dividing the constituent letters of the word ASSUME into 3 separate words.

    And yes, talking it out, under the assumption that the therapist is anything more than a collectivist philosopher is not only a dangerous proposition, but a documented (NEJM) hazard.

    Suicidal Ideations By The Numbers: Counseling Is WORSE Than Zoloft.

    As for Freud, it’s astounding that anyone even mentions the coked out Quack these days.

    According to Sigmund’s projecting of his own Oedipal needs, . . . .

    Can any of the men posting here actually remember suppressing their desire to murder their father so they could commit incest with their own mother?

    Why on earth does Anyone give Ziggy ink these days?

    It’s no wonder he described himself as the world’s greatest enemy of religion.

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  6. When I think of catharsis I think of foucault, on the usefulness of religion, and when that was about corruption–for instance the psychologist’s office became the confessional, and instead of elaborating sin, it was about some deep dark longing, for the dismissal and ignorance of relativity. meaning life is environmentally based, or there is a phenotype. but I appreciate your thoughts, as one, people still believe homicidal rage is a personality characteristic, instead of, anyone would hate that. or basic psychiatry which states, when doing polls, most people will state they have fantasized about deviant sex, or homicidality, from movie culture–they don’t act it out, nor do they feel it is apart of their personality.

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  7. “I’m going to try to be as respectful as possible… Here goes:

    Ironically, I think you made a good case for the harm that can be caused by psychotherapy… particularly when the values and personality of a therapist do not match those of the person seeking *support, understanding, validation and empathy*.

    You’re more charitable than me Duane, my jaw is still on the keyboard, I’d say that ironically Jill has demonstrated the case for the harm that can be caused by some psychotherapists by actually demonstrating it..

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    • oh please..this isn’t about physical ‘treatments’ and of course lobotomy is going to be worse than pretty much anything but people are damaged by words [and lack of words]. A woman asked in a “therapuetic community” by the therapist whether she had ‘enjoyed’ being raped by her father as a small child. The overdose which put her in ITU nearly killed her.
      Diagnostic insults have made people suicidal, seen that so much with BPD where the words, no letters, have been to quote a friend “worse than forced ECT”

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      • Markps2 & Joanna;

        You’ve both made very valid points here, but Mark’s 19 wouldn’t have Been surgically mutilated without having been Talked/BS-ed/Browbeaten into a Diagnosis to start with.

        When Someone/Anyone shows me where these Paperhanging, Bottom Feeding, Belief Pathologizers have ever actually Cured anyone except themselves and their co-workers, . . . Then, I’ll be willing to consider granting them a scintilla of respect.

        Their ‘Let’s Talk About It’ knowledge base is beneath risible.

        Seance Science.

        The Occult World of Carl Jung

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  8. Thank you for this article, I hardily agree that talk therapy, especially as it is practiced in today’s therapeutic culture, can be damaging. Although, I confess that I have a hard time with any studies about emotions, because people are so individual with such distinct processes, that I don’t see how any research can do justice to an individual. Individual processes are discovered on a case by case basis, and not en masse. Our emotional response to anything is an indication of individual spirit, and I don’t feel it is something to ‘study,’ but to experience.

    I have found most psychotherapy to be exchanging one lopsided relationship for another. For me, the harm lies in creating this illusory relationship. During my internship several years ago, I found that clients expected me simply to agree with them about their dysfunctional environment, creating negative agreements about others, without ever taking responsibility for shifting the situation, starting with internal shifts in beliefs and changing habits of thought. I defected from the field because my colleagues tended to enable this negativity in their clients, in order to not make a client angry. I found the practices in which I was trained to be manipulative responses rather than authentic truth.

    In my experience, many psychotherapists cannot tolerate anger during a session, without making a client believe there is something wrong with them, merely because they give themselves permission to be angry in the moment. During the days when I was a client, I had a therapist say to me when I got angry, “Now if you get like that I’m only going to distance myself,” as opposed to exploring the source of the anger (which, to me, would be standard operational procedure). Not only is this harmful and incredibly patronizing, I find it downright toxic. I replied, “How old are you imagining I am in this moment?” I was in my 40’s at the time, and felt like a 12-year-old on the other side of that response. That was my final experience with psychotherapy, and getting away from these kinds of dynamics so that I could simply be in the world discovering my own voice, truth and spirit, is what allowed me to heal from post-traumatic stress from chronic childhood abuse, followed by stigma and discrimination from the mental health system (repeating my childhood patterns of feeling powerless). As a result, I eventually became able to function in the world like a healthy and grounded human being. I’ve been in the flow of life and well-being ever since.

    As a spiritual counselor and teacher now, my solution has been to prescribe a specific grounding and centering daily meditation to practice present time and quieting the mind (just 5-10 minutes a day is adequate), affirmations to practice daily in order to create a positive relationship with one’s spiritual voice, and the reminder that focusing on what others do or how they act really has nothing to do with them, other than it is an extension of their own universe. We all create our own realities, and we can shift this energy at will, at any time. It can be challenging to learn this, due to the mythologies that have perpetuated our realities and influenced our beliefs, which we have inevitably internalized through cultural programming. But this is what I teach—how to get your own information, and not to rely on others for this; that is, how to hear your own guiding and healing voice. To stand in your own light of truth, regardless of anyone else’s perspective, is personal strength, power, and freedom. It is mind, body and spirit alignment—along with great courage–which is the essence of well-being.

    Healing is all about self-responsibility, and not relying on others by paying them to be a ‘best friend’ or ‘benevolent parent.’ These relationships are illusions that will catch up to all parties concerned, eventually. A quote from one of my favorite films comes to mind: I make it a point never to explain myself, says Mary Poppins. Now THAT’S personal power.

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    • “Healing is all about self-responsibility, and not relying on others by paying them to be a ‘best friend’ or ‘benevolent parent”.

      I must disagree, it isn’t like that for everyone, and healing being self-reliance? We ALL rely on each other, few people are islands!

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      • By self-responsibility, I mean to take responsibility for one’s experience, and to own our emotional responses–rather than to focus on ‘the other,’–which we can shift to a more expansive and better feeling perspective by considering different points of focus offered in any given situation.

        On the highest level of spiritual awareness, no one is a victim of anything. We create our paths as we do in order to discover who we are. I healed fully and got out of all the loops in my head when I owned the path my life had taken, rather than to sit in resentment about ‘what others did to me.’ It’s a hard truth, but one I feel is helpful to consider, nonetheless. It completely shifts the perspective on trauma. This is present time neutrality, which I feel is a healthy goal for which to strive. But that’s just my version of it, Joanna. I wanted to clarify what I meant by self-responsibility. I understand that others might not agree with me. Still, I found this to be a very healing approach to my issues.

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        • “On the highest level of spiritual awareness, no one is a victim of anything.”


          Are you saying what I think you are saying (i.e., that, in reality, there is no such thing as a victim)?

          You seem to be saying that there are no victims of *any* kind — no victims of child abuse or psychiatric abuse… no victims of political persecution… no victims of hate crimes…

          Are you saying that, or am I somehow misreading you?

          If you *are* saying that, then I wonder: In your view, what point is there in attempting to prevent *any* kind of abuse, of anyone, by anyone?

          Of course, it may relieve some considerable amount of needless suffering, when we find ways of more or less transcending the sense that we have ever truly been permanently harmed, as victims.

          Meanwhile, if you are saying what I think you are saying, then I am sincerely wondering how you (or anyone else) can live, from day to day, believing in such so-called ‘spiritual’ awareness, as that…

          It seems ultimately *devoid* of any sense of empathy for the plight of victims (of every kind — not just humans who have been victimized by other humans — but animals who have been victimized, too).

          And, yes, I do believe there are victims…

          Very sadly, there are countless victims of man’s inhumanity — and indifference — to man.

          (Of course, when I speak of man’s inhumanity to man, I am really referring to men and women.)



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          • Jonah, I’ll do my best to clarify what I intend, here. This will be on the lengthy side, but I feel it’s best to use the examples of my life, so I can be specific about what I mean in my post. I’ve thought about this a great deal over the years, as I’ve healed and transformed my life, through a variety of processes.

            I can tell two stories (at least) that describe my journey in life, so far. Each story is accurate, but divergent in perspective (empowered vs. disempowered), as well as in the dominant feeling that each perspective stirs–I believe, anyway…

            In a film I made that is posted on YouTube (Voices That Heal), I give a thumbnail about my abusive father and enabling mother and brother, and how this family dynamic caused me to evolve emotionally in such a way that eventually led to a DSM diagnosis (at age 22, I’m now 52). My anxiety, fears, and feelings of complete lack safety in the world totally overwhelmed me, causing all sorts of chaos in my head and in my life. Then, I talk about how, years later, after completely getting off of 9 meds which fried my brain and poisoned my nervous system and some vital organs (regenerating all of this with herbs, over a period of time, working with a trained and highly skilled herbalist), I successfully sued a non-profit vocational rehabilitation agency when they fired me unjustly, as I was healing and growing and getting back on my feet after a hardy period of medication-induced disability. This was the most stigmatizing, oppressive, and discriminating environment I had ever encountered. I had been a successful professional for over two decades, and when these issues surfaced again post grad school, I naively turned to the system for support, and all throughout the system, including voc rehab, I was treated second class, all the way. In their minds, I should have had no power nor independent mind, nor did I have much hope to amount to anything terribly respectable.

            As I was healing and showing signs of getting back into my personal power, I was whacked one way or another. It was quite insane, and insane-making. They simply could not tolerate the healing I was doing, probably because it was causing me to wake up to these toxic dynamics around me, all this corruption that was pretty clear to me. And on and on and on. I was fortunate to find the one attorney I did for EEOC mediation, but I’ve had issues with professional advocates and disability rights attorneys, I even took a grievance all the way to CA Office of Civil Rights, which was rejected because of what had been written about me in my file. The system was completely closed.

            All of this caused me tremendous pain and suffering in many ways, and set me and my life back to an extreme. I do believe people drive other people crazy. Personally–and this is my opinion–I think that’s the bulk of mental illness of any kind, caused by bullying, oppression, stigma, marginalization, and social ills, in general. I’m just saying this off the cuff, from my myriad experiences in and around this issue, but it really rings true to me. Some people–and family members–can be real jerks, relentlessly, and be totally power-abusive, as a way of operating in the world. It’s pretty rampant, in fact, I find, sadly and maddeningly. Of course, these people have their own wounds to deal with, but this is how some deal with it, by aggressively acting out, taking no responsibility for how they are affecting others, and in fact, sometimes, I get the feeling they kind of enjoy it, like it makes them feel powerful to victimize another. Certainly, all of this amounts to what we’d refer to as ‘victimization,’ so in this story, I’d consider myself—and others with similar plights—a victim.

            But I believe reality has many dimensions, and that we can experience them all simultaneously. I’d consider this to be present time. Not grounded, it can cause chaos and madness. Grounded, it can be solid and clear, simple joy and bliss.

            I can also tell this story, from that spiritual perspective to which I refer—

            I came into this life for a purpose. My early years of chronic abuse and trauma awakened my spirit to evolve. Somehow, I designed it this way. As a spirit, I know what I’m doing, although my human mind knew nothing of this, and the only thing that I was consciously aware of was that I felt a lot of fear, dread and panic. Still, somehow, I managed to function extremely well in the world, high achieving, active social life, etc., and I swallowed all of this anxiety daily, for years. Now, that is no way to live life, I really don’t believe anyone is meant to live that way. But, the world is challenging, and for so many, those challenges begin at a young age. So when I imploded, I started this journey called ‘mental illness,’ everything seemed to match up to the DSM, one way or another, and this led to a plethora of medication. My dad was a physician, I grew up in that world, believed in it, as it was my only reality. I trusted it. For the first 20 or so years of this, I functioned fine (aside from a couple of short-term crashes)—got my degrees, developed a long term relationship (married 28 years now), and had a career in retail management.

            Then, I went to graduate school and got a Masters in clinical psychology. I did great in school, but I graduated with severe internal malaise, for a lot of reasons. Shortly after, I had been prescribed all these meds and naively took them (this was before I woke up to what this field was all about), and this disabled me. Getting off meds and healing from all of this was the most painful and enlightening experience of my life, the most incredibly transformative experience I could ever imagine. Took several years to make this dark night journey, as all my issues rushed to the surface, simultaneous to having been chemically poisoned. Not the most fun period of my life, trust me on this. My partner and others witnessed my metamorphosis. I have since left San Francisco, where all of this occurred, and have lived for the past several months in an incredibly beautiful rural town in Northern California, and we’re happy as clams, 100% healthy. (I haven’t taken a med of any kind—not even aspirin—in about 9 years). We’re next to 180 acres of redwoods, it’s Heaven on Earth. I have an active practice. I teach self-healing and transformational consciousness. People have done a lot of healing with me, first in SF, and now it has started here. I’ve integrated my lessons, training, and experiences well.

            I worked very hard to heal, when at one point, I was given a prognosis of ‘poor,’ after my final hospitalization. No one in the mental health field had any sense that I could be at all functional, from what they ‘observed’ and assumed, much less a successful healer and artist.

            I turned to energy and vibrational healing work, got myself healed and trained over a few years period, became a busy Bay Area actor (which I hadn’t counted on), made a film about stigma and discrimination in the system, and have a really happy, comfortable and safe life. I was able to calm my mind from chaos, heal my spirit, and ground my body by doing a certain regimen of healing work that applied to specifically to me.

            We each have our healing paths. For people who are dealing with trauma, I feel our path and purpose is related to the trauma we have experienced. I feel it’s our guidance, and this gives it meaning. I really and truly did learn to feel grateful for all that I experienced once I was able to not only forgive, but to allow myself to shift my focus from trauma and victimization to gratitude and guidance, and it really did work, I have to say. I’m not saying that everyone needs the trauma, we look to receive our guidance with ease, but this world seems to conjure effort and trauma quite easily these days. I guess that’s what we’re trying to change.

            Sure, I had to purge some feelings as part of the process, and I had my ups and downs, but I learned, first, how to manage my emotions responsibly, and second, I learned how this was my spirit, to be validated. So yes, indeed, I am highly empathic. In fact, I have to be careful to not take on more than my share, I feel the feelings of others quite easily.

            Trust me, I’m not a meditated out zombie in denial of my feelings! I think my partner would really hate that, he loves my fire. I live passionately, feeling it all, but also responsibly and with awareness. All of this has led to turning around my beliefs, so that I could manifest my dreams, like I knew I could, like so many told me were delusions, like one psychiatrist told me that I ‘lost my dreams,’ leading to a suicide attempt. He’s one of those jerks of whom I speak. But I’ve resolved what that did to me at the time, and I worked hard to release the energy of rage toward this guy, which lightens my load, and brings me peace.

            I love my life now more than I could have ever imagined. I’m good with my family, my film was healing to us all because I spoke my truth. I forgave my dad before he passed away a few years ago, and we had really lovely 7 years heart-connected. To this day, he guides me in spirit. I have that dialogue at least once a week. I get my dad now, and I get the many gifts which I inherited from him.

            Took me years and many perspectives to explore to finally get here, but I did. I can still slip into victim mentality if triggered just right, but every time I do, I use this as an opportunity to heal some leftover stuff. For the most part, however, I can navigate the world confidently and with great fun, because I owned my entire life experience as the designer of it, not as a victim of it.

            As far as preventing or challenging abuse, I did what I could, with what I knew at the time. I’ve had other opportunities to take legal action, but that’s a rough road. There are so many ways to address these issues. I strive always to learn what is most effective, while not draining my own energy. I think the jury is still out on that one, but we do our best where social ills are concerned. I say, heal from the trauma of it, and that lessens it in the world. Without victims, there can be no abusers. I’ve learned how to not be a victim, even when someone is attempting to victimize me. They usually end up feeling it themselves, because I no longer react to it the same way I used to. That’s how I took control of this, changed my reaction to when I saw this coming. People are people, all kinds in this crazy world.

            I apologize for the length of this, but I really appreciated your challenge, Jonah, and it feels good to get this out like this, to see the difference in the energy of each version of my life story. I haven’t written much about it, so this was good for me to articulate. I hope it suitably illustrates what I meant by my statement. Thanks for asking.

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          • Alex,

            Please excuse me: whereas you’ve written at length, in reply to my query, I’ll be as brief as I can be, in response.

            Thank you for your reply; it was helpful — very much so. Also, I greatly appreciate your second reply (then some).

            I read that second reply (your comment to Stephen Gilbert, below,on June 10, 2013 at 10:24 am) just moments ago.

            Great reply — really.

            As you know, I was questioning what I felt (and still feel) is a questionable line you offered, above, in an earlier comment; it was your description of what you have called, “the highest level of spiritual awareness.” You said that, on that level, “no one is a victim of anything.”

            It seemed to me such a completely questionable statement, I felt compelled to post my comment, above.

            (Ordinarily, I will do my best to avoid arguing about ‘spiritual’ matters; and, I’ll not be critically judging anyone’s relative degree of ‘spirituality’ — and, especially, not in a venue such as this; but, I may hold my private opinions…)

            And, here, I’ll say (very emphatically) that I now believe you are on a truly wondrous spiritual journey.

            That is because I am now interpreting your questionable line a bit differently than I did at first; I think it tends to read, at first glance, badly…

            Of course, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you are really meaning to say, that: at the highest level of spiritual attainment, one overcomes ones own ‘victim mentality’ — and knows how to avoid being victimized.

            As far as preventing others from becoming victims, there are many ways of participating on that front.

            In my view, you have very good reason to feel your mission, in this life — (I believe that, for each and every one of us, this mission is ‘just’ being *ourselves* entirely) — your mission is clearly central to preventing many otherwise would be victims of medical-coercive psychiatry from actually becoming victims (or else, protecting them from being victimized endlessly by the grave ignorance of such psychiatry).

            This mission of yours is implicit in the fact that you are so willing to share your ongoing story, of self-liberation, with others — and that you are encouraging others to share their own liberating stories.

            I see that you are a *great* example of someone who is overcoming a victim mentality — truly.

            That’s great.

            Still, I think it doesn’t make sense to say, “On the highest level of spiritual awareness, no one is a victim of anything.”

            That seems like very *misleading* wording, to me (but I won’t belabor the point).

            By the way, I was helped immensely by the fact that you mentioned having made a film, which can be found on Youtube; I watched a bit of it and got a much clearer sense of your very real, human ‘spirit’.

            (Note: I watched only roughly the first 16 or 17 minutes, as that’s all I had time for, currently…)

            I will say, honestly, that: though I found everyone in your film to be quite likeable, I am made uncomfortable by any setting wherein people are calling themselves “mentally ill” — as I have long been someone who’s been totally inclined to flat-out *reject* psychiatry’s medical model.

            And, so, I don’t believe in “mental illness”; but, I do believe that certain sufferings are turned into conditions called “mental illness,” by way of psychiatric meddling.

            (I won’t belabor that point either.)

            More power to you.



            P.S. — Hopefully, this comment of mine will post directly beneath your comment below (of June 8, 2013 at 3:29 am).

            [Certainly, it can be difficult to tell which ‘Reply’ button to use if/when no button appears directly beneath the comment we are aiming to answer.]

            Anyway, I’m glad to have prompted your comment. What you’ve shared, of yourself, has been positively eye-opening.

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        • Little children have created very few paths yet. True, I must take responsibility for my own experience and own my emotional responses, as an adult, so that I can take the power away from the person who traumatized me in the first place. But this may take many years for me to come to the point in my life that I can do this. Many people, for many different reasons never get to this point and end up killing themselves. What I discovered, and I can only speak for myself, is that I needed to know that someone else truly cared about my well being before I could realize that I was worth caring about and could come to care for myself enough to take care of myself by taking the power away from the one who’d tried to destroy me.

          The kind of awareness you seem to speak of often comes only with time and self-reflection, and someone caring about you. You were able to do what you did. As you say, it may not work for others or it may take them a lot longer than it did you to come to this understanding.

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          • Absolutely, it takes time, and focus. Also, it takes the belief that we can heal. That is paramount, to believe in our process.

            As we all know, healing is a process, and it can take many forms and pathways. As I mentioned, I was almost killed by my own hand, and came so very close to succeeding. I remember every moment of my body dying, and then being revived in the ER. My consciousness never went away, and I learned many invaluable things during these moments. One thing I learned is that it was not about others whether I lived or died, it was about my path and purpose in life. I felt that my purpose had been thwarted—as my shrink kept repeating to me, ‘You’ve lost your dreams,’ while I was in the most vulnerable and fragmented state I’d ever been. This echoed in my head the night I took the pills. I had completely lost my connection to my spirit, and therefore, to what I would call ‘the light.’ That was my suicidal feeling, loss of light.

            I mentioned that I have a long term partner, but what I didn’t say is that he was an emotional vampire, extremely avoidant and deceitful in many ways, very opposite who I was. He’s the first to own this now, he’s done a lot of great healing, too. In my film, he talks about the rage he brought into the relationship. One things of which our experience is a perfect example is that mental illness is not about one person, but about relationships. He knows he was more delusional and paranoid than I was about things, but all my life I had stepped up and said, ‘Something is wrong with me.’ That was my habit from childhood, since that was the message I received. I’ve since changed my tune about how I see myself. He did a good job of appeasing an hiding, something I never developed either the habit of or the taste for doing. I’m pretty direct. My family would have not tolerated me in a traumatized state, so I would have had nowhere to go, other than institutionalized or on the streets. Living in San Francisco at the time, I would have had a lot of company on the sidewalks. So no, at that time, I didn’t feel anyone at all really cared. I thought everyone around me was cold, mean, and heartless.

            It was during my transpersonal state of being—while my stomach was being drained—that I received the information that if I were to die, I’d just have to do all of this over again and get through this, somehow, so what would be the point of that? I also learned my purpose. It was my most enlightened moment when I was near death. That’s when I chose to enter my body again, and keep going. It took my partner a while to quell his double binding habits with me, but as I got stronger, so did my voice, and my resolve. I was quickly integrating all that I learned. He followed in my footsteps, and we both healed together. Now we are manifesting wonderful things together.

            Of course it takes time and reflection, as well as courage to be in the world, regardless of anything. I don’t for a minute believe it is beyond anyone’s capacity to heal, although I do believe one’s own resistance and self-beliefs can undermine this. If one understands their relationship to resistance, that’s valuable to work with, in my opinion. Overcoming resistance is a giant healing step.

            As far as children go, I feel they do know their paths, intuitively. I remember knowing mine (not as a concept, but I knew where to step next, simply from desire and impulse), and getting knocked off course over and over again in traumatic ways, including many kinds of abuse and authority bullying. I think that’s pretty epidemic, at least among my generation. Self-reflective and self-responsible adults can better hold and witness a child’s process. Eventually, I saw there was a purpose to all of this. At any time, anyone can begin the process of understanding their life trajectory, to their benefit.

            Personally, I would never, ever say any kind of personal growth and awareness is inherently beyond anyone’s capability. To me, that amounts to condemnation, and perpetuates illusory limitations. I think that is from where we are attempting to ascend, these kinds of negative self-beliefs, that we are, in any way, limited, and that others have the power to permanently screw us up for life. I know many people hold these beliefs, and I want to feel respectful of everyone’s reality, but personally, I can’t even fathom that being the absolute truth.

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          • Hmm, no reply button below your response, Jonah, so I believe this one will show up elsewhere on the thread, just fyi…

            Thank you, Jonah, I really appreciate all of this very much. I’m certainly very open to refining my language around these issues. I find that to be tricky, and you called me on it, that’s fine.

            Your reframe is true, but to be really, really precise, I mean that from a very broad perspective—one that I’d call a high spiritual awareness, meaning, seeing from the God-perspective (which I believe we all have, our higher consciousness)—there is a story in which no one is interpreted as victims—nor abusers, for that matter–that’s not relevant from this perspective. Cause and effect is neutral. This is energy and vibration at work. When I learned and studied Law of Attraction, all of this became very clear for me.

            As humans, we have this potential, to perceive from such neutrality. We also have our ego-selves. I believe the two do a dance, we go back and forth in perspective. We exist in multi-dimensions, from what I perceive and understand. My practice has been to achieve that high perspective as much as I can. Not only does it feel good, relaxed, and worry-free, it produces good results, as far as my reality is concerned. I can get triggered into stuff and can start interpreting from victim perspective again (being only human!), but what I now know is that these are illusions, so I trust the feelings of this to pass now, when they occur…whereas before I knew any of this stuff, I kept perceiving this as regression or failing at my healing, stuck.

            The idea of self-healing is to deliberately focus on developing that higher perspective. I believe we have control over where we choose to focus, and this makes all the difference.

            I had to process a lot and do a lot of story-telling before I found my way to what my life had meant for me all along, but that had been my goal since learning that this was attainable. In the process of developing this perspective, a lot of things came together in a way that brought in light. After that, everything shifted in ways I could have never imagined. Life became soooo much better, in every way.

            I look for ways to communicate this, but I’m met with a great deal of resistance. The semantics of ‘mental illness’ are a challenge, given all the perspectives now. What others call ‘mania,’ for example, I diagnose as ‘being ungrounded.’ That is really easy to remedy, and can be an enlightening journey, learning all about grounding and earth energy. Indeed, I feel I provide a solid alternative, but only if people believe in their own ability to heal. If not, there’s really nothing I can do to help there. I’ve gotten excellent testimonials over the past few years.

            I’ve been a one man band with my work, creating this healing center and the film. It was my self-advocacy, and also my path away from disability. Distribution of the film got messed up because of the politics from professional advocacy. I really fell prey to their hypocritical shenanigans, which is why I finally left SF to continue my work where I am now, in a small Northern CA rural town. So I can still find myself in a victim position when I make myself vulnerable, as I was with this group of advocates, but it led me to finally leave SF and as a result, I found my bliss here. So I healed from that, too. Once you learn how your process heals, you can do it at any time.

            Advocacy didn’t expect my film to be truthful about the system. I was on the inside making this, challenging them. I had already become established, so I was no longer part of the system to receive services, but I wanted to share my story publically, because I knew the system was a travesty. So I went ahead and posted it so that people could see it, I figured that would be of value. I hope you can find the time to watch the rest of it, because I edited it in a way to tell many stories at once—not just our personal stories, but also the story of how humanity becomes divided from how we interpret our life experiences. We put such a cynical spin on that which we call ‘symptoms’ that needn’t be the case. DSM interpreting, for example, leads to pathology, so we create pathology from this interpretation. There are much better and more humane and practical ways to interpret our lives and challenges, other than to say we have a chronic disorder that will take a lifetime of dependence, (pisses me off just to articulate this concept).

            Anyway, thank you again for your kind words and very constructive feedback. I will continue to be aware of how I express myself, especially when talking about this stuff!

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  9. I am so happy to have people thinking about this. On the issue of whether abuse can cause distress, David Burns (The feel good book-Stanford CBT person) talks about clients who believe that if they walk away from abuse perfectly happy and fine, they are some how approving of the abuse. He then honors their decision to remain miserable if they choose. I guess I agree with this. But, I think I would want to help the client beaware of the decision process. In Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel, Frankel recalls while being in a concentration camp, that he realized it was up to him how he felt each day. No body can make this decision for anyone else. I think that’s real power.

    By the way,there is a big literature on how to think about adversity. Susan Harter looked at little kids who maintain self esteem. The kids with the high self esteem merely decide that whatever they aren’t good at does not matter. Parents of kids who are dying of cancer, have less stress when they find ways to believe they have more control than they probably do. There is a big literature on finding positive value in tragedy (caner, victimization, etc.) The amazing thing about our species is that we can create our own realities.

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    • “… On the issue of whether abuse can cause distress..”

      pretty well established abuse does cause distress Jill, and it’s not a ‘choice’ to remain miserable, that’s called trauma.
      You’re doing a pretty good job of ‘deciding’ for others what it ideally should be with your enforced positivity stance.

      I find your views no better than any hard line medical model psychiatrist saying ‘biochemical imbalance live with it’ attitude. In fact it’s worse because at least with a hard line medical model psychiatrist it looks like shit, smells like shit, it is shit, but with talking you’d maybe expect there to be more humanity and desire to validate.

      You prove your argument most ably that talk can cause harm – you demonstrate it to us.

      JeffreyCon – it isn’t always choice, many behavioural interventions using talk and peer pressure can used whilst detained. People here are being forced into therapy groups on threat of discharge with no support, these are some of the most damaged and vulnerable survivors.

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      • “forced positivity approach”– you hit the nail on the head with that. I couldn’t put my finger on what bugged me about Jill’s position, but that it is. The “forced positivity perspective” is basically complicit with the abusers by suggesting that nothing is REALLY wrong with what happened, since the position is basically that with RIGHT THINKING it shouldn’t actually matter at all that you were raped. This is some bizarre new form of victim-blaming. And, unfortunately, this is the road that “self-help” thinking leads us down because it is individualizing– to the extreme, as Jill’s comment that we “create our own realities” makes clear. We don’t actually create our own realities, since human reality is not authored by any one person, it is a hugely complex, contingent, and multiplicitous event that is unfolding and changing at all times according to laws and tendencies that no one can fully account for.

        Another thing is that this runs into the same problems as the Cognitive-Behavioral approach, that is, it assumes that the person who is suffering is MISTAKEN and that the key to healing is instructing that person on reality and CORRECTING them. Unfortunately, I cannot stand by this, especially not as an a priori assumption. Victims are not automatically wrong, mistaken, or erring. Psychotherapists do not actually have a better hold on reality or a better position from which to obtain knowledge about our lives, our traumas, or reality in general– and thus no leg to stand on and claim that they are here to instruct us in it.

        The closest Jill’s article got to convicing me of anything was in saying that we should do what works. But what is “works”, anyone? For whom? Who gets to determine what that means? I can’t imagine a person who would find that a therapy that basically joined everyone else in this culture in denying their most powerful emotions– rage, trauma, devastation, ego disintegration– and demanding that they be further denied as the measure of recovery. We live in a culture of denial and on that point alone– this is an ethical point, not a point about what may make people “calmer,” experience less emotions, etc– I can never accept that more denial is called for to heal from the original denial that has so exacerbated our pain.

        Especially in the connection of rape and rage this is a fundamentally ANTI-feminist way of viewing women’s place in the world. And that I also cannot ever, on ethical and political grounds, stand by.

        yes, therapy CAN cause harm. Clearly.

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    • Hi Jill,
      I love the focus on decision making and self-empowerment. Unfortunately I think psychology tends to sanctify suffering, as if it elevates us in some way. I believe suffering should be felt, honoured for what it has to contribute to our evolution, and then let go. I agree there are lots of reasons why people hold onto suffering, and I believe we become addicted to it. Many people don’t understand their role in their own suffering, that we in fact create much of it for a complex variety of reasons. Simply asking ourselves “do I want to suffer over this” is a powerful question, whether or not we are in the right or someone else has perpetrated some wrong against us. The focus should be on our quality of life and mental well-being above all else, regardless of whether we or other people think we “deserve” or “have the right” to suffer over something. If we were being tortured and had the power to ask the torturer to stop, would be stop them? We are often our own torturers and executioners, much more so than the other people or circumstances in our lives.

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  10. I’ve said it before at MIA in response to somebody making a similar case as yours, and it’s that you cant compare passive, indirect harms that may come up through talking with people about certain things with the direct and unconscious harms caused by drugs — such as tardive dyskenisia, diabetes and early death.

    One is a product of choice and behavior, the other is a product of biological poisoning. They cannot be compared.

    “that in order to ameliorate distress; quickly find something else to think about. For the longer term, change how you view the situation.”

    I’m glad you’re not my therapist, because then I’ve have to temporarily ignore child drugging while trying to find a way to view it in a positive way. Of course I would be so much happier if I could believe I were born with the brain damage I have and that it’s not being induced in millions more children, that’s just common sense. But I would disagree that “For the longer term, change how you view the situation.” is the best way to go about dealing with those problems. That leads to yet another culture of people who ignore the problems in life that are creating their pains so that they can just watch T.V. or play video games while little johnny is writhing around in a dystonic fit in his room.

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  11. Jill

    I am having some serious problems (as apparently some others are as well) with some of the things left out of your posting and some things stated in your responses.

    Some people expend a great deal of negative energy running from their trauma experiences throughout their life. And frequently it catches up to them when they least expect it, creating numerous emotional crises and quite often being a precipitating event leading to some type of addiction or being a triggering” thought pattern in some type of relapse.

    Addressing trauma with the right people in the right environment can be a very necessary healing experience.

    “… the fact that sexual abuse of children rarely involves negative emotion in the child at the time of the event.”

    I have worked in community mental health for over 20 years in a city with much poverty and trauma victims. I have used EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitization, and Reprocessing) with numerous trauma victims, including many who have been sexually abused.

    When bad things happen to children they take on the badness as if it were their own. They make a very early decision in life that they are a bad person.

    My experience tells me that most children (even those very young) know something is wrong right from the beginning. The way the perpetrator behaves and manipulates gives early cues, and then of course there is the pleas, requests, demand, threats, or bribes for silence. This delivers clear messages that something is wrong. And if they remain silent (which most children do) out of confusion and fear and intimidation created by older authority figures, they blame themselves more and more as time goes by, because they now believe they were somehow responsible for what happened especially because they did not tell some one at the time.

    And what about how sexuality is understood and dealt with in this society in such a repressed way, especially with the influence of religion and theories of sin and original sin. This has huge influences on children, and with each year of age trying to come to terms with sexuality and sexual identity, the negative effects of this abuse only tends to grow.

    And this extends right into adulthood. All the emotions and understanding of fear, shame, and guilt are often still gummed up with the thinking level of the child. Core self esteem damaged with thoughts of being “bad” still with them as adults.

    Even when the child or person knows the perpetrator was wrong and believes in God they still feel bad because they say to themselves ” I must be bad because why would God allow this to happen to me?”

    “If a client feels hurt by a verbal assault, isn’t the problem that the client chooses to believe the name caller.”

    Yes, people need to ultimately evaluate the truth and falsehood in verbal assaults directed at them, but the way in which this concept was presented comes across as a “blame the victim” for their problems and oversimplifies emotional transformation.

    Verbal abuse cuts very deep and can be very destructive, and it is not so easily overcome.

    Kim, I can’t tell you how many people I have seen in counseling who were (in a way) re-traumatized by family members and friends when they were told some version of “you just need to get over it and move on with your life” because the family member did not want to understand and confront the reality of the trauma, especially having to perhaps deal with their own guilt if it happened “on their watch.” And others may shy away from confronting the reality of just how brutal some humans can be towards another. There are aspects of your responses that seem to be falling into exactly this line of thinking.


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    • Richard wrote: “Some people expend a great deal of negative energy running from their trauma experiences throughout their life. And frequently it catches up to them when they least expect it, creating numerous emotional crises and quite often being a precipitating event leading to some type of addiction or being a triggering” thought pattern in some type of relapse.”

      I know someone who murdered his father. He was drunk, his father had developed dementia and he was visiting. He had a flash back of being sexually assaulted by his father and went into a rage.

      He’s in prison now.

      He was a very calm and pleasant man and for all I know may still be.

      My guess is that he repressed the memory and the frustration of having to deal with his father’s dementia and all the complicated feelings that brought up (the moral duty to look after his father plus the frustration of dealing with his father) reminded him of his feelings as a child when the man who was supposed to be looking after him was sexually using him.

      As a society we consistently underestimate the cruelty adults inflict on children and the harm this causes. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, though I respect everyones right to not look at what has happened to them and niether do I think they need to look at these traumas in order to deal with any distress they are experiencing, but I don’t want to deny people the chance of being able to talk about it either

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      • “..I don’t want to deny people the chance of being able to talk about it either” – that’s my position too.

        As for nothing short of GBH or death can be worse than anything non physical that really smarts. I was a victim of stalking and the long term consequences of this mean that posting here at all is pretty amazing given my ‘paranoia’ even years on can mean I am scared in my own home with the curtains drawn. I don’t choose to feel this way. Walk in my shoes..
        I know my experience is nothing compared to survivors of child sexual abuse, I’ve lost several friends by suicide because of it. One had to take taxis everywhere because she was so afraid of being recognised from child pornography, don’t you dare say Jill that she choose to be that way, she fought SO hard to live with her experiences and transcend them, I never saw such fight in a person.

        I truly grasp it when a woman says to me ‘it would hurt less if he hit me’ – domestic violence and rape charities could explain this to you very easily.

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  12. Kim

    I will add based on your most recent response that you seem to be promoting a view that “you are what you think you are.” and “to hell with what is going on in the environment around you.”

    I recently wrote a blog posting titled “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The Good, The Bad, The Limitations. It dealt exactly with the serious limitations of this type of thinking when doing therapy with people. The discussion that followed this posting was very educational to me and to others; I suggest you take some time to review it.


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    • I agree with you Richard. Although some people can deal with very difficult circumstances very well the research is pretty clear that poverty, racism, homophobia, sexism and childhood trama all contribute to extreme mental distress.

      So the reality, and not the theory, is that trauma affects a lot of people pretty badly.

      Being told you can think your way out of it or that distraction is the best medicine may sound good for a while but when it doesn’t work people can then blame themselves and add to thier problems

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  13. wow – I think this post sounds like no kind of therapy that I know of or what I regard as therputic in any kind of relationship – formal or otherwise.

    As far as I know mental distress is fear and confusion, usually moral confusion where the question that is implicit is, “Am I responsible for the bad things that happen to me?”

    So the thing to do when trying to help anyone in distress is to try to make a trusting relationship, clarify moral ambiguities and encourage the person to face their fears and achieve their goal. That’s my theory, but if only it was that easy.

    In my experience people in the mental health system have had very few people listen to their life experience. When I do they often talk about early trauma and in doing so visibly calm down. I’m not looking for emotional expression, but I am interested in emotional involvement.

    There is research on counselling at emotional depth. The research says that the quality of the relationship as assessed by the client is the important thing in the effectiveness of counselling. This makes sense to me, this is also what people will say about good teacher, friends, work colleagues etc.

    Sorry if this is a bit rambling. It’s late here, but the post just did not sound like any therapy or counselling I’d experienced for a long time and I’ve seen people improve due to counselling and I’ve also been helped myself. I’ve also been harmed, but it wasn’t anything to do with what the post was about either.

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    • Joanna,

      IMO, words can also *heal*.

      Imagine if the same shrink had said,
      “What you are experiencing is *not* incurable.”

      Or, “What your feeling makes perfect sense based upon what you’ve experienced. You seem like a very insightful person. I’m going to working together.”


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    • I agree with you, Joanna. And I think the author of this article completely misunderstands the nature of hurtful words. It’s not just what a person thinks of themself (as suggested in the article); it’s also living with the knowledge that the speaker actually thinks these hurtful opinions.

      I, too, was declared incurable and told that I wouldn’t return to work and that I’d have to be on psych meds the rest of my life. I believed them until I came to the understanding that psychiatry is just an obscene power struggle and that such proclamations are meaningless, stigmatizing, hurtful and arbitrary.

      That’s why we’re all participating in this website, right? We’re searching for alternatives.

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      • Yes Francesca, I’m sure even those with the most robust sense of worth wouldn’t desire anyone thinking of them as a waste of space.
        You too eh..shall we set up The Incurables Club?!
        Sigh yes, ‘finding alternatives’ is not such a straightforward journey and psychiatry isn’t the only obscene power struggle at play in our lives. Maybe the journey is more about finding acceptance for wherever we are and for whoever we are.

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  14. Jill, I have read your post but, I must admit, not all the responses to it (not most of other people’s nor yours in response to them). I will try and go back to read more tomorrow when I’ve got a little more energy, but feel compelled to respond to your initial offering now.

    Honestly, I’m quite distressed by it. Yes, therapy can be harmful. Therapy can be harmful, because the therapist is often a trusted person in someone’s life. And, even if they’re not trusted, the hold an awful lot of power. The therapist can be a part of labeling and telling someone what is wrong with them. The therapist can be complicit with a system that re-enforces a broken identity. The therapist can initiate the pressing of the panic button that sends someone off to forced treatment settings.

    And the therapist can continue to send the message that person does not know themselves, cannot trust themselves, and cannot be their own expert. You speak all in academic terms. Which clinical and ‘evidence-based’ approaches work. Which have been disproven. I’m not interested in any of it.

    I have talked with the woman who was told for YEARS that she should not be given space to speak about her trauma history based on therapeutic theory. I have been trained to use ‘distracting skills’ to combat distressing thoughts and feelings. I have been read to and labeled out of books.

    There IS value is sharing your pain. If someone’s really listening, it might be the first time you feel truly seen. There IS value is being ASKED how you want to approach an issue. If someone’s really curious in your response, it might be the first time you feel truly heard. There IS value is having faith in someone’s choices about themselves. If they are genuinely willing to walk with you, it might be the first time you don’t feel so alone.

    When I read what you write, I hear you talking about therapists having all the knowledge and making all the decisions and deciding on all the approaches. You may be saying some of them are getting it wrong, but only to hand the baton over to those you feel get it right.

    I can’t tell you how much harm I have seen done by ANY approach that holds the helper hostage in the role of ‘knowing.’


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  15. Being motivated by a personal, negative experience of abuse to have the positive, external focus of working to protect others from the abuser enables justice and healthy progress as a society. Rather than driving a wedge between self, others and life experiences, this fully associates the past, present and future into a meaningful life purpose driven by love — a very healthy emotion to express.

    Who is truly happy to let abuse continue, leaving others unprotected? Many clients and therapists do work to associate with the reality of the abuse, to learn how to protect others. This can “require discussing the details of the past.” Child abuse that involves torture is a source of extreme trauma, which involves fear. Children may dissociate — or associate elsewhere — as the trauma starts coming on. Their bodies are impacted by the biorhythms of the abuser’s very disharmonious feelings, which he/she radiates in his/her presence.

    Words can do harm. That’s why hate speech is illegal. Appreciating someone’s inner strengths is healthy; so, the opposite is not. Harmonious interpersonal mental connections are healthy; so, the opposite is not.

    What’s considered to be the world’s largest database of brainwave assessments has over 30,000 — from Brain State Technologies. It proves that brain patterns that are reinforced do become dominant. Their technology reinforces the healthy patterns, which is ethical and relieves disorder symptoms very quickly. Many of their pages show graphs of unhealthy vs. healthy brain patterns — like the rainbow-colored images in the middle at: I’m not paid to share this, but it’s curious that therapists who also aren’t paid to share it, don’t.

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  16. Thank you Jill for introducing this subject; this article introduces an important issue. Much of the value of psychotherapy lies in a therapist assisting in creating a catharsis for emotional distress. Your description of four aspects of a client discussing an emotional trauma with a therapist is void of an attempt to reach a catharsis so it isn’t therapeutic. Hopefully this isn’t indicative of most psychotherapy.

    Best wishes, Steve

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  17. “There are four closely related axioms that can be abstracted from the empirical studies on emotion and its expression. They each offer implications for treatment, or even how individuals should deal with their own experiences of emotional trauma.”

    Which empirical studies on emotion, Jill? As usual in this highly confusing debate, we all have our favored approach towards the therapeutic healing of distressing emotions. This essay seems to assume a “top down” approach, which leaves out the body’s role in the arousal of emotion, both negative & positive. A top down view of the brain and therefore our mind, as the command and control center of our being? Does this reflect, not only personal assumptions about self-control, but also the kind of societal control, that we all project a power dynamic onto?

    Can we continue to ignore the burgeoning science of “psychophysiology” and its implications for the stimulation of our mind’s, which includes the major organs of heart, lungs and stomach, in the arousal of core motivation. In short, can we remain in denial about the core nature of our emotional energies, and why, as humans, we are prone to post traumatic experience?

    Please consider another view of our biology (a dirty word here, I know) and the hidden nature of anxiety and our apparent reason;

    “Panic, biology and reason.

    Panic and post-traumatic anxiety states have in common “the experience of dread with the perception of inescapability.” Anxiety in its pathological form, represents a profound failure of the organism’s innate defensive structures to mobilize and thus allow the individual to escape threatening situations, actively and successfully. It is where active forms of defensive response are aborted and incomplete that anxiety states ensue.

    Beneath the monolithic label of anxiety are “camouflaged” a wealth of incomplete and indefinable somatic responses, sensations, and bodily feelings. These body experiences represent the individuals response to past experience, but also to their “genetic potential” in the form of unrealized defensive responses. The recognition that these instinctive orientation and defensive behaviors are organized motor patterns, that is, prepared motor acts, helps to return the body to the head. Anxiety derives ultimately from a failure to complete motor acts.

    When orienting and defensive behaviors are carried out smoothly and effectively, anxiety is not generated. Instead there is the complex and fluid sensate experience perceived as curiosity, attraction or avoidance. It is only when these instinctive orientation and defensive resources are interfered with (thwarted) that the experience of anxiety is generated. Ultimately, we have only one fear, the fear of not being able to cope. Without active, available, defensive responses, we are unable to deal effectively with danger and we are, proportionately, anxious.

    A scene from an uplands meadow helps illustrate the “motor act” concept. Imagine you are strolling leisurely in an open meadow. A shadow suddenly moves in the periphery of your vision. Instinctively all movement is arrested, reflexively you crouch in a flexed posture; perceptions are “opened” through activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

    After this momentary arrest response your head turns automatically in the direction of the shadow or sound in an attempt to localize and identify it. Your neck, back, legs and feet muscles coordinate so that your whole body turns and then extends. Your eyes narrow somewhat while your pelvis and head shift horizontally, giving you an optimal view of the surroundings and an ability to focus panoramically.

    This initial two-phase action pattern is an instinctive orientation, preparing you to respond flexibly to many possible contingencies. The initial arrest-crouch flexion response minimizes detection by possible predators. Primarily though it provides a compulsive jerk that interrupts any motor patterns that were already in execution and then prepares you, through scanning, for the fine tuned behaviors of exploration or defense.

    Tonic Immobility – Freezing.

    Anxiety has often been linked to the physiology and experience of flight. Analysis of animal distress behaviors suggest that this may be quite misleading. Ethology, points to the “thwarting” of escape as the root cause of distress-anxiety. When attacked by a cheetah on the African plains, an antelope will first attempt to escape through directed/orientated running. If, however, the fleeing animal is cornered so that escape is diminished, it may run blindly, without a directed orientation, or it may attempt to fight wildly and desperately against enormous odds.

    At the moment of physical contact, often before injury is actually inflicted, the antelope abruptly appears to go dead. It not only appears dead, but its autonomic physiology undergoes a widespread alteration and reorganization. The antelope is in fact highly activated internally, even though outward movement is almost non-existent. Prey animals are immobilized in a sustained (atelic-catatonic) pattern of neuromuscular activity and high autonomic brainwave activity. Sympathetic and parasympathetic responses are also concurrently activated, like brake and accelerator, working against each other.

    In tonic immobility, an animal is either frozen stiff in heightened contraction of agonist and antagonist muscle group, or in a continuously balanced, hypnotic, muscular state exhibiting what is called “wavy flexibility.” In the hypnotic state, body positions can be molded like clay, as is seen in catatonic schizophrenics. There is also analgesic numbing.

    A patient described many of these behaviors as they were happening to her. She wasn’t, however, aware of her physical sensations, but rather of her self-depreciating and highly critical judgments about body sensations. It is as though some explanation must be found for profoundly disorganizing forces underlying one’s own perceived inadequacy.

    The psychologist Phillip G. Zimbardo has gone so far as to propose that “most mental illness represents not a cognitive impairment, but an (attempted) interpretation of discontinuous or inexplicable internal states.” Tonic immobility, murderous rage and non-directed flight are such examples.

    Tonic immobility demonstrates that anxiety can be both self-perpetuating and self-defeating. Freezing is the last-ditch, cul-de-sac, bodily response where active escape is not possible. Where flight and fight escape have been (or are perceived to be) unlikely, the nervous system reorganizes to tonic immobility. Both flight-or-fight and immobility are adaptive responses. Where the flight-fight response is appropriate, freezing will be relatively maladaptive.

    Biologically, immobility is a potent adaptive strategy where active escape is prevented. When, however, it becomes a preferred response pattern in general situations, it is profoundly debilitating. Immobility becomes the crippling, fixating experience of traumatic and panic anxiety.

    Underlying the freezing response, however, are the flight or fight and other defense orientation preparations that are activated just prior to the onset of freezing. The “de-potentiation,” of anxiety is accomplished by precisely and sequentially restoring the latent flight or fight defensive responses that occur at the moment/s before escape is thwarted.” _Peter Levine.

    In my own struggle to release myself from the birth trauma effects of “tonic immobility,” an event which occurred before I even learned to think, I’ve had to give up my life-long assumptions about my mind’s capacity to “affect” my body, and a core aspect of my experience. I’ve had to learn to tolerate and understand the sensations of an “involuntary” freezing response and its transformation from awful to awe-filled sensations of “oneness” during the sensate experience of release.

    Please consider Peter Levine’s understanding of inner conflict;

    The bases of conflict are oppositional or incomplete motor patterns. The significance of this for therapy (and life) is monumental. (p, 298)

    In particular, you will begin to notice what various sensations (i.e., tensions, contractions, aches, pains, etc,) tend to emerge in sequences or in groups. For example, you may notice that a “knot” in the belly or tightening of the anus is associated with a suppression or holding of breath. (p, 300)

    It is the ability to hold back, restrain and contain a powerful emotion that allows a person to creatively channel that energy. Containment (a somatic rooting of Freud’s “sublimation”) buys us time and, with self-awareness, enables us to separate out what we are imagining and thinking from our physical sensations. The uncoupling of sensation from image and thought is what diffuses the highly charged emotions and allows them to transform fluidly into sensation based gradations of feelings.

    This is not the same as suppressing or repressing them. For all of us, and particularly for the traumatized individual, the capacity to transform the “negative” emotions of fear and rage is the difference between heaven and hell. The power and tenacity of emotional compulsions (the acting out of rage, fear, shame and sorrow) are not to be underestimated. Fortunately, there are practical antidotes to this cascade of misery. With body awareness, it is possible to “deconstruct” these emotional fixations. (p, 322)

    Through awareness of interceptive sensations (i.e., through the process of tracking bodily sensations), we are able to access and modify our emotional responses and attain our core sense of self. A first step in this ongoing process is refusing to be seduced into (the content of) our negative thoughts or swept away by the potent or galvanized drive of an emotion, and instead returning to the underlying physical sensations. At first this can seem unsettling, even frightening. This is mostly because it is unfamiliar–we have become accustomed to the (secondary) habitual emotions of distress and our (negative) repetitive thoughts.

    We have also become used to searching for the source of our discomfort outside ourselves. We simply are unfamiliar with experiencing something “as it is,” without the encumbrance of analysis and judgment. As the sensation-thought-emotion complex is uncoupled, experiencing moves forward toward subtler, freer contours of feeling. Eugene Gendlin, the originator of the term “felt sense,” sums this up with, “Nothing that feels bad is ever the last step.”

    This experiential process involves the capacity to hold the emotion in abeyance, without allowing it to execute in its habitual way. This holding back is not an act of suppression but is rather one of forming a bigger container, a larger experiential vessel, to hold and differentiate the sensations and feelings. “Going into” the emotional expression is frequently a way of trying to “release” the tension we are feeling, while avoiding deeper feelings. (p, 323)

    With containment, emotion shifts into a different sensation-based “contour” with softer feelings that morph into deepening, sensate awareness of “OK-ness.” This is the essence of emotional self-regulation, self-acceptance, goodness and change. (p, 324)

    From a functional point of view, bodily/sensate feelings are the compass that we use to navigate through life. They permit us to estimate the value of the things to which we must incorporate or adapt. Our attraction to that which sustains us and our avoidance of that which is harmful, are the essence of the feeling function. All feelings derive from the ancient precursors of approach and avoidance, they are in differing degrees positive or negative.

    Sensation-based feelings guide the adaptive response to (e)valuations. Emotions on the other hand, occur precisely when behavioral adaptations (based on these e-valuations) have failed? Contrary to to what both Darwin and James thought, fear is not what directs escape; nor do we feel fear because we are running from a source of threat. The person who can run freely away from threat does not feel fear. He only feels danger (avoidance) and then experiences the action of running. It is solely when escape is prevented that we experience fear. Likewise, we experience anger when we are unable to strike our enemy or otherwise resolve a conflict. (p, 327)

    Working at Columbia University in the 1940s and 50s, Nina Bull conducted remarkable research in the experiential tradition of William James. In her studies subjects were induced into a light hypnotic trance, and various emotions were suggested in this state. These included disgust, fear, anger, depression, joy and triumph. Bull discovered that the emotion of anger involves a fundamental split. There was, on the one hand, a primary compulsion to attack, as observed in tensing of the back, arms and fists (as if preparing to hit). However, there was also a strong secondary component of tensing the jaw, forearm and hand. This was self-reported by the subjects, and observed by the experimenters, as a way of controlling and inhibiting the primary impulse to strike. (p, 332)

    In addition, these experimenters explored the bodily aspects of sadness and depression. Depression was characterized, in the subjects consciousness, as a chronically interrupted drive. It was as though there was something they wanted but were unable to attain. These states of depression were frequently associated with a sense of “tired heaviness,” dizziness, headache and an inability to think clearly. The researchers observed a weakened impulse to cry (as though it were stifled), along with a collapsed posture, conveying defeat and apparent lethargy.

    When Bull studied the patterns of elation, triumph and joy, she observed that these positive affects, did not have an inhibitory component; they were experienced as pure action. Subjects feeling joy reported an expanded sensation in their chests, which they experienced as buoyant, and which was associated with free deep breathing. The observation of postural changes included a lifting of the head and an extension of the spine. These closely meshed behaviors and sensations facilitated the freer breathing.

    Understanding the contradictory basis of the negative emotions, and their structural contrast to the positive ones, is revealing in the quest for wholeness. All the negative emotions studied were comprised of two “conflicting impulses,” one propelling action and the other inhibiting (thwarting) that action. (p, 333)

    In addition, when a subject was “locked” into joy by hypnotic suggestion, a contrasting mood (eg, depression, anger or sadness) could not be produced unless the joy “posture” was first released. The opposite was also true; when sadness or depression was suggested, it was not possible to feel joy unless that postural set was fist changed. (p, 334)

    A direct and effective way of changing one’s functional competency and mood is through altering one’s postural set and thence changing pro-prioceptive and kinesthetic feedback to the brain. Hence, the awareness of bodily sensations is critical in changing functional and emotional states. (p, 337)

    Just how does posture alter one’s mood and affect a lasting change? Intense emotions occur only when emotional action is restrained. Or said in another way, it is the restraint that allows the postural attitude to become conscious, for the attitude to become a feeling-awareness. What Nina Bull deeply grasped, is the reciprocal relationship between the expression of emotion and the sensate feeling of emotion.

    When we are “mindlessly” expressing emotion, that is precisely what we are doing. Emotional reactivity almost always precludes conscious awareness. On the other hand, restraint and containment of the expressive impulse allows us to become aware of our underlying postural attitude. Therefore, it is restraint that brings feelings into conscious awareness. Change only occurs where there is mindfulness, and mindfulness only occurs where there is bodily feeling (I.e., the awareness of the postural attitude)

    While physical feelings are both punitively and qualitatively distinguishable from emotions, both derive ultimately from the instincts. The five categorical emotional instincts described by Darwin are fear, anger, sorrow, disgust and joy. However, feelings, as the consciousness of a bodily attitude, come in a virtually infinite range and blend. The Darwinian emotions correspond to distinct instincts, while feelings express a blending of (sensate-based) nuances and permutations.

    In addition, bodily feelings embody a relationship between an object or situation and our welfare. They are, in that sense, an elaboration of the basic affective valances of approach and avoidance. Feelings are the basic path by which we make our way in the world. (p, 338)

    Trauma and Spirituality:
    In a lifetime of working with traumatized individuals, I have been struck by the intrinsic and wedded relationship between trauma and spirituality. With clients suffering from a daunting array of crippling symptoms, I have been privileged to witness profound and authentic transformations. Seemingly out of nowhere, unexpected “side effects” appeared as these individuals mastered the monstrous trauma symptoms that had haunted them-emotionally, physically and psychologically. Surprises included ecstatic joy, exquisite clarity, effortless focus and an all-embracing sense of oneness. (p, 347)

    “The life of feeling is that primordial region of the psyche that is most sensitive to the religious encounter. Belief or reason alone does nothing to move the soul; without feeling, religious meaning becomes a vacant intellectual exercise. This is why the most exuberant spiritual moments are emotionally laden.” _Carl Jung.

    At the right time, traumatized individuals are encouraged to and supported to feel and surrender into immobility/NDE states, states of profound surrender, which liberate these primordial archetypal energies, while integrating them into consciousness. In addition to the “awe-full” states of horror and terror appear to be connected to the transformative states such as awe, presence, timelessness and ecstasy. (p, 353)”

    Excerpts from “In an Unspoken Voice,” by Peter Levine, PhD.

    I suggest that the real culprit of our collective confusion in this ongoing debate about mental health and emotion, is a core need to protect the image of an idealized and rational, self?
    As I suggested in my comment here:

    “The image of rationality is vital to our collective sense of self, and as Brennan points out above “The status of image was much higher before we discovered the intellect. The idea of man as slave to his senses was a later transformation of the subjective enslavement to the power of the image. Perhaps this was necessary as a long transitional defense against the image. Distance was gained from the image by seeing it as immediate and concrete. Indeed, it is likely that the very birth of intellect was associated with the cognition of image as image (rather than, say, an idol).”

    Yet in an economic era of what many are now calling “a knowledge economy,” can those of us who make a living with our educated intellect’s, be entirely honest about the stimulation and motivation, of our thinking?

    Great essay Jill, and I hope people can stay with this kind of conversation, and shift the debate towards an “internal” perspective, where it belongs. IMO we really need to step up to the plate and answer Dr Michael Cornwalls prophetic question, “if mental illness is not what psychiatry says it is, then what is it?”

    When one reading across a variety of disciplines, like the neuroscience of early-life development and an emerging science of the heart, one can begin to sense, the “how” & “why” of these discontinuous states of the core self, we label mental illnesses.

    Best wishes,

    David Bates.

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  18. Alex, I get what you’re saying about how trauma can inform our paths in life, I’m quite certain there is work I’ve done which would never have happened without what I’ve experienced and witnessed. As for ‘learning to not be a victim’ and reacting differently that’s a tough one, I’m certain that if someone hit me it’s going to hurt the same each time. How I handle that might evolve but the feelings they evoke are not likely to change.
    A doctor years ago who I saw a lot of in Emergency with self-inflicted injuries would always stitch me deliberately withholding pain relief. If I showed any expression of physical pain or distress he would then shout at me and be verbally abusive. So I learnt to not move a muscle, I ‘dissociated’ so that he could cause me as much pain as he wanted but I would not react at all, because that was the only power I had in those circumstances, to not give him any further excuse to be abusive to me. So although I couldn’t stop him from denying me pain relief, I could deny him any further attempt at mistreating me. At a later point I decided that no one was ever going to do that to me again, I had the same right to pain relief as any other patient, and now, if it came to it, I’d walk away and seek repair elsewhere if I had to, I wouldn’t allow myself to be subjected to the deliberate infliction of pain because that’s torture.
    As a footnote – the irony is that ‘dissociation’ is commonly associated [by professionals] as occurring before self-injury when for me it never has, but it sure as hell can happen after in response to treatment.
    I’ve also noticed that my whole body can shake uncontrollably, it’s clearly a physical reaction after any treatment, I guess the muscle/body memories are quite hard to change. This can happen even if my mind/emotions are relatively calm.

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    • I agree, Joanna, these are tough shifts to make, but, as you indicate, they can be made little by little—as you describe, you know you can walk away, for starters. That’s certainly one thing we can learn, as we wake up to how we are being traumatized in the moment. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to walk away without making things worse. This became a program in my head, to where even when I was able to physically remove myself from crappy situations later in life, I was still haunted by the memories of my abuser(s) coming after me, wanting me to feel trapped. So my own internalized voices became my abusers. In addition, I could still repeat patterns, by continuing to attempt to resolve issues with others, when I really shouldn’t bother. I learned that ‘needing to be right’ caused resistance, whereas I stopped caring about that. I know what I know, and that’s all I need to know, as long as my life is working for me.

      The good news here, is that when I could own that this was now my voice, I could do work with this and shift these voices to a more compassionate state. Again, takes time and practice, since habits of thought and negative self-beliefs can take time to shift.

      Yes, it can feel just as badly when we face abusive resistance, regardless of our perspective. I don’t think anyone feels good when they are challenged in a brutal way. When we have core triggers around this, it can feel like soul death all over again. But when we learn to perceive these events as manifestations of healing and guidance (that is, not filtering the event through negative self-talk or self-beliefs, but more as a neutral guidance toward recognizing that which is looking to heal) this allows for a new reality to emerge, one based on self-care and self-compassion. This shifts our entire internal vibration, which is from where we manifest our life experience, so our manifestations become more pleasing to us. Starts to create an upwardly spiral, rather than one that goes downhill from snowballing negativity.

      This is how I crawled out of the dark–by practicing, with great patience and discipline, affirmation of my spirit. That was not at all easy at first, and took a lot of faith and trust, on my part, in my process and in the universe. At the same time, I had to address body memories, too. I learned to see shaking, like what you describe, as energy moving through me, and I learned to how interpret this, through my training and spiritual work.

      We can change from day to day. If we don’t hold ourselves or others in judgment, then energy will flow more easily, and we will constantly be getting new streams of information, along with new and different caliber manifestations to experience, which will teach us what we need to know at that time. Eventually, we get to a point of clarity, where we can learn how to manifest joy, consciously. I believe hardily that, with diligent focus and by remaining in hope, anyone can get there.

      In my work, I support people in finding their joy in life. To me, this is the best part of healing, as it eventually becomes a really fascinating and fun journey. I never thought I’d be able to say that about my life, but fortunately, I discovered differently, thanks in large part to some wonderful teachers I had along the way. Believing in my ability to feel joy was the most healing endeavor I could have ever undertaken. This is why I switched focus as a healer, and started working exclusively with energy, as opposed to the psyche. The psyche is certainly vital to our experience in life, but I have found that healing our psychic fragmentation comes naturally, with time, if we focus on, first, healing our fears and judgments. I believe that heart healing is the first order of the day, when it comes to healing anything. That’s a tough one in today’s world, but it’s doable. Many paths to this, we each discover our own, and when we do, relief happens.

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    • Joanna, when you write;

      “I’ve also noticed that my whole body can shake uncontrollably, it’s clearly a physical reaction after any treatment, I guess the muscle/body memories are quite hard to change. This can happen even if my mind/emotions are relatively calm.”

      You could reframe this experience as your “innate” need to self-heal? To literally shake off the unconscious freeze reaction, which “rationalizing” health care professionals label, dissociation. Self injury can be understood as an attempt to invoke the nervous systems natural response to escape from a previously conditioned “tonic immobility.”

      Of coarse, in our “intellectualizing” culture, such primitive reactions, as uncontrollable shaking are frowned upon, it makes other people nervous. Yet from a trauma resolution viewpoint, it is being increasingly understood, as the ancient wisdom of the body.

      The paradox of traumatic experience, can be a hyper-vigilance that manifests as a sharply reactive intelligence, masking a deep seated dis-ease. Some health care professionals call kind of intelligence, a healthy sense of detachment.

      Only using Peter Levine’s “sensate” awareness approach to trauma resolution has helped me to resolve “birth trauma,” an experience which occurred long before I learned to think.

      A deeper discussion of dissociation, its physiological and psychological affects, is crucial to understanding what a mental illness experience really is, beneath the mind’s rather conceptual realm. Please consider;

      “How do YOU do Dissociation?

      The non disease view of Dissociation?
      “Dissociation as a clinical psychiatric condition has been defined primarily in terms of the fragmentation and splitting of the mind, and perception of the self and the body. Its clinical manifestations include altered perceptions and behavior, including derealization, depersonalization, distortions of perception of time, space, and body, and conversion hysteria. Using examples of animal models, and the clinical features of the whiplash syndrome, we have developed a model of dissociation linked to the phenomenon of freeze/immobility. Also
      employing current concepts of the psychobiology of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we propose a model of PTSD linked to cyclical autonomic dysfunction, triggered and maintained by the laboratory model of kindling, and perpetuated by increasingly profound dorsal vagal tone and endorphinergic reward systems. These physiologic events in turn contribute to the clinical state of dissociation. The resulting autonomic dysregulation is presented as the substrate for a diverse group of chronic diseases of unknown origin.” The Neurophysiology of Dissociation and Chronic Disease. Robert C. Scaer MD.”

      Best wishes,

      David Bates.

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      • David, my ‘dissociation’ occurred in direct response to abusive medical treatment, not before or during self-injury.
        I separated my mind from my body as a protection from that abusive treatment, that’s not uncommon to victims of assault.

        I think shaking also occurs with an overload of adrenaline [act of injuring, lack of food/fluid after, waiting for treatment in extreme fear, painful treatment], it’s physiological shock.
        ‘Freezing’ I understand having experienced what was called catatonia in my youth, I’ve described that as an extreme concentration of fear, where it appears externally as though the lights are on but nobody’s at home but it’s a retreat into the core of oneself until it feels safer but underneath that waxy flexibility it’s frantic.

        endorphins – there are endorphin theories about self-harm which I don’t support because 1] there’s no loss of pain or sensation for many of us 2] it’s biological reductionism which [like biochemical theories of psychosis] cannot be proven unless we’re going to measure endorphins under scientific conditions before/during/after self-harm and compare to non-accidental injuries.

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        • I understand the “reductionist” viewpoint, yet wonder about the paradox of an externalizing view, which stands in denial of our nature? Are you suggesting that human life, which begins with a biochemical event, is not rooted in biology and its complex chemistry?

          Is the “reductionist” viewpoint here on MIA, an unconscious reaction to the pain of previous experience, perhaps? Can any of us claim to be fully self-aware, and certain that we understand our own internal functioning?

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          • Hi David, certainly wouldn’t ignore our biology and it’s chemistry in reaction to experience but not as a fundamental cause, the endorphin theory can be used by professionals as an ‘explanation’ devoid of all context, just as the ‘biochemical inbalance’ line with ‘psychosis’.

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  19. An “enlightened witness” to the past is crucial in allowing someone to leave the impact behind. However rote revisitations to the past undertaken by CBT without building a relational connection can do a great deal of damage.

    The referral form at St. Mungos for therapy aimed at homeless people asked the question “Have you ever been sexually abused?” This is just being plain crass.

    Issues around the past arise within a relationship based up trust and are resolved through a deep relational meeting of resonating minds and bodies. Simple rote therapy and returns to the past with the aim of providing a “cure” can cause harm because the interaction relies on technique not connecting to the person.

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    • too true Dean, I’ve witnessed such crassness in other venues such as Emergency care, where the assumption is anyone presenting with self-injury must have been sexually abused. I’ve even experienced a psych standing at a doorway informing me that “most people who self-harm have been abused, I can arrange for someone to talk with you, and if you don’t staff will see no point”, then walk off, before I’ve had a chance to reply ‘but I wasn’t abused as a child’.
      The survivors I feel most deeply for are those who have had their self-harm and/or experience of abuse defined as BPD. They get such a shit deal with doctors casually saying ‘been abused, right ok..’, with demands to know on the spot what was touched and what was put where. Friend who was once in a homeless hostel experienced this with the attached therapist as though people can just slap this on the table on demand. Frankly it can be a bit creepy and voyeuristic the way some therapists enquire, feel they have the right to know without the build up of any trust, and insist on ‘correct’ anatomical terminology refusing to accept survivors euphemisms. That really bugs me because it’s not difficult to work out what a person is saying and if ‘pink thing’ and the ‘hurt which bleeds’ helps a person speak of anal rape more easily why can’t we just listen?

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      • Exactly! Why does anyone feel that they have a right to tell anyone how to describe what happened to them? Our job is to listen, not to tell the person how to tell their story or experience. When I listen to these kinds of things I’m humbled by the fact that the person decided to share this with me in the first place. It’s not my place to “force” the story from them and it’s not my place to tell them how they have to share the experience!

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        • Yes Stephen, we must always feel privileged when someone has the courage to tell their story, with the example I offered I waited 13 years until she felt able to say it. I always knew from the moment I met her but sometimes it takes a long time, and even then saying it doesn’t automatically mean survival. Most of the friends I have lost by suicide experienced abuse in their youth and as you commented not everyone can survive their traumas [whatever they are]. This is why it’s important to me that ‘recovery’ narratives are not too reductionist – get out of services/off meds, and that’s it. Some people have enduring difficulties and need assistance to live with them, if we fail to recognise that then we do no better than a psychiatrist saying you’re incurable.

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  20. I thought of responding to this post yesterday but wasn’t sure quite what to say. Stepping back a bit, the only thing I can think of adding at this point is a plea to think carefully about core assumptions. Having just read most of the above, two have jumped out at me (there are others, of course).

    First is the idea that words don’t hurt people. Consider what this would require. I think it would require emotional isolation and a complete lack of trust. To be connected and to trust is to be vulnerable, no? I don’t see how it’s possible to have real emotional connection without vulnerability…to have the capacity to be nurtured by people and the words they use without being vulnerable to also being hurt.

    Second is the idea that the past doesn’t determine today. How in the world could this be possible? If the past doesn’t determine the present, what does? The human psyche and it’s state at any given time (including our ability to “decide,” for instance, how to view trauma or “change” our perspective) is shaped by all sorts of past events, ranging from the passing on of genetic material to personal history to what happend a few days or hours ago. We strive to inject our own agency into this, but to suggest that we can simply be the masters of our current frame of mind, free of past influences, seems like magical thinking to me. (Well, having just read this over, maybe the key word is “determine,” and what was meant was that it doesn’t absoLUTEly determine the present. Still, the gist I’m after is that the past is really, really important.)

    Of course, we all have our own versions of magical thinking! Or to put it another way, there is no clear or absolute “truth” or “reality.” (So, for instance, my statement about injecting agency, above; that can be taken as a sort of magical thinking, since who knows what the heck agency is or if it even exists…) But I think it’s worth stopping to really think through these sorts of core assumptions and whether they make sense and are helpful. So…my two cents. Thanks to all for an enlightening discussion.

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  21. I think that not focusing on a traumatic event, generally speaking, is sound advice for people who experience trauma as an isolated event as an adult. But I also think that one’s capacity to intuitively derail negative thinking as an adult is at least in part determined by the level of personal resilience that was nurtured and encouraged to develop within their family of origin.

    I don’t believe that children who are traumatized have the capacity to put damaging behaviors or events into context. What they experience is their reality of who they are and what they are being shown that they deserve. In the absence of at least one supportive, responsive, caring adult to refute or re-frame negative experiences and to assure safety from threat, a child’s brain forms into an adult brain in which a highly reactive foundation has been laid. One can know intellectually that hurtful words or assessments are not true, but response to perceived threat born out of a history of trauma and a resultant belief about one’s worth and place in the world doesn’t really allow for that sort of measured thinking.

    I think that even for those who are blessed not to have experienced trauma, the power of the sadness and sometimes shock one feels coming face to face with someone who is angry or hurt enough themselves to want to harm others can be very disorienting.

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  22. The key point is that therapy should have harmonious effects, which improve health. The focus on a healthy, joyful purpose must predominate. Questioning should be designed to bring the whole truth to light in the most supportable ways. Social support for honoring the truth enables healthy harmony to predominate. If counselors or police don’t interview people most effectively, fewer people are protected. Their procedures should be optimized. I’d also like them to optimize their brain’s connectivity so they can connect most fully with every survivor’s whole experience.

    A joyful purpose which connects our life experiences to our capacity to do good is like a river flowing through our lives, through a deep well within us. Within us are the neural patterns that are evidence of our experience. Predators don’t want us to value the improved protection that can result when we can at least know what happened — and joyfully apply this inner knowledge to protect self and others.

    The dictionary defines “vulnerable” as “open to attack.” People can open healthfully when they aren’t likely to be attacked — but when their inner truth is likely to be understood through the healthiest connection possible. To connect fully with others, one must connect fully from within oneself. Each person’s ability to connect, like “nodes” of a connection, must be optimized to bring the whole truth to light in the most supportable ways.

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  23. It can be even worse when the community is involved in the “therapeutic talking” — when people are told about one’s diagnosis. Sometimes therapists, authorities, friends and families are looking to relate to certain symptoms following a diagnosis. It’s very unhealthy when the diagnosed person falls in line with expressing those symptoms as a way of “supplicating” – trying to connect harmoniously with what their social environment seems open to connecting with.

    Supplication is often inappropriate – especially when people look to see a sexually abused person as “sexually driven” following a bipolar diagnosis. This puts the person in a context where they’re being seen as sexual, when the real sexual problem was/is the predator. They may have preferred to be seen otherwise, but people feel they’re being good to see the presumed disorder. This traps the person in a social environment that imposes a sexual focus – which can be like psychological sexual abuse. It’s most twisted when people think they’re being good, healthy and socially haromonious with authorities (like doctors) to impose this sexual lens. The desire to connect harmoniously with what people see in them, can make people feel they’d of course have sex as the diagnosis indicates — when without that social focus imposed by the diagnosis, they could feel more harmonized socially to see themselves differently – and thus more empowered to choose otherwise. This situation is so awful that people who trap others in this diagnostic lens (or pathway to social connectivity) in the name of love mostly would be in denial that they’re aiding the predator’s objective to frame the victim as the main problem.

    Supplication may explain how problematic feelings and behavior become socially reinforced as people focus on a diagnosis. The focus reinforces brainwave patterns which then flow into expressions of behavior. This is like seeing the person’s inner nature as the source of a problem that can be created and reinforced by the social environment. This recurring injustice can cause feelings that naturally express how it feels to be trapped continually in an unjust situation – to be treated by pretty much everyone as the source of the problem they’re creating. It’s doubly unjust that they’re not focusing on the original abuse as the problem. This is all overcome by focusing on reinforcing mental health by focusing on what’s healthy in the person, which is actually ethical instead.

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  24. This is a very important discussion, as I have seen and personally experienced quality therapy and seen what it can do, and I’ve witnessed plenty of crappy therapy and seen the damage it can do, as well.

    I guess what all of this made me think of is that traumatic events involve a loss of power and control. Sometimes, it is a one-time event, which, while terrifying, does not represent the entirety of a person’s life. It seems a lot easier to recover from that kind of situation. But the people I’ve encountered who are seeking help for trauma have usually experienced multiple traumas over time, reaching back to their childhoods.

    I certainly don’t practice or advocate forcing a person to revisit trauma randomly, nor do I believe that a person “must” relive their traumatic events in therapy to recover properly. What I have discovered is that kids who grew up in abusive environments were forced to find ways to cope with those environments, because they generally were unable to escape or control the events in any way.

    As an example, I personally regarded school as an abusive environment where I had no control over anything, and I spent a lot of energy protecting myself from the random verbal and occasional physical abuse of teachers and peers (that from teachers was far worse), including keeping a very low profile (I was very “shy” and would undoubtedly be considered to have had “social anxiety disorder” these days.) The “coping measures” I developed were necessary to survive school. Unfortunately, they made it harder for me to behave “normally” when I finally did escape. For instance, I learned never to speak up or raise my hand in a setting where I might actually get called on. I learned not to be vulnerable in any way, such as revealing my emotions or discussing an error I’d made, in front of my peers, in order to avoid bullying or humiliation. I learned to believe that my peers disliked me and that acting as if I were someone different than myself was critical to my survival. As an adult I had to “unlearn” many of those coping techniques. Of course, my quality therapist was able to help me connect those choices back to earlier trauma in my childhood (mostly neglect, with very intermittent outbursts of verbal and physical abuse) that led me to believe that keeping a low profile would help protect me. I doubt very much that I could have re-considered those coping measures without that therapy work, because they were deeply embedded in what I believed to be my personality.

    So when I do therapy, what I’m looking for is something IN THE PRESENT that the person does or doesn’t do that bothers that person him/herself. I in no way evaluate for them what they should or should not believe about that behavior, but generally engage in an honest and safe exploration of what benefit they see in that behavior that makes it seem worth continuing it, despite their own assessment of the ineffectiveness or frustration the behavior creates for them. This often leads to a trip back into history to discover how and why this behavior made sense at one time in their past. In other words, this behavior that they dislike today may well have served a vital purpose for their own survival and been a perfectly rational response to a disempowered situation where they were unable to control events around them.

    What seems to be most healing is for me to help the person safely explore why they themselves need or needed this behavior, from their own point of view, and to help them reassess if they still need it now. Validation, normalization, and taking an honest but supportive view of the behavior/emotion/thinking pattern is central to making this work. Telling the client that the problem is all in his/her thoughts or is caused by past abuse or is irrational or reflects diagnosis X all puts the client back in the place of no power again, which is exactly what brought them to you in the first place! Only the client knows the value and purpose of his/her behavior, and only the client can decide when and if to let go of it.

    For some people, I don’t even try to find out why or explore history at all. Sometimes, they just want to try out new behaviors and see what works. So I help identify what they want to do differently and help them practice doing it, and deal with whatever emotions or thoughts that brought up. And sometimes I help people come up with ways to deal with the emotions they have in the present, without any attempt to change anything. It all depends on what they are ready to do and what they feel will be helpful.

    As another example, I heard a former foster youth (age 20 or so) speaking of her time in foster care. One of the audience asked her how she’d managed to survive being in 15 or more placements after years of abuse at the hands of her parents, and suffering more abuse at the hands of the foster care system. She stated, “Well, I have this ornery streak. When something doesn’t seem right, I just fight and fight and fight and I never give up, no matter what the consequences.” Predictably, she was diagnosed with ADHD, then Oppositional Defiant Disorder, then Bipolar Disorder, and was confined to residential treatment homes and given armloads of drugs to stop her “oppositional behavior.” Why didn’t anyone ever sit down with her and say, “Gee, you’re pretty damned tough! You will tolerate a lot of consequences to stick to your point. Help me understand why it’s so important to you to fight these things. Tell me about one of those times you decided to take a stand, and help me understand what made it worth putting up with those consequences. I’m really interested in seeing how you think about these things.” She had damned good reasons for fighting, and her fighting was actually a valuable skill she learned that she viewed as central to her survival. Instead of helping her value this skill and helping HER decide when in the present and future it might or might not be helpful, the system went out of its way to define the very thing she knew she needed to do as a disease, and tried to wipe it out.

    CBT can have its applications. I do believe and understand that we are ultimately the authors of our own thinking and feeling and beliefs. But telling someone that isn’t usually super helpful, especially right at the start of your helping relationship. I certainly ask them about what they’re thinking when they choose to do X, but I don’t tell them their thinking or behavior is wrong. Helping them answer the question of WHY they need a particular belief or feeling or thought seems to help a whole lot more. And anything that takes away their power to decide what is and is not helpful is, to me, harmful by definition, because it puts the person in a position where they have to protect themselves from the therapist, and re-traumatizes them yet again.

    I hope that’s clear enough. Bottom line: every person is different, and I do what seems to work for that person. It requires humility, flexibility, and compassion, as well as patience and confidence that the client has all the information that you need to provide them the support that will help them move forward. Inserting your own theoretical beliefs or allowing your own needs to enter into the discussion is destructive in every case, regardless of what those beliefs may be.

    —– Steve

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    • “It requires humility, flexibility, and compassion, as well as patience and confidence that the client has all the information that you need to provide them the support that will help them move forward. Inserting your own theoretical beliefs or allowing your own needs to enter into the discussion is destructive in every case, regardless of what those beliefs may be”.

      That statement Steve says it all for me about what any professional supporter should be aiming for. In my experience at events over the years it’s often been therapists who will argue that this is ‘not enough’ and that people must have a specific intervention, using their theoretical beliefs, and that it’s not possible or right to approach someone with a ‘blank page’. I always remember reading something by former hostage Brian Keenan who spoke at an event for therapists and ended up leaving because he ‘couldn’t understand a word they said’!
      Anyhow my main point was to say you’ve captured the essence of what I feel it can be at it’s best.
      My only experience of therapy in my youth was strange, I’d look at the floor and he’d look out the window and then 30 mins later would say ‘see you next week’, and this went on for several weeks – I didn’t realise I was supposed to talk because psychiatry had taught me to only speak when spoken to and to expect verbal dissection. So I simply didn’t realise I was allowed to talk, however you would have thought he might have said something to me..

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      • I am honored that you would find my statement about therapy worthy of re-quoting, given the crappy experiences you have had. Perhaps my strength as a therapist was that I had almost no training when I started, so I had little to go on beyond my own simple sense of what I might feel like if my therapist did this or that. Of course, I did have some very good therapy before I started. Maybe that’s more important than one’s theoretical orientation – to have done enough work to keep one’s own crap out of the equation.

        —- Steve

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    • I would have no problem letting you “walk” with me in therapy.

      I too believe that a good therapist believes that their clients have all the information that she/he needs to provide them the support that will help them move forward. I’ve found very few who are willing to do this.

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    • It’d be healthy if more people had the courage to ask why, and to offer social support for the potential reasons for behaviors which others cowardly write off as useless. They’re quick to call behaviors unhealty to fit in with their colleagues who do likewise. They’d rather fit in with the dominant group, for ultimately selfish reasons related to their own socio-economic survival, than to supportively understand the person’s experience through a fuller heart-to-heart, mind-to-mind, being-to-being connection. Too bad for them!

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      • Yeah, it’s too scary for most of them, because they haven’t faced their own demons. That’s why the DSM is so destructive – it enables the labeler to distance him/herself from the labelee and decide that the client’s behavior/emotion/experience is just WRONG and needs to be stopped. Which, of course, is the primary justification for enforced and/or manipulated drug prescriptions. If the “bad behavior” can be stamped out, then the clinician feels better, regardless of the impact on the client. To me, the opposite of real therapy.

        Giving someone credit for having come up with good survival techniques is very powerful and helps connect being-to-being, as you so eloquently say. But the therapist has to be able to tolerate a lot of uncertainty and discomfort and be OK not knowing what to do for a while if they want to really connect on that level. And most are not capable of it, even if they wanted to. Which is sad, because they really miss out on the beauty of seeing someone REALLY improve instead of just suppressing their “symptoms” (aka normal reactions to abnormal circumstances).

        — Steve

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        • Steve have you ever written about therapy? Your writing is accessible, grounded,with thoughtful emotional depth and humility.
          Please write something so I can put it under the noses of UK therapists, it’s either that or napalm…have Richard do a chapter on Can’t Believe Therapist [CBT] and the Psych Nurse Abuse Line number at the end if all else fails

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  25. Jill,

    Having now read through some of the comments in response to your blog, and your response to some of those comments, I feel compelled to highlight the most offensive statements you have offered therein:

    “For example, Susan A. Clancy, in The Trauma Myth, discusses the fact that sexual abuse of children rarely involves negative emotion in the child at the time of the event, because at the time the child had no understanding of what was occurring. Therefore, the rationale of extinguishing fear does not fit the situation.”

    “In Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel, Frankel recalls while being in a concentration camp, that he realized it was up to him how he felt each day. No body can make this decision for anyone else. I think that’s real power.”

    “If a client feels hurt by a verbal insult, isn’t the problem that the client chooses to believe the name caller. How can one be hurt by another person’s words (short of a physical assault). I also remember Michele Weiner-Davis, talking about a client she had who was raped. The client did not wish to talk about it because she was not going to give the rapist one more moment of her attention. Seems to me a pretty healthy response. Moreover, I recall a fellow student in graduate school, who was raped by an intruder the day before her dissertation orals. We both talked about how what mattered was the dissertation orals. What your committee thinks about you should be of greater importance than what some twisted individual does or thinks about you. Bottom Line: If one isn’t dead, then move on to what you want to accomplish in your life.”

    Initially, I was just going to quote the most offensive sentence from that last paragraph, but honestly, it was too hard to choose which qualified for the honor of ‘most.’ I do hope you’ll return sometime soon and offer some sort of explanation for what otherwise comes across as misinformed and/or heartless and/or just downright disturbing.

    At least in these moments, you sound like you’re conjuring all the worst elements of the ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps’/just get over it/blame the victim attitudes that circle our culture and that I certainly would not be expecting to find in a room where therapy is occurring.

    And, as a very young child, I knew what was happening to me was wrong and made me very uncomfortable in my body and in the world.


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    • Yes Sera, this is why there is so much more than biological psychiatry to call to account, some of the ‘alternatives’ such as therapy, ‘psychological interventions’ and recovery must be examined too because words have the power to denigrate and kill the soul as well. Killing a person’s spirit can be every bit as fatal as destroying a persons body with physical treatments.

      Before I was diagnosed as Schizophrenic/catatonic my first admission was to an EDU and I saw group behaviour modification result in patients force feeding each other whilst the nurse watched impassively one day. Patients were no more to blame for that than Jews staying alive by ushering others into gas chambers. It was done to avoid group punishment and with no discussion, it just happened. I was in that group of women, and even though it was 30 years ago I still carry the blood on my hands of which I cannot forgive myself and cannot ever be at peace with. After that day that’s when my first act of self-injury happened and it felt like the sanest thing I could. With group behaviour modification you cannot express dissent or everyone suffers so the only avenue left to silently scream is to yourself. Even now saying these words evokes such shame and guilt.

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  26. I think the nature of our relationships and interpersonal communication is what is at stake, here. What does a ‘healthy relationship’ look and feel like? Many say, and I’d agree, that to have a healthy relationship with another, we must first have a healthy relationship with ourselves. When considering a client-psychotherapist relationship, I find this to be a paradox.

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  27. If people are going to reinforce patterns in a person by focusing on them so much, at least let them be patterns people want to relate to as healthy and harmonious. Otherwise, they’re reinforcing patterns they’ll then relate to as unhealthy and unharmonious, forcing someone to become more isolated away from connections that are appreciated as healthy and harmonious. That’s cruel, if intentional, and still harmful if not.

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  28. This is what happens when neuroscience and biology is introduced in a realm that belongs to other fields.

    Here in Brazil we still have real psychoanalysts and I did 20 years of psychoanalysis. It ended, or we put a stop mark in 2008.

    All these examples Jill gives has nothing to do with real talking therapy.
    It is also amazing that someone that is so connected to psychiatric and the biological paradigm is here at MIA.

    “I attended the annual conference of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). APS was founded twenty years ago by psychologists and neuroscientists who were dismayed by trends in the American Psychological Association (APA)”

    psychological science + neuroscience= something other than talking therapy.

    Neurosis! Does anybody remember this word? Psychiatry took it out of circulation because no pill can fix it.

    Vets are now diagnosed as having PTSD and not war neurotic. PTSD is treated with antidepressants, mood stabilizers and benzo.
    Neurosis requires psychoanalysis.

    All these interventions done explained on the article has nothing to do with real talking therapy.

    Catharsis? Give me a break. This is the Greek term used to a very specific processus that has nothing to do with therapy.

    Real talking therapy is related to Human Sciences and never to the so called Exact ones.

    Poor Americans that have lost all the real talking therapies techniques.

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  29. Even Freud rejected the cathartic methodology. I’m amazed by this article.

    Psychoanalysts have already other thinkers and they dialog with philosophers and other branches of human sciences.

    “Depression is partly defined by, and largely maintained by, self-focus. Changing to an external focus will help. Helen Mayberg has achieved recognition for deep brain stimulation of Brodman’s area 25 to relieve symptoms of depression. ”

    Wow! Brain stimulation. Good!
    Defining depression according to one of it’s symptoms is very strange.

    Self-focus is depression? This is how those who have biology as paradigm claims. Timothy Smith, a psychiatrist, wrote a book about it.

    In practice it is the old “Why don’t you take a walk to feel better?” when the depressed person simply cannot do it.
    As a matter of fact the depressed person suffers of a huge amount of guilty because s/he would like to do everything people say but it is simply impossible.

    OMG! The more psychiatry enters the mind kingdom the more harm is done.

    This is not a way to deal with people who are in need of a kind of help that has nothing to do with these ridiculous therapies and this criminal approach psychiatry is doing by giving pills
    that “do more harm than good” as Dr. David Healy has already proven.

    Do you remember how vets were diagnosed? “War neurotics”, ergo, psychoanalysis, the real thing.

    Psychoanalysts are those who are raising awareness about the harm of medicalization down here.

    Bruce Levine is a great American psychologists whose work I truly admire.

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  30. “Positive affect is just as important for well-being as an absence of negative emotion.”

    Can anyone live without negative emotion? Absence of negative emotion. I can’t believe it. The more I read the more I feel that some of these people far from connecting with human condition. Just like psychiatrists.

    Barbara Fredrickson:
    “Barb’s scientific contributions have influenced scholars and practitioners worldwide, in disciplines ranging from business to healthcare and beyond. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, The Economist, CNN, NPR, PBS, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Oprah Magazine, and elsewhere. She has twice been invited to brief His Holiness the Dalai Lama on her research.”
    – See more at:

    Impressive work. Mainstream media loves her. Isn’t it great that all these people work “scientifically”?

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    • Stepford Wives, move over!

      I actually don’t view any emotions as “negative.” I think all emotions have survival value. They contain important messages regarding our safety and need to take action to protect/defend/support ourselves. Admittedly, our emotions haven’t really adapted to the realities of our bizarre modern world, so they can be pretty confusing, but they are there for a reason. Anxiety helps us avoid dangerous situations. Anger helps us win when we have to fight for our safety or to feed ourselves. Depression helps us conserve energy when trapped in a difficult situation without an immediate solution. In fact, thinking of them as “negative emotions” probably helps reinforce their inappropriate continuation after they are no longer useful.

      I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had to encourage to feel ANGRY about abusive behavior that’s happened to them, so they’ll feel enough energy to do something about it! All this Pollyanna crap about feeling happy all the time (but not too happy, that would be manic!) is just plain sick to me.

      I think it all goes back to the mainstream people wanting to deny that anything bad ever happens, just like they denied in Freud’s day that the sexual abuse his female clients described had really happened. Freud did believe them at first, but was so roundly attacked by his peers and the general society at the time that he backed away from his observations and decided they were fantasies. But as it turns out, they were telling the truth all along.

      Those in power would always like us to be happy or at least well-adjusted to our lower power status and dependency on their largess and magnanimity. Nobody wants the masses getting ANGRY!!! So Anger is a “negative emotion” that must be purged.

      I say, embrace those homicidal feelings! You don’t have to act on them, but they’re telling you something is amiss with trying to delete “negative emotions.” Fake positiveness doesn’t help anyone but those who are already on top of the economic heap!

      — Steve

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      • amen to that Steve, I love reading your writing, you always convey some gem about real world living and feeling, and your descriptions about the value of different emotions and states makes sense to me. I think it was Pat Deegan who wrote about wall staring and how this is always framed as a ‘negative symptom’ but for her it wasn’t, it was actively doing something, maybe protection, so wish I could locate that passage [I’m crap with references].
        Anger – now I’m of a mind that most of us would not be here right now unless we had gotten angry about what’s happened to us. I remember my rage in writing my ‘Do you think you’re God?’ letter to a psychiatrist and then walking out of the day hospital because I wasn’t prepared to accept depot injections for life [and I hated sewing up white fluffy rabbits for OT, I couldn’t see the needle so kept stabbing myself]. I had to get angry, and yes at times it was like projectile vomiting and you do need to find ways of channeling it, but my god you need it.
        Speaking of homicide may I recommend blue tac effigies as ‘voo doo’, and I used to run the Psychiatric Nurse Abuse Line where they could get 5 mins or the full half hour of verbal abuse.
        Dark humour, that’s something many psych professionals cannot cope with – a mate is in this group where they have to pick up bits of paper and say how they feel about the words/phrases on them i.e. ‘negative is just a perception’. So we discussed her taking in her own bits of paper with different words/phrases like ‘this service recovery policy is a load of wank’, or ‘Kill XXX [letters of a hated politician] NOW!’
        Or for the self-harm group – Self-Harm Sindy Doll with stick-on scars, and a print out of online medical supplies. Sometimes a bit of subversion helps..
        I shall miss this place, will be away for a couple of weeks this weekend and can’t do mobile technology. This has been a really important blog, sometimes the most contraversial views can bring out the best debate and discussion, so wish I could meet some of you. We need a MiA roadshow..Steve and I could manage the Rant Room [with cheap crockery smashing]

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        • You had me rolling out of my chair with this one! The Nurse Abuse Line, Self-Harm Sindy! And I loved developing your own phrases for the group! Not only amusing, but it would definitely be helpful to break out of the mold like that and see some HUMOR in the situation. I remember being on the psych ward one time in the day (I did involuntary detention evaluations, and tried to let everyone go by providing them brief therapy in the ER, but I usually worked nights), and I was immediately struck by how damned SERIOUS it was! All the psychiatrists had grim looks on their faces, and the nurses seemed to be very cautious not to be loud or say anything “inappropriate”, most likely for fear of provoking an attack from one of the psychs. It was kind of scary! Can’t imagine how anyone could heal in that environment. I had to quit that job pretty quickly.

          Anyway, it feels like you’re a kindred spirit, and I hope I have the pleasure of meeting you one day. I’m glad you found your voice and let your anger guide you to fighting off the real enemy, namely, anyone who tries to define who you are and how you should behave for you, regardless of their degree. I think real healing has to involve recognizing the oppressive nature of the entire social system we’re living in. A lot of “insanity” happens because people see what’s really happening and everyone around them is pretending it isn’t real. Those of us who see what’s really happening have to stick together.

          As the saying goes, “You’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you!”

          —- Steve

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          • I agree Steve, I also believe we need to recognise the oppressive nature of the entire social system we’re living in, because psychiatry is a part of it but not all of it.

            The greatest freedom we can possess is the freedom to be who we are.

            Yes, the pretense that what is happening is not happening most definitely is high on my list of “triggers”. Remember the film ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’? That’s how it can feel, when you know you’re part of the minority still not taken over and having to act in a certain way whilst outside to avoid getting caught [I like the Donald Sutherland version]. Maybe explains my aversion to plant roots which is really difficult because services/NGO’s have this fixation with all service users wanting to do gardening..”ecotherapy” What is this obsession with turning everything into a ‘therapy’?

            The seriousness in services, oh yes, my voices can misbehave at the worst possible moments like saying something really funny about the assessor so I laugh and then he writes down “inappropriate laughter”. Or two social workers turning up on my doorstep one called Christopher Lee and my voices said ‘so who’s the other guy Peter Cushing?’ [British Hammer Horror stars]. Sometimes even within the gravest of situations there is humor, sure we have to be careful if we’re the supporter because sometimes as survivors we have been laughed at which is no joke.
            Stephen Ticktin is a Canadian therapist [trained as a psychiatrist] who lived in the UK for many years and was a great allie to survivors. He didn’t last long in adult psychiatry because he would take his guitar onto the ward and play it which managers didn’t like.
            Steve helped me escape the bin once, he came in and pretended to be my shrink.
            I remember him describing therapy with a woman – there was a sink in the room and she would wash her hair in it, so Steve thought well I’d better dry it, so he did! Look him up, there are some nice pictures of him with his trademark hat, long beard/hair, real hippy.He had a lot to do with Cooper and Laing.

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          • OMG, a GUITAR on the ward? What is wrong with that guy, to think that something as mundane as SINGING could make people feel better… Oh, oops, it seems to be working… OK, now we need to get rid of him, he’s making us look bad!!

            There ought to be orchestras in the psych ward, choruses and solo performers and art shows and story reading and baseball games. They are just grim, dead places that would depress anyone. Too bad guys like Steve are so threatening, but I guess that tells us all where most of the system is coming from.

            —- Steve

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          • Don’t know if the pancakes turned out to be any good, but it sure looks therapeutic! I particularly enjoyed him/her stirring with the telephone. That would SURELY get you an injectable dose of Prolixin on most psych wards!

            — Steve

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  31. Ive been to therapy several different times over the years, always insisting on brief, specific, time limited objectives. I personally found that therapists oriented towards validation, insight, support, and catharsis always left me feeling upbeat when I left the office, immediately after my session, but were not very helpful in terms of actual change. And the reverse was also true: therapists who were more like coaches left me feeling immediately unsettled, but less stuck long term.
    All these preferences are narratives. Defenses function to protect habits from change.
    The last supportive/ insight based therapist I will ever go to was a marriage counselor. Im divorced now.

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  32. Jill

    Where are you?

    If people are going to write provocative postings on MIA, then I believe they have the responsibility to respond to some of the criticisms of their viewpoints on these important questions. You responded in the beginning of the discussion but when things got a little hot you disappeared.

    Many people have taken precious time to pour out their emotions and ideas regarding extremely personal and often painful experience in the current mental health system. They deserve the decency and respect to have some type of response to their heartfelt emotions and ideas.

    This website exists to change the world; it should not be a place for mental masturbation without some accountability and without opportunities for transformation through the intense struggle of ideas.

    Jill, have you heard what people had to say? Have you learned anything from this important dialogue?

    Respectfully, Richard

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    • I agree completely, Richard, but also have to say I’m struck by your emphasis on respect while refering to Jill’s post as mental masturbation. Shouldn’t respect also apply to people we disagree with, however strongly?

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      • Danny

        My reference to the phrase “mental masturbation” was not specifically addressed to Jill or her specific posting, but rather a commentary about the overall process at MIA.

        These discussions should not be about some sort of self gratification; just having our words published on a public internet forum.

        It is the interchange of ideas and debate about the critical issues to help us all deepen our grasp of reality inorder to become creative agents of change.

        It is a call for principled engagement.


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        • Perhaps it was not aimed at her alone but it clearly was about her post, albeit perhaps among others, also. But aside from the specificity of what you were aiming at, my point is that mental masturbation is derogatory. Why use that tone in a post where you yourself emphasize the importance of respect, and when you can put it as thoughtfully as you just did here?

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          • I don’t have any problem with the expression “mental masturbation”. I don’t see it as derogatory but we use this expression colloquially in Portuguese.

            Richard is asking for Jill to take seriously what people wrote here.

            And she should because her attack to talking therapy was done without any valid argument. The therapies explained at this article are not talking therapies.

            To be a good psychoanalyst requires a lot of work and one cannot open an office after four or five years in college.
            One of the requisites is having done the psychoanalytic process.

            The only reason why this article received so many comments is because there is a duality that, at least to my knowledge, doesn’t happen in talking therapy:

            exposing the patient to trauma x emphasizing the positive aspects of daily life.

            This is a reductionism and it has nothing to do with talking therapy. It has to do with techniques like CBT and those numerous others that are being creating.

            There is not only one kind of talking therapy and unfortunately many people are taking advantage on the fact that “therapy” became a kind of practice that any person can create a method: EMDR was created in 1987.

            All of these focus on some symptoms of diseases. There is no quick fix for emotional or mental distress and an ethical therapist has to study a lot and learn a lot from their practices.

            Articles like this do more harm than good because it helps creating more and more misunderstanding and those who are in search for therapy are finding it harder and harder to find help with therapists.

            Maybe a pill will do the job this person might think.
            It took me twenty years to find my way out of a disturbing childhood and a family that is quite complicated. Could I do it in a little space of time?
            No. I see women that are married and have children still coping with the trauma of having been sexually abused when they were a child.
            There are lots of blogs where they share their experiences with therapists.
            What about those who are borderliners?
            A quick fix? Showing the bright side of the world or putting them to traumatic events?
            This is not what Freud had in mind.

            I don’t even understand why Freud is quoted in this article.

            Talking therapy is something you do with your psychoanalyst.
            You are the person who knows the time you can handle some facts and events that are hard to face.

            There are numerous myths that hollywood helped creating about talking therapy. That is sad.

            This last paragraph:

            “A final note on this issue. Since catharsis frequently prolongs emotional upset, and is frequently utilized, harm is being done. Yet we all believe in the first principle of doing no harm. Hopefully, disabusing the mental health community of the idea that catharsis is generally a good thing, may help us to follow the widely approved maxim: do no harm. Confusion on this topic should no longer be tolerated.”

            Oh! What is happening to talking therapy in America? Therapists are putting patients in emotional distress? Freudian connection with the therapist is based on love.
            Lacan was the one who used hate.

            And this last paragraph:
            “Confusion on this topic should no longer be tolerate.” I didn’t understand which confusion is Jill stressing.

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        • People are engaged in many activities or “dances” in life. They can’t be everywhere at once — and everyone is on their own path. More productive engagement is always great. But if people have danced at least somewhat with us, acknowledging it shows that we’ve danced with them too. Much more goes on in the lives of our interconnected minds then what stands out starkly in black and white on the page.

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    • I agree with Richard that bloggers here have a responsibility to engage their audience, especially when their posts are provocative and/or elicit a vigorous response from commentators. Richard himself is an exemplar in this respect. If this notion has widespread support, the powers that be on this website might consider making this clear to bloggers, perhaps as a condition of continued presence here. Regardless of their expertise, I’m not sure that bloggers like David Healy who *never* respond to their readers are operating in the interactive spirit of this community.

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    • Hi Richard,

      Its interesting to reflect on previous posts about emotions, mental illness, and mental masturbation. Do we think too much and feel too little? Unaware, how we use the mind to mask the needs of the body, as Damasio, puts it.

      If mental illness is not about brain disease, is more to do with our heartfelt emotions, as you point out, and our hearts? Consider a wonderful post and comments from last year;

      “Decartes- ” I think therefore I am” error, is the hallmark for our modern over determined belief that our cognitive function or mind is the high priest of the total human being. So why wouldn’t visceral, glandular, heart and soul based emotion filled experience be reduced to faulty brain functioning and-’thought disorder’?” _Micahel Cornwall.

      Of coarse, an educated priesthood has always used knowledge to secure its own survival. I guess in that regard, we all play the same game to one degree or another?

      The researcher’s will suggest, very reasonably of coarse, that we need more and more research;

      “Is PhD research into mental health about the livelihood of researchers, more so, than the mental health of other people?

      In a hiearchically structured society, which group of people does the knowledge economy serve?
      Like the money markets of the worlds stock exchanges, can knowledge be the basis of a real economy?”



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        • Thanks for the link Ana, great stuff;

          “The failure to distinguish consciousness from neural activity corrodes our self-understanding in two significant ways. If we are just our brains, and our brains are just evolved organs designed to optimize our odds of survival — or, more precisely, to maximize the replicative potential of the genetic material for which we are the vehicle — then we are merely beasts like any other, equally beholden as apes and centipedes to biological drives. Similarly, if we are just our brains, and our brains are just material objects, then we, and our lives, are merely way stations in the great causal net that is the universe, stretching from the Big Bang to the Big Crunch.” (emphasis added)”

          I think you used your intuitive sense rather than objective rationality, which seems to confuse us, as much as it illuminates our self-awareness.

          Folks here don’t like my suggestion to change our metaphors of self-interpretation to ‘chemical.’ Your a silly ‘reductionist’ they shout! Yet the fact that our internal reality is overwhelmingly chemical, is increasingly, staring us in the face, IMO.

          Hence, I write of my own efforts to increase the depth of my self-awareness;

          “Object or Chemical Metaphors?
          Huxley accepts the textual facts for what they in fact seem to be and then illustrates them with a telling chemical metaphor that we might now recognize as an early traumatic model for the mystical, perhaps best expressed in this story in the mystical life and psychological sufferings of Dick Price. Here is how Huxley put it in 1944:

          “Nothing in our everyday experience gives us any reason for supposing that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen; and yet when we subject water to certain rather drastic treatments, the nature of its constituent elements becomes manifest. Similarly, nothing in our everyday experience gives us much reason for supposing that the mind of the average sensual man has, as one of its constituents, something resembling, or identical with, the Reality substantial to the manifold world; and yet, when that mind is subjected to drastic treatments, the divine element, of which it is in part at least composed, becomes manifest.”

          Huxley’s wonderful summation of our everyday experience and the nature of its constituent elements, prompted me to write;

          It seems to me that we mislead ourselves with language of self-interpretation, using external object analogies to describe our own makeup, as if we are an elaborately assembled French clock? We seem to think and communicate in a narrative of a parts like description, which reflects our instinctual awareness of duality?

          A mind-body split which has become dangerously lopsided in our intellectualized, cultural zeitgeist? Is it time for a brave new world to embrace a new idea? That it really is a chemical Universe and we can learn to feel it within, if we can change our metaphors of self-awareness and stop trying to sanctify the mind? That self-deluded Emperor, with no clothes?

          Peter Joseph seeks a Utopian future, based on technology and all those shiny objects of an “out there,” consensus reality, not yet realizing that the real territory and the keys to the kingdom, lie within?

          My statements about keys and the kingdom within lead me back in time, in that circular pattern that seems to be the nature of life’s experience? As if this moment really is eternal, a subtle sense I fell into, back in October-November 2011. After all the reading about the electro-chemical activity of my brain and nervous systems, my taken for granted acceptance of my everyday vocabulary began to change. The notion of object awareness leading to a language inappropriate for an accurate description, of our inner nature had been in the back of my mind for some years. The notion begins to crystallize within my mind, as I try to write about the experience of mental illness, from the inside out;”

          Many scientists wonder why it is, that there has not been a paradigm shift in the way we perceive ourselves, since the discovery of the quanta and the birth of quantum mechanics. In the chapter above and the link below, I try to explain my feeling that we still view ourselves as ‘objects,’ using a thus far evolved language, which essentially describes the external world, and this language is mismatched to our internal reality.

          Thanks again for the link Ana.

          Best wishes,


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          • P.S. This quote from the life of a famous teacher, always reminds of doing chemistry at school, and the periodic table.

            “Having achieved the goal of spreading the teaching to the greatest number of people, Buddha dies at the age of eighty years, as a result of food poisoning. He dies in a forest near Kusinagara, Nepal, in the company of his followers reclining on a bed where he speaks his last words:

            “All compounded things are ephemeral; work diligently on your salvation.”

            With these words on his lips, he passes into the state of Pari-Nirvana.”

            While Teresa Brennan suggests we should work on refining our awareness of internal sensations;

            “Extending knowledge of sensation, following it further along its pathways, means extending consciousness into the body, infusing it with the conscious understanding from which it has been split, by a subject/object orientation. That split has hardened with the sealing of the heart as an organ of sensory reception and transmission, yet it has also come under examination in all the practices and knowledge’s that, taken together, presage the resurrection of the body.”

            But I guess, only fools like me, who journey into the liminal, where we so obviously lose our ‘insight’ into an ‘objective’ reality, might suggest that we are entering the age of resurrection.

            Don’t you love those Biblical stories about the human condition and the internal nature of what it means to be human? How poor hyper-sensitive’s like many of us, come to know God, as the cosmos within.

            As Shasha would say,

            Mad love to all,


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  33. Thanks Richard I was thinking exactly the same thing a couple of days ago, why has Jill not responded further? This has been a very important thread, these issues I view as important as discussing physical damage by psychiatry, because therapy can be viewed as the nice alternative but it isn’t always and the potential to commit psychological GBH can be as damaging as the physical. People can die in part due to that kind of damage or lack of meaningful human engagement. Equally lives can be saved by ‘walking alongside’..and of course there’s the sea of mediocrity in between.
    Many people here have the good grace to be open to critique and yes people’s personal experiences should be honored by acceptance of taking responsibility of answering to our claims and being open to exploration of them – even if they remain the same afterwards. Sites such as these shouldn’t be a mere receptacle.

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    • I totally agree with Richard and Joanna.
      The title of the article is already strange with the “Too” after commas.

      How can it be that talking therapy – I rather use “psychoanalysis” because we still have it here in Brazil with good and bad professionals – that has been helping many people be attacked with an article like this one?

      Psychiatry put an end in psychoanalysis. Back in the seventies and beginning of the eighties people with emotional or mental distress went straight to a therapist and it was the therapist who decided if it was a problem that needed a psychiatric intervention.
      Of course not in the case of a person who was in a maniac state.

      Psychologists are putting a lot of effort in fighting for the right to prescribe.

      Why? Is it because they want the best for their patients? I want to believe that this is the reason but I think it is a wishful thinking.

      One of the first things my psychoanalyst said was “I don’t work with drugs.”

      I was fortunate because I was first attended by a psychiatrist and he was bright enough to tell me that I needed therapy. His only mistake was the prescription of clonazepam because all the other benzos made me more anxious. I needed diazepam. They claim that diazepam is too light but this is the drug that some ERs use to calm down a person who is a maniac crisis when Haldol is not available.

      Another great thing was finding the right therapist at once.

      I understand when people have bad experiences with therapists and give up because I went to two when mine was having problems and it was a disaster.

      One of them was easily manipulated and I made him say to me whatever I wanted. The other was a woman who all of a sudden looked at me and in a very strange tone gave me “pearls from my inconscient”… lol or used a phrase that she taught was the expression of the truth and would solve all my problems.

      As I said I ended psychoanalysis in 2008. Sometimes I “visit” her.

      I’m sure that for some patients she is not the right person and might have even made some people give up.

      Therapy is not an exact science and as far as science is concerned it is becoming more and more difficult to trust it since scientists receive money from… you all know about it.

      Ant the scientific methodology? Peer-review?

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    • Ana don’t apologise what you have to say about psychoanalysis is very interesting you’re offering a different perspective to me because I have to be honest my impression of analysis in the UK has not been that positive.
      It’s very exclusive here, not something many people access. There is one premier institute The Tavistock, I’ve known a couple of people who have attended and worked there. One woman found it really helpful, another said that she found the lack of the therapist talking back difficult. A former therapist referred to ‘navel gazing’. I’ve found some of their conference flyers alarming, take for example one on BPD – which has to be the most maligned patient group of all, jesus my heart goes out to women saddled with that vile diagnosis they are treated like crap. Anyhow the title was ‘Suffering or Insufferable?’ Just imagine if you had that label and saw that..
      I’ve never experienced psychoanalysis so I don’t feel I can express an informed view, just thought I’d share a few snippets.
      What does bother me are the few remaining ‘therapeutic communities’,from what I’ve read, watched in a couple of programme’s, and once on a visit to someone, that really could be described as mental masturbation of the highest order! If I were a patient in one of those places I think I’d end up throwing a chair at one of those therapists. They analysed in the endless group meetings things like why a person crossed their legs. I’d *almost* prefer to be on a psych ward, at least it looks like shit, smells like shit, hell it is! It is exactly what it says on the tin. I was left with an impression of sheer head fucking.
      What is detestable about these places is the use of peer pressure. One renowned place [Henderson, now closed] had this system whereby if someone self-harmed they had to justify to the community why they had done it and if the reasons where not ‘good enough’ out they went. Former inmates sound like they are perpetually ‘policing’ their every emotion and thought, that must be exhausting.
      Currently there are growing Personality Disorder groups in our psych services, I’m getting feedback from someone who’s attending one and I can only describe the facilitated challenging as little more than organised dog fights. These groups are also having people with a diagnosis of psychosis/Schizophrenia dumped in them simply because failure to ‘recover’ is either reclassified as PD [or in addition to] and, PD groups are now one of the few longer term support services available, as everything else is now short term. So a woman with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia on depot injections is thrown into this group by force, if she doesn’t attend, the community mental health team will discharge her and leave her with no support. She has to attend these sessions for 2-3 years.
      I’ve gained a more favourable impression of family therapy, a psychologist I know does this, and she has the flexibility to do things she couldn’t in adult psychiatry.
      She works with a lot of women who have survived abuse as children and she refuses to be pushed by her managers into achieving quick results, she’s of the view that you have to work with people wherever they’re at.
      I worry about the wannabe therapists in psychiatry, whether they are psychiatrists/nurses whoever, those who don’t have a good demeanor and outlook. I remember a very cold fish psychiatrist who I knew to had done training in analysis, I reckon he’d not expressed emotion in years..he would ask every single patient in ward round “do you believe in the Oedipus complex?’. I really wanted to be sarcastic but bit my lip as I was detained at the time.

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      • Joanna,

        I took a glimpse at the site of The Tavistock but it was too quick. I have to read more. The site is The Tavistock and Portman and it is said the Tavistock deals with neurotics while Portman with psychosis.

        Psychoanalysis was meant to treat neurotics but some thinkers like Deleuze and Guattari and even R.D. Laing, no, not the anti psychiatrist, please, the psychiatrist who worked hard to understand and get in touch with schizophrenics. He was one of a kind. He went so close!

        One of his books “The Self and the Other” helped me a lot understanding the messages my mom used to send me. Laing uses Bateson’s double bind concept and it helped me see what she was doing.
        But little by little. I started reading the book when I was nineteen and only in the middle of the therapy I could understand it.

        This is one of the myths people have about therapy: the therapist will have a breakthrough and everything makes sense than you’re healed! lol

        No, it is not like that. Psychotherapy is not about healing. As my therapist used to say: living in spite of, she used “malgré” because she lived in Paris and me too. I was lucky because I didn’t visit her in Paris because if I had it would not be possible to have her as therapist.

        As I said I was lucky and found the right person for me at once. There are numerous bad psychoanalysts here too.

        This flyers you mentioned is crippy! My ex-husband is bipolar… yes… it was sad watching him suffering depression for one years and devastating when he had to be hospitalized during his first maniac crisis.

        He does therapy and I think it helps him. I don’t know how he’s doing now because one of the things that bipolarity brought was the end of our relationship.

        Therapeutic communities? Wow! The way you described I would run away from this place.
        Justify to the community? Compulsory group therapy?
        No way!

        The silence of the therapist… it never bothered me. Something very interesting happened to me. I was not very talkative. On the contrary. The three first sections of therapy I spoke, and I spoke, and I spoke.
        Sometimes on my way to therapy I thought I had nothing to say but when I sat, I could never lay down, I started talking.

        What is amazing is that all that was said during therapy acquired another sense. It is very hard to explain. I can tell the same story to a friend but when I did it at that place… seriously, I don’t know how to explain how things change.

        This is my experience. Same here now: few people do psychoanalisys and I belive that it will also end in the next two decades.

        This woman you describe is a great human being. These are the re helpers.
        Psychiatrists don’t have the skill to work as therapists.
        The vast majority I’ve encountered are incapable of empathy and they don’t listen to their patients.

        The don’t listen. They diagnose and prescribe in fifteen minutes! When a patient says “I’m having as side effect…”: “No. It is not because of the medicine.” “My other patients are not having this kind of side effect.” “It is psychological.” “It is all in your head!”…

        We all know how they behave. They are culturally illiterate and to be a good psychologist, psychoanalyst, therapist or whatever one has to learn many aspects of human condition and only human sciences can help. Philosophy, literature, social sciences and even art has more to do with human condition than the DSM-5 or those labs propaganda flyers they receive and read with attention.

        Read Dostoevsky.

        Psychiatrists of the world: Cura te ipsum: Heal thyself; a Latin injunction, urging physicians to care for and heal themselves first, before dealing with patients.
        Yes, they don’t express emotions. They look at us as if they have their mind blank. How cold they all look. I met many and they are all like this.
        The only one that shows emotion quitted and is doing something else.

        I hope I didn’t digress too much and answered you.

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        • what you say about cultural literacy resonates – I remember a workshop a few years ago looking at how training of mental health professionals especially psychiatrists should change. There was consensus that in working with mental distress, practitioners needed to have much wider influences such as philosophy, literature, art forms, social science as you say. Some people also wanted to see Shamanism, all sorts of influences, and for practitioners to be prepared to access ANYTHING if they couldn’t do it themselves. An event I organised once for voices hearers, supporters/professionals included the first workshop of psychic self-defence at such an event. I thought it was important to offer something for voice hearers whose voices are defined as spirits. I had 3 great mediums/clairvoyant healers who offered practical advice on self-protection.
          ‘Distraction’ is a popular approach here, for voice hearing, self-harm, anything, it gets ridiculous sometimes. Even survivor groups have swallowed it with endless lists of ‘have bath, go for a walk’ type of stuff. I know most things have a place but honestly it’s insulting when a young man with a severed tendon [meaning months of physio after surgery] is given a list of ‘distractions’ on leaving hospital.
          I also detest all the ice cube holding, band pinging crap – that assumes a lot, and divorces action from context.

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          • It’s interesting that you and Ana mentioned how culturally illiterate psychiatrists and psychoanalists are these days. After working as a chaplain with all kinds of doctors in psych and medical hospitals and in a large retirement/nursing home facility I would state that doctors of all specialities are guilty of this. Psychiatrists are probably the worst of the worst though. Part of it is the fault of their upbringing all through high school and college and most of it is the fault of their medical education. Doctors are kow towed to as students all through school since they’re the top of the top. They get preferential treatment all through school. I think this is where they get that attitude that so many of them seem to have of entitlement. Then they go to med school where an education in the Humanities is totally lacking. They are not very well rounded people at all when it comes right down to it and even with all of their education are very poorly educated when it comes down to life and what it has in store for human beings. As a chaplain what always struck me as very interesting is the fact that, for a profession that deals with death as much as medicine does, death is the one thing that most of them refuse to deal with and most of them won’t even say the word itself. They reject the fact that sometimes death is the only thing that brings healing. They are so narrow in their education and in their understanding of human beings and of life. And yet doctors are the very people that so many people turn their lives over to without questioning anything that comes out of their mouths. It’s frightening to say the least.

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  34. Stephen you’re right about death, this struggle to avoid it at all costs within medicine, except in palliative care where they have an appreciation of having as good a life as possible before dying.
    I see a version of this within ophthalmology, resistance to straight talking about hard issues like the possibility of permanent partial sight or blindness which is immensely frustrating as a patient. They’re hopeless at assisting in dealing with long term uncertainty and will often fudge the statistics. We’re not allowed to say things like ‘Id rather be dead than blind’ as though that statement in itself is denigrating every blind person in the world when it’s simply a statement of your own feelings. Fuck it, I don’t care anymore, that’s how I feel and I won’t apologise for it, I don’t want to be geed up, that’s where I draw the line in the sand.
    What I find so distressing about mental health care is the cover up of enduring distress, where a person is simply left to die because they’re viewed as hopeless cases, effectively terminal, but there’s no psych equivalent of palliative care. Please don’t misunderstand me I’m not suggesting that we take the view that fellow survivors are beyond survival, but I’m sure we’ve all seen people where it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. A friend overdosed every week for months until her organs finally packed up, she was not given any support, as Prof Gethin Morgan observed it was a case of “malignant alienation” where staff become resigned to a person’s death, don’t like them, expect it, and don’t offer one shred of humanity, in fact one can sense some inpatience at how long it’s taking.
    I watched another friend die slowly over 2 years, she used the tools of anorexia as a method of slow suicide, there was a clear decision on her part in doing so. She gave up because services would not, could not, address with her the abuse she suffered as a child. She was told they couldn’t help with that, all she could be offered was endless re-feeding, so she chose to die by it.

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    • I understand completely what you’re saying here. My office window looks out into the courtyard shared by two of the units in the state hospital where I work. I work in Admissions where I’m the state hospital equivalent to the Walmart Greeter. I’m there to engender some hope for people but don’t know how well I do at that. Anyway, each day I work I can look out into this courtyard and observe people that I met in Admissions who were vibrant and alive, who could walk and talk and who are passionate, even though they might see or hear things that I didn’t. I have to watch them go downhill and deteriorate, to the point that all they can do in that courtyard is sit and stare and try to keep the saliva from running down the front of their shirts or blouses. I watch them move to the point that they no longer have coherent thoughts and cannot carry on a simple conversation. And then I hear the psychiatrists talk about all the good treatment that they’re giving the people on these two units………..and I wonder how they refuse to see what I must witness to each and every day that I’m at work. I wonder about the huge disconnect within them that they refuse to admit to the reality of what they’re doing to people. One of my dearest friends takes the toxic drugs by the handfuls, literally he takes neurotin (sp) off-label by the handfuls because he’s too afraid to quit believing in the lies that the system is feeding him. It is very difficult to watch. I know what you’re saying and agree that it’s horrible to witness.

      I sometimes feel like one of the Jewish people in the concentration camps who decided that someone must bear witness to what was happening, in hopes that if they survived they would be able to scream what they witnessed to the entire world. It is one of the few reasons why I keep coming back. I must sit at that window and witness so that if I ever get the real chance to make a difference I’ll be able to document the abuse and atrocities. It’s all done in the name of “good treatment” and for the peoples’ own good.

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      • Joanna and Stephen,

        You should start a blog and share your thoughts and what you have been witnessing.

        This thread is full of people who are bright and learned what medicine did to their bodies, mind and soul searching by themselves.

        This wisdom is so valuable!

        Stephen, I live in front of two mental institutions and in one of them they do clinical trials without informing the patient; use electroshock in depressed people after giving them all antidepressants on the market; keep inmates without any activity and numerous atrocities.

        I can imagine how you feel working in a place like this.

        I started my blog in 2008 and now I only publish one post a month just to remind people that I’m still there.

        I started a second blog because blogging about the harms of psychiatry made me angry and sad.

        I don’t trust any physician. Recently I had a problem and I had to walk caring a cane and I felt dizzy, I felt as if there where a fire on my feet… it was hell.

        I went to four doctors. Four different diagnoses…
        to make a long story short: I gave up on searching for their help. I have a herniated disc on my back and I attributed these problems to it.

        I started doing exercises, I walked when I could, used ice to relief the pain, took the only medicine that that doesn’t make a lot of harm due to side effects… blah blah blah… and I forgot I had a problem.

        Everything went away. I can’t hardly believe I could not climb a stair and cried when watched someone walking or running because I thought I would never do it again.

        My dog was diagnose cancer in 2008. Vets are at the same boat.
        I only let them remove her mammals and in 2010 a tumor that was on her head.

        She is great!. She is 15 years-old and people say she doesn’t look this age.

        I believe that one way out would be creating groups of patients who have been through the same and exchanging knowledges.

        I can’t trust people who prescribe pills they know that can be lethal, can make their patients kill others or him/herself to make money.

        Of course that all psychiatrists have lost at least one patient for one of the drugs they prescribed.

        They don’t care and they don’t eve think about it.

        As I said I was lucky to find the first psychiatrist.
        At that time in one session, he didn’t diagnosed me in fifteen minutes, I asked him about I don’t remember exactly what and he talked about Nietzsche’s sister Elizabeth using his work for the Nazis and numerous philosophical issues.

        In the end he said: “…but this is politics and I have to take care of my patients.”

        He was an old man and died. He didn’t give me any diagnose and even said: “I don’t know if you are depressed.”

        He said I needed therapy. This man had a psychiatric clinic.

        I’m sure that the way I was feeling if he wanted to make money he could have me in that clinic and… OMG! I don’t know what could have happened to me.

        Being three days without sleeping causes a lot of stress and make us vulnerable.

        At this mental institution that is in front of my house one of the psychiatrists wanted me there… this is another story.

        It makes me so angry that I rather stop for the moment.

        Thank you all for all these great comments. We need to know we are not alone.

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  35. “each day I work I can look out into this courtyard and observe people that I met in Admissions who were vibrant and alive, who could walk and talk and who are passionate, even though they might see or hear things that I didn’t. I have to watch them go downhill and deteriorate, to the point that all they can do in that courtyard is sit and stare and try to keep the saliva from running down the front of their shirts or blouses.”

    Can you see it psychiatrists? Do you have any idea that this is the result of your work?

    (“Yes, I know I do that. But I go online and check my bank accounts, take a look at my stock and I forget all pf this.)

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      • yes indeed!

        You’ve also reminded me of something Stephen, when a friend died. She was on the psych ward and hanged herself, was found alive but severely damaged. I visited her in ITU on a ventilator effectively brain dead, and [despite having no religious leanings] prayed for her to die as I knew she would not want to be left like that [thankfully she did 2 weeks later].
        I was very distressed and didn’t feel able to just walk back out onto the street so scurried into the basement where there was chapel as I thought it would be quiet. A chaplain walked in and came over to me. That dear man did the best thing anyone could have done, he let me rant for god knows how long. I spilled out my rage at how she had been treated in her life – abuse – hospital abuse. How she had been force fed on one occasion for a “teaching session” for student nurses as the sister in charge said they “had too many anorexics” on the ward.
        How we both laughed together when she referred to self-harm via a chicken sandwich [she was vegetarian!]. He listened, let it pour out of me and didn’t try to offer any platitudes he acknowledged how crap it was. I asked him to say a prayer for her because that mattered to Janet she had been a committed christian so I wanted to honor that in her.
        Another thing I wanted to share with you was an admission of my own. I felt that the spirits of my voices had gone into the walls of the ward and I wanted someone to cleanse them. I knew I couldn’t say it to the nurses so I asked to speak to some of the priests [no one questions religion]. They asked me which sort C of E or Catholic, I said I didn’t mind, any bloke in a dress would do. So he came I explained, he didn’t have any problem with it and put his water, cross, thing around the neck, up against the wall and spoke very intently to my spirit voices – really helped.

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        • Thank you for sharing about your friend and about your chaplain experiences. Your friend sounds like she was a joy to know. In a round about way, the guy who was willing to clense the walls of your spirit voices knew about cultural competency that we’ve talked about. Thanks again for sharing. I always look forward to what you have to say about things.

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          • She was a very gentle soul Stephen, my definition of a “proper” Christian, she never wore it on her sleeve, she simply lived it, she got on with the practise of it, I respected her faith. Yes precisely, it’s the thing about doing whatever is needed, cultural competency. Like if someone said to me, how could I help you with your visual voices [an animal], I would say could you look up some of the history please relating to xyz, I think there’s possibly a cultural practise I’m not aware of but need to know of as it might help me in making sense of something but I can’t look it up in case of images of it. That would be the last thing a mental health professional would do!
            Thank you for your generous words, I appreciate your thinking also.

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  36. Does anybody have any news about Jill?
    Just asking.

    For those who are lost: Jill is the author of the article that made us all connect to each other and make a virtual friendship.
    Mission accomplish Jill!
    Thank you.

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  37. Jonah wrote to me in a previous thread, “This mission of yours is implicit in the fact that you are so willing to share your ongoing story, of self-liberation, with others — and that you are encouraging others to share their own liberating stories.”

    I’ve been reflecting all week on this thread, and this statement, and wondering if it’s worth telling my story any longer. It’s painful to make myself as vulnerable as I do by sharing my stories of having been abused and marginalized, not only as a child, but as a mentally disabled adult, which is nothing short of humiliating. Making my film and sharing it with the world was a big risk to my psyche and mental well-being, but I was told over and over again by my partner and by friends that it is a story worth telling, because it would bring hope and light to others.

    I was also reduced to drooling from meds at one point—among other affects which make me shudder as I remember how incredibly self-conscious I felt not being the person I knew myself to be–and so very fortunately found my way back to knowing my heart and soul. I’d like to be of service to others, but instead of it being welcome, I feel somewhat attacked most of the time. I enjoy discussions, but arguing about the validity and merit of overcoming one’s challenges in life feels degrading to me.

    I experience a lot of hurtful hostility and insensitive projections on this site. Reminds me why I defected from the field, altogether. I just feel the same way when I post here as I did when I expressed my truth in the system, so I feel it’s in my best interest to simply stop doing so, and to keep myself local, where I’m at peace. I can see some others have felt the same way.

    Makes me feel very sad and disappointed, as when I first found this website, I felt inspired by the courage of others to share what they do, and to discuss it with some clarity and interest. At first, it felt good. Now, I’m feeling differently about it. Yet another lesson learned in life. Expanding awareness and learning about our global culture is a never-ending process.

    I admire everyone on here for their courage, wisdom, and willingness to open a vein for the purpose of finding answers to these complex issues. For the most part, however, I find my energy drained from sharing in this environment, rather than feeling uplifted. I am complete, here.

    Best wishes to all in your journeys…

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    • Alex,

      It made me very sad to read your post! I have always valued your posts and found them very rich, direct, and real. I think you have a great deal of understanding and compassion for those who have to actually experience the system, rather than talk about it and speculate about theoretical perspectives.

      If I have said or done anything that contributed to your feeling drained of energy, I apologize for doing so. I hope you’ll still hang around and drop in your comments sometimes. You will know that I appreciate them.

      — Steve

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      • I’m glad you wrote it Steve.
        I’m also concerned with Alex. I don’t see things this way maybe because I spent two years, 2008 and 2009, commenting on some sites and… OMG!

        You have no idea how far some people go Alex.

        The comments I did read here are those of people who are trying to dialogue.

        I learned not to pay attention on those who are just wanting to leave a comment without any responsability.

        If I did something that have you consider harmful I’m sorry.
        This is a subject I would gladly forget… but I can’t .
        It would be easier for me to let it be. I believe that most people who are here feel the same: “how I wish I know nothing about it!”

        But we do. And we have a lot to share.

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  38. What formed here, in response to my comments, was a lively discussion of what the discussants considered to be good, or bad, psychotherapy, along with related comments about human psychology. My own ambitions were simpler: I just wanted to bring everyone’s attention to the newer consensus conclusions about the undesirable effects of catharsis. Steve (June 7), added the fact that catharsis can be helpful when it results in reframing the client’s view of the traumatic situation. That was a good and helpful point, because that is indeed what the research shows. If, on the other hand, we just have repetitious expression of the psychological distress through catharsis, it is unlikely to be helpful and is likely to be harmful, because far from dissipating the angst it prolongs it.
    I do recognize, as some responders did, that there are other positive, if incidental, effects from the encouragement of catharsis. Specifically, permitting or encouraging catharsis does look like a statement of recognition of the client’s pain, and we all know that recognizing the client’s anguish and difficulties can help to establish trust and a sense of being understood. But there are many ways to express empathy and acceptance, and doing it through a method, catharsis, that leads to negative results seems unwise. Of course, a number of the responders suggested that they have little confidence in research on psychological phenomena and so we would not expect them to abandon their confidence in the usefulness of catharsis. They found use for the forum rather than my message.
    As to my follow-up comments about verbal abuse, I can understand all the fierce commentary they evoked. In my brevity I failed to make clear that I do appreciate how difficult it can be, for many people, in many circumstances, to avoid feeling pierced by verbal arrows. Much depends on the relationship between the abuser and the target individual, as well as the injured party’s self-confidence. Of course, in a therapeutic context, one would not deny the client’s pain in response to verbal abuse from people near and dear to him/her. But I think that past adversity or unkindness is too often, incorrectly, made the point of focus in therapy. Clients can be ensnared, for years at a time, in a “poor baby” relationship with their therapist, with the client encouraged to wallow in what passes for empathy. The patient is essentially paying to be stroked, in lieu of working on what ails him/her. One doesn’t have to overtly say “stop feeling sorry for yourself,” to simply take the focus off ancient verbal abuse, and find, instead, the inner indignation, pride in accomplishments, resentment or scorn, that can assist a person in throwing off the victim’s costume.

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  39. “I just wanted to bring everyone’s attention to the newer consensus conclusions about the undesirable effects of catharsis.”

    Consensus? Can you give us more explanation about this consensus? The research by APS?

    Why did the title of is this article is “Talk Therapy Can Cause Harm, Too” and not “Catharsis can be harmful, too”?
    Catharsis helps groups that were submitted to the same traumatic experiences. In the movies, drama it helps a lot.
    In psychology, at least those theoreticians I did read and know, catharsis is not even a subject of discussion.
    It is funny how APS, and why not, APA is so concerned with this subject when there are so many to discuss to help people.
    Art critics, especially those who work with drama, have been studying it since the Greeks.

    You didn’t answer all the others that made good comments because of few “Verbal abuse”? I didn’t read any of these comments

    If a therapist plays the “poor-baby” with the client s/he is a charlatan.
    I’m sorry Jill but you didn’t answer any of the bright comments many left here at this thread and even use the tangential exit.

    ““stop feeling sorry for yourself,”” It is not the work of a therapist to say it. It is a phrase relatives and friends use but not, under any circumstance is the job of a therapist.

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  40. In your article “Psychiatry Is Not the Only Branch of Medicine to Lose Its Soul to Pharma”

    “The end result is that even when physicians want to provide the best of care, they are limited by corruption of the sources from which they derive their information.”

    Physicians have their clinical experience and one of the mysteries is why don’t they use it? Why do they keep denying side effects, withdrawal symptoms when patients talk to them?

    “No, it is all in your head.” “My other patients didn’t have sexual dysfunction because of antidepressants.” “No. It is not withdrawal.”

    You forgot to mention that Senator Charles Grassley was not only after FDA and all it’s tactics to help Big Pharma. Evergreenig one of them.

    Chuck is known for going after Charles Nemeroff and Joe Biederman both Harvard physicians who made million receiving from labs being Biederman the creator of the “bipolar child” diagnose.

    I noticed that your Master is on Biology (Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry and has been working on the “links between, disease, and immune system… as well as on the efficacy of antidepressants.

    I did read your article “Commentary on the National Comorbidity Survey Replication”

    “However, the FDA blackbox warning for suicidal ideation on antidepressants implies that pharmacological treatment may indeed be a causal factor in the elevated rates of suicidal behavior exhibited by adolescents in the U.S. With regard to another interesting finding from the study, Nock et al. also reported that adolescents whose parents had not gone to college were less likely to have contemplated suicide.”

    I wonder why someone with your experience still have to use the “may”. he English parliament 2005 review “The Influence of Pharmaceutical Industry”, everybody knows it, is more elucidative claiming

    5. Problems with Seroxat* and other SSRIs

    Prozac and Seroxat are the best-known examples of SSRI and related antidepressants, but others are widely used. The introduction of SSRIs led to a threefold increase in antidepressant prescriptions between 1990 and 2000. Prescriptions for antidepressants now match those of the benzodiazepine tranquillisers at their peak, 25 years ago.

    Almost from the outset, there was concern about two main problems with SSRIs. First, there was suspicion (initially centred on Prozac) that these drugs could induce suicidal and violent behaviour – infrequently, but independently of the suicidal thoughts that are linked to depression itself. There was also concern (centred on Seroxat) about a risk of dependence; some users. p.85
    *Paxil in US

    As far as clinical trials are concerned it is always good the remember that the Phase 4 is not being done since the word of patients are considered “anecdote evidence”.
    With all the data written in books, written at sites, blogs and the clinical experience of physicians using a “may” when talking about drug=induced violent behavior is out of the planet for me. But this is me.

    I’ll try to find something about your research related to medications and diagnoses.

    At the moment I’m reading a lot about DSM-5 but I’ll search your articles when I finish it.

    Best regards,

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  41. As a consumer, I’m grateful for one of the rare blogs that examines some of the sacred cows of therapy.

    I experienced exactly what you discuss-that wallowing in on past miseries was the opposite of a release valve and in fact was an advanced education in how to be a depressive. Likewise was being subordinate to the Life Expert long after my childhood due date had expired.

    A swath of the mental health profession has distortedly hijacked the literary device of the catharsis. The movie does NOT peak with the hero/heroine sniveling into a facial tissue. He’s out in the world, courageously, fighting the arch interplanetary villain, solving the crime, leading the workers, finding something deep in his capability he never previously realized. This is the OPPOSITE of obsessing and wallowing in mean-things-mommy-said-30-years-ago.

    I propose a revolutionary idea: how about the mental health profession considering feedback from those harmed in therapy?

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  42. Hi,
    I’m very sad you had such a terrible experience with these therapists.
    What kind of therapy did they do?
    By “Life Expert” do you mean this group: ?
    OMG! If so it is clearly a quick-fix strategy that has nothing to do with real therapy.
    There are numerous pros who can really harm people but this is not serious or ethical people.
    They take advantage of those who are more vulnerable.
    Catharsis was used by Breuer and Freud worked with him for a brief period of time.
    But Freud stopped using this technique when he created the talk therapy that has nothing to do with catharsys.
    If Freud had not abandoned the cathartic mambo-jambo there would be no talk therapy.
    This is lesson 1 for those who are starting to study psychoanalysis or psychology.

    When choosing a therapist one has to be careful.

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  43. By Life Expert I meant the distorted fantasy role that so many therapists play for their clients.

    Just in real life, lower status people servilely hitch themselves to higher status friends, a similar structure often seems to occur in therapy.

    I imagine two luncheon friends, Sally and Marcia. Sally dresses more smartly and has that charismatic air of a woman in the know. She’s not really more competent. But she domineers poor Marcia holding the privilege of critiquing her appearance and projects, setting the time and duration of get-togethers. Gift giving, attending the other’s events is unequal, with Sally on always taking the brighter spotlight. Marcia is Sally’s stooge.

    The therapist creates his higher status by his certificates on the wall, but calling or withholding the game rules, through verbal and non-verbal disapproval, through remoteness and through the privilege to create the labels and the narrative for someone else’ life. The client verbally and emotionally disrobes, the therapists keeps not only his clothes, but often his cloak.

    The client complies with this submission, attributing to the therapist an often unearned wisdom and power to relieve distress.

    As a consumer,I felt completely scammed by the Authority my therapists pretended. Though most of it would be considered ethical, I ultimately felt like the stooge at luncheon.

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    • I don’t know what kind of therapy you’re talking about.
      There is not one “Therapy”
      There is psychoanalysis, numerous psychological therapies and numerous bad therapies.

      They do not put diplomas on the wall. There are no labels either.

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    • All you’re reporting is done by charlatans not by serious and ethical pros.
      Therapy is not about one person -the therapist- telling the other – the client – this or that.

      It is a work of two people together.
      Once a therapist starts ruling you have better stop and search for a real good one.

      I also had two experiences but I stopped because they were not good. Each for a reason.

      This is very sad that you haven’t found a good one.
      Now you’ll never search for any help.
      I’ve seen it happening to some people.

      This is sad.
      Please, those who are in therapy or searching, trust your instincts when you feel you’re not in good hands.

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      • The therapy I report was by all standards “ethical.” I lost my complaint with the state ethics board. All therapists I mention have had practices for decades.

        My blog is not to wail about unethical therapists so much as to question the asymmetrical paradigm that too often role-plays the therapist as a guru / fantasy parent and the client as the trusting submissive. Its so-called “intimacy” has no parallel in real life. It’s an unreciprocal bondage granting the therapist total power with no mutual vulnerability. The therapist controls the needy client by dangling promise of relieving distress.

        I notice a tendency by therapists for inferences based on the slimmest of evidence. The ad hominem comment “now you’ll never search for any help…this is sad” paints a rather piteous picture.

        Indeed returning to therapy was the worst mistake of my life–not because it was unethical, but because of its hollowness.

        Not pity please. That revelation was joyous. There are no tooth fairies or gurus. I don’t solve my problems sniveling to a fake expert in a room. Growth, competence are the byproducts of living a courageous life, through work and friendships, through creating, through movement.

        I wish therapists look beyond their theories to frame how they manipulate clients in normal human terms.

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        • “The ad hominem comment “now you’ll never search for any help…this is sad” paints a rather piteous picture”

          THis is my comment:

          “This is very sad that you haven’t found a good one.
          Now you’ll never search for any help.
          I’ve seen it happening to some people.

          This is sad.”

          My error was infer that you would follow the steps of those who were assisted by bad pros.

          I was not talking about you alone. There are numerous psychological methods and also in psychoanalysis a lot of approaches.

          I’m sorry but I don’t know what kind of therapy you’re mentioning.

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  44. Funny that American government is expert in creating tragic events in order to promote numerous cathartic events that generate fear and insecurity among Americans and the rest of the world to justify criminal actions in US and interventions in other countries: 9/11; Sandy Hook; Ghouta Attack…

    Everyday in front of the TV people identify themselves with celebrities and watch violent scenes in the most extreme aristotelian cathartic way.

    “The Bachelor”; The Kardashians…
    What a sick society! Sick era.

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      I’m the lucky one
      Always having fun.
      I tie back my hair.

      I sit and watch T. V.
      I see only me,
      Though I look for you there.

      Oh, where have you gone?
      Were you canceled?
      I change to channel 2.
      You were the one
      Who gave me all my answers.
      I changed
      So did you.

      Try another show.
      With the volume low.
      I make up what they say.
      Where it used to be your face
      Is an empty space
      Your co-stars look away.

      Oh, where have you gone
      And do you miss me
      And what we used to do?
      You were the one
      Who’d talk and smile for half an hour
      Always new.

      I’m the lucky one.
      I watch a re-run.
      It looks a lot like you.

      One star lost a family
      One family lost a star.
      That’s why I wait and watch
      To find out where you are.

      One family lost a star.
      One star, they lost their family.
      That’s why I sit at home alone
      And Watch T. V.

      I can watch forever
      I can watch for hours
      It just gets better
      It gives me power
      I can watch for hours
      I can watch forever
      It gives me pleasure
      It makes me better

      I’m the lucky one.
      Always having fun.

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  45. This probably doesn’t fit here but I’m going to post it anyway. It isn’t about talk therapy but magnetic therapy (prompted by a newsletter email from Dr. Weil). After clicking around, I found the following passage and I think it applies to ALL forms of drugs (aka medicines):

    “The number of known chemical compounds is on the order of ten million. However, only a handful have ever been shown to have any therapeutic effects. Yet millions are toxic. It would be most unwise to eat or drink anything found on the shelves of a typical chemistry lab.”

    Taken from The Committee of Skeptical Inquiry

    Another applicable snippet from Dr. Bruce Flamm’s page:

    “When it comes to healing, the burden of proof is on the seller, not the buyer. One is supposed to prove that a therapy works before marketing it to the public. If this were not true, medical companies could save billions by selling all sorts of untested drugs and devices. In reality, the government insists that every medicine and therapeutic device be meticulously tested for both safety and efficacy. This protective system generally works and only rarely do unsafe or ineffective products slip through and reach the public. Sadly, it seems that no such protective laws exist for magnets, crystals, amulets, magic potions, or other claimed miracle cures.”

    Really? In reality? The government insists that every medicine be meticulously tested for both safety and efficacy? This guy is so on the mark that countless people want to shake his hand (if they can grab hold of it, with their medicinally induced tardive dyskinesia).

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    • In clinical trials placebo beats the drugs:

      Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why.

      “Before I routinely prescribed antidepressants, I would do more psychotherapy for mildly depressed patients,” says the veteran of hundreds of drug trials. “Today we would say I was trying to engage components of the placebo response—and those patients got better. To really do the best for your patients, you want the best placebo response plus the best drug response.”

      “ronically, Big Pharma’s attempt to dominate the central nervous system has ended up revealing how powerful the brain really is. The placebo response doesn’t care if the catalyst for healing is a triumph of pharmacology, a compassionate therapist, or a syringe of salt water. All it requires is a reasonable expectation of getting better. That’s potent medicine.”

      Very good article”

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  46. This is a very interesting article as it explains what happened to me during extensive therapy for domestic violence and sexual assault that focused on processing past feelings instead of helping me to get on with my life. The instant I left therapy and shifted to setting personal goals the deep anguish lifted. In fact, I felt amazingly light and calm. Unfortunately, I am left with the burden of the abusive messages and inappropriate behavior endured by a series of psychiatrists who appeared more determined to find my weak-spots than to help me navigate my life based on personal strengths. I ignored the comment that I was too stupid to complete my PhD and that was the source of my depression, I also ignored the comment that I was too sick to work and resumed employment, I said no to sexual invitations and left those offices as well, and finally left psychiatrists offices all together after the ninth psychiatrist grew upset when I challenged his increasing fees and then claimed that I would have no friends. After leaving, I suddenly felt incredibly calm and happy as I no longer had to sift through all the past trauma and could focus on current work, relationships and personal projects.
    Ironically, the exploitation, denial and abuse experienced in psychiatrists’ offices closely mirrored the similar pattern of abuse and neglect in my family of origin. Those who profit from finding people’s weak-spots and gradually aim to isolate and then make their clients dependent on them at a price are doing a lot of damage. In fact, the notion of Maunchaussen by proxy may ring true for many therapists who either consciously or unconsciously delight in creating “sickness” in their clients to gain attention and money for themselves. Constantly picking and probing for psychic scabs does nothing to cure a person and can make their symptoms far worse. As this article reveals, a shift of focus from the past to the present can bring instant relief. Borderline personality can be manifested in clients by too much emphasis on past abuse and too little emphasis on rewarding goals in the present. Such digging in the past may actually trigger a pattern of negative rumination that makes a client’s symptoms flare. Hence why a good therapist helps to set current goals and strategies for current change instead of insisting on unearthing past problems or triggering anguish or distress in their clients by delving into past abuse and trauma.
    Shifting the focus to positive events and positive goals lifts depression faster than trying to discover the original source of a person’s bad feelings. Meditation lifts a mood and calms the mind far better than negative introspection. Loving kindness mantras incorporated internally helps a person far more than seeking loving kindness from an external source. Needless to say, I now laugh at the horror stories I confronted while seeking help from supposed professionals who seemed intent on making me the “sick” object to be scrutinised or triggered for symptoms rather than considering my inherent strengths. At the end, psychiatrists have an uncanny knack of blaming any negative reaction on transference rather than admitting that their behaviour and exploitation may have aggravated or upset their patient. Sexual abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and psychological abuse are common practice in psychiatric offices. After all, a doctor is trained to take an objective detached stance and treat a patient as an object to be studied for negative symptoms. Instead of actually connecting on a human level and seeing this as a person who deserves to be heard and helped to feel better about themselves many ignorant physicians feel tempted, and sadistically amused, to open old wounds and leave their patients alone in anguish. Often nothing is currently wrong with the client beyond believing a quack knows them better than themselves and will offer help to alleviate their distress. The god-like interpretation is based on the fact that the doctor is healthy, strong and wise you are sick, weak and stupid.
    Psychiatrists profit by triggering pain and symptoms in their clients. Not one offered therapy, helped to set positive goals or actively listened. If I had stayed in treatment I would have become too sick to function and helplessly dependent on a stranger who profited and derived sick amusement from my ongoing distress. As a collective, psychiatrists need far greater scrutiny and the patient should be entitled to record sessions to create equal power instead of the doctor’s notes being the sole point of reference. I have heard of too many psychiatrists who refuse to let their clients go under the guise that they will be dead without their help, or act vindictively or lie when their client attempts to leave treatment. Cure by catharsis is rubbish designed to create a needy population dependent on a therapist who profits from their distress. Those patients in critical need may be helped, but those who are functioning well will be reduced to meet the need for power and control inherent in this unequal relationship. If the psychiatrist is mentally unwell or suffers from a personality disorder his clients will suffer. In retrospect, I learned that treating psychiatrists I had visited suffered from bipolar, major depression and paranoid schizophrenia, and many were racist, sexist and highly competitive, abusive and controlling. How could such people and treatment help anyone feel better?

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    • You did therapy with a psychiatrist?
      What kind of therapy was that?

      “Shifting the focus to positive events and positive goals lifts depression faster than trying to discover the original source of a person’s bad feeling….”

      This is not what a good psychoanalysis is. There is not a an “original source”. This is bad therapy, quackery. Psychiatrists are not good therapists. I don’t even like this word”therapy” because there are so many methodologies under this label that made things very difficult.
      This is intentional: back in the seventies and eighties people who had been on the battlefield were “war neurotics” now they suffer PTSD because this way pills are the solution.

      “Constantly picking and probing for psychic scabs does nothing to cure a person and can make their symptoms far worse. ”

      Psychoanalysis is not about “curing” anyone. Is easing the pain and making the person live better inspite of what happened to him/her.

      The psychoanalyst is not the one who conduct: the patient work with the him/her.

      Unfortunately real psychoanalysis is no longer being done in most countries for psychiatry took over.

      I’m Brazilian and I’m glad we still have good psychoanalysts. In Argentine and France too.
      But in America things are pretty strange. A pill for every ill.
      It is the same here but we still have good, and also terrible professionals, psychoanalysts.

      I did it and unfortunately my psychoanalyst passed away last May.
      She was not only a very good professional but a great human being.
      I fear what is going to happen in the next twenty years.
      Maybe we’ll also lose these great professionals who dedicated their lives to help people – and don’t even mention that they care that much about money. Leave all the thousands of dollars and the cents to the psychiatrists.

      I know people who had a very bad experience too. Most of them searched for psychologists of even these psychiatrists who become therapists.
      We know pretty well that they are not good in listening to people during a meeting to prescribe.
      Listening is a key word when we talk about psychoanalysis.

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    • Could you explain more about your experience?
      What kind of methodology this psychoanalyst used? Where did s/he received his license?

      As I said real psychoanalysis is not available in the vast majority of countries.
      I would like to have an idea about what is happening.

      Do you know the work of Bruce Levine?

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