Dr. Lieberman’s Swansong

Philip Hickey, PhD
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As my readers know, I am a great fan of Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, President of the APA.  In his capacity as president, Dr. Lieberman writes a regular bulletin in Psychiatric News.  These literary and intellectual gems have been a wonderful source of inspiration to me in my efforts to draw attention to psychiatry’s flaws, and I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that in many respects, Dr. Lieberman has been one of our greatest allies.

Month after month in his writings, Dr. Lieberman has provided convincing evidence of my oft-made assertion that psychiatry is intellectually and morally bankrupt, and is devoid of even the semblance of honest self-appraisal or self-criticism.  So it is not without a sense of nostalgia and sadness that I must announce that Dr. Lieberman has written his last President’s Message.  It was published on April 24 and is called Thank You for the Opportunity.

The opening line says it all:

The reward of a thing well done is having done it.—Ralph Waldo Emerson”

which reminds me of Little Jack Horner in the Mother Goose nursery rhyme.

“Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said, ‘What a good boy am I!'”

Most people, on passing a baton of office, lace their outgoing remarks with a generous measure of humility and self-effacement.  But not Dr. Lieberman.  He, like psychiatry generally, is unfamiliar with the benefits of critical self-appraisal.

He continues:

“As I entered the final month of my APA presidency, someone asked me how I would like this past year to be remembered. I responded that I wanted this time to be seen as ‘the year that APA got its mojo going.’ This was the year that we confronted the need for change and didn’t shrink from the challenge. Instead, we addressed and embraced it with energy, creativity, and action, in ways that advanced psychiatry scientifically, socially, and politically and enabled it to better help patients and fulfill its mission.”

Psychiatry does indeed have a great need for change.  It needs to address the spuriousness of its concepts, the disempowering nature of its so-called diagnoses, and the destructive quality of its treatments.  And contrary to Dr. Lieberman’s confident assertion, psychiatry did indeed shrink from that challenge.  Instead, they launched a massive PR and lobbying campaign to sell their concepts to the public, and to encourage politicians to embed psychiatry’s dehumanizing principles even more deeply into the legal and political fabric.

And what are we to make of Dr. Lieberman’s claim that under his leadership the APA got its mojo going?  I wasn’t entirely familiar with the word “mojo,” so I looked it up.  Merriam Webster gives:  “magic spell, hex, or charm; broadly: magical powers.”  Random House Webster’s:  “act or practice of casting magic or voodoo spells.”

This is a little difficult to reconcile with the notion that in the past year the APA advanced psychiatry scientifically.  But it is entirely compatible with the fact that the so-called science on which psychiatry has relied for decades is being increasingly exposed as a fraudulent sham, even by Thomas Insel, MD, the Director of NIMH.

Dr. Lieberman continues:

“The year began with the official launch of DSM-5. After experiencing a tumultuous gestation and overcoming numerous challenges, the fifth edition of APA’s diagnostic manual has proved a great success as reflected by favorable reviews, impressive sales, and gratifying clinical feedback.”

The most fundamental principle of psychiatric logic is that falsehoods become truth if they are repeated vigorously and frequently.

The DSM-5 did not overcome numerous challenges.  Instead, in characteristic psychiatric style, it ignored, and continues to ignore, the numerous challenges and criticisms that it incurred.  DSM-5’s major achievement, in fact, was that it opened the eyes of millions of people to psychiatry’s persistently expansive agenda, to the spuriousness of its so-called diagnoses, and to its continuing corrupt relationship with pharma.  My informal estimation is that at the present time unfavorable reviews of DSM-5 outnumber favorable reviews by about ten to one.  For an outstanding critique of DSM-5, take a look at The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a Major Form of Dehumanization in the Modern World, by Eileen Gambril, to which, incidentally, organized psychiatry has made no response.

Dr. Lieberman points out that under his leadership the APA convened a Health Care Reform Advisory Committee:

“This group has worked hand in glove with APA staff to influence legislation and protect the interests of our profession and patients in various ways, including in the Affordable Care Act, the final rule of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, reversal of the unfavorable action by CMS to restrict the choice of psychotropic medications in Medicare Part D, and the pending bills introduced by Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Roy Blunt (Excellence in Mental Health Act) and Rep. Tim Murphy (Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act).”

APA’s lobbying with regards to the ACA and the parity legislation has focused largely on their efforts to ensure that psychiatrists and psychiatric care are afforded the same status as real doctors and real medical treatments.  Their Medicare Part D lobbying was to ensure a steady supply of antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs to elderly and disabled people.  Their involvement in the so-called Excellence in Mental Health Act was aimed at increasing access to Medicaid funding for mental health services.  The notorious Tim Murphy bill was designed to make it easier for people to be committed to mental hospitals and to community “treatment.”

And, as usual, Dr. Lieberman had something to say about stigma:

“Mindful of the continuing stigma associated with mental illness and psychiatric treatment, we retained an outside consultant agency (Porter Novelli) to review APA’s communications capabilities, needs, and opportunities. Based on its report, we are now moving forward with an initiative to enact a sophisticated and proactive communications plan that will be directed both internally to APA members and externally to the media, mental health stakeholder groups, and the general public.”

And that is what it’s all about.  Psychiatry remains blind to the fact that it is its own spurious pathologizing of its clients that creates the stigma.  It has no interest in genuine reform, but instead is embarked on a tawdry PR campaign to whitewash its transgressions and sell its concepts to the media, stakeholders, and the general public.  Dr. Lieberman even acknowledges the APA’s need to sell this bill of goods to its own members!

And apparently nobody at APA headquarters can see how inherently insulting this is.  Nobody can see that treating people as marks, whose thoughts and beliefs are to be manipulated by a professional PR company, is no way to treat people.  But psychiatry has been treating human beings as non-people for decades.

Porter Novelli, incidentally, is an international PR company founded in 1972, with 90 offices in 60 countries.  They’ve worked with a wide range of clients, including private, public and not-for-profits.  Their present portfolio page lists:  PepsiCo; Hewlett Packard; Center for Disease Control; and Pampers.   I suppose that improving the image of disposable diapers would be a good training ground for improving the image of psychiatry!

And, also incidentally, this is not the first time that the APA has enjoyed the services of Porter Novelli.  Here’s an interesting quote from Advocacy Strategies for Health and Mental Health Professions: from patients to Policies, by Stuart Lustig, MD MPH (editor).  This is from a chapter How to Work with the Media by Aaron Levin, senior staff Writer at the APA’s Psychiatric News:

“In 2005, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) began its “Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives: campaign with two goals in mind: to change the way the public thought about psychiatry and psychiatrists, and to reduce the stigma associated with mental illnesses.  The campaign was designed and managed by the APA’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs and the public relations firm of Porter Novelli.

The Campaign’s target audience was women aged 30 to 54, who were seen as ‘health gatekeepers for their families and open to seeing a mental health professional.’  The organization used focus groups and surveys to plan the campaign, which linked psychiatry and psychiatrists (all of whom are medical doctors) to overall health.

The APA enlisted five spokespersons: three high ranking officers (all women) of the organization, including the President-Elect; the mother of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; and the (male) Director of the APA’s research division.  All had received or were given media training for the campaign.

The APA and Porter Novelli developed media training materials website contents, and media kits with news releases, survey results, and spokesperson biographies.  The website drew nearly one million visitors in its first year (May 2005 to May 2006).

Two strategies were used to increase viewership.  The APA purchased advertising on the popular search engine sites Google and Yahoo.  They also focused mini-campaigns within the main project on college mental health, Hispanic audiences (with Spanish translations of fact sheets and other materials), and Mental Health Awareness Week.

The campaign sent out an audio news release to 600 radio stations and arranged for a satellite media tour, in which spokespersons based in a studio in Washington, DC, can hold interviews with television and radio reporters around the country.  The APA estimated that these efforts reached a potential audience of 105 million broadcasts listeners and viewers and four million readers of print or online media.”

Note the themes:

  • Have a catchy slogan:  “Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives.”
  • “Hook” the mothers (aged 30 to 54) as a means towards getting the men and the children.
  • Link psychiatry and psychiatrists to overall health.
  • Train the spokespersons in how to speak to the media; as opposed, presumably, to just letting them tell the truth.

I don’t know how much the APA paid for that campaign, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that psychiatry’s public image has done nothing but sink in the intervening nine years.  It’s a fundamental fact of life, that spin and self-promotion can only take one so far.  After that, we’re judged on our merits.

Psychiatry is not something good that needs some minor corrections.  Psychiatry is something fundamentally flawed and rotten that needs to be marginalized, ostracized, and unambiguously condemned.  Its concepts are spurious and its “treatments” are destructive and disempowering.  At the present time, psychiatry’s fraudulent and destructive nature is being exposed daily on an increasingly wide spectrum of issues.  The profession is literally reeling under a relentless barrage of well-deserved and overdue criticism.  And psychiatry has nothing to offer in response but endless self-praise and self-justification orchestrated by professional advertisers.  Every day psychiatry digs itself deeper into the mire of its own self-serving rhetoric.  Even its own members are beginning to rebel.

Dr. Lieberman’s reign will indeed be remembered as the year that the APA got its mojo going.  But magic tricks and voodoo can’t save a sinking ship.  For the past five decades psychiatrists have chosen drug-pushing as their primary professional activity.  They spun a web of deceit to create the pretense that this was a medical activity.  But it wasn’t; and it isn’t, and it never will be.  And today they’re just a bunch of drug pushers that have hired a PR firm to clean up their image.

Farewell, Dr. Lieberman.  Thank you for making everything so clear.

* * * * *

This blog first appeared on Philip Hickey’s website,
Behaviorism and Mental Health 

29 COMMENTS

  1. “Instead, we addressed and embraced it with energy, creativity, and action, in ways that advanced psychiatry scientifically, socially, and politically and enabled it to better help patients and fulfill its mission.”
    Indeed, there was some creative work going on in the new awesome DSM diagnoses. Btw, I can’t think of other areas of medicine where the leaders will be so proudly pronouncing that they have advanced it politically. Imagine, a chief surgeon coming out with “we are happy we advanced the idea of removing cataracts and cutting out cancer politically”. Really? I thought their role was to help people to the best of their abilities and not advance any political agenda.

      • I’ve never seen them lobby for law changes so aggressively. I know that some people think that vaccinating kids should be mandatory (in some places is) and the transplant donations should not depend on family wishes. But even if the doctors are for these procedures they still tend to respect wishes of families and people in question. Psychiatry is so dangerous because it has a complete disregard for its patients, there for there is neither check nor balance. If you never have to face any consequences for what you do since your patient is completely helpless that causes massive abuse and neglect and gives little need to improve and educate yourself. If I don’t like the drugs my GP is prescribing (like antibiotics for a clearly viral infection) and does not listen to me I just don’t buy them and change the doctor. You can’t really do that easily with psychiatrists because you have “no insight” and have to be coerced. It’s bad medicine 101, even if their diagnosis and drugs were worth anything.

        • The only way to increase the profit margin is through commitment and treating children. The actual law is of little to no consequence to most of them. (Torrey has his own benefits riding on that part.) They pulled a similar stunt in the nineties. It never ends well, but it certainly is monetarily successful, and the fact that people simply don’t see us allows the APA to continue to seem to have done something.

  2. By his own admission “impressive sales”- – working in the medical field, being a patient and a carer , I have never heard this much raw honesty. Proud of being a drug pusher?! What an achievement, he should be in jail with every other scum drug pusher. I wonder how many lives his ego has taken. How much money went into his pockets with his clinic trials and “kickbacks”.
    The pharmaceutical industry should not provide financial gain, for a “favourable” drug trial outcome. A least he was kind enough to clarify that it was indeed HIS agenda ! I would call that “conflict of interest” but attach the title of DR and we assume incorrectly that this parasite is NOT morally and ethically bankrupt! Thank God he is gone! I think he needs to try one of his “trialled” drugs for 1. Lack of empathy. 2. Delusions of grandeur . 3. Megalomaniac. 4. Not caring about others only himself. 5. live for power, etc. the list goes on and his own diagnosis would be “white collar psychopath! ” FACT. Sadly they walk amongst us.

    • Jan,

      Dr. Lieberman always reminded me of a child blurting out things that his parents would have preferred kept quiet. It surprised me that he wasn’t “muzzled,” but perhaps the APA’s big hitters don’t really get it. They feel secure, and they believe that the current criticisms will fade away if ignored!

  3. Thank you Dr Hickey, for your succinct description of the current state of psychiatry — and unfortunately, a lot of psychology too. And thank you B, for pointing out the weirdness of any area of medicine that brags on having its advanced its treatment methods “politically.” I also find it weird that a professional organization of medical “experts” has its patients demonstrating in the street against its methods, as is happening now in New York at the annual APA meeting. If this happened at professional meetings of ophthalmologists or oncologists, I think they would make an effort to clean up their act. Instead, psychiatry is pushing for more and more legal assistance in rounding up its patients and subjecting them to “treatment.”

    I wish we could see more on MIA about the new treatment methods and policies that are getting such good results in Finland. Are they being tried anywhere in the US?

    Mary Newton, PhD

  4. From Freud to the present— petulant, childish, entitled men. As far as most of their colleagues go, success is all the evidence they need that the man on top of the heap is deserving. And ain’t success the pinnacle of mental health? We measure a person’s value in dollars. Lieberman wins!

  5. Awesome article. I also liked Lieberman for the same reasons you do. I saw a video clip of him and he asked why there was an anti-psychiatry movement, while there were no such movements against urology or cardiology. He was making our point for us. Besides being a psychopath, he is also not too bright.

    Love it, and I really appreciate your articles, which are always clear and forthright.

  6. Thank you again for the community service of articulating the pseudoscience of psychiatry. Psychiatry paying a PR firm to improve its image epitomizes the bankruptcy of this “medical profession.”

    Emotional distress is the natural biology of distressful experiences; psychiatry is a medical profession and thus psychiatrists try to cure distressful experiences with their main tool- medicine. Drugs don’t cure distressful experiences; they cause additional distress.

    Best wishes, Steve

  7. Thank you for another truthful blog, Dr. Hickey. “Psychiatrists have chosen drug-pushing as their primary professional activity.” And the drugs they’ve chosen to force on children and adults, I’m learning, seem to be cocaine, heroin, and LSD related drugs. I’m quite certain forcing drugs chemically similar to these street drugs onto children, or anyone, is unwise in the long run. Please correct me if I’m incorrect.

  8. Dr. Hickey, Understanding your position in light of my experience, I get very happy to see the reality accounted for in your articles on the mission of psychiatry as practiced. And I know from research that at every level–no matter how deep or high or selective you try to be in searching–you will find the most baleful ideologues corrupting the already tendentious efforts at a science of mental illness.

    I wonder if anything workable could stand on its own among the edifice of knowledge built up in the field, but can’t imagine something adequate getting discovered and revealed for the good of all except from those working outside the academic and professional circles.

    The in-crowds sometimes include persons who attempt real progress, of more than the Al Frances type of sotte voce critiques. For instance, I read Bill Fulford on diagnosis, and would have been quite happy with such a method if the idea was also left open that alternative approaches to explanation and treatment existed or were always formulable.

    But I have never seen anything like Fulford’s attention to details, to the tentative nature of hypothesis in ascribing a putative disease or disorder without objective measures to confirm it; and I can’t see why to think it likely that such reformers ever get their eye on the ball, now matter how central they are to intellectual efforts in behavioral studies.

    I have only seen dozens and dozens of instances of the clumsy, reckless, and presumptious attitudes and actions that Thomas Szasz says describe the field at its foundations. So I feel that your articles in both their humanistic and technical veins continue the important job of unmasking fraud and prejudice inculcated in order to dehumanize the already disfranchised class of people who suffer emotionally and would like help.

    Do we need to spell this word “help” differently or something?

    • travailler-vous,

      Thanks for coming back. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the people who are most heavily ensnared in the psychiatric web are living in a kind of pre-civil-rights-movement world. And the primary source of the discrimination is the notion that these individuals are sick. Through this neat little piece of mental gymnastics, the process of victimizing these people is transformed into spurious moral imperative – something that must be done for their own good.

      Best wishes.

      • Dr. Hickey, This has been my first chance to take a leisurely look back here and read your reply–thanks for that very much.

        I appreciate that you point at the dead center of the problem, and in my experience, which is the main thing to care about most of the time, this certainty of a live pattern of disease-like illness, is the madness of trying to get help.

        The whole cadre of workers in a hospital setting feel justified and comfortable to actually believe that something both essentially medical and medically precise is happening, in spite of the absence of anything rigorously objective taking place in giving attention directly to a person.

        So that is right, the absolute conviction of physical disease becomes uppermost and the idea of working at problems in living and the difficulties of owning the whole process and all your feelings are thought of as the thing that only works to support compliance. But of course such efforts won’t ever take away the underlying sickness.

        Yes, that gets very vapory in the more abstract discussions on the subject, and although much BS is left aside the scientific assumptions and politics of the issue and degraded brand of implementation, that obviously prevails, is not often highlighted. I don’t know what intelligent and genuinely concerned people can think they will get done without securing truly voluntary patients.

        Thank you again for the information in your courteous reply.

  9. Thank you for another awesome post. Given that Lieberman seeks to defend the indefensible — the pseudoscience and fraud of biological psychiatry — the only means at his disposal are those that he is employing: dishonest spin and propaganda. I fear that it will take much more than the self-enamored, arrogant and dishonest pronouncements of APA officials to expose the sham. Our institutions (courts, elected representatives) that should protect the public are too clueless, or perhaps intentionally complicit, to protect the public.