The Politics of Healing


Some things are floating around in my mind to try and make sense of. ¬†A big part of it is the connection of coercive/biopsychiatry to both race and gender politics. ¬†Clearly as Peter and Ginger Breggin argue succinctly and powerfully in “The War Against Children of Color” biopsychiatry has deep links to eugenics. ¬†We raised this point in an early submission by WNUSP on the Disability Convention as well. ¬†Misogyny as well not only characterizes biopsychiatry,¬†it is, along with racism and eugenics, one of biopsychiatry’s core motivations. ¬†As biopsychiatry is a repressive technology accompanied by both charisma and an ideology of dehumanization, it fulfills the ends of social control perfectly.

This is connected in my mind to the politics of healing in a larger sense than the singular healing any person might seek through therapy or personal search for wellness. ¬†It is a healing that is throughout the individual and society. ¬†It is this sense in which justice is said to be healing and has healing as its purpose. ¬†I am not talking about therapeutic jurisprudence which is tainted by psychiatric ideologies and technologies. ¬†Rather I am talking about something deeper that I have found discussed in the best of restorative justice writings, especially the work being done by Native Americans of which I would draw attention to the Hon. Robert Yazzie of the Navajo Nation. ¬†It is also the kind of healing that motivates reparations in international law, and the inclusion among forms of reparation of the concept of “satisfaction,” that is, having it officially recognized that the violation took place and that it was wrong.

We cannot fully heal when we are being subjected to ongoing violations or the threat of such violations constantly. ¬†Healing has to also identify accurately what is the injury or unbalanced life process that is at the root of any suffering, so that we can’t ignore psychiatric assault as a complex violation that creates numerous kinds of injury and imbalances. ¬†We have to start looking at the healing that is needed from psychiatric assault itself – how we are doing it and what the challenges are. ¬†I’m not talking about recovery from whatever was going on that led you into psychiatry in the first place, or about going off drugs and getting free of the system. ¬†Getting free is part of this but I am interested in how we live out the journey of being a survivor in the original sense of the word: not as a term of pride – survivor rather than victim – but as a fact of having not been killed by something that could have killed you.

The kinds of healing needed will depend a lot on exactly what happened to you and where you are socially situated and how you politicize that. ¬†I won’t try to speak for everyone but will say some of what I have learned myself as a politicized white/Jewish feminist womyn who was locked up for a total of six weeks and drugged against my will with a neuroleptic for much of that time.

  1. There are no guideposts.  Even those friends who are well meaning have a hard time bearing witness.  Books written for sexual abuse survivors can be helpful, as can writings from Holocaust survivors and anything similar.  But you are on your own.  Even among other survivors of psychiatric assault it is hard to have this conversation.  It is hard to get past the description of what happened and bearing witness against it and fighting for justice, to talk about what impact it has had on our lives.  Therapy and other mental health services are contraindicated.  I say that from my own experience though I know other survivors who have used therapy to address the forced psychiatry trauma. But even therapists are not specializing in this kind of healing or talking about what it means, and I think it is likely that they are generalizing knowledge about trauma just as I have done.
  2. What’s needed is a combination of personal and political that is dangerous both personally and politically. ¬†When we speak out as activists and advocates we make ourselves visible as people who have been labeled by psychiatry. ¬†This may be irrelevant to who we are, as something that happened to us rather than a personal characteristic or identity, but it is how we will be seen by others and how they will react to us. ¬†It means most often that non-survivors doing the same advocacy are most comfortable with each other and don’t quite know how to be comfortable with us. ¬†We are tokenized and excluded from the informal conversations that keep people “in the loop.” ¬†Our work is not cited even when others have clearly used it and benefited from it. ¬†Personally it is a challenge to put together the pieces of what happened into a narrative that is satisfying and meaningful, particularly as it relates to challenges that are not even articulated anywhere and that it is often dangerous to articulate. ¬†What can I do with the way that my body stores the memory of being drugged with haldol? ¬†I experience it in my muscles and joints and the way I hold my body, in body-memories of how I abstracted myself to let it happen to me and of the oculogyric crisis that was so strange I did not know how to process it and that was quickly medicated away with cogentin. ¬†I do not tell this to even alternative health practitioners as it makes me too vulnerable; I don’t need their affirmation as I have had that enough elsewhere and I don’t want anything like this on my records.
  3. There are many layers to the healing. ¬†There is the social context and relationships that were betrayed and destroyed to put me into psychiatry. ¬†The lost life opportunities. ¬†The need to not be a victim or even a survivor, to get past the ticking off of harm and to simply “thrive.” ¬†And the need to actually heal while no one is acknowledging the specificity of the healing that has to take place, as part of the process of thriving.
  4. How this relates to human rights advocacy: I have sometimes been allergic to talk of wellness and healing because I hear it as excluding the kind of healing I am talking about and have pursued. ¬†But in some of my current reading and thinking and conversations I am starting to see how healing in this larger sense can, at times, be a way to frame our work and our alternative to biopsychiatry’s genocides and gynocide.

We are building a resistance movement, notwithstanding the political players who continue to frame choices for us, about us, with narrow and (I believe) meaningless opportunities for us to have influence.  Watch for more on initiatives that are coming up, and/or contact me through this site if interested.




Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion‚ÄĒbroadly speaking‚ÄĒof psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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


  1. Tina thanks for writing about healing and about resistance. Both topics that I am interested in and have experience of, as a resistance fighter in mental health matters and human rights campaigner in psychiatric situations. I couldn’t do it if I hadn’t experienced healing, in the past and in the present. I do believe that to have an influence I have to be at peace with myself, have a clear conscience, whatever that means for me.

    Healing I think is a personal thing and also a collective responsibility. We’re not going to heal anything by sweeping abuses under the carpet or out of sight. Therefore critical voices are key to bringing about change and resisting the silencing of our voices telling stories that people don’t want to hear. For who does want to hear the pain of others? As a mother of 3 sons who have been in and out of psychiatric settings, I’ve had to deal with their pain, and they with mine when I also had to darken their doors because of life transitions and painful induced childbirth.

    In some ways the fact that 3 generations of my family were lampooned by psychiatry has been a blessing. We’re been in solidarity and the system wasn’t able to separate us, one from another. Because we are united in being subject to psychiatric labelling and forced treatment. One for all and all for one. But I am not happy about the system’s targeting of my family. The women in my family who have been overpowered by a patriarchal system, the men who have gone through it in solidarity. All of us treated like women, dominated and made to submit. Enough is enough. Time for a change.

    Report comment

  2. Thank you Tina Minkowitz,
    Please understand that I can not do honour to the many points and intricacies you raised.

    My response is essay-ish: Suffering for democracy

    I support the importance of the betrayal, oppression, abuse and rejection done in societies marked by patriarchical, colonizing, racist and military violence and traumata beind many ‘next doors’ leading to to psychiatry. The depersonalisation experienced in forced psychiatrization, I do not understand it separate or fundamentally different from the abuses, betrayals, oppressions, abjections done in societies ruling on class, economic and moral violence build on aggressive expansionism. Societies not based on and legalized in social, ecological, cultural accountabilities which I call responseabilities.

    I suggest that the abused, oppressed and exploited in the many forms of societal violence and injustice share victimization, depersonalization and abjection with the forceably psychiatrized. I do not see people with experiences of forced psychiatric abuse and violence as somehow a special group. Sadly enough, I see psychiatric subjected and abused in similar plights to the many disowned, abused and victimized, growing majorities in the threatened ghettos of the world.

    In my view the danger in acting on the interdependency of the personal and the political lies in the violence of corrupted ‘democracies’ where resistence and protest, resilience and alternatives are NOT tolerated but oppressed and destroyed – through the connections and ‘legal powers’ of unaccountable-private-ownership-class with economic, anti-social, police, prison and military violence.

    As I see it there is no place for healing and happiness outside and safe from the many injustices and destructive powers which structure inequality, oligarchy and violence, nor from suffering and pain. My sincere hope is that the number of survivors of the many injustices, betrayals and violences would come together live alternatives in the hearts and minds of eco-socio-culturally accountable responseability, based on acceptance of hurt, suffering and grief. I rather envisage initiatives in which – protected by the majorities wanting a more eco-socially and morally responsible human world – the real suffering and pains need not be rejected, abandoned and stigmatized as disgrace of unhappiness.

    I honestly think that happiness is inadequate in the actual political sphere of dominating violence and abuse harming majorities worldwide. Happiness within the political struggle of many majorities of the oppressed, assaulted and victimized I see in moments of collective realisation of ‘ilands of caring democracy rooted in responseability’. Self determined action and freedom have only been for the powerful ever. With terribly destructive consequences. I honestly question wether the modern quest for freedom and happiness is else than the yelling and exarcebation of aggressive and deeply irresponsible ‚Äėcivilisation‚Äô.

    Healing form the acute terrors of abjection and mentally burning uproars, visions and horrors, from the brute mental and action violence of psychiatry ‚Äď as others in slavery or prisons ‚Äď for me began in solidarity with the victimization of ‚Äėothers‚Äô, in solidarity of poverty, in solidarity of having suffered and seen the faces, actions, roles and structures of legalized, powerful class violence lay open. Psychiatry I experienced as inquisition which brought down my na√Įve illusions and beliefs of any action that is not accountable to respect and support the poor, exploited, victimized.

    The pain and the fears are sleeping in my body, heart and mind, they are hurting in memory and in contact with many sufferings and violences. They are the hurt inside which nourishes my humility, gives me humble feelings. I learned that pain, suffering and sadness, silent being-with in nature, moments of joy with friends, but always the hurting, grieving, wounded breathing inside make me human. I wonder wether the pursuit of happiness is not keeping us in the claws of aggressive lifestyles of expansionism in self-fulfillment. I wonder wether it is not welcoming pain and suffering from injustice and violence, illness and aging, which would enable us to make our social relationships more diverse by sharing the wounds and suffering, by memorizing in body and soul, as necessary for more diversity and solidarity.

    I honestly think that the prioritizing of happiness and wellbeing, apart from being cynically demanded from the powerless, exploited and oppressed as new paradigms of care, is building barriers towards enabling responsible democracies, tolerant through wounding and suffering, therefore able to live in diversity.

    I am as fearful of the power and ideology of the happy thrivers who turn away from the pain and suffering to be, from this turning point on, resilient, expansive, aggressive in the righteous fights and celebrations; thus ultimately in danger of already being aggressors and power-players themselves, perpetuating the historic cercles where revolutions turn into taking power and becoming governors.

    Suffering and hurt, kindness and humbleness may be fundamental to balance possibilities of democracies based on shared responseability in being diverse, suffering and forgiving, for responseability between humans and animals, reconciliating nature and culture.

    (Pls ‘forgive’ the inwoven Germanisms.)

    Report comment

    • Dear Ute,

      Thank you for this contribution. While I agree with you about the interconnections, I cannot see the kind of healing I am describing as being self-referential; as I said it is a healing that is nearly synonymous with justice, where healing and justice are two sides of the same state of harmony that is sought. I don’t see it as being individually achievable in an absolute or complete sense (or perhaps even in any true sense) without the transformation of society.

      I don’t think that we can ignore the personal either. If we try to be there for others while we ourselves are empty, we will give our emptiness to others and suck them in in a negative way.

      With respect to the question of whether we are a distinct group in society or are issues are separate from others. I think they are not separate so much as specific. Without naming and describing particular experiences, without insisting on opening the space and creating the language for them, those experiences are being silenced and those who have the experiences are marginalized. Conversations about poverty are another aspect that has to be brought to the foreground. That is not my lived reality now and I deliberately spoke from my own experience in this post, but I want the conversations to be about articulating all the aspects of our lives that we speak about to ourselves (I mean even in our own thoughts) but hide from others because we are judging ourselves by criteria that are not really valid once we are able to see it critically, with a lens of human rights or non-discrimination or whatever allows us to get that perspective.

      Something is missing culturally – not psychologically in my mind – because we are lacking these conversations. Culture is something, like politics, that is itself contested but is not inherently a thing of privilege. All human societies create culture – meaning, beauty, values, knowledge, technology – and it is essential in my view to any movement for social justice. Culture requires specificity, description, creativity.

      I want our movement to go beyond recovery narratives and bearing witness narratives. I see that as essential politically as well as personally.

      I do not know if you and I will agree, but thank you for the discussion.


      Report comment

      • Tina, Your point about the missing cultural element is nicely stated, but that other point about judging ourselves by invalid criteria, and thus keeping the wider cultural landscape depleted by our failure to cultivate our understanding–the point about self-judging, is also very well-stated, and a great psychological tip. I have only just started to notice things I have all but involuntarily kept to myself. And thanks for all this clarifiying on the thread that you did in reply to Ute, for how it brings out the personal connection to the political is very important to people like myself who are strictly amateurs in the exercise of dissidence, etc.

        Report comment

        • I am not sure what you mean about judging ourselves by invalid criteria. I am saying precisely that we need to create a cultural space for conversation about certain experiences, on our own terms – as people who have had those experiences. This brings it into the wider discourse and does not marginalize it. If the specificity is not described and delved into, it continues to be marginalized by denial and dismissal.

          Report comment

  3. Thanks, Tina, for all of that you carefully articulated about yourself and the need to conceive of rights prior to assignment of any particular status to yourself as a social identity. This statement of yours all came right on time for me today, and will serve as a resource for future reference when I want to get my act together.

    I only see how to concern myself with America from an anti-establishment point of view. I see nothing of the slightest resemblance to optimal response on offer in the current mental health services industries and their academic nest-sites.

    Report comment

  4. I completely agree that there’s sexism inherent in psychiatry. Just look at the gender stats on ECT. Something like 75% of victims are women. No doubt the APA would counter that women are more likely to be afflicted with depression. That would, however, fly in the face of gender stats on suicide.

    There’s a note in my medical records from a consult report which reads “This unmarried lady not wearing makeup ….” This was 1988, not 1958, and the comment just breathes sexism.

    Report comment

  5. Gosh, complicated – and relevant.

    A friend is complaining about a counseling service. I am becoming aware of how his brush with psychiatry 40 odd years ago influences his contact with all, “Caring,” services. The fear of being misunderstood and labelled is large for him. The damage might be life long.

    Report comment

  6. I agree a powerful psychiatric industry is indicative of a sick society, not necessarily sick individuals. It was true in Nazi Germany, and it’s true in America today. Misogyny, at least in my case, was a huge part of the problem. However, I was attacked by both women and men, so it was a sort of hatred of women who value motherhood, or traditional values, as a role; rather than money worship and paid work. It seems our society chose to discourage properly raising one’s children with the women’s rights movement, which I’ve read was funded by the “elite,” and government, as a way to increase their tax revenues and profits. But I personally believe this disregard for child rearing as intrinsically adding value to society, is a huge factor in the issues we as a society are experiencing with the children in our nation. Although, the dumbing down of the education system is a mistake, as well. And the ADHD symptoms are a sick joke, I believe intended to drug up our best and brightest children.

    As to a need for societal change or appropriate reparations in order to heal from psychiatric abuse, I agree that is important. I know, in my case, the injustice of being force medicated to cover up easily recognized iatrogenesis for incompetent doctors, who never apologized or used their malpractice insurance for what it was intended, still makes me angry. And the fact I was then misdiagnosed, thus defamed, then poisoned, based upon a list of lies and gossip from the people who abused my children. And that the ELCA Chicago synod offices are still refusing, even though the medical evidence of the sexual abuse of my child has been handed over, to look into sodomy cover ups by an ELCA pastor is disgusting and the antithesis of Christian behavior, IMO.

    My “enemies” are corporations, not people – a too powerful, greedy, and unethical medical community, ELCA synod headquarters, insurance company that laid off my husband due to age discrimination in 2008, banking industry that forced a recently widowed woman to sell my home (and lose $100,000’s in home equity) at the bottom of the housing market without even having the proper paperwork in 2012, the justice system that was “bought out by the bankers” (according to my lawyer), a DCFS system that doesn’t bother to look into child abuse concerns if it’s not profitable for them, to list a few of my “enemies.” But, of course, I’m just a person, so I don’t have the power to fight against all these large corrupt corporations and industries, and the judges they have bought out. Dah.

    But utilizing corporate power to harm and steal from individuals is definitely what is going on in America, and it is abuse. It is indicative of a sick society that allows corporations to majorly tranquilizes people to cover up crimes, deny justice to individuals, and steal from them.

    Societal change is definitely needed. Regulation is needed. A return of corporate ethics is needed. An end to worshiping a defunct monetary system is needed. We are currently living in an insane society. And I agree, fear of future attacks by an unrepentant and unchecked psychiatric stigmatization system, make it hard to heal. Justice is important for a viable society – and we don’t currently live within a just society. How bizarre it is to live in a world where essentially made up corporations and scientifically “lacking in validity” disorders are valued as real and important, more than people. Our societal values are upside down and backwards right now.

    Report comment

    • “Misogyny, at least in my case, was a huge part of the problem. However, I was attacked by both women and men”
      Misogyny can be internalised by women just as well as men the same way as racism can be internalised by both black and white people. There are countless psychological and social studies which show that in oppressive societies the oppressive stereotypes and behaviors are perpetrated by both the oppressive class and the victims. It gets hammered in to your head as a child – this is the way the world works and it affects your actions and thinking on both conscious and subconscious level. So the victims can also act in a way that keeps other victims down – out of fear, of deep belief that this is the “right way” etc. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to change not only the outside behaviour but “hearts and minds”.

      Report comment

  7. “Even those friends who are well meaning have a hard time bearing witness.”
    That is true. People don’t want to hear about it and tell you to just “get over with”. They also tend to go with “well, what was done to you was wring but you see, some people need that because…” – there is no understanding about the experience and how deeply dehumanising and degrading it is. Every time I tried to talk about it to my friends or family I ended up getting angry at them.

    Report comment