What Is Biological Psychiatry?
Part 2: Anatomy of Power and Control

Richard D. Lewis
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Part 1 of this blog presented a case for how modern day psychiatry has developed into what is more often referred to today as, Biological Psychiatry. Based on this history and a careful examination of its role in present day society, I think for the following discussion it’s worth repeating the definition proposed at the end of Part 1 of this blog:

“Biological Psychiatry is the wedding of genetic based theories of so-called “mental illness” with the American Psychiatric Association and other leading psychiatric organizations in the world, together with the pharmaceutical industry, and the major training institutions for psychiatry.

“It promotes and maintains a genetic/brain disease based/drug centered medical model of treatment. It also promotes and enforces various forms of coercive types of so-called “treatment,” including forced drugging and electro-shock. It controls, conducts, and corrupts most psychiatric drug research which has led to millions of people throughout the world being severely harmed and/or dependent on brain and body damaging drugs.

“Biological Psychiatry is useful for the ruling classes in society to maintain power by using “genetic theories of original sin” to shift people’s focus away from the innate inequalities and daily traumas experienced by people living within their system. Their drug centered model of social control has especially targeted youth, prisoners, non-conformists and other more volatile sections of the population, including women and minorities.* 

“Biological Psychiatry, when combined with Big Pharma’s innate drive to maximize profits, has become the driving force within the Psychiatric/Pharmaceutical/Industrial Complex.”

*(Based on further thought, I decided to add “women and minorities” in this section due to the disproportionately higher percentages represented within today’s mental health system)

This definition does NOT mean that psychiatry in the prior period should be labeled as somehow more benign or potentially less dangerous; forced treatment, electro-shock, and lobotomies have a clear legacy in the earlier years. This analysis is merely an attempt to describe what modern day psychiatry has evolved into over the past 40 years; an evolution punctuated by major leaps in growth and overall influence throughout society. Biological Psychiatry has actually become the worst of psychiatry on steroids, with many additional forms of oppression. While some may have differences with the use of the word “biological,” I would ask: Is the above definition not a fair and accurate representation of what psychiatry has become in today’s world?

This evolution of psychiatry in the recent era has to be carefully examined in connection to its strong links to the U.S. economy, especially the meteoric rise in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as other geo-political developments in the world, including increased governmental control and forms of repression in post 9/11 America.

Biological Psychiatry is not your grandmother’s or father’s psychiatry, as the expression goes; it’s not just “psychiatry being psychiatry” all over again. It is exponentially more dangerous and powerful than ever, and absolutely more essential to the “powers that be” in preserving the status quo. To not understand or grasp these historic changes will cause us to underestimate what we are up against and possibly misdirect us away from knowing how to develop the appropriate strategy for future efforts to end all psychiatric oppression.

To those who say that “psychiatry is dead,” and that it’s about ready to “collapse under its own weight” and that it just needs a little push from us to knock it down for good, I say this fails to understand what psychiatry has truly become in today’s world and how deeply entrenched and valuable it is to the ruling classes and to the survival of their entire monopoly capitalist system.

Perhaps those who are saying “psychiatry is dead” mean that it is “intellectually dead” due to the fact that every one of its major theoretical pillars can be proven to be false and scientifically invalid. And that out of fear and necessity for survival, key psychiatric leaders have begun a rather desperate form of defensive counter attacks against its critics.  If that is what is meant by that statement, then I can partially agree. But to leave the argument there without ALSO acknowledging the immense power of this oppressive institution and how vital it has become to preserving the status quo, is to grossly underestimate what it will take to make psychiatry (along with the entire therapeutic state) finally leave history’s stage.

Consider the following statistics and facts when looking at issues of power and control in modern day America: Since 1970 in the U.S., psychiatry has actually doubled in size from approximately 23,000 to 50,000 practicing doctors. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have increased more than 250%, and that number is expected to double again by the year 2020. Meanwhile, worldwide there are approximately 200,000 psychiatrists.

Six out of the ten largest pharmaceutical corporations are centered in the U.S. and as an entire industry it is valued at over $300 billion per year. One third of all their sales revenue is spent on marketing. In 2001 the profit levels for the pharmaceutical industry averaged 18.5% compared to 2.2% in the rest of the Fortune 500; today, according to World Health Organization figures, their profit margins hover at around 30%. There are more drug corporation lobbyists than congressmen. From 1999-2000, $197 million dollars was spent by Big Pharma on lobbying congress; $50 million more than any other industry. A single major tranquilizing drug, Abilify, made $8 billion dollars in gross sales last year, which surpasses one half the gross revenue of Google in the same year.

Twenty percent of all Americans are taking some type of psychiatric drug. This year about one third of all Americans will qualify for some type of a psychiatric diagnosis. Seventy percent of Electro-shock victims are women. Women are also two and a half times more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than men, and two times more likely to be prescribed benzodiazepines and other anti-anxiety labeled drugs. African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious psychological distress than other Non-Hispanic Whites. The mass drugging of children and adolescents (especially those from poorer backgrounds) is one of the fastest growing and more profitable markets for Biological Psychiatry.

The pharmaceutical corporations have been fined over $13 billion dollars in the past 5 years and not one CEO has spent a day in jail. In 2013 a 16 year old teenager from a middle class family in the Northeast part of the U.S. was openly kidnaped from her family (with the knowledge of the press and major political leaders) for 16 months by the State at the behest of psychiatric leaders in a world-renown children’s hospital. The sectors of U.S. society that are today the most heavily drugged within the community mental health system, also represent the same base in society from which emerged many of the radical activists in the 1960’s.

All these facts and statistics, combined with our own collective experience living within this system, leads us to one possible chilling conclusion: Today’s Biological Psychiatry has become such an essential part of the economic and political fabric holding together our present day society, including its ability and need to maintain control over the more volatile sections of the population, that its future existence  may be totally interdependent on the rise and fall of the entire system itself.

Asking ourselves four important questions will only highlight this above statement:

  1. Where would the U. S. economy be without the enormous growth (and projected growth) and profitability of Big Pharma, especially that sector of the industry devoted to psychiatric drugs?
  2. Is it necessary for those in power to shift people’s focus away from the inherent inequalities and daily traumas within their system to more of a focus on human genetics and brain-based diseases (and other so-called “natural” flaws within our species) as the main causes of human suffering?
  3. Do the “powers that be” have a clear and vested interest in preventing various forms of dissent and rebellion, similar to (or even greater than) the 1960’s, especially among youth, minorities, and women?
  4. Has their need, within our culture of addiction, to anesthetize and render ineffective (with legal and illegal drugs) those potentially rebellious sectors of society, increased since the 60’s and especially in a post 9/11 world?

Any honest and in depth answers to these four questions should lead us to another scary conclusion – Biological Psychiatry will NOT be going away any time soon, especially as long as we live under the current economic and political system. If one were to look at the sheer number of major credible negative critiques (in the press and major book publications) exposing numerous examples of psychiatry “gone wild,” with its manufactured diagnoses and mass drugging of children and other sectors in our society, you might think that this would weaken this institution and decrease its popularity. You would also think that this would lower the number of potential victims entering “treatment” and taking their dangerous drugs. This is simply NOT happening; the growth of the mental health industry and the use of psychiatric drugs is only increasing by the day; the “Cabaret” continues to march on.

The anatomy of all the particular forms of power and control that Biological Psychiatry wields within this system appears to reveal just how vital it has become to the future survival of modern capitalism. What else possibly explains this unfettered growth of Biological Psychiatry despite a growing credible and well-reasoned opposition made up of articulate psychiatric survivors, credentialed and experienced mental health workers, and a significant number of well-respected researchers and academic leaders? This opposition even includes a small number of psychiatrists beginning to express serious concerns and criticism of their profession.

What the hell more do we have to do to even begin to turn back this tide of psychiatric abuse in the world? Within all these very dire circumstances described in this blog, I still believe there are many openings and opportunities for us to advance our movement. In order to make these advances we must start from an objective analysis of the actual conditions we face. I hope this blog can stimulate discussion about some of the main obstacles standing in our way from achieving total liberation from The Psychiatric/Pharmaceutical/Industrial Complex.

Part 3 of this blog will explore some thoughts about where we need to go from here, and what it might take to strengthen our movement at this point in its development. Within Part 3, I will also critically analyze and reformulate my prior stance on the question of being “anti-psychiatry” versus “anti-Biological Psychiatry.”

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25 COMMENTS

  1. These are initial impressions intended to start some discussion, not my definitive position. 🙂

    I think many of your statements would just as easily apply if the term were left out. But I also think that equating the evils of psychiatry with those of the pharmaceutical industry as though they are one and the same gives short shrift to the many forms of psychiatric abuse that occur with or without drugging. The pharmaceutical industry is also happy to make obscene and illegitimate profits on lots of other dangerous and crippling “medicines,” not just psychiatric ones.

    Considering that “my grandfather’s psychiatry” was actively complicit in the holocaust both here and overseas I think it questionable to assert that it has taken a quantum lep forward or backwards; it has just become more sophisticated in its quest to manipulate language and thought into convincing so many otherwise intelligent people that there can be “mental” diseases which can be “treated” by physicians. This to me is ultimately more dangerous than the “treatments” themselves.

    Btw when I said that the system would collapse under its own weight i coupled it with the Frederick Douglass quote “Power cedes nothing without a demand.”

  2. Thanks for this, Richard! There is a lot to think about here. I have to admit, though, I still believe that putting the word “biological” in front of psychiatry is just as redundant as putting the word “monopoly” in front of capitalism. As anyone who has played the “Monopoly” board game can understand, the goal of every capitalist is monopoly. Similarly, the goal of every psychiatrist is to be a real doctor. And we don’t use phrases like “biological cardiology” or “biological podiatry,” because we know that medicine is supposed to be based on biological science. Psychiatry is not based on biological science. Therefore, it is not a valid medical specialty and it should not exist as a profession. So, to me, adding the word “biological” just further confuses the issue.

    Nonetheless, there is much here with which I do agree, and I look forward to reading Part 3.

  3. Psychiatrists give all sorts of names to what they do and always have so the fact that some group of shrinks coined the term in the 50’s or whenever doesn’t seem to matter to me one way or the other. It’s still splitting hairs as far as I’m concerned.

    Since singling out this one supposed “school” as the culprit implies that there are other forms of psychiatry that are legitimate, could you specify who or who that would be?

    PS Although imperialism in all its guises may be the “highest” form of capitalism so far, there is a “higher” form just beyond the horizon unless we stop it. That would be complete totalitarian control of the entire planet. The manipulation and control of language such as is represented by psychiatric terminology is part of setting the psychological p[reconditions for such a state of affairs.

  4. “What else possibly explains this unfettered growth of Biological Psychiatry despite a growing credible and well-reasoned opposition made up of articulate psychiatric survivors, credentialed and experienced mental health workers, and a significant number of well-respected researchers and academic leaders? ”

    Um, it is easy to conclude from reading MIA that this “growing opposition” exists however in the real world the truth is that there is NO credible movement against psychiatry. The one that once did exist was taken over by the psychiatric industry, which picked out and funded the (mis)leaders, who encouraged psychiatric inmates and other victims to see themselves as “consumers of mental health services.” We need a survivor-led anti-psychiatry movement once again, and SOON!

  5. So rather than rambling some more let me try to briefly as possible answer your four questions:

    1) I don’t know what portion of the GDP is pharmaceutical-related, if that’s how you measure it, but no argument that it is enormous.

    2) It is in the interest of the ruling corporations to deflect awareness of the true causes of emotional suffering by any means necessary, including but not limited to so-called biological &/or genetic explanations of human behavior. However many people are neutralized just as effectively simply by internalizing a label of “mentally ill.” This sort of self-limitation on a collective level holds people back from making the appropriate demands necessary to take back our power and our destiny. Drugs are only one weapon in their arsenal, tho no doubt the most profitable.

    3) A rhetorical question; all “powers that be” have an interest in curtailing dissent and rebellion.

    4) The need to anesthetize the populace probably coincides with the degree of unrest at any given time. In the 60’s they flooded the ghettos with heroin, in the 80’s they flooded them with crack. No doubt that “think tanks” are behind this, with plenty of contributing shrinks. Psychiatric drugs so far have at least one drawback — nobody likes them. You’re not going to find anyone hustling neuroleptics on the corner. When they find a drug that controls people AND makes them feel good without affecting their productivity we’ll be in even deeper doodoo.

    Your turn…

  6. Hi Richard , great article
    Very interesting how anti psychotics are extending beyond the traditional territory, into other institutions, particularly jails – you’d wonder where that’s intending to lead.
    The other thing is that the consumers are disabled by the treatments at the same time., so they won’t be doing much complaining.
    In the UK one in ten hospital doctors works in psychiatry. Its not the highest pay in medicine, but the hours are okay, just don’t rock the boat! I can see this industry expanding.

  7. What ever biological psychiatry is it’s out of control, MOST people I know take Pysch-Drugs, > 50%
    It’s just unnecessary and not right. Drugs have their uses but whats going on is FUBAR ! They, like I couldn’t for years , can’t see they are being robbed. Getting “put on meds” is a robbery I will have to say in most cases. Lying to make a sale is like a theft of sorts and lying is how biological psychiatry sells it’s services most of the time. It’s FUBAR.

  8. I see the anti big brother comments all over the web on news reports and stuff. We could also point out that psychiatry is an arm of “Big Brother” with that electronic medical record thing growing by the day and how “they” are building a database of “mental defectives” and stuff like that.