In Part 1 of this blog I attempted to summarize and define the evolution of psychiatry into its present day incarnation of Biological Psychiatry. In Part 2, I focused on analyzing the anatomy of its enormous power and control within our present day society. The following quote from my last blog highlights the sobering reality we now face in building a movement to dismantle the current mental health system and end all future psychiatric abuse:
“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.”
Given the difficult circumstances we now face in confronting such powerful institutions, I still believe there are many opportunities to expand our struggle and grow our movement. History has taught us that “where there is oppression there will always be resistance.” With each person and family abused by this system, combined with every lie the system tells us, there is a constant regeneration of favorable conditions to expose them and gather allies.
Here are a few thoughts for discussion on the road forward:
- We need more direct action targeting the major forms of psychiatric abuse. We have enough science and critical exposure, combined with a significant core of dedicated activists, to begin the creation of a greater organizational and activist presence. While political exposure must be expanded, this movement lacks organization and more radical forms of protest in the material world. The interdependence of education and direct action is such that you cannot sustain one without the other, and each will expand and grow the other.
- The creation of alternative support systems, for those most likely to be captured and victimized by the current mental health system, is a valuable and necessary goal for the coming period. Development of The Hearing Voices Network and new forms of innovative respite programs are just a few specific examples of these types of alternatives. Another important example would be drug tapering and withdrawal support groups, which need to be expanded and given our encouragement and financial help wherever possible. These groups can not only save lives and minds, but also, (by their very nature) create fertile ground for the birth of future activists as the truth regarding the harm caused by psychiatric drugs and brain disease labeling becomes more evident to survivors.
- As important as the creation of “alternatives” and “parallel systems” are for us to support and work to develop, they CANNOT substitute for or replace the primary need to educate the masses and organize forces against this system. Historically this system has always found ways to isolate, attack, demoralize, bankrupt, crush, or co-opt those who have attempted to create parallel alternatives outside the mainstream. This is NOT a reason to avoid this work, only a caution to make sure it is not the only (or even the main thing) we devote our energies to organize. It is so very easy for the overall struggle to create alternative systems to gradually morph into or be coopted into various forms of reformist dead ends. History provides us many lessons where this has happened.
- While all psychiatric survivors and their families have key roles to play (when combined with other system dissidents) in this growing movement, we must also pay attention to bringing forward women and minorities as leaders within the course of future struggles.
Ideological Versus Programmatic Unity
In Part 1 of this blog and within other writings at MIA, I have advocated for a stance of being “anti-Biological Psychiatry” versus being “anti-psychiatry.” Several writers here (and in one to one discussions) have criticized this formulation and I am now prepared to ACCEPT those criticisms. This error on my part resulted from my confusing the question of “ideological” versus “programmatic” unity in the course of building this movement. I tended to universalize the need to seek “programmatic” unity with dissident psychiatrists and others not yet ready to abandon psychiatry, by downplaying or avoiding an “anti-psychiatry” stance, and thus focusing on the extremes of present day Biological Psychiatry. At the time I saw this as a way to perhaps help drive a wedge within the psychiatric profession, possibly leading to a major split in their ranks. I still believe that there may eventually be some type of split within psychiatry and that this kind of turmoil and upheaval within the profession might benefit our movement. But this possibility DOES NOT MEAN and SHOULD NOT MEAN that people should somehow drop or downplay their anti-psychiatry stance to help make this happen. I was clearly wrong for suggesting that.
To be anti-psychiatry in today’s world and be preparing the ground work for psychiatry (along with the entire therapeutic state), to finally leave history’s stage, is a laudable goal. As I stated in Part 2 of the blog, Biological Psychiatry is only the “worst of psychiatry on steroids with added forms of oppression.” This is a goal well worth fighting for, and also worth publicly stating, including here at MIA. There is clearly a critical need for people to unite, educate, and organize around this goal, and not be shy about it.
At the same time there are ALSO some struggles where we should seek out “programmatic” unity with other individuals and groups who are not yet ready to let go of psychiatry and other aspects of the current mental health system. We have to know how to work well in these situations, clearly stating the totality of our beliefs, but not demanding full “ideological” agreement on the bigger issues at ALL times. Let’s say, for example, in a struggle building opposition to Electro-shock or the mass drugging of children, we might be standing alongside a small number of dissident psychiatrists or other people caught up in the psychiatric system that are aroused about this issue, but not YET ready to declare themselves “anti-psychiatry.” We need to find the ways to work with these people and help them grow (over time) into more thorough going critics of the entire system.
Developing “programmatic” unity with people is already happening at the present time with some radical activists who write at MIA. Some of these activists are participating in panel discussions and educational events with dissident psychiatrists and other like-minded professionals in the mental health field who may not yet share their complete ideological outlook, including an “anti-psychiatry” stance. In these situations we might (at times, for tactical reasons) tone down (not totally avoid) our anti-psychiatry rhetoric in order to sustain unity of purpose in specific struggles. These types of tactical decisions (as part of an overall strategic approach) will, of course, vary according to the specific conditions presented in each battle that comes before us.
One could argue that those who have created and maintain MIA have attempted to focus this website on a “programmatic” unity that involves a critical appraisal of the current mental health system. They have encouraged, any and all, people working within (and supporting aspects of this system) to join with those damaged by and/or critical of the system, to be a part of this important dialogue. This is a very good thing and we must respect their intentions, even when it involves people with whom we have big disagreements. Of course this also provides us with many opportunities to win over people to a more radical perspective, including a higher level of ideological and practical unity around the key questions confronting our movement.
As I have stated in other places at MIA, the base for organizing within this movement will be among psychiatric survivors and their families; other dissidents within and outside the mental health field will also play an important role. While of secondary importance, there IS definitely some value in attempting to win over and unite with dissident and open minded psychiatrists.
As discussed earlier, we are clearly up against major systemic opposition from many powerful institutions. This struggle to end all psychiatric oppression, along with the material conditions that gives rise to it, will be a long protracted battle with many twists and turns. We cannot afford to miss opportunities to gather more allies in this struggle. We have to find ways to “unite all who can be united” while continuing to find new ways to raise the level of ideological unity.
Some close allies who do not yet share the totality of our goals (for example, those that still support the use of “force” in extreme circumstances, or the more limited use of psychiatric drugs) should NOT be called our “enemy.” We should never resort to “demonizing” all psychiatrists or other partial believers in the medical model who are working in today’s mental health system. Even those who could be possibly harming people at the present time, mainly out of ignorance, should be carefully evaluated as to their specific role within the current system. They should be criticized, yes, but “demonized”, no. They, along with the broad masses of people, have also been brainwashed by Big Pharma and the leaders of Biological Psychiatry. It is our work in building this movement to increasingly create the conditions (through education and mass struggle) for the development of a clear dividing line drawn throughout the country that says: “Are you for or against psychiatric oppression” and if you are against it “What are you doing to stop it.”
In the course of this struggle every such doctor or mental health worker should be INDIVIDUALLY evaluated based on their position and degree of power within the system, and on the amount of harm they have done, or may still be carrying out. As people are confronted with the truth regarding their actions they should be given an opportunity to change and renounce their past actions. We must clearly target the leaders of Biological Psychiatry and create conditions for other people in the system to increasingly want to separate themselves from all its forms of oppression, and disavow these crimes against humanity.
Even the overused term, “evil,” could turn more potential allies away from our struggle and provide openings for our adversaries to attack us. “Demonizing” people or declaring “demons” and “evil” as the source of our oppression tends to imply that our oppressors are some kind of supernatural force that has aprioristically existed divorced from the actual material conditions in the world that gave rise to them. Check out the definitions of “demonize” and “evil” and you will see that they are not scientifically based concepts and tend to make an abstraction out of the actual material sources of our oppression. We have plenty of science and real stories of psychiatric oppression to clearly make a powerful case for psychiatry leaving history’s stage without resorting to counter-productive hyperbole.
Keep in mind, one half of all psychiatrists in the U.S. are over the age of 55. Many lived through the upheaval of the 1960’s, and most psychiatrists of that age were trained more in a therapy mode of “treatment,” as opposed to the brain disease/psychiatric drug model. Some are embarrassed and ashamed of their profession’s complete sell out to Big Pharma. Certainly some of the psychiatrists who have dared to write at MIA fit this basic profile, and in certain cases have shown a clear evolution and growth in their beliefs. Yes, some psychiatrists who become partial critics of today’s mental health system may be trying to preserve their status and the economic benefits of their profession. This is inevitable; there will also be opportunists and careerists among those advancing their own personal agenda in our own ranks as well. This is all part and parcel of building a radical political movement, and it is no reason to avoid working with diverse and different sections of people within the current mental health system.
Even if (conservatively) only one percent of the 50,000 psychiatrists in the U.S. were sympathetic and open to being part of a movement to end psychiatric abuse, this amounts to 500 potential activists. There is also the Critical Psychiatry Network started in Europe that has attracted some interest in this country as well. Their voices speaking out publicly and raising opposition within their profession could be helpful to our movement. There could definitely be many issues where we could seek “programmatic” unity in a protracted struggle to end psychiatric oppression. I would much rather these doctors become activated, even in very small ways, than drop out of their profession and buy a small farm in southern France.
This is especially true when considering the need for more sympathetic doctors to find ways to support psychiatric survivors in their efforts to safely withdraw from psychiatric drugs. There clearly needs to be more research and development in this critical area, and some of these doctors do have some helpful knowledge along with the necessary credentials to prescribe. If all new prescriptions for these drugs were stopped today there would still be several decades of support necessary to help millions of psychiatric drug victims withdraw or find ways to minimize damage done to themselves.
In my prior writings published at MIA, I have stated that a profit-based economic system, and the political institutions sustaining it, stand as a major obstacle in the world for the further development of science, medicine and the humane care and support for those in society experiencing extreme forms of psychological distress. The more I examine the fundamental role that Biological Psychiatry plays in maintaining and reinforcing the status quo, the more this belief resonates with how I view the enormity of the historical tasks confronting the future of our movement. There are no easy solutions to our problems or simplistic forms of strategy to achieve our goals. I hope this blog can both stimulate and amplify the need for more specific discussion regarding strategy and tactics on the road forward.
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.