When Is Psychiatric Treatment Like Child Abuse?


In what ways can psychiatric treatments, and the relationships between psychiatrists and patients, be appropriately characterized as “abusive”? On his blog, MIA Foreign Correspondent David Healy posts an excerpt from his book Psychiatric Drugs Explained that explores some of the similarities between situations of child or domestic abuse and psychiatrist-patient dynamics.

Healy starts from the premise that sometimes forced psychiatric treatment may be necessary, but then describes situations “where a paternalistic approach to patients may involve an insidious loss of autonomy that may be counter-therapeutic and ethically dubious.”

He then delves into the psychological dynamics of the power relationships between psychiatrists and patients in terms of over-prescribing and excessively high doses of drugs, the dependence of patients on the source of their prescriptions, fears of disclosure, lack of public awareness of or political support for victims, and entrapment.

“A common response to this point is that there is a difference between the intent to take advantage of children found in child abuse and the worst that clinicians can be accused of,” writes Healy. “Doctors do not casually or deliberately ‘violate’ their patients. This probably overestimates the degree of conscious intent to harm in many cases of child abuse and sexual harassment and underestimates the harm that can be done by clinicians ‘who know best’.”

Dr Munchausen: Pharmacophile (DavidHealy.org, September 10, 2014)


  1. I have thought deeply about this issue, and could only identify one significant difference.

    After being assaulted by a Dr whilst on a referral I realised that because he had inserted a tongue depressor into my mouth against my will and when I had specifically denied consent, it would constitute a sexual assault (Under the laws in my State).

    However it would be impossible to demonstrate mens rea, in that how could it be shown that he received some form of gratification from the act.

    So it is abusive in both instances to the person receiving the behaviour, but in the doctor patient relationship there is a lack of intent on the part of the doctor to obtain gratification from the act.

    This doesn’t change how it feels to the person on the receiving end of the relationship though. I still feel like I was ‘psuedo pack raped’ when I was detained. And minus any gratification on the part of those doing this to me, they can justify their behaviour as “just doing my job”.

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  2. That’s very true Frank
    Doctors get slung out of medicine often enough for behaving in a way they shouldn’t. And even good doctors can get physical diagnosis wrong.
    But in Psychiatry where the procedures used are potentially lethal, the doctors opinion is entrusted with ultimate authority. This is like an invitation to a Medical Psychopath or a Dr Shipman.

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  3. Thank you, again, Dr. Healy, we really do have a societal problem of pharmacophile. I know, because the medical evidence of the sexual abuse of my child was covered up, by a medically provable psychiatric misdiagnosis and poisoning of me. Thankfully, disgusted nurses handed over the medical evidence.

    Then six DSM stigmatized children in the alleged child molesters’ neighborhood ended up violently killing themselves, during the four years my child was in high school – a neighborhood that had the highest suicide rate in the US, during that time.

    Would abused children diagnosed and drugged with drugs known to cause “suicides, violence, and mania” kill themselves, if psychiatrists are denying their real problems, and instead defaming them with scientifically “lacking in validity” “mental illnesses,” of course they would.

    And, the medical evidence now shows that 85% of “schizophrenics” are dealing with psychiatric industry cover ups of child abuse. And 30% of those children put on the antipsychotics for “bipolar” are experiencing “schizophrenic symptoms.”

    I do so hope and pray the psychiatric industry moves away from what my subsequent kind pastor explained is the “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.” Especially since this “dirty little secret” seems to be resulting in keeping child molesters on the streets raping lots of children, thus lots of child suicides.

    Thank you for having the courage and conviction to speak the truth, Dr. Healy, since those of us trying to stop pedophilia, that didn’t choose to go into medicine, are being defamed with iatrogenic “mental illnesses.”

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    • Two cases known to me – girls in their early teens:

      Girl 1 – abused physically y her mother, cuts herself, ends up locked up in a psych ward, nothing happens to the mother in question, no investigation, nothing
      Girl 2 – abused sexually by her grandfather (along with other females from her family for 2 generations), tries to commit suicide, locked up in a psych ward, psychotherapy and drugs for years, nothing happens to the abuser (who remains a respected member of society holding government positions)
      Both have to deal with the label of being “crazy”.

      Psychiatry helps to cover up abuse and re-victimises the victims.

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  4. Any psychiatric ailment can be induced via poor handling, drugs, and physiological ailments. The difference is Psychiatrists have far less oversight than they used to and far better tools at their disposal to block legal liability. A Psychiatrist I knew said to me, “Responsibility is cheap. Liability costs.” If your doctor mistreats you and causes you to get upset, then hits you with a sedative bad enough to induce memory loss or other affects, your credibility is shot and he walks.

    For those reasons, you do not walk into a psychiatrist’s office without a tape recorder. You do not go to a psychiatrist who has been involved with your family previously or other individuals you know. You never allow a Psychiatrist into your home, particularly if he brings sedatives with him. And more than anything, do not see a psychiatrist in a jurisdiction that has sovereign immunity. He controls his office, he controls his paperwork, and he controls you with medication. If you violate any of that you are not compliant with therapy.

    You can also refuse a psychiatric exam at a facility and in theory it should not as far as I’m aware impact your care, unless the facility specifically states it will not see you without a psychiatric exam. DO NOT FALL FOR THIS. If you have filed a complaint against a hospital and they demand to see you for a Psychiatric exam you are offering them the chance to declare you delusional and conform you to the said diagnosis with over-sedation and medication. NEVER RETURN TO A DOCTOR ONCE YOU COMPLAIN – no matter how you might be socially stigmatized, or legally threatened or feel entrapped. At its absolute worse, you do not allow a Psychiatrist to approach you away from the office. Sedatives are easily placed in syringes which are easily concealed and could be used upon you at any juncture.

    The only way you can protect your mental health is extreme situational awareness.

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