It’s the Coercion, Stupid!

David Cohen
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Because of psychiatry’s power to coerce, society gives psychiatric theories a free pass.

Both Michel Foucault and Thomas Szasz dated the beginnings of a distinct European institutional response to madness to the late 1500s-early 1600s. For Foucault it started in France with the creation of the public “hôpital général” for the poor insane. For Szasz it began in England with for-profit madhouses where upper class families shut away inconvenient relatives.

Despite their different ideas on the beginnings of anything resembling a mental health system, both authors agreed that it was characterized by the coercive incarceration of a specially labeled group.

Since its origins, the psychiatric system has coerced its lunatics and madmen and madwomen in madhouses, its inmates and patients in mental hospitals, its consumers and users in the community. (Yes, for a brief moment in the 1800s, British asylum superintendent John Connolly started a movement to ban all physical restraints within his establishment, but it didn’t last long.) The coercive element of psychiatry has persisted despite all changes in treatments, despite all changes in places for treatments. This is the invariant part of psychiatry.

My colleagues Tomi Gomory and Stuart Kirk and I argue in Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs that the only constant in psychiatry has been coercion. We also argue that no other treatment can compete with coercion — nothing. According to some psychiatric discourse and doctrine, for those who “need treatment the most,” only coercion makes the administration of a treatment possible. Not to mention that coercion itself has often been called a treatment.

I venture to suggest that most practicing psychiatrists, if pressed, would choose to replace or discard any existing treatment or intervention save one: the power to impose a treatment or intervention.

It seems to me that this coercive function is what society and most people actually appreciate most about psychiatry. That families and other people in crisis can call upon the police to restrain someone acting in a seemingly incomprehensible or dangerous way and have that person taken by force to a place run by psychiatrists is truly where psychiatry as a profession distinguishes itself. It’s the distinguishing service it offers or function it meets as a helping profession (aside, today, for the prescription of psychoactives).

(I hasten to add here that coercion is probably necessary for the survival of a social group, as we discuss in Mad Science, following the insights of author Morse Peckham. The questions are when is it used in a disagreement between parties, and by whom.)

In my view, society’s appreciation — its gratitude — for psychiatric coercion, for psychiatry’s extra- and intra-legal police function, has a largely unappreciated consequence: it supports the so-called knowledge base of that discipline.

That means that without the shock and awe of a coercive medical discipline, the flimsy theories and continually-refuted hypotheses of physiological defects as causes of distress and misbehavior would have to truly fend off on their own in the marketplace of ideas about what ails people, what makes them tick, and how to help them overcome their problems. Psychiatric theories would have to compete squarely against other theories and schools of thought, and it’s doubtful to me that they could do so successfully.

Society’s appreciation for psychiatric coercion subtly, but radically, imbalances the playing field. Because of psychiatric coercion, society gives psychiatric theories a free pass. These theories never need to pass any rigorously devised tests (as we expect other important scientific theories to pass), they only need to be asserted.

Here I am turning on its head the often-expressed idea that society supports psychiatric interventions because people believe that psychiatric theories are valid. And since “evidence” fails to support these theories and the hypotheses derived from them, so the belief goes, one therefore needs to debunk the theories by critical analysis of the evidence and the continual stream of findings.

But it’s the opposite in my view. The knowledge is not supporting the power. The power to coerce is what excuses the lack of valid knowledge.

I’m not discounting the influence of the biomedical-industrial complex, like a fish might discount water. But after decades of engaging in critical analysis of the psychiatric and other evidence, I conclude that there has never been good evidence to support psychiatric theories. Psychiatry has never ever needed scientific evidence to spread its ideas and practices, and possibly never will. Indeed, its top experts can state today that they have found no biomarkers of expertly diagnosed mental disorders and falsely promised the American public for decades that biomarkers were just around the corner.

Let’s face it: No one cares that psychiatric research of the past 50 years failed to turn up one finding of use for a scientific clinical psychiatry. The business of psychiatry continues with barely a pause.

In order to prosper, all psychiatry (and, increasingly, other mental health professions whose formerly distinctive training and theories are slowly blurring into one psychiatrized whole) needs is the social support for its coercive practices.

If so, removing formal coercion from the helping enterprise should be an investment that will yield the greatest actual return in terms of debunking the “psychiatric knowledge base.” Limiting mental health professionals’ option to coerce their patients and clients will open up the “mental health system” to a multiplicity of choices and interventions based on diverse schools of thought.

* * * * *

Note: Adapted from a talk given at Mad in America’s International Film Festival in Arlington, VA, October 12, 2014.

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62 COMMENTS

  1. Hi David,

    Great article.

    I heard one of our community leaders speaking on a panel a few weeks ago, one Professor Patrick McGorry. He claims that the big tragedy of mental health is that an article in the Lancet a couple of years back showed that they (psychiatrists) have treatments that “are as effective, if not more effective, than most of the treatments in medicine. People just don’t get access to them in the right way, in the right culture of holistic care”

    I know how I responded to many of his comments, I’m still wiping the screen of my television. But I wonder how you would respond to such a claim?

    Thanks
    Regards
    Boans

  2. David,

    Wow (and wow again). Really… wow (three times).

    Somehow, you have just managed to articulate in this blog post of yours (above) the Ultimate Truth, about Psychiatry!

    And, you did it with fewer than 1,000 words — so clearly spoken…

    This blog post of yours is a definite keeper — (wow, again, truly); it’s one to share with anyone who can read English and has at least half a mind to know the ultimate Truth about Psychiatry… because it is so clearly stated.

    I will be sure to do my best, to spread this blog post of yours far and wide — and, in particular, will pass it along (at least, casually) to those ‘mh’ pros, communicating online, who, I notice — despite their claims of being ‘critical’ of psychiatry — continue to defend some supposedly ‘limited’ practice of psychiatric coercion and/or support, in particular, the some supposedly ‘limited’ use, of the direct assaults with drugs (’emergency forced drugging’) that’s sanctioned in every psychiatric “hospital” and in hospital E.R.s (‘Emergency Rooms’) everywhere.

    (I considered myself a critic of psychiatry prior to my actually meeting up with medical-coercive psychiatry, at age twenty-one; but, it was such an assault, as that — and a few more subsequent, similar assaults, in the course of two years’ time — that led me to really understand the nature of the Beast that is medical-coercive Psychiatry.

    (Sometimes, I wonder if anyone can really understand the nature of that Beast without having been clobbered by it — or without having had a beloved friend or relative quite blatantly clobbered and destroyed by it.)

    I sort of wonder how you came to your understanding of the nature of medical-coercive psychiatry; I think you may be somewhat new to MIA? But, your bio indicates you’ve been on this path for quite a while. (After reading your post, just moments ago, I clicked on your name, read your brief bio and discovered that you have posted one blog previously.Your bio is intriguing, and I’m now eager to go and read your previous post — indeed, will do so immediately after posting this comment.)

    Well, maybe I’ve heard mention of your name previously (I’m not sure), but I have not, prior to now, noticed your presence here, on this website…; so, welcome!

    Thanks for posting! …and thus putting the Ultimate Truth of Psychiatry it into such a clear-spoken message! Keep up the great work!

    Respectfully,

    Jonah

  3. Hi David Cohen, thank you for publishing your brilliant talk at MIA Film Festival. It was so great to listen to your very transparent presentation and that you so clearly take a stance. That is missing very often missing in professional contexts, and one of the reasons why this website is so important- to “meet” others who have decided to be outspoken and share essential experiences. We do have so much knowledge about what is important in life- for each of us, no matter what we are called or where on the globe we live. This knowledge has to be shown in deeds and actions, so thank you. We hope to be able to invite you to Sweden next year. Your voice is indeed needed!

  4. David, I agree with Jonah…wow. You make such a powerful and key argument, the core of power imbalance via the psychiatric ‘system.’ As a society giving these practices a ‘free pass,’ we are enabling systemic bullying and abuse, albeit unwittingly, perhaps, I’m aware. As a society–and especially in the mental health system–we have too many exceptions for the golden rule of treating others the way we would want to be treated. Thank you for raising the collective consciousness with your brilliant analysis.

  5. Hi David,

    Always a pleasure reading your work. We had coffee once on Lincoln Road in Miami. The major issue I see regarding coercion and Mental Health Care is Economic. Unfortunately the economic foundation of Mental Health seems to sustain itself on coercion. Mental Health Institutions deviate from their coercive practices generally cannot sustain themselves economically.

  6. Thank you for providing us with such an curious perspective on this matter. Coercion has always been the elephant in the room. “The helping enterprise”, when that enterprise was seen in terms of “mental health treatment”, never was a “helping enterprise” as far as I’m concerned. One can’t cure social problems any more than one can solve a medical condition. One can, however, compound problems. Consider the problem of the Gordian knot. As the example of Alexander shows, one can also simplify problems. You’ve got a large segment of the population in flight from freedom. No problem. You simply lift the latch. Now you’ve got a population free to fly. I don’t know how we’re ever going to change hypocritical societies collective mind, but I guess that is something to consider, huh?

    • Don’t like the tone of my comment, but it has to do with whole slant of your post. If it’s societies faith in coercion that would excuse pseudo-science, how do we deal with this matter? As with Ted below, the question for me becomes how do we influence public opinion? How, especially when we are ignored, and when the corporate media isn’t receptive to anything we might have to say, challenge this belief in coercion, in human un-freedom, that makes mince-meat of the scientific method? I think you hit the mark as to what’s wrong. Coercion is behind it all, therefore, the science is lacking, and mostly bias. Challenged by society though, that is one big hump to get over if the public we’d wish to influence is the source of the problem. We’ve got to convince Joe Everybody that Bob Oddbody is an Everybody, too. I guess that such is actually the case, but it can be daunting sometimes anyway.

  7. Thank you for this interesting and provocative piece. I have been thinking for a long time about how to take away psychiatry’s power, and mostly what I come up with is to find ways of making the general public see how (worse than) useless psychiatric interventions are. I do think that people believe, or at least have convinced themselves (not the same thing) that psychiatry does some good, and I can’t see how we can take away the power of coercion unless people stop believing that power is used for good. But I am afraid that you are right, or at least that what we are looking at is a circular belief: psychiatric power is good because it helps people, and psychiatry is helpful and therefore we should let it continue to have its power.

  8. Thank you for Mad Science; it is destined to be a classic.

    I agree with most of your article but respectfully disagree that coercion is the main source of legitimacy for psychiatry. Psychiatry is supported by a logical deduction from a false premise; deductive logic is considered stronger than inductive logic. If mental distress is considered a mental disorder, then, by definition, something is wrong with the mental process. Since our culture considers science to be our best tool for understanding the environment, a dysfunction of the mental process is logically considered biological. Biological problems are medical problems; a medical model is our best tool for remedying biological problems.

    However, mental distress is not a mental disorder. Mental distress is considered a mental disorder because we assume that the mental process operates on a principle of neo-rationalism and mental distress is painfully irrational. However, this premise is untrue; mental distress is natural emotional suffering- the normal biology of distressful experiences. Please consider Natural Psychology at NaturalPsychology.org; it explains the paradox of mental distress being painfully irrational while simultaneously also being the natural neurobiology of distressful experiences.

    Thank you again for your community service, Steve

  9. Thanks for posting this. I enjoyed your talk and wanted to have a chance to re-read it at a later date. This is an interesting hypothesis and I think there is merit to the proposition that society needs something like psychiatry to serve certain functions and the hypotheses of psychiatry came after this need was firmly established. I respectfully reject this one statement:
    “I venture to suggest that most practicing psychiatrists, if pressed, would choose to replace or discard any existing treatment or intervention save one: the power to impose a treatment or intervention.” I have acknowledged that I am a practicing psychiatrist who at times participates in the process of coercing people into hospital settings, I would gladly give up this power.
    But in your talk, I recall you saying that you understand and accept that coercion is a part of any civil society. If psychiatry were no longer the instrument of coercion in the setting it serves now, what do you suggest as the replacement?

    • Sandra Steingard, M.D.,

      You say in your comment to David (on October 21, 2014 at 7:38 pm), “I have acknowledged that I am a practicing psychiatrist who at times participates in the process of coercing people into hospital settings, I would gladly give up this power.”

      A number of questions came mind, as soon as I read what you’re saying there.

      First Q: Besides being a practicing psychiatrist who at times participates in the process of coercing people into ‘hospital’ settings, are you not moreover a practicing psychiatrist who at times participates in the process of coercing people into accepting ‘treatment’ in the form of psychotropic drugs (e.g., neuroleptics)?

      Second Q: Is it even possible to be a practicing psychiatrist who at times participates in the process of coercing people into ‘hospital’ settings without also being, simultaneously, a psychiatrist who participates in the process of coercing people into accepting ‘treatment’ in the form of psychotropic drugs?

      Third Q: With respect to your saying that you are “a practicing psychiatrist who at times participates in the process of coercing people into hospital settings,” what do you mean, as you go on, to say you “would gladly give up this power”?

      (I may be wrong, but it seems to me, as I read that line, there’s something missing. I mean, it seems you could be a lot more clear in what you’re saying here, were you to explain briefly why you won’t give give up that power. I mean, it seems to me you’re suggesting that something is holding you up, keeping you from doing what you say you “would gladly” do.)

      Fourth Q: Frankly, I wonder, why don’t you do what you say you would gladly do, by honestly declaring “I am now giving up this power!”?

      And, about your asking David, “If psychiatry were no longer the instrument of coercion in the setting it serves now, what do you suggest as the replacement?”

      Of course, David can speak for himself in answering that question, but here I am taking a quick crack at it (I hope you don’t mind):

      Psychiatry ‘serves’ a number of settings (i.e., psychiatrists practice psychiatry not only in so-called “hospital” settings); if psychiatry were no longer an instrument of coercion in any of those settings, there would (I believe) be a considerable increased demand for various kinds of ‘counselors’.

      I think that, almost inevitably, a lot of those ‘counselors’ would be designated as ‘mental health’ specialists; however, I’d hope that quite a few of them would not be designated as such, because, personally, I am quite skeptical of ‘mh’ pros of virtually every kind, including ‘mh’ counselors — as they tend, in a pinch, to become subservient to the practice and/or views of psychiatrists.

      So, if there came an end to medical-coercive psychiatry, I presume there’d be a considerably increased demand for counselors; hopefully there could be many counselors whose specialty would be defined not in terms of “mental health” — but along the lines of ‘problem solving specialists’ (they’d be trained to help clients solve ‘problems in living’) or else ‘solution finding specialists’ (to help clients find creative ways of moving forward, in life).

      Some could be social workers.

      Also, if there came an end to medical-coercive psychiatry, I believe there’d still be psychiatrists — only they would not be allowed to impose their ‘treatments’ on anyone.

      So, in fact, I think there could be an increased demand for psychiatrists; over time, there could be increased demand for truly understanding psychiatrists, who’d be far more effective in addressing problems of living, that some clients wish to frame as ‘mh’ issues and some clients would view as requiring help that only a licensed physician could offer; i.e., psychiatry could possibly become a fairly respect worthy profession, if psychiatrists could not resort to coercion, could not impose their ‘treatments’ on anyone.

      At least, that’s what I speculate…

      Respectfully,

      Jonah

  10. Dr. Cohen,

    Thank you for the work you and others did at Vatican in the summer of 2013.
    (Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry – The Child as a Person and as a Patient: Therapeutic Approaches Compared).

    As a Catholic, and a dad, this was an event I had prayed for (for years):

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2013/04/vatican-to-hear-debate-about-psychotropics-for-children/

    I am so grateful for all that you did to bring awareness to not only the Catholic Church, but people of *all faiths*, by this event.

    With gratitude,

    Duane

  11. The dilemma as far as I see it is when those of us working as “professional helpers” declare that we want to do one thing and then do something totally different. I know it is to ask for a lot but still if people in the system feel like it is very hard to do what the system ask for, how come they stay? It is a rethoric question since of course there are very many answers to it, but still it is worth talking about it and hopefully to try to be as honest as possible. If the reason is money, status, living a comfortable life, it would be very good to say so. Instead of pretending as if the reasons are something else, as for example “I wish to help the other one”. It is such a big issue and I myself am at times a “pretender” and not very honest all the time, but still it is important to try to find ones own motives instead of focusing too much on the other one. Systems are created by people and it also means that people have a possibilty to change systems.

    • I think people who work in the system find it very hard to be true to thier ideals.

      It heartened me this weekend to meet some people from anarchist trade unions who were organising people working in the social care sector. I think workers need a lot of support to resist bosses who want to impose coercive psychiatry on clients

      • John: During my encounters with involuntary hospitalization, I encountered two auxilary staff who demonstrated a degree of nonjudgementalness. I am not sure of the degree of interaction these individuals had with psychiatrists in the work place. For example, what advice they were given in dealing with me.
        Also one cogent point addressed here, is the deleterious effect of psychiatry on the other helping professions. When my job status was up in the air three and a half years ago, and I was also experiencing psychiatric iatrogenesis, I sought out a talk therapist. I also was a counseling student at the time, and you could say that I had an otherterior motive. I wanted to see how the process worked. The clinical psychologist accepted me as a client despite my psych. history-on a prior occasion, my psychiatrist made me a marriage counseling appointment over the phone and told the therapist that I was on two psychiatric drugs as a professional courtesy heads up.
        The psychologist always asked me for updates on my psych. drugs, but the interaction was different than the pyschiatrists’ angle on things. She seemed sympathetic to my annoyance with my psychiatrist and helped me to get a leave of absence from my stressful work situation due to titration issues from Zypreza. But her reasoning was a little circular when it came to my adherence to the psych. drugs. Her position was that since I was taking them, that I must be for some tangible reason. I think a little more to the truth of the matter was, that I had been indoctrinated into the system against my will.
        About a year prior to this I had run into a Nurse Ractchetesque character in the form of a professor in the counseling program. She had no patience for my budding anti-psychiatric position. At first, she would comment to me as an aside telling me that the interjection of my personal experience into the online discussion in the introduction to mental health class was non-germaine and uncalled for. But the assignments and discussion continually begged the question, so I continued to post. (I only received two cases of feedback from fellow students). At one point, the professor blew up at me online in front of the whole class-insisting that yes, forty years ago state hospitals were awful, but that was essentially the bad old days. Any way, I remarked that my experience was from 22 years ago. I soon dropped the class and eventually drifted out of the program with 24 credits. I should have known something was up from the first day of class. It seemed that she already had some devoted acolytes, who took it upon themselves to cheer on the great progress and enlightenment brought on by modern psychiatry. Having known what I know now, particularly the fact of the director on NIMH own admission of the lack of biological markers for mental illness and the criticism of the DSM V from all directions, I would have stood my ground. As things currently stand, I may not be through with the college yet. I think that this was a blatant act of discrimination that needs to see the light of day. I did not go into the class with the idea of creating an I gottcha portfolio, so I was not compiling evidence as I went, but I still remember the basic perameters of the event.

    • Then there are those that hand their personal power over to others, and then rage from their feelings of powerlessness, cuing ‘the power’ to force them into submission. It’s a terribly vicious downward-spiraling cycle. Hard to believe that a very few people are getting so rich from all of this, but that does seem to be the game being played.

  12. A special thank to Frank Blankenship and Eugene Epstein for focusing on the imperialist commercialist sociopolitical power systems in which a super-minority class immorally rules and shapes oppressive living and work conditions on the majorities. Far to little attention is paid to what many in the ‘helping professions’ know for a long time: oppression, abuse, segregation function embedded in the larger exploitative ‘imperialist/colonialist’ proprietors’ political regiments and their propaganda of double-think, disappropriation, win-or-whip/e out practices. Mary Bolye and Jacqui Dillon from the UK, the critical/radical psychologists from USA, nearly ALL LAMIC critical psycholgists – in the tradition from Marx to Fanon – AND some of the survivor collectives all over the world address the issues of the im/moral violence of feudal-neo-imperialsm and its structuring legal, commercal and poltical forces as being detrimental to practical and moral healing from real distress and severe abuse and oppression. The question of property and power, the exploitative and socially destructive forms of appropriation, is the one hidden away. I always found it typical that psychiatry’s total oppressive power is closest to the military and all forms of inquisition: control and punish disobidience, even n distress and psychoaffactive uproar-in-conflicts-with-overwhelming oppression. In contrast to many Western leaders and thinkers of ‘self-ishness’ and ‘individuals freedom for the pursuit of property’ – in accordance with the values and poltical practces of the 1970s, 1980s survivor collectives and other liberation movements – in my view much more collective-democratic practices, co-operative properties, ideologies of fairness and sharing in mutual dependancy as well as in reciprocal socio-psycho-cultural capabilties are needed. Indeed, it is rugged imperialist exploitation and oppression, embellished in individualist ideology of ‘the Western winners take it all’, and their post-colonialist capitalist partners in exploitation and oppression.
    What I would wish for: that the immoral power abuses interforced within severe distress and affective uproar, mental wild-rides be exposed as dependent on the structural violences. Nevertheless psychiatry stepped in, historically, to transform was in Europe was known as social mass pauperism and despair problem, into pathologies of some neuro-nature, and pathologization and coercion are two sides of the same ‘sword’ (rather than coin). I am rather looking forward to same conceptual paper written by Jan Wallcraft and Kim Hopper about capabilities in social contexts the refuel concepts about empowering collectives in communties. That is pretty much steps in the direction of collective social and cultural change with legal and political implications. And there are amazing examples as the Bapu Trust in Pune/India or the West Mass Recovery Learning Community to live some of the collective capabilities building. This is to communicate hope and relevant alternative practices and not be stuck with anti-psychiatry and anti-imperialism only. Creating places of non-oppressive soldarity must not wait for an abolition of governing feudal imperialism, poltics of democratic betrayal, and their polices, military, media, prisons, psychiatric powers (all run in corporate interests). One of the truth we could tell, to replace the psychologists taking over formulation of people’s problems in de-politicised and de-cultured convinient cognitive-behavior-in-fixed-contexts ways, is the raising of the awareness of the oppressive and frightening and alienating (pseudo)moralities, betrayals and historical oppressions as they crucially interfere with severe distress and uproar of the dis/embodied, terrorized feelings, senses… in menacing and alienating realties. If it is power abuse that makes people go mad, certainly power abuse by whatever class of experts sustaining the abusive forces and hierarchies in power can not be liberation for solidarity. Of course not, the ideologies and practices are exactly the opposites, control, oppression, coercion, ideologic brain washing. That is why I don’t want psychiatry as a player in efforts of liberation in solidarity and fight for collective and interdepency informed rights. All psychiatry pushes goes against the main collective healing practices and solidarity values, as psychiatry – and I am afrait CBTpsy as well – is part of the imperialist powers named before and uses all their techniques and requirements.

  13. David, This is not about psychiatrists, rather, psychiatry in general, It’s a human rights issue. Why is physical, mental, and social coercion a general practice in our culture? Force, and manipulation, are part of the human experience. Is it really necessary? What is the best way to remedy it? How do we define controlling a diminished state without using excessive force? There are so many other ways to help a person with diminished capacity without using force. Psychiatry is unacceptable in my opinion, and is inhumane in it’s nature. I cannot say that I agree with using coercion to satisfy an agenda that involves abuse of human rights. Capitalizing on people’s misfortune because they have been abused is not a cure. When social conformists are uncomfortable, because they stuffed their feelings, this does not clearly rationalize coercion. The idealization that books and diplomas and printed money determines who we are, or whether or not we have any human rights is “insanity”. I have witnessed so many aspects of “psychiatric” treatment that were plain and simple human indignation. Why not use a humane, and reward based system to help vicims of domestic and social disease? Maybe because the system pays top dollar to hide the underlying cause of physiological trauma, to build “Empires”. I’m outraged that so much cash is paid out for pencil pushers and educated coercion. Do one, or the other. Help a person, or treat them using inhumane tactics. You cannot heal a broken spirit by continuing to break it. When all is said and done, it really is about dominance, power and capitalism. Not healing. My life has not been helped through psychiatry. My life has been sustained through acts of human decency and kindness. Not Judgement, or control. If someone is sick, whether it be the heart or the head, why treat them like an disposable commodity? I choose not to comply with social norms because I don’t claim them and they don’t claim me. When I “had” a son, if he threw a tantrum in public, I let him. Even if he acted “Crazy”. Even when he flopped all over on the floor at the store, it only took one episode for him to realize that he was free to do that. And when he was finished, he picked himself up and came to me, and he was just fine. “Normal” people who witnessed this thought it was an irresponsible parenting tactic. But it only happened once. No coercion necessary! You think you own whatever land you land on The earth is just a dead thing you can claim But I know every rock and tree and creature Has a life, has a spirit, has a name You think the only people who are people Are the people who look and think like you But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.

    • Miss Empowered: It seems to be that both of us took psychiatry’s best shot and we are still ticking. My sense is that this is not the case for most people, and when some poor soul cracks under the shear force and weight of so-called help, we need to step forward and insist on public oversight and intervention into the institution of psychiatry.

    • This is truth with which I can resonate. Capitalizing on misfortune, further breaking a broken spirit, domestic and social disease, high priced bureaucrats concealing truth, building an empire from all this. To me, that is what I would call ‘an extreme state,’ and it is systemic and extremely dangerous.

      Thank you for sharing your crystal clear vision of the reality of the situation. Decency and kindness is, indeed, what heals, and which also maintains a balanced, healthful community. Where did they go?

      Imo, the solution to how best to heal would be to find these qualities again–along with integrity–embody them, and expand them. It helps to begin by being kind to ourselves. It’s not easy being kind in today’s fear- and rage-based world, where lack of kindness is what is so heavily practiced and where certain acts of force and violence are justified by those who feel they have–or should have–some kind of ‘control’ over others.

      But it’s a journey to take, an excellent focus with which to begin healing anything, not just in ourselves, but society, at large. We’re far away from this now, but it’s not impossible.

      • Great comment Alex.

        I agree with everything you say in it and particularly appreciate these powerful lines,

        “Capitalizing on misfortune, further breaking a broken spirit, domestic and social disease, high priced bureaucrats concealing truth, building an empire from all this. To me, that is what I would call ‘an extreme state,’ and it is systemic and extremely dangerous.”

        However, I feel it’s important to point out, that many folk (possibly the majority) first encountering psychiatry, are not broken spirits.

        (I myself was certainly not a broken spirit when I encountered it.)

        Many, upon first meeting up with psychiatry, are quite like the child described by MissEmpoweredByNonPsychiatry — perhaps, momentarily troubled, but in no way broken.

        Though I was legally an adult (twenty-one years old), and that did create special challenges for my family, I was quite like her son, whom she described as acting “Crazy” …suddenly throwing his first-ever public tantrum.

        Obviously, he was not a broken spirit, at that time (far from it).

        Nor was I, at age twenty-one, when I chose to take a stack of cheap plates and frisbee them, one by one, at my parents’ garage door…

        (I had never previously behaved as the ‘rebel’ in my family; only, my adopted siblings had.)

        So, yes, the system (of psychiatry) is designed to attract ‘broken spirits,’ but it is also designed to appeal to the most influential ‘leaders’ in conventionally oriented family systems, who have discovered that one of their own is seemingly ‘out-of-control’ and/or is apparently just ‘not himself’ (or, ‘not herself’) and is coming to more or less directly challenge key aspects of what have been long-held consensual ‘truths’ in that family — and thus is threatening the status quo hierarchy of relationships, in that family system.

        I was in no way a broken spirit when I encountered psychiatry, but the system (of psychiatry) that I encountered (at age 21) was clearly designed to ‘treat’ me as one; and, it was precisely that system, which you’re describing.

        It was designed to perceive my spirit as ‘broken’ (this completely mistaken view of me appealed to my family, as it ‘justified’ their view that I absolutely ‘needed’ psychiatry); moreover, the psychiatric ‘treatment’ I received was determined to break my spirit — no question about it.

        I was ‘treated’ (first, in the E.R. and in two different “hospital” settings, thereafter) in ways to break my spirit. This was perfectly clear to me, beginning with the first forced drugging (in the E.R.) that began my ‘treatment’ regimen.

        Like you, I got a lot out of reading MissEmpoweredByNonPsychiatry’s comment.

        I read it a number of times — and finally Googled her last lines (which probably should have been sandwiched in quotation marks), reminding myself that they’re from a Disney song, in movie that was once a favorite of my daughter…

        See: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/08/03/a-few-valuable-life-lessons-from-pocahontas/

        That makes MissEmpoweredByNonPsychiatry’s comment no less meaningful.

        Respectfully,

        Jonah

        • Thanks, Jonah, you’re totally right, I misspoke, here. What you describe is in some ways similar to my experience, too, that I was not ‘broken’ when all of this began for me, but more so very conflicted and confused.

          I wanted support as I tried to sort things out for myself. I never threw anything, but I felt like it every moment, and because I wasn’t raging as would have probably been healthier for me, I resisted and instead, I became disabled from harboring inside of me volcanoes of anxiety. So by not externalizing my rage, I suffered from extreme self-punishment. Do you think they might be two sides of the same coin? I do relate to your family dynamics quite a bit.

          Even though I actually entered the system voluntarily, this is the first thing that was communicated to me, that those of us there were ‘broken,’ in various ways as you recount. Aside from all the coercion, the indoctrination/brainwashing was blatant.

          One group facilitator walked into the room on my first day in this one social service group, and wrote on a white board: DIS-ABLED. I kid you not. And we spent an hour discussing how we were no longer ‘abled.’ ???? That was certainly not my intention when I turned to the system for support and HEALING!

          And it was downhill from there for a good long while. I fought hard to not internalized this, but the effect on my spirit was no good. I struggled with all of this until I finally woke up to the reality of that world–and the world in general–so well-articulated by many here on this website. It was such a relief, and so amazingly healing, when I learned the truth about the economics and politics of all this. Completely changed my self-perception, in a way that was only healthy for me.

          Of course were I to do it all over again, this is not, in any way, to where I would turn for support, but I came from societal indoctrination. After all, I studied psychology and did an internship, so I believed in all of this at one time. Lessons learned!

          This is actually healing to me in the moment, reminding myself of all of this, thanks to your comment. Shifts my perspective a bit in present time. Thank you.

          I always appreciate your extremely thoughtful use of language, you’ve been an example to me in this regard.

          Your story always moves me so much because it is easy for me to see your spirit and feel your heart as you describe your journey and experiences. Such powerful clear truth there. Aside from being an example of truth, I also feel you’re an example of personal power, from the heart. I really appreciate and admire that so much.

          I’m pasting what it says here underneath the Pocahontas quote from the article you posted here. I wasn’t familiar with this—never saw the film—but I loved what I read and wholeheartedly agree with it and do my best to live by it (always learning and expanding, here), so appropriate, especially these days:

          “’We are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop that never ends,’ she says. When we let others into our lives, individuals who may see the world through an alternative lens, we learn more. Even if we don’t see eye to eye, we could still listen and acknowledge contrasting perspectives, opinions and beliefs.”

          • Alex,

            Thanks for your very kind words. I appreciate your comment expressions — including your use of words — and deeply respect you for how far you’ve traveled personally (and for how far you continue to travel); that is, you’ve clearly traveled far, in the direction of embracing and embodying your own discovered truths; and, in becoming always more certainly a person wholly true to himself, you set a good example for me and for others.

            Regarding this question (about what led to your first encounters with psychiatry),

            “I wanted support as I tried to sort things out for myself. I never threw anything, but I felt like it every moment, and because I wasn’t raging as would have probably been healthier for me, I resisted and instead, I became disabled from harboring inside of me volcanoes of anxiety. So by not externalizing my rage, I suffered from extreme self-punishment. Do you think they might be two sides of the same coin?”

            Do I think they might be two sides of the same coin (as in, being roughly similar to the emotional and/or family-dynamic conflicts that had led to my being introduced — the hard way — to psychiatry)? lol

            Absolutely, yes, in a way… (At least, I can relate to the anxiety you’re describing.)

            I would never have chosen to see psychiatrist, had I not been pressured by family and friends, to do so, after I’d smashed all those plates…

            Actually, I was totally skeptical of psychiatry, by that point — was, essentially, at least as ‘antipsychiatry’ as anyone I knew, at that time…

            However, lead up to that time, I had been, occasionally, consulting a certain therapist.

            I.e., prior to that time that I’d chosen to throw those plates, at my parent’s garage door, I was ‘in therapy’ off and on; and, I can still well recall, my #1 reason for choosing to go to therapy, in college, was that: I had come to experiencing (ever since high school) a kind of near-constant ‘free-floating’ anxiety (it was then, to me, ‘unexplainable’).

            My therapist was a very well-meaning person, but her chosen style was entirely non-directive, so our ‘sessions’ got me nowhere…

            I would eventually quite going to her — having come to presume that all my anxiety was nothing more or less than the function of my ‘artistic’ sensitivity to the historical ‘age’ I was living in.

            I came to conclude, that it was ‘just’ the effect of my sensitivity to the then-ever-present Cold War threats, of nuclear annihilation…

            (There was, then so much ‘Super-Power’ sabre rattling, in the news — and related, quite horrifying films depicting ‘nuclear winter’ …on TV and in the theaters.)

            I would increasingly focus upon those threats (eventually, 24/7), and my anxiety, as a result, grew worse — of course.

            Albert Einstein had famously said “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

            I went in search of that new way of thinking — in order to hopefully survive those threats, of nuclear winter.

            Though I liked my therapist, and she did, on occasion, offer me bits of good practical advice, I did not share with her the extent of my fears of nuclear war; and, I got no sense from her that she could ‘teach’ me what I needed to know, in terms of a new way of thinking…

            At last, I wound up attempting to write a novel, featuring a considerably more ‘entertaining’ (fictionalized) version of myself (his sense of all my ‘nuclear anxieties’ were, in some ways, comical).

            I projected myself into that character, my story’s protagonist — a young psychiatrist; he could be very serious, in ways… and would, in the end (i.e., by the last chapter) reject his own chosen profession, psychiatry — especially, all the nonsense that it represents in the criminal justice system…

            Note: From the time I was a kid, I had been deeply struck by such powerful impressions of Institutional Psychiatry, as had bee offered by films such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Frances” (which came out when I was in college0; but, like most folk, I thought those were depictions of past transgressions, on the part of Psychiatry.

            I was mainly aiming to opposed the ‘forensic psychiatry’ that’s practiced in our legal system — especially, what I believe is the insanity of the “insanity” defense.

            I really had no understanding whatsoever, back then, about all the ‘medical’ harms that were still being caused by psychiatry.

            When I smashed those dishes, I was (I knew) ‘acting crazy’; and, I guess, arguably, then, when I smashed those dishes, I may have been, unconsciously, calling for a more thorough understanding of psychiatry — a direct experience of it.

            Thus, I stumbled into my own personal ‘education’ regarding the nature of forced psychiatric ‘treatment’ — and thereby gained much subsequently raised awareness, of what has been, indeed, the ongoing ‘history’ of such harms…

            I consider myself very fortunate, having prepared myself, in advance, to reject psychiatry; my unfinished novel remained instructive for me; but, I would not have consciously wish for such encounters…

            Such experiences, as I experienced, with psychiatry, were not the worst that psychiatry has to offer; but, on even my worst enemies, I would not wish those sorts of experiences, which I had…

            No one should have to learn of such things irl — ‘in real life’ (the hard way).

            Respectfully,

            Jonah

          • Your post is totally clear, no worries re typos. I think we all miss that edit feature!

            I, too, very much appreciate your kind words.

            Specifically my reference about two sides of the same coin were to the self-punishment and rage. While there can be so many reasons why these exist, they are two common responses to chronic abuse, oppression, and injustice. Perhaps these would qualify as ‘extreme,’ but they can be quite reasonable under the circumstances. And I feel they are the result of human expression of pain, when it is not being heard or recognized.

            (Although I had to learn to speak the truth of my anger in the moment, rather than stuffing it. My health was deteriorating in every way by not expressing my anger. I had some pretty serious guilt programmed in me, on top of it, so I really put myself in an emotional straight-jacket).

            I think it’s reasonable to ‘act crazy’ in crazy-making circumstances. Everyone does it, and it’s human. For some (many?) of us, family is our first crazy-making system. Hard for a kid to make sense of this, it just feels TERRIBLE. I’m not slamming parents, either. I’m not a parent, so I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. Plus, parents were kids once, too, with their own share of confusion as they were growing up.

            But I’ve been parented, and I know what feels right and helpful to me and what feels bad, hurtful, and downright sabotaging. I just think that raising awareness about how families tick is a really good start to getting to the heart of the matter, here, regarding extreme emotions that wind up hurting us. Who knows, that may be part of your mission, since you are a parent!

            I just had this thought about the double-sided coin as I wrote the comment before this one, thinking how ironic that we have these nonsense labels which do all this harm and make things worse, based on these different emotional responses, and really, it’s all the same thing, at the core–a response to crazy-making family dynamics. Of course there are other forms of trauma, but imbalanced family dynamics are insidiously powerful, and often not recognized for what they are.

            Once we do see and own this, then a lot can be done to move forward and heal, step by step, layer by layer, as you have described. I love your process, looking at yourself from various perspectives, distancing, and creating compassionate stories of truth around your experience. How I process takes me down the same road. It’s an ongoing experiment, how we grow and evolve, and exactly how we teach ourselves new ways of thinking. Beautifully creative healing! It’s exactly what I advocate.

            One last thing, then I’m offline for the rest of the day–I think you talk about something that is so important when you talk about fear of world catastrophe. This energy is actually in the collective now, so we’re all feeling it.

            One thing I learned from some teachers is that when we feel fear in the collective, the most healing action we can take for ourselves and others is to realize that we create our own reality, and if we can find our way to connect with our deepest faith and really trust our process while focusing on that which makes us feel better than fear (even indignation is better than fear, although if we can find our way to feeling hope, even better), then we are raising the energy of the collective and, in essence, shifting reality. It can be a mind-bender, but it’s fun to work it. I’ve seen hardy results in my own life.

            Thanks for your wonderful sharing and dialogue, Jonah. Enjoy the rest of your day! Over and out…for now.
            Alex.

  14. This is an excellent piece. I second everything that’s been said here. I’d like to add that right before I entered the System back in 1981, I had spent 10 days in the Moonies. I’d been brainwashed by them, but I was able to leave on my own. For those of you who may not recall, the Moonies were known to be a religious cult that used brainwashing techniques to recruit its members and keep them loyal. These techniques were almost identical to those used on POW’s in the Korean War and in many other imprisonment situations. I wrote a college research paper in 1980 on the Moonies without revealing in the paper that I had had real-life experience as a Moonie. I told myself, “I’ll never fall for something like that again.” But in 1981, I fell for shrinkage. I was a fully brainwashed member of the MH System for over three decades. Yes, the System uses the same brainwashing techniques that the Moonies used, including isolating its members from society, heavy-duty “lecture”-type introductions where “confessionals” take place in order to “break” the inductees, keeping newbees separate (you can’t talk to each other or you will trigger each other and you will interfere with each other’s treatment plans), monitoring of all activities, monitoring of conversations with the outside world, censoring of incoming media such as magazines, newspapers, etc, possible drugs in food, high sugar food, sleep deprivation, guilt tripping, anyone outside of the cult is the devil and anyone who leaves will never recover. If that ain’t coercion totally perfected, I don’t know what is. The System had great models to fashion itself after. May those of us that see the truth now declare, loudly and clearly, that the Emperor was naked all along.