From Blaming the Patient to Blaming the Brain


Joy is a 19 year old woman who is brought by her parents for psychiatric evaluation. She is the only child of her parents, who are both extremely religious and austere. She was born at term by normal vaginal delivery and met all her developmental milestones. She never caused a problem for her parents. A shy child, she often kept herself to herself and preferred to play alone. She had few friends at school, and was a B-average student. Her parents were very strict and have a cold, loveless marriage. Her father drinks heavily, and though never violent, he would often say hurtful things to Joy and her mother. When she was 17, Joy met a boy of 16 at church whom she liked and he liked her. They started secretly seeing each other, and after 6 months, their relationship became sexual.

Joy was not allowed out of the house except for church and school, and though she had wanted to go to college, when she graduated high school she worked instead as a secretary in her father’s business. When she was 18, Joy fell pregnant, and although unplanned, the prospect of having a child who she could love unconditionally and who in turn would love her back delighted her. When her mother discovered her daughter was pregnant she forced her to have an abortion, and would not let her out of parental sight. Joy was crushed, became almost flat, withdrew to her room, insisting she was still pregnant. She stopped going to work, stopped helping around the house, and eventually stopped washing. She would pat her stomach as if she were pregnant and when she did speak, which was less often, it was only about her unborn child.

Let’s imagine this fictitious patient existing at two different eras and seeing two different psychiatrists – first in 1964 and then in 1994. In 1964, the psychiatrist admits her to hospital for a period of observation, psychoanalytic therapy, and treatment with the new neuroleptics. He tells the parents that her diagnosis is schizophrenia. Despite treatment with chlorpromazine, and daily sessions of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, Joy fails to improve. The psychiatrist believes that Joy lives in an impossible situation in which she is expected to be independent, but any attempt at doing so is thwarted. As such, her psychosis is a special strategy she has developed in order to avoid this double-bind. He posits that the forced abortion was so traumatic to Joy that she clings on with delusional conviction to the idea that she is still pregnant, and her failure to improve is a resistance on her part to the therapy.

If Joy sees a psychiatrist in 1994, she is diagnosed with major depressive disorder with psychotic features. The psychiatrist treats her as an outpatient with Prozac and haloperidol, and sees her again in a month. She fails to respond to this treatment, and is tried on a variety of different antidepressant and neuroleptic agents with little success. The psychiatrist postulates the patient has a genetic, biologically-based brain disease that is treatment-resistant. Her failure to respond is because the neurochemical abnormality has not been addressed by drug treatment.

In the first psychiatric evaluation, the failure of the patient to improve is blamed on the patient’s resistance which is psychological, and her condition caused by the familial environment in which she resides. In the second, her condition is caused by a genetic disease, and her failure to improve is because drug therapy has not adequately targeted the chemical problems in her brain. In 1964, the patient is tacitly blamed for not recovering, and the parents blamed for Joy’s illness. In 1994, Joy is the unfortunate victim of defective genes and twisted molecules that seem impervious to pharmacological remedy.

The idea of schizophrenogenic or refrigerators mothers was an embarrassing era for psychiatry, and so psychiatrists were only too happy to explore the brain and the genome to unlock the secrets of mental illness. In this caricature of 1960s treatment, it appears as though patients and their families were blamed for their mental illness or failure to improve. In reality, these psychiatrists believed that both the patient and family’s behavior was determined by unconscious forces beyond their control and for which they could not be held responsible. Today, the rhetoric has shifted away from intrapsychical conflicts and traumatic ruptures, and instead aberrant neurochemistry or delinquent genes are held as the source of mental illness. Regardless, 1964, 1994, or 2014, the message is clear: mental illness is beyond our control and requires psychiatric intervention. The moral authority the mental health industry claims over our mental life rests on this claim.

What is striking about this claim that often goes unchallenged is that it isn’t new and isn’t necessarily true. If the creeping imperialism over our minds is to be thwarted, we need to reassess this claim.


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.


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  1. Well, the 1960s narrative is at least closer to what could be really going on: craziness as a response to impossible life circumstances and loss of control over one’s life. And the blame is not entirely on the person but it involves (rightly or wrongly depending on a person) the social circle and broader context.
    The key to “fixing” mental illness is getting rid of abuse, neglect, poverty, mobbing, bullying, loneliness, death, trauma etc. Not very likely to happen any time soon but at least acknowledging these things is a step in helping the victims recover.

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  2. All-in-all, I think I prefer the 60s treatment. At least she got away from her horrible parents for a month. Neither really addressed the underlying issue, though, which was that she was an adult and, as such, really needed to break away from her overbearing parents and live her own life.

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      • I didn’t experience the hypothetical example. But I was trapped in a Psychiatric dead end. My freedom came from understanding and getting a handle on my anxiety condition, and slowly discontinuing medication.

        Once the anxiety problem had levelled, and the drugs were out of the way – I knew what to do anyway. There was no more big problem.

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    • My thoughts exactly. At least the earlier narrative provides some sense of potential meaning to the “symptoms” and perhaps a context for taking some kind of action to resolve it. Even a misguided action is potentially empowering to the client, as they might start to brainstorm other possibilities. The current narrative postulates incapacity and helplessness and permanent disability, and not surprisingly, generates results that reflect those key elements of the so-called explanation. And it denies the obvious contribution of family dysfunction and enforced trauma to the situation, in a way that reinforces the very sense of unreality and powerlessness that the parents have helped to create.

      —- Steve

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  3. At some point, we all get to a point when we can no longer simply be the victim of our past experiences. We have a responsibility to try to shape what ever part of you is still together into something. However, I don’t believe in the defective brain theory. That’s been being tossed around since psychiatrists realized there was money in the medical model. It has never had enough actual evidence to support it, but the APA is never going to let it go because they need it to secure the future of pharmaceutical sales. Give it a few years, and the general public will believe that brain defects are absolute fact and only psych drugs can be used to treat it.

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  4. Dr. Datta:

    Thanks for these distinctions about blaming patients and then blaming the brain. They were very well presented. May I offer another alternative to you and the community for further consideration?

    Currently, mainstream medicine, including psychiatry, does not fully see the patient as a “whole person” with multiple levels of functioning, levels that you could say are mental, emotional, physical, relational, and finally spiritual. If the root cause of the illness in spiritual is origin, then the solution to address it needs to include the spiritual.

    True story: my two high-functioning daughters, aged 20 and 18, suddenly, inexplicably, developed serious mental illnesses within one month of each other, a near statistical impossibility (Bi-Polar 1 & Severe Depression). After multiple hospitalizations and failed drug regimes, and thousands of pages of psychiatric care documentation over three years, they were essentially declared “incurable” and given a life sentence on heavy meds. Their brains were blamed. But my wife and I never bought the diagnosis. There had to be a different root cause. I am a senior executive in a management consulting firm and I am a “trouble shooter” in industry, and the “chemical brain imbalance” theory did not explain the full picture of root cause here. Two people—let alone your own children—getting very mentally ill at the very same time?

    What I am about to share does not fit the current paradigm, and may be very unpopular, but your article appropriately provoked this post because the “blame” belonged elsewhere.

    My profession drove me to look deeper for root cause. How far would any parent go to heal the ones he loves? Raised Catholic / Christian, I investigated the methods of Christian-based healing and deliverance, where today, in these times, I found several skilled teachers and practitioners (many with advanced credentials) who understood that, in some cases, mental illness is caused by negative spiritual forces that want to destroy individuals and families. These forces do not want to seen, found, or named. And they want patients to blame themselves, their brains, and their families, anything really, which assists them in avoiding their detection and removal.

    If you have had a chance to read the New Testament, over 1/3 of Jesus’ own ministry addressed these forces directly, and Christians have been encouraged (even “commissioned”) to remove such hidden, “spirits without bodies” that are the root cause of some sickness and illness. Again, an unpopular view, or something to dismiss, or be even be frightened about—unless you or a loved one is really sick and you are desperate to get the right help to get them well. Nothing looks too improbable then—IF it could work.

    Here is the bottom line for my own children: when we practiced and applied these proven experiential Christian healing methods systematically, these forces were removed. It was so effective, you could have called the engagement – “no contest”. My so-called “incurable” children were simply misdiagnosed, or the diagnosis was only partial and the treatments offered were ineffective and made matters worse because they did not address the right root causes. I am so grateful to say that our odyssey has a very happy ending. They are completely in their “right minds”, holding jobs, and functioning in a high capacity (see MARK 5:1 – 19).

    I respect modern medicine. But I would like to respectfully suggest that the medical paradigm needs to shift to allow patients more effective tools and methods to fuse their faith into their medical care. Frankly, the outcomes and results could be astounding. They were in at least two cases I know of (and many, many more I uncovered in my research).

    And there would be much less misdirected blame and a more productive focus to include more “full spectrum” diagnostic approaches and treatment approaches of the “whole patient” that have the promise to actually cure mental illness—and empower patients in ways they have never been empowered before.

    Our example showed that a “team approach” with complementary medical and healing practitioners (in this case balanced, educated Christian-based healing practitioners) with the patients and their family as the key to two successful outcomes.

    And when we finally got there, after four long years, there was no blame, just results. Forgive my long post, but I share your frustration at the limitations of the current state of affairs.

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    • I find this fascinating!! I’m interested in your resources as I do believe that there are some spiritual forces in our universe that tamper with individuals and their lives. And, clearly medication and other modern therapies does nothing for that!

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    • Oh, I so get what you are saying, equinn. Both cenarios presented here (blaming the parent or blaming the brain) are reductionist, but skewed in judgement of the parents (How does anyone know what really goes on behind closed doors? Certainly not psychiatrists. They make assumptions, just like we all do.

      Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, MD, writes about “a great principle in psychiatry that “all symptoms are overdetermined,” meaning that they have more than one cause:

      I want to scream this from the rooftops: “All symptoms are overdetermined.” Except that I want to expand it way beyond psychiatry. I want to expand it to almost everything. I want to translate it, “Anything of any significance is overdetermined. Everything worth thinking about has more than one cause.” Repeat after me: “For any single thing of importance, there are multiple reasons.” Again, “For any single thing of importance, there are multiple reasons

      You say “How far would any parent go to heal the one he loves?” Sadly, many don’t go far enough. If parents want to really get to the bottom of what’s going on in order to bring about recovery, they’ve got to be prepared to take risks by going outside of conventional medical and societal wisdom. This is especially true for mental illness, but one can also make a good case for just about any illness. Viewing illness this way puts a lot of people off. They are too afraid to “go there.” They have to be prepared, as you and your wife were, to take every possible alternative as helpful. These alternatives are often shamanistic. My son has made great progress in his recovery (still living with his same old independence robbing parents), but getting help from an astonishing variety of alternative therapies and viewpoints.

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    • The Mark 5 quote about Jesus casting out demons resonates with me. When I turned to the medical system for help, all I got was scared. No hope there. One night I decided to dig out my rarely used Bible and the book fell open to Mark 5:1. Well, I thought, if this happened then, why does the today’s Church not believe in the same kind of miracles? (Even my priest failed to recognize the irony of thinking that his receiving a call from God is not mental illness, but my son suffered from a mental illness.. LOL) Mark 5:1-19 kickstarted my hope and I began a long odyssey to find out a possible explanation for an extraodinary event.

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      • Hi Rossa:

        Thanks for the reply. Some additional back story on our journey to healing was that we consulted a few priests and Christian ministers are the psychiatrists declared our children incurable. They simply did not know anything in depth about “clinical level” Christian-based healing and deliverance.

        (Since the split between reason/science and faith in the Enlightenment phase of history, and the obvious abuses then of the Church, the spiritual dimension was not easily able to be measured, hence, it evolved in science that if you can’t measure it or see it, it doesn’t exist). The Church focused mainly on the teaching ministry of Jesus, and the healing and deliverance ministries (which were very active in the early Church) faded away. This has been hugely unfortunate, to say the least. In Christian terms, people and families are now more open to the “works of the enemy” when the very institution in society that may help educate them has not valued all of what was taught and demonstrated by Jesus’ own ministry and what his followers did then, and, I might add, some are doing today at a professional-grade level.

        (A side note on plant medicine: for our professional work, my wife and I travel extensively, including South America. At one point, we were very desperate for a solution for our children after a long tour of doctors and ministers. With great concern, we decided to explore Amazonian shamanism and the powerful hallucinogen, ayahuasca. We hired two top level shamans and journeyed into the Peruvian Amazon and took this “entheogen” and this is exactly where we saw the negative spiritual root causes. We knew then what we were up against. (read St. Paul letter to the Ephesians 6:12) We knew then exactly what we had to do. While we could have continued along this shaman path, we did recognize (given our faith) that this can open you up to more dangerous occult spiritual issues and it would be unwise and potentially dangerous to continue. You might get a lot more than you bargained for. In our desperation, after years of searching for help, we took this route and got enough insight to know what to do, but we knew we needed to turn away from this. But it blew the whole thing wide open. Within weeks after the Amazon journey, we took the initiative to dig deeper ourselves find out about effective Christian-based healing and deliverance.

        Sadly, the resources we found are not known by the Christian Church leaders we consulted, or Christian medical providers, I would assume to a large degree. If I had known then what I know now, we would have never gone the route of plant medicine if I wanted a complete and final cure for my children. It was an unnecessary detour but we were very blind, suffering tremendously, and without effective guidance from any psychiatrist or pastor.)

        In our case, we researched and applied these methods systematically for several months as a family; and also utilized a highly skilled Christian healer for a one day long session. The results were truly remarkable. There was no place to hide for the root causes of mental illness in our case. My children are 100% well, and frankly, committed to helping other young people.

        You or any reader of this blog owe it to yourselves and the ones you love to fully understand what is going in both the natural and supernatural realms when it comes to an integral, complementary and effective approach to achieving total health and freedom from infirmity and disease. What you can’t see and don’t know about can REALLY hurt you.

        This is what is soooo difficult about mental illness. It’s not a broken leg. And the causes can be complicated. But wjthout exception, as a survivor, it is my humble opinion that the emotional and spiritual causes should be investigated and addressed systematically.

        Our family is lucky to be alive, frankly, not because we could not fight back, or needed to be afraid; it was because we did not have an accurate map of reality and what we needed to do to heal and who the Healer ultimately is.

        Please note, there is no blame being placed here on psychiatry, pharma, or the Church. If possible, the goal is find the “common ground”. Could we all be allies to help people heal from mental illness and be willing and rigorous to include ALL possible root causes in the diagnosis, and provide a healthcare plan for an individual and the family supporting that person?

        Could we work together and not be subtly deceived, in some cases, and medicate someone who should not be medicated. I know this is unpopular, loaded with bias and assumptions from all sides and all camps, but what I would encourage all of us concerned about being mad in America these days is this: the patient (and the family) needs to be in the very center of the debate on the solution, and it is not about who is right or wrong, per se, but what really can work to help them heal.

        Hope this helps. Thanks for your comments, Rossa and Tameerae!

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        • equinn – Thanks for your fascinating insight into a little known healing modality. Your story is astonishing and dramatic. Would you consider e-mailing me at [email protected]? I would like to find out a bit more about how you eventually managed to get in touch with Christian healers. My son’s situation was different, so I never had to take the route you took. Since your daughters’ crises came on very fast, it can be a sign of possession or perhaps a Kundalini awakening. I’m not well versed in either of those two events, but that is my understanding.

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          • Rossa:

            This conversation interests me because my daughter perceives herself as being ‘possessed’ by an unwanted spirit but in every spiritual tradition including Christianity, the issue boils down to discernment. In the Catholic tradition, one of the charisms or ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ is ‘discernment of spirits’. There is a resurgence of interest in vocation discernment, to guide lay people into an exploration of their gifts but this field is in its infancy.

            From a parent’s perspective, if a loved one wants to pursue the path of healing through a spiritual practitioner, one of the issues boils down to discernment between quacks and truly qualified practitioners.

            I’d be willing to guess that there are more underground ‘healers’ walking around than we know. Many people have ‘psychic’ abilities or abilities to discern spirits but they operate outside the realm of mainstream religious institutions. Others may set up a website and claim to have powers that they do not possess. They are simply out to exploit vulnerable people.

            Since Shamanic healing traditions are virtually non existent in the current paradigm of mental health care, people are trying to fill this void but consumers and family members have no compass or roadmap to go by.

            At least it is useful to share information in this community about alternatives. One thing bothers me, however…

            The majority of recovery stories seem to have one thing in common: personal responsibility and personal empowerment. If one considers oneself as the passive victim of a demon that takes possession of one’s body, this doesn’t seem to be too much different from being told that one is the passive victim of a brain disease. For me, as a parent, the dilemna is how to support a family member’s recovery without taking control of the process.

            For that reason, alone, the trauma and dissociation model of recovery, using techniques such as narrative building and re-scripting seem to offer much more hope but the same problem exists: discernment of a qualified practitioner. The art of psychotherapy has become completely divorced from psychiatry, psychotherapy is not considered medically necessary (i.e. billable) and in its current form, it exists completely for the benefit of a small minority of privileged patients.

            Here is another dilemma for parents whose kids are locked up in the back ward. Since I have told my daughter that I don’t think she has a disease, and I do support my daughter’s opinion that there is a spiritual element to her extreme states, the mental health system pushes back by subtly countering my influence with the standard hopeless message that my daughter has a brain disease and needs to be in chemical restraints for life, despite the fact that she has only become worse with every drug treatment and with every successive lock up.

            For me to even suggest alternatives such as spiritual healing modalities is considered by psychiatry to be a harmful act resulting in even greater restrictions being placed on our visits. Our visits often take place in a public ward of a hospital or public hallway in full view of a staff member, not exactly the environment where one can whip out a sage stick or light a candle or conduct a private/joint meditation/creative visualization exercise. Plus, the drugs can be counter productive on so many levels.

            On rare occasions, our visits were actually monitored by a staff member who is a lot like an overpaid babysitter. These $12/hr workers can be kind allies or they can be simple toadies. If my daughter and I attempt to have a deep discussion about alternative healing modalities including those with a spiritual element, they may misconstrue our conversation as delusional and harmful. The false information may then become a permanent part of my daughter’s medical records and dog our family’s ability to enjoy future communications and visits.

            Unless you have the experience of having a loved one in the back ward of a psychiatric facility, you just can’t imagine how hostile to new ideas these places can be. Several times, the MindFreedom ‘Truth Injection’ brochures I secretly left behind were promptly removed, while NAMI never has any trouble leaving their promotional materials being displayed.

            But what is a parent to do? Engage in a tug a war over an adult child when the real prize is to see my daughter win her independence back from the state and retain her personal agency which I think it critical to my daughter’s recovery? The state obviously abuses its power with people who experience extreme states. Since I want to see my daughter develop her own voice and make up her own mind about her pathway to recovery should I even be engaging the state on her behalf? Advocacy is a sticky wicket, I can tell you from experience.

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          • I don’t know if it’s relevant to your daughter’s situation, madmom, but I recently heard Dina Tyler on Madness Radio talking about having an evil spirit “attached” to her and how she resolved the situation. It caught my attention because I experienced something similar once and eventually resolved it in basically the same way. It’s at about 7:40, if anyone’s interested:

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          • Hi Rossa,

            My name is Reverend Haynes. I am an Ordained Christian Minister, and Theologian, who specializes in “Biblical Psychology”. That is, the Holy Bible’s perspective on the: a) origin b) nature c) pathology d) health-healing and e) destiny of the human “SOUL” in both its individual and corporate manifestations.

            I sincerely, and earnestly, believe, especially as a Pastor-Teacher (or Shepherd-Theologian), in the Church, that it is EXTREMELY important for us, as Christians, that the “true foundation”, as well as the “true-original definition”, of “Psychology” (lit. “the study of the SOUL” and NOT “the scientific study of mind and behavior”) be restored back to the Word of God and to the life of the Church, once again!

            It is not that there is not a, wonderful, place for the “Voice of Nature” (i.e. a Natural Scientific-Empirical study of the “SOUL”) but that the “Voice of God” (i.e. the Most Holy Word of God or the Holy Bible or the Sacred Christian Scriptures) is “infinitely” more foundational for a “true knowledge” of the “SOUL” than the “Voice of Nature”.

            Unfortunately, the Church, through a number of her teachers, abandoned a “Sacred” or “Biblical Psychology”, out the “Sacred Christian Scriptures”, over a hundred years ago. However, it is doable, viable and very much needed in the life of the Church today.

            The reason why the Church, through a number of her teachers, abandoned a “Biblical Psychology”, over a hundred years ago, was: 1.The Church, together with the World, had an “insatiable” appetite for a Natural Scientific-Empirical understanding of human nature, and 2. The Biblical understanding of the “SOUL” came under attack, within the Church, as being a false Greek-Philosophical concept. However, this was NOT true at all!

            I, sincerely, believe that this was NO accident of history. That is, I sincerely believe that, during the 20th Century, in particular, that the “holy doctrine of the SOUL”, like NEVER before in Church history, came under the most insidious attack both inside and outside of the Church. And yet, St. Augustine ONLY wanted to know two things in life: 1. God and 2. The Soul.

            The VAST majority of Christians, I’m afraid, have NO idea, whatsoever, how critically important this “holy doctrine of the SOUL” is! And, especially, how important it is to the “cura animarum” (the care or cure of “SOULS”).

            Lastly, there has been a, recent, movement, within biblical-theological scholarship to reclaim a “Biblical” (or “Sacred) Psychology” back to the Word of God and to the life of the Church, once again.

            The Three-Fold Future Agenda of Biblical Psychology:

            A. Descriptive Agenda

            The descriptive agenda of Biblical Psychology involves an identification, description, and analysis of the Holy Bible’s perspective on:

            1. The constituent elements of human nature (e.g. soul, spirit, heart, mind, body, flesh, etc.) 2. The psychic functions of the human soul (e.g. intelligence, reason, free will, desire, conscience, imagination, dreaming, the inner and outer life, etc.)

            3. The drives and emotions in the life of the human soul (e.g. affect, appetite, libido, love, hate, anger, ecstasy, fear, terror, grief, sorrow, etc.) and

            4. The psychology of behaviour (work, play, sexuality, socialization, war, crime, and punishment, etc.)

            B. Prescriptive Agenda

            The prescriptive agenda of Biblical Psychology focuses on the Holy Bible’s perspective on what a human soul “is” and also on what a human soul can “be” (or “become”) in terms of:

            1. The care, nourishment, proper development and goal (or telos) of the human soul.

            2. The biblical view of health and sickness – physical, moral, and spiritual (e.g. sin, suffering, death, demonization, fallenness, salvation, grace, rebirth, transformation, healing, reconciliation, etc.)

            3. Biblical perceptions and models of human development (e.g. concepts of maturity and immaturity, the psychikos (soulish) vs. the pneumatikos (spiritual), the laws governing behaviour, etc). and

            4. The role of spirituality in the life of the human soul (e.g. prayer, fasting, piety, God-consciousness, obedience to the law, faith, hope, love, vice and virtue, etc).

            C. Comparative Agenda

            The comparative agenda of Biblical Psychology turns attention toward encouraging a critical-constructive comparison and dialogue between a Biblical Psychology and a Rational-Empirical Psychology of Natural Science.

            Finally, if you (or someone you may know) would be interested in learning more about “Biblical Psychology”, for the cura animarum (care or cure of SOULS) I would be most happy to hear from you.

            Reverend Haynes

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  5. Interesting when considered in the framework of the attribution theorists. Shifting the locus of control from external to internal causality has an effect on both stability and global dimensions. The result? What was perhaps unstable (acute) and situation specific (family dynamics) becomes a stable (life long illness) and global (all situations). I know which one is more profitable for Big Pharma.

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  6. Personally, it sounds like the parents were abusing their parental power. This could cause untold emotional damage to a person. When a child sees the parent as an authority figure and that authority figure breaks their trust, this can cause a person to have a reaction up to and including an emotional breakdown as this girl had. Had she received some sort of counseling, before, during or after this event, it may have helped. As parents, we don’t always make the best decisions concerning our children but we should not be afraid to ask for outside opinions or help from counselors, other parents or pastors, whatever the case may be.
    She may have needed some psychiatric intervention, but having a support group, a counselor and a group of peers to help her through would have been a big help as well.

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  7. Great article, Dr. Datta. It seems like a more sensible concept of the “schizophrenogenic parents” is coming back into favor. That is, that abusive or dysfunctional parenting styles exacerbate mental illnesses, or possible even lead to the development of them. It seems to me that this is a positive, common sense shift. Have you noticed this or could you comment?

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    • I think that the role of early experiences never diminished much in relevance for things like depression, anxiety, personality disorder and addiction. But when talking of extreme mental states we call psychosis or schizophrenia, in the US there seems to a complete lack of interest or denial amongst psychiatrists of how things like childhood trauma might play role. I think this goes back to a wish not to “blame” families, which is a legitimate aim that went too far. In Europe there has been more research into these factors in recent years, though much of the research is quite poor. Helen Fisher in the UK has done some of the best quality research in this. Personally, I think there is increasing evidence that the structure of some societies themselves may be “schizophrenogenic” for certain people but most psychiatrists are completely unaware of the burgeoning evidence that social factors seem to very important in the development of psychosis.


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      • Lots of people are very unhappy; ‘psychosis’ is like an explosion when things come to a head. Without intervention it would seem ‘psychosis’ can level out of its own accord. The problem is more the ‘psychotropic’ treatment that traps people into longterm psychiatry.

        What works for ‘problems’ works for psychosis prevention.
        Recovery doesn’t have to be complicated. The message can be found in Buddhism, 12 Step, CBT, “I’m Okay, Your OK” Transactional Analysis or straightforward Psychotherapy.

        You notice ‘schizophrenia’ is an industrial idea – its only been around for 100 years. Creating an extreme illness and keeping a person sick for life is an ideal way to spin money.

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      • Yes, I agree that some of us react to the hypocrisies and fears of modern society and go through extreme experiences. Even ‘loving’ homes can also include confusing inconsistencies and abuses…having a break can be one’s response to overwhelming stress and/or trauma. I have seen people come through these difficult experiences with renewed clarity and strength…the meds have mind altering side effects that should be carefully considered before taking them…if possible, going through extreme experiences with as many supports as possible and minimal meds (or no meds) is best….thanks for your post!

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        • I agree supports may reduce the need for meds, but if a person is in a place now where they need meds, it may be because they don’t have the supports that they needed in the first place. I’m using myself as an example. I came from a very toxic home as a child, and then married a toxic man, of course. Now, as a single mom who has been diagnosed as bipolar, I have no good or healthy emotional support. After my marriage ended, I relied on my toxic mother for financial help, which kept us fed and with a roof, but always in constant chaos, stress, criticism, and so much more. Sometimes, there are not enough emotional supports for a person, and in my case, the only thing that allows me to be functional is the meds that I’m taking. It’s the only way I can hold down a job and parent my children reasonably well. There is no social program, at least not in the U.S., that can provide the type of constant supports a person would need to deal with a severe mental illness and be functional. In my case, meds are the only option.

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          • You’re making a great point here. Unfortunately going/staying on meds rarely solves the problem (if you’re lucky enough not to get worse). In many cases they simply keep the person down in a hole so that they don’t bother anyone but also don’t move forward with their lives in any substantial way. Crises are usually there for a reason and indicate deep feelings of personal entrapment and loss of control and drugs do nothing to fix that – in fact they lock you up in a state where you are forced to accept that as an inescapable reality. To many this is not help with living – it’s living death.

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          • Hi B
            “…Crises are usually there for a reason and indicate deep feelings of personal entrapment and loss of control…”
            That’s excellent, very well expressed. I agree.

            My target was to break away from dependency but, also to stay out of hospital. I didn’t come off all the drugs myself, I just stopped the nasty ones and cut very gradually, taking my time – so, at the end there was no more to cut.

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  8. I think the idea of the refrigerator mother was to specific and all inclusive. I don’t doubt our parents played a significant roll, but then, I consider my totality of social life experience and I wonder if we aren’t seeing the rise of behaviors like mass bullying etc because society as a whole is getting worse.

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  9. My children are my soul. Her parents proved that they have absolute control over her. Body and soul. Life and death. I cant for the life of me understand why anyone would expect her to just pick up and be “normal” the next day….Oh you cut me off from the love of my life and cut our baby out of me?…okay Ill go back to school and do what you say.
    Really? Shes the psycho one?
    Had she gotten impregnated 6 months later…all those behaviors by her parents would have been felonies and punishable by prison time…Just saying.

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  10. There is so much dysfunction in the situation it’s no wonder the outcome was disastrous! The most important thing would have been separation from the parents to gain some autonomy and independent living skills along with some major cognitive therapies. This patient, I think, would require years of therapy to first properly separate from her parent’s grip and then to gain independence in a controlled environment. To medicate her and keep her in a medicated state further exacerbated the lack of control she had over her own life!!! She would have needed therapy to learn to just cope with life’s normal stressors, as well. As the daughter of an alcoholic, I’m sure she was lacking plenty of those skills too. The sad thing in 1964, 1994 and in 2014, is that, too many children AND adults are thrust into the world of psychiatric medications as a shortcut to the cold, harsh truth that they need to do work to eliminate the causes of dysfunction in their life , then work to rebuild their life with just as much therapy as medications. To medicate and not do some sort of behavioral re-training is the lazy short way out (and clearly not the “out” that screams they are a mentally healthy individual!!) So, flash forward to 2014 and she would have been undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy. A therapy, which by the way, is one of the most successful therapies yet!!!

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  11. I believe that the most consistently overlooked factor in exacerbating any seemingly unavoidable symptoms that negatively affect how you perceive or sense the world, think or feel, to the point that the abnormality concerns you yourself, is the fate that looms in the form of the powerful treatment system and its extrta-judicial powers. If you feel doubtful about revealing the facts of your problems in the first place, the realization of what involuntary “treatment” and “histories of mental illness” and declarations of your incompetence matter for to this system transform difficult problems into impossible ones.

    Doctors and the allied mental health industry just takes the shape of all types of unhelpful excuses and mindless rejections of person’s needs that everyone already knows to expect and makes them official and “scientific”.

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  12. I think this post is great and I’m glad you are back at MIA. I also love your blog with your very hard hitting honest articles exposing many inconvenient truths about biopsychiatry.

    I hope to see more of your posts at MIA. Perhaps you might be willing to post your blog posts here too?

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  13. These are similar sentiments to those than most autistic individuals roll their eyes at. Certainly, emotional/verbal/physical/sexual abuse are often left in secret and many people suffering from such abuse are not helped or understood to be going through that. I know what that’s like. However, many cases of mental illness truly are genetic, many have other triggers besides abuse. Perhaps abuse does exacerbate these things. But, let’s just say there are many loving parents out there who truly try to stay positive and healthy in their parenting of children already suffering a disorder and if that disorder gets worse I don’t think the next most healthy step for the family is to subject mom and dad to suspicion and the strain of fighting for their family.

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    • absolutely. i always try and work with families and help them best support their loved ones as it’s families who provide the most support and best chance of recovery. this is sadly not always possible but thankfully it is quite uncommon for as toxic family systems as described above to be present. i don’t think it is helpful to blame parents for their children’s mental illness, nor do I think it is helpful to locate mental illness completely within the brain or genome as this can be very disempowering for individuals, lead the therapeutic hopelessness, abdication of responsibility, and cultivate a sense of self as somehow “broken” or “damaged” which is then internalized. my point is both of these different approaches are problematic but one is a reaction to the other.

      i also agree that there are many causes of mental distress far beyond abuse, and my own interests are in the wider social sphere. Often people over-emphasize the role of abuse and early trauma in mental illness precisely because it has often been ignored or overlooked. Again, neither approach is helpful and it is a shame much of the literature on this topic is not based on good data but poorly substantiated assertion.

      autism is a different beast altogether, and in syndromic cases is clearly related to identifiable genetic syndromes.


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  14. Uprising. Thanks for the link to Dina Tyler’s interview on Madness Radio. It was very validating and inspiring. Yesterday I attended Ron Unger’s workshop on Trauma, Dissociation and Psychosis and that too, was very helpful. The journey for answers continues despite the barriers created by psychiatry and its medical propaganda.

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  15. Psychiatry: Brazil
    debates dismantling
    all mental hospitals
    Your Editorial on psychiatric
    disorders (Nature 463, 9; 2010)
    mentions the misplaced stigma
    often associated with them. In
    Brazil, there is strong opposition
    within certain social sectors
    to the idea of mental-health
    interventions. A proposed law to
    dismantle all psychiatric hospitals
    in the country has been arousing
    fierce debate since 2001.
    One side argues that the
    law would end the widespread
    abandoning of the poor in
    psychiatric institutions, a
    practice that has been criticized
    as detrimental to the patients’
    chances of long-term recovery.
    Opponents, however, say that it
    would eliminate the opportunity
    for immediate care of acutely
    affected patients, such as those
    with suicidal depression or
    delusional schizophrenia; this
    would increase the risks for both
    patients and their families, while
    placing all the responsibility on
    the latter.
    This debate reflects the
    fact that, in many countries,
    the necessary political and
    methodological changes must
    be conceived of as part of a
    multistage programme, with an
    emphasis on ethics and halting
    human-rights violations. If these
    measures had been taken in
    the past, this uncomfortable
    discussion would not be
    necessary and Brazil could focus
    on strengthening the science
    underlying its health-care system.
    Álvaro Machado Dias Department of
    Neuroscience and Behaviour, Institute
    of Psychology, University of São Paulo,
    São Paulo, Brazil
    e-mail: [email protected]

    The article this addresses is unavailable except at paid medical journal sites. Perhaps one of our resident psychs with a subscription would reprint it for us here?

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  16. madmom – There is so much in your comment. With reference to Vivek Datta’s comment ” it’s families who provide the most support and best chance of recovery” you are more powerful than perhaps you are aware. While it is nice to have professional backup, you can do a lot of good by nurturing spiritual support for your daughter. I bet the hospital doesn’t object to your bringing in a Bible and reading aloud with your daughter. Will they object to other books that sustain the spirit?
    Bide your time until your daughter is released. There is plenty of time after that to find the support your are hoping for. In alternative healing, I don’t draw a sharp distinction between the qualified and the unqualified, otherwise that would limit treatment to “socially acceptable alternatives” and we would have dabbled only in acupuncture or certain types of psychotherapy. Maybe I’ve been lucky but where I live there are a lot of weird and wild alternative practitioners, none of whom have a professional credential after their name that related to their healing skills. I think of these people as shamans, and I am 99.9% sure you can find these people in North America, too. A lot of what is considered “shamanism” I believe can be found in the West under the guise of vibration related and cathartic therapies.” Human interaction is vibration too (good or bad vibes). So is numerology. I found numerology very helpful in understanding both myself and my son. If you focus on finding recovery for your daughter, you will find it. And I agree with you that the majority of recovery stories have personal responsibility and personal empowerment in common. (That could be for either the parent or the child.) But first, you’ve got to get there, to get your relative in good enough shape to be willing to take that on. It’s taken years for my son to get there. Personal responsibility can be scary. My son’s spiritual crisis had many facets, and avoiding responsibility could be seen as one of those facets. I think I’m starting to ramble so I’ll sign off.

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    • Rossa:

      Thanks for the rich response. I wanted to add sacred geometry to the list of resources. I got a book on the subject after my daughter spent hours drawing angles and shapes and it really seemed to resonate with her. At least by reading the book, she got over that drawing lines on paper phase! She identifies more with being Wiccan than Christian so I try to avoid citing the Bible with her!

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  17. Blame the person.
    Blame the brain.
    Blame capitalism or western civilization at large (for the forum section).

    Why not get to the root cause?

    Sometimes involving the need to develop healthy relationships, overcome trauma, many other reasons….

    Sometimes poor digestion/absorption:

    Or a *host* of other culprits.
    Where good is blame?


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  18. In the end, blaming the brain IS blaming the person. Not only is it blaming the person, it also communicates to them that they can’t do anything about it if they wanted to. So you are the only reason you’re messed up, but you actually have no power to have prevented it. Talk about a depressing message!!!

    —- Steve

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