Is Listening the Key to Living?


I’ve been working for a warm line for nearly 3 months, since it began.  We have a group of about a dozen (or more) regular callers who call several times a week, daily, or even several times a day.  These regular callers sometimes call because they have something specific to talk about, or sometimes just to check in and update us on their day.  Some of them are relatively isolated, or even home-bound; for some of them, we are a lifeline.

Since we are a new line, we don’t always get flooded with calls, in fact there are days when we get very few calls and hours when we get none at all (on rare occasion).  We come to know our callers, being one of the few warms lines that allows people to call back numerous times per day and talk for more than 20 minutes per call.  On slow days we’ve allowed individuals to talk for an hour or more.

Though few, if any, of our regular callers know each other, we know them all and begin to feel like we have some kind of “community” of callers, or a “cast of characters” at the very least.  Our callers are our lifeline too and when we don’t get any callers us warm line counselors can start to feel down, or even depressed and useless.  Being of use is such a huge human need that it is no wonder people who don’t feel a sense of usefulness or purpose tend to feel despairing or even suicidal.  There’s nothing sadder than feeling like our presence in the world doesn’t matter to anyone.

To be honest, I’ve felt a hair of that lately.  After starting a new full-time job in a new location and moving (AGAIN) for the dozenth time in the past year or so, I’ve felt estranged from family, friends, locale, routines, and even myself, which seems to be constructed of all these things.  I realized I’m 33 and don’t have a community I feel rooted in anywhere (though  I have in the past and have “old communities” I can go back to, but they are ever evolving and changing themselves, and so am I, so I can feel as if there is no place for me anywhere).  Except for where I am.

So, little do they know, these warm line callers who call in day after day, sometimes just to tell us what they ate for breakfast or where they bought their Halloween costume, are my lifeline too.   Some callers also feel desperately suicidal, and our calls make a larger difference in their life.  After getting call after call for months, some the more serious, some the more chatty, and everything in between, we come to know our callers, at least a little.  We wonder about them when they don’t call for a few days.  I find myself wondering about one caller whom we haven’t heard from in over a week as she was in a pretty severe situation and completely isolated.  Nothing I said to her ever helped, but knowing I was one of a few people that ever listened to her was enough.

Listening to people is such a big thing; something I’m coming to appreciate on a new level.  It’s not something I’ve always been naturally good at, and there are some people I still have a hard time listening to.  But all this writing I do is my way of practicing listening to myself, listening to whatever voices want to come through me, and from there having some capacity to listen to others.  If I’m not listening to someone, being heard, or listening to myself, I get bored, empty, anxious, depressed, and even worse from there if it gets to that point.

I think listening may actually be the key to living.

It’s harder and harder to do nowadays.  Who really has the time for it?  A question that arises out of all this is whether psychiatric diagnosis came out of the loss of the art of listening.  If we are diagnosing, we aren’t listening.  Is psychiatry, as it has developed, a way to bypass listening and instead give a pill?  When I was 16 and my therapist started to suggest Prozac week after week, was she failing at listening to me?  Did it deeply upset me because I realized I was no longer being listened to?  And what can professional listeners do to restore themselves so this “outsourcing” is not so automatic?

Listening all day is romantic, but it’s also stressful.  I’ve had many days where I’ve come home to ask, “Who will listen to me?” (Thank you to my one friend who has).  Sometimes, like tonight, my pen and paper are my answer.  We need artistic and expressive outlets.  If I didn’t have them, I’d be so stressed I’d want to call everyone I talk to crazy, tell them to take some pills to fix their problems and charge them $300 per hour for the diagnosis and recommendation. (Sound familiar?)

Psychiatry has grown rampant not only out of greed, but out of imbalance s in our lifestyles, the loss of the arts of listening, both to ourselves and others, which are two sides of the same coin (not two sides of the same pill).

A pill or drug does the opposite of what listening does.  It instead silences the voices that want to speak, or mutes them somehow.  As someone who felt most at home writing, I couldn’t fathom taking drugs on a daily basis that would alter my perceptions of myself and the world and change my feeling states.  My thoughts, perceptions and feelings were my ground.  How would I have any ground at all if they were consistently altered? This grounding has saved me from believing in certain fables and psychiatric mythology consistently throughout my life.  I feel lucky.  Despite being often lonely, stressed, overwhelmed, and sometimes despairing and lost, I am married to my perceptions.  I’m loyal to them and that is what being an artist and a listener means to me.  I love them no matter how screwed up they are, no matter how traumatized, frozen, hypocritical, selfish, cruel, vengeful, you name it – I’m sticking with being me.  I’m going to listen to myself until the end, for as long as I can.

I’m never bored or tired with what I have to say when I’m writing, which is my listening practice.  It’s true I’ve never been even close to married to another person, but I won’t cheat on myself with a doctor who has lost the capacity to listen.  And it’s the best thing I can imagine being able to say for myself.  It’s my self-definition of success, another thing we all need, to escape and stay free of psychiatry.

In light of recent research on psychiatry increasing suicide risk, I would conclude psychiatric “care” increases suicides because it decreases listening, or the kind of listening that can give one a sense of meaning and a reason to live.  Being lied to and told you have an incurable brain disease and will need to ingest toxic, brain disabling and health compromising drugs every day for the rest of your life, would lead the average intelligent person to feel paranoid, suspicious and unhappy—as if someone is messing with their head.

If the structures we have set up to comfort and relieve people in their darkest hour are drug pushers disguised as experts on neurobiology, but can’t even explain or justify their own theories when questioned further, what are we left with?  And more importantly, how could these structures not lead a clear thinking, clear seeing, breathing, feeling, sensing and intuiting human being to paranoia and upset as their breath rises and falls?

Psychiatry is like the parent who says, “I’ll give you something to cry about,” and abuses a child who is already feeling powerless.  Hitting a child while she’s crying will either make her cry worse, or silence her.  In either case, the parent has “given the child something to cry about” when perhaps the initial apparent reason for tears was a fallen cracker.

Similarly, whatever one is upset about when seeking psychiatric “care” (the loss of a loved one, loneliness, abuse, injustice, or a bad mood or hard set of days feeling ‘off’), psychiatry will clearly give that person something to more justifiably cry about: that in the darkest hour of human loss and misery, our fellow humans are motivated by one thing: profit, in an industry that is already overstuffing the pockets of wealthy CEOs to the point of having a larger share of the economic pie than any industry or person deserves.

This reality, that some men are getting filthy rich off of lying to people about the cause of their suffering, and paying groups of people in all sections of life (government, politics, law, medicine, education, activism, housing, beauty, entertainment, news, insurance, etc.) to call these lies science, is something worse than anything I can think of anyone bringing to a psychiatrist.

These interventions can be likened to being sold on any other theory to sell any other product, but with Pharma money corrupting public opinion in so many facets of life by paying for a place in science, we must also ask ourselves whether we believe science is something that can be bought with money.  Are the basic things you believe about yourself and what you call reality, actually being bid on by men in suits?

We love the safety of “seek medical advice” and “ask your doctor,” but would we be so confident if we brought to mind the fact that this so-called medical advice won its title as science by being bought?  First being hit with this truth, a psychiatric patient is bound to become more paranoid, “delusional” and “schizophrenic,” as anyone would, after hearing such stark news about a system they expected they could trust.  The good news is many people go on to recover from psychiatrically-induced delusions.  Many people move from, “Psychiatry gave me something to cry about” to “Psychiatry gave me something to yell about,” and then on to, “Fighting this propaganda connected me to other human beings who also sought authentic human love and gave us a shared purpose in the mystery of life.”

By considering or falling prey to psychiatric bubble theories that pop as soon as you look at them rising, we are afforded the opportunity to examine our human condition and that of our fellows, and perhaps appreciate that we were initially upset by something.  I’ve come to find meaning in all states: panic, anxiety, despair, and even “delusional thinking,” for in having these human experiences without imposing any bid-upon pseudo-science onto my reality, I am expressing my fight.  I am expressing social resistance.  And instead of being alone with this expression, lost in taglines of “I am mentally ill/mentally challenged/have a chemical imbalance or a brain disease,” I am rooted in the community and collective healing that comes with an alternative perspective that no one paid anyone to lobby: we have a society in need of repair.

We have silenced voices that need to speak.  An epidemic of pill-pushing over the past 40 years has not repaired us, brought us closer together or happier and it certainly hasn’t cured us of any mass delusions.  In fact it’s given us all new delusions to contend with, ones that are easy to spot if our minds and hearts are set on progress.


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. You know Chaya one of the most powerful healing situations for me (and I believe others I have met) was sitting around the smoking table in the hospital. We would sit there and discuss the abuses we had suffered at the hands of the psychiatric system, like kids in a tree house discussing an abusive molester. We all knew that no one was ever going to believe us, and that any discussion of these abuses outside this forum would be dealt with harshly. But we had each other.

    The moment a staff member joined the conversation, the whole situation changed. We had been trained to be silent. Not in any overt conspiratorial way, but as a result unintended mechanisms within the system. Don’t speak about the abuse you have suffered, you will only encourage others.

    So there we sat, discussing matters among ourselves knowing that further victims would be joining us soon. It was very healing that forum, to be heard. It’s just such a shame that the rest of our community needs to run their backs on victims, and until you have been trained to be silent, then you will remain isolated.

    In that sense, listening may be a key to healing, until the training into silence is complete.

    Kind regards

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      • Hi Chaya,

        I guess what I’m getting at is that it is only when you’ve gotten to the point where the abuses you have suffered are no longer part of what you speak about that the process of reintegration occurs.

        For instance, I have been attending a group but have been told to be silent about the abuse I have suffered for fear of ‘triggering’ others. So I can be around others but must be silent or it may result in others speaking about their abuse also. I am effectively being trained to be in social environments and not speak about the abuse.

        It is a pattern that is being identified in our Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. How were there so many victims, and they weren’t listened to? Silence or isolation, that’s the choices.

        Still probably not very clear, but the pattern is there if one looks.


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        • I see what you mean, Boans, I think. When we first emerge from an extreme trauma such as psychiatric abuse or any other abuse, it is nearly impossible to stay silent about it and conform. We may air on the side of speaking up “too much” because we were silenced for so long. I know that was true for me. Once we have integrated some of our experiences it may be easier to stay silent, but I hope we still find ways to speak up. Perhaps we can find more strategic ways to speak up when we aren’t as close to the trauma. Still, I’m glad for everyone who speaks up in whatever way they are able.

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          • Yes Chaya, you’ve got it.

            I know what I’ve found is that there are no ‘official’ forums in which to speak ones truth (whatever that may be) so it is left to the patients to form such groups among themselves. It reminds me of the tv advertisment about children who have been abused attempting to talk to adults who simply turn their backs on them. It’s a truth that cant be heard. So we talk among ourselves.

            There is great healing in speaking ones truth openly I feel. And an ‘official’ forum for that to occur would be of great assistance to people. There just don’t seem to be any.

            What I believe the warm line does is allow people to speak their truth outside of the ‘informal’ groups that may be formed. It allows the healing power of speaking ones truth to occur, if only between two people.

            I’m going to keep speaking my truth, and I feel sure that at some point someone with integrity and a wish to make the world a better place will listen, and actually do something about what has been done to me, and oh so many others.

            Take care


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    • A few years ago I tried to kill myself. I was held in a private psychiatric hospital for 17 days before I was sent to the state hospital where I now work. A large number of us on that unit where I was held were there because we’d tried to kill ourselves.

      No one at that hospital would talk with any of us about what we’d tried to do. Not the psychiatrists, not the therapist, not the social worker, not the unit staff. When we gathered around the table in the community room and talked about it among ourselves we were told that we shouldn’t be talking about such things! I spoke up and said that I felt it was very appropriate for us to talk about our experiences since none of the staff were willing to help us process anything. They puffed up like a bunch of toads. I went on to say that I thought that the whole reason for being there was to receive help in understanding why I’d tried to kill myself and to find a way to begin healing and find some sense of well being. Obviously I was being held there for the money that they were getting, $1,000 per day to be exact! But there was no listening to us and no attempt to help us deal with anything. We were just supposed to sit there and be good and be quiet and not cause them any trouble.

      Talking among ourselves was the best therapy that we could have received. We processed all our own stuff and worked things out and helped one another, but we weren’t supposed to do that according to all the staff at that private hospital. Listening is definitely a dying art in psychiatric institutions.

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      • Thanks for sharing and reading Stephen! I certainly agree in the case of suicide and so many other things, talking to those who have had a similar experience is one of the most healing and connecting things we can do, if not the most.
        I had a similar experience at one hospital I was at, where many of us who had had spiritual experiences were able to relate with each other, and it was more effective, humanizing and connecting than anything I got from the counselors. However, at some of the other hospitals I was at, people were treated so poorly and drugged so heavily that there was a similar barrier in us relating to each other. It seems the hospitals often make it difficult for inmates/patients to connect with one another, but when we find ways to, it makes the experience meaningful, and quite different. I still remember people I met at that one hospital almost 15 years ago. I stayed in touch with some by email. Two of them even ended up getting together romantically and stayed together for years afterward. Maybe they are still together today. Peer support all the way!
        Yet, I wish ti didn’t have to be called “peer support.” I wish it was just understood that all people need friends, regardless of what their life experiences have been and whether they’ve been given a label.

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  2. Chaya,

    Great post. A agree, we live in a society that is starved for listening.

    “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word,*a listening ear*, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia

    Be well,


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  3. “A question that arises out of all this is whether psychiatric diagnosis came out of the loss of the art of listening. If we are diagnosing, we aren’t listening. Is psychiatry, as it has developed, a way to bypass listening and instead give a pill?”

    Yes, it most definitely is! That is brilliantly stated. It reminds me greatly of the works of Alice Miller, whose primary thesis is that we suppress our own pain as children because we have to, and if we don’t become aware of that process, we inflict the same pain on our own children. Psychiatry provides an effective mechanism to do exactly that. “My son isn’t depressed because of his environment or upbringing or the school he has to attend – it’s because his brain doesn’t work!” The adults are absolved of responsibility and the children get to carry the “bad person” label. And into adulthood, the person in power is always protected by the ability to define anyone protesting their decisions as “mentally ill” and absolve themselves of the need to use their power more responsibly.

    Listening is the key – when people listen and hear where the suffering comes from, it’s a lot harder to dehumanize the victim. Which is why it is SO terribly upsetting to the elite when survivors try to have their voices heard. Somewhere deep down, they know they are missing the boat and causing more pain and will be called to account for it some day. The only way to defend against hearing that deep voice in their own psyche is to cling more tightly to their defensive “theories” that put the blame on the victim instead of empowering their client to find new ways to be heard.

    Beautiful piece!

    —- Steve

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