Our newest conference this coming April in Michigan is the high point of a transition that my wife Ginger and I have been making for several years. The origins of the change go much further into the past to sixty-one years ago in 1954 when I was an eighteen-year-old college freshman at Harvard and a friend invited me to join him as a volunteer on the wards of Metropolitan State Hospital. I was majoring in American History and Literature, with little thought of becoming a psychologist and no thought whatsoever of being a medical doctor and a psychiatrist.
The wretchedly stifling living conditions inflicted upon the state hospital inmates were appalling. As I began to spend increasing hours on the wards, my innocent eyes saw that the poisonous drugs, electroshock and lobotomy were doing far more harm than good. Instead, the so-called patients needed something that was nearly absent—caring relationships. The inmates begged us volunteers for our attention and they responded warmly to any that we offered.
Our Harvard-Radcliffe volunteer program created a special project in which a dozen of us students showed that, with a little supervision from a skilled social worker, we could actually help many of the most hopeless patients regain strength and hope, so that nearly all of them could leave the hospital. As I described in Toxic Psychiatry, the ongoing volunteer program gave stunning results and received national publicity. The program continued for many years after I graduated Harvard but eventually fell before the onslaught of biological psychiatry whose basic ideology it so thoroughly undermined and discredited.
If the journey had a beginning, it could have been there at Metropolitan State. I think it really started at age ten when I saw a newsreel in a movie theater showing the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp. Jews like me were piled up like refuse in heaps of the dead and dying. As a young boy, of course I felt initially overwhelmed at witnessing people like myself being treated like biological trash. Yet in response to that trauma, I managed to make a vow to myself — I would not go easily, nor would I stand by idly while others were taken. Nothing again aroused that intense emotional reaction in me until I set foot into American’s version of the concentration camp in the form of Metropolitan State. My vow was re-awakened.
To call it a journey is really a euphemism. It felt in the beginning like a lonely war against psychiatric oppression and then, with Ginger, a less lonely but still frightening campaign. Nowadays we rarely feel isolated or threatened because we have for so many years survived the worst and because many other citizens and a number of professionals are beginning to take stands, and to provide mutual support to each other. I have gone from the early years of living under constant physical and professional threat to feeling welcome nearly everywhere. With Ginger, I have also come to conclude that my books and articles, and now my blogs and videos, have disseminated enough critical scientific theory and fact for others to continue building on.
Ginger and I have been shifting our emphasis to the more positive realization that I took away from Metropolitan State—that caring and even loving relationships lie at the heart of all healing and can work miracles. I have also been focusing on increasing our understanding of why we human beings suffer so much from painful, self-destructive emotions that undermine and ruin our relationships. These overwhelming emotions make us easy victims of predatory human beings and institutions like psychiatry. Toward increasing this understanding, I wrote my most recent book, Guilt, Shame and Anxiety, about the origins of these inhibitory emotions in biological evolution and childhood, and about how to triumph over and transcend them with reason and love.
Ginger and I have also been shifting the focus of the conferences we began putting on 25 years ago. Our new conference in Michigan this coming April 17-19, 2015 with cosponsor Bertram Karon continues to present strong critiques of psychiatry, but it offers much more about solutions and positive approaches.
Leaders will describe international programs, such as Open Dialogue, a family-oriented approach to treating “schizophrenia,” that has nearly eliminated the “disorder” from the city of Lapland, Finland. Presenters Mary Olson and Rebecca Hatton are bringing it to the United States. The Swedish model for placing distressed clients with families in a farming community is equally exciting. Presenter Carina Håkansson from the Family Care Foundation will describe how this “simple life” moves people toward recovery. Gina Calhoun will present a scientifically validated and internationally implemented peer approach to helping people across the spectrum of emotional problems through WRAP — the Wellness Recovery Action Plan. Based on firsthand worldwide experience and his scientific acumen, Robert Whitaker will offer us a scientific review and analysis of innovative, caring approaches.
Experienced professionals will describe their individual research and therapeutic work. Jeanne Stolzer will join me in exploring the origins of guilt, shame and anxiety in biological evolution, and how we can overcome these self-defeating emotions through reason, relationship and love. Burt Karon will talk about psychoanalytic therapy; Michael Cornwall about lived experienced and Laingian therapy; Tim Evans and Geri Carter about Adlerian social theory and love; and Bob Foltz about applying the scientific method to studying drug-free therapy. Pediatrician Tom Ryan will describe his dramatic moral and scientific decision to stop psychiatrically diagnosing and drugging the children in his practice. Michael Corrigan will, with startling visual images, debunk ADHD and stimulant drugs, and tell us what children really need.
Empathic therapy is an international movement of great diversity. You will come away from our conference with a profound sense of the depth and variety of caring, humane and largely drug-free empathic approaches to helping people, as well as the mounting scientific evidence that empathic relationship lies at the heart of healing. For many, the conference will be personally inspiring.
The conference takes place April 17-19, 2015 on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. It is sponsored by our nonprofit Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living with cosponsorship by Bertram Karon and the Michigan Psychoanalytic Council. The setting is the great hotel and conference center on the campus with nearby culinary delights. The conference awards CEUs.
Bert, Ginger and I, and our roster of presenters, look forward to seeing you!
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.