Lessons from Soteria-Alaska

Jim Gottstein, JD
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Yes, Soteria-Alaska is closing.  And its sister organization, CHOICES, Inc., has lost its way.  As the person who conceived of both of these and got them going, I have some thoughts that might be worthwhile about what went wrong; what should or might have been done differently; and most importantly, what lessons might have been learned.

A Brief History

After reading Mad In America by Robert Whitaker in late 2002, I founded the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (PsychRights), CHOICES, Inc., and Soteria-Alaska.  I have written often that, to me, Mad In America was a litigation road map for challenging forced drugging by focusing on it not being in the person’s best interest, and there being less intrusive alternatives.  Recognizing the need for truly helpful alternatives, I founded CHOICES, Inc., and Soteria-Alaska.  CHOICES was founded to provide community based assistance to people diagnosed with serious mental illness to recover and become full participants in society.  As did so many, I discovered Loren Mosher through reading Mad In America ,and found his book (with Lorenzo Burti), Community Mental Health: A Practical Guide, to be exactly what its title says.  Chapter 9 describes what a good community mental health program would look like.  Thus, the Articles of Incorporation of CHOICES, Inc., state that its purposes are to provide:

Prompt, non-harmful, holistic, accessible, client centered, non-coercive, recovery oriented, quality mental health, rehabilitation, and other services, with continuity, that respect and enhance the rights, dignity, and self determination of people seeking help for mental and emotional difficulties by

  • Recognizing that solving practical problems such as (i) finding adequate housing, (ii) financial security, (iii) meaningful activity, (iv) satisfying personal relationships, and (v) social self-help supports is critical to success,
  • Allowing them to determine the design and implementation of their services,
  • Focusing on their strengths, satisfaction and positive outcomes,
  • Promoting natural and community supports,
  • Incorporating their culture and value system, and
  • Finding or building such other supports and services they may desire to be successful living, working, and playing in mainstream society.

In fact, CHOICES’ application for tax-exempt (501(c)(3)) status attached a copy of Chapter 9 of Community Mental Health: A Practical Guide as an explanation of its program.

In terms of mental illness industry nomenclature, CHOICES is an independent “case management” agency but we called our people “Recovery Coordinators.”

Soteria-Alaska was founded to replicate, as much as possible, the original Soteria House in San Jose, CA., which was founded by Dr. Mosher and run so ably by Alma Menn and Voyce Hendrix.  Susan Musante, Soteria-Alaska’s first Executive Director, has written about the philosophy and supporting evidence for Soteria here, so I won’t go into it other than to say that it is designed to prevent people who experience a first psychotic break from immediately being put on neuroleptics (hyped by the marketers as “antipsychotics), and thus transformed into chronic, disabled mental patients.  It is pretty fair to say that 80% of such people so treated can get through their experience and on with their lives, compared to 5% of the people who can be considered recovered under the current psych-drugs-for-all, mainstream approach.

I always felt that Soteria-Alaska could be part of CHOICES, Inc., but the reason I formed separate non-profits was because while I didn’t think we could get funding for both projects from a single, new, organization, it might be possible to get funding for two separate organizations.  I resigned from both boards in 2007 because PsychRights’ mission involved suing the State of Alaska and it seemed hard to get money from the State if I was on the boards of directors for CHOICES and Soteria-Alaska while at the same time was suing it through PsychRights.

The strategy worked, and  CHOICES, Inc., was funded and opened in 2007, and Soteria-Alaska in 2009.   This was made possible by start-up funding from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.  I have written about how this all happened in Report: Multifaceted Grassroots Efforts to Bring About Meaningful Change to Alaska’s Mental Health Program.

Under the superb leadership of Susan, CHOICES and Soteria-Alaska were true to their missions and founding principles and improved the lives of many people caught in the mental illness system.  At the same time, the financial pressures were very daunting and the authorities’ insistence upon billing Medicaid as much as possible was always a problem.  The idea of billing Medicaid, and the way that it is tied to disability, is contrary to the principles upon which Soteria was founded.

Soteria-Alaska also was fairly unable to receive first-episode, non-neuroleptized people for a couple of reasons.  According to Susan and others, by the time people get to the age of 18, which is the youngest Soteria-Alaska could house, they had already been on neuroleptics for a number of years.  Soteria-Alaska was a tremendous help to many of these residents but, frankly, it is not designed as a withdrawal program for people who have been on neuroleptics.  (Daniel Mackler wrote about this here.)

I always felt that collaborating with the Public Defender Agency was a way to give people who were experiencing their first psychosis and contact with the mental illness system a chance to go to Soteria-Alaska.  I have been informed the Public Defender Agency did not embrace the idea, but PsychRights was prepared to represent people who might have the right to go to Soteria-Alaska rather than be locked up in the psychiatric Hospital.  This approach was not taken because Soteria-Alaska did not want such an adversarial relationship with the hospital.

In 2011, tragically, a former resident, Mike McEvoy, came back to visit Soteria-Alaska; he shot and killed another former resident, Mozelle Nalan, who was also there.  Mozelle was one of Soteria-Alaska’s greatest successes, having been psychiatrized and drugged from her early teen years, and arriving shortly after she turned 18 with extreme “psychiatric symptoms.”  Over the time she was there, she was able to completely turn her life around and was in the process of becoming a volunteer and was on track to become a staff member.  Amazingly, through Susan’s leadership (as well as Dr. Aron Wolf’s) Soteria-Alaska was able to weather the storm.  However, it wasn’t able to survive the relentless challenges to its program represented by the mainstream mental health system, and insufficient funding.

In early 2014, due to its dire fiscal situation, Susan resigned as a cost-saving measure, offering to work as a consultant to help Soteria achieve financial stability.  Instead, at that point the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority provided additional financial support to hire the recently former director of the Alaska Division of Behavioral Health as a temporary executive director.  While generally supportive of the CHOICES/Soteria approach, this temporary executive director brought a mainstream perspective.  One of the things she did was  merge Soteria-Alaska into CHOICES, a decision which, on its own, made sense.

However, as far as I can tell the permanent director who was hired six months or so ago has no real appreciation for, nor understanding of, the CHOICES/Soteria approach.  It is therefore no surprise that CHOICES and Soteria-Alaska drifted away from their core missions and philosophy.  CHOICES even pursued and was awarded a large grant to establish an Assertive Community Program (ACT or PACT) and has reoriented its focus toward that.  Assertive Community Programs are inherently coercive and usually revolve around making sure people are taking their psych drugs.

The lease for Soteria-Alaska was recently up for renewal; the board decided not to do so and close it instead.  In sum, the original purpose and mission of CHOICES has been co-opted, and Soteria-Alaska closed.

Lessons?

I think the paramount lesson is that a Soteria needs to have sufficient funding to function as intended.  It is my understanding that the soon-to-be-opened Soteria-Vermont does have that kind of funding.  I hope so.

Equally important, organizations such as CHOICES and Soteria Alaska need to stand firm and stay true to their vision and mission, rather than accept funding that is inconsistent with them.  By so doing organizations get co-opted.

I was often asked, what about people who want to take psych drugs; shouldn’t they have a place to go?   My response to that is there are lots of places for people who want to take psych drugs; this is one for those that don’t.  Now, in Alaska, there will be no such place.

Clearly, the most important thing is that the attitude of the powers that be — the funders, and the public — need to be changed to accept the reality that the current psych-drugs-for-everyone, forever, of course, approach is not working, and the approach set forth in Chapter 9 of Community Mental Health: A Practical Guide needs to be adopted to be successful.  I have written and talked about this for quite some time, including here on MadinAmerica in A Three Pronged Approach to Mental Health System Change.

Why Does It Matter?

Above, I pointed out that not immediately going to neuroleptics can achieve 80% recovery rates, while our system is producing 5% recovery rates.  Behind these statistics are real people; real lives.

At the going-away party of a long-time CHOICES/Soteria manager who just couldn’t continue there in light of its abandonment of its mission and principles, I talked to a young Alaskan Native who I knew from when he was a resident of Soteria-Alaska.  I asked him how he is doing.  He said great.  I asked him if he felt his time at Soteria-Alaska had helped him.  He said it had changed his life around.

A couple of years ago Matt Ladner wrote a piece in MadinAmerica“This Place is Full of Life”: On Deliverance at Soteria Alaska that describes his experience.  It is worth a read.

In conclusion:

I remember reading in an article by Dr. Mosher about a program he had created, that implemented the types of helpful interactions he proved were so beneficial, that went back to be a coercive, drugs-for-everyone program after he left.  I understand the same thing happened to Soteria-Berne in Switzerland after Luc Ciompi left.  From my viewpoint, this is what has happened to CHOICES in short order, as well.  So, one of the things that we need to figure out is how to continue the mission after the founding visionaries leave.

While I had the idea of forming CHOICES Inc., and Soteria-Alaska, and Aron Wolf was instrumental in helping to get it going, Susan was the heart and soul of Soteria-Alaska. She recruited an amazing crew and created an absolutely magical environment under very difficult financial (and other) circumstances.  It is no coincidence that Soteria-Alaska barely lasted a year after she left, despite her best efforts to set things up so it could continue.

Nevertheless; while Soteria-Alaska is closing and CHOICES, Inc., seems to have been co-opted by the system, one can see that they have had a profoundly positive effect on many of the people who were involved, and these will continue into the future.  I hope that the relatively short time Soteria-Alaska and CHOICES Inc., performed their magic serves as a beacon for continued efforts to achieve “non-harmful, holistic, accessible, client-centered, non-coercive, recovery-oriented, quality mental health, rehabilitation, and other services, with continuity, that respect and enhance the rights, dignity, and self-determination of people seeking help for mental and emotional difficulties.”

* * * * *

Finally, I recently had occasion to correspond with former staff member Samantha Thornton, who had to leave after Mozelle’s murder.  She wrote:MozelleWithCaption

It is from those horrors we all redefine ourselves and make meaning of our journey. I loved both of those young people as if they were my own. And Soteria was a seed that lay dormant in my healing; and now I get the chance to regularly spread the message of that experience in a voice and language of hope and change. It will not close with the closing of its doors. Period. The message lives in all of us that shared that experience; and we take it with us in all of our endeavors; I just happen to be able to communicate to the mental health field, specifically. Some of us that lived through that time still have healing to do. I only know this because I still communicate with many of those who were a part of that family; and I still consider them all family. Please feel free to share that. Recently I was asked about Soteria by those with the power to invoke change  here…and I highlighted the self-actualization of choice, humane experiences, whole health…and most especially; that Soteria did something in my eyes that I have never seen done before; a community absent of power and control; dominance and defeat. For me, as a person with lived experience, it is the most surreal gift and what “treatment” never gave me; It is a gift for which I have no adequate words.I am sure I owe a large portion of my healing to those who were a part of that family.

Tomorrow, June 30th, is the 4th anniversary of Mozelle’s murder.  Her boyfriend asked us all to plant forget-me-nots, Mozelle’s favorite flower, as a way to remember her.  I think of her often, and always when I see the forget-me-nots in our yard, which are now blooming.

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63 COMMENTS

  1. Jim – Thank you for your energy and efforts in helping create Soteria-Alaska, and I very much appreciate your candor in describing its fate. Your report here is EXTREMELY VALUABLE, as you are very clear here in helping us understand what ultimately can happen to fantastic experiments which lack funding and lose their visionary leadership. You article is sobering in the best sense of that word, as you make it clear that while courage, compassion, and creativity are necessary, they are not sufficient for sustainability; as “rehumanization sustainability” also requires practical concerns around finances, politics, and maintaining organizational integrity with leadership changes. Once again, Jim, thanks for all your efforts, including this report — Bruce

  2. This is terrible news. I feel so sad to read this.

    But it isn’t surprising that the “mental health” establishment, and the drug corporations who control it, always wanted Soteria to fail.

    This reminds us that it isn’t enough to come up with great ideas for helping people. We also have to struggle very hard politically to make them happen and keep them going.

    I myself was helped a lot by a program similar to Soteria in Vancouver, B.C. and I am very grateful. Like Soteria Alaska, it fell apart after its original leaders left, though not in the same way as in Alaska. I don’t know what might have happened to me if it wasn’t for the help I got there.

  3. “Mozelle was one of Soteria-Alaska’s greatest successes, having been psychiatrized and drugged from her early teen years, and arriving shortly after she turned 18 with extreme “psychiatric symptoms.” Over the time she was there, she was able to completely turn her life around and was in the process of becoming a volunteer and was on track to become a staff member.”

    Is Mozelle’s story of success written somewhere that could be read by others? ( I don’t mean anything to do with the murder – I mean her psychiatric survival story. ) I am always looking for stories about young teens with extreme symptoms who then recover, and the details of people’s experiences can sometimes resonate with the story of my loved one, which provides us with great hope.

    It sounds that Mozelle’s story of success could be both a lasting legacy for her and a source of inspiration for others – if there is such a story I would be so grateful to be able to read it.

  4. Thanks for the article Jim, you were able to explain what happened to Soteria in a way that I couldn’t find the words to express. There were lots of lessons learned… Seeing how soteria Alaska started and the passion of everyone to do something different and helpful was amazing….watching it slowly become an organization were billing Medicare and playing nice with the system was the fundamental concern was heartbreaking. Peace – Foster Berg

  5. Thanks for writing this article Jim. I hope my remarks below are of some value as we all seek to understand the lessons from Soteria Alaska.
    I knew Loren Mosher, and co-led a workshop with him on first episode psychosis based on his experience with Soteria San Jose, and my follow-up research of the Diabasis House first episode med-free program, and my years of serving at the I-ward med-free first episode psychosis program in the early eighties. The whole rationale behind those three bay area programs was to divert the majority of people who first become psychotic from being in the system indefinitely as you say.

    For the past 35 years I’ve specialized in serving people in extreme states as a therapist. I regularly serve people in their late teens and early twenties who are having their first psychotic episode who have had no contact with the mental health system and have not taken any meds- plus I see some who may have been psychotic and placed on meds for the first time in their late teens or early twenties, and want me to help them get off meds and integrate and heal from their life shattering experience.
    So, I disagree with Susan Musante’s assessment that by the time someone is 18 and is becoming psychotic for the first time, they have necessarily been on meds for a number of years. That’s certainly not my experience.
    The developmental glass ceiling of young adulthood that is the stressor that triggers almost all first episodes of psychosis to manifest between around 18 and 25, happens because the young person who is vulnerable from earlier trauma and childhood adversities becomes overwhelmed at college, or on their first job, or in the Army. or from the loss of their first love relationship- and generally is swamped by the huge, sink or swim existential and daunting task of attempting adult autonomy. Jay Haley called these first breaks a leaving home psychosis. They often happen with a rapid, dramatic onset with the young person having no previous contact with mental health services or meds.

    From conversations with Daniel Mackler and other Soteria Alaska staff, I understand that there was a crucial lack of an ironclad MOU with the Alaska mental health administration that insured that every person who is identified at any portal of the system to be in a first break, be admitted at once to Soteria. That is what we had in place for I-ward and it insured our 20 bed residence was almost always full with young people in first episode psychosis. We were open for 8 years and diverted many hundreds of people from being in the system indefinitely. For the story of I-ward, see my MIA article- “Remembering a medication free madness sanctuary.”

    Daniel Mackler even wrote here on MIA about his efforts several years after Soteria opened, to set up ad-hoc connections with individual psychiatrists at psych emergency to send Soteria first breaks.
    I tried to urge Steven Morgan when he was setting up Soteria Vermont to take the necessary political action to get iron clad MOU’s with the state to send Soteria first breaks.
    Without those iron clad MOU’s that in effect force staff psychiatrists by their bosses above them in the organization, to send first breaks from psych emergency and clinics to Soteria, the medical model standard of care that says every second someone is in psychosis, they are undergoing irreversible brain damage, will prevail- and the young person won’t be sent to Soteria.

    The incredible political pressure by NAMI, psychiatry and pharma that forced the closings of Soteria San Jose, Diabasis and I-ward, accounts for the 45,000 acute hospital psych beds being the destination for almost every person who becomes psychotic for the first time.

    If instead, those young people got to go through their process in a loving, med free setting and come out the other side- ‘weller than well” as Karl Menninger said, then a huge percentage of them would not be in the system indefinitely that shortens their lives by 25 years.

    • Great points Michael, I would have loved to see what it would have been like if people in “first breaks” had gone straight to Soteria… I think we could have helped alot more folks avoid institutionalized trauma and handfuls of drugs.

      I will add that I believe there are people going through “first breaks” here in Alaska that have not been medicated…. But those are a small percentage from what I saw, I’m not sure if its part of the culture here to medicate so quickly, or if it was just a lack of support for the idea that people can do great without resorting to psychotropic drugs.

      • I see it as a way for a failing society (unable to care for their own) to ignore a problem and manage behaviors (that happen to make others uncomfortable) by giving an individual a pill and managing illness, not health. One would think that by now, it would be rather evident that the trillions of dollars funneled through the system to keep the status quo -vs- the failure rate would scream “Time for a big change!”. Evidently it doesn’t even register a whisper.
        Great article but so very sad that there is no will of the powers that be to change a single thing.

    • Man, you’ve really nailed it here, Michael, in terms of what is needed and how much better it would be than the immediate and unrelenting brain drugging that almost every unfortunate soul experiencing a first episode psychosis now faces! It’s disgusting but not really surprising to hear that NAMI joined the gang responsible for closing those good programs you mention and were a part of. I’m trying to be a dissenting voice within my local chapter of that organization, but it’s increasingly hard. We need an alternative.

  6. Beautifully written blog, Jim, you made me tear up. And I’m so sorry to hear of the demise of Soteria Alaska, and the takeover of CHOICES.

    Perhaps this is the wrong place for this question, but I’d like to ask it anyway, especially of the ‘professionals’ who frequent this site. My experience of ‘psychosis’ is that of unusual thoughts. And I cannot seem to find any medical proof whatsoever that odd thoughts / ‘psychosis’ actually causes brain damage, despite this being widely claimed to be true by the psychiatric industry, and the basis of our current psychiatric paradigm of care.

    Is there any proof, whatsoever, ‘psychosis’ / odd thoughts actually cause brain damage? And without proof of this, what is the proof that ‘psychosis’ / odd thoughts actually need to be medicated at all? As Jim points out, “not immediately going to neuroleptics can achieve 80% recovery rates, while our system is producing 5% recovery rates.”

    And from a logical standpoint, it makes no sense to me that the content of one’s thoughts – odd or concerned or terrified or whatever – would cause brain damage. Thoughts are just thoughts.

  7. I am reminded of the independant crisis house in Wokingham, UK, that has a rule that no mental health worker is allowed on the premises unless invited.

    Keeping your independance over the long term seems to me to be really important.

    I was shocked by this statement in the article, “by the time people get to the age of 18, which is the youngest Soteria-Alaska could house, they had already been on neuroleptics for a number of years.” As Michael says most psychotic breaks do not happen until early adulthood, I was expecting that to be 18 – 25. So this raises worrying questions about the use of these drugs earlier on.

    • The neuroleptics / antipsychotics actually can create both the negative and positive symptoms of ‘schizophrenia,’ via both neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome and the central symptoms of neuroleptic induced anticholinergic intoxication syndrome (aka anticholinergic toxidrome).

      So you are completely correct in worrying about “the use of these drugs earlier on,” especially in young children. And because the mainstream psychiatric industry denies these known adverse effects of the neuroleptics in practice.

      The hopeful news is, even someone who suffered through two drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic psychoses can still heal, so it’s not just first episode psychotic patients who can heal.

  8. More proof, if needed, that state aid is a Faustian Bargain, and yet vital at times. In any case, amen to all, particularly Dr. Cornwall’s good points re ‘Leaving Home Psychosis’, which can leave any of us emotionally, and sometimes literally, homeless for years or decades.

  9. I’m so sorry to hear the tragic news .It was a courageous and uplifting accomplishment to create and man these outposts of freedom even in the midst of the fascist state and for them to last as long as they did. Natural healing has a long history of being attacked in this country by the seekers of humungous profits that can be made by capturing a person in a weakened state that really could just be temporary and sickening them further striving to lengthen their condition for as long as possible through the predominately making people subservient by way of the pseudo-science multiple modality triple threat from pharma psychiatry , pharma AMA mainstream medicine, and conventional ADA dental mercury , root canal care , also the GMO Monsanto and company turning food into poison, corruption cartel. Lets not forget the neuroleptic nursing homes , with collusion by the fascist (merged with the corporation ) government, all together making up the back to feudalism Therapeutic State. We must join and make the fight for health freedom a big part of our agenda. Read Robert Young’s book “Sick and Tired ” and read of the subverting of truth that certainly has cost more lives, hundreds of millions and untold suffering beyond belief. The powerful control by subverting truth . They don’t care whats true , they care what grows their cash flow power and influence . They control the media and can easily confuse and control the population till they even believe 1+1 is 8. We need to get way more creative join forces with people who love freedom and truth and probably figure out how to raise or earn funds to support soteira like efforts where needed besides revolting against coercion wherever it raises its head in whatever way we are able to creatively do so . There can be no accepting this accelerating fascism ,feudalism , trying to shove pseudo- science down our throats from every direction through multiple cooperating cartels. The people have a right to their birthright of long life ,health, and happiness and the freedom to totally reject the bullshit generated by the 1% seeking to enslave us, shorten our lives, and behaving as if they own the planet . Expose the robber barons to the inside of the prison system they created for others. As long as people are in distress soteria like places must be there. Thank you for your valiant efforts.

  10. Very sad to hear about all the problems you’ve had sustaining alternative drug-free approaches in Alaska, and particularly because the rest of us now have a few fewer places to look for that beacon of hope. This puts pressure on us, too, but thanks, and thanks very much, for the lead. The Law Project for Psychiatric Rights is still very much there, and remains an inspiration to all of us.

  11. Thank you for a clear and very relevant account, Jim! Relevant – because such developments are not rare but they are rarely openly and honestly analysed. From the painful perspective of somebody who was among the founders of the Runaway House Berlin – I can say – it is better to close the project in dignity than to let it run under the same name but not how it was meant to.
    Around 2002 – six years after the start of Berlin Runaway House several people who conceptualised this project and invested years of commitment before the house could finally open – have jointly left. At that time it was already clear that the project is taking a rather different direction in comparison to its first years. This process reached tip of the iceberg in March last year when the grounding rule that half of the workers should be psych survivors was formally abolished. That decision was a logical consequence of all the other substantial changes that step by step took place in the course of 12 years, so nothing really new. However, the fact that this was not publicly communicated felt like the meanest part of it. It confirmed that the project still profits from its ‘anti-psychiatric’ history and sells itself as such, whatever that means. A Runaway House worker who took part in one of the panels of Mad in America film festival was announced as working “in the Runaway House, which is an ‘antipsychiatric facility’ in Berlin that works without diagnosis and supports people to come off drugs. At least half the staff are ex-users of psychiatry.” (http://madinamericainternationalfilmfestival.com/speakers-panelists/) The festival took place 7 months after this statement was even ‘officially’ no longer true. As a result of some pressure to at least stop hiding their decisions – the Runaway House team finally announced this change on their website (http://www.weglaufhaus.de/). Discussing the justification they provided would largely exceed the scope of this comment.
    What I meant to say is – however sad it is that people will be denied access to your project, you also prevented Soteria Alaska from getting credits and paying salaries for a kind of service whose values and principles you don’t share anymore. To me, this is something to respect and add to lessons learned.
    Warm greetuings from Berlin
    Jasna

  12. I will begin by agreeing with what others have said. The demise of Soteria-Alaska is a crying shame, and Jim Gottstein deserves all the praise he has been offered here. That said, the bad news should hardly surprise us. George Orwell said, “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.” Previously, Frederick Douglass wrote, “Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will.” I would substitute “fight” for “demand.”

    For a demand is likely to be futile unless it is backed by countervailing power or by a credible threat. Following David Cohen’s very good talk near the end of MIA’s film festival last October in which he pointed out that psychiatry will be very difficult to weaken or eliminate so long as it performs a socially approved function, I rose and suggested that we are engaged in a power struggle with psychiatry. To prevail it will be necessary to develop power based strategies and tactics or imaginative ju-jitsu techniques calculated to employ psychiatry’s own claims and tactics against itself.

    Only rarely has a power-free good example weakened significantly the standing and authority of a powerful bad example. Jesus has often been cited as such an example, but Jesus was murdered, and the example of the life he led has hardly had an effect on the quantity of evil in our contemporary world.

    I have only just received Whitaker and Cosgrove’s new book, however I’m aware that it describes very well influences on psychiatry of such power that it would be delusional for us to believe that one more, or even hundreds more of compassionate, helpful alternatives will lead psychiatry to see the light and yield space, power, and authority to them without engaging in a battle for what it will view as its very survival.

    So, listen up survivors and allies to the words of Brecht and Weil’s “Survival Song” and, “Don’t count on your mothers for comfort! Don’t you count on the better side of Man!”

    We are all aware of the harm psychiatry has done and continues to do. It is time to begin thinking about ways to prevent and end additional harm. Toward that end I hope that the film, “Where’s the Evidence: A Challenge to Psychiatric Authority” which reports on MindFreedom’s 2003 hunger strike, can serve as a useful beginning case study

    • Mickey, much of what you say resonates with me. I especially like your suggestion of “ju-jitsu techniques calculated to employ psychiatry’s own claims and tactics against itself.” I believe that is what Robert Whitaker has done and continues to do, in part. In my own small way, I believe I’m also employing that tactic in advocating for a couple people close to me who are to differing degrees caught in conventional biopsychiatry’s web. And I’ve also been active in trying to get the truth out in a number of other ways, and I do see a place for strong and active resistance against the “false knowledge” in contemporary mainstream psychiatry.

      However, I totally disagree with your following statement: “Jesus has often been cited as such an example [a “power-free good example”], but Jesus was murdered, and the example of the life he led has hardly had an effect on the quantity of evil in our contemporary world.” First off, I believe Jesus was and IS anything but power-free. I believe his life has had inestimable influence and real effect in dispelling evil in the world and promoting love, including in myself (although I’m very much a work in progress, continually in need of God’s grace). Clearly, evil still abounds in our contemporary world, including harmful practices in psychiatry and, in some cases, through “religious”, misguided people who claim to be acting in the name of God, or even Jesus! However, I will contend that the power of Jesus is very real, was perfectly manifested in his life, and has been very evident throughout history in the “good works” even of the very flawed people who (at times) through faith allow him to work through their lives.

      • Thank you so much, Russerford. I hope I deserve your first comment; I am certain I deserve the second. I can only plead what I hope is temporary stupidity and insensitivity. In fact this is probably a good time to apologize to everyone who has posted on this thread, but especially to Jim whose good work, intelligence, courage, and persistence I have admired since the day I first became aware of him as an advocate for users and survivors of psychiatry.

        This thread was not meant to be a forum for my ideas, but was meant to be an opportunity to grieve the passing of Soteria- Alaska and to honor Jim’s part in its creation and maintenance. I guess my passion to help create a better and freer life for victims of biopsychiatry and to work toward its weakening and eventual elimination got the better of me.

        I can’t promise it will never happen again. When and if it does I hope to be called on it. I can assure you all my remarks, while sometimes blunt, are never meant to be personal.

        • Mickey, I heartily accept your apology and thank you for a very thoughtful reply. It’s clear to me that you’re a very honorable man. I was sincere in my first comment and I really admire your passion and commitment to translating these passions into corrective action! In my own passion I have sometimes said things that I later regretted… so we definitely share that human tendency. Keep up your strong voice and the honesty and good will you’ve demonstrated.

          In solidarity,

          Russ

  13. Dear Jim and other readers of the blog,

    In my opinion we should stop all attempts to be “better psychiatrists” or “better social workers” or stop any drugs producing industry, instead we should concentrate ONLY on the core task: stop any psychiatric coercion, forced treatment and incarceration, as long as a psychiatric advance directive (PAD) has not been signed beforehand, legalizing any psychiatric violence.
    If we concentrate on this, one can instantly see that it is a political question, as the mental health laws have to be abolished.
    As a step in between we need to achieve a waterproof PAD prohibiting any psychiatric diagnosis, any psychiatric coercion, any forced treatment and any incarceration, also on grounds of the insanity defense.
    The reason for this suggestion: as soon as coercion is banned, all “mental health” workers would no longer have the possibility for taking hostages, so they would have to offer their services and convince the customer that they be paid only for their efforts.
    We did have success here in Germany with this focus on the political question. One can read about our waterproof PAD here: http://www.patverfue.de/en

    Best greetings from accross the Atlantic
    Rene Talbot
    Berlin
    Germany

    • But in the state here in the United States that I live in a PAD is only as good as the psychiatrist who gets your case when you’re dragged and drugged into the system. PAD’s aren’t worth the paper they’re written on and are not legally binding in my state. If the psychiatrist decides, for one reason or another, that she or he doesn’t want to abide by your wishes in your PAD she or he doesn’t have to follow it at all. It is not a legally binding document. It’s just another example of a bone they’ve thrown to us to make us believe that we’re truly being consulted about our own “treatment” at their hands.

      Unfortunately PAD’s are worth nothing here at this moment in time.

  14. Good suggestion, Rene. But here are two problems I see: 1) We often suggest, assert, and debate what “ought” to be done. However even the best of suggestions are not self executing. European countries are in advance of us here in America with respect to a number of policies. We still, for instance, treat medical care as a privilege to be purchased from profit making organizations rather than as a human right. So one problem is by what process, likely to be effective, do we convince our less than enlightened legislatures and courts to pass and adjudicate humane laws protective of psychiatrically labeled people?

    This becomes even more difficult when many on both the left and the right have lost all faith in the political system itself and appear to believe that one measure of political sophistication is to deny the utility of our political institutions while they suggest no viable substitute other than some vague notion of “revolution.”

    2) Even should the use of forced “treatment” be neutralized, our “helpers” would still, it appears, be permitted to lie and to promote their false and unsubstantiated claims of expertise. My own suggestion is that we must begin a planning process which will lead to the reduction and eventual elimination of the unwarranted trust and authority which the courts. police, media, entertainment industry, and general public have granted psychiatry. Biological psychiatry will begin to wither and die when it is seen as no longer serving a legitimate public purpose for which it receives public and political support. As always, “the devil is in the details.” Now is the time to begin planning and thinking about how best to create a new political reality which doesn’t include biological psychiatry.

    • In my opinion waiting on a “revolution” is a waste of time.
      That´s why i suggest the reformist step to struggle for a new law, which permits a “bulletproof” PAD.
      Lying is luckily not for bitten – but selling services with lies won´t result in satisfied customers – I am sure it will soon proof to be a bad business
      rene

      • Rene, it depends on whom you consider the customers to be. The goal of contemporary psychiatric institutions, including Big Pharma and shock machine manufacturers, is not to convince informed persons freely seeking ways and means to flourish and live more fulfilling lives, it is to sell their wares and techniques to those who wish to control “others” who have inconvenienced and annoyed them, but have broken no laws. When politicians, pundits, average citizens, and National Rifle Association officials call for more mental health services following every mass murder, they are calling for the greater use of methods for preventive social control. The public, families, courts, cops, and the entertainment industry must become convinced that, not only are psychiatry’s claims without merit or scientific support, but that biopsychiatry does not serve the public interest. What we must begin to discuss seriously is how to persuade these various institutions to withdraw their trust from biopsychiatry, a political and economic interest which operates under the cover of accepted false and unsubstantiated claims of medical expertise. In my opinion, this will only occur when we begin to discuss power and how to use it in the political arena.

      • Who’s waiting!? As long as psychiatry is non-consensual (a matter conducted by governments with the aid of psychiatrists) a revolution is required. I sincerely doubt any PAD will manage to be, as you put it, “bulletproof”. I would think legislators in league with law enforcement, psychiatrists, and drug company exes are going to make sure of that. We know at the head of this monitor and control business are the drug companies who profit from it. Coercion may make it difficult to evade non-consensual psychiatry, however it is my feeling that all psychiatry, outside of a blatantly forensic situation, should be consensual. Assaulting a person with a psychiatric label should be no more permissible than assaulting a person without a psychiatric label. Until we change this situation, people impacted by the psychiatric system are also going to be victims of prejudice and discrimination. If so-called “stigma” is the law, you’re not going to make much headway by trying to change peoples’ hearts and minds alone, what needs to change is the law. If it doesn’t, the mark of Cain “stigmata” might as well be burnt into the flesh with a branding iron.

        • Legislators only rarely act on the basis of what’s right and moral. They respond to those they believe can hurt them and to those they believe can help them. That is why we cannot refuse to get into the political arena based on some misplaced perception that it is either sophisticated or accurate to believe that our political system is so rigged that it is best to ignore it. But first the public must be persuaded that psychiatry does not deserve the respect, authority, and police power it has been granted. Only then will public officials respond to our calls for desired legislation. but that will take long meetings and internal (friendly ) conflict to produce effective strategies and tactics.

  15. I do fully agree with Rene that only when there is no more possibility of forced treatment – the psychiatric profession will have to re-define or re-invent itself. As long as they are allowed to impose treatment, they don’t have to change anything. But advance directives are just one avenue towards that goal. Also, we all have different interests and skills and only this one life so not everybody should be asked to work on one same issue.
    In solidarity
    Jasna

    • Most adult folks who have been damaged by drugs took them voluntarily based on false or limited information. Children have little choice when they are “persuaded” by their parents to take psychoactive drugs or to enter a psychiatric “hospital” for “treatment.” Parents are “persuaded” by school systems to put their kids on “meds.” They too often believe they are acting in their children’s best interests. It is the institution of biopsychiatry which is the problem, not force alone.

        • Of course the prohibition of force would not solve everything but it would leave biopsychiatry without one of its two most powerful weapons (another one is pharmacological industry). Without that kind of backing – the biomedical model of mental illnes would compete on equal foot with other understandigs and approaches. And we know how strongly ‘scientifical’ and ‘evidenced’ and ‘successful’ that model is. I don’t mean to end up in the discussion of what is more or the most important but biomedical psychiatry does not operate on its own. As you say – it is an institution. It is well supported by not only the option but the TASK to excercise social control in form of forced treatment. Once that power is taken away – people would have to be persuaded on the basis of what it has to offer, not on the basis of fear. That kind of battle would be fair and much harder for psychiatry to win…

  16. Jim, thanks so much for your efforts in Alaska, and your continuing work through PsychRights to bring needed attention and advocacy to those who continue to be caught up in the Gulag Psychepelago here in “the land of the free”. I like your following portrayal and rationale of Soteria Alaska: “… it is designed to prevent people who experience a first psychotic break from immediately being put on neuroleptics (hyped by the marketers as “antipsychotics), and thus transformed into chronic, disabled mental patients. It is pretty fair to say that 80% of such people so treated can get through their experience and on with their lives, compared to 5% of the people who can be considered recovered under the current psych-drugs-for-all, mainstream approach.” I find it both incredible and intensely frustrating that so very few in our current “mental health” system seem to have any inkling of this. Yes, to be fair, the 80% recovery figure (assuming this is that reportedly achieved by Open Dialogue treatment methodology in western Finland) needs to be replicated and corroborated. But what you ran into in Alaska seems to epitomize the saying that “false knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance”. The “psych-drugs-for-all” mainstream approach, as you so aptly put it, appears to be based on the false knowledge that psychosis is the manifestation of a progressive neurological malignancy that must be arrested by drugs at all costs. Ironically, this false knowledge often results in the very thing it purports to prevent: progressive neurological deterioration as a result of the intrusion and continued bombardment of toxic substances in the brains of its victims!

    Anyway, thanks for continuing to “fight the good fight”!

  17. This site attracts a very large number of very intelligent people with a wide range of knowledge about the “mental health” system, its deficiencies and the the harm it imposes. Furthermore, these folks have numerous good and compelling ideas about what “ought” to be done. My own principal interest concerns planning strategies and tactics for eliminating psychiatry’s deficiencies, the harm it does and in the process, eliminating biopsychiatry. I am also interested in planning and using strategies and tactics which are likely to compel biopsychiatry to make room for effective non-invasive alternatives which actually do help. I have made an effort to list for myself a large number of barriers which must be overcome if the changes frequently discussed in MIA forums are to ever be implemented. Is a lack of interest in planning strategies and tactics appropriate to the task of neutralizing biopsychiatry and clearing room for helpful alternatives available to more than niche numbers of persons who desire real assistance one more barrier which must be overcome, or have I just not been observing carefully since about 1970? This is a serious and well intended question and is not intended as snark. I should add that this problem, if it is one, is very common and certainly is not peculiar to psych survivors and their allies. I do understand how daunting traveling the path to real change can appear to be.

    • For what it is worth, these are my thoughts:
      Most so-called alternatives involve tolerating a certain amount of extreme states/psychosis/spiritual emergency and giving the person the space – physically and temporally – to recover. In addition to funding programs, there needs to be a shifting in people’s’ conceptualization of these problems. If you read Joanna Moncrieff’s blog today, you see she provides strong data that long term use of medications are not worth the risk (there are less charitable ways of stating this). But it means that one would consider a “relapse” in someone who has chosen to not take drug treatment a part of the process. Right now, every time a person who has chosen to stop or not use drugs runs into problems and winds up in a hospital, the people there see that as proof that the drugs are necessary (Of course the many people who wind up in a hospital despite taking the drugs are considered to have a “treatment resistant condition”). It requires a shifting of perspective. As someone who is struggling with this shift, I can tell you with sincerity that it is hard. This is why it is so important for people to speak out and tell their stories and for more research to be done.

      • Yes, Sandra, what you say brings to mind what I understand is one of the key principles undergirding the Open Dialogue approach: “tolerance of uncertainty”, which goes hand-in-hand with a humble honesty that acknowledges there is still a tremendous amount of mystery in all the states of mind and being that we call “mental illness”. I see the connection you mention with Joanna Moncrieff’s blog, as well as your own in reflecting on “Psychiatry Under the Influence” and “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)”. I think it would certainly be more honest and avoid some of the more egregious treatment mistakes to approach things from a “drug centered” rather than a “disease centered” perspective, as Joanna has suggested. And your comments on the way doctor’s in training, by necessity, concentrate on absorbing a tremendous amount of information from their mentors, at the expense of critical thinking, certainly helps in understanding how faulty information and practices are perpetuated.

        I so appreciate your portrayal of the “lose-lose” scenario it terms of the way acute psychiatric hospital staff regard someone who ends up in the hospital while attempting medication taper, versus those who end of there while being “perfectly compliant”. I’ve witnessed both of those scenarios and it is truly maddening!

  18. It is with a heavy heart reading this news, Jim, and am grieved with the closing of Soteria-Alaska being a witness to all of your and others’ efforts to make it work.

    As a matter of fact, I almost applied for a job there, especially after reading about Dr. Mosher’s great works at the time of his death years ago having written a letter to his wife then.

    One of my projections way back then was that what was needed was creating places of rehabilitation with ways that work, along with exposing the dangers of the “existing” protocol and standard medical treatment that were actually causing more harm than good.

    The tragedy of Mozelle death touches me in at the core, as most people who know of my “story” would understand.

    I commend you in all that you have done over the years knowing you since 2004 (I think). I do believe that even with this closing that the mental health reform will continue and shine with everyone’s concerted efforts on many levels and in many areas and organizations.

    I, also, think that all that you have in documentation and vision in creating Soteria will be used to create other places in the future, so don’t give up on this.

    When one door closes, another always opens, as the intention is there for the highest and greatest good of all.

    My sincere blessings to all of you!

    T.A.M.

  19. oh so sad to see a healthy alternative be closed.
    So many people die within the ‘conventional’ system and these deaths are accepted. And governments continue to support them.
    How can this be so? We must speak up at every opportunity to say this, the system that has been created with so much support from commercialism is the one that is truly hurting our society.
    thank you for all your work and may others have the energy to connect one by one.

  20. I believe this is such a vital story that truly needed to be told, so thank you, Jim, for telling it so eloquently. I believe the lesson can be applied in many areas of our lives. DO NOT SELL OUT. This question was debated a bit in undergrad, as writing students. Do we write what will sell? Do we research the market like mad to ensure that our next book will be the Great Bestseller? In grad school, this question was never on the table. Be yourself. To write meant to tell the truth. This in fact became part of my unspoken oath the day I graduated. Likewise, following graduation, much of my disappointment in humanity had to do with my own observation of mass SELLING OUT I saw around me. I saw many terrific nonprofits accept pharma money and then offer poor quality or no service. I noted that “treatment” centers professing to be “alternative” had sacrificed their ideals for Medicaid funding. Many schools, colleges, children’s organizations, and even restaurants sold out to Big Money and shallow values.

    Jim, you alls did the right thing. Do not support those that sell out. I can tell you I know, as do us all, that sinking feeling I had in my heart I had a couple of years ago when I recognized that another terrific local nonprofit in Boston had gone that way. It was the sound of a woman’s voice on the phone. She didn’t give a shit.

    And perhaps you may have done what I did. We all do it. We get curious about former providers. Those young, ambitious residents. The ones so green they still have their innocence. They are so inexperienced that we recall teaching them a few things. I remember this one guy who was so energetic that my late boyfriend said to me one day, “Jules, I think he is a preppie. Next time you see him, ask him if he went to prep school. It takes one to know one.”

    I did. Dr. B said to me, “How did Joe know?”

    I said, “It takes one to know one.” Dr. B was human enough to laugh.

    Now, some 20 years later, he doesn’t look much different, but he’s another sellout. Very sad.

    Don’t sell out. Don’t support those organizations that sell out. Be true to yourself. What is real and authentic will win out.

  21. Julie’s the greatest ! What do you all think about an in your face strategy of brainstorming and trying to put on the ground a real functional self supporting entire Soteria Village or Town somewhere as an example for humanity of what is possible ?

  22. Dear Jim
    I am so sad to read your text, and to hear that it was not possible to continue one of the very few alternatives to conventional psychiatry.
    I want to deeply than k you for the work you do, for the hope you bring and for the knowledge.
    It is for sure not easy to run an alternative organization, about that I know a lot, as I also think it is essential as you describe to be dedicated to the mission. One of the things I hope for future is that we describe the importance of dedication as one of the essential things when making change. There is far too much focus on “technical” issues, whereas we all know that without passion, collaboration and taking personal stance nothing really Changes. Wishish you all the best and once again, my deepest THANK YOU!!!

  23. I wouldn’t know I wasn’t there but one possibility is mercury poisoning from amalgam dental fillings alone and or in combination of use of any number of neuroleptics or in an abrupt withdrawal phase from them . Certainly sleep deprivation , a terror state , some other metal or chemical poisoning ,and childhood abuse trauma or physical injury could all be contributing factors. It certainly was a perfect negative storm of variables tragically coming together . And yet McEvoy bears responsibility . Even if he was in an extreme state and shouldn’t of been allowed to purchase a gun , once he had it and was bound to use it he should of first taken himself out instead of murdering another person. We need more Soteria Houses ,nationalizing of pharma companies with survivor over site over them, definitely an end to coercive psychiatry . Call psychiatrists what they are, most all of them gestapo neurolepticists. An end to pseudo science, and for people to care about one another.Plus where did even the semblance of Democracy go ? I do not have all the answers. Your turn.

  24. Dear Jim,

    Thank you for your good work.

    I’m a member of Twelve Step Fellowship which I would rate as nearly 100 percent successful BUT I have heard of incidents of Tragic Violence occuring within these Fellowships.

    I consumed strong neuroleptics for a number of years myself, and when I stopped taking these with medical approval I nearly went mad in the process.

    I did manage to cut them down to safe levels to recover, and over many years they eventually reduced to nothing.

    It’s not uncommon either for Professionals – Lawyers, Doctors, Policemen “Act Out” dangerously under the influence of neuroleptics or neuroleptic withdrawal. While I consumed strong Neuroleptics I remained disabled and was a risk to myself.