To the Heart of the Matter, Part III: The Critical Nature of Authenticity and Virtue in Combatting Stigma


So doctor, here is the question we are struggling with.  We just want to know whether this behavior is part of his condition or just part of being a kid.  We don’t want to punish him for something that he can’t control.  

One of the most frequent questions that I get from parents sounds much like this.  Spurn of good intent, they often want to know whether or not a specific action, usually a disruptive or harmful one, is something that they should just accept (or at least learn to manage) or a behavior that they should work and aspire to improve.

As a parent myself, I very much empathize with the question.  I want to be a responsive, empathetic father to my kids. I also want to make sure that my expectations are appropriate based on a variety of factors, especially developmental ones. But as the years have progressed, I have found myself coming to a juncture where I feel that this time-honored question often ends up leading us in the wrong direction.  For starters, as I often say to parents, we are dealing with one mind and one body.  Although certainly situations may occur where both are not functioning in the way that we (or others desire), the idea of a division between the “condition” and “the person” is often artificial.  Certainly lesions on the brain can cause seizures.  A lack of activity and poor diet can increase the likelihood of anxiety.  But when we ask to define what is attributed to the “condition” or the “kid”, we can get into some muddy waters that go beyond how brain structures are operating, which never function in isolation.  Each of us is a dynamic composite of our imperfections as much as we are one of the qualities for which we excel.

But to understand how we as parents (or people) respond to differences we perceive, we must first ask what defines appropriate?  Certainly this includes many things—developmental capacity, family expectations/values, societal norms, school/legal expectations, religious values, and the like.  Certain standards seem relatively easy to agree on.  Few people would argue that randomly stealing a car or destroying another’s possession is acceptable.  But other standards do not always evoke such a consensus, especially when we are talking about behaviors of youth and adults who have been identified with psychological or developmental concerns.

In fleshing out these areas, though, all of us must acknowledge that a few, critical determinations play a huge factor in deciding what is acceptable and what is not.  One is simply whether or not we feel an individual is meeting the situational demands that are expected of them.  The other is the values of those who are around or responsible for them.  The third (and certainly connected to the other two) is how well (or not) a person’s actions preserve the integrity of other people who come in contact with them.  In response to the question posed at the beginning of the article, it seems the question should be reframed to say, “What do you feel like is important to teach them about how to act?” and/or “What behaviors do you feel should simply not be allowed no matter what condition they have?”  By no means am I saying that we should ignore what is reasonable to expect given what we know about them.  But in shifting to these areas of focus, what I am hoping to do is to both better understand the values and beliefs of the parents, and determining where energy is best allocated.  For example, it may be true that a 10-year-old child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder who is nonverbal and still can’t recognize letters has difficulty refraining from physical aggression.  But does that change the fact that this is simply an action that should not be accepted or allowed, but instead something we continue to work in changing?

A little ways back, a teenage girl came to me to talk about her brother, who is diagnosed with a genetic condition associated with various developmental/psychological challenges.  One of her questions was, “How should I treat him?” Reflexively, I responded with “Like your brother.”  As I went on to explain, I encouraged her to love him unconditionally, but to not simply sidestep and allow behaviors that were not only detrimental to others, but also him and his development.  I encouraged her to tell him (in an honest, supportive way) when he did things that others clearly perceived as alienating or frustrating as well as encouraging and praising him when he acted positively.  Like any sibling, if your older sister isn’t going to tell you that you have corn in your teeth or you were acting goofy, no one will.

In regards to the issue of stigma, it seems that one of the mistakes made, often with good intention, is that we are often taught to give others allowances for behaviors if their circumstance or condition predisposes them to act in a certain way.  For example, if a person is depressed, we are often taught to ignore them when they are rude.  Certainly I am not advocating that we walk down the sidewalk handing out free advice to everyone that we feel stands out for any reason.  But what I am saying is that we must start treating others like they are our brother—whose worth is equal to all even while uniquely their own—not someone who is different than I.  Stigma is at its worse when we separate “we” from “them” as if the diagnosis or label they have been given warrants a division that does not exist.  But when we see the fleshy, imperfect, human person for who we are, we are summoned to be authentic.  If we feel bothered or wronged by someone else, or feel that someone is harming themselves (with or without even being aware that it is occurring), then we must work through layers of fear and uncertainty and treat them how we desire to be treated.  Simply sidestepping the obvious, and then categorizing and dehumanizing them (now or later) only intensifies the separation that both people will feel.

As I speak of this, I am sure that flashes of all kind are arriving at your cortex.  Beyond the obvious obstacles that may rise to the surface, one of the challenges to this mode of thought might start with two simple thoughts:  “Who are we to judge others?” and “Why should I impose my values on others?”  In response to this, I begin with a simple premise:  “If I do not give of myself authentically to others, through whatever means this may occur, then what do I have to give?”  Certainly, many of us may think differently about circumstances as they appear.  But in our daily life, we are not first asked to render legislative or medical decisions; we are asked to deliver honest, compassionate ones.  If my response begins with anything less than this, it is a contrived one—not an authentic one derived from millennia of living and loving and dying together.  Whether a person is depressed or autistic or has an IQ of 40, it does not change this.  You are one of me, and I am one of you.  So, if I let you know that I wished you wouldn’t scream in public or act rudely to one of my friends, I want you to know that it is not because I am judging you.  It is because I am attempting to love you, like I would my brother.

What emerges from authenticity is something even better, and sets the stage for the gift of courage.  While we all may seem to be very different in mind and body, there is a force that has remained remarkably consistent throughout the ages even as much has changed.  As I noted in my newest book, it is the value of virtue.  Regardless of race, creed, practice, or experience, people consistently report that virtue remains virtue.  Six universal virtues exist.  They are wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Within these six virtues are 24 character strengths, also endorsed across the world.  For example, courage is composed of authenticity, bravery, persistence, and zest while temperance is composed of forgiveness, modesty, and prudence.  Available to all, exclusive to none, these virtues and strengths run like an undercurrent through our world, and into another.

Still, people will argue that although all (most) believe in virtues such as justice and humanity, “the devil is in the details.” Similar virtues may look different in practice.  To some extent, I acknowledge this assertion.  But I also believe that in our politically, dramatically inclined landscape, so much time is spent demonstrating how we are different that it underscores just how much we are not.  I put forth a contention that most people agree on whether most actions are virtuous or not, regardless of circumstances or condition.  Instead of being so worried about the outcomes (and reported conflicts of our beliefs and behaviors), we would be better spent focusing on our process and intent.  While we can never fully control what will happen when we act, we can always control why we act.  If we started focusing much more on the latter than the former, I believe that what we will find is a society built on compassion and honesty instead of one marred by division and distrust.

Like most issues, the struggle of stigma stems from a much deeper place than the labels and the alienation might suggest.  It stems from a notion that somewhere along the line, we began to diverge from each other, as authenticity moved away from our responding.  We began to compile reasons why value was equated with status, and brotherhood with membership.  We began to lose sight of each other and started to see descriptors that clouded where we began.  In some ways, it is not a new problem.  Two thousand years ago, the lepers were left to die because of fear and derision.  I understand.  I don’t want to get sick, or hurt, or even be uncomfortable simply because of another person.  Of course, that person could be me.  If we are going to really make a difference in the world of mental health stigma, we must get to the heart of the matter.  All people deserve compassionate, honest care.  All people, stigmatized and stigmatizers, deserve to be heard, understood, and valued, no matter what worth that society may place on them.  I am my brother’s keeper.  You are mine.

A few months ago, I attended a silent retreat on the banks of the Mississippi River  south of St. Louis.  Lead by a remarkable Jesuit priest who had lost his father to suicide at a young age, it was a much needed few days spent largely in the silence of my own mind.  As I sit here reflecting on one particular talk he gave, emotion wells up in me.  Father recalled his days in hospice care, and how one morning he entered into a somber place that had long dealt with the saddest circumstances people could bring.  The nurses informed him that they had received an infant the night before.  Disfigured worse than they had ever seen, the baby boy had one eye, barely a nose, and a face that looked inhuman.  Everyone seemed uncomfortable.  But as Father spoke, he recalled this sudden, deep desire to go to this child’s room to hold him, and rock him like his own.  When he did, he was astounded at the beauty and majesty that he saw in this little boy.  Others came to see the same thing; they repeatedly sought to hold him throughout the days.  He died a few weeks later.  When he did, all mourned.  It was clear that this beautiful child had evangelized love.  Those that knew him would not be the same.  Neither would I.


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. Looks like I’m first. Let me simply proffer the observation that so-called stigma is inherent to the act of labeling, which sets the preconditions for further “other”-ization of those on the receiving end of such pseudo-“diagnoses.” Leprosy is a real disease btw (though I hear it’s not virulently contagious).

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  2. “You are one of me, and I am one of you. So, if I let you know that I wished you wouldn’t scream in public or act rudely to one of my friends, I want you to know that it is not because I am judging you. It is because I am attempting to love you, like I would my brother.”

    I think it says in the Christian Bible something like ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’?

    Isn’t this precisely what psychiatrists do? Cast the first stone in the form of a stigma? And then the community, armed with a rock pile, join in until….. Still, if it is not a judgement they are passing, but an expression of their love for a person who is their brother, and they are treating them as they would like to be treated, then their should be no problem when their turn comes.

    These ‘first stones’ seem to be cast on many occasions as a result of the projections of those who believe themselves to be virtuous. Perhaps an understanding that it is better to forgive may be the best advice they are ever given.

    I love your work James, though it is difficult for me to reconcile what you write with what I have personally observed in a locked ward. Have you been reading about the treatment of Garth Daniels in the articles by John Read on MiA?

    Kind regards

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    • Hi Boans,

      Always appreciate your thoughts, and I recognize what you said about the difficulty in reconciling what we desire in people’s behaviors with regard to what does happen. Abuses of power in psychiatric units, prisons, or anywhere else that others exist in the care (I realize care isn’t always what it is) are a horrible travesty. Nothing I or others say about striving towards virtuous practice changes that.

      However, I think it is important to note that there are many individuals that work in these units, who although certainly flawed like all of us, do strive towards compassionate, empathetic care towards others. Previous to starting graduate school, I worked in a child/inpatient adolescent unit. I certainly witnessed care (which I previously have spoken about on MIA) that I did not consider to be person-centered. But I also witnessed a number of individuals who really did work hard to do the right thing by the patient and themselves. These are the stories that almost never get told as certainly they do not draw the attention that stories such as you mentioned. But I think it is important they are recognized, whether it is a mental health technician or a psychiatrist. Otherwise, it makes it appear that simply by working in these facilities (prisons or psychiatric units), you are an uncaring person. And this mentality only serves to further divide people, and not provide discussion about how we improve care in an albeit flawed system.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.


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      • Hi James and thank you for your response.

        I have no doubt that there are people working within the system who are true ‘angels’. If it were not for a nurse taking the time to uncover the fact that I had been drugged with benzos without my knowledge before I was injected for the mental illness I had been given by a Doctor deceived to conceal this offense then I would likely not be here to write this.
        Or for the person who snatched the head of an ED who was going to do deliberate harm to me to conceal these original offenses.
        What concerns me though is that this person is of no value being punished for their evil intent, and is instead kept in a position where they can be used and exploited for further corrupt acts.
        I understand why trust is deemed paramount, and that covering up these matters is necessary. Thus these stories never get told. But I think it important that people are aware that they should enter these relationships with extreme caution.
        Whilst you may document confidential information in good faith and with the aim of assisting in healing, there are others who may at a later date use that information to cause detriment and harm. Slander is such a powerful tool in the wrong hands.
        My faith in God is strong, and it is reading articles like yours that is ever so slowly restoring my faith in others, not doctors or psychologists or….. but in human beings.
        Thank you once again. Regards Boans

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  3. When dualistic ‘othering’ stigma is aggressively and chronically thrust upon the marginalized, second-classed citizens of society, then it is purely about prejudice, fear, discrimination, and class division. That’s where it can be life-compromising at best, and deadly at its worst..

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  4. “But I also witnessed a number of individuals who really did work hard to do the right thing by the patient and themselves. These are the stories that almost never get told as certainly they do not draw the attention that stories such as you mentioned. But I think it is important they are recognized, whether it is a mental health technician or a psychiatrist. Otherwise, it makes it appear that simply by working in these facilities (prisons or psychiatric units), you are an uncaring person. And this mentality only serves to further divide people, and not provide discussion about how we improve care in an albeit flawed system.”

    James, the system is not simply ‘flawed,’ it is ill-making and corrupt, so working for it is divisive, in and of itself. I don’t feel that survivors’ well-founded and vividly illustrated grievances against the way the system impacts the clients so negatively are necessarily about accusing people of being uncaring or unfeeling (although as we all know the system is filled to the brim with cold and calculating individuals who wouldn’t know the needs of a client from a hole in the ground), but more so about the false beliefs and inherently demeaning and disregarding attitude that drive the system on the whole.

    Many people who work in the system will agree with this, perhaps, out of their own compassion, but still, the situation does not change despite being constantly challenged for its crimes against humanity (and I do mean that literally), and the system only digs in its heels, as per the system being closed to grievance, despite there usually being some kind of grievance protocol. It does not work. Clients have no credibility, the system will find something to pin on the griever to which they will alert the entire community, like spreading viscoius gossip in the guise of ‘case notes.’

    This is how stigma is used as a tool for oppression. It happens repeatedly, I saw this a lot when I worked in the system. They will make up a reason why the client is not credible in their grievance against staff. It’s not that hard to stonewall a client–they will be described as manipulative, controlling, divisive, angry, etc., even when there is no foundation for this, blatant lies. From what I witnessed, I am not exaggerating.

    It’s really hard for me to not say something here when the system just continues to hurt and drain a lot of people while paid professionals are having discussion after discussion, complaining of not being recognized for being one of the ‘good ones’ and above the fray.

    in all honesty, I think these are issues of personal ego, which can never trump what those that are marginalized feel as the result of stigma. When a client complains or gives negative feedback, t’s not about ‘what do you think about me?’ but more like, “Will you please listen to what my needs are so that you can do your job properly?” I don’t know how else to say it. For those marginalized by the system, it is a matter of survival, and that is immediate.

    Mental health professionals should have a much stronger sense of self than caring what other people think about them, otherwise they will not be good examples to clients, and in fact, they will project all their own issues onto them, which is what happens when lack a grounded sense of self. If we care about what others think, rather than to simply live our truth, then we lack sense of self, I can’t see it any other way.

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    • Alex, I hear everything that you are saying and understand that without having personally experienced the travesties that others have at the hands of mental health professionals, there is nothing I can say that is going to fully illuminate (and alter) at just how flawed the system is – conceptually, practically, and soulfully.

      But I want to hone in on your comment below:

      “It’s really hard for me to not say something here when the system just continues to hurt and drain a lot of people while paid professionals are having discussion after discussion, complaining of not being recognized for being one of the ‘good ones’ and above the fray.”

      I want to be absolutely clear in regards to what I said in my article. The purpose of recognizing the positive attempts that people make in these circumstances should not be for recognition alone. Not for me. Not for others. Otherwise, it is vain and self-indulging. The purpose of recognizing and discussing this matter is understanding that positive growth must occur from within the flawed system (in whatever way it is flawed) and from beyond the flawed system. I know many on MIA advocate scrapping the system completely, and starting over. I increasingly understand their reasons. But the reality is that few systems change in this manner. Many times big changes occur when people are part of the system. It is kind of like what happens with any group. You can choose to leave and criticize/legislate/innovate from the outside. Or you can choose to stay, and work from the inside. Each has its place.

      But if we don’t recognize the positive, constructive, empathetic efforts that already exist with people (and even the system itself), then it renders us only partially informed about steps that need to occur. It also threatens to perpetuate the “absolute evil” myth that I think is alive and well in some people’s view of mental health/psychiatry. I have learned a lot from MIA and other forums about negative aspect of the MH system. But I have come no closer to this idea than I was before, and appreciate the Bob & Lisa’s newest book among others recognized how this is often not the case.

      As always, thanks for caring enough to take the time to go further on these threads.


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      • I don’t think you quite do understand. While, I think it’s great that there are some caring individuals within the system. I think when we get into saying, there’s good, and bad like there is in every system. Granted I’m oversimplifying to make a point. We ignore a bigger issue at hand, the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. Right now, the system is mostly flawed. Hypatheticly if enough people have changed for the better within, would it be enough to turn it around?

        More relevantly, there has just been not enough signs of overall change in many people’s eyes. You also have to understand that the mental health system allows force. So, while it may seem like some are painting the mental health systems in a way that’s unfairly skewed towards the nefitive, side, you must realize that there needs to be some compensation for the disadvantage. That’s not even going to how much wait is already placed as far as influence, and benefit of the doubt given to the other side. With force alone, it’s still happening, and this is not a system that typically gives people back their rights, unless it’s practically taken back from them. There are people’s rights at stake, so you have to understand why someone, wouldn’t be as concerned with making this system look bad. Even if there are certain people who were misjudged.

        The day, that everyone has the right to choose, at least I’ll rethink it. The same goes if there ever becomes a law based around making psychiatry, as a result of this illigeal. From where I stand people are neing denied a right to refuse on one side. I’m yet to hear of anyone being forced out, of weather working in, or receiving services in the mental health field. You’ve got to see why, when something starts out so uneven, it has to be approached that way.

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        • HI Kayla–I’m with you– People join to help people–and find out- their basically drug dealers/ turn keys- for finger pointing people- they joined to love people well- like most human beings with compassion will /would do to heal- and help- and find out none of that matters in mental health– because there just being force drugged sad- long term-so love as much as you like or can- the client– but knowing their being treated adversely to a grave— and staying within the system doing that is just supporting an abusive regime–who have tyrants leading– or running the show– so im wondering should they stay because– god knows the system needs their loving care- or go as a protest of that systems corruption/treatment to vulnerable young and troubled- from under privileged backgrounds- very often drug effected adults teens- suffering temporary conditions– easy enough to waylay, and then encourage, nurture well- by evolved people- but made permanent on forced long term psychotropics/poisons- by UN-evolved- finger pointing– well to do- academic green people– with a drug dealing agenda- anyway– its one thing to recognise the wrong and have no part of it–by leaving it- or not joining it-its another to see it and stay- and if they’re staying, they also need to speak up—- if they were, I’d support them- so what your saying might be right –if they were speaking up–but their not are they–the only people who talk about it are those hurt by it- and their loved ones– and some evolved caring people- positions of authority attract authoritative people–bullies- its time we started this royal commission- in recognition of the fact that bullies attract to positions of power/authority over others– and psychiatry is at the top of the ladder- both in complaints and bullies- they tend to go together–anyway hard to look for the good, any good, in such a bad evil run- drug dealing place- where no healing even happens– just management to an early grave– healing–the word-has only started to be used by them- and that’s because society has screamed it out for so long–at them- the ears have heard– they’re onto it– and are now using the word themselves– not because they’ve evolved like the rest of society, like they tell everyone -and pretend they now understand–because–and -get this-because “we are evolving too- just –and this really makes me feel ill- “like the rest of society” sorry the rest of society are- like- ten years ahead at least– and for these things to liken themselves to the rest of society just makers my blood boil– especially whilst at the same time they’re destroying more than half of their (victims)–lives, and their families-with ongoing-long term-adverse- debilitating drug abuse– the only reason were even here- if they didn’t force what they reckon saves lives- what over half their clients– the victims are saying is killing them- slowly maybe- but is killing them- their life- their body- their minds- with a little bit of help from the puppet nursing staff- who may know better- but says nothing about it-does nothing about it- because they too need to feed their families- funny that about feeding the family–in third world countries where people cant afford to even have a mental illness- let alone the medications to “fix” them- but for those who have been tagged– they don’t take the medication for -one they cant afford to be drugged on sleepy poisons when they have to work 14 to 16 hrs picking in a field of cotton–just to put food in their kids moths– so they cant afford to play the mad game– cant afford the mad pills- cant afford to be sleepy- cant afford not to work- and because of all that have a high eighty to low ninety% success rate– never return- healed-compared to our -80 to 90% failure rate- returns- managed. On that bit you said about–“I’m yet to hear of anyone being forced out, of weather working in, or receiving services in the mental health field.” I know someone who was kicked out– they were way to comfortable with their madness to be there–a bit like myself — except they added alcohol to their madness- which makes it closer to real- they manipulated all the doctors and patients– sent them all mad- and they couldn’t wait to get rid of her– they needed a holiday after that because she had blown their intolerant brains away– she was too much for them -I can/could handle and cope no worries- but for green people – it was way too much for them- they had to get rid of her or go mad themselves- they kept asking us to take her away-we said no–lol- we needed a break too- and we knew no matter what they gave her or did to her– it was water off a ducks back to her- she was way saner and madder than anyone out there- the problem was the alcohol- and they don’t like drunks–or people effected that way- another reason they wanted to rid her– anyway they kicked her out when they- and the other clients- couldn’t take anymore- she was way too switched on for them– and she was undermining them–successfully- to themselves and the clients– so yeh — we could–they couldn’t– which i always consider to be a bit of a victory- and always gives me a bit of a chuckle.

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        • I agree. I’d use the school system as an analogy. There were good teachers in the system as well as evil ones. I loved my fourth grade teacher (Miss Zeller) and would have happily been adopted by her! But she worked in a system that required her and the other teachers to act in ways that allowed and supported oppression, even if they as individuals did not choose to act that way. I recall being in first grade when Miss White (also an incredibly kind and warm person!) asked a poor youngster to read a book aloud. He sat there looking at the carpet, his face turning red, saying nothing for at least a half a minute, while I said to myself, “Move on, move ON!” I felt so bad for that kid, I remember it to this day. But Miss White wasn’t being intentionally cruel – she was just implementing the system as required, and having your kids read aloud is part of that system. I’m not sure she would have had the authority to say, “You know what, I find this reading aloud is traumatizing to some kids. From now on, only kids who volunteer will be reading aloud.” She’d have experienced danger to her professional career if she’d done that.

          So the system sustains itself, and even those within the system appear powerless to change it for more than an instant. I did involuntary detention evaluations for 9 months, and I helped a lot of folks in the ER get some on-the-spot quality therapy and freed a lot of people who would otherwise have been detained against their wills. They were VERY lucky they got me to do their evaluations. And yet, I had to quit the job, because I knew from the first week that I was supporting an unhealthy system that forced people to do “treatment” that often didn’t help at all and sometimes made things dramatically worse. I felt I was colluding by even participating, and could not ethically continue the job, especially after I saw what happened to the few people I felt compelled to detain for their own safety when they made it to the psych ward.

          Being a good person in an evil system can’t change the evil that is intended and performed on the larger scale. While you might be a breath of fresh air to someone who is otherwise starved for a real human connection, it doesn’t change the fact that the bulk of the time, these folks do not have that kind of experience and you are not in a place to make that different without a wholesale re-thinking of the system from top to bottom.

          —- Steve

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          • “I agree. I’d use the school system as an analogy. There were good teachers in the system as well as evil ones.”

            Steve, I appreciate your thoughts on this matter, but I must strongly disagree on a few points. First of all, the quote above illustrates what I mentioned before about the “myth of absolute evil” being alive and well. Certainly there are teachers who commit evil, bad, and inept acts – some even profoundly more than others. But to characterize people in these positions is perpetuating the very “us vs. them, ” static mentality that makes stigma alive and well, in whatever forum it may be. Consider if you had used this idea to characterize those struggling with psychological issues of any kind, as if saying that the “evil” ones could not change or grow in anyway. Not only do I believe you wouldn’t do it, but I think you would be appropriately slammed by the MIA crowd and beyond for doing so. Ironically, the “evil” teachers you speak of were more than likely struggling with their own psychological challenges – this in no way justifies how they treated the students, but speaks to an obvious reality.

            Furthermore, in staying with the school system analogy, consider what has happened when people have vacated our schools, especially inner city schools, for various reasons that are partially manifested through suburban flight. It has gutted communities as a whole. Rethinking the system is not a problem. Vacating it as if this was the obvious solution I think carries huge risks.

            Finally, consider the number one read article right now on MIA by Kelly Brogan. In the article, she states this:

            “A friend gave me Anatomy of an Epidemic and I can still remember crying on the subway when I turned the last page. The entire house of cards crumbled for me that day. I never started a patient on a medication again.

            I spent about 2 years taking patients off of medication, developing first-hand insight into the dependency-forming character of these drugs. It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to enhance their resiliency first, before beginning a taper, that I developed my program of nutrition based, root-cause resolution of symptoms. I wanted to heal the imbalance – so often physiologic – that led to the pursuit of medication treatment before we took the medication away.”

            She didn’t leave the system. She set out to change it from within.

            A few weeks ago, I was invited to talk to a large group of MH professionals about my new book entitled, “Wholiness: The Universal Pursuit of Health, Harmony, Happiness, and Heaven.” There was no discussion of medications. There was no discussion of diagnoses other than reporting of statistical data for illustration purposes. The discussion was simple. How do we provide people with more holistic care, the kind that costs very little, lines up perfectly with their organic existence, and corresponds with the 4 dimensions of their whole being? There was/is great interest around this topic, and since then I have been invited, ironically, to do the same presentation to the school psychologist in our local district. The point of all this is to say that if I was not “in the system”, and well connected to many people “in the system”, the chances of potentially being an agent of change in this way are basically nil.

            Everyone has a right to go where they are called. But to imply that it is always to a brand new place ignores the history of who we are, and how change often occurs.

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          • James, again I think you missed the point. I think these conversations have enough tension, to what I may even go as far as saying is slightly antagonist on your part. Only slightly, and may not be intentional, but I think you are potentially adding tension, to a conversation that would otherwise be a thoughtful, and fair disagreement. Steve is pointing out that the school system as a whole is a problem. That’s precisely why I brought up the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts, point. For you to bring up isolated instances with many factors, and to blame it on abandoning the school system just isn’t fair. There are actually stories of either alternative systems to the traditional schooling, or people who were able to forge other paths, that ended up doing great. However, it must be kept in mind, that the wait wait of the importance society places on school, and other factors can’t be ignored. That’s why the analogy makes sense, as long as we remember they are not completely identical.

            You were saying that if people were described as being completely evil who had “psychological problems”. That is a very subjective choice of words, that could mean many different things to different people. Do you mean people in mental distress? I think that any act that would otherwise be described at pure evil, would be committed by someone who would like be in lot of mental distress, and probably be described as having ” psychological Problems”, or “psychologically disturbed” what cereal killer, or terrorist do you think could not meet that description? In fact the broader the mental health descriptions get, the more people like that are officially getting labeled. I don’t see anybody getting slammed for saying those people are just evil, and lost causes in most places, let alone MIA. Everyone experiences distress. I find most people, at MIA to not only be aware of this, but not arbitrarily draw a line past where it’s “normal”. A main thing talked about here is the stress of being in the mental health system itself.

            To go back to the analogy, yes there would need to be at least something to undo the some of the damage done. However, there could also be an alternative that took people off drugs, in a personalized way like Kelly Brogan did. I think it’s great that she did that, and it was probably the best decision at the time. However, if there were systems outside of the mental health field that helped people do this, we could have a chance of a world without it. I think you are looking at this from a very narrow lense. What makes you so sure we need the mental health system? If we not only started to transition into alternatives that actually focussed on the real problems, along with a broader focus of people in general. I just don’t see this system ever not be one that disables people, and takes away their rights. I don’t see how enough change within could turn around the situation as a whole.

            If you can honestly say something that would change my mind, I am all ears. However, saying you think people are unfairly lumped together is not a legitimate reason. Not when people have so much more at stake, at an individual, and societal level.

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      • Thanks for your thoughtful response, James.

        “The purpose of recognizing and discussing this matter is understanding that positive growth must occur from within the flawed system (in whatever way it is flawed) and from beyond the flawed system.”

        From my experience, only downward spiraling occurred in the system, and the bulk of that was not from psych drugs, but from extremely aggressive and relentless stigma. I have concrete examples of this which I’ve shared on here and in my film posted on YouTube, Voices That Heal, so I will not waste anyone’s time repeating that here.

        And for sure, without a doubt, my health and life began to take a big turnaround and followed through on that completely, when I not only ABANDONED the system and so-called ‘mental health care,’ altogether–after having trusted it for so long only to be disastrously failed by it, with no responsibility taken for that (I, like so, so many)–but also when I gave it a good what for with the power of my voice and truth, from the lived experience of having fallen into marginalizing hands of power.

        I found my way back, but it was not without speaking my truth to every community which I knew without a doubt had failed me, and which were supposed to have been supportive, by contract and by law. Not only the mental health system, but in a way, my family as well. The system was merely a repeat of trying to be forced into a little tiny academic box.

        My family has healed by leaps and bounds since I showed them my film and spoke my truth about what happened to me. They had a lot to own up to, but they did, and for that I’m extremely grateful, and I also admire that, especially my mother who had a hard time with this, but she finally got it, and it brought great relief to us all.

        The system, however, is impersonal, so I can’t really get myself to care too much about that. I’m one of the ones who feel it should be scrapped altogether. We don’t need it, and in fact, it is purely vamipiristic as an institution, so as long as it exists, society is being drained.

        There are much, much better, effective, and totally affordable ways to heal, that are prevalent these days. The mental health field is becoming passé, and a large part of that is its failure as a discipline and institution. It has only split society into pieces, from what I can tell, and has caused a lot of rage, in addition to suicide. It is too corrupt and misinformed to be healing. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I think that is the reality of the situation.

        Turns out I’m a full-fledged artist–musician, actor, filmmaker–and have produced and continue to produce successfully here. I would never, ever have discovered this in the system, they thought I was the one “flawed,” whereas we all know, even by your admission, where the flaws really reside.

        I was told I “lost my dreams” by a psychiatrist, while I was in the throes of the nastiest drugs withdrawal you can imagine, and I’m not talking about recreational drugs. I was extremely confused and vulnerable, and his words, which he repeated often (I kid you not) echoed in my head all day and night for weeks, until I could stand it no longer and I took a bunch of pills to end it all. I’d worked so hard to get my education and training, and then, in turn, to come off psych drugs so that I could heal fully and completely, and this is what I’m offered? Dead end.

        Ok, so this is one psychiatrist in an ocean of them. I’m certainly not the only one with stories like this. And for me, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. It really can be quite shameful what happens in private 1-1 therapy meetings.

        Point being, regardless of a few needles in the haystack who can rise above this, we are talking about systemic abuse and oppression on a grave level. I honestly do not care what anyone’s book says. I know what I’ve lived and learned, and the countless stories I’ve heard. There is no restitution for what they’ve done to people. The only way to heal is to GET OUT. The system is stuck, and it will get everyone attached to it stuck. At this point, I’d call it “The Titanic.”

        Whatever history to which you refer is not relevant, I guarantee it. This is a new phenomenon. When in history did we ever have a population of people who healed from psych drugs toxicity and this kind of institutional abuse, leading to a rather hefty dark night of the soul, and then transformation. We are among the crowd now, and our voices matter way more than the system would have us believe.

        Currently, my new film about bringing live music to healing and care establishment is almost complete, and will premiere locally on May 14. The next day, I’m hosting a meditation and healing workshop, to which anyone who wants to come to Eureka, CA is invited, no charge. (although I can’t provide lodging, but there are a lot of cool and cheap places up here). I accompany, on the piano, vocalists in a band which performs for an assisted living facility. This is my new life which I adore. I could only find it after I HEALED from the atrocities of the system.

        Life goes on for me, transformed in every way. I found my healing with means called ‘alternative’ but to me, these ‘alternatives’ should really be the mainstream, because they encourage and support change and individuality, unlike the system, which is intent on producing sheeple. This is my personal example of creating radical change.

        Please reconsider your tendency to invalidate survivors’ voices in favor of books and studies. These are also filtered and flawed. As I know you know —which is why I’ve admired your work—the truth of the matter lies in the heart, and that’s from where I’m coming now.

        Thanks, James, I appreciate this honest and open exchange.

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        • Alex, while I’m trying to give James the bennifit of the doubt, in many ways things like this aren’t given much thought. While he seems to be ahead of many others, I still him ignoring many points brought up. I don’t like that people who are critical of mental health as a whole, get written off as not looking at the whole picture. When, in reality we are, just in a more integrated way. James thinks he’s looking at both the bad, and the good aspects, but doesn’t appear to be looking at the overall situation. It won’t be just as simple as eliminating the bad, while preserving the good. He also doesn’t seem to realize the problems are way worse, for not speaking out against the mental health feild, than the one he lists.

          I do agree with your points though, but wish being critical as a whole will stop being written off as unreasonable, or one sided. Even when people try to explain they mean the system as a whole, they’re still written off for those reasons. I don’t know how people will ever be able to see the overall point trying to be made.

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          • Hi Kayla, first of all, I tend to agree very much with your perspective of the system and these issues, that I’ve seen expressed in all of your posts. I think your assessment is right on, you know the truth of the matter, to my mind.

            And I agree that it can be maddening and discouraging to continually run into power struggles when attempting to offer reasonable and appropriate criticism, for which there is tons of evidence.

            So why the resistance? I imagine this happens for a variety of reasons, but mostly, I feel that resistance to feedback has become the habit of our society, because it means that we have so face changes, somehow, that we really don’t want to face–that is, hard truths. Well, that can only go on for so long, please keep the faith. So many of us are speaking out clearly and adamantly at this point, there’s no turning back.

            Regarding James, we’ve dialogued quite a bit on here about these issues over the last couple of years, and I do feel he is ahead of others in his perspective. James is heart-centered, I know this, very loving man, and I imagine, fair and just professional. As he stated above, he cannot have the perspective of a client/survivor because he has not experienced this aspect of living and of humanity.

            I went into the system right after graduate school, and I realized how utterly naïve I’d been. I thought I knew it all and had the objectivity, and my new peers had me for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That was quite an eye-opening experience, mostly toward myself! I grew so much in my awareness, and in fact, changed my attitude and perspective considerably after this experience. It was extremely humbling.

            All of us are evolving, and in a learning curve in that process–you, me, James, and everyone who reads and posts here, as well as everyone in the world. We live in a time where extreme change is on the horizon–it’s already started–because society can no longer support these oppressive dynamics, they are killing us all.

            People in all corners of the world, from all sorts of toxic institutions–not just the mental health world–are speaking up while not only standing their ground, but breaking new ground as well. This is where we belong, on a new earth, and that is what is being created now. Look for it!!

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          • Thanks, for responding Alex. You make many great points. It is a learning curve, and some of these issues about the system are hard to understand without experiencing first hand. I know some people within are trying very hard to see things from other perspectives. A lot are recognizing problems, and speaking up against it. A lot have have shown admirable qualities. Which is why I often find it a difficult balance, to try and present ways in which we still seem to talking past one another. I believe a big one would be to get others to at least start speaking about the system as a whole, even if at the end of day we still dissagree. At least, then we’d be talking about the same thing.

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    • Exactly, that’s what I’m trying to say. The important thing is bad stuff is aloud to happen. The whole I greater than the sum of it’s parts. We can’t possibly not call out a corrupted system, at the chance certain individuals may be misrepresented. There is so much more at stake for letting the problems remain not talked about. People have to realize this.

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      • People who work in “the system” who are truly our allies (Richard Lewis comes to mind but there are others) are not personally threatened or defensive when we rip the system, and don’t need to constantly be reassured that we have no personal animosity towards them. But it’s important to realize that they are the exceptions that prove the rule, not proof that it’s just a question of “good” vs. “bad’ practitioners.

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