Abolishing First-Order Psychiatry—which includes the American Psychiatric Association and its Big Pharma partners—as a legitimate authority in determining “mental illness” as well as abolishing First-Order Psychiatry’s “treatment” and control dominion are primarily political struggles.
In Part One, I discussed how the Rehumanizing Resistance has been winning scientific battles but losing the war against the expansion of influence of First-Order Psychiatry, and how this is due in large part to the First-Order’s effective political tactics and the Resistance’s political naivety. In Part Two, I offered Resistance strategies and tactics.
However, if the Resistance lacks solidarity, strength, and energy to do battle, then it will be unable to implement effective tactics. So, in Part Three, I will focus on how the Resistance can overcome frustration and disunity, and sustain the energy to do battle. This means maintaining solidarity and teamwork as well as confidence that the Resistance can win.
Resistance Activists’ Frustrations
Every human rights activist gets frustrated.
Harriet Tubman, slave abolitionist and herself a runaway slave, conducted multiple missions as an Underground Railroad conductor and also participated in the Union Army’s Combahee River Raid that freed more than 700 slaves. Looking back on her career as a freedom fighter, Tubman noted, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
The reality is that in human rights struggles, it is only a minority within an oppressed group that has the energy and strength to fight to end oppression. When human beings are oppressed for too long, many can become so psychologically weak that they believe they need their oppressors.
Resistance activists must understand that the Resistance message of First-Order Psychiatry’s pseudoscience, corruption, and illegitimacy is a message that can create painful dissonance for people who have placed their doctrinal faith in First-Order Psychiatry—resulting in a need to “kill the messenger.” So, regardless of what the research states about how First-Order Psychiatry’s labeling and biochemical explanations actually increases stigma, there will be First-Order apologists who continue needing to believe that these labels and biochemical explanations benefit them.
Resistance activists need to better differentiate between those open to scientific facts and those closed by doctrinal faith—and use their energy more wisely.
Controversies & Divides
All human rights movements have had internal controversies. For example, the U.S. slave abolition movement had its divisions and estrangements. The once close friendship between the most famous white abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, and the most famous black abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, ultimately ended and their breach never healed. However, despite the abolition movement’s divisions and estrangements, abolitionists, including Garrison and Douglas, persevered.
Controversies and divides are unavoidable, but allowing them to destroy a movement can be avoided. The Resistance’s passion for truth and justice energizes the movement. However, the more dispassionately the Resistance approaches its internal controversies and divisions, the more likely it can keep them in perspective and not allow First-Order Psychiatry to “divide and conquer.”
Below I will examine some of the controversies and divides within the Rehumanizing Resistance including: (1) Drug Choice; (2) Scientology; (3) Dialoguing with First-Order Psychiatry; and (4) Ego Needs.
Given the moral principle that the Resistance is fighting for—informed choice—there should be no disunity as to whether adults, for themselves, can choose to utilize or reject psychiatric drugs. However, in reality, psychiatric drug use is a source of tension within the Rehumanizing Resistance. For example, here’s an excerpted comment in Mad in America on Politics 101, Part Two, from TenaciousMe:
I am an educated, anti-authoritarian woman in my 40s. I have a critical approach to psychiatry in general, and a particular revulsion towards coercive and enforced treatments of vulnerable and distressed human beings. . . . I choose to take stimulant medication that I think does me far more good than harm, as of now. It can feel tough around here, for people like me.
I recall attending, in 1998, the first International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology conference comprised of dissident professionals and ex-patients. After an entire morning of professionals trashing psychiatric drugs’ adverse effects and scientific ineffectiveness, there was a break and a rush to the coffee station, with others rushing outside for a nicotine fix; and that evening, more than a few were drinking alcohol. So, I thought, these professionals were railing against psychiatric drugs but not their drugs; and I thought that for ex-patients who might still be taking psychiatric drugs, this might feel more than a bit hypocritical and maybe even shaming.
Since 1998, I’ve written several articles (most recently for AlterNet in 2014) about psychotropic drug hypocrisy, where I state that many critics of psychiatry, including myself, are not condemning people’s use of psychiatric drugs but instead condemning psychiatry’s failure to provide people with the capacity to make informed choice.
I understand how people such as TenaciousMe who continue using psychiatric drugs can read the Mad in America web site and conclude “It can feel tough around here, for people like me.” All of us, especially professional dissidents, need to do a better job in communicating a more inclusive message here.
The more difficult issue is a parent’s “right” to choose psychiatric drugs for their child, and a mother’s “right” to use psychiatric drugs when pregnant. Society has agreed that a pregnant woman does not have the right to choose heroin or excessive amounts of alcohol, so what then does that mean for a pregnant mother’s right to choose psychiatric drugs that are also known to be dangerous for the fetus? Also, does a parent really have the right to choose stimulant medication for a child bored by school? Who has the right to decide drugs for a child?
It should not be difficult to be united on the idea that adults, for themselves, have the right to choose to utilize or reject psychiatric drugs (and much of the general public concurs). More difficult, both within the Resistance and for the general public, is the issue of “parental rights” when it comes to psychiatric drugs. In the end, the Resistance needs to be passionately energized by what it can easily unite on but accept that in other areas, unity is more difficult.
One of the Resistance’s most divisive issues with respect to alliances is the Church of Scientology and its Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR).
The late Thomas Szasz, psychiatrist author of The Myth of Mental Illness (1961) and perhaps the most well-known critic of First-Order Psychiatry, made it clear that he did not believe in Scientology nor any other religion. However, Szasz served on CCHR’s Board of Advisors as Founding Commissioner because he saw Scientology and its financial resources as a powerful force in the fight against First-Order Psychiatry.
In contrast, psychiatrist Peter Breggin, another well-known critic of First-Order Psychiatry who re-energized the Resistance in the 1990s with his book Toxic Psychiatry, has made great efforts to distance himself from Scientology, telling PBS’s Frontline: “I have nothing to do with Scientology. . . . My wife was a Scientologist, and is now so strongly anti-Scientology, that if I even took a phone call from a Scientologist, she’d be on my back. . . . I recommend personally that Scientologists not be brought to these hearings (before a state legislature in Arkansas), but I have no control over that.”
Some Resistance members advocate working together with CCHR, pointing out that CCHR has had political successes in battling First-Order Psychiatry. Most recently, the proposed Veteran Suicide Prevention Act (part of which will fund the study of the relationship between psychiatric drug prescribing and veterans’ suicides) is sponsored by Rep. David Jolly who has been linked to Scientology (Jolly’s district includes Clearwater, Florida, home base for Scientology). It is co-sponsored at present by over 60 other members of Congress who have no relationship with Scientology, and this bill is also supported by the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP), which also has no relationship with Scientology.
Journalist Robert Whitaker, in Anatomy of an Epidemic, writes about the huge political downside caused by Scientology:
Thanks to Scientology, the powers that be in psychiatry had the perfect storytelling foil, for they could now publicly dismiss criticism of the medical model and psychiatric drugs with a wave of the hand, deriding it as nonsense that arose from people who were members of a deeply unpopular cult, rather than criticism that arose from their own research. As such, the presence of Scientology in the storytelling mix served to taint all criticism of the medical model and psychiatric drugs, no matter what the source.
As I discuss in a 2008 Huffington Post piece “Thinking Critically about Scientology, Psychiatry, and Their Feud,” the political problem for Resistance activists is Scientology’s similarity to First-Order Psychiatry in that both are (1) pseudoscientific; (2) oppressively hierarchical; and (3) deal harshly with their ex-insiders who have come to reject them.
The Rehumanizing Resistance needs to try its best to maintain a dispassionate and analytic view of what is most politically helpful for the Resistance in abolishing First-Order Psychiatry.
Dialoguing with First-Order Psychiatry
The Rehumanizing Resistance has historically made great efforts attempting to dialogue and reform First-Order Psychiatry, most notably in recent times by journalist Robert Whitaker, who despite his efforts was declared to be a “menace to society” in 2015 by Jeffrey Lieberman, former president of the American Psychiatric Association.
So, does it make any sense continuing to dialogue and attempt to reform First-Order Psychiatry? Political theorist and sociologist Gene Sharp in From Dictatorship to Democracy examines the “Dangers of Negotiations” and when it does and does not make sense for a democratic resistance to dialogue with a dictatorship. For Sharp:
On some basic issues there should be no compromise. . . Such a shift will occur through struggle, not negotiations. This is not to say that negotiations ought never to be used. The point here is that negotiations are not a realistic way to remove a strong dictatorship in the absence of a powerful democratic opposition.
Take the case of abolishing the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM as a legitimate authority in determining “mental illness.” Should the Resistance dialogue and compromise with the likes of Allen Frances, former chair of the pseudo-scientific DSM-4 taskforce, who has been a critic of the even more pseudo-scientific DSM-5? Since complete de-legitimization of the DSM is a fundamental objective for the Resistance, negotiations and compromise would be a political error.
Sharp concludes that democratic forces should be wary of dictators’ calls for negotiations which is often an effort to induce surrender. Sharp notes that dictators may have a variety of goals underlying their domination, including power, position, and wealth, which is why they are not inclined to abandon their control positions:
Whatever promises offered by dictators in any negotiated settlement, no one should ever forget that the dictators may promise anything to secure submission from their democratic opponents, and then brazenly violate those same agreements. . . .Resistance, not negotiations, is essential for change in conflicts where fundamental issues are at stake. . . .Without that desperately needed legitimacy, the dictators cannot continue to rule indefinitely. Exponents of peace should not provide them legitimacy.
Again, the Resistance must try to maintain an analytic and dispassionate view as when, politically, it does and does not make sense to dialogue with First-Order Psychiatry, and what should never be negotiated.
Many members of the Rehumanizing Resistance—including both ex-patients and dissident professionals— have been traumatized by First-Order Psychiatry, through its labeling and coercive “treatment” or through its humiliating “training” and professionalization. Both ex-patients and dissident professionals have been discounted, invalidated, and not taken seriously.
Extreme deprivations of respect can result in extreme needs for attention, and this can result in difficulties in teamwork. When one has not been taken seriously at all, there is a natural tendency to take oneself so seriously that teamwork is subverted.
The Rehumanizing Resistance, by its nature, is made up of noncompliant people, and the energy of anti-authoritarianism is part of what fuels this movement. However, some anti-authoritarians can focus exclusively on their points of disagreement, demanding respect for them, rather than connecting on their agreements. An exclusive focus on disagreements can result in animosity and fracture, especially if face-to-face interpersonal bonds are absent. Debate over differences is healthy, but the kind of debate that energizes rather than debilitates a movement requires attention to emotional realities.
Resistance ex-patients can feel that Resistance dissident professionals, by virtue of “the letters after their names,” are taken more seriously than they are. Resistance ex-patients can feel that their experiences as patients in the psychiatric system are not appreciated, and that they have less influence within the Resistance movement than dissident professionals. Helpful in recent years, the line between Resistance ex-patients and dissident professionals has blurred some: some ex-patients have become dissident professionals; and some dissident professionals have stated publicly that it is only by luck that they did not become patients themselves entangled within the psychiatric system.
There is a great deal of anger in the Rehumanizing Resistance. Resistance ex-patients have anger over not being taken seriously by their families and psychiatric systems; and dissident professionals also have anger over not being taken seriously by colleagues and institutions; and all are angry at First-Order Psychiatry’s corruption, abuse, pseudoscience, and oppression. Anger can help energize activism, but uncontrolled anger can be destructive to teamwork.
Ego needs are part of our humanity and not shameful. However, extreme ego needs for attention, respect, and power can subvert solidarity and teamwork.
“Collective Confidence” That First-Order Psychiatry Can Be Abolished
For human rights and democracy movements to succeed, certain psychological and cultural building blocks are required. Historian Lawrence Goodwyn concluded that “individual self-respect” and “collective self-confidence” constitute the cultural building blocks of successful movements opposing tyranny. Lacking individual self-respect, people do not believe that they are worthy of power or capable of utilizing power wisely, and they accept as their role as subjects of power. Lacking collective self-confidence, people do not believe they can succeed in wresting power away from their rulers.
First-Order Psychiatry is expansionist, seeking dominion over ever larger populations. The American Psychiatric Association, through its DSM, expands the number of people deemed “mentally ill,” and Big Pharma expands the number of people to be drugged and expands the number of drugs they are prescribed. The good news is that history tells that all expansionist institutions and imperialistic nation states ultimately collapse.
The lesson from history is that tyrannical and dehumanizing institutions and nation states are often more fragile than they appear. Be it pro-slavery expansionists in the United States or imperialist empire nation states throughout history, all become arrogant with their success and lose humility about potential blowback that always results from expansionism. We see that blowback happening with the DSM-5 expansionism.
While expansionist institutions and nation states ultimately fall under the weight of their own arrogance and stupidity, they fall faster when human rights and democracy movements are pushing for their collapse. Pushing for the collapse of oppressive and dehumanizing First-Order Psychiatry is the task of those of us in the Rehumanizing Resistance.
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.