A Curse for a Cursed Profession

Bonnie Burstow, PhD
34
2160

But a short while ago, I was slugging away on a work-related report — a dreary task that nudges the mind to drift — when I found myself wondering what I might add to the premiere launch of my book Psychiatry Interrogated, soon to be upon me, to lend it that extra “oomph.” Before I knew it, I had set aside the report and was in the midst of penning a poem — one modelled on the Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s masterpiece “A Curse for a Nation.”

Now, in “polite society,” cursing is largely verboten. Let me suggest, however, that if done in the correct spirit and adroitly, cursing can be a highly useful type of anti-oppression work. How so? It can at once shed light on oppression, express the outrage warranted, and motivate action. On top of which, it can be personally liberating. Moreover, as Browning so sagely points out, paradoxical though this may seem, it can itself be a loving act.

In Browning’s poem, what Browning was cursing was the United States. Why? Because of the abomination of slavery. Read the poem and you will see the force, the satisfaction of “saying it like it is,” the implicit consciousness-raising, all of which made it enormously popular within abolitionist circles at the time. It was precisely with this awareness that as the day of my book launch neared, I instinctively found myself turning to her poem.

Now to be clear, I am not intending here any kind of comparison between — let alone an equation of — American slavery and the practices of modern psychiatry. Obviously there are profound differences. Nor am I weighing in on either side of the debate that every so often surfaces in venues like Mad in America as to whether or not slavery and psychiatry should be compared. What am I doing? Approaching both as institutional oppression, just as I would approach sexism or classism. Correspondingly, I am allowing the poem to inspire me.

Nor, as it happens, am I the first antipsychiatry theorist to be inspired by this poem (nor likely to be the last). I would refer readers in this regard to psychologist John Breeding’s wondrous Jungian poem “An Anima Curse for a Profession.”

That said, what happened in the days leading up to the launch might best be described as being “taken over.” Half mesmerized, again and again I found myself turning to Browning’s poem, reading, rewriting, rewriting anew, drawing on key phrases and sections, all the while conjuring up the everyday practices of modern psychiatry. What particularly captivated me about Browning’s poem is that the very worst curse that she could imagine bestowing on the targeted oppressors is that they be themselves — that is, they continue to do exactly what they have always done.

What emerged from my labour is a poem entitled “A Curse for a Cursed Profession.” And on February 24th, at the premiere launch of Psychiatry Interrogated in the Nexus Lounge at OISE/University of Toronto, I read this poem to an audience of 200 people. It was the culmination a very different type of pedagogy in which I, as editor of the book, and four other contributors (Dr. Jennifer Poole, Lauren Spring, Mary Jean Hande, and Rob Wipond) introduced the audience to the anthology.

As Psychiatry Interrogated is the world’s very first anthology of institutional ethnography investigations into psychiatry — itself a major achievement — there was an emphasis that evening on scholarship as we explained the benefit of institutional ethnography as a methodology and, bit by bit, laid out the findings of our various projects. An excited audience learned, for example, how it is that perfectly competent nurses lose not only their jobs but their very nursing accreditation through the everyday activation of psychiatric texts. They likewise learned how the compulsory “mental health” framing in Canadian workplaces routinely operates to the detriment of those purportedly helped.

Following the speeches was a highly animated Q&A. Then came my poem — something far less scholarly and far more visceral. From the smiles of recognition and triumph that quickly inundated the room, nothing could be clearer that that it struck a chord, hence my decision to reproduce it here.

A few words about my poem itself: As with Browning’s, the first section is a prelude; the second, the curse. In my prelude — and this happened with Breeding too — many of Browning’s phrases and ideas are used, as is her general design. My curse, on the other hand, differs dramatically from Browning’s. This, nonetheless, remains the same: In both cases, each stanza ends with a refrain that gives voice to the curse. Correspondingly, the worst curse that I too could imagine bestowing on my target is that they be themselves.

Which bring us to the poem:

Please accept this poem as intended — as a part of an account of a Toronto book launch, as a critique of psychiatry in a new key, as a creative way to go about activism, as a moment of inspiration. And do enjoy, ponder, change, build on, and curse as the spirit moves you.

A Curse for a Cursed Profession

I heard an angel speak last night.  
And he said: Write
Write a curse against the profession of psychiatry for me
And send it over and against the therapeutic sea.

I faltered, taking up the word.
“Not so, my lord,” I answered.
“If curses there must be, choose another
To send this curse against my brother

For I am a soul moved by love.
Love of everyone around me
Love of the vulnerable, love of the lofty
Love of everyone who is or ever will be.”

“Therefore,” said the voice, “shalt thou write 
My curse tonight.
From the summit of love a curse is driven
As lightning is from the tops of heaven.”

“Forgive me, liege,” I answered. “Ever more
My heart is sore 
For the sins of the modern state: For the little feet
Of drugged urchins who stagger across the street
But curse, I cannot.
Cursing is a man's job.
I a woman have only known
How the heart melts and tears run.”

“Therefore,” continued the angel,
“Shalt thou write my curse tonight
Weep and write
For a curse from the depths of womanhood
Is salty, and bitter, and good.”

So thus I wept and thus I wrote
What all may read
And thus, as was beholden on me 
— For well I understood the necessity —
I sent it over and against the therapeutic sea.

The Curse:

Because thou hast broken the Hippocratic Oath,
Because ye lie about science while donning its garb
And never so much as feel an ounce of shame
As ye and thy professional brethern grab ever more power and fame,
This is thy curse: Prescribe.

When others uncover thy mistakes: Cry foul!
Dismiss without consideration.
When women whom thou hast electroshocked forget who they are,
Call it progress and stand thy ground,
And when the children of women arrive early at the grave,
Having been on Prozac since age 5,
Never forget, as doctors, you do no wrong
Unlike the common throng:
This is thy curse: Prescribe.

Like Bismarck, like Attila the Hun,
Have thy arsenal always ready at hand,
With words begin, with words end.
“Schizophrenia,” call it, “bipolar,” “ADHD.”
If thou thinkest thou might later commit, 
Tick “paranoid” next to “PTSD.”
Verily, verily,
Off thy tongue, let the fateful words roll trippingly.
Then before thy office the poor wretch starts to depart,
This is thy curse: Prescribe.

When thou runnest out of people here on whom thy kindness to bestow,
Like the merchants of old,
Be bold
And set sail for lands yet untapped.
How about Sri Lanka? How about Ghana? How about the Congo?
Surely they too can gain 
From the white man's game.
This is thy curse: Prescribe.

And if, perchance, thou findeth thyself losing the credibility battle,
Time it will be to name the latest disease —
Prognostically speaking, the horror of horrors! —
“Acute Antipsychiatry Disorder.”
Quick! Enter it into the DSM, ensuring that no other diseases it borders!
And as the ignorant celebrate in the noonday sun,
And as liberation rings from the mountain top,
This is thy curse: Prescribe.

Support MIA

MIA relies on the support of its readers to exist. Please consider a donation to help us provide news, essays, podcasts and continuing education courses that explore alternatives to the current paradigm of psychiatric care. Your tax-deductible donation will help build a community devoted to creating such change.

$
Select Payment Method
Loading...
Personal Info

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.

Donation Total: $20.00

34 COMMENTS

  1. Bonnie Burstow,
    I see you reply at the articles that you post. I like that 🙂
    At your profile: “She writes about language, institutional ruling, resistance”.

    I liked that part about “language / institutions (can extend to the psychiatric daily speech i think)/ and resistance”.

    As for: “social change”… i liked it less, as is also used at the MIA forums, and nothing changes for the better there. Social change… is too vague, not specific enough. No goals, no timeline.
    …………

    I have seen the name associated around “real things”, and “real projects”, trying to make a diffference, But so so i have not had the time to read the links. But i will do it, during 2017. So Bonnie, you are making a book? Nice. If is a good one, i will buy it.

    Now, about your article, this called my attention, quote:

    “in “polite society,” cursing is largely verboten. Let me suggest, however, that if done in the correct spirit and adroitly, cursing can be a highly useful type of anti-oppression work. How so? It can at once shed light on oppression, express the outrage warranted, and motivate action. On top of which, it can be personally liberating.”

    re: Well, liberating as in: “Feel Good” ?

    Ah, well,… it would be nice, but in some parts of the world… saying the wrong words loudly (or even using the normal volume of speech), to a psychiatrist… can get the injectable loaded with TWICE THE DOSE… and injected, rigth after.
    I seen that, so i am in no hurry to try.
    Was a single phrase… that mutiplicated by 2 his injectabel dose. Result? A walking-zombie.
    Too risky.
    …………….

    As for the cursing, or using slang… (more like single words/ short phrases).
    I have seen that is of the few things that puts psychiatrits (and medical professionals), out of their confort zone. They dont like it.

    Even just words/ short phrases… no risk so to say…. Yet that has more effect that: using lots of truth and months of suffering. After telling them and asking them if they already knew itr all, why is that they done nothing? They quickly make silly excuses/ calim impotence/ changes subjects.

    Now… if you get personal or ifyou use slang… it gets funny 🙂
    They get red! And all of the sudden seem not in control anymore. Their voices shakes… and/or they get angry.
    Just low-class humans… pretending to be GODS. Tigers of paper.
    …………….

    As for language… Bonnie Burstow, that is important.
    Language is a weapon that is used against us… wayyyy to much used.

    Maybe language can be part of a solution. I have hope that you have done progress at that “language front”. Because WE needed it: the users, the wanna-be ex-users; and the ex-users (like me).

    Prescribe! 🙂

  2. Interesting poem, thanks Bonnie. I find the curse interesting, and would like to share my perspective. When my son was about 7, he said to me, “Mom, Jesus’ theology has a trick to it.” He was referring to the golden rule, “treat others as you would like to be treated.” I said to my insightful son, “Yes it does.”

    It is my belief that when the Triune God does the final judgement, He will judge the souls of men/women based upon how each soul treated others. I should mention that I didn’t use to personally believe that an eternal hell would be needed. But based upon the way today’s psychiatrists treat their clients, which is to defame them with scientifically invalid DSM mental illnesses, gaslight them and brainwash their families into believing these DSM disorders are “lifelong, incurable, genetic mental illnesses,” then actually create the DSM mental illnesses in these clients with the mind numbing psychiatric drugs. And the psychiatric and psychological industries do hope to torture their clients in this manner for their entire lives.

    Well, suffice it to say, I’ve had to rethink my belief that there will be no need for at least a hell that lasts long enough for these Prescribers to spend a day in hell for every day of living hell they have hypocritically perpetrated on every one of their clients. And, as to the unrepentant medical murderers and torturers, who are also financially raping our entire economy so they may have their malpractice insurance but are not utilizing it for what it was intended, which is a form of thievery, well … God will be the judge.

    Recommending the continuation of the prescribing of today’s toxic psychiatric drugs is likely the worst curse you could place upon today’s psychiatric industry, I agree. By the way, Bonnie, your poem would get you drugged up by psychiatrists today, since you claim to have heard an angel “voice.” It would get you a “psychosis” diagnosis – and prescriptions for massive amounts of antipsychotics and likely other psychotropics to boot.

    But I agree with you, belief in Love is the answer, as opposed to trying to defame, torture, and murder all of those who believe in God, which is what today’s psychiatric industry has been doing. Apparently, today’s psychiatrists are unaware of the fact that it is illegal to torture God fearing Christians and Jews in the US.

    And, according to the medical evidence, today’s psychologists and psychiatrists also seem to be unaware of the fact that it is also illegal to silence massive quantities of child abuse victims with this iatrogenic scam. In case people don’t know, there are people who are disgusted by child abuse, waging war against the pedophiles in high places all over the internet now. It’s being called Pizzagate and Pedogate online, but it’s being censored heavily by Google, so you may have to use a different search engine.

    These people are wondering where the victims are, I’m pretty certain this website is where many of the victims are, given the medical evidence that “the prevalence of childhood trauma exposure within borderline personality disorder patients has been evidenced to be as high as 92% (Yen et al., 2002). Within individuals diagnosed with psychotic or affective disorders, it reaches 82% (Larsson et al., 2012).”

  3. Bonnie.Mental Health *experts* cursing us crazies,so why not to *curse* them!?You see crazies,Mental Health *experts*,Psychologists or Psychiatrist will protect their professions,no matter to which *sidde* they officially belong!Only anti-Mental Health movement will really represent us crazies and I doubt that old-school activists here,will protest one day with us.Especially they will never protest before NIMH or WHO.They sadly
    consider both as *friends*of crazy people.

  4. Let’s pick some specific kinds of actions we can take against the mental health system, like picketing and passing out fliers to encourage lawsuits. Move from talk and senseless argumentation, to taking actions against real people!

    Nomadic

      • Oldhead,
        I did not had time to read your previous posts here at MIA (forgive me if you already posted a lot about this).
        ………………..

        quote: “As a movement we need to target the system, not individuals, unless there is particular strategic value in doing so”.

        re: The system has…. VERY high numbers/ parts.
        Spreads VERY wide (up and down).
        And is VERYYY powerful.

        The movement at this time, is:
        hugely divided;
        confused (to use a euphemism);
        lacking important skills;
        lacking resources.

        I would say the movement has “homework” to do.
        I am not trying to be negative. And i am not a depressive person.
        Just saying… the way has been done so far… did not work, and wont work.
        ………………..

        To say something positive/ construtive: we need help from someone with “real world” experience, that has proved himself/ herself/ or as a organization… worthy in the past (done things).

        A lot of thing that i read at MIA will never work.

        More: some things are plain DUMB (i wont quote who said… this or that… as in theory we are in the same side), but in a real job if i asked a plan to “get from A to B”… and i got some sugestions like i have seen here at MIA… i would them out of the job in a minute.

        We dont need big brains. We need people with: good sense/ experience/ courage/ know-how. And i know the SZ crowd lack it (most of them, do).

        I am open to sugestions…

      • Oldhead,
        What do you suggest as ways or methods to “target the system” since what has been done is not working?
        I am all for poetry, books, and the elevated discourse of passionate intellectuals, but what has that accomplished?
        I see the annual “shock protest” is coming up again in May. And the media will ignore it and the practice will go on. What would achieve more or even something other than consciousness raising and some limited and soon forgotten outrage.
        Someone with a plan, an actual plan?

        • There are rumblings; give it a month or two and some of these questions might be easier to answer. (Sorry if that sounds cryptic.)

          The shock protest has been an individual-led effort. That’s just an observation, not a criticism of the individuals behind it who were trying to “jump-start” something, as there was no centralized organized force to look to for guidance or take the baton. Hopefully this can change soon. It would be good to know how many people are up for an explicitly anti-psychiatry organization or network.

        • quote from oldhead: “give it a month or two and some of these questions might be easier to answer”

          re: Ok, i can wait.
          ………….

          quote from truth: “Someone with a plan, an actual plan?”

          re: I dont know what will happen in 1-2 months, from oldhead… hope a good start of something powerful.

          As for “plans”… before plans there 1 tiny thing:
          The “evaluation of the situation”.

          If that evaluation part in not done (or is full of holes),… all future plans will fail. As was in the past and will be in the future.

          We have the current situation… for “reasons”. And this is going on… for decades!
          Talk… talk… chat… chat… write… write… zero effects.

          Meanwhile… Pharma, Psychiatry, NAMI… are where they want to be.
          And they have many “happy sheep” 🙂
          ………….

          I live at Europe, but i can help a bit, and want to learn what i can.
          At the USA there are some factors… at other countries… that can vary.
          Still, some things likely are common. And hope we can help each other, despite speaking different languages (and that we agree… or not… that the POPE is virgin 🙂

  5. If you asked a slave before slavery was abolished did she think slavery would ever end and would she survive would she have have said this is out of reach and totally impossible.

    People thought slavery was the norm. One day in the future psychiatry will be abolished and the care for those who find themselves experiencing psychological overwhelm will find sanctuary and peace. There will be no drugging and no imprisonment. No coercion no stigma. People will be free!

    In the meantime pioneers for its abolition will keep fighting and everyone involved must continue this war on the silent holocaust.

    By the way Bonnie when is your book The Other Mrs Smith going to be published?