As someone who had a lot of psychiatric drugs as a young man, sometimes against my will, I wrote a chapter for the recent publication Searching for a Rose Garden about my experience of working with the Sunrise Center Project, a survivor-run project aiming to help people come off psychiatric drugs safely using the tools of Re-evaluation Counseling (also known as Co-Counseling). Janet Foner wrote about the project for Mad in America in April of 2015. I wrote an abbreviated version of my chapter for the Sunrise Center website in July of 2015, and this current piece is intended as an update on how we’ve progressed since those articles and since the publication of Searching for a Rose Garden last September.
Our long-term goal for the Sunrise Center Project is to set up a residential center where people can get the support they need to come off psychiatric drugs safely. This will be somewhere in the US, although we are an international project and hope to eventually have centers all over the world. (At the moment I’m the only board member not based in the US, but previously there was a board member in Canada, and other members of our fundraising committee join the regular conference call from Israel and England.) We’re fundraising toward setting up a center, and we’ve been organising local events in towns where our supporters live. We’ve previously held three quilt raffles, and we’re now designing a crowdfunding project to help people on a low income to get to our workshops.
Until we’re in a financial position to open a center, we’ve been developing our knowledge and practice by running weekend-long workshops. At first these workshops were based on the East Coast of the US, but in December of 2015 we had the first one on the US West Coast — during 2016 they ran on both the East and West Coasts, and hopefully that will continue as an annual pattern. The workshops are a chance for members of the board and fundraising team to spend time with people who are either trying to come off psychiatric drugs themselves or are allies to people who are. (We encourage people coming off drugs to form support teams in the areas where they live, and all those people are invited.)
The workshops are designed to suit the needs of participants. Everyone (board members, people trying to come off drugs, allies/helpers) usually takes some time to work on their own drug histories, including street drugs and anesthesia. “Working on” in this context means taking time to be listened to, telling the story of how drugs played a part in our lives, and “discharging” about any aspect of that experience that still is distressing to us — i.e. laughing, crying, sweating, shaking, raging about it.
At the last workshop the leader demonstrated counseling someone wanting to stop taking drugs, focusing particularly on the issue of being in charge of her support team. There was also a counseling demonstration with a member of the support team about their own feelings of impatience with the slowness of the process. This is a really important part of our philosophy. We don’t think it’s down to just the person trying to get off drugs to deal with their issues and feelings about it. We think the people around them need to deal with their own issues and feelings about the process too.
This workshop also focused on a “5 point program” that Janet Foner has developed. This is useful practice for anyone concerned about getting and staying well, so here’s what she has written:
- Organise enough support for yourself, including lots of two-way listening sessions in person, if possible, or if not, by phone. Each one has an equal turn to be listened to without any interruption, advice, comments, etc. When it’s your turn to talk, say whatever is on your mind. Build trust as you go and agree on how long a session you want, making sure you each get equal time. Agree to keep confidential everything that is said. Set up a support network of listening partners, so there will be plenty of people you can call when you feel “down.”
- Use at least some of your sessions to make the commitment to focus your attention off distress and onto what’s good in the world. Repeat the commitment and release the feelings associated with it. Use this version, or make up your own: “I don’t have time to focus my attention on my distress. There are so many things I would rather be doing, like: (name some). So I decide to focus my attention off my distress, and onto pleasant and rewarding things. And that means…” Usually the next thought will be exactly what you need to do to refocus onto pleasant thoughts.
- Use at least some of your sessions to think about your life and what you need to do to make it just the way you want it; to have your life and environment be so exciting and fulfilling that your attention is pulled out of distress, daily, by the way your life is. Then make the changes you’ve thought of, even if they take several years and lots of
- When it’s your turn in a listening session, keep at least some of your attention focused on good things, not on your distress. Don’t dive into the distress headfirst. Think of the distress in your mind as a swimming pool. Your job is to tread water and keep your attention way above the water. This doesn’t mean you don’t deal with difficult things, just that you deal with them while remembering the good things in life at the same time. You can tell about a past incident by describing all the horrifying details, and get sunk in the process, or you can say something like, “I’m alive!! I made it out!!” in a joyous tone of voice and still work on the same material, but focused on the positive. However, don’t try to make this process be like a cookbook. Sometimes, for example, in order to focus off a distress of “Don’t tell” or “Hold in everything,” someone may need to tell the gory details.
- Do lots of things you enjoy every day. When you are feeling fine, make a list of fun things you like to do. When you feel terrible, take out the list and do some things on it, even if it feels impossible at first. Your mood will eventually improve. Get more fun things into your life. Strategize ways to fit this in even if it seems you “don’t have time.” In the long run, get yourself out of boring, unchallenging, bad situations (see #3 above) so that you always have fun.
At the moment we’re only inviting people who have knowledge of Re-evaluation Counseling, the tool we’re using, to these workshops. Eventually when we have enough experience this will change, and we’ll be open to additional people and their supporters. People who’ve been to the workshops have been very positive, including doctors and people working in the mental health system as therapists.
I look forward to hearing your comments.
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.
I like the sound of the centre and it’s mission to help people come off psychiatric drugs. I do think that services such as these are essential for this movement to flourish. However I am suspicious of Re-evaluation Counseling. I am all in favour of effective self help therapy and other methods but Harvey Jackins, the founder of Re-evaluation Counseling was a sex pest and the techniques of Re-evaluation Counseling lend themselves to wierd and waccy methods. I wish the author good luck but I would love to hear user expereinces of this project.
While the old concerns about Re-evaluation Counseling may not be relevant to this organisation they do concern me sufficiently to post an old Mind Freedom article about it, in which they call it a cult http://old.freedomofmind.com/Info/infoDet.php?id=450
John: The article you cited isn’t a MindFreedom article. It comes from another organization called Freedom of Mind, an organization that deals with cults.
thanks for the correction.
My argument still stands though
Thanks for that source reference on Harvey Jenkins the founder of RC counseling. This article raises some serious questions about this type of therapy and those that practice it. This whole topic requires much more investigation before people should be promoting these programs.
I think you can learn a lot from RC, specifically how to improve you ability to listen to people and how to sit with people in distress in a useful way but I also think there is a whole wierd philosophy and ways of working that risk being open to not being scrutinsed, are hierachical and open to abuse.
I really want programmes for people who want support in coming of psychiatric drugs. I especially want to see them run by people who are actively criticising psychiatry. I think group work is important. I think there are many models for learning and practicing those skills. RC is one I have reservations about.
I expect there will be no replies from the author to what I am raising as there were no replies to the previos article on the Sunrise Centre that also raised concerns about RC.
Don’t be Debbie Downer.
Nevermind that your brain is damaged, and you haven’t slept in weeks.
No, think about what is POSITIVE in your life as you lose your job, housing, family and friends.
It’s *all in your head*! Change your attitude as you’re dealing with the akathisia and the weakness and the apathy, the brain fog and nightmares and the thousands of additional physical and mental deficits. Pull yourself up by your BOOTSTRAPS, goddam it!
Plan for your awesome future, drug-free…if you ever recover from the iatrogenic damage that’s been wreaking havoc on your brain/body! There’s so much to look forward to…(!)
This all sounds like bullshit to me. It truly sounds like you all have NO IDEA what’s involved when attempting to get off the meds (easy part) and then deal with the aftermath and reality of iatrogenic damage.
Hi Terry what a fantastic program, I live in North Wales U.K. , do you have program im my area? my email is [email protected] . Blessing you and the work you do
Hi, I attended the workshop given by the folks from the Sunrise Center. My feelings were mixed. For one thing, the entire method was based on the “success” of the first success story, and then, built upon that success of one person. Well, this may have worked for one person, but that’s only one. I was okay with it, said nothing, and then, they said, “You have to keep coming back.” That’s where they lost me. I said nothing, but I was extremely skeptical after that. I felt that anything that “You have to keep coming back and doing it” seemed cultish to me. This DOES include many religions and pseudo-religions that rope people in and demand more and more time and money, and literally steal people’s lives. This does include therapy, day treatment, various therapy programs, yoga retreats, cults, gurus, various mediation-type stuff, and other miracles that aren’t really miracles, they only rob us in the end. I wasn’t sure. I asked these folks to contact me, or put me on their mailing list. I asked them to read back my email address to ensure they had it right, but I guess they decided to take me off of it after all. Maybe I was just too much of a skeptic. I am a survivor of a dangerous cult called the Moonies, in 1979. They still exist. Look it up. I am honestly not sure but I have resources I can check.
Thanks for telling us about your experience of the Sunrise Centre and of cults in general.
I have a freind who is a cult survivor, mainly of religious and New Age cults. They damaged her quite considerably both emotionaly and finacially.
I agree that one sucees story is not sufficient evidence of effectivness. I also agree that no programem should say, “You have to keep coming back.” Effective help, of any kind, leaves people feeling better and should be open to someone coming back if they want to and eventually they should leave the person moving on and not needing the programme.
Often cults will offer something that is helpful, such as the calming down found in meditation and other religious and New Age practices, or the expression of emotion and telling of ones story to someone who listens, as found in therapy cults. Often this then ceases to help and the cult blames the person for not trying hard enough or doing the practice sufficiently. I do not think RC blames people if it does not work as they tend to be at the happy clappy end of cult behaviour, but they do stress that people should keep on with the practice of RC and stress, “Discharge,” ie expressing hurt emotions, as a route to cure. Expressing hurt emotions (having a good cry, shouting at the TV when Trump says something idiotic etc etc) is something we all do and often we feel better afterwards but it not the only thing that helps us deal with difficult situations and neither is encouraging someone to express emotion the only thing we do when trying to help someone in distress, though sitting with someone in distress and offering comfort is part of what we might do when appropriate.
So expressing distressing emotion to someone who is listening is the hook RC has that pulls people in and it can be useful at times for some people. The push to keep repeating it as the cure, the waccy practices and the exagerated believes are the rubbish that goes along with it are what I see as the dangerous part of RC. RC people often say that groups that have progressed in society, such as women, have done so due to discharging distress and this has allowed them to achieve things. This is partly coopting consciosness raising practices which both the women’s liberation movement, the LGBT liberation movement and Paolo Friere’s work with landless peasants in Brazil stressed but is also rubbish. Women got the vote due to effective political organising and yes people may have had a good old rant and a cry when doing this but it wasn’t the only way political solidarity emerged. Political groups that engage in consciousness raising then go onto put together practical programmes such as founding LGBT phonelines, women organising pregnancy testing centres, peasants setting up trade unions or health centres. RC’ers just do more counselling. Whether their personal lives are better is a moot point and open to debate and personal annecdote but it isn’t changing the world.
I gained from some of my time with them, I learnt some listening skills I also cringed at some of what I experienced, and am unlikely to engage with them agian. I don’t think they did me serious harm though I have seen some RC’ers with fixed grins that are just creepy.
I am also concerned that the founder, Harvey Jackins, who is now dead, was accused of rape and sexual assault by a number of his women clients, and that the organisation had no proper investigation or democratic structure to deal with such complaints. Tim Jackins, his son, now runs the organisation. While not everyone involved in RC may know of this scandal I would be very suspicious of anyone who did know who continued to be involved.
John I read Beware the Talking Cure which outlines the various harms that can come from therapy. The thinking is very much the same as my own. For a long time I have been concerned about the number of people who become addicted to therapy. Originally they are independent thinkers,, but after they become engaged in therapy, they are then unable to think for themselves. This process of turning to experts, and now assuming that expertise lies outside of themselves is a tough one to break, if not impossible. At this point, the duality is set, Us and Them, Treators and Those That Are Treated, caused by therapy, not by pills at all. Yes you can get this way without taking one pill. After therapy, independence is lost totally. I see people unable to make decisions, turning to parents, turning to gurus, dependent on religions, dependent on AA sponsors, turning to online advice, dependent on social workers, doctors, anything. And breaking the dependency hurts, it’s painful, like leaving a religious cult. You have to undo the worst brainwashing ever done to you. It is caused by the System, and it is harder than getting off pills.
The most harmful therapy format I ever endured was psychodrama, on the whole. They say that what matters is the therapist, not the therapy venue. that is, the method doesn’t matter very much, but the personality of the therapist matters a lot more, and the connection with the therapist. However, I can say that psychodrama when done on me was always done abusively. Two of these therapists did it. They both had terrible boundaries. One was manipulative, on a power trip, very controlling and abusive. She used the psychodrama to get what she wanted out of her patients. I cannot look at a stuffed animal now without remembering that awful experience and cringing. Therapy with adults should not be like kindergarten.
Also, you can definitely trust the Freedom of Mind Center. I know who runs it. He is a cult survivor, survivor of the Moonies just like me, who is trying to warn other people about brainwashing religious cults. I actually met this man way back in 1979 when he was much younger. He is also not a fan of the DSM!!! Steven and I have discussed this at length and I am a fan of his extensive anti-cult research. My hope is to use his work and link his work on cults to compare the brainwasshing done in cults as IDENTICAL to the brainwashing done to people, drugs or no drugs, in the mental health system. This includes much of what we know as “therapy.” This brainwashing is done mainly without drugs but by breaking a person down, isolating that person, and then, handing the person a new ideology. That’s what the MH System does. That is what cults do. That is what brainwashing is. it works and it is effective. It is hard to undo.
I have a less jaudiced view of therapy and counselling though I have also experienced harmful practices too. I think that good practice is found inside and outside the mental health system and while there are varied prctices it has some simple principles shared by many other disciplines. I think these principles are:
1 caring for someone
2 trying to understand someone
3 offering encouragement
I think they are also found in community work, self help groups and from good freinds as well as other places.
Peter Breggin asked his clients what it was that he did that helped and they said he cared for them until they felt they could care for themselves. That doesn’t sound like a value that is only held by therapists or counsellors, it is how we often act towards friends who are in distress such as when they are grieving after the death of someone close. Bad therapy is where the thearpist thinks they know what is best for you and that sounds like what you have experienced from the metal health system.
Dorothy Rowe, writer and retired thearpist, was once part of a debating team that proposed the motins that Thearpy has caused more harm than good, and Jeffrey Masson wrote a book called Against Therapy, so I suspect you will have many supporters in your views. It is a debate that I think is well worth having though.
Sorry this response is so late. I didn’t realise for a while that this piece had been published, then was away for a while with difficulties sending e-mails. I won’t try to address all the issues you’ve raised but I’d like to speak to one or two. One is about Re-evaluation Counseling and “political organising and practical programmes”. I think RC is outward looking and does encourages people to get out and engage with the issues that affect our lives. If not I don’t think we would be using RC ideas to try and set up a center. In recent times the organisation has prioritised working to end racism, and also to protect the environment, and for these issues developed projects which engage with current events and campaigns. It’s not just endless introspection! RCers have for instance been involved in the Black Lives Matter campaign, and at Standing Rock.
I came into RC after a period of political involvement in the peace movement and in the long miner’s strike here in the UK in the 1980s. At the end of that strike I spent some time in the mental health system. Through involvement in the strike I met someone who used RC and who introduced me to it, and I’ve used it to help me as an activist for the last 30 years without going near the system again. The point I think is that we can’t do the tough political work without getting adequate support for ourselves, or without acknowledging our feelings about what we’re doing. You can go for a while, but you just get burnt out and ineffective.
The other point I wanted to make was about therapy. In 1985 I felt so angry about “the system” that therapy was out of the question – I just had no trust. RC really appealed because of its democracy. You could talk about yourself, but you listened to the other person too, and sometimes that was the thing that would really shift you. I’ve read Jeffrey Masson “Against Therapy” and really enjoyed it. RC isn’t “therapy” in that sense – precisely because it locates the sources of our problems not in our personal failings, but in the structures of an unjust society. None of us will be “well” until we have an end to racism, sexism and all the other forms of injustice.
My mentor was a psychoanalyst of over 50 years and in the end he said that healing seems to happen if you:
Are authentically interested in the person
Are tender and kind
Realize that people have to find their own way forward
I wouldn’t argue with this, and I don’t think there’s anything in RC theory that contradicts it.