I have been a counselor for over twenty years, and during that time, I, like many of you, have sought answers to very difficult questions about mental health. I love counseling and helping people with personal problems, but after about ten years in private practice, something happened. A client came in and gave me a tape by Ann Blake-Tracy in which she outlined the effects that antidepressant drugs were having on people. She described the horrific effects, such as suicide and self-harm, and a host of other effects that were damaging the lives of persons using psych drugs. I was stunned.
Like all behavioral health professionals, I was trained in the medical model, whereby we would learn to diagnose the various mental disorders using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). We were taught that by using this guide, we would be following the medical model. Thus, I and my colleagues entered the realm of psychiatry, and came under its hegemony. There was no deviation from this system allowed, and we all had to memorize the various symptoms and syndromes to make the correct diagnoses. I must confess, at that time I felt like a mini-doctor and it was a powerful feeling. Remember, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Of course, I obeyed, and made diagnoses and sent people off to their family doctors for the prescriptions I was taught would help them achieve mental health.
But was there trouble in paradise? Could it be true that people were not getting better at all, and in fact were getting much worse? I was not dealing with psychoses or seemingly very serious mental problems, just mostly depression and anxiety in their various forms. The question arose in my mind: Had I been taught something that was not true? The fact that I might be causing harm to my clients was quite alarming. I started looking for answers, and really, for the truth.
I found an organization founded by the famous psychiatrist, Peter Breggin, which is currently known as the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP), and immediately joined it. There, over many years, I learned through my colleagues that the use of psychiatric drugs and other psychiatric treatments does not cure mental problems. Worse yet, this approach was harmful to the brains of those treated.
I became convinced that psychiatry was essentially a sham. Psychiatrists have enormous power over us in that they can deliver us to false imprisonment in mental facilities, merely by declaring we are mentally disordered. Many reading this article will have suffered that fate, and perhaps are still suffering from it.
Eventually, I learned more about the medical model from Fred Braughman, MD, a neurologist, who has shared this information with ISEPP. And I share his information with others who were not taught the whole truth about the medical model, but only that which would continue the spread of psychiatric hegemony.
The medical model teaches physicians to think like doctors, in the process of diagnosing various disease states. To make a disease diagnosis, there must be present a gross, microscopic or chemical lesion (a change in the body). Without detection of such a lesion, the word “disease” cannot be applied. Another word for “disease” is “illness.”
Of all medical specialties, only psychiatry does not diagnose diseases. Instead, it deals in syndromes, which are collections of symptoms reported by the patient. This is why the DSM refers to mental disorders, not diseases. All psychiatrists are physicians, trained in the medical model. They all know that a mental disorder is not a disease or illness.
The history of psychiatry is a strange one, with two threads persisting throughout. One is that mental distress is caused by something taking over the mind, like demonic possession, which is purely a spiritual phenomenon. The other thread is that madness is caused by something in the body, but what that is was very hard to pin down.
In the early 19th century the famed physician Philippe Pinel declared: “The primary seat of insanity generally is in the area of the stomach and intestines.” This idea drove decades of research into medical treatments to cure insanity, including drugs, lobotomies and ECT.
In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud revived the non-material viewpoint, jettisoning demons and substituting his own theories of Ego, Id and Superego. Many accepted this theory, and ignored the ideas of those who sought a physical etiology. In addition, Freud discovered cocaine and recommended it to many of his patients. This kicked off the use of drugs by psychoanalysts to change mental status, but it was not based on any brain science, merely observation of effects.
Unfortunately, cocaine, like all drugs designated to fix mental disorders, was a bust, and highly addictive to boot. But the quest for that perfect pill continues to the present day, with horrific and life-destroying results.
Freud rejected the medical model, but invented a new way of looking at mental disorders, with neuroses and psychoses as the main categories. Eventually, these disorders congealed into the first DSM, which was a quite slender volume.
Here is where Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, comes in. He wrote the book Propaganda in 1928 and is considered the Father of Public Relations. He wrote that he who controls the language, controls people and their behavior, and this fact was not lost upon psychiatrists. They have pushed the idea of insanity arising from what people think and believe, and they now stress the “chemical imbalance” theory which teaches that mental disorders arise from physiological substrates—notably, neurotransmitter problems. Drugs are now sold to supposedly correct these imbalances. They never have shown any scientific proof for this theory, as there is none, and there are no tests to confirm their diagnoses. As such, belief in psychiatry falls in the realm of a rigorous belief system or secular religion. Dissension equals heresy, and apostates are punished.
If there is no disease to be found in examining mental patients, but just a label from the DSM, this means that there is no way to locate the disorder in the body. The term “mental illness” instead of the more correct “mental disorder” entered the lexicon and was used to describe unwelcome mental states. The fact to remember is that the phrase “mental illness” is a metaphor and does not describe a real thing. It is merely a poetic representation of mental distress.
I would judge that there is almost no one on earth who has not heard and used the term “mental illness.” It is everywhere! And, as psychiatrists well know, this is a misnomer and essentially a lie. The concept “mental illness” resides in the realm of fantasy. This is the reason many of us who know this always enclose it in “air quotes.” This indicates that we do not believe in its use.
Here is what I tell you: There is no such thing as a mental illness. Let that sink in for a while.
Once the term “mental illness” was let loose on society, it seemed that if a psychiatrist, like any other doctor, were treating an illness, there should be a drug for that illness. After all, this is the basis for allopathic medicine—a drug for every disease! With this semantic sleight of hand, “mental illness” now gives the psychiatrist a seemingly rational reason for treating this disease with a drug.
Of course, there are more and more persons who suffer from mental disorders every year. It is said that 60,000,000 Americans are taking psychiatric medications. Babies to the elderly are being drugged for supposed mental illness. But: There is no mental illness, no disease state that a medication would fix. It is also very true that Americans are getting sicker and sicker every year, and their bodies are not functioning properly. For example, 75,000,000 Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases, and the three leading causes of death are degenerative diseases with their roots in nutrition.
Having now taken the concept of “mental illness” and sent it to the dustbin of history, what is left? I believe we need a new paradigm for understanding mental disorders, and fortunately there is an answer to the search for relief.
I will share a bit of my personal background to help you understand how I came to believe in the new paradigm.
I was born into a second-generation Polish family, and I have always been in touch with that culture, including its food. My mother was an adventurous cook, and we also dined on a wide variety of foods from different lands. I married a man from Sicily and learned about healthy Mediterranean cuisine. I was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study music in Poland, and I traveled throughout Germany and most of Europe, and studied in Siena, Italy. All the while, I was eating foods that were traditional to those lands. I remember a christening in Graz, Austria, held in a tiny private chapel on an Alpine mountaintop, where large platters of sizzling schnitzel were brought out for our feast. A ripe peach eaten after ascending from the catacombs in Rome remains one of the singular culinary experiences of my life. Another was feasting on a rooster I watched my great aunt slaughter on a big stump in the yard of the farm where my grandmother, Tekla, was born, in Siedliszowice, Poland. And in Polynesia, I can never forget a feast of fish cooked in coconut over a fire on a large coral reef. As I look back, all of these experiences were deeply rooted in the traditional foods of each country.
When I returned to America, I was invited to teach at a university in Canada, and at that time, for fun, I started cooking feasts of foods for the other faculty members, always expanding my repertoire of cuisines. Returning to New York, I trained professionally with a French chef who taught me the glories of French cuisine.
I returned to my hometown and had the pleasure of creating a healthy cooking show on local cable which ran for nine years. I catered special parties for our local museum. I learned all I could about food and cooking, mastering a number of the cuisines of the world. Through all my adventures in understanding the foods of different nations, I realized that all peoples in touch with the traditional foodways that had sustained their cultures for thousands of years were possessed of life-giving and health-sustaining means to nourish themselves. Sadly, though, in America, few among us had maintained continuity with those ancient cultures.
As a professional counselor, I became convinced that psych drugs were certainly not the answer to mental health. By chance, I found the answer to connecting the two disciplines of counseling and nutrition.
At an ISEPP conference about ten years ago, I attended a seminar by Gary Kohls, MD on how to help clients withdraw from psychiatric medications. Dr. Kohls introduced me to the Weston A. Price Foundation as a good source of nutritional knowledge. Even though I knew a lot about food and cuisines of the world, I knew little about the science of nutrition.
As I learned and studied more from the sources at Weston A. Price, I saw an ad for a program called Nutritional Therapy. I had never heard of this discipline, and looking into it, I knew that I had to pursue it. I became a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and soon after, a certified GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Practitioner. The GAPS Program was created by the neurologist Natasha Campbell-McBride and is concerned with healing all problems arising from a distressed gut.
Now I had knowledge of nutrition, and the methods for conducting functional nutritional therapy. I was provided effective tools to help those with nutritional problems and poor digestion. This was very powerful and heartening.
But what about persons with mental problems? Could this program work for them as well? I kept studying, and found that there are over 3000 articles on nutrition and mental health in PubMed, the very large online medical research resource. Articles showed how so-called bipolar disorder, or anxiety, or schizophrenia and most other disorders could be helped by attending to nutritional deficiencies. I followed the work of Russell Blaylock, a retired neurologist who devoted himself to finding nutritional answers to diseases and mental disorders. I found that there is a whole world out there that promotes the idea that proper nutrition is the answer to most physical and mental problems Americans are facing.
I did more and more research into such things as toxicants in our environment, the poor quality of the food supply in America, how our very foods have changed over the past hundred years, and the fact that Americans are constantly being propagandized with nutritional messages that will never lead to health. And, especially, I studied the work of Dr. Weston A. Price, who traveled the entire world in search of the answer to the question “What do human bodies need to function properly?”
The final answer to my quest came from a line in Dr. Price’s masterwork: Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. After traveling around the world in search of societies that had not succumbed to the Western diet and were eating their traditional, whole food diets, he stated that in all the cultures he visited, he found people who were vibrantly healthy and “whose mental health and general character were outstanding.” Reading this, I experienced a paradigm shift. If mental health depended upon proper nutrition, this, and not psychiatric treatment, would be the road I would take to help others heal.
I decided this information was extremely important, and set about creating a seminar that would be offered to behavioral health professionals. My six-hour seminar was delivered to audiences across America. I visited sixty-five cities, from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, and points west, south and east. I have presented to several thousand professionals, and almost without exception, they agree that psychiatric drugs do not cure people. But there are problems.
First, mental health professionals, like most physicians, are woefully ignorant of the relatively new science of nutrition. If nutrition is the answer, they are not the ones, yet, to fix things. In addition, there is a veritable abyss between the behavioral health professionals and those trained in nutrition. With my seminar I was attempting to bridge that gap and point the way, but this doesn’t mean that these behavioral health professionals are up to the task of fixing their mentally troubled clients using nutrition.
It is my belief that all those trained in mental health need training in nutrition, so that they can make available to their clients and patients the benefits of proper nutrition. Most of my seminar attendees agreed with this premise. How to bring it about is another story.
This will require a rethink of the current hegemony of the DSM over all our work. We need to break away from the rule from above. Psychiatry has become largely a drug delivery system, and other behavioral health professionals must accede to this dominance, for some reason. I cannot tell you how many articles are sent each month through Medscape to psychiatrists on nutritional interventions and how they help with mental disorders. Here’s a quote from one Medscape article sent to all psychiatrists, entitled: “Dietary Change Key to Improving Mental Health.” It begins: “A number of nutrients…have a clear line to brain health, including Omega-3 fatty acids, Sam-E, B vitamins, choline, Vitamin D and amino acids…” But what do psychiatrists do with this information? Very little. And yet, as behavioral health professionals, we are bound to use the DSM in all our work in diagnosing the mental disorders of our clients. We must label the disorder, and by extension, the person. No space is given for nutritional interventions.
If DSM disorders are the result of poor nutrition, what does a psychiatric label mean? What does it mean to label a child as “having” ADHD, when the truth is, they are lacking in nutrients that would calm their brain and allow them to function properly? When the brain again functions properly, are they in remission of the disorder, or is it gone? Did it ever really exist? Was the diagnosis a big mistake? Once full functioning is restored to someone, do they lose the label? Wouldn’t someone prefer to know that they have a nutritional dysfunction or deficiency, and that it can be taken care of and removed, compared to having a label like “schizophrenia” attached to them? I believe so.
There are hundreds if not thousands of professionals out there who can help with these disorders, since they arise from poor nutrition and other digestive problems. They are not difficult to correct if the client is willing to follow the protocols prescribed. I chose the new discipline of nutritional therapy, and it is a wonderful aid in resolving supposed mental disorders merely through dietary protocols.
The process of nutritional therapy, which is a form of functional nutrition, involves many different steps. There is an interview, the administration of a comprehensive online assessment, the use of Food Journals, often a hands-on functional exam, other screening tools, eventually a personalized recommendation protocol, and then continual monitoring of progress for several months. And, very importantly, together we must create a healthy diet for the client that they would enjoy. This process works!
There are two major components of nutritional therapy. First we must look at digestion, and correct any problems there. In other words, we need to heal the gut! Without proper digestion, the use of different foods or supplements will probably not produce results. However, once this is accomplished, clients can begin to see that their mental disorders are receding, and probably cured.
Very often nutritional problems are a question of having either too little, or too much of something in the body. Too much involves things like parasites, bad bacteria taking control of the gut, or too much of some substance like sugar, alcohol, bad fats and dead processed foods or other foods that can overwhelm and destroy the digestive tract. On the other hand, there can be many problems when people have too little of things such as stomach acid, beneficial bacteria, food enzymes from raw foods, essential fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals and even nourishing foods. Another significant consideration is the problem of intestinal permeability, popularly known as “leaky gut.” This damaging condition is responsible for the development of a toxic brain, and it must be addressed if it is detected. Leaky gut leads to autoimmune diseases, as well as any mental disorder that is concerned with perceptions of reality being altered.
In addition to these concepts, there are about fifty nutrients that are considered “essential” for proper function of the body. Few know what they are, but if even one of them is not present in sufficient quantity, the body begins to falter, and both physical and mental health decline.
Many people are becoming aware that the human body is actually an organism in league with 100 trillion microorganisms like bacteria, yeasts and viruses. Many of these reside in our gut and are responsible for many processes we need to survive. I am referring to the microbiome, and we must learn to take care of this precious resource.
The diets of people hundreds of years ago were created by trial and error to include all the nutrients a human needs to thrive. Now, most Americans, cut off from their traditional diets, have absolutely no idea what their body needs. So, entering a modern supermarket with 200,000 different foods, picking out the right ones is something of a crap shoot. Many just go with what they “like,” not realizing that what they like might be dictated by harmful bacteria and yeasts in their gut. Yes, we are controlled by messages arising in the microbiome when we experience dysbiosis or a negative state of being overrun by bad microbiota. This is part of the problem with people who are suffering with mental problems. The microbiome can be repaired with help from someone trained to do so.
What we consume on a regular basis matters, a lot. When we do not know what this should be, or will not consume it even if we do know, our physical and mental health decline. This is the basis for the new paradigm in treating mental health. We must nourish our bodies, and give them the raw materials to create the proteins—and in the case of mental health, the neurotransmitters—that contribute to good mental functioning. It is not rocket science, but it is science! And a final thought: Talking to a malnourished person cannot correct their nutrition. Only proper nutritional intervention can do this.
I love counseling, and helping people deal with their emotional and relational problems. But in addition, I encourage anyone suffering from mental issues to consider that nutritional issues are also involved in their distress. There are thousands of nutritional professionals trained to do this work across America. A holistic approach looking at body, mind and spirit is the key to health. A whole new world awaits those who can be freed from mental suffering through proper nutrition.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to serve as medical advice, and anyone reading it is urged to contact someone trained in functional nutrition or functional medicine to address nutritional problems, especially if you are currently taking psychiatric meds.
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.