The Diseasing of Defiance


As a busy parent with no training in the matter, you may have only a very vague understanding of how the mental disorder industry operates. You may not really understand how the label that industry would like to affix to your defiant child has come into existence for all sorts of shadowy reasons, naturally including the desire on the part of mental health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, researchers, and everyone else at the trough to make money. What you may understand least of all is the mental health industry’s tradition of designating those who are defiant as deviant.

Bruce E. Levine explained in “How Teenage Rebellion Has Become a Mental Illness”:

“Two ways of subduing defiance are to criminalize it and to pathologize it, and U.S. history is replete with examples of both. In the same era that John Adams’ Sedition Act criminalized criticism of U.S. governmental policy, Dr. Benjamin Rush, the father of American psychiatry (his image adorns the APA seal), pathologized anti-authoritarianism. Rush diagnosed those rebelling against a centralized federal authority as having an ‘excess of the passion for liberty’ that ‘constituted a form of insanity.’ He labeled this illness ‘anarchia.’

Throughout American history, both direct and indirect resistance to authority has been diseased. In an 1851 article in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, Louisiana physician Samuel Cartwright reported his discovery of ‘drapetomania,’ the disease that caused slaves to flee captivity. Cartwright also reported his discovery of ‘dysaesthesia aethiopis,’ the disease that caused slaves to pay insufficient attention to their master’s needs. Early versions of ODD and ADHD? In Rush’s lifetime, few Americans took anarchia seriously, nor were drapetomania or dysaesthesia aethiopis taken seriously in Cartwright’s lifetime. But these were eras before the diseasing of defiance had a powerful financial ally in Big Pharma.”

Is every defiant child a freedom fighter? Of course not. How absurd! Disrupting your fourth grade class is not the same as embarking on the underground railway. Throwing a fit is not the same as standing up to King George. But is oppositional defiant disorder a label meant to subjugate and to serve the needs of the authorities? Yes, absolutely. It has an intention. Its intention is not therapeutic (there is zero medicine going on) and its intention is not benign. Its intention is to provide a rationale for subjugation and its goal is submission.

The proof of this is obvious. If I demand that you stop a behavior without inquiring into what is causing it, then all that is on my mind is that you stop the behavior. I want the behavior to stop. Period. The mental health industry’s lack of curiosity about what is causing childhood outbursts is proof positive that only peace and quiet are wanted. Here’s the Mayo Clinic on the matter of causation: “There’s no known clear cause of oppositional defiant disorder.” Johns Hopkins: “The cause of ODD is not known.” WebMD: “The exact cause of ODD is not known.” Why all this not knowing? Because the goal is not trying to know what is going on, it is trying to stop what is going on.

As a parent, you may agree with this goal. You may well just want the behavior stopped. That’s completely understandable. But if you also have as your goal producing a liberty-loving, truth-telling, passionately free man or woman, you had better be careful about doing too good a job of wrestling your child into submission. You may win the battle and manage to crush certain unwanted, even intolerable behaviors out of existence. But you may lose the war.

Because ODD is not typically treated with chemicals, and because chemicals make money, the following frequently happens. Your defiant child may also receive a second diagnosis, usually an ADHD or a depression diagnosis, where chemicals are prescribed routinely. Since, like defiance, squirming, boredom, restlessness and sadness have all been diseased, it’s entirely possible that your defiant child will end up with two or three medical-sounding mental disease diagnoses and a multiple chemical fix. You may not understand exactly how this came to pass but there you are with a little patient on your hands. This came about because we have allowed putative experts to disease behaviors.

What are the recommended helping strategies to deal with ODD? The Mayo Clinic’s recommendations are typical:

The cornerstones of treatment for ODD usually include:

Parent training. A mental health provider with experience treating ODD may help you develop parenting skills that are more positive and less frustrating for you and your child. In some cases, your child may participate in this type of training with you, so that everyone in your family develops shared goals for how to handle problems.

Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT). During PCIT, therapists coach parents while they interact with their children. In one approach, the therapist sits behind a one-way mirror and, using an “ear bug” audio device, guides parents through strategies that reinforce their children’s positive behavior. As a result, parents learn more-effective parenting techniques, the quality of the parent-child relationship improves and problem behaviors decrease.

Individual and family therapy. Individual counseling for your child may help him or her learn to manage anger and express feelings in a healthier way. Family counseling may help improve your communication and relationships, and help members of your family learn how to work together.

Cognitive problem-solving training. This type of therapy is aimed at helping your child identify and change thought patterns that lead to behavior problems. Collaborative problem-solving — in which you and your child work together to come up with solutions that work for both of you — can help improve ODD-related problems.

Social skills training. Your child also might benefit from therapy that will help him or her learn how to interact more positively and effectively with peers.

Does this make ODD sound more like a disease or more like a family problem? How can a supposed disease be ameliorated by, for example, parent training or problem-solving training? Isn’t it patently clear that diseasing defiance must be a lucrative charade? There are many things that you can try with an oppositional, defiant child that will help improve the situation for everyone concerned—our resources section describes some of these helping strategies and we’ll be providing more. It is a bad policy to disease behavior: that puts everyone, you and me included, at risk.

Download this resource: The Diseasing of Defiance
For more resources, see our Parent Resources section.


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. I would imagine oppositional defiant disorder, so called, is much like conduct disorder, certainly no real disease. Conduct used to be a merely a grade on a report card, but it serves the school authoritarians to treat “bad” or disobediant behavior as disease. Disorder in the classroom is now a “treatable” offense. Of course, it’s all a matter of fitting one to one’s casket.

    Terrific post. Fortune smile on the defiant and the mischievous.

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  2. I posted this November 30, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    I think someone should sue NAMI “National Alliance On mental Illness” for promoting the use of neuroleptics in children and youth. See “Risperidone for Adolescent Aggression” Medical Focus, Winter 1996

    They are still pushing/advertising the use of anti psychotics off label in children today 2013 ! “Antipsychotic medications and mood stabilizers have been proven to be effective in treating oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder.”

    I made that topic November 30, 2013 at 3:34 pm,

    I am the one that made them change that page, take out that line “Antipsychotic medications and mood stabilizers have been proven to be effective”, it took alot of phone calls and posting about it online till they finally removed it.

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  3. Submissive Compliant Disorder

    It is amazing that these cops seem to be giving the society they prey upon an amateur diagnosis of mass Oppositional Defiant Disorder. If anything, thanks to all of the state’s ministrations listed above, what our society suffers from is a bad case of what might be called Submissive Compliant Disorder, SCD.

    Submissive Compliant Disorder !! LOL Good link above.

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  4. Thank you for writing this. I taught high school for fifteen years, mainly fifteen year olds, and never would have labeled any of my students as oppositional defiant. Isn’t this what teenagers are supposed to be as they struggle to mature and grow up? Were there difficult students? Absolutely, but that’s the make-up of being a teenager. I worry about those kids who are sweet and compliant and submissive since I don’t think this is healthy or normal behavior for most kids. Why is it these days that we can’t let kids be kids without trying to poke drugs down them that are detrimental to their growth and development? Why would parents fall for any of this bull manure?

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    • Re: Why would parents fall for any of this bull manure?

      The sociopaths in the pharmaceutical marketing departments are good at what they do: Your child is ‘sick’ and needs medicine, if you are a good parent you will give your sick children the medicine they ‘need’.

      You don’t make billions poisoning kids with nerve toxins like Zyprexa without a marketing plan.

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  5. These quacks just invented a “disorder”, because that means of punishing and controlling a child serves two important needs for their abusers: 1) it guarantees an income for useless adults who would otherwise be pimping and pushing 2) it shields evil parents from being held to account for hating and severely torturing their children. The fact is that psychiatry is the cheapest, fastest, and least disruptive way to preserve the social pecking order in society. Too many people would rather rob (Psychiatry usually cuts people’s earning power by almost 100%.), maim (After years of abstinence from the psychiatric narcotics, I STILL do not have complete function of all my organs.) and kill (Narcoticized people die 25 years earlier than the general population.) than to protect children, at the expense of their parents, if need be.

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    • It is also important to note that a lot of parents are unable to recognize how they are harming their children or encouraging or creating the very behavior that bothers them. Giving them this “explanation” prevents any meaningful dialog with caring parents who might actually be willing to CHANGE their behavior if they understood what was going on. The whole point of the DSM labels seems to be to blame the person who is suffering and absolve those with the power to actually do something about it from any responsibility whatsoever.

      — Steve

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  6. I have yet to meet a parent I would consider to be a suitable parent. In fact I think humanity should have a global moritorium on parenting. Just outlaw having children the world over for at least 50 years until we address the fuckedupness.

    After 50 years we might find at most 20 or 30 people on the whole planet suited to be parents. After 100 years that would rise to about 100 people.

    Forgive me for my optimism with the numbers…

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    • rasselas,
      I was not one suited to be a parent and I won’t go into details, since I suffer enough from regrets.
      I used to wonder why people in starving countries kept having children only to see then lying limply in their arms.
      And in fact, psychiatry IS trying to address the fuckedupness, which is doing wonders.
      Soon we can all be exactly like the good role models that psychiatry and others who point fingers and know the answers are.
      I suggest getting rid of every useless tree also, and every weed that prevents growth of vegetation and crops.

      I am always left wondering who will redesign utopia. Ultimately I guess it will be computers who can “fix each others chips”.

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      • It was pointed out to me that if no-one had a child for 50 years there would be no-one viable left to have a child, and so the last checkout would begin. Fair point.

        The need to bring new people into the world may increase during times of existential dread. It’s probably biological and thus to be expected. These days Africa is well-fed yet undernourished in many countries. So the kids have stunted growth and impaired intellectual development. Meanwhile millions of tonnes of nutritious African food-stuffs are exported, and billions of dollars of African wealth shared out amongst the major banks and investment companies, who use the cash to fund lavish lifestyles, cocaine habits, and to fund some half-hearted ethical start-ups that appear and fade faster than the average persons’ western conscience gets troubled by global corruption.

        The Eugenicists are back making dark claims about genetic determinism. It’s the same-old same-old self-serving shite that blames the poor for poverty and all the trappings that come with it.

        I despise and adore this planet and this existence and all people on it in equal measure. There is a man that walks around London pontificating with his megaphone and in recent weeks he’s joined the call advocating for human extinction. He encourages passersby to contemplate suing their parents for emotional damages for bringing them into this world, without choice or consiseration, reuslting in all their misery, woes, struggles, heart-ache, and the final kick in the teeth: having to come to terms with death.

        It’s not like people haven’t spread these messages before. Obviously with the apocalypse getting ever nearer, the siren calls grow ever louder.

        We are probably in a simulation inside a simulation inside a simulation, ad infinitum. If so, where are the cheat codes? How do I hack this nightmare into something less horrific without recourse to drugs and/or alcohol?

        I have no idea whatsoever, sam plover, continually.

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  7. Awesome article. Thank you. Another article I will forward to my son and daughter in law. Daughter in law is a teacher, yet I can see she is another victim of the psychiatric model. My son has a BA in Psychology, but has been listening to my rants long enough that he is not easily sold by quackery. I’m so very surprised that as soon as a ‘disorder’ is identified, it becomes like a law that permeates every corner of the person’s world. How nice to stick a label on a 4 year old, then stick some more on him as he gets older, because after all, we can look back to his ODD, ADHD,AVD and look into the DSM and see where he fits.

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