Breaking Free From the Stigma Paradox

Emily Cutler

It all started with an invitation to attend a leadership training. What could be more harmless than a leadership training?

“This training really helped a co-worker of mine,” my fiancé said. “He grew so much personally and professionally. Ever since going to this training, he’s become so much more humble and compassionate, found more work life balance, and is just overall happier.”

I was skeptical. As a psychiatric survivor, I have participated in a great deal of therapy programs and self-help groups that make similar claims about improving quality of life and practical skills: cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, and Recovery International. They were all harmful and pathologizing at worst and ineffective at best.

“But this is different,” protested my fiancé. “This isn’t therapy; it’s just a training. It’s not specifically for people with mental health issues or addiction or any specific kind of problem. It’s just a general training for anyone interested in self-improvement and leadership development.”

I paused to consider it. I was somewhat curious to learn what kinds of things “normal” people — those without any sort of diagnosis or label — did for self-improvement purposes.

“I’ll pay the $1,600 fee,” he offered.

What did I have to lose? My fiancé and I signed up to attend the training in mid March. We received a copy of the training schedule — the training would take place over five days: three weekdays from 6pm to 11pm and two weekend days from 11am to 11pm.


The first night of the training, we met our trainer, L., a petite woman with short black hair and perfect make-up. L. spent the first few minutes of the training telling her success story with the program: how she had once been in our shoes, sitting where we were, eager to learn the keys to self-improvement and effective leadership, and now is a marriage and family therapist and international businesswoman who drives a Lexus and has a family. “I have seen miracles happen as a result of this training,” she said. “Participants have started charities, orphanages, schools, and international businesses. Couples declared to be infertile have been able to have kids, sick people have gotten well, people have improved their eyesight and hearing. This training will truly transform you.”

For the next three hours, L. explained to us the rules of the training. Always be on time, don’t sit with anyone you knew before the training, no food or drink in the training room, stay on all prescribed medications during the days of the training, no consuming drugs or non-prescribed medications at any time during the days of the training.

(Oh, and one last rule: keep everything that happens at the training confidential. Oops.)

As L. explained each rule one by one, participants raised their hands with questions and objections.

“I get dehydrated really easily,” said one middle-aged woman. “Could I keep a water bottle in the room with me and then leave the room to take a sip?”

L. shook her head. “What does the rule say?”

“No food or drink in the training room.”

L. approached the woman and stood in front of her seat, staring at her. “If you had a gun to your head, would you be able to find a way to get through the next five days without having any food or drink in this training room?”

The woman laughed a bit, startled. She nodded.

L. smiled. “So you know that you can get through the next five days of training without having any food or drink in the training room. You would be able to do it with a gun to your head. So now you have to decide: how much does your word mean to you? If you commit to following these rules, how much does keeping that commitment mean to you? Do you value your word?”

Again, the woman nodded.

“Great!” L. said. “Then you will find a way to keep your word.”

When we finished going over the rules, L. gave us a ten-minute break. Before getting out of our seats, a young man with a southern accent raised his hand.

“Hey y’all,” he said. “If anyone has an advil and could let me have it during the break, that’d be swell.”

L. stopped him right there. “What did rule #6 say?”

“No consuming drugs or non-prescribed medications at any time during the course of the training,” he replied.

L. smiled. “You just committed to following that rule, and look at you, already breaking it.”

The man raised his eyebrows, puzzled. “Huh? Advil’s over the counter.”

L. put a hand on his shoulder. “Have you been prescribed advil?”

He shook his head. “No ma’am. But you see, I just had dental surgery about a week ago. And I was actually prescribed vicodin for that, but that would make me tired. So I’d prefer to just take advil.”

L. stared at him. “How about you read the rule again?”

“No consuming drugs or non-prescribed medications at any time during the course of the training.”

“And advil hasn’t been prescribed to you,” L. stated.

The man leaned forward in his chair. “So, I’m just supposed to take the vicodin? But vicodin will make me so tired. I might fall asleep.”

“I didn’t say you should take the vicodin,” L. said.

“Well I have to take something. I can’t just sit here in pain. I won’t be able to focus on the training while I’m in pain.”

L. crouched down to stare him directly in the eyes. “Who do you love most?”

“My girlfriend.”

“Good answer,” she said. “Well. Let’s say we had a gun to your girlfriend’s head, and it would go off if you didn’t focus on the training. Would you be able to focus on the training?”

He nodded.

“Even if you’re in pain?”

He nodded again.

“Now. How much does your word mean to you? I get the sense that you’ve broken your word a lot. That you commit to things and then break your commitments time and time again. Do you want to continue that pattern? Or do you want to decide here and now how much your word means to you?”

“I want to keep my word,” he said softly.

“Great. Beautiful. Excellent work,” L. exclaimed. She turned to the rest of us. “If the only thing you get out of this training is making a commitment and keeping it, and showing yourself and others that you are someone who values your word and keeps your commitments, was this training worth it? Does that make this training worth the time and money you paid to be here?”

We all nodded. “Yes,” a few of us murmured.

L. turned back to the young man. “Now, if you were to call your dentist tonight and ask him to write a note prescribing you to take advil instead of vicodin, would you still be following all of the rules you committed to observing during the course of this training?”

He nodded. “That’s a great idea.”

“Would you look at that? You can have a win win. You can take advil, and you can follow all the rules of the training. So often, we have a limiting belief that we have to make a choice between one thing and another. We tell ourselves these stories. You’ve told yourself you can’t focus on learning while you’re in pain, and turns out you can. Others have told themselves they get dehydrated and need to have water in the room; turns out that’s not really the case. We keep telling ourselves these narratives that prevent us from considering other options.”

She looked back at all of us. “Are you ready to break out of those limiting beliefs and discover the possibilities?” We all nodded.

“Great. Now, take your break.”

During the break, I reflected on the training so far. On one hand, our trainer did seem a bit overzealous about the program, the rules, and hypothetical scenarios involving guns. And I did feel very uncomfortable on behalf of the man who wanted to take advil; I wondered if the trainer would have responded the same way to a participant experiencing suicidal migraines or other intensely severe pain. But on the other hand, I did want to get better at keeping my commitments and valuing my word: too often, I have cancelled social commitments due to work or activism activities. Maybe this training would help me be a better friend, family member, and fiancé. And after all, L. only harped on the young man’s advil use to make a point; she had still suggested a way for him to take the medicine and participate in the program.

“I’m probably being too close-minded,” I thought. When the break was over, I re-entered the training room, resolved to be more open-minded and receptive to the trainer’s perspective.


After we returned from the break, our trainer explained the core concept of the leadership training: victim mentality versus responsible mentality.

According to L., our society is incredibly “victimy.” We complain about our circumstances as if we are constantly the victim, seeking attention, pity, and commiseration from those around us. This serves to trap us in a victim mentality, leading to years of feeling wronged and resentful.

Instead of being victimy, we need to be responsible. We need to accept that we are 100 percent responsible for everything that has ever happened to us — and to others — bad and good. We need to acknowledge that we created the circumstances in our own lives, in society, and in the world.

We were asked to stand up and talk about how we might have created our own health problems. “Who here is nearsighted or farsighted? How did you create that?” L. asked. One by one, participants stood up and recounted how they created their own low vision by not wanting to “see” what was right in front of them and acknowledge the circumstances in their lives, or by being “blind” to a loved one’s cries for help.

Again, I felt uncomfortable. So much of my work in the Mad Pride and psychiatric survivors movement is about not blaming people for their own health problems or circumstances. As a psychiatric survivor, I have so often been told that my hospitalization and forced drugging was for my own good — that I somehow deserved it. And so much of my healing process has been about rejecting this narrative.

But L. reassured us that victim mentality versus responsible mentality had nothing to do with blaming ourselves or anyone else. We even learned a dance to a catchy cheer: “No fault, no blame, no guilt, no shame.”

We were asked to share about circumstances in our lives that we had been viewing through victim mentality. One soft-spoken woman said, “I’ve been struggling because I have depression and anxiety.” She went on to describe how she has been seeing herself as a victim of these illnesses – how she thought of these emotions as out of her control and in need of fixing or treatment from an outside professional. With L.’s help, the woman shifted her mentality, taking responsibility for her emotional state and acknowledging that she had created her depression and anxiety due to her limiting belief that she wasn’t good enough.

I was hooked. I hadn’t realized that this training was going to be secretly critical of psychiatry!

L. asked the woman what the payoff was of feeling depressed and anxious all the time. “It obviously takes a toll on your life, and you’re struggling,” she said. “So what’s the payoff? Why do you go on creating this emotional state of depression and anxiety?”

The woman paused for a while to consider. “Well, I get to be right,” she said. “If I continue being depressed and anxious, and a victim of my depression and anxiety, that will continue taking a toll on my life and others’. It’ll interfere with my work and my relationships. And then it will confirm my core belief that I’m not good enough.” The woman then committed to being responsible for her emotional state and creating happiness, serenity, and fulfillment.

After discussing our individual circumstances, L. asked us to share how we each created 9/11. At first, I felt baffled. I was only six years old when 9/11 happened.

People began sharing. One person said, “I was so unaware of everything going on at that time. I didn’t have a clue what was happening in the world, in terms of current events or anything.”

Another said, “I was so ignorant of other cultures and other countries. I wasn’t even interested in learning about any other backgrounds.”

Finally, I said, “I was so apathetic. I didn’t understand what had happened or the significance of it. I was so young and I just didn’t get it.”

By this point, I was fully on board. As a social justice activist, my bread and butter is doing my best to acknowledge how I am complicit in all of the social ills of the world, especially abuse culture, and various forms of systemic oppression including racism, sexism, queer-antagonism, sanism, and lookism. So the idea that I could be responsible for something like 9/11, even though I was only six years old when it happened, wasn’t too far of a stretch.

I began to think about what would happen if the whole world took this training. Would people begin to acknowledge their racist, sexist, and sanist beliefs? Would everyone finally become accountable for the ways they perpetuate abuse culture?

And I began to think about the possibilities for myself. By the end of this training, would I learn about new ways I was perpetuating oppression and inequality? Would I learn how to be less complicit in social problems and abuse? I couldn’t wait to find out.


The next few days of training comprised of a series of exercises designed to help us identify the limiting beliefs that were holding us back and the ways in which we were being victimy. Some exercises involved attack therapy and confrontation: in one activity, participants took turns screaming “What do you want?” in each other’s faces for 10 minutes straight; in another, we each faced a group of participants shouting out our limiting beliefs and obstacles to our goals. Other exercises involved role playing dialogues with our parents and guided meditations. Most of the exercises were intensely emotional; at least half the room, including myself, was in tears.

None of the exercises included any mention of social justice, societal oppression, or abuse culture.

In one exercise, each participant had to find a way to move across the room that was unique from any other participant’s technique. One participant did jumping jacks across the room; another danced across the room. My fiancé did the worm, and I shook hands with every participant as I moved across. The point of the exercise was to illustrate that if a person sets an intention to accomplish something, they will find a way to do it, regardless of means or resources. Believing that you can’t is a limiting belief; it’s an excuse and a way of being victimy. Since we all set an intention to move across the room, we all found a way, and there were infinite possibilities.

“But we all started out on equal footing. We all just had our bodies and a room to move across,” I wanted to say. “Real life doesn’t work that way. In real life, some people are born with more resources and privilege than others, and have a much bigger room to cross in order to survive.”

But I didn’t say it. After all, that would be victimy, right?


The last day was a hard and fast sales pitch for the next level of the training.

“This was just the beginning of the training,” said L. “The past few days have been about drawing your awareness to your limiting beliefs and the ways you aren’t being responsible for your circumstances. In the next level, you get to have a breakthrough. That’s where you learn the real skills to overcome those limiting beliefs and your victim mentality.”

The next level of the training was scheduled about a week and a half out. It was to take place over three full twelve-hour weekdays and two full twelve-hour weekend days. Participants raised objections, saying they wouldn’t be able to attend due to work or other obligations.

L. shot them all down, emphasizing the importance of commitment. If we were really, truly committed to transforming our lives, we would find a way to attend the training. “If a close friend or family member were on life support, if they were in the hospital or in a life-threatening situation, would you find a way to miss three days of work?” she asked. “Then you have your answer.”

I raised my hand. “What if the reason we are able to take off work during emergencies is that we don’t ask for other times off work?”

L. put her hand on my shoulder and sighed. “Is this a pattern for you?” she asked. “Always putting work above everything else? Dedicating all your time to work just in case some emergency happens and you aren’t able to work? Are you a ‘just in case’ kind of person?”

I nodded. L. shook her head, smiling. “When are you going to start putting yourself first? When are you going to stop feeling disposable?”

I felt my heart start to beat faster and my hands begin to tremble. I couldn’t quite figure out why.

During the break, I spoke with my fiancé, who had already signed up for the next level. “I can’t do the second level of the training,” I told him. “I hope that’s okay with you. It’s just that I have work. I just started two new jobs, and I don’t want to seem unprofessional or disrespectful by asking for three days off right away.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “Do you think L. is right? Do you think you feel disposable at work? Do you think maybe you have a limiting belief that you can’t do the training? What if you’re limiting the possibilities for yourself?”

I considered his perspective and then told him, again, that I still didn’t think I could do the training.

“I’m just so scared you’re making the wrong decision,” he said. “This is going to be such a transformational experience for me. I’ll come back completely changed. And you’ll still be the same… I mean, how is that going to affect our relationship?”

My whole body began to shake, and my head started swimming. Panic set in. What if I was making the wrong decision? What if the choice I was about to make would make or break my relationship? Was I really choosing work over my relationship? What if this would become my biggest regret?

When the break was over, I still felt panicked, and I hadn’t made a decision. I needed some time to myself. I stood up from my chair and left the training room to use the bathroom.

A volunteer stood up from her seat and followed me.

“Are you leaving the training or just using the bathroom?” she asked sweetly.

“Using the bathroom,” I replied.

She continued following me to the bathroom. That was my first clue something was up.

In the bathroom stall, I did something I have done only one other time of extreme distress: pray to the spirits of Szasz and Foucault. “Dear G-d,” I began, in a whisper. “Okay. Let’s be real. I don’t believe in a man in the sky. If there’s anything divine, it’s the work of Thomas Szasz and Michel Foucault. Okay. So. Szasz and Foucault. If you’re up there, and this is some sort of cult, and I’m not crazy for thinking this might be a cult, if you could just please give me some sort of sign, that would be lovely.”

I exited the bathroom. The volunteer was waiting for me, ready to escort me back to the training room.

Just a few days before the training, I had read a powerful essay called “What Makes Institutions Bad.” The essayist argued that the worst institutions are not the ones with the most prison-like conditions or even locked doors, necessarily; instead, the worst institutions are the ones that use subtle manipulation and non-forceful tactics to keep people inside. The worst institutions are the ones in which “all of the staff are gentle and would never physically abuse an inmate. They are highly trained at redirecting and calming anyone who becomes violent. If you go outside, they follow you at a discreet distance, where they think you can’t see, to give the illusion of freedom and privacy. Their every movement and tone suggests sweetness and gentleness.”

In that moment, I remembered the essay. If following me to and from the bathroom wasn’t a sign of something troubling, I didn’t know what was.

My body was still shaking when I returned to the training room. L. saw me and asked if I was okay.

“No,” I said. “I feel like I’m being pressured and guilted into doing the next level of the training.”

She paused for a moment. “Is this a pattern for you? Have you felt pressured and guilted into doing things in the past? Has coercion ever been an issue for you?”

I nodded. I talked a bit about my experience with coercive psychiatry as well as some of my coercive sexual experiences.

“It sounds like you have a lot of trauma to work through,” she said. “And that’s what the next level of the training is all about. We do a variety of experiential and conceptual exercises to help resurface people’s trauma and help them work through it. When are you going to take that next step to overcome your trauma?”

I froze. Everything inside of me stopped. I had heard this before.

I had heard this before again and again. When I didn’t want to be hospitalized for experiencing passive suicidal thoughts, that was used as evidence that I was so sick I didn’t even know I needed treatment. When I stopped taking psychiatric medication, I was told I lacked insight and therefore needed more medication. When I felt invalidated by my DBT therapist, I was told this was just my borderline personality disorder talking and I needed more DBT to help me overcome my irrational anger. And now, feeling pressured and coerced by this training was being used as evidence that I needed more of the training. It is all the same: resistance to X, Y, or Z proves the need for more of X, Y, or Z.


That night, for the first time, I researched more about the training I had just completed. I found out that the program belongs to a category of leadership/self-improvement trainings called Large Group Awareness Trainings (LGATs), otherwise known as “psychotherapy cults.” Usually led by a psychologist or psychotherapist, LGATs have been known to use the principles of cognitive therapy and existential therapy in a high intensity, high demand environment that usually promotes groupthink and the unquestioned acceptance of the teachings.

The more I read about LGATs, the more scared I became. Widely accepted as a cult by most experts in the cultic studies field, many LGATs have been the target of numerous lawsuits for injuries ranging from LGAT-induced psychotic episodes to suicide attempts and hospitalizations.

The next day, I told my fiancé about the research I had done and how scared I was. “As a psychiatric survivor, and as a survivor of other types of coercion, this is so scary for me. This is very triggering.”

“That’s victim mentality, though,” he replied. “If you’re getting triggered, that means you’re being a victim of your circumstances, a victim of the trauma you experienced. You’re letting that trauma define you. Don’t you think it’s time to overcome that trauma?”

I also mentioned to him that as an Autistic person, the intensely social atmosphere of the training felt overwhelming for me, and I felt that the next level of the training would be even more difficult.

Once again, he called me victimy. “You’re using your autism and your traumatic experiences as an excuse to not do something. You’re limiting yourself. You’re saying, ‘Poor me, I’m autistic. Poor me, I’ve experienced trauma. Guess I can’t do anything about it.’ That’s victimy. Don’t you think it’s time to be responsible for what you can and can’t do?”

I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. Maybe we had done the “no fault, no blame, no guilt, no shame” dance, but it certainly felt like I was being blamed.

“Aren’t you the one who’s always saying that ‘mental illness’ isn’t real?” he asked. “So why are you using it as an excuse? Why are you acting like you’re a victim of it? It’s not like your reaction to trauma is a chemical imbalance.”

He almost made me wish it were. In that moment, right then and there, I wished for a chemical imbalance. I, a psychiatric survivor and anti-psychiatry activist, wished for… NAMI.


The stigma paradox is a model originally developed by Tania Louise Gergel* to describe two different kinds of prejudice against people labeled mentally ill.

She refers to the first kind as “likeness stigma.” Likeness stigma stems from the idea that people labeled mentally ill are just like everyone else; there is nothing biologically or chemically different about them. Unlike physical illnesses, “mental illnesses” are completely psychological. While this idea can promote agency and empowerment for those with psychiatric diagnoses, it also lends itself to the public perception that people labeled mentally ill need to snap out of their distress and overcome their struggles. It places the blame on the individuals who are struggling and can lead to societal shaming and discrimination.

Gergel names the second kind of prejudice “unlikeness stigma.” Unlikeness stigma is based upon the conception of “mental illness” as a biological, chemical brain disease. This notion may reduce blame or shame toward people with diagnoses, as well as change the attitude that it is possible for people to snap out of their distress on their own. However, this model of mental illness often aligns with the notion that people labeled mentally ill do not have agency and cannot make their own decisions due to a brain impairment, and therefore is used to justify force and coercion including confinement in psychiatric institutions, forced drugging, and ECT.

Time and time again, I have seen friends and family members cycle through the stigma paradox. One of my best friends hated being constantly told to snap out of her anxiety and depression, and to just think positive, so she embraced the biomedical model of mental illness. It was a way to tell those around her, “I don’t have control over my mental state all the time. Please stop blaming me for it.” Her activism aligned with this model until she was forcibly hospitalized and suddenly realized how much force and coercion the biomedical model serves to justify.

Now I was seeing it happen to my fiancé. Just a few years earlier, he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, heavily medicated, and monitored closely by his treatment team and family members. He was told he had a chronic illness and could not make his own decisions. Now, here he was, just having completed a Large Group Awareness Training, excited to embrace the idea that his “bipolar disorder” was just a limiting belief, a state of mind that he had full control over. He finally felt he had agency and power. Instead of being a victim of his “mental illness,” he was responsible, and that meant he could be responsible for not having a “mental illness” too.

And I was cycling through the stigma paradox too. As a psychiatric survivor and anti-psychiatry activist, so much of my time is spent rejecting the biomedical model of mental illness. For this reason, the training very much appealed to me at first. I was enticed by the ideology that identifying as mentally ill is victimy and a limiting belief. But now, this same ideology was being used to pressure and guilt me into participating in the next level of the training, and I suddenly found myself wishing for “unlikeness stigma” instead.

I felt trapped in the paradox.


I did not participate in the second level of the training. My fiancé went on to participate in the second level, and then the third level, and many more workshops and events. We have since separated.

For the next few weeks, my life was completely uprooted. Triggered and re-traumatized, I felt on edge and hyper-alert in almost every moment, occasionally experiencing nightmares. I was unable to take my mind off the training and the feeling of being coerced and pressured. I had extreme difficulty doing any work and even felt suicidal.

But I did begin to break free from the stigma paradox.

I started to explore Mad Pride more in-depth than ever. To me, Mad Pride means accepting my emotions, experiences, thoughts, and personality traits as part of who I am, whether inborn or caused by external circumstances. I am not ill, I am not sick, and I do not need any sort of treatment or fixing.

As a Mad person, I am Autistic. I am very sensitive and I do become easily overwhelmed by social situations, for better or for worse. That is not something I need to be treated for or overcome; that is something about myself that I accept.

As a Mad person, I respond to trauma in my own way. It sometimes does include being triggered and having suicidal feelings. And while I do seek support from my peers and a therapist, it does not mean that I need to be cured or fixed, or that anything is wrong with the way I am reacting.

Mad Pride is not “unlikeness stigma.” Being Mad is not a biochemical illness because it is not an illness at all. There is nothing wrong with experiencing the world in different ways including extreme states and hearing voices.

But Mad Pride is also not “likeness stigma.” Being Mad does not mean I can think positive and snap out of whatever distress or pain I am feeling on my own. It does not mean I am 100 percent responsible for my own mental state. It means that I do have differences and respond to trauma in my own way, and I can accept myself for that.


Living in Los Angeles as an anti-psychiatry activist, it is almost impossible to separate myself from “likeness stigma,” or the idea that everyone is responsible for their own mental state. Large Group Awareness Trainings and other New Age groups, which all promote this line of thinking, are common here.

But it is not just LGATs and New Age groups that align with this ideology. There are plenty of holistic health leaders and organizations that also promote the idea that we can positively think our way out of emotional distress or that different mental states, and even physical conditions, are just limiting beliefs.

In Los Angeles it is common to meet people who are opposed to psychiatric drugs. It is less common to meet people who are opposed to force and coercion. “Mental hospitals should stop forcing patients to take medication,” I have heard frequently. “Instead, they should have yoga and meditation classes.”

My experience with the LGAT taught me that it is not only psychiatry we need to be fighting against; it is all force and coercion. Psychiatry is just one powerful example of the way our culture perpetuates force and coercion.

The training did not advocate psychiatric drugging. Our trainer actively opposed psychiatric diagnoses. But at the end of the day, it was still coercive. At the end of the day, participants were still told they had problems that needed to be fixed or overcome, and that asking for accommodation or acceptance of those problems would be “victimy.” Selling the next level of the training involved framing participants’ experiences and responses as problems or challenges, instead of advocating self-acceptance.

Of course, sometimes distress and difficulties are caused by limiting beliefs. Sometimes people do benefit from holistic medicine, positive thinking, the recovery model, and even LGATs. But all too often, I have seen people get trapped in the stigma paradox, having to choose between accepting responsibility for overcoming distress on their own or identifying as having a biological, chemical brain disease.

In my own activism, my biggest goal is to give people a third option: Mad Pride and self-acceptance. Instead of advocating for any particular alternative treatments, trainings, or programs, I would like to be there to tell people, “You are not sick. You are not ill. You are fine just the way you are. Whatever response you are having to trauma is okay. Whatever sensitivities you have are okay. Whatever voices you hear are okay. You don’t need to be fixed. You don’t need to be cured. You don’t need to change anything about yourself, if you don’t want to.”

I escaped from the LGAT, but more importantly, I escaped from the vicious cycle of the stigma paradox. At the moment, it still feels as if my life is in shambles, but that is okay. For the moment, it is okay to be hurting. For the moment, it is okay to be a victim. It is okay to accept the radical notion that I am not broken. It is going to be okay.

*This article originally attributed the stigma paradox to Nick Haslam. It has now been updated with the correct author.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing that experience! You are so much better off having escaped that cult, and that marriage, before you got in too deep.

    Self-acceptance, why does that seem like such a radical concept to people? Maybe because it doesn’t create the ripeness for control that guilt and shame do. I’m reminded of the father of advertising (John Watson, I wanna say, but attribution is not my strong suit), a psychologist who changed ads from merely product information to a story that creates an emotional need for the product based on the fear of rejection and inadequacy. Create the problem so you can sell them the solution. Ah, but if you refuse to buy into the idea that you have a problem that needs solving, they gotta find another mark.

    And by the way, you did not create the 9/11 massacre when you were six any more than I created the Jonestown massacre when I was seven! How absurd! Reading that, it felt like a tactic for assessing how fully you’d been hooked, and who she needed to bully more thoroughly.

  2. Emily,

    I think there is another option. If your leg was broken you wouldn’t say, “that’s the way I was made, and you and I have to live with it.” You would accept the limitations it put upon you but understand, with time, healing and also physical therapy you could get back to have a fully functioning leg.

    My wife has d.i.d. I NEVER EVER treat her as if she is crazy or ill. In fact, I joke about me being the family ‘idiot’ as she is a certified genius and our son is in his PhD program at Brandeis, and me, well, I was just a lowly senior class president and valedictorian when it actually meant something.

    Anyway, my wife, literally does have issues. The d.i.d. means she can’t access all the rational/emotional faculties that non-dissociated people have because we haven’t gotten all 8 girls fully connected yet. So I understand her/their limitations at the moment: I never belittle any of them for things they can’t control BUT I do NOT accept that this is the way they will be forever. I use the concepts of attachment theory to help them with their attachment issues, and I use the concepts of neural plasticity to reconnect each of the 8 girls to the ‘whole’ so that my wife (all of them) can function more and more with full access to her faculties like a non-dissociated person.

    I do understand the double stigma and think it’s unfair and inaccurate!!!! But rejecting that doesn’t mean that one must therefore accept that he/she is ‘made’ this way when at least for my wife, her issues are trauma related. I’m not sure how autism works, and maybe for you it isn’t trauma related and therefore your circumstance is different than my wife’s.


  3. Good on you for standing up to the abuse and bullying from that group. You sound like a reasonable and mature young woman and I believe you can make a great life for yourself. Standing up for what you believe and taking good care of yourself will help you in the long run. You go girl!!!

  4. “…cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, and Recovery International. They were all harmful and pathologizing at worst and ineffective at best,” I like a bit of icnoclasm.

    I’ve done a few of those things and sometimes they were helpful, sometimes not. I’ve also done something like Large Group Awareness Trainings and I’ve avoided other types of large group therapy experiences. One small group weekend event I left thinking the people running it were petty bullies, but I still got something out of it. Another I left as they said they were for gay men but then said we could not be out to the staff of the centre they hired as it might traumatise them – oh dear, self oppression from gay therapists, how sad.

    There is a basic bit of therapy research that says that what helps people is the relationship between the therapist and the client, as assessed by the client. I suspect that is true for Large Group Awareness Trainings. Those who are good at running groups in a senstive manner have good results, those who are bullies end up with compliant robots and people having breakdowns. Most of them however are probably cults with bullies running them. Well done you on spotting that and for exiting this one.

  5. I remember reading about this kind of cult activity. I think it was in Barbara Ehrlick’s book Bright-Sided. She attended this kind of event as an undercover writer, but because she hadn’t experienced recent trauma she came out okay.

    I have noticed this two-sided “stigma” myself at churches. The “anti-psychiatry” churches have come under fire lately because they condemn depression as a sin and claim if you’re right with the LORD you’ll never lose touch with reality.

    The pro-psychiatry churches claim to be full of kindness. Why? Because they’ll yell at you for not taking your “meds.” If you are unhappy, anxious or seizing (minor side effect) they will accuse you of not taking your “meds” as prescribed. Because the doctor says they will fix everything if you take them exactly as prescribed.

    You’re no fun to be around and more annoying than ever. Erego, you must be off your meds! If you say otherwise you are lying. And don’t talk to anyone because only professionals know how to deal with you. 🙁

    Neither approach demonstrates patience, tolerance or compassion.

  6. “One more thing…” to quote Detective Columbo.

    Why is extreme sadness a crime? That’s all that depression is. We have the right to feel sad! I feel sad because I sense a lot of crap going on that others can’t or aren’t troubled by. I don’t need a neuro-chemical imbalance to excuse my sensitivity to emotional pain.

    That doesn’t make me an evil remorseless villain. Quite the opposite. Since lowering my psych drugs my conscience feels more alive. I’m more concerned about doing the right thing and how others feel.

    • There was a blog post here quite some time ago- the guy was so flatlined emotionally from his anti-depressant that he found himself frequenting a website that was ultra-violent videos because they actually provoked an emotion in him. He had to go that extreme to feel anything. And there was a discussion section at the website- he found out he was not the only one. And the discussion at the end of the blog post about it, the MiA discussion, had a lot more people echoing that truth: their anti-depressant was an anti-feeling pill. So yeah, what you are experiencing is normal, FeelingD.

      • Hmm. I remember that post. I commented about how I read a bunch of horror literature I normally wouldn’t have liked. Reading Steven King is admittedly different from watching snuff videos. The bad thing was my personality was altered and the real me was buried. (No offense to you horror fans–if horror lit is what you truly like and you aren’t reading it to relieve drug-induced numbness.)

  7. That was just creepy. It’s not because you were autistic nor because you had trauma that you couldn’t do the training. You had dignity and could not cave in to pressure to keep being pressured and still have your dignity.

    Not everything is medical.

  8. During my last therapy session, my therapist said he thought I’d done a sort of ACT therapy on myself. Essentially, he believes I’ve come to accept that where I am and who I am is okay and that that is how I have transformed to being so functional from what he once thought was hopeless.

    I really needed to read this today as I am grieving on a significant date. Thank you. So well written. You have a gift.

    • Wow Emily, what a mindf#ck that must be! These are situations that cause everyone to question their own sanity at some point; the purpose of the groups seems to be to nudge you toward self-doubt, but in some cases, like yours, there is a positive effect: that you develop more clarity about THAT.

      I had never heard of these LGAT trainings before, although after researching on wikipedia, I realized that some acquaintances have mentioned EST and Landmark in my conversations with them about the 12-step cult/rehab racket. The coercive and abusive dynamics you describe, once appreciated for what they are, are easy to recognize and, of course, disturbing — mainly, as you implied, because they are so seductive; any casualties almost seem like a fair price to pay for the certainty and power they offer. Unfortunately, the apparent positive effects are often short-lived and artificial. The people offering this training will be long gone with your cash when any shit hits the fan, and your valid perspective is an anathema to them; to even consider it, they would have to leave the cult.

      Have you been watching Leah Remini’s show about Scientology? At the risk of having a hammer and seeing everything as a nail, I do think cult awareness is important. The word “cult” is a little strange, too; the real issues are irrational authority, undue influence and coercive persuasion, and of course these things are as common as salesmen or 12-step members 😉 ha!

      Keep up the good work!

  9. Emily, it is not your fault . It is the ER doctor’s fault for not knowing the rules, that one has to be actively suicidal and in imminent danger, I say again , imminent danger, that is, I’m going to kill myself when I get home and you can’t talk me out of it, to be locked up in a psych ward. Here is an article by a suicide therapist (therapist specializes in suicide)

    I think it’s absolutely criminal that they locked you in a psych ward. Outrageous.

  10. Hi Emily, thank you very much for sharing your experiences and extremely valuable message of liberation. I’m glad you escaped that terrible scene and am very sorry that it was hurtful.
    I was struck by how often the wisdom of your body alerted you to mounting danger- heart racing, hands trembling, head swimming as you approached the freeing but terrifying realization that the group leaders were masterfully working to trap everyone there in the Orwellian bind that is also the dark scheme of psychiatry that says- “if you resist what you are experiencing and interpreting as coercion, then it is proof that you need more force applied against you, to increase your level of submission and compliance.” Inherent in that obscene message of control and destruction of personal freedom, is that the oppressors know what is best for those they would dominate and that the means used to gain submission are justified- everything that is being done by the leaders is in the best interest of the victim of coercion.
    The end game result is masterfully plotted by the oppressors. We see it in the darkness of Orwell’s vision of “1984” when the victim is finally, totally broken down as was skillfully orchestrated. Finally the trap closes and all free will is surrendered completey to the leader as the victim crumbles inside and proclaims- “I love Big Brother.”
    Thank you for your defiance of the oppressors Emily.

    In friendship and solidarity,
    Michael Cornwall

  11. Appreciating you again! Wonderful insightful and insight producing stuff!

    You explored a notion: whether or not the intrinsic nature of groups could be coercive. I have a take based on my experiences in what I feel are truly “healthy pack” group dynamics. To me, when we get it “right,” there is no place more lovely or healing! (…except communion with being/source when those channels are wide open! …and this actually seems like another brand of same!) We are (tend to be?) pack animals after all! And while we all know separation. True Unity happens collectively.

    There’s a process that emerged after the Attica uprising (1975; also termed prison “riot”) called the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP).

    Incarcerated men who’d experienced the destruction of the event wanted something different for their children. They invited Quakers specifically skilled in conflict resolution, who in turn invited non-violence training civil rights leaders (Bernard Lafayette, MLK’s “right hand man”, e.g.), and that lofty cocktail of humanity created an amazing volunteer* circle-process that has spread to prisons and communities all over the US and to 65(+?) countries beyond!

    In it’s “pure” form it operates as a series of 3 day workshops made up of all manner of experiential exercises (affirming, skill building, self-exploring, trust growing, super goofy, etc.)

    After the “basic,” “advanced,” and “training for facilitators,” participants are ready to co-lead (co-create the agenda, etc.) formally, as part of a team, though everyone at every level is invited to co-create the experience the whole way through.

    In myriad ways, the idea of sharing power among the entire group is promoted… from facilitators taking great care not to sit together (we’re sprinkled among) or teach (just share as equal members)… to our philosophical underpinning: “Transforming Power” – something we all define for ourselves (I call it “Peace Presence” in my work, aiming AVP under another name at my peers), to the highly honored “cooperative agreement” (or agreed upon ground rules): RIGHT TO PASS!!!

    AVP was my road out of an intense heap of self-loathing and pressurized energy appearing as schizophrenia, mania, chronic depression, PTSD and more. It truly saved my arse!!! And at the risk of sounding like the promo of that shaming process you described, for me it was miraculous! After 33 years of psycho yuk!!! (27 of then diagnosed) …in three days I went from “Nearly Noelle” (Adjective Name Game) to “Newly Noelle” (Affirmation Poster).

    I’m trying to decide what elements in it may be coercive… The design itself is extremely NOT that, and does all possible to shift power to everyone in the group… I see it like the flocks of birds that move in cloud formations… One moment one is the “leader…” the next, another and so on.

    If a particular facilitator has some personal leanings in a “power-over” direction, and particularly if that person has some sort of extra power in the situation… an “outside” facilitator coming into a prison, e.g., who is essential to the program because it couldn’t happen without him or her… then things can go South a bit… Even so, enough remains to make the process valuable.

    Why? (Thanks for the opportunity to investigate!)

    1) Because there’s a healthy cousin of peer pressure. The one that invites our playful (wounded?) child out of hiding.

    2) “When two or more are gathered in my name…” and the “name” is felt as Love, magic happens! It’s remarkable to have 20 sets of loving eyes on you, all intending you love! It’s remarkable to see and feel the lovable profoundly, in twenty people you just met. Examples: In the 25 years I’ve been doing it, NO one has ever left the room in hostility …and not come back! AND with every sort of religious or spiritual orientation represented, I have never witnessed a single related drama!

    3) Trauma doesn’t need to be sought. A metaphor: trauma is like poop. We shouldn’t (necessarily) be digging for it… It’s actually got great properties as beauty and nutrition promoting compost!

    In a healthy pack, where people feel safe, the energies of trauma (like bubbles of methane gas), if triggered, simply rise, sting for a moment (stink), and dissipate naturally in the caring empathy of the circle (INCREDIBLY powerful medicine!) And P.S. shortly thereafter we’re all engaged in raucous laughter during a well placed “Light and Lively” exercise… playing like the children we may never have had the chance to be!

    There’s more but my wrist hurts! And words will never convey the magic of this phenomenon! I hope you’ll try it. California has very strong AVP communities. I wanna read THAT article! Love to you!!!

    *This year for the first time in over forty years, AVP has decided to allow local regions to pay facilitators, if funds can be generated. That means that thousands of trained people returning from prisons could potentially put their incredible skills to work! Hello Utopia, Nirvana, Golden Millennium or your bliss-realm of choice!!!

  12. A brilliant article. Coercing people into forced meditation or yoga or psychotherapy would also be sick. It reminds me so much especially the “No fault, no blame, no guilt, no shame.” chanting mantra… of brave new world the movie/book written by the eugenics society president and social engineer creators brother, where they chant and accept their sick created situation.

    They have some weird chant too like “deltas love their life they don’t complain, we love our servitude” etc etc.

    No amount of well wishing can fix the sterilisation of human beings. You cannot fix the eunuch slaves.

    Accepting this as anything other than barbaric is not okay. And it only served to continue this.

    PSSD = Eunuch slavery

    PSSD (Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction/Lifelong Sexual Mutilation Slavery From ‘Antipsychotic’ & ‘Antidepressant’ ‘mental health’ drugs)

  13. Very, very well written! It reminds me of the re-birthing fad of some years ago! Yuck! I also have to add though, that recently I had a choice to make. help a dear friend who’s daughter was posting suicidal feelings and thoughts online and not telling people where her three small children are by going with the mother, in support, to have her daughter committed for evaluation. I am against psychiatric modeling but when it is all that is available, what do you do? Three children could have been in danger? We tried for close to 9 months to help, but at some point, what do you do? Of course, she was put on medications and she says she doesn’t have that drive to kill herself now! I just have to say, that as my name on here suggests, when dealing with issues of psychiatry, absolutes as an answer for all, are not real. They are ideological and that should have nothing to do with psychiatry! Thank you for your article!

  14. Hi Emily

    I like the article. You write it in a humourous manner, but I’m sure at the time that it must have really irritated you .

    I was wondering what the LGAT was. It’s Large Group. So if L was getting $1,500 from each person then I can see how she could afford a Lexus.

  15. That actually sounds like some kind of military training, where there is a lot of screaming and toughening up. It reminds me of the Daniel Mackler video, where he says that most psychotherapy just helps people dissociate from their feelings, and that makes them actually feel better. But then they end up doing different harmful, addictive, dangerous things to keep their feelings blocked. I have read that there are a lot of sociopaths in the world who are very successful because they don’t have any feelings of conscience to interfere with their business practices.

  16. Good one, Emily Cutler. A wise woman has spoken.

    By the way, there is an inherent risk to any sort of psychotherapy, even the “humanistic” ones supposed to be more humane, compassionate and empowering, as shown in Jeffrey Masson’s book “Against Therapy”.

    That risk is a “therapeutic double-bind”, described in “Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution” by Paul Watzlawick and others. Watzlawick worked with Gregory Bateson, a bright and multi-skilled anthropologist who founded the “Palo Alto school” (as we call it in French), a body of research which could be considered the sanctuary of antipsychiatry.

    As a reminder, the double-bind theory is to antipsychiatry what the chemical imbalance is to psychiatry, so to speak. The double-bind mechanism is involved in the creation of madness or psychosis (so-called “schizophrenia”) in families.

    But double-binds can also be utilized for “therapeutic” purposes to force change. The typical scheme is to ask the client to commit to follow the rules of the offered program, failling which the therapy will not work as intended. If the client is willing to pay for the much-needed service and make the commitment to “obey” the therapist, then he or she can be trapped and abused eventually.

    This is a strong argument against psychotherapy in general, even the voluntary and contractual types. There is always a risk of abuse when someone claims that he or she knows best what is good for others, and that meaningful results can only come about if the therapist is trusted to the point of following their paradoxical injunctions (cf. prescription of symptom).

    Regarding involuntary therapy, we are talking about the therapeutic State, institutional psychiatry, coercive mental health. It is even more clear why the therapeutic State is inherently abusive and tyrannical, only good for abolition. Forced treatment can never be called “help”, “care” or “therapy”. It is really punishment and social control. Receiving unwanted help is not help, but torture. And we all know what law-abiding States and international law have to say about torture.

    • A truly competent therapist should never consider that s/he knows best what is good for others. I’ve never operated on that assumption – I figure the client is the ONLY one who knows what’s really going on, and my only job is to help them sort it out and get some kind of perspective on it so they can look over their options as consciously as possible. The arrogance in assuming that someone knows better than someone else what’s good for them is a sure path to harm and destruction.

  17. Thank you for your community service and this eloquent, engaging, insightful essay.

    However, I believe that you are creating a false dichotomy when juxtaposing “accepting responsibility for overcoming distress” against “identifying as having a biological, chemical brain disease.” I believe that accepting responsibility for personal “mental health care” is critical but that is not the same as taking responsibility for traumatic injustices. The disenfranchised are rarely responsible for the “life circumstances” that cause emotional suffering- mental distress; emotional suffering is not a brain disease (psychiatry has no scientific validity). I agree with Thomas Szasz who advocated that “mental illness” is a tool used to subjugate the disenfranchised (blaming the victims of cultural abuse).

    Best wishes, Steve

    • Yes. These large group experiences can actually cause trauma to participants. As a survivor of psychiatric abuse in the 1960s (10 years of neuroleptic drugs and almost 4 years of electroshock), I somehow knew to avoid Erhard Seminars and all the rest when I heard about them in the 1970s. I believe asking someone who has been traumatized by violence or abuse or by the psychiatric system itself to “take responsibility” for their fears of further abuse is simply more abuse! Although the psychiatric system never succeeded in totally brainwashing me (I never accepted the label of “mentally ill” and I was never in any way mentally ill), it did cause me to have nightmares, fear of medical procedures, various “trigger” symptoms, hyperarousal, exaggerated startle response, etc. etc. for more than 50 years. I recounted my experiences with the 1960s psychiatric system in my memoir, From the Lion’s Mouth, published in 2014, in the hopes that it might help other people avoid or heal from the folly and abuse of the biomedically based psychiatric system.
      Thanks for your post and thanks to Emily for this informative article.
      Julia Welton

  18. I still don’t get the Mad Pride thing as I consider being considered “mad” a judgement or slur; plus I think that self-respect and self-love should be assumed, so can’t conceive of even putting myself in the position to experience one of these cult-like situations. Maybe you’re not anti-psychiatry enough.

    Anyway, just wanted to add my two points about “stigma”: 1) It is inherent in any “mental health” so-called diagnosis; 2) It is simply other people’s bigotry towards the psychiatrically labeled, no more, no less, and is not the responsibility of the targeted person to “overcome.”

    • I occasionally say “stigma” but prefer words like bigotry or discrimination because that’s what people mean when they say that word. Using a special word for discrimination against folks with MI labels (whether survivors or still in the system) makes it look like it’s different from racism, sexism, etc. and therefore more tolerable if not quite acceptable.

      • “Stigma” is also code in the mental health industry for “don’t do anything that might make someone feel bad about taking any drug we prescribe them.” The “stigma” created by their own labeling and “treatment” system rarely seems to enter into their view. “Stigma” has become a loaded word in the MH community, and its most common use is not in any way empowering.

      • In a funny way, stigma is appropriate because it originally meant the brand from a hot iron imprinted on a wrong-doer’s face as a mark of shame and as a public display of “this person is a sinner” — so psychiatric stigmata or that notion feels right to me, having felt very much branded by my being labelled and publically marked out as a “mental patient”, even to the point of having my name on a federal list so i cannot purchase a gun…

        • Being blacklisted for gun ownership is one thing that personally pisses me off. I don’t particularly care for guns and don’t feel a great need to own one. But I do object vehemently against being on a federal registry when the statistics suggest I am far more likely to be a victim of gun violence (and, in fact, have been) than to perpetrate such. In maryland, since 2011, you do not have to be committed involuntarily to be added to the registry. I have been warning everyone who it is relevant to NOT to go inpatient. I have had SO MANY therapists suggest it as “taking a vacation” but none of them mention you lose your gun rights as a result. And most patients do not know this will result.

          • I think under Obama it was instituted that if your family physician knows you have a gun and you fail a “depression screening” he is supposed to report you.

          • Oldhead, as far as I can tell, the Obama issued rule still only applies to involuntary commitment in most states, unless the state has a more restrictive law like Maryland’s where voluntary admission is also reportable, or New York, where a mental healthcare provider’s suspicion that you could become a danger allows them to report you to NICS, or the domestic violence restraining order laws that California and Connecticut have (which are the only ones I support because domestic violence is one of the few things that actually IS correlated with much higher risk of gun violence). In most states it is still only those involuntarily committed who are subject to NICS reporting. Still doesn’t change anything for me. I’m sure my NICS file glows in the dark. Been shooting since I was four, trained in gun safety, lived just fine with guns in the house even when I was suicidal – because the thought of leaving my brains splattered on the walls for someone else to clean up horrifies me. No criminal history either, but I’m DANGEROUS dontcha know? Lol

          • Pretty sure what I said is accurate about random family physicians and depression screenings. Probably your info is valid as well, as it’s not just one agency that has its hands in this.

  19. Emily, Congratulations, you’ve survived a cult! From the moment you began to describe the “training,” I told myself it was a cult. I would recommend Steven Hassan’s book on cults, and Robert J Lipton as well. I’m not sure if it’s Lipton or Lifton, but the work is classic.

    Almost all mental health “care” is cult-like and highly coercive. This includes therapy and pseudo-therapy (“healers”).

    You are right that we do not “create our own reality.” It’s totally illogical to believe this, but sadly, many people are now buying into it. We can change our outlook, re-story the past (how we tell the story) but we cannot control the random events happening around us. Anyone who thinks they can is full of themselves (grandiose). Also, this leads directly to victim-blaming. Such philosophies dominate some of the “new therapy.” I am saddened that so many buy into this false logic. “So you got raped? It was because you have bad karma.” NO!!! No no no! Many times bad things or good things happen to us by chance. We need to accept this. We are just not so powerful as these gurus claim (while they siphon your bank account, woo you in, etc).

    Therapy’s insistence that you are suffering due to “bad coping” is also victim-blaming and a cop-out on the part of the therapist. I came to therapists for an eating disorder and it seems this is the first standardized approach. “You must have bad coping skills and we know better….” It’s total bullshit. Tthe therapy helps very few people and for the majority for whom the harmful therapy is totally irrelevant end up blaming themselves as “treatment failures.”

    One word of caution. I, too, am a survivor of a religious cult called the Moonies. I was 21 years old, 1979. I barely heard of “therapy” and by all means had no mental illness label at the time. Unfortunately, I was traumatized by the cult (although you couldn’t really call my reaction “post-traumatic”). For the next year I sought out people I could talk to about my experience.

    It is so vital to find community after a cult experience. I cannot say it more strongly. Your best assets are fellow cult survivors. After a cult, the tendency to go running to yet another cult is high unless you have some way to resolve the experience.

    Sadly, this primed me to fall for therapy and subsequently buy into the cult of the mental illness community. I doubt I would have fallen for it otherwise. It took me over 30 years to walk out of that cult.

    I tell this story because I know in my heart that doing so will have value to others.


    • One other cult-like behavior I experienced in “day treatment.” I would ask too many questions (innocently, because I still believed in psychiatric magic) or indulge in “negative” behaviors and the leader would sick the other “consumers” on me to tear me down emotionally.

      Later I found out this is common for cults. They call it “breaking point.” Did you ever observe or experience this technique in your history with the System Julie?

      • Oh my god yes, that forced “breaking point.” I recall that first in group therapy. The staff LOVED it when we bawled in group. “Ah, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help, you came to the right place, you did the right thing. Just cry….Okay everyone Group Hug!” Yes, it’s just another way to encourage dependency and neediness.

        Later, even after the year 2000, the most abusive therapists LOVED it when patients cried or admitted deep anger. Some had us punch punching bags or talk to empty chairs. All baloney, all only a control move by the therapist. Why? She needs dependents. Desperately. It is horrible abuse, and it takes its toll. Red flags are when you start to see Stockholm Syndrome, and remarks such as, “I can’t live without my therapist, I’ll die without her.” Often this means very bad abuse is happening behind closed doors.

      • Furthermore, Feelin’, day treatment programs use isolation (ghettoizing the patients), they take you out of your usual environment, SOME actually are locked.

        Patients are regularly told terrible things will happen if they leave the Day Treatment cult. These threats, often empty and invalid, are just exactly the same as “If you leave, the Devil will get you,” type of threat used on cult members. In eating disorders care, patients are told, “Ed will get you,” Ed being the Devil-persona who will trick patients into the dreaded “relapse” at any moment and is waiting right around the corner.

        Day treatment often uses up 30 hours of a patient’s week. My first experience was six hours a day, five days a week of regular day treatment. That’s how I became a mental patient, well before I ever took a psych drug.

  20. Kindred, I can’t locate your comment about DBT being “benign.” But didn’t you see the way the manuals do nothing but instruct people in common sense? The stuff that’s mostly valid is common sense! Much of it I question, though. For instance, the demeaning way they claim “mulitasking” is bad for you. This is so untrue and it invalidates many talented people who function better if they multitask. A relative of mine who had difficulty concentrating found that his concentration in school increased if he were allowed to chew gum, or read with headphones on. Yet these DBT folks would demean and insult him as not being “present.” I think that’s denying normal and expected human differences.

    Furthermore, DBT insists that you forget the past and only focus on the present. How many times have I heard patients complain abuot restraints, for instance, and then the idiot DBT therapist says, “That was in the past, concentrate on the here and now.” This does nothing to help the patient and furthers justifying human rights abuse by excusing the perps.

    I was demeaned as a writer by DBT “experts.” Their claim was that my exceptional ability to remember past events and recreate them in my writing was “living in the past.” Wow, if my memoir instructors from grad school heard that they’d be really pissed! Fellow students noted that I had excellent ability to self-reflect and had amazing self-insight. I can only conclude those idiot therapists, who barely let me get a sentence in, totally had me wrong. Their groups were a terrible insult.

    • Hi Julie,

      I think I called my experience with Day Hospital mostly benign – not DBT. I agree that most DBT therapists (and perhaps Linehan herself) tend to take a very negative view toward those diagnosed with BPD. I myself have had very little formal DBT therapy despite having had a BPD diagnosis for years. I was fired by my first DBT therapist about three weeks into treatment when I refused to go into day hospital. I later went to a DBT group briefly, which I think had the potential to be helpful, but insurance was an issue.

      At that point, I began skimming the DBT workbook but did not give it a thorough read. I skipped over all of the interpretive stuff and only read the parts that described coping skills of which I was desperately in need. Even that though was short-lived as I decided to just go straight to the source and learn mindfulness meditation taught by a zen Buddhist.

      The funny thing I find – or perhaps really sad – the last (several) professionals I’ve mentioned having had a BPD diagnosis to practically bent themselves into pretzels to say they saw no hint of it in me. I was in good standing with these people though and I wonder strongly if they would think differently had I been in conflict with them. It seems to be a label applied to patients the therapist doesn’t like more than someone having trouble coping with life.

  21. “Today, millions of people in America and Europe try to find contact with tradition and with teachers who can show them the way. But in large part the doctrines and teachers are either fraudulent, or vitiated by the spirit of public relations ballyhoo, or mixed up with the financial and prestige interests of the respective gurus. Some people may genuinely benefit from such methods in spite of the sham; others will apply them without any serious intention of inner change. But only a detailed quantitative and qualitative analysis of the new believers could show how many belong to each group” Erich Fromm, from his book “To have or To be?” 1976

  22. I had to write after meeting with a case manager today who is a DBT cultist. Full disclosure, I’m seeking therapy, I’m not BPD and I’ve had horrible experiences with deeply volatile and abusive people with BPD including my mother. I think the diagnosis is valid, but I do think a distinction needs to be made between the extreme cases, the introverted (self harm) and extroverted (actively harms others) patients and I totally agree it’s overbroad and sadly used as a broad self fulfilling prophecy to just bully the hell out of all sorts of patients.

    I’m not a fan of CBT based treatments. It’s contrary to how I learn, I want in depth therapy. I’ve been in a terrible place due to treatment resistant depression. I don’t drink, smoke, drug, no addictions, compulsions, no impulsivity, no self harm, etc. I’m just sad. My case manager meant to facilitate services, had a sign on his door saying, “Be Calm and Use DBT skills.” I am well researched on DBT, I don’t agree with it and he said he would respect that prior to meeting. Barely glancing at my file, he referred me to DBT again. He asked me what I wanted, cut me off to say he’d only recommend DBT. He waxed poetic about working with St. Linehan. I need to add my insurance went from not offering DBT even for BPD patients to making it the default referral for everyone. My insurance is heavy on the $ savings of group therapy. Behavioral Techs marketing is intense I’m guessing.

    I felt like I was in a multilevel marketing seminar or Scientology Center. His office, a shrine to DBT. His web presence, his services, his practice, all DBT only. Linehan herself has noted and criticised those that take a cult like approach to her method and says it’s not one sized fits all, but those who graduate from Behavioral Tech, they embrace it. I told him it felt like a cult, he laughed and said it is like a cult but it works. He has a patient with dire need and he spends the session bragging about working with Linehan, misquoting things about me, the patient, that made it clear he didn’t spend much time on the file, ignoring my requests and feelings, to waste time selling me on something I did not want. Oh, and a condescending line about my lack of a spiritual faith. I’m not kidding when I say, I’m open to anything else and that’s simply all he offers even though his job is not to evangelize for his preferred modality.

    I’m sorry I’m in shock and ranting. I just can’t believe the cult like atmosphere and total lack of significant empirical evidence or any critical discussion of DBT. I basically found this page and a handful of others, that’s all.

  23. Hi Marigold,
    You may already know this but any kind of psychotherapy has its benefits and its limits. Mainly because most therapist do not have the deep experiential awareness needed in helping others. All they have are theories that are turned into ideologies -unbeknownst to themselves. Any person can have a PhD ten times over and it would not make a particle of difference because it’s all head stuff. As Dr. Alice Miller said in her book “Free from Lies: discovering your true needs”

    “I AM FREQUENTLY asked what I consider to be the decisive factor in successful psychotherapy. Is it realization of the truth and the liberation from the injunction to keep silent and idealize one’s parents, or is it the presence of an “enlightened witness”? I believe that this is not a case of either-or, since both are essential. Without an “enlightened witness,” it is simply impossible to bear the truth of early childhood. But for me an “enlightened witness” is not just someone who has studied psychology or been through primal experiences with a guru. In my view, “enlightened witness” are people who have found the courage to face up to their own histories, thus achieving autonomy without having to compensate for their repressed impotence by exercising power over others”

    I believe Dr. Miller’s observation is true. Of the 4 psychotherapist I had in my lifetime, only one I regard worthy of being an enlightened witness. Unfortunately these days, it’s near impossible to find such therapist since their diploma hanging in their office says nothing about being an enlightened witness.
    And when it comes to DBT, BPD, and many other forms of therapy, I believe they are far removed from addressing our most pressing inner conflicts at a deep level. This is not to say that all of them are useless, rather, we need more than just theories to free ourselves from all manner of suffering.
    In this respect, and as I reflect on my own path to inner freedom, what has saved me is the sudden realization that we, as humans, are not self realized i.e. our creative potential for emotional, psychological, and spiritual growth have not yet been fully realized. Why? because we are stuck in a rut, confined within a social economic environment that have adverse effects towards self realization.
    Take, for instance what Dr. Mari Ruti said in her book, “The Case for Falling in Love: Why We Can’t Master the Madness of Love

    “The French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir famously states that “one is not born a woman, but becomes one.” What she means is that none of us enters the world with an instinctive understanding of what being a woman means. We gather this understanding gradually, through being immersed in a cultural environment that holds particular views about men and women. We begin to learn how to correctly “perform” our gender well before we learn to speak. By the time we are adolescents, the codes of appropriate femininity are so deeply ingrained, so automatic, that we consider them as innate. We don’t recognize them as cultural constructs, but rather take them to be an accurate reflection of our “nature”; they are simply who we “are.”

    As I understand Dr. Ruti, she says that we are culturally conditioned beings, programmed, -literally-, by the culture in which we live. Hence we have unwittingly buried our authentic self. This means that we must begin exercising the virtue of self awareness and find within ourselves our true self, trying though it may be.