Celia Brown: Surviving Psychiatry

Emily Cutler

This week on MIA Radio, we interview Celia Brown. Celia is a psychiatric survivor and a prominent leader in the movement for human rights in mental health. She is the current president of MindFreedom International, a nonprofit organization uniting 100 sponsor and affiliate grassroots groups with thousands of individual members to win human rights and alternatives for people labelled mentally ill.

Celia also serves on the board of the National Empowerment Center and has co-chaired the planning committee for the National Alternatives Conference for the past few years. She was last year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Alternatives Conference.


In this interview, we talk about the history of the human rights movement to combat forced treatment and the important role Celia has played in it.

In this episode we discuss:

  • The goals and values of the movement for human rights in mental health, specifically in regards to the issue of forced treatment
  • Celia’s role in the human rights movement and MindFreedom International
  • How the movement for human rights in mental health first started and its early achievements
  • The important role played by Judi Chamberlin in the formation of the consumer/survivor/ex-patient movement
  • How efforts to combat shock treatment and provide informed consent about psychiatric drugs have been a core part of the movement in recent years
  • The development of the peer specialist position and the peer support movement
  • How the human rights movement has developed alternative language to the terms and labels used by the mental health system
  • Some of the current tensions and divisions within the movement
  • Current ongoing advocacy efforts to combat forced treatment, including Tina Minkowitz’s advocacy work with the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Disability Integration Act
  • Why the movement has faced challenges in changing policy and public opinion on the rights of people labelled mentally ill
  • How the movement for human rights in mental health has overlapped and intersected with other human rights movements, including the civil rights, feminist, and disability rights movements
  • The role Kate Millet played in bridging the psychiatric survivors movement with the feminist movement
  • How people can get involved in the movement for human rights in mental health by learning about the history of the movement, attending conferences, and seeking mentorship

Relevant Links:

MindFreedom International

Judi Chamberlin

The Loony Bin Trip by Kate Millet

NARPA Conference

Alternatives Conference

Surviving Race

To get in touch with us email: [email protected]

© Mad in America 2017


    • I don’t recall any place during the interview when it was said, “apparently some psych drugs are safe and have no harmful affects”. Were it said, I’d have to question it. If you’re looking for a “safe drug”, I imagine that nobody has ever been hurt by a placebo. Of course, anything in excess can be a bad thing, and that includes placebos.

      • Hi. Thanks for these responses, that forced me to go back and listen to again. I made some notes and am going to listen to it a few more times, as it is helping me ask better questions about what I might be missing or misunderstanding that it is that is making me viscerally reject the movement that I am in many respects completely invested in, but don’t feel I fit into.

        It’s almost like Celia read my mind and pointed me in the right direction(s) to explore there issues further that might help me figure out what I need to do in order to find or potentially create a place for myself in it. I appreciate that she touched on how the issues change because I see things that I believe have to be incorporated that are not yet on the radar, as that is part of what is missing for me.

        In terms of the statement about the drugs, as someone who was repeatedly poisoned almost to death and disabled by them, I am very sensitive to words that could potentially be misleading .
        @7:34…”some of these psych drugs cause real harm”…
        @7:42…”some of the harm of some of these drugs”…
        I would personally be a lot more comfortable if the word “some” was removed for the sake of accuracy.

        As usual Emily, excellent interview. Its a solid 101 overview that I wish I had access years ago.

    • Hi TirelessFigher3. I wonder if you would expand on your understanding of what you have stated above.
      These groups would of course argue that they are organizing and fighting.
      As I see it, they do this using a downstream vs an upstream approach, meaning they fighting for kinder abuse after people are already labeled and force streamed into the no-exit system using a “Please sir, less torturous ‘treatment” if you would be so kind… and can we please have some choice about taking neurotoxic drugs and ECT for the imaginary ‘diseases” you fraudulently labeled us with in order to justify defaming us with “mental illnesses” and force streaming us into this toxic drug pushing system to begin with?
      I can see how one would see that the way you describe it above and feel that there is something deeply off about this approach as well. Especially given that we already know the medical model is a legal fraud and yet here they are acting as if it had some validity to the system somewhere.
      It is absolutely mind-boggling to the logical mind.

      • Yes that’s right, ” fighting for kinder abuse “. At least that is how they see it.

        In France they would be called collaborators. In this country, because of our unique history, they would be called Uncle Tom’s.

        Harriet Beecher-Stowe felt that her protagonist was an exemplar of Christian virtue, because even though tortured to death, he would not disclose the route taken by the escapes. She wanted to convince white people that blacks were not a threat.

        But the larger effect of her novel was to enrage free blacks because they were so offended by the association. A year after the novel was published, black men were demanding that they be able to serve in the Militia of Massachusetts, and siting Uncle Tom as what they would otherwise become if they were not allowed to serve. Denied the chance to serve, they formed their own militia.

        People who have survived any tentacle of the Mental Health – Recovery System should be demanding that it be abolished and that the perpetrators be incarcerated. And they should be demanding that the original abusers be held accountable, and that their be reparations for the survivors.

        I helped to put into our state prison a man who was molesting his three daughters, while with the full support of his Pentecostal church trying to send them to Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy, to free them of their false memories.

        As far as psychotherapy, I believe that the new move to sue for psychotherapist abuse is very positive, focusing on Freud’s concept of transference. Most people would see that the client is just mad because they realized that they’ve invested time and money into someone who is not really on their side, but rather sides with the established social order. He sides with the abuser parents. So they are really mad. Freud called this ‘transference’. So now people are suing. I see this as extremely positive.

        The other thing is, rather than outlaw psychotherapy between consenting adults, instead prohibit out government from licensing it.

        We have psychics, channelers, and fortune tellers. The harm they do is minimal, because they are not licensed agents of the government.

        If a parent was using one of the above to further harm their child, people would end up handcuffed to tables while police interrogate them.

        But with a licensed psychotherapist, no. They are available for hire with complete impunity.

        If a doctor performs improper or incompetent medicine, it is medial malpractice.

        If a parent deceives the doctor, then they used to call it Munchausen’s Syndrome By Proxy. Now though they are looking at it more broadly and calling it Medical Child Abuse.


        But what do you call it when you have some whole brands of doctors who are in the business of helping parents who want to find fault with their child, doctors who don’t need to be deceived?

        And any psychotherapy procedures performed upon a minor have to be considered involuntary.

      • MindFreedom definitely does promote the ideas of Therapy and Recovery. And these are based on lies very similar to the lies on which Psychiatry is based. So just as Vichy French collaborated, MindFreedom collaborates with the entire mental health system. Many people will feel that Therapy and Recovery are fine for moderate cases, but we still need psychiatry, forced treatment, drugs, ECT, and lobotomy for the more extreme cases.

        Don’t worry Representative Murphy of Pennsylvania, were here at MindFreedom have been rendered non-violent. If you keep jabbing at an animal with a stick for long enough, then something happen. But with we at MindFreedom, nothing ever will. You can do anything to us, and we will never raise a hand to defend ourselves. The psychiatry and psychotherapy we have had has left us as if we are castrated. You can even really castrate us if you want. We wouldn’t mind that at all.

        But we just want you to have pity on us and not send us to psychiatry and not put us on the drugs which destroy our livers. We won’t bother you, we won’t be disruptive. We don’t blame anyone but ourselves. Just please don’t send us to psychiatrists. Instead, just let us have our psychotherapy and recovery.

        We at MindFreedom follow Martin Luther King and we practice creative nonviolence. We would never take any steps to try and hold historic abusers responsible or to demand our fair place in the world. We just want our psychotherapy and recovery. It is of course we who are to blame, but just have some pity on use and let us have our psychotherapy and recovery. We know that we are defective.

          • MindFreedom tells people to be passive in the face of severe abuse. It tells people that they have to take options off the table, which no one should ever renounce. It tells people to make a joke out of mental illness, instead of completely renouncing the concept. MindFreedom exists to placate the abusers. They make the same mistakes as the early Martin Luther King.

            Psychiatry and Psychotherapy are the continuation of Social Darwinism and Eugenics. No one will ever be able to restore their social and civil standing until we demonstrate that we will not take it lying down, but we will use any means necessary.

            The whole premise of eugenics is that some people don’t have what it takes to live, lack the necessary aggression and life affirmation. Would be better off in an institution, if not a gas chamber.

            MindFreedom reaffirms this with its unlimited and unconditional pledge of non-violence. The whole thing is pure idiocy.

        • Interesting points and a lot to consider.
          I am deeply at odds with the “recovery” movement and do not support anything about the reforming this corrupt industry. It is good to see what other people’s critiques are because I am still trying to tease out what is really going on. Thanks

      • I think he’s talking about the whole “MF” approach.

        Mindfreedom’s has consistently been to look for a “balance” between the totally genocidal and the merely awful. At this point in history I think that any organizing analysis which allows for the possibility of “psychiatric reform” is open to legitimate criticism, given all we know at this point. I will again point to Matt as a victim of the sort of false hope engendered by “polite” engagement with the system and its defenders.

        On the other hand there’s no reason to “oppose” Mindfreedom, which has numerous committed members working for free. This is a debate about tactics, not a trial by fire.

        • “totally genocidal and the merely awful”

          Again, the mental health and therapy system is the continuation of eugenics and social Darwinism. These are totally bogus sciences. But you make them look real when you show a willingness to be chemically and mentally tortured, and to live without social status, and then compound the problem with an unlimited pledge of non-violence.

          Harriet Beecher Stowe felt her protagonist to be an exemplar of Christian Virtue. But like never before, the free black community was so outraged, that it moved from passivity to action, because they saw how negative the Uncle Tom character was.

          As such, slavery was finally ended because 180,000 black men trained with rifles and bayonets and served in federal uniform.

          MindFreedom is the abode of today’s Uncle Tom.

          • Abbie Hoffman once said, when questioned about 60’s activists “selling out,” that the bigger problem was that “the movement ate its own.”

            I also remember an old send-up of Berne’s “Games People Play” called “Games Radicals Play.” One of the games was called “Lefter Than Thou.”

            Why do I think of this stuff when I read your posts? 🙁

          • they saw how negative the Uncle Tom character was

            Even informed people who never read the book know that Uncle Tom in the book was a freedom fighter, not an “uncle Tom.”

          • My understanding is that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book inspired many derivative works in which the Uncle Tom figure became a stock standard, and out of this you get the definition we find courtesy of Google, “a black man considered to be excessively obedient or servile.”

            Uncle Tom O’Bedlam, freedom fighter? I don’t know, OldHead? While I don’t share the same antipathy for MFI, I do think the Uncle Tom tag as a (sic) “freedom fighter” would apply to many who CHOOSE to “consume”/”use” psychiatric services, and that it would not apply so much to those who reject such services.

          • I never read the book, so am unfamiliar with character directly; I just know that he wasn’t an “Uncle Tom” in the sense that people use disparagingly.

  1. This is very disturbing. Ms. Brown is describing the “history of the mental health movement” largely from a place of ignorance. She lumps together a few random names from the history of the mental patients liberation movement — one of whom is considered by some to have been a leader in co-opting and destroying the movement — as though they were all sitting in the same room “leading” everyone else. Judi Chamberlin was an important voice, and I have often cited her, but she was one of many, and hardly the most radical. I was personally drawn to the movement by Judi’s anti-psychiatry consciousness, not some self-effacing idea about making the “mental health” system “better.” Some are misled today because Judi frequently used psychiatric terms such as “mental patient,” but we did that to attract others who identified that way; later the term shifted to “psychiatric inmate.”

    Ms. Brown apparently has been used and misled by those who destroyed and profited off the movement via machinations such as the National “Alternatives” Conference, which continues to stand in the way of true progress towards ABOLISHING PSYCHIATRY, which is the only real movement worth supporting.

    There was NEVER a movement which “had a split” — the movement was targeted and disrupted by the APA and NIMH, and those who agreed to take the money and official bow-wow treats betrayed their comrades big time. The original people saw what was happening and went their own ways rather than be corrupted along with the opportunists. It’s very unfortunate that MIA features disempowering misinformation such as this as representing a “movement” of any sort, other than a movement to salvage psychiatry from extinction and keep us divided.

    This is, again, a shame, as Ms. Brown is clearly dedicated and hard-working, and has a level of anti-psychiatry consciousness which seems to have been stunted by those who got her involved in “Alternatives,” which is the antithesis of everything Judi, Howie and others whom she considers our historic leaders lived and died trying to achieve. But it’s never too late for an epiphany!