“How Long a Time”: Ten Cold Hard Truths For Ending Psychiatric Abuse

Richard D. Lewis
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The song “How Long a Time,” posted below, tries to capture the emotional sentiments and righteous anger of millions of people around the world who have been harmed by psychiatry and an oppressive disease/drug-based “mental health” system. This is a system in which psychiatry, in collusion with Big Pharma, wields enormous power within our entire society. This is a power that seems to be growing stronger by the day, and shows little evidence that it is being weakened by a rising backlash of fact-based science and endless personal stories documenting abuse that have been published over the past several decades.

My song raises the vital question: “How Long a Time” will it take for human beings to be free from all forms of psychiatric abuse? Perhaps a more important question to ask would be: what specific changes have to take place in the world for it to be possible to fully eradicate all the harmful psychiatric labeling and drugging of people, and any form of forced hospitalization and/or so-called “treatment,” such as electroshock (ECT).

Take a few moments and listen to the song posted below, and then we will explore this important question.

Recent blogs at Mad in America have expressed strong feelings of frustration and anger at how few changes have taken place in the world that actually weaken the power and harm done by psychiatry and their medical model. Many people can’t understand why so little has changed despite an important growth in the number of legitimate scientific and political exposures of the various forms of psychiatric abuse. Many would say we have a significant base of expert witnesses who are well credentialed, combined with a growing number of articulate psychiatric survivors testifying to a horrible reality often confronted in today’s “mental health” system. Despite all this accumulating evidence, the so-called “house of cards” erected by psychiatry and Big Pharma shows no signs of eminent collapse. If anything, this oppressive medical model only seems to be growing in power and influence.

Some bloggers have discussed issues of activist “burnout” (see MIA blog “Painted Boxes: Death of an Activist” here), and many others are settling for a slow reformist approach to trying to change major human rights violations. Let’s take a cold hard look at the reality we face in our efforts to end all forms of psychiatric abuse. We CANNOT make any serious change, or develop a successful strategy moving in this direction, unless we know exactly what we are up against in our efforts to transform reality. This is especially true when examining the specific changes that have occurred in the evolution and growth of biological psychiatry over the past five decades.

Here are the Ten Cold Hard Truths we must ALL confront in our organizing efforts. If we fail to understand and grasp these truths we will ALL be susceptible to “burnout” and/or a slide into dead-end reformist type strategies that will only derail our efforts to reach the day when we can truly end all forms of psychiatric abuse.

1) Psychiatry and psychiatric abuse has evolved and changed over the past five decades. It’s always been oppressive, but it has grown exponentially in power and in the depth to which it has penetrated every pore of our society.

2) Psychiatry, and its collusion with Big Pharma, has become a highly profitable business, with the pharmaceutical industry achieving some of the highest rates of profit in the entire capitalist system, and it is now a critically important pillar of the entire U.S. economy.

3) Over the past five decades, with the growing numbers of people labeled and drugged within our society, the ruling class (defending and preserving the status quo by any means necessary) has learned to understand the valuable role that the psychiatric medical model can play in disabling (with labels and drugs) the most potentially volatile sections of society that have traditionally been more rebellious — minorities, prisoners, women, disenfranchised working class youth, and other system outliers.

4) Psychiatry and their medical model promote pseudoscience and “genetic theories of original sin” which are very useful for those wanting to desperately preserve the status quo. It refocuses people’s attention away from changing the inherent inequalities and daily traumas present within a class-based system, and makes people focus on individual, and/or so-called “genetic,” flaws in human nature.

5) In the post 9/11 world, the intensity of worldwide struggles and contradictions have increased the need for those in power to maintain control of any type of opposition forces or movements that are aimed at shaking up major institutions. Psychiatry (and its ability to incarcerate and drug someone with a mere signature of a pen) has the political and police power in society that only the executive branch of government can rival. In these intense times, allowing psychiatry to maintain this power is very useful to those resisting political upheaval and trying to preserve the status quo.

6) The economic, political, and social role of psychiatry (and their entire “mental health” paradigm) has now become INSEPARABLY BOUND to the future of the entire capitalist/imperialist system. In the final analysis, it does not fundamentally matter how much we expose the faulty science and oppressive forms of treatment and build resistance in numbers, psychiatry and their medical model has become TOO BIG AND IMPORTANT to be allowed to fail in the current order of things.

7) None of my above conclusions mean we should not build struggle and resistance AND/OR alternative forms of support systems for those who need help. These are all important ways to expose these forms of human oppression, educate broader numbers of people, bring more people into resistance against the status quo, and save some people along the way. BUT there will be no FUNDAMENTAL type of change in what we all abhor until we grasp the necessity of moving on to a new historical era where a profit-based system is replaced by a more humane form of socialism.

8) Therefore, we must find a way through ALL our organizing and transformative work to link the day-to-day struggles with the broader struggle to make bigger systemic and institutional change on a world scale. Anything short of this approach will ultimately lead to the types of demoralization and burnout described in numerous blogs published at MIA.

9) Fighting “the good fight” on the broader levels I have just described is NOT easy, and it can also lead to demoralization and burnout. But at least this strategic approach represents a more realistic and truer picture of what we are actually up against, AND what it will actually take to have a chance of reaching our goal of a world free of all forms of psychiatric oppression.

10) Similar to the conclusions drawn from the environmental movement, we CANNOT save the planet from inevitable worldwide catastrophe WITHOUT major systemic change happening eventually across the entire planet. The same holds true when looking at psychiatric oppression. It may all sound too big to some people reading this, but it is a “Long March” that is worth starting now. We can all do our part by marching forward with our heads and eyes FULLY raised and looking forward toward an achievable and worthwhile “prize” — a world free of all forms of human exploitation, including psychiatric abuse.

155 COMMENTS

    • It is a powerful song. Too true that as soon as big pharma admits there is an issue with one type of medication, (paroxetine is now generally flagged up as a problem drug as it had such an extremely short half life), they work on ‘discovering’ more pharmaceutical answers. Congratulations for the Other Mrs Smith by the way. I’m reading it now and citing it in my PhD about trauma fiction.

  1. Psychiatry and big pHarma serve neoliberalism. Fight neoliberalism, and you are fighting the psychiatric social control system at the same time. Profiteer on people’s insecurities, and you’ve got the kind of system we’ve got going today. I don’t think they could do it without neoliberalism. Although we may disagree here and there, I think you’ve got the right idea, Richard. Thank you for this post.

  2. Capitalism is to blame? Is psychiatry better in communist China or formerly communist USSR? Or in the socialist European states?

    Psychiatry draws its power from government. And government draws its power from the people. True, some people, for example Pharma CEOs who have zillion$ to contribute to political campaigns, have more power than others. But on the whole the people believe in psychiatry.

    Preaching to the choir won’t work. We have to unite and raise our voices en masse. Unfortunately, politically so far we are failures.

    • Actually, how iI would put t, Mi, not that we are failure. It that we haven’t come close to succeeding yet;

      That said, for sure psychiatry was absolute horrific under Communist regimes. The capitalistic financialization and moneyed interest that we see today, however, make this in some way a whole new ball game–more formidable and deadly that ever.

  3. Very well said. Economics drives oppression in almost every case, and general opposition to psychiatry necessitates general opposition to oppression which necessitates economic reform. While the comments regarding psychiatry under communism are points very well taken, it illustrates my biggest stress, namely, that the enemy is not liberals or conservatives but AUTHORITARIANISM under any name. The idea that there are people “at the top” who deserve to run things and decide what’s OK for the rest of us is the core of oppression, and both capitalism and soviet-style communism are built upon that same bedrock oppressive assumption. Real democracy/equity is not possible when the power is hoarded by a few individuals who dictate to the rest of us. But it starts with economic power needing to be more evenly distributed. Lots of folks will say, “Oh, but wealth redistribution is bad!” Unfortunately, wealth redistribution is occurring every single day, but it’s not from the rich to the poor, it’s from the working people to the rich! If we want to ditch psychiatry and the victim-blaming philosophy that goes with it, we have to attack the problem of wealth redistribution to the wealthy, too.

    Thanks, Richard!

    • Great song and performance, Richard. I largely agree with you, Steve, the two party system is a farce, both parties are controlled by the “too big to fail” bankers. And I will point out, Richard, that the goal of those bankers is a socialist/communist type system, of course, with them at the top. And those bankers don’t even know that intelligent bankers don’t give out bad loans, because if they do, they’ll lose their banks. Our government decided to bail out those bankers instead, but that was bull, a little more insight if interested.

      https://www.questia.com/newspaper/1P2-32634961/the-real-issue-behind-saving-bear-stearns-size

      https://www.amazon.com/Bigness-Complex-Industry-Government-Economics/dp/0804749698?SubscriptionId=AKIAILSHYYTFIVPWUY6Q&tag=duckduckgo-osx-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=0804749698

      The bottom line is we should be breaking up “the banks and corporations that will grow up around them,” like the big Pharma cartel, the oil cartel, the military/industrial war machine, and the medical/pharmaceutical industrial complex.

      http://www.themoneymasters.com/the-money-masters/famous-quotations-on-banking/

      We don’t have a fair market based capitalist system now, we have a grotesquely unjust crony capitalist system. I agree with Steve, “If we want to ditch psychiatry and the victim-blaming philosophy that goes with it, we have to attack the problem of wealth redistribution to the wealthy.” We need to break up the corporations and industries that are abusing their power and harming humans. “Trickle down economics” definitely didn’t work.

      • Oh, “Trickle down” worked just fine. The problem is that people didn’t realize what it was designed to do. The PLAN was to redistribute wealth upward, and it was very effective in doing that. What needs to change is that regular folk need to become aware of what is going on and insist that it come to an end. We need to start with “percolate up” economics, where regular folk prosper and those at the top can reap the benefits of the general prosperity, as sort of happened in the 60s. But I’m not holding my breath…

        • I agree, Steve. Billionaires gave millions to political campaigns and politicians that had incentives to act in their interest. Our current administration is full of former Goldman Sach executives. Ayn Rand, Russian-American author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead is the political philosophy that Trump and Paul Ryan espouse. We are no longer a republic but a plutocracy.

          I do have optimism stemming from my conversations from many adolescents and young adults who want change. More people are getting politically active and running for office. Perhaps some MIA readers will see office. In Massachusetts we have organizations like Emerge which help to train people to run for office.

          • Actually, I think even Ayn Rand would find Trump’s version of crony capitalism objectionable. She at least recognized that monopolization of markets is incompatible with a true free market economy.

            I do see the pendulum swinging back. I just hope the young folks don’t get discouraged. We really need a full-scale revolt!

    • People constantly refer to “communist” countries. There has never been a communist country, the highest that has been achieved so far has been a nascent socialism in some places for short periods, which has then been overthrown, most significantly in the USSR and China. As soon as a country has overthrown bourgeois rule it has been targeted by the entire capitalist world and the revolution subverted. This is why international solidarity among oppressed populations is vital.

  4. Great song Richard! Thank you. I appreciate your music and your creative endeavors, as well as your implacable opposition to psychiatry. I also oppose the hegemony of the therapeutic state, psychiatry and Big Pharma, and I can understand the justifiable concerns regarding the love of filthy lucre that is the root of all evil. Frank and mi raise the right questions in response. Socialism and communism are not the answer. But I greatly appreciate the work that went into the song and this article. Well done.

  5. Richard

    How long a time? Good question! You say…

    Psychiatry has “always been oppressive, but it has grown exponentially in power and in the depth to which it has penetrated every pore of our society.”

    But I’m starting to see how this will be its Achilles heel. In the UK, eminent professors of Psychiatry are all over the mainstream media making outlandish claims about “antidepressants” such as…

    – Under-treated depression is a huge problem. Only one in six people with depression receive effective treatment with GPs “squeamish” to prescribe medication for mental health conditions.

    – At least one million more people per year should have access to effective treatment for depression

    and

    – ‘We know that in the vast majority of patients, any unpleasant symptoms experienced on discontinuing antidepressants have resolved within two weeks of stopping treatment’

    The more they dominate the press with this stuff, the more ridiculous they sound. People know when they are being given the hard sell – they can smell the bullshit, and their own experiences tell them something different. The more people Psychiatry tries to ensnare, the bigger the backlash will be. Sooner or later, Psychiatry’s own PR machine will bring the whole rotten facade tumbling down.

    Love the song! “Damn all their lies. God Damn Psychiatry.” Thank you so much for that – you made my day!

  6. Dear Richard, thank you for sharing your talent and your thought-provoking article. Economic justice is very tied to social justice. I agree that psychiatry with the government’s backing has been successful at dis-powering marginalized groups in order to quell rebellion. It is a different beast then something like we saw in other countries like communist China or Russia with ethnic cleansing but still oppression. Capitalism as it is today is deadly and the continued treating of humans as commodities will eventually end our world. Humans are capable of destruction but also of great compassion and love for one another.

    As Robert Reich’s book, The Common Good, states, we need to get back to thinking not in the selfish manner that capitalism and economic inequality promotes but thinking of the good of all. There is a lack of trust in society of all our institutions due to the dominance of the one percent who are controlling our society. Trickle down economics does not work. We need power from the bottom up and a more fair and just economy.

  7. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. Psychobabble and gobbledygook waving a hammer-and-sickle flag. *YAWN*. Can you guess I have a DISSENTING opinion, Richard?
    First, “capitalism” certainly *allows*, even “facilitates” the authoritarian excesses you decry. But it does NOT *require* them. I believe that capitalism is slowly becoming more humanized, even as it becomes more un-equal. Remember, capitalism is an ECONOMIC system, not a political one. As to the “exponential” growth of psychiatry’s “power”, I’d say that’s your own confirmation bias talking, Richard. Or have you not noticed that there has been effectively NO COMMENT from psychiatry these past few weeks, after the latest Florida mass-casualty school shooting? And NO mention of psych drugs. The shooters medical records have been sealed. If psychiatry had the power you delusionally believe it to have, why are the psychs biting their tongues so hard? There are “shortages” of psychiatrists. How can that be, if psychiatry is as powerful as you claim. You’re free to believe that psychiatry and capitalism are “inextricably linked”, but that only YOUR OPINION. It’s not a *FACT*. I can easily see capitalism jettisoning the dead weight of psychiatry. And soon. Your attitude and beliefs are too negative, and defeatist. You give psychiatry more power than I believe it deserves. You seem to justify your beliefs based on your decades of radicalism. Well, Richard, I say minds, diapers, politicians, and beliefs should be changed often, and for the SAME REASON!…. Relax. I’m NOT following you. I’d rather see victory. To you, the end of psychiatry is the vision of a distant future. To me, psychiatry is eroding day by day. I really like you, Richard, but I still think you’re just a tired old crank stuck in the 1960’s. Never hurts to have a few of those around. Remember, Richard, I’m one of psychiatry’s surviving victims. It’s been over 20 years, but I still remember the special hell of psych drugs. I’m glad you don’t. I’m disappointed, though, that you don’t even call for the closing of the APA to new members, or for them to issue a firm “NO DSM-6” statement. Oh yeah, those are MY ideas…. See what I mean? You spout alarmist clap-trap, and I posit actual possibilities…. Maybe you should toke a doobie or something, before you reply….
    Sincerely fondly,
    ~Bradford
    (c)2018, Tom Clancy, Jr., *NON-fiction

  8. Dear Richard,
    Thanks for sharing your gift and talent.. I was always told to mouth the words when singing in class by the nuns. I did have one friend who allowed me to sing during a trip. It was joyful- so kudos for using your voice in a good cause.
    It reminds me of the old songs – from Joe Hill to Little Boxes – to Biko- to Whose Garden Was This and so many others. There should be a list. We need more songs and creative endeavors- may yours lead the way.
    I enjoy your thinking though I come from a slightly different perspective in terms of my life as it is was and who knows what is next.
    My ongoing concern seeding this from many many sides is the system is broken and has been but how to help everyone deal with life when there are the range of OMG and WTF issues that come up like flotsam in our lives and some issues are most definitely systemic and ah the current political wave we all are forced into riding willing or not.
    I also try hard not to lead forward in anger and resentment though I know my anger was justified by the awful so called treatment I received made worse because though I was in the system I tried very hard to be aware and help. Not sure if this approach ever worked despite my own best intentions. And I also know there are always some good apples in the bin the trohble is having the ability to find them admits so many bad ones. That takes time, money, luck and a modicum at the very least of societal privelege.
    If one does not know who what how to look for help and those answers are quashed then how can one ever triumph? The fact that people have and do is amazing to me.
    I would love to have restorative justice for the stems survivors some day. We may not be able to talk directly to the abusive charlatans who creased, maintained, treated us or others but some sort of legal, societal reckoning would be great.
    I also would imagine some of the professionals in system were somewhat harmed or compromised as well and there issue at the right time needs to be addressed some where along the spectrum.

  9. I am not very hopeful about our species….psychiatry is sick…
    our country is sick….our world is sick…most people are not
    motivated for significant change….change would involve a
    massive change in human behavior…I don’t think that will happen…
    but I am just an old guy with mood problems….

  10. Loved the song.

    Also my deep, deep appreciation to you for including harmed families in your dedication.

    I believe they are so many family members out there who will become much more vocal advocates when they either fully understand how they have been misled, or when they no longer need to ‘fly under the radar’ to avoid coercive treatment for their loved one.

  11. Ah, bullet points! They make things so much easier to pick apart and discuss.

    I think I would pretty much uphold the essence of most of these points, though I would probably attribute different significance to some of them and draw somewhat different conclusions. Here are some thoughts about particulars (I haven’t read any other comments yet):

    it does not fundamentally matter how much we expose the faulty science and oppressive forms of treatment and build resistance in numbers, psychiatry and their medical model has become TOO BIG AND IMPORTANT to be allowed to fail in the current order of things.

    The way this is stated seems to imply some sort of inherent impotence on the part of the people. “Allowed” to fail? We have to make sure it’s not up to them. Exposing the truth constantly matters a great deal, as it is a prerequisite for acting on it when we reach critical mass.

    None of my above conclusions mean we should not build struggle and resistance AND/OR alternative forms of support systems for those who need help.

    I hope you will recognize that talking about “alternative systems of support” implies that psychiatry is a system of support, in fact that it is the prevailing standard of “support” and we’re just looking for better ones. But you acknowledge the falsity of this assumption when you say Psychiatry…has the political and police power in society that only the executive branch of government can rival (a good point). So which is it? Is psychiatry a failed system of support or a police force? How this is analyzed determines the strategic and tactical approaches we take towards dismantling it.

    But at least this strategic approach represents a more realistic and truer picture of what we are actually up against

    More realistic than what?

    The last few points sound a little more idealistic and abstract than the others. I would say that, for those who have a viable analysis of psychiatry as cultural imperialism and a tool of capitalism, this can only help in forming a winning strategy for defeating it. But just as every last Bolshevik didn’t need an academic understanding of Marxism to recognize the enemy, it is still possible for people to fight psychiatry effectively solely from a civil/human rights perspective; we need to “attack” on all fronts and on all levels.

    I will stress again, primarily to Richard, that a big problem with insisting that the anti-psych movement adopt an advanced and sophisticated revolutionary analysis is that nowhere on the spectrum of left thought, including any organization or party that I’m aware of, is there any sort of anti-psychiatry analysis WHATEVER — the “revolutionaries” are talking about “more money for mental health,” “stigma” and dismissing anti-psychiatry as “junk science.” So how do we deal with that? Right now if survivors tried to “join the revolution” there would lots of half-ass “revolutionaries” who would boot us out on our asses along with climate change deniers and the like.

    Now I guess I’ll see what others have to say.

  12. I don’t know Oldhead. If you go back decades there was Ken Kersey and other artistic efforts that if not upsetting the applecart at least had a tint or shade of resistence.I have been amazed at how folks on the whole nine yards of the political spectrum have been actively blinded sided to the psychiatric system’s brokeness and abuses.
    Family Therapy was started by professionals in the system who saw there were big problems.
    They flourished for several years in various areas and now seem to have a very small voice and impact.
    So any help from inside the system is few and far between.
    The Roman Catholic Church in the fifties had social action cells that convened in different areas in the States. That would be one way. I don’t know how it worked just that once it did exist.
    I think the young folks might be the key. They just need to be mentored.They at least have a huge stake in the game.
    The hundredth monkey idea- if they could see as in the shootings there is a deep and more complex story as in gender. racism, and sexism- I think they could get behind the movement.

      • Oh, I don’t know. Seems 2 B *PLENTY* of room for *LOTS* of yada,yada,yada,blah,blah,blah, about delusional “left/right” politics, so called “capitalism”, “socialism”, etc…. To quote Bob Marley, “I’m sick and tired of your ISM SCHISM…..”….
        WHAT CAN BE DONE:
        1.No new A.P.A. memberships. As older members die, the A.P.A. does too.
        2.No DSM-6. Ever.
        3.______________????….

        • Political philosophy is going to continue to frame much of the debate as capitalism is intrinsically unjust and authoritarianism often sabotages the other more equitable schemes for redistribution of wealth and power.

          The APA began as the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane back in 1844 with 13 members. Instead of the Association ending with the dying off of those 13 members, the American Psychiatric Association that it evolved into now has some 37,800 members. It would take an awful lot of die off to kill it, and as you will note, the Association is going in the opposite direction.

          If there is to be no DSM-6, you can be certain there will be something else. They have their bible and nut-job field guide with the DSM now. Call it something else, and you don’t call it DSM-6. I’m not saying there should be a DSM-6. I’m saying that to think the APA won’t continue with more of the same shenanigans is to engage in wishful thinking.

          I would fill in your number 3 blank with continue the resistance to psychiatric oppression and social control (i.e. oppose human rights violations and forced treatment) with renewed vigor and inspiration. We will win in the end because we must.

  13. WOW! Richard, you made my day. Your song is brilliant, and your article is spot on. Exactly what we need. Clear-headed and courageous.

    I’m currently at a labor conference in Chicago along with 2,800 rank and file union members – trouble makers, the lot of us.

    There are multiple workshops on how to combat racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in the workplace and in the labor movement. What’s missing is the fight against psychiatric oppression. We can remedy this at the next conference in 2020.

    We need to join this fight against oppression, bring our experience to the table, gain strength and power from our solidarity.

    The time is now. Judi Chamberlin called on us to come out of the shadows. It won’t be easy, because the ‘mentally ill’ have been cast as society’s lepers. And yet my pamphlet on psychiatric oppression is selling better than any other publication on my lit table.

    There are a lot more of us out there than anyone realizes.

    As s first step, I invite any of you who are union members to contact me – [email protected].

    In the words of Chelsea Manning, WE GOT THIS.

  14. Hi Richard,
    Really good to see this. It is not about which government/party gets in left right etc. There is a saying “It doesn’t matter who wins the election the government always gets in” This is because our governments around the world are totally influenced by the cartels…..that’s bigger than a corporation in our world. The cartels are: oil, banks, big food eg Monsanto. Big pharma is now one of them too.
    Politicians who don’t bend to be in with these people just do not last as politicians.
    Keeping the people oppressed has always been the way rich people stay rich.

  15. Here’s my problem: I hear a lot of talk about the bankruptcy of the “medical model,” but nothing about what Lewis would replace that model with. My understanding is that the general debate is between seeing psychological distress as originating in biochemistry and/or genetics, and seeing it as originating in trauma. (I understand that epigenetics holds both somewhat responsible.) Where does Lewis actually fall on this spectrum? Where does Whitaker fall?

    My general bias is toward nurture, as I was chronically abandoned by my parents and severely medically neglected as a pre-teen and a teen, leading me to be suicidally depressed in my mid-20s. I took Desipramine for a short time (2-3 months or so) during that hellish time (it helped quite a bit), then stopped and continued abusing alcohol and being in despair. Then I met the man who would become my husband. He had been raised in a large, loving family in Mexico, and he came at me with more affection in a month than I had received in a lifetime. It was hard to accept it at first (and I didn’t know how to reciprocate), but after about a year I had come around, I was drinking much less, and I had gotten off my emotional roller coaster. The sun had finally broken through. This was my cure, as I have never had to go through the nightmare of depression again.

    The thing is that I don’t see my experience reflected in any of the talk here. I know what Lewis and Whitaker are against, but I don’t know what they think is the proper way to view depression, et al. (I am in the middle of “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” and have not read Whitaker’s other stuff, though I did a little research on the web.) I hear from Lewis a lot of talk about oppression, but NONE of it refers to the disastrous experiences many children have at the hands of their parents and how this might launch them into depression, addiction, etc. NONE. And this is consistent with my experience of the left: Extremely acute at diagnosing injustice against various groups of adults, but utterly silent on the plight of the most blatantly and tragically disenfranchised class of people throughout human history, children.

    I oppose biospsychiatry for its utter neglect of this massive and critically important ball of wax, but as far as I can tell, most of its opponents do no better.

    • Perhaps you may need to read more over time. Many people (including myself) have written about the damage done by social institutions, including and perhaps especially the nuclear family, to people’s ability to thrive. Child abuse, neglect, and even thoughtless parenting have lasting impacts on people’s view of themselves. Kelly Brogan just put out an article today that directly addresses both REAL physiological problems (like nutritional deficiencies, lack of sleep, etc.) as well as exploring traumatic origins of habitual coping measures in one’s family of origin.

      I, for one, believe that nurture makes the most sense to focus on, not only because the VAST majority of those diagnosed with “mental illnesses” have experienced family and social trauma to high degrees, but also because even if there are genetic contributors to our “mental illnesses,” it’s the one area we can’t do a damned thing about! And with the new research on brain plasticity and epigenetics, the idea that “biology is destiny” should be dead in the water. Unfortunately, financial incentives and political ambitions as well as guild interests don’t support applying this concept, which I think is why we see so much energy focused on these perverse incentives and evil intentions. The question of “what replaces it” is a much more challenging one, and in the end, perhaps is only answerable by the person needing assistance.

    • Here’s my problem: I hear a lot of talk about the bankruptcy of the “medical model,” but nothing about what Lewis would replace that model with.

      Model of what? And why would you replace it with anything?

      All psychiatry is “biopsychiatry,” otherwise it’s something else.

  16. Steve McCrea, I never said that the left is “racist” toward white or privileged people. I did not want to extend my comment even further, so did not go into this, but the idea that white affluent children are ineligible for real problems arises in large part from the view of black and white expounded upon by Eldridge Cleaver in Soul on Ice, that is, that the black man is the heart (earthy and crude) and the white man is the head (intellectual and antiseptic). This is a dichotomy deeply held by Americans of all stripes to this day, those of leftist persuasion being no exception. It pervasively informs attitudes toward child abuse, education, and much besides.

    “uprising,” please be more specific when you say “In fact most (all?) of the premises in your comment are flawed.” Presumably this means you disbelieve that all children are vulnerable, as well as the notion that babies and children suffer at the hands of callous and self-absorbed caregivers. How about this one: “Like traumatic experiences being sufficient to psychologically disorder a person, with or without any organic predisposition, abusive or neglectful treatment at the hands of those they are DEPENDENT UPON is more than enough to disorder the child of wealthy parents without the addition of racial or class disadvantage.” Is that “flawed” too? And if so, how?

    “oldhead,” I did not “negate the validity of class analysis and class struggle in general.” I do not object to class struggle in any way, which is why I did not even mention that phrase. What I do object to is advocating for certain groups of children but not others based largely if not entirely on a class analysis (the increasingly popular “privilege” argument), as those I consider to comprise the left do. Is “the left” a group that’s hard to pin down, as you claim? Well, it is a pluralistic bunch, so let me put it this way: there are many Americans whose politics warrant describing them as being on the left end of the political spectrum. Though this is a big and diverse demographic, if you will, it generally has in common support for strong government efforts to help those in material need, attention to racism, sexism, and LBGQT issues, or at least a desire that the nation make progress toward economic and social equality. What this group also has in common, in my experience, is a perverse disinclination to apply the word “oppressed” to children and to see children as universally disadvantaged, relative to adults. (Of course, the right doesn’t this, but then the right doesn’t go on and on about “justice” and “oppression.”)

    If “uprising” wants to educate me about class analysis, fine, but I stand by my observation that those of leftist persuasion are extremely comfortable with the idea that various groups of people are oppressed because they are poor, of color, female or gay (a readily defended idea). What they do not appear to have come to in any way is an analysis of ageism or the profound vulnerability that all children of every demographic have in common. Consequently, certain subjects are absent from leftist commentary, the attachment needs of children being top of the list, with the critical concept of shame being close behind. (To discuss addiction without bringing up shame is ridiculous.) I do not believe Richard’s essays represent any kind of exception to this, but if you would like to prove me wrong, using specific statements of his, I would certainly consider them. So far, having read two of his pieces, I haven’t seen any.

    This expansion of the parameters for who is considered vulnerable which I propound should dovetail nicely with a movement in opposition to the medical model for understanding psychological suffering. Alas, that movement appears to me, like psychiatry, to be squeamish about discussing the universal indignities, and often dangers, of childhood in this world.

    • Okay, you’re right in that I shouldn’t have said all your premises are flawed. Due to the lack of paragraph breaks, I must have missed the points you just repeated to me. I actually agree with them. What I meant to say earlier is that your take on “leftism” is flawed and your rage against “leftists” is misguided.

    • Thank you for the clarification. I agree that children in general are the least powerful and most oppressed group on the planet, and that their oppression is often ignored or minimized by all folks across the political spectrum. It’s kind of sad, because it is the one kind of oppression that most of us can deeply share and relate to, regardless of what race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin label may apply to us. I think it’s crucial that we come together on the point of the oppression of children, because that’s where all the other forms of oppression have their birth, IMHO. But sadly, children don’t vote and have no real social power at all, so it falls to us who used to be children to speak for them, and for the most part, we have failed them miserably.

      I’m interested in your views on what I said above, namely, the difficulty or unwillingness of those leaning left on the political spectrum to find a way to see the oppression of the psychiatric system and work it into their “intersectionality” analysis.

  17. With all due respect, Richard, for a person ostensibly concerned with acute emotional and mental suffering and psychiatric abuse of the sufferers, you appear to be awfully preoccupied with the abstractions of class and political systems. I can assure you that people on the edge of the will to live give not a single fuck who owns the means of production. For the millions of us in this world who were gravely damaged by our parents (vast numbers of them liberals like mine, radicals and hippies), this preoccupation is just more earnest nonsense, ESPECIALLY those of us whose stories violate the conventional wisdom that you, too, appear disinclined to subvert: that “disadvantaged child” means black, brown, and poor white, period.

    Despite my strident tone, I don’t mean to undercut your work fighting the abusive psychiatric establishment, but I despair that even here, where Alice Miller’s name should be frequently invoked and where the topic of shame should be commonplace, people are pontificating about capitalism versus other systems, blah, blah, blah. From where I stand, this is very much a part of the problem and very much a symptom of the blind compulsion to uphold a much greater taboo than advocating for socialism: admitting that adults oppress, exploit and betray children as a matter of course, and that folks from every socioeconomic level do this to their children, not because they are cogs in a patriarchal system, but because they themselves were betrayed, abandoned and traumatized by their parents at an exquisitely vulnerable and dependent stage of their lives.

    Having lost all the years of my pre-adolescence and adolescence to medical neglect, I am not in a position to debate history or political science with most people. What I am in a position to do is tell you how terribly dangerous and deeply alienating it was for me to never see any validation whatsoever of my suffering or desperate need for advocacy in the world at large once I left my negligent family. (In fact, the self-righteous and ridiculous insistence on assigning me to a “privileged” childhood because of the zip code where I grew up is even more pronounced today than it was then, and my heart breaks for the children, like me, that this hangs out to dry. Some number of them will take their lives at some point, as I almost did, for total lack of validation and empathy.)

    Because of that vacuum, I have needed decades to deconstruct what I endured, when it really should have taken just a few years. This is appalling and tragic, on a personal level, of course, but also because that American group that talks the most about the need to dismantle oppression is genuinely uninterested in focusing this passion for “justice” on the most disenfranchised, the most vulnerable, and the most abused part of humanity of all, children. All of them.

  18. Steve McCrea, I’m going to respond to you first, and I’m going to be nit-picky (big shock). You say the oppression of children is “the one kind of oppression that most of us can deeply share and relate to, regardless of what race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin label may apply to us.” You omit social class from that list. Perhaps it was an oversight, but I think it’s a telling and reflexive omission. It certainly reflects American liberal and left conventional wisdom that “disadvantage” (at least in childhood) is defined by material comforts and nothing more. I could go, at length, into why people think this way, but I will spare you, though it’s interesting stuff and very much tied up with the answer to your question….The gist of your comment is one I virtually never hear, in the media, in personal conversation, etc. It simply isn’t out there, so I’m gratified that you get it, and I wholly agree with your sentiments.

    As for your question about the left’s failure to call out psychiatric abuse, I would need you to elaborate on the intersectionality part, but I can comment on that failure in general.

    I believe that one of the big problems is that the left is overcompensating for the tradition of blaming the victims of psychological suffering; you know, “It’s all in your head,” “You’re making this up,” “You have the devil in you,” etc. It’s very keen to embrace a tangible, equal opportunity culprit in cases of depression, schizophrenia, etc. If it has to be in league with the devil to do so, apparently that’s a price the left is willing to pay. So that’s part of it.

    I think, in general, that the left’s failure in this regard tells us much more about what it doesn’t want to face than about the reality of emotional suffering. It doesn’t want to face that child abuse is a vast, unwieldy, uncomfortable fact of life that defies simple understanding and easy solutions. It doesn’t want to face that child abuse defies most of its cherished explanations for how the world works, especially that of class privilege and disadvantage as the key to quality of life.

    It’s also my experience that middle-class leftists are extremely disinclined to believe that their parents could have been sadists, which contradicts the racist conventional wisdom about who is and is not capable of depravity in this country, and which is generally a miserable and very challenging reality to come to terms with.

    We need to understand that left wingers are no less apt to embrace their politics as a means of avoiding personal demons than right wingers are. I was one of these people projecting my anger onto the state and our corporate masters instead of onto my parents, but I don’t do that anymore. Although I am still a leftist, I reject orthodoxy of any kind, departing as I do from many sacred lefty beliefs, and I refuse to take people’s professed motivations at face value.

    So there are lots of incentives for lefties to embrace the medical model, perverse as doing so is. They are clearly not above being fooled by Big Pharma, sadly, though they would never admit that that’s what is going on. (Mental gymnastics, par excellence.)

    Does that help to answer your question?

  19. Another point, Steve McCrea: the left is happy to embrace the medical model instead of looking for the source of depression in family experiences because, as I indicate above, that would require them to question their own families (especially as more and more middle-class and educated people have been “coming out of the closet” as suffering from depression and anxiety).

    But doing this, in addition to challenging their worldview, is also a very lonely road to travel. Examining one’s own family and how it damaged one, even if you have a good therapist, is a long, lonely project. How much more enjoyable is it to jump on a bandwagon where one’s own (leftist) tribe is already assembled, waiting for you? (As I’ve made clear here, I believe that’s something Richard is doing, only he’s railing against patriarchy instead of abusive families and the disenfranchisement of children; I say this even though I agree with him about the medical model, unlike the larger proportion of leftists.)

    So this is a case where left-leaning Americans are following their desire to be among a large group of their fellow travelers instead of joining a smaller tribe like the one here or undertaking the deconstruction of their childhood traumas at the hands of their parents and other adults.

    • Thanks for your thorough answer. I agree that, in essence, most of us are projecting our rage/powerlessness either on those who appear to have the most social power (left) or those who have the least (right). Dealing with our own disappointment/rage/grief regarding our own upbringing and the adults who were supposed to care with us but failed is the first job of anyone trying to be helpful to others or to society at large. Unfortunately, few people do this, and once a person has ripped open this veil, other people’s motivations seem all to obvious and yet often impossible to discuss. It is, indeed, a lonely experience. Thanks for sharing it with me!

      • Oh, and vis-a-vis social class, of course, it does belong on that list, and it is one of the easiest ones to leave off. Rich kids get abused as well as poor and middle class kids, and there are some unique difficulties for privileged people to get in touch with historical feelings of powerlessness. Thanks for reminding me to include that.

        • Thank YOU. And thanks for your remark about the different groups left and right project on to. It’s a good point that I hadn’t given any thought to.

          As for the unique difficulties “privileged” people face in validating their mistreatment in childhood, I can speak very authoritatively to that, having been neglected in a big house in a wealthy town in New Jersey. The message is implicit but unmistakeable: you had everything handed to you. There’s nothing to see here, folks, because her parents were white, middle-class and educated. The result of this kind of thinking is that there are no social workers for my demographic (quite literally), and no other advocates, since we are thought to not need any. My parents would have had to shoot or stab me in public to risk having me taken from them by CPS.

          I have spoken to a young, middle-class woman who was hit with depression in her college years, only to be asked by her counselor if she wasn’t just blue because she didn’t make dean’s list. A mom I talked to 2 weeks ago–also white and middle-class–was talking to his high school counselor about his depression. Mom said he was at risk for dropping out, but for the counselor this literally did not compute: But he’s not homeless, etc. These sound like small indignities, but they are actually dangerous trivializations of the suffering of young people deemed ineligible for real problems. I have zero doubt that many people of my demographic have committed suicide for lack of empathy and validation. At the very least, it takes us sometimes decades longer than necessary to heal because of the vacuum in which we must do this.

          I would urge everyone who understands this to stop speaking in such a way that precludes the many ways in which a human being can be impoverished. Emotional and social poverty are very real and very pervasive in this country, and they put people at serious risk.

          When I talk about poverty I do so specifically: “material poverty,” for example. Americans, and particularly leftists, need serious education on this point, and we can play a small but important part in this education. It starts with how we talk about these things. NEVER use the word “privilege” to describe anyone under age 18. Ever. We simply don’t know what a young person is going through or went through in childhood; looking at their zip code and sniffing that they’re “privileged” is an appalling case of profiling, and tells us much more about the person doing the labeling than about the labeled person.

          Thanks for indulging me. No need to respond unless you want to. I appreciate the opportunity to have this exchange!

          • Also, I’m about sick of hearing from you what “leftists” (so far undefined?) need education on. Privileged people generally hate to be told that they are privileged.

          • I have witnessed a form of that phenomenon, too, McB18.

            I watched this same lack of empathy, of comprehension even, play out in my MSW program. For two years, we went through this program as a cohort, taking classes together all weekend every 3-4 weeks. One of the students was going through an awful divorce. She did not really share many of the details, but you could see clearly the toll it was taking on her. The husband was a wealthy professional, and she was completing her degree as one of the building blocks she would need to build a life for herself and her kids. When she did open up, it was usually in response to one of the other students in the class making some asinine statement about wealthy people not being in need of social supports. There were a couple of folks in the class (both of them die-hard Republicans, btw) who just could not even fathom that money can’t buy you peace, or emotional safety. In their minds, her account balance canceled out any possibility of her having an emotional crisis.

            It definitely IS a thing, but it is not just a “left” thing.

          • Having worked as an advocate for kids in the child welfare system, I can validate your observations about who does and doesn’t get the State involved in their kids lives. It is, quite literally, the ones who can’t afford an attorney to sue the state who end up involved. Over 90% of the kids in Oregon’s DHS system were very low income. The only time the State got involved with well-off familes was with sex abuse, and occasionally with very severe domestic abuse involving arrests and criminal charges. So the privilege in this case was afforded to the parents – the privilege of being able to avoid State involvement despite their abusive behavior, drug abuse, interpersonal violence, or more commonly, physical and emotional neglect of their kids.

            Again, I agree that kids are disempowered in our culture, whatever level of financial privilege their parents may have, and I would encourage others commenting on this thread to make that important distinction.

  20. And now for my response to Richard.

    You say “I would like to hear what solutions you would propose for political activists in today’s world.” Here’s my suggestion: Get your own house in order first. Don’t go ranting about outside sources of oppression and trauma until you are very clear on the oppression you yourself suffered in your own family and likely at the hands of adults outside it as well. It’s very disingenuous for people to point the finger at other sources of oppression when they cannot speak authoritatively about how they themselves were damaged and then blamed for that damage by a group whose privilege is so deep and so invisible that even the left wing cannot see it: adults. As if that is not systemic injustice!!

    You want systemic change? Do something radical and help dismantle the practices that make child abuse and neglect so likely: the disenfranchisement of the family through institutionalized schooling and the medical-industrial complex. In other words, birth your babies at home, homeschool them, and don’t run off to the doctor for every little problem. Encourage mamas to breastfeed instead of feeding Nestle, because breastfed babies are more likely to be spaced more like Mother Nature intended than a year apart, a disastrous crowding that makes abuse inevitable. (And of course, we have to dump religion. My parents were Catholic and slaves to 1950s and 60s detachment parenting, which is why they had five children in seven years, and my mother had four C-sections in four and a half years. If she had been black and/or poor, someone would have realized she was in way over her head on that basis alone. Alas, we were white and middle-class.)

    Why is the American family such a basket case, where neglect and horrible judgement are so likely? Because big institutions (which certainly exist outside of capitalist societies) have taken all authority away from it. The school system took over the family’s job of educating its kids. The medical system decimated folk and holistic medicine, and on and on. An institution (the family) with no more responsibility than to house people at night will not act any better than a hotel! And this discourages bonding and attachment (which medical birth and scientific parenting led the way on), making abuse and neglect inevitable. (I don’t suggest that child abuse can be eliminated from human societies, but it is clear that the circumstances I am describing to you are much more conducive to it than traditional societies are. Fortunately, we can take back some of the features of those societies.)

    The most radical thing an American can do, from where I stand, is to gather together into multi-generational homes again, with biological or non-biological family. Take back the children from the school and take back the elderly from the nursing home, where the young and the old are systematically drugged. We can strengthen our families and communities in this way and lessen our dependence upon the industrial school system, corporate America, and other homogenizing and uncaring behemoths. Nothing would do more to frighten the establishment, while discouraging the development of depression and anxiety, than this. It’s not only a wonderful end run around the oligarchicization of the United States but the very best thing we can do for children, who are as necessary and important an object of political activism as anyone.

    When you humanize the way children are raised, you create lifelong environmentalists and humanitarians. These people will transform not only their own prospects under the tyranny of Big Pharma, but the world.

          • Thank you for that, and for opening my eyes to an example of conservatives doing this. To my mind, it’s significant, though, that they were social work students.

            The social work profession, on the whole, heavily promotes this idea that material poverty is the only kind. It also, as you probably know, will never take a child from a middle or upper-class home; they only ever take children away from parents who cannot easily get a lawyer. You are more thoughtful than most social workers, fortunately, and the profession needs more people who see through this ridiculous bias.

            That said, it is well worth studying the attitudes of conservative Americans toward the ideas of advantage and disadvantage.

          • My observation is that “conservative Americans” overall like to pretend that differential privilege doesn’t exist at all. It makes it easier to beat up on the poor and blame them for their own poverty. This is a gross generalization, but it’s certainly a very common phenomenon for those claiming conservative values. The idea that all Americans can accomplish whatever they want if they just work hard enough is embedded in American mythology, but it isn’t really true. There is not a level playing field, and those calling themselves conservatives often choose to overlook that fairly obvious fact.

            I’m not a big fan of the left-right political spectrum divisions anyway. I believe those who really have power in our society like to see “liberals” and “conservatives” fighting each other, because it keeps the attention off of the fact that big corporations increasingly own our government and our representatives. If the left and right could get together on getting big money out of politics, we could get back to the days when each side recognized that the other had value to contribute to the discussion. We seem to have come a long way from that idea.

          • I’m not a big fan of the moderate political non-spectrum either. On the right, and in the middle, you’ve got support for the status quo. On the left, you’ve got impetus for radically changing the established order. You can count me among those who find themselves, not only oppressed, but easily bored by the same old same old.

  21. Uprising, you are not adding to the conversation or even asking helpful questions. I gave a general definition for the left previously. If there is nothing that can be called “the left,” then what is your take on politics in the U.S. and elsewhere? Is there no ideological affiliation at all and, if not, what do you make of all the handwringing over political polarization?

    As for people meaning material poverty when they speak of “poverty,” that’s exactly what I said and what I object to! There is such a thing as emotional and social poverty, and when we disregard, and even fail to see, these afflictions in young people, we are being cruel and pushing them further into risk for suicide and addiction. The people who do this have blood on their hands, just as surely as Big Pharma does.

    If you don’t believe this, please explain specifically how you see it as wrong instead of saying things like “Privileged people generally hate to be told that they are privileged.” Do you believe there are young people we should call out as “privileged,” and if so, how do you answer my comment that we should never do this because of the very unique and profound vulnerability of all children to exploitation and abuse?

    I grew up in a town so wealthy my public high school had a planetarium in it, yet I lived for 8 years, because of medical neglect, without adequate oxygen or sleep (you can’t sleep when you’re gasping for air), making me worse off than some hefty percentage of political prisoners. Was I “privileged” because I didn’t go hungry? Fuck no! We need to stop abusing the word “privilege.” It’s utter nonsense that deepens the misery of large numbers of young people growing up in emotional poverty.

    • Not just emotional poverty but, as in my case, serious physical danger that coexists with material comfort. I guarantee there are boatloads of affluent people medically neglecting their children, and getting away with it, like my parents did, because their kids are labeled “privileged.” This is not an academic debate; it is a matter of life or death for kids like me.

    • Saying someone is “privileged” is not “calling them out.” It’s just a fact of life. All societies have more and less privileged members. Some of this is earned, but some of it is not. And of course, privilege is different in different areas of examination. My kids are privileged to have caring, intelligent, emotionally healthy adults raising them. They are privileged to have had access to alternative educational opportunities rather than attending standard public schools. They are not so privileged economically (though they are compared to some in our society or around the world). There are many who have economic privilege from birth, but don’t have the privileges my kids have had in the emotional/educational realms. These are just facts of life, not criticisms. I think it’s sad that people view the term “privileged” as a put down. It isn’t. There is no need to be defensive about having earned or unearned privileges in life. But it IS important when considering other people’s ability to succeed in society. It’s easy to be judgmental of, say, inner city kids for being so often involved with crime and/or gangs. But when we look at what opportunities these kids are or are not offered, it becomes understandable, and we may be moved to help change the conditions of poverty and crime surrounding them instead of judging them as morally or genetically inferior. Just for example.

      Why is “privilege” something you “call out?” Do you see the term as an insult?

      • Some of your “facts” seem, to an awful degree, like “criticisms”. Where, for instance, would “mental patients” be without “mental health professionals”? In terms of power and wealth, in a much better place I would imagine.

        The substance of meritocracy is a particularly pernicious myth that I’d like to see somebody seriously challenge someday. Any takers?

        • Well, the fact in this case is that psychotherapists and psychiatrists have more power than their clients. That fact in itself doesn’t make psychotherapists or psychiatrists bad people or mean that they are doing harm. It just makes it easier for them to get away with doing harm if they want to, and easier for them to blame their clients if the clients don’t get better. So having more relative power doesn’t make one evil. Using that power to fuck someone up makes you evil.

          It is also true that a psychotherapist may have power over his/her clients and yet be abused by his/her partner or be discriminated against because s/he isn’t white. So power is relative to the relationships and institutions involved. I’m not sure how any of those things constitute criticisms. It’s often interpreted that way, but I don’t see one thing I said that isn’t factually and objectively observable. If you do, please let me know which statements you consider critical, and who is being criticized. I think our society is very uncomfortable with any discussion of power, so saying someone “has power” seems equivalent to saying they abuse their power. But it isn’t. We all have power, and all have people with power over us. How we use our power is up to us, but we can’t control how others use their power, which is why high power often leads to abuse and oppression. But there is no rule that says it has to.

          • As to the subject of “meritocracy,” without going into a specific critique of the idea, the concept itself depends on the assumption of equal access to resources and opportunities. Which of course is bullshit. So not really possible to have a “meritocracy” when merit is rewarded more for some than others having the same “merits.”

          • Who said anything about psychiatrists and psychotherapists? The words I used were mental health professionals.

            You don’t have equality of anything when one’s misfortune is the fortune of another.

            Were we fault finding, the fault would be found with the ones assuming the patient role. Were we virtue finding, of course, the so-called healers are the ones seen as virtuous.

            Boycott the services provided by the service industry, and everybody, as those services are in the main damaging, ultimately will be better off.

          • Surely you would agree that psychiatrists and psychotherapists fall under the rubric of “mental health professionals?”

            You still haven’t pointed out any “fact” that I mentioned that you felt was a criticism. You are certainly validating my point that there is a power differential that exists between “mental health professional” and “client.” Doesn’t that give the mental health professional a “privilege” vis-a-vis the “client?” Am I being judgmental when I point this out?

          • I was never “critical” (though I have many specific criticisms, of course) or “rethinking.” But I didn’t know I was anti-psychiatry until I knew there was such a thing. I got an MSW rather than doing a PsyD because social work (as I was taught it) is based upon Systems Theory. When there is a problem, the whole system must be explored to see where the intersection/interactions between the presenting individual(s) and the systems they are embedded in are going wrong. Whereas psychology might acknowledge those problems, the central question is still “what is wrong with this person?” rather than “what is wrong with this situation?”
            And psychiatrists? Deceivers, power-hungry pill-pushers on authority trips. I’ve seen a few (so very few that only Sandra Steingard- I think is her name- comes to mind at the moment) write here that are clearly woke and trying to change things from the inside, which I think is a positive thing. But they are the minority in the extreme, and I don’t know how they continue in the profession in good conscience. I imagine they struggle quite a bit. Incidentally, I did not use my degree in a “mental health” capacity. I did case management for families with kids/young adults who had developmental delays- helped them advocate for their kids’ educational needs at the IEP meetings, laid out the case for funding of specialized daycare and respite care, and when necessary worked with CPS to find emergency placement. And I was only in my job a few years before having a crisis that put me out on disability for over a year. No job for me when I was ready to come back! I have not been back in the profession since, and doubt I ever will, though I do miss the advocacy and I miss being the person that these parents could vent/cry to when things got dark. I miss being of service in those ways.

  22. Steve McCrea: “My observation is that ‘conservative Americans’ overall like to pretend that differential privilege doesn’t exist at all.” This is my experience as well, which is why I wonder if the folks LavendarSage refers to didn’t think the way they did largely because they were social workers in training. (It seems to me that conservative political views and social work are like oil and water.)

    As for using the term “calling out” (someone for privilege), that choice of words reflects my observation that the word “privilege” is being used very frequently these days as an accusation. It’s clear that those using it believe that the people they deem to be “privileged” enjoy unearned advantages in life, whether it’s the choice to stay above the political fray, outsized influence on the politics and economics of the country, cushy lives they don’t deserve, etc. I don’t have a big problem with that use of it if limited to adults, for there is certainly such a thing as privilege, and it’s really important to talk about white privilege, for example. That said, the term is badly overused and, quite often, very simplistically applied.

    What I also object to is any application whatsoever of the term “privileged” to any human being under the age of 18 or so. For one thing, it’s extremely hypocritical for adults to pin that label on youth when the former is universally privileged relative to the latter.

    Secondly, unless you know all the intimate details of young people’s lives, you cannot possibly know if they are fortunate across the board, or whether they’re outwardly so but privately the victims of abuse, exploitation, neglect, etc. (This is why child abusers shame their victims, like was done with me: because it keeps the focus off the guilty adults. Of course, it’s not hard to shame children, for they naturally blame themselves for horrible adult behavior, as they are not at liberty to understand that their caregivers, for example, are unloving or dangerous.) And yet the word “privilege” is tossed around casually because, as we’ve been saying, Americans believe material deprivation to be the only hardship young people face. It’s clueless and cruel.

    Your experience in Oregon doesn’t surprise me, but I appreciate your sharing it. May I cite it elsewhere?

    And thank you for this: “Again, I agree that kids are disempowered in our culture, whatever level of financial privilege their parents may have, and I would encourage others commenting on this thread to make that important distinction.” I would qualify your statement only by observing that children are disempowered everywhere and throughout history, though in some places more than others. But your sentiment is as basic and important as it is rare. It does my heart good to know someone else gets it!

    • Thanks for your comments! It appears we are in substantial agreement across the board. I do object to the term “privilege” being tossed about as a derogatory term, because it truly is not the fault of the person with privilege, and also because privilege can be used in very positive ways. Making it an insult stops healthy conversation – in fact, the original intent in creating the word, as I understand it, was to get away from judgment and to create a neutral term that simply described the situation as it is, without casting blame on either the privileged or those whom they may be overlooking or harming (whether accidentally or intentionally) due to lack of understanding of their condition. This certainly applies to parenting – there are many parents who have every intention of doing a good job yet end up doing harm (my parents certainly qualified) based on their freedom to do as they will without consequence and their failure to realize the impact of their actions on the powerless children in their care.

      You are welcome to share any perspective I have put to paper (or “to screen” in this case!), as I am completely open regarding my observations and opinions regarding these issues. Thanks so much for engaging in a civil and positive way on what I think can be a very touchy issue!

      • The pleasure has been mine, as I literally can never get anyone to agree with me that middle and upper-class kids are at risk for anything more than being spoiled. There are many who flat out deny that “rich kids” are eligible for real problems, but there are even more folks who can’t refute what I say but nevertheless are uncomfortable with it. (These people are invariably died-in-the-wool lefties, by the way, and despite their vein-popping rants about oppression and disenfranchisement, I’m convinced that all or most of their outrage is just so much virtue signaling. If it weren’t, they would have something–SOMETHING–to say about the disenfranchisement and vulnerability of kids as a group. Alas, it’s just crickets from them on this topic.)

        So it’s been really refreshing to “chat” with someone who gets it. Who gets that it may not be popular to advocate for kids whose parents are affluent, but it’s vitally important that we do so. Thank you for a rare and gratifying conversation!

        • I literally can never get anyone to agree with me that middle and upper-class kids are at risk for anything more than being spoiled. There are many who flat out deny that “rich kids” are eligible for real problems, but there are even more folks who can’t refute what I say but nevertheless are uncomfortable with it. (These people are invariably died-in-the-wool lefties, by the way, and despite their vein-popping rants about oppression and disenfranchisement, I’m convinced that all or most of their outrage is just so much virtue signaling. If it weren’t, they would have something–SOMETHING–to say about the disenfranchisement and vulnerability of kids as a group. Alas, it’s just crickets from them on this topic.)

          Or maybe they just don’t want to talk to you because you aggressively make these sweeping and insulting generalizations about people (e.g., “leftists”). You showed up here like you were making some kind of brave stand for abused kids, but the view that children of all backgrounds are vulnerable to abuse is uncontroversial here in the first place.

          • You seem eager to deprecate what I say and how I say it, but I don’t see you offering any substantive critique of it. Complaining repeatedly about my use of the term “leftists” doesn’t really get us anywhere, especially since I explained what I mean by it.

            “The view that children of all backgrounds are vulnerable to abuse is uncontroversial here in the first place.” This is true only superficially, a problem I already addressed. While I’m sure Richard Lewis would wholeheartedly agree with my position in theory, I detect a real emphasis on his part on societal sources of oppression (capitalism, for example) over oppression within the family, much less any real discussion of the universal risks of being a child. I could go through his piece and pull out statements to support this if you like.

            You’re free to think my commentary is “aggressive” and that I’m not really taking any kind of principled stand, but you don’t appear to want to do more than be insulting, unlike Steven McCrea and LavendarSage, who both seem to believe I’m bringing a useful analysis to the discussion. What is it about all this that bothers you?

          • McB18,

            I do think you bring a useful analysis to this discussion. It has always appalled me that children are viewed as essentially property, and that children have no rights as a class. They are at the mercy of either their parents/family, or of “the system” if the state steps in.

            I believe though, that if the sources of societal oppression were addressed, there would be more equitable distribution of resources, which can ease stresses on parents and families, and they can do a better job. I agree with you about de-institutionalizing everyday life- taking back birthing/medicine, education, and care of both children and elders. I’d add producing one’s own food and power to that list, too. I’d love to live in a world of self-sufficient, inter-dependent communities. And btw, I’m one of those dyed-in-the-wool “Lefties”- a real tree-hugging hippie; and here I am agreeing with you.

          • What is it about all this that bothers you?

            Turns out that some leftists get miffed when someone is shit-talking leftists and trying to downplay distinctions of class and privilege. I’m just waiting for you to say “All Lives Matter” or bring up”affluenza” at this point.

            While I’m sure Richard Lewis would wholeheartedly agree with my position in theory, I detect a real emphasis on his part on societal sources of oppression (capitalism, for example) over oppression within the family

            Oppression within the family is not separate from oppression in the greater society.

            As far as your personal definition of ‘leftist,’ I haven’t seen it because I was somehow unsubscribed to this blog for a while, That’s not your fault, but I don’t have time to comb through all the comments to find what I presume based on your subsequent comments to be an erroneous take.

            And no, I don’t have any particular interest in insulting you. I just don’t like what you are trying to do here.

    • Only faux “leftists” attempt to deny or hide from their privilege, or hurl the term as a personal insult, as we cannot control the circumstances of our birth (at least not in retrospect). The appropriate way to approach one’s own privilege is to try to use it to fight oppression and promote progress.

          • A well thought-out response.

            May I suggest that your kind of reflexive left-wing outrage will not win any adherents to your ideology? I understand the appeal of a stark, black and white world view, but it doesn’t do any good in the world. I saw so much of that perfunctory huffing and puffing when I was an activist, and I was guilty of plenty of it myself, but now–although still a leftist–I reject any and all orthodoxy out of hand.

            I’d rather be all alone in my independence than surrender my critical faculties so I can huddle with my tribe.

  23. Not to move the conversation too far afield or make it too long, but another big reason white middle-class people don’t want to question their treatment at the hands of their parents is because, if their parents were eligible for having been abusive, then they are eligible too. (Same demographic, right?) Of course, most lefties would be quick to say they support scrutiny of all parents and their treatment of their children, but it’s undeniable that white privilege is nowhere greater than in the fact that if you’re in a certain demographic, you have nothing to fear from CPS. This is a big comfort to white, materially well-off people who are lousy parents. I know it totally enabled my parents to be severely negligent for 8 long years; a black couple would have been seriously screwed if they’d done what my parents did.

    As for my statement about Eldridge Cleaver’s take on American racism toward the beginning of this thread, I wanted to put out there some statements from a column by David Brooks several years ago:

    “Both blacks and whites subtly try to get a white partner when asked to team up to do an intellectually difficult task. In computer shooting simulations, both black and white participants were more likely to think black figures were armed. In emergency rooms, whites are pervasively given stronger painkillers than blacks or Hispanics.”

    Indeed. Proof positive that Cleaver was right that the black man is seen as the heart and the white man as the head. Anyone who believes that liberals have transcended racism should remember that it’s only highly educated people dispensing painkillers in emergency rooms. Ha ha! There really should be no mystery as to why we take black children from their homes but never white middle-class ones.

    We can talk about the role of nature versus nurture in psychological suffering, but we cannot discuss anything productively until we confront the deeply bigoted way we think about black people. In fact, I have a theory I would put money on that the increase in people believing in brain chemistry and genetic explanations for depression, etc., has occurred in response to more and more middle-class people coming out of the closet as depressed. Since white educated folks are by definition good parents in this country, the explanation must lie elsewhere! Uh huh…

  24. I might have been unclear with that last sentence. I meant to say that, since white middle and upper-class people are, by definition, good parents in this country, the explanation for any depression, anxiety, etc., on their part must be something other than childhood trauma. As a result, when white educated folks started coming out as having depression in significant numbers, the idea that brain chemistry or genetics is the culprit took off in a big way among this demographic, a huge boost for the medical model.

    I don’t have stats on this, but I bet I’m right. If anyone has any evidence to support this connection, please share!

    • I don’t have stats, but I absolutely believe you are right. Psychiatry’s “no-fault” view of “mental illness” has in part been in service of protecting the powerful from scrutiny, both in individual family situations, as well as society in general. If “mental illness” is all in the malfunctioning brains of the sufferers, then we don’t have to look at how our families or schools or government or corporate institutions are contributing to creating this suffering in our citizens.

      Plus, the fact that it pays out billions to stockholders makes it that much easier to support.

      • Absolutely! I focus on the family much of the time, but it’s no accident that the highest rate of drugging kids for ADHD is in the country where they are expected to spend the most time being sedentary at school. But, hey, nothing to see here, folks. The problem is all in their brains…

  25. McB18, “since white middle and upper-class people are, by definition, good parents in this country, the explanation for any depression, anxiety, etc., on their part must be something other than childhood trauma”

    This is a very important point indeed. A good example for common cognitive bias, I would say.

    I am familiar with Alice Miller and I think she made extremely sharp observations and described many psychological dynamics very well. But I do not fully agree with your attempt to create a perfect, peaceful and happy society through again making rules for how certain things ‘should’ be (like homebirthing, homeschooling, abolish religion, etc). You cannot force people to live their life a certain way and expect all of them to be happy. People are different and should be allowed to have different styles and different opinions. Of course, this will mean troubles if two opinions are opposed or if a certain way of life is harmfull to somebody else, especially if that somebody is a person with little power like a child who is dependent. Thats why I fully support your notion that social workers are needed for middle and upper class as well. But in a world where money means power (e. g. through lawyers or buying politicians) this will be hard to put into practise.

    In your specific case I find it a bit confusing why you assume that in general people think well-off educated people must be good parents by definition. From my own experience everybody knows by gut feeling that money cannot buy love or emotional warmth and a higher social status makes it even more difficult to have close relationships because money corrupts and status isolates and puts a lot of pressure on you to hold it (to present yourself according to a certain standard in a quite competitive environment that is only looking for weaknesses and faults to exploit). I hope you sort of get my point, its difficult to find the right words in English for me. Of course this common knowledge is not known in the psychiatric and clinical psychology fields as you stated above and even looked down to as urban myths.

    Regarding Alice Miller, what I never understood is why she didn’t like forgiveness and reconsiliation. I mean, I understood why she fought against it, because the first and most important thing is to recognize abuse and to differentiate clearly between the offender and the victim and refrain from any kind of victim blaming. And the victim needs to be heard and feel his/her anger and rage etc. But from my own experience the only real way to healing as a victim, meaning to find back into one’s strength and to become independent and free again (or for the first time in your life), is to settle the case and reach some sort of acceptance. If not, one is prone to become that what one hated in their offender. Its a vicious cycle.

    Thus I appreciate you pointing out the vulnerability of children regardless of class and the special danger for middle and higher class children because they are way less protected by society as a whole because money and status means that most people feel they have no way to challenge these people without risking negative consequences and therefore turn around and look the other way. And I am interested what would soothe your anger? Would it be that your parents are exposed for their bigotery and your experience validated? Thats very much the same what psychiatric survivors want for their psychiatrists or clinical psychologists or mainstream therapists. What in short every victim wants regarding their respective offender.

    Richard, by the way, I truly enjoyed reading through your very first blog. Many deep insights, thank you.

    • Regarding Alice Miller, what I never understood is why she didn’t like forgiveness and reconsiliation. I mean, I understood why she fought against it, because the first and most important thing is to recognize abuse and to differentiate clearly between the offender and the victim and refrain from any kind of victim blaming. And the victim needs to be heard and feel his/her anger and rage etc. But from my own experience the only real way to healing as a victim, meaning to find back into one’s strength and to become independent and free again (or for the first time in your life), is to settle the case and reach some sort of acceptance. If not, one is prone to become that what one hated in their offender. Its a vicious cycle.

      Victims of abuse should never be expected to forgive. If forgiveness comes about naturally in the process of working through trauma, then that is wonderful, but this idea that victims of abuse who don’t forgive their abusers will end up being abusers themselves is unfounded and damaging to those who have been abused.

    • Phoenix: I did not and do not advocate forcing anyone to live a certain way. I merely suggested to Richard that if he wants to see radical change in the United States he should start a little closer to home than the project of dismantling capitalism and patriarchy, namely by encouraging people to take back the power to birth and educate their children at home, as well as by resurrecting the extended family. These would, in my opinion, do much to shore up Americans’ mental health, undermining the power of Big Psychiatry and Big Pharma in the process.

      As for your statement, “In your specific case I find it a bit confusing why you assume that in general people think well-off educated people must be good parents by definition,” I will say this: I have been paying close attention to how people talk and write about child abuse for several decades now, and it is indisputable that white, middle and upper-class, educated whites are held unofficially as the very definition of good parents. The fact that this demographic almost never has its children taken away by child protection agencies is just one proof of this.

      Whatever people feel or know about the inability of money to buy happiness simply does not have any influence on this bias, period. People will also tell you that child abuse knows no demographic bounds, but their deep beliefs belie this. They will also say they believe that black and white people are equal and the same in every significant innate way, but we have proof that ER doctors give white people stronger painkillers than they do black people. The list goes on of ways in which our gut contradicts our heads where race and class are concerned.

      We live in a racist culture. Many people have transcended racism in their overt beliefs and behavior, but racism bubbles up from a deep spring in ALL of us. I am trying to educate people as to how it infects the way we think about child abuse and about education, for I was badly harmed as a kid by the belief that white, well-off people are incapable of depravity in general, much less toward their children. If you pay attention to media coverage and every day conversation on this topic like I do, I’m sure you’ll begin to see what I’m talking about.

      As for the issue of forgiveness, the comment of “uprising” speaks quite well for me.

      • Thank you, McB18, for explaining. I think there is some difference between the US and Central Europe in that there is still some sort of difference in class attitudes with less sharp borders because of the social system. People are somehow more connected because of higher taxes that go to the social security net and therefore it’s less of an individual pursue of happiness and more of we are all in it together. If well-off people are sort of ‘outside’ of the community because they can afford to do everything by themselves without depending on anyone and if they are also not having to pay much taxes and just can decide freely if and when and to whom they give charity, they are not subject to the community anymore. In Central Europe we have gaps between income and wealth but all are subject to the same basic facilities like common health facilities and schools and so on. There is still less seperation because of less private means. But this system is severely under attack, and in some points for good reason. As much as I value the US individual independence as much I appreciate the sort of belonging to a huge family feeling which is still present in European countries. There is less racism I would say but a lot more open xenophobism.

      • As a person who worked as an advocate for kids in the child welfare system for 20 years, I absolutely agree that white, middle class parents (and even more so upper class) are held to much lower standards and are assumed to be “good parents” because of their social position, education, and ability to afford a good attorney. Not meaning to disrespect the indigent defense bar, because some of the most amazing attorneys I have ever met are indigent defense attorneys. But the ability to hire a private attorney is seen as very intimidating, and Child Welfare seldom wants to go up against a doctor or attorney or well-regarded white citizen if there is any way to avoid it. 98% of the parents in child welfare were poor, and we KNOW that the poor don’t commit 98% of the child abuse in America.

  26. “In this case “forgiving” may be more like “cancelling the debt you think your owed” and getting on with one’s life.”

    Cheers Richard, this sentences helps me a lot. I will have to meditate on it to thoroughly grasp its meaning.

    Thanks for having taken your time to answer my request. It is very helpfull to me.

  27. In the book, Mad in America, Whitaker says this about NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill): “Founded in 1979 by two Wisconsin women, Beverly Young and Harriet Shelter, it arose as a grassroots protest to Freudian theories that blamed schizophrenia on ‘aloof, uncaring mothers and preoccupied mothers who were unable to bond with their infants,’ a NAMI historian observed….the message it sought to spread…was that ‘mental illness is not a mental health problem; it is a biological illness.'”

    And later in the chapter: “…By that time (1990), NAMI had more than 125,000 members, most of whom were middle-class…”

    Reminds me of the False Memory Syndrome bullshit. It’s not enough to attack the medical model, though that’s important; we also have to look at who gathers these kinds of ideas up around themselves like a protective armor, and ask ourselves “Why?”