Psychiatric Retraumatization: A Conversation About Trauma and Madness in Mental Health Services


Political, cultural, and financial forces have made many mental health professionals so unaware about the reality of trauma and adversity that they often harm instead of help. In her recently published book Trauma and Madness in Mental Health Services (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), clinical psychologist Noël Hunter offers an insightful critique of mental health’s diagnostic and treatment irrationalities, and she also provides concrete tools for trauma survivors and for their helpers.

Hunter has a unique vantage point to view the mental health profession. Not only is she a psychologist with extensive knowledge of the empirical research, she herself was “diagnosed” and “treated” for “serious mental illness.” Prior to becoming a clinical psychologist, Hunter was an actor involved in improv comedy—which she still does—and she made a living for a decade as a personal trainer. However, her own experiences as a patient resulted in her returning to school to become a psychologist. Her doctoral dissertation, on which the book is based, includes interviews with individuals with first-hand experience of the mental health system—experts by experience—who Hunter quotes throughout her new book.

Recently, I reviewed Trauma and Madness in Mental Health Services for CounterPunch, and I was curious to hear more from Hunter about her new book.

Bruce Levine: You write: “Not only were my experiences in the mental health system retraumatizing, but they also critically altered my view of myself and the world. Further, the dynamics between me and several of the mental health professionals I encountered eerily mirrored those with my abusers.” Noël, tell me more about this, and how common do you think it is for psychiatric treatment to be retraumatizing?

Noël Hunter: I think the more extensively one has been hurt in life, particularly if it was during development, the more likely one is to be hurt again and again and again in life. The mental health system is a reflection of that. I believe that, on the whole, the system is part of one large re-enactment of early dynamics—whether they be experiences of marginalization, discrimination, rejection, dismissiveness, judgment and condemnation, etc.—and there is a huge lack of awareness on the part of most professionals of how they are complicit in playing these out.

A black man spends his life being marginalized and aggressed, dismissed because of his fear and pain—should he enter the system, he is no longer “less-than” because of his blackness, now he’s marginalized and dismissed as “schizophrenic.” A sexually-abused young woman who was told she “wanted it,” was blamed, and was never given the opportunity to be angry enters the system—she now is “borderline” and once again blamed for being too sexualized, for causing staff to behave in shameful ways, and condemned for her anger, even when it is taken out on herself.

Perhaps more than any other, the most common enactment is that associated with the individual who grew up with a narcissistic parent in constant need of adulation, intolerant of discomfort or self-reflection, and who was a master in the art of gaslighting.

Bruce Levine: There is so much that establishment psychiatry has wrong that those of us who write articles and books criticizing this institution can overwhelm a reader. What, for you, was most important to get across to readers in Trauma and Madness in Mental Health Services?

Noël Hunter: That the problems do not stem from a few individuals or even one profession. Rather, the entirety of the mental health field and the paradigm under which it operates is a modern-day religion rife with all the familiar problems and benefits that exist in any religion. Most importantly, however, there is hope if people are willing to move beyond what society tells us we “must” do. People have been healing from great pain for 200,000 years—the mental health professions have existed for less than 200. While there are some things we have learned, we need to stop trying to re-invent the wheel. People need love, support, community, to be heard, to be valued, to be validated, to have purpose, to have health and housing, to have nutrition both physically and emotionally—it is not rocket science and doesn’t become such just because we keep saying that it is.

Bruce Levine: From my experience, nothing gets establishment psychiatrists more pissed off than being confronted with this truth: Their biochemical imbalance and genetic flaw theories are essentially labeling people as “defective,” and this results in people who are already suffering being stigmatized and marginalized owing to this defect status. This is hugely important, and you discuss it in your book.

Noël Hunter: This might be one of the most common things I come across in my clinical work, next to that of individuals who are constantly trying to prove themselves to phantoms of their past to no avail. If patients willingly adopt the role of defectiveness, then how is the doctor doing anything harmful or wrong? People who grew up as the scapegoat, who believe they are dirty or defective or bad, who are ashamed of their existence or believe they should be someone they are not, who have led their entire lives being marginalized and discriminated against in society—these are the people who most frequently enter mental health services. They are also those most readily vulnerable to accepting these messages under the guise of treatment and care. It is not until people are willing to start to consider that, in fact, they are not defective in the least, rather, that they are just flawed and unique human beings adapting to incredible pain that they can start to actually believe in themselves enough to heal.

Of course, there is simply the existential issue of mental health professionals that may be unbearable for them to face: If I am not fixing a distinct and identifiable problem, what, then, is my purpose? If the real healing power I have is something that any human being could ostensibly provide, if willing, why did I spend all those years in school and possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars? If these are not specific diseases related to specific biochemical or genetic flaws, why have I specialized—and who doesn’t like feeling special? And, worse, if I am not addressing people with genetic illnesses and biochemical problems, what, really, am I doing when all I have to offer are drugs and technological interventions?

This problem is not unique to mental health professionals. Medical doctors are caught in a similar dilemma when it comes to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and many autoimmune diseases, even cancer. What do these doctors do when they realize that these problems are almost entirely due to an industrialized diet largely based on corporate interests—the sugar industry, soy bean manufacturers, Monsanto—and that if people just ate the way humans are designed to eat, these problems mostly would not exist? And, of course, these issues are entirely intertwined with mental health problems!

It is too dangerous to one’s own existential anxiety and identity to tolerate any questioning of genetic and biochemical theories; the idea that these theories and their related treatments are actually harmful and discriminatory is beyond even the realm of acceptability. In the professionals’ defense, patients also have come to believe that they are not receiving “real” care or quality treatment if they are told to exercise, eat healthy, take a walk, etc.—they feel they are being short-changed if they do not walk out with a concrete plan or prescription. Of course, chicken or egg, right? They onus still lies with professionals to tell the truth.

Bruce Levine: Trauma and Madness in Mental Health Services is about a very serious topic, but you had me laughing out loud a few times. For example, when you discuss mental health professionals’ financial need to stand out from their numerous peers via pretentious specializations, you write: “I live in New York City where the population of therapists is rivaled only by that, perhaps, of actors, finance professionals, and rats.” Too many mental health professionals are afraid to be irreverent about aspects of their profession that nobody should revere. Do you think their socialization damages their spontaneity and authenticity?

Noël Hunter: What is the point to life if we cannot laugh! Laughter is so incredibly healing and allows us to face the most painful aspects of our existence without being suffocated under the weight of it all. It allows us to digest that which is otherwise intolerable. In essence, laughter is like a highly pleasurable laxative. A good laugh truly is like a good… well, you know.

Unfortunately, laughing is frowned upon, and I agree that many mental health professionals appear to be somehow afraid of humor, at least when it comes to their work. I don’t think this problem is unique to mental health professionals. I think it is a byproduct of one’s own painful development wherein they may have been laughed at or not taken seriously as a kid, and also, yes, socialization. We live in a society that values stoicism, complete control over one’s behaviors, lack of emotional expression, “politeness” at the expense of authenticity—I love New York!—and an eerie Stepford Wife-like ideal of conformity. Mental health professionals often are selected for their ability to represent these values. Those troublemakers who tell the truth, are spontaneous (otherwise called “impulsive”), who laugh or find humor in the darkness (or “inappropriate affect”), who refuse to conform (or my favorite, “oppositional”) are ostracized and pathologized for the threat they pose to propriety. They generally don’t make it through the training process. I know I almost didn’t. It is the Anglo-Saxon way. It also is what makes most of us completely miserable.

Bruce Levine: What do you think is most important to get across to mental health professionals who are treating people who may be behaving in ways that seem bizarre to them or which frighten them?

Noël Hunter: Try to understand that which you do not. Know that there is almost always a reason why a person is behaving in the ways they are. It is our job to take the time to try and understand what that is, not to write it off and judge. We all can imagine a scared and trapped animal—it snaps, writhes, runs in circles, jumps, and if it could speak, it probably wouldn’t be working very hard to help you feel better, it would be trying to protect itself. We understand this with animals and we instinctively know that we must help calm the animal and help it feel safe. Yet, with people, suddenly all common sense and instinct goes out the window and instead of compassion and understanding, we judge, condemn, avoid, aggress, and dehumanize. The standard reaction to individuals who are scared and in pain too often is the exact opposite of what they need.

In short: Just because someone is different than you, this does not make them wrong, diseased, personality disordered, defective, less-than, or beneath you. If you cannot be curious or control your own fear, seek counseling.

Bruce Levine: Finally, did you have any reactions to my CounterPunch review? CounterPunch is a Left anti-authoritarian political publication with most of its readers having antipathy for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and part of what I wanted to do in my review of Trauma and Madness in Mental Health Services was to get these kind of readers to become as critical of the psychiatric-industrial complex as they are of the military-industrial complex. Anything I said in that review you take issue with?

Noël Hunter: I loved this review and the parallels you draw. It’s important to be able to recognize the greater picture—psychiatry exists within a larger context. We live in a society run by corporate interests and our “expert advice” in almost any given area is more about protecting those interests than it is humanity.

I also appreciate that you point out that many individual clinicians do have the honest desire to help their patients, but that the greater industrial-corporate system ruins almost any possibility that they can actually do that. I don’t see the value in attacking individual professionals any more than we wish them to attack us—backing a person into a corner with vitriol and aggression rarely, if ever, gets such a person to listen or connect.

People who enter services are frequently society’s most vulnerable—people who have experienced extensive trauma, adversity, abuse, and oppression throughout their lives. At the same time, I struggle with the word “trauma” because it signifies some huge, overt event that needs to pass some arbitrary line of “bad enough” to count. I prefer the terms “stress” and “adversity.” In the book, I speak to the problem of language and how this insinuates differences that are not there, judgments, and assumptions that are untrue. Our brains and bodies don’t know the difference between “trauma” and “adversity”—a stressed fight/flight state is the same regardless of what words you use to describe the external environment. I’m tired of people saying “nothing bad ever happened to me” because they did not experience “trauma.” People suffer, and when they do, it’s for a reason.

Also, it is important to recognize that “recovered ex-patients” are a select group of mostly privileged individuals, like myself, and are not the only voices of value. The participants that I quoted throughout my book exist along a large continuum of functionality, distress, and self-identified status of recovery—although most did, in fact, identify as “recovered.” Almost all were still in some kind of therapy or mental health treatment, and so would not be considered ex-patients. Many individuals do not have the luxury of escaping the system, whether it’s due to drug dependence, lack of other support, fear, loneliness, or the law. Their voices matter too.

And that is really the entire purpose of my book. To give these voices a chance to be heard. I hope people will listen.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. “Political, cultural, and financial forces have made many mental health professionals so unaware about the reality of trauma and adversity that they often harm instead of help.”

    A very firm NO to that.

    They KNOW what they are doing and have done.

    It is NOT that they are unaware, it’s that they are aware and know they can get away with it. We do not need you either of you, nor your colleagues.

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      • I forgot to add: I’m not at all impressed by patients accruing credentials of their own, and becoming professionals themselves. I find this erroneous rush to achieve Establishmentarian, “respectability,” to be despicable and sickening. It ignores the fact that for the rest of us patients, the Establishment is a murderous enemy.

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          • Hi Frank – Thanks for reading my CounterPunch review of Noel’s book. I write in CounterPunch and other places because I know that there is a whole world of people who pride themselves on caring about human rights but who know NOTHING of the Mad in America world and the struggle for human rights and human dignity in the battle against the psychiatric-industrial complex and the mental health establishment.

            Frank, you regularly raise an important issue of people who have been ex-patient/victims of the system going on to have a career in the system. I think this is a complex issue.

            I am old enough to remember when gay Americans were pathologized as mentally ill by the American Psychiatric Association and its DSM, and when they were “treated”/tortured by psychiatrists in various ways so as to become heterosexuals. So, when I see a gay person becoming a psychiatrist and joining the American Psychiatric Association, my first association is “Would an African American join the Ku Kux Klan, would a Native American celebrate Columbus Day?”

            Like you, I have no respect for people from a group that has been oppressed by an organization who deny the history of that organization. And I have even less respect for people from an oppressed group who become employed by their oppressors in the same sense that kapos in Nazi-concentration camps were used to control only prisoners — to gain favor at the expense of their fellow oppressed group.

            However, there are ex-patients who become mental health professionals for other reasons. They know that people just like them have not yet escaped the system and will enter the system and will be treated like dogshit; and that as professionals they can treat people who were just like them not as dogshit but like human beings. And so it can be healing for ex-patients who become professionals to treat others like themselves with humanity and dignity.

            Similarly, there are people who have been treated like dogshit in their mental health professional training who, after painfully achieving some advanced degree, find it healing to treat students with respect and to value their noncompliance. Of course this is a complex issue, as one can argue that joining these systems enables them, but there are not a hell of a lot of COMPLETELY morally clean ways to make a living.

            Again, thanks Franks for continuing to bring up this issue, because I think all of us need to keep thinking about it.

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          • My biggest concern about ex-patients/trauma victims who go on to become therapists is that too many of them simply haven’t dealt with their own issues and then they get triggered by their patients’ issues and it gets ugly quickly. I’m not saying that’s the case with Noel as I have no personal knowledge, but I’ve seen tons of patients on wordpress who have to deal with therapists’ issues that end up further traumatizing them.

            And I speak from experience: until I dealt with my own issues, my wife and I were simply in a vicious circle. Once I got my stuff together, she couldn’t trigger me. She can and still does hurt me, but now I’m able to process it for what it is and continue to help her despite that….

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          • This is by no means confined to ex-patients, but I believe the issue is huge.

            There is an article in MIA’s newsfeed today talking about sexual abuse of very young psychiatric patients and disabled children.

            I believe that people can become split off and often viciously abuse those who are vulnerable and who have no voice. I believe they are in some way compelled to do so, and that in some way they are acting out thier own trauma from when they were vulnerable and had no voice and no defenders. This is not to excuse their behaviour. But there is something about being triggered by that very vulnerability and the fact that they ca act abusively with impunity.

            There are very dark places in the human psyche that we all to some extent prefer to be in denial about

            Bringing this back to the subject at hand, I have a fear about consumer-led alternatives to mental health care. It is that this dynamic will continue and will end up in some version of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.

            I feel strongly that unless this problem is addressed head-on, unless we can be honest that one of the effects of trauma can be perpetuating abuse, in big ways and small, it won’t matter much who has the power in situations where it can be abused without consequence.

            The last thing I want to do is demonise those who have been dehumanised. People like me. Most of this harm is perpetrated by those who have never been labelled or insitiutionalised, those who have the cloak of ‘respectablility’ to hide behind. Some of those who are attracted to work with people who have no voice and no means to defend themselves, do so to be in the position to feel powerful in relation to the powerless. It is how they self-regulate.

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      • I agree. I believe most clinicians are fearful and unconscious of their intentions and the motivation behind their actions. There are some at the top of the food chain who are very much aware of what is happening and are involved in intentional obfuscation, but most of the rank and file are either uninformed sycophants who are trying to do what they were trained to do by “the system,” or (a smaller number) people who enjoy having power over others and like being in a position of dominance for whatever reason. There are some who actually understand how to connect with patients/clients, but they are always in the minority and are oppressed at any time they try and question how the system works, because those power people don’t want to give up their power.

        So in my view, those in power don’t really understand or particularly care whether or not they are harming their clients. They are absorbed in their own needs and act that out toward their clients, mostly without even realizing what they’re doing. I’d estimate that the large majority genuinely NEED to believe they are helping, which is what makes it so damned difficult to communicate this kind of viewpoint to them.,

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      • Auntie Psychiatry,

        I understand what you’re saying but when I was caught in the system my main problem was the treatment and the complete “ignorance” regarding acknowledgement of the problems caused by treatment.

        I left the MH system more than 30 years ago. But I’m attempting to clean historical matters up, because of the toxicity attached to any connection.

        I would admit that I do notice dreadfully abusive game playing now – but at the same time I don’t see myself as powerless.

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  2. Thank you, streetphotobeing, for you comment! My friends tell me, “Bruce, NOBODY has more contempt for the mental health profession than you do.” I respond to them “You’d be surprised!” Now I can point them to your comment to prove my point!

    I have to go for now, but I will read other comments later this evening — Bruce

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    • Bruce I know you well enough to know you’re no “Psych Head.”

      But I think you may be a leetle too charitable.

      I’m scared of doctors now. Since they all unquestioningly believe psychiatry’s lies they must either be liars with total disregard for their patients’ lives or dumber than a box of rocks. Do they spend 11 years in higher ed to mindlessly accept whatever they read off drug ad pamphlets?

      My guess is they know–on some level–they are killing us very slowly but don’t care.

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  3. Very interesting review. Of course, I disagree regarding “trauma” but, for the rest of it, I find it mostly on target.

    Scapegoating is definitely the issue, and a sense of humor a good defense, or offense when offense is needed..

    Dispensing with the “trauma” equation, and going for “stress” or “adversity” (a social matter) as the problem is a way of de-medicalizing it and, as such, could represent a definite improvement.

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  4. “At least three federal agencies are investigating whether the psychiatric hospital giant UHS held patients longer than medically necessary to maximize profits”

    Universal Health Services – BuzzFeed Tag

    How hard is it to investigate ? These UHS criminals wrote “suicidal” on my medical records after I went to the ER for help complaining of anxiety attacks and anyone who has ever had anxiey attacks knows that you are in fear dying and don’t want to, completely the opposite of suicidal.

    traumatization is when they expect you to swallow massive amounts of neuroleptics then wait for them to enter your bloodstream and see how much your muscles twitch and mind malfunctions. If you refuse this they make threats of violent assaults to inject you if you try and fight it. How else besides a violent assault to you give an injection to someone refusing ?

    If you make threats in return to assault and stick them with a needle full of drugs someday when they are walking to their cars after work they then threaten to call police. I said go ahead and call police all I am going to do make the exact same complaint to the police as you people make about me. You people made the exact same threat to me first, exactly the same threat. Assault and injection.

    The whole place was a traumatization, they never touched me but witnessing violence and other people getting it was a daily occurrence. Did not help my anxiety much to say the least. Could not relax in that place it was a horror show.

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  5. Thank you, Bruce, for this interview.
    I write from Germany and I am grateful for MIA and every word that clearly says where psychiatry stands and how they build their own incompetence and illusion of magnificence by lies.

    In Germany, psychiatry criticism is as good as dead, in a country that would have had to do everything possible to drive this “part of medicine” to hell after the First and Second World War.
    In these days the Federal Constitutional Court has decided that the fixation of people is permitted only with a judical decision. If the case occurs at night, approval must be obtained “as soon as possible”. The media spoke of traumatisation by this maltreatment, nobody asked for alternatives. The people are fed with “facts”, so they remain calm and do not ask questions.

    So this interview and other articles at MIA are great bright spots for me. I often notice a stone falling from my heart and I can say, exactly, that’s it.

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  6. About 10 or so mins in –

    They failed to state that the ‘doctors’ KNOW full well what they are doing and have done for decades, NO excuses for the ‘doctors’ ! And they used a doctor who supposedly didn’t know and got hooked…ha… looks like they did a job on you Benzodiazepine Information Coalition. They also failed to state that people in MH units by force are forced to take these drugs and the sadistic ‘doctors’ can and do just rip people off, suddenly change dose at their own will in full knowledge of the hell they put their ‘patient’ victim through. They do it as punishment because they mostly hate the patients and have contempt for them. Whilst the psychologists who ‘work’ with them, talk out of both sides of their mouths but in reality are hypocrits and enablers by perpetuating a ‘Mentally ill’ inculcated ‘patient’ for their profit. Ofcourse there is – according to the psychiatrists and psychologists – no cure for severe anxiety/insomnia other than – as it infers at the end of that ‘report’ – talk therapy. You know what, that is bullshit. There absolutely is a solution stated very clearly in biology. And not biology that has been corrupted. Follow the biology and you will be free of severe anxiety/insomnia and migraine to boot. *uck the doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists who are just financial parasites on humanity by perpetuating either with drugs or talk, your hell.

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  7. Great review of an important book.

    I believe there is an important role for those dissidents working inside this oppressive “mental health” system.

    It is a very difficult and treacherous road to travel, but it can be appropriately navigated IF one is willing to stay connected to a system critical movement on the outside, AND also be willing to continuously self-interrogate themselves so as to avoid any form of “enabling” of the System and the ongoing dangers of “burnout.”

    I also liked Noel’s broader description of the word and meaning of “trauma.” This class based capitalist system has a million and one ways to alienate people and transform all human relationships into some form of “commodity” type relationship, which perverts our human essence.


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  8. First they came for old head… what a vision him being led away defiant to the end
    i post a lot on other sites including American psychiatrists professional sites and never get moderated go figure how sad is that…and no one seems bothered here at mod in America.. God forgive you all a prophet is never recognised in their own lifetime they say mad away

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      • from: “How to Train a Woman Like a Dog”

        “OK, so some people will have their panties in a twist over the title to this article. Admittedly, it’s a bit clickbaitish, but not without good reason. How to train your woman like a dog is a title that pays homage to Karen Salmansohn’s book, “How to Make Your Man Behave in 21 Days or Less Using the Secrets of Professional Dog Trainers.” It is just one offering in an entire genre of literature that people would say is dehumanizing to men. That is, if they cared about men.

        So, if you are triggered by the title of this piece, imagine how many shits I have that I don’t give. Unless you can document your public objection to “men as dogs” literature, I don’t want to hear a thing you have to say. With that, let’s move past the sardonic introduction to this article and into what I am really saying.

        One, I am not equating women to dogs, and not just because dogs are loyal and unconditionally loving. I am actually starting with the proposition that no human beings, male or female, rise to the level of a canine in terms of worthiness. If we remember that, and don’t expect perfection from ourselves or others, it really helps avoid disappointment.”

        @ Steve McCrea

        What do you think of Karen Salmansohn’s book, “How to Make Your Man Behave in 21 Days or Less Using the Secrets of Professional Dog Trainers.” ?

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      • The comments make me sick. I wish I knew they were all made by MGOW since that would be a favor to women. Most likely they “diagnosed” their exes to punish them. With or without a shrink. “My EVIL undiagnosed bipolar ex” is a forum rant staple these days. Both sexes.

        Not enough to say, “My ex was a fat, stupid, ugly cow who wasted money.” Nope. Way cooler to say, “My ex was a narcissistic sociopath.” Makes you sound so Smart and Scientific and justified in treating the monster horribly.

        Do you think we could post links to this guy on NAMI and other sites while extolling his “science”? Wonder how long before anyone would complain. Cause…”It’s real Science folks.” As “Dr.” Torrey says. The DSM 4 is a Real Psych Diagnostic Manual. His misogyny might make the NAMI mommies clutch their pearls. Lol.

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  9. Thank you so much Bruce and Noel for this. Two of my favorite voices on MIA – consistently empowering of psychiatric survivors and dissidents.

    This really resonated with me as well, but for reasons somewhat different than Noel’s point:

    ““The dynamics between me and several of the mental health professionals I encountered eerily mirrored those with my abusers.””


    “People who enter services are frequently society’s most vulnerable—people who have experienced extensive trauma, adversity, abuse, and oppression throughout their lives. At the same time, I struggle with the word “trauma” because it signifies some huge, overt event that needs to pass some arbitrary line of “bad enough” to count. I prefer the terms “stress” and “adversity.””

    In my case, the professionals response mirrored a different type of abuse from my childhood, not the direct abuse – the types of things measured when talking about childhood adversity, such as physical, sexual and psychological abuse, or neglect. Instead, the professionals response mirrored the response of the people who defended my abusers.

    Direct abuse is not the most traumatic thing that can happen to a child. Instead, the pain of not being believed or helped by adults you tell is what causes (or at least extenuates) the trauma – at least in my case. I can very vividly remember sexual abuse by adults as young as 9 years old, in a level of graphic detail that would have this comment moderated. But those memories are NOT NEARLY AS TRAUMATIC as the memories of sitting in the principle’s office at school with my dad listening to the principle detail how he could abuse (read: discipline) me by whipping me below the knees for my misdeeds. According to him, parents could not be charged for bruises below the knees. Or the many times my brother’s wife suggested that I was a horrible child that my parents should beat in order to teach me to respect them, while refusing to believe that they HAD beaten me. She also refused to believe the accusations against my brother of sexual abuse that he had actually served prison time for. My first mother-in-law one day turned to me and said that she didn’t believe a word of what I’d told her about my upbringing because “parents don’t do things like that to their kids”.

    Then there were school counselors, the local department of social services, and my own treatment providers who compounded the trauma by alternately trying to teach me proper behavior or proper coping mechanisms, and who ignored nearly every incidence of abuse I told them. The two occasions that they investigated accusations of physical abuse, they were both dismissed as “parent-child conflict”.

    But to really put a stick in my craw, it takes being charged with, and then convicted of, simple assault when my mother called the police at 14 and told them I’d hit her. Jesus, you’d have thought I had murdered a kitten in front of a class of preschoolers! Handcuffs, charges, courts, detention, a diagnosis of Conduct Disorder, and 60 days in juvenile prison upstate to teach me a lesson.

    So yeah, I’ve got a score of 8 on the ACE study scale, but the abuse I endured was child’s play compared to how the rest of society punishes those who dare to speak up.

    Mental health providers then convinced me I was mentally defective, had a chemical imbalance, needed drugs for life for my illness. And I alternate between disbelief that I fell for it and self-condemnation that by 23 I just had no fight left in me. It really made no difference at that point whether I was a victim or not. I just needed a break and I feel lucky that break came from Mental Illness, Inc and not prison because at least I can say that I do not harm others.

    One other thing they did with the mental illness narrative was create an excuse for my father’s abuse. He was bipolar. He couldn’t help it. He was ill like me. Let me tell you, that took a long time to realize he was not ill, he was a sexual sadist. I am not ill, I was injured. And I have an injury I may be coping with for the rest of my shortened lifespan.

    So thank you for pointing out that this dynamic in mental health is similar to abuse. I argue that abuse alone is insufficient to cause this level of harm and that it really requires the retraumatization of being blamed for it to become this fabulously mental. It is the disbelief and redirection of blame the victim that creates the real adversity that causes lasting damage.

    But hey, I make interesting art so I guess everything happens for a reason… (Barf)

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  10. I found similar attitudes in psychiatry, – denial or minimisation. Psychiatry sides with power, they can sometimes accept abuse where people they consider social inferiors perpetrate it. That doesn’t rock the boat – it’s what the ‘lower orders’ do after all. Even in this case they aren’t interested and don’t usually consider it relevant. But psychiatry is the absolute defender of privilege and will gaslight the hell out of anyone who dares to speak truth to power.

    A patient’s relationship with psychiatry is a coercively controlling relationship, just as in domestic abuse. The same blindness, submissiveness and learned helplesness. But it is the potential for trauma bonding that firghtens me most.

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  11. The ‘mental-health industry’ is an instrument of social control so, by definition, all who work in it participate in imposing that control. Some relish that role. Others are repelled by it.

    Most psy-professionals have also been service users, or have close friends or family who are service users, and most enter the industry to be helpful.

    For both of these reasons, a great many ‘mental-health’ professionals are committed to patients’ rights. Prominent examples include Loren Mosher, Peter Breggin, and Jay Joseph, to name just a few.

    In reality, no hard line can be drawn between psychiatric survivors and psy-professionals.

    This argument parallels the divisions promoted by adherents of identity politics, who believe that others who have not suffered their experiences have nothing to contribute to ending them.

    This is a dead-end strategy, because society can only be changed in a meaningful way by the majority. That is why I totally support Bruce’s efforts to encourage people who are critical of the military-industrial complex to become equally critical of the psychiatric-industrial complex — and vice versa!

    The power of Psychiatry only grows when we accept the lies that we are different, that others cannot relate to us, that our only option is to huddle in corners with our own kind, licking our wounds.

    As Noël said, we are not defective or even that different. We are human beings struggling with incredible pain. And that puts us in the same category as billions of other people on the planet.

    Of course each of our experiences is unique and must be recognized. At the same time, our liberation depends on the alliances we make with all who struggle against oppression.

    There is a world of potential allies out there. We shoot ourselves in the proverbial foot when we isolate ourselves. We need to join with all who long for a supportive society, free of coercion, that actually meet people’s needs.

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    • I don’t accept we are different.

      One of the biggest problems in psychiatry I believe, is that many are attacted to work in psychiatry becayse of their own woundedness. The “difference” where it exists, (because there is a minority of those who are very self-aware and compassionate), is of a committment to denial and of siding with oppressers. Rather than being willing to experience their commonality and their vulnerability they seek to feel powerful at the expense of those in a position of powerlessness.

      We are unable to “join” with these people to fight for a world free of coercion. Joining such people is the path to collaborating with our own oppression.

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      • Joining oppressors to become a minor oppressor yourself is a common social phenomenon. In Man’s Search For Meaning Frankl tells how the Nazi captors chose some of the prisoners to bully the others in exchange for food and cigarettes. Often they were meaner than the guards themselves who had nothing to prove.

        Human nature I fear.

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    • “We are not defective or even that different.”

      Sadly public perception trumps reality.

      The Masses need “Mental Illness” as a trope because it explains evil. “We’re all a bunch of humane, altruistic saints. Except for the Severely Mentally Ill. If we ‘fix’ them and lock them away somewhere our Society will be perfect. Violent crimes will cease. Cause only the Severely Mentally Ill ever hurt or kill people.” 😛

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      • I tend to agree with you to an extent.

        Certainly those of us who have been harmed by “evil” get to be stigmatsed and trashed by being put into a basket that societies like to call “sick” or “mentally ill” and it is the same basket that societies put abusers (where they are exposed) and abuse itself into, so that they don’t have to face up to the reality and pervasiveness of “evil”. At the same time, communities don’t have to face the fact that those who are most abusive are those who never wear that stigmatising label or live in that shitty basket, because they have successfully dumped their shit onto those they have harmed, along with all the responsibility for ham and abuse.

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        • Yes. Psychiatry is a great boon to abusive parents and partners.

          Also, as I have ranted on this site before, shrinks make no distinction between Ted Bundy and the eccentric, kindly cat lady down the street. “Bipolars” are all alike after all!

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  12. As long as some people have power over others, there will be abuse.

    Capitalism is a system of predator-prey relationships: exploiter-exploited; oppressor-oppressed, and so on.

    In such a system, anyone in a position of power can target those with less power. This includes police, supervisors, bosses, bureaucrats, teachers, lawyers, doctors, parents, coaches, and so on. The ‘mental-health’ industry is no different.

    The greatest predators are the people in power who are swallowing the planet for profit. In contrast, most ordinary people recognize the survival value of cooperation.

    It’s a question of what we emphasize. Emphasizing the potential for cooperation puts us in the best position to fight for a truly cooperative and egalitarian society.

    When people have what they need, including social support, they are much less vulnerable to any kind of abuse.

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    • I’m well aware of other kinds of exploittion and abuse. I’ve been an activist on a number of issues for many years. I resent being told what I should empahsise and the assumption that expressing one component means I haven’t considered other aspects of the subject at hand, or that talking about one aspect negates any other.

      MIA is not a campaign as far as I’m aware, and in any venue where people come together to express their experiences and feelings, telling them what they ‘should’ be saying, expecially to better persuade unaffected people outside that forum, seems pretty rude to me.

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  13. I’ve been deeply hurt by not only mental health professionals, but also by the training I received as both an undergrad and post-bacc research assistant. Anytime I’d bring up issues such as iatrogenic effects, therapy abuse, treatments needed for therapy abuse, accountability needed for practitioners (no matter their titles), etc., their nuanced responses were pretty much take it or leave it. Although I had no intentions of becoming a practitioner (I actually want to do research on therapy abuse and other forms of victimology less discussed, such as retraumatizations in treatment, including discrimination, microaggression trauma, etc.), I wanted to address the issues that continue to plague our world in the mental health field. I’ve been misdiagnosed, had bad reactions to psychotropic meds, had bad reactions to certain therapists with certain attitudes, etc. I knew this because any second opinions or more would render different diagnoses, depending on how they screened me. I felt that a lot of times therapists would put words in my mouth, or hold me back, etc. One told me I wouldn’t be able to do school; I graduated from two different colleges with straight A’s! I still had my unresolved issues with many traumas, including therapy abuse, but no therapist wants to hear my story and help me to heal because in their minds their fellow therapist bretheren cannot do any wrong (it’s always the patient’s fault). I still seek therapy, and I still volunteer as a research assistant until I feel better enough to return to a different (non-clinical/non-mental-health) program in grad school, where I can learn how to do community research to address many people who do not seek treatment or who stopped seeking treatment (including what I mentioned above plus cultural beliefs and practices that become an alternative to mental health treatment, the stigma of being in treatment, and the potential career losses if having a record of seeking treatment). Confidentiality is not always there. And training from certain clinical researchers and/or professors avoids these issues; you only succeed in those programs if you agree with their “way of life”–never questioning their authority, but yet constantly questioning yourself. Thankfully, I did find some good therapists (three different ones from three different institutions over the course of three different years) who stated that my research mentor was emotionally abusive and that I needed to leave. Initially, I was too in shock to believe that, and I instead wanted to fix myself. But the more I revealed, the more I learned from good therapists that I was being revictimized. It’s not easy being a trauma survivor, but it’s more challenging when the people you’re supposed to trust for your healing harm you. I even went to sites that discuss therapy abuse, and their helpful teams reached out to me and suggested that I find alternatives like non-clinical support groups. I’ve instead spent a lot of time for the past year being alone – and relocating to start over in life. So far, it’s going okay. But I’m still broken, hurt, harmed, and dealing with the aftereffects of such abuse. If only there was research on that among community (non-clinical) populations, then maybe those clinical scientists would pay attention. Even then, they might just think we’re “mad” in America. 🙁

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