The Revolt Against Psychiatry: A Book Review

Susan Rosenthal
42
2466

Bonnie Burstow (2019) The Revolt Against Psychiatry: A Counterhegemonic Dialogue. Palgrave Macmillan, 243 pages, $60 USD

The focus of Bonnie Burstow’s new book, The Revolt Against Psychiatry, “is not the problems that psychiatry presents but the attempt to counter them.” In the process, it raises vitally important questions about society as a whole.

For the general reader who might wonder why there needs to be a revolt against psychiatry, Burstow summarizes the reasons in one paragraph with references for further reading.

Psychiatry is a profession whose very foundational tenets have been repeatedly shown to be unscientific and lacking in validity, whose thinking is muddled, which is blatantly self-serving, and, moreover, whose “treatments” have been demonstrated again and again to do far more harm than good. The very real injury done to vulnerable human beings is particularly alarming and is what unites the people featured in this book. (p.2)

This book is addressed to a specific audience: “People who are part of the struggle against psychiatry and people critical of psychiatry who want to learn more about the revolt against it.” Its purpose is to explore how activists can reverse the juggernaut of psychiatric power that “continues to grow by leaps and bounds.” Burstow asks,

What pressures might we bring to bear to loosen the grip of psychiatry? We habitually seem to be losing the battle; so how do we turn the situation around? (p.1)

To answer this critical question, the author interviews 13 leading activists and, in turn, is interviewed herself. These 14 dialogues form the body of the book.

The interviewees live in the US, UK, Canada, Chile, Germany, and India. They include academics, radical practitioners, Indigenous scholars, a lawyer, a grieving mother, and a journalist. Many are also psychiatric survivors.

I was impressed by the courage and determination of these activists who persist against personal challenges, social opposition, and repeated setbacks. If they refuse to give up, neither should we. At the same time, it is sobering to see dedicated people work so hard and so long for so little progress.

When strategies that should work do not, then we need to re-think our understanding of the problem. Are we attacking psychiatry at its root or are we flailing at its branches? How can we distinguish root from branch? Burstow does not address these questions. Instead, discussion centers on the tension between efforts to reform psychiatry and efforts to abolish it.

Obstacles

None of the interviewees is hopeful that psychiatry can be reformed or made humane. However, there is little agreement on the alternative.

Psychiatrist Peter Breggin stresses the importance of getting out the facts and “laying bare the science.” Burstow replies, “Laying bare the facts is essential, I agree. At the same time, it has been shown to be not remotely sufficient as a strategy.” (p.40)

Lauren Tenney shares her experience of how identity politics (adopting one’s psychiatric label as a personal identity) can reinforce the psychiatric model of suffering.

When someone challenges the existence of a disorder in a Facebook group, I have seen people literally turn to the moderator and say, ‘This person is hurting me.’ (p.70)

Racism

Several interviews stressed the need to challenge psychiatric racism.1 Tenney points out,

In New York City, with the Assertive Action Treatment teams, 18% of the people subjected to involuntary outpatient commitment are white, the rest, people of color. And more generally, the heaviest of psychiatric attacks land on people of color. And until this movement becomes reflective of who exactly is being preyed upon by psychiatry, we will be sadly missing the mark. (p.77)

Researcher China Mills is a leading critic of the Movement for Global Mental Health because it “reconfigures resistance to colonialism as mental illness” in order to “delegitimize that resistance.”2

You can see the almost exact same language within much of the writings on Global Mental Health that you see in classical colonial writings. You see the same elbowing out or demonization of other forms of healing because they are seen as irrational. (p.203)

Mills concludes that it is impossible to “de-colonize practices like Global Mental Health or psychiatry” because “psychiatry and psychology are bound up with colonial thinking and scientific racism.” (p.194)

Indigenous scholar Michael provides a sickening example:

I just visited my reserve last week. What a mess it was! There is a full-time doctor there doing nothing but prescribing psychiatric drugs. And that makes no sense. There never was a doctor present when people were sick from real diseases. Not even a dentist. (p.153)

Abolition

In her own interview, Burstow describes some of the harrowing experiences that compelled her to become an antipsychiatry activist, co-found the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault in Toronto, and establish the groundbreaking Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry.

When asked what she means by ‘abolishing’ psychiatry, Burstow replies,

Not only would [psychiatry] have no state power, it would not be propped up in any way by the state. Not stated funded, not state promoted. Not officially recognized as a “medical” discipline.” (p.167)

Asked how abolition could be achieved, she explains,

As far as I can see, there are two ways to go, and one is direct opposition. This is what Gandhi did when he said: We’ll break your laws and we’ll obstruct business as usual. And the other is to create experiments, trying out new ways of helping people. (p.202)

Burstow notes that successful actions require leverage.

Gandhi’s leverage arose from the sheer numbers involved — you can hardly jail the entire population of India. And one can go on strike and jeopardize the economy — also leverage. Here’s the difficulty: Psychiatrized people have almost no leverage. This is a group that gets drugged and has difficulty sustaining action. (p.213)

Funding

Kim Wichera in Germany, Ian Parker in the UK, and Tatiana Castillo in Chile describe the difficulty of obtaining funds for alternate services without succumbing to State control. At Berlin Runaway House, “a highly supportive and democratic house for homeless people trying to escape psychiatry,”

We are not allowed to address certain kinds of stuff in our house. For example, we have to have a certain percentage of social workers. And this is tied to the issue of funding. We have to have at least one social worker in the house for every two residents. (p.88)

Castillo reports,

It is difficult for us to acquire spaces for free, and universities help us a lot with that. But now they can want to put their stamp on our events and to have some say over what we do. (p.111)

Burstow describes the fate of Soteria House in the 1970s:

One of the things we know about the original Soteria House is that it worked so incredibly well that the authorities closed it down, for it was clear proof of a reality that the establishment did not want known: that so-called schizophrenics do not need to be on drugs — indeed, do better if they aren’t. Cutting off funding, that’s what the authorities do when something non-medical is shown to really work. (p.131)

To circumvent the limitations of direct action and lack of funding, Burstow proposes an “attrition model.”

The attrition model of psychiatry abolition is predicated on the awareness that you can’t get rid of psychiatry over night. If you want psychiatry abolition, you have to wear away at the institution bit by bit. (p.215)

At best, an attrition strategy can nibble at the heels of the psychiatric giant, and Burstow acknowledges that much more is needed.

Revolution

Tatiana Castillo calls for revolution:

We don’t need a revolution in what is called ‘mental health,’ but rather a larger societal revolution. (p.117)

Don Weitz agrees:

I don’t think the organizing in the US or Canada has ever made the systemic visible. We need an attack on the system itself. (p.129)

Robert Whitaker concurs, “We need to have a ‘revolution.’ We need to start over.”

You have to remake everything. And not just the institution [of psychiatry]. You have to remake the whole societal response to how we care for ourselves and each other. (p.62)

How can we remake everything when the State is so effective at neutralizing opposition to the status quo?

Cooptation

Human rights lawyer Tina Minkowitz laments the “perennial problem” of cooptation, where individual activists and innovative programs are absorbed into established institutions and rendered ineffective.

Minkowitz helped to draft the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that states, “detention based on disability is unlawful under international law and obliges states to remove this power from psychiatry.” Implementing this ruling has been a huge challenge.

We have been marginalized by changes in the International Disability Alliance [IDA], which was taken over by staff, resulting in a centralization of power. IDA became a way for the UN to “manage” the international disability movement. (p.171)

Parker expresses similar concerns:

More and more psychiatrists are taking training in [Open Dialogue] and folding it into psychiatry. And it is functioning like a new opportunity for psychiatry to essentially glue people back into their families. (p.101)

Indigenous scholar Roland Chrisjohn condemns how the State imposes genocidal conditions on Indigenous communities, then pulls Indigenous service providers into psychiatric systems that pathologize their own peoples’ legitimate rage and despair.3

Why do we appeal to the State to alleviate oppression when the State is such a potent source of oppression? Burstow emphasizes, “Whatever the intention may be, turning to the oppressor as the solution can only lead to disaster.” (p. 21)

Quandary

Tenney’s interview touches on the dilemma of how to balance the need for political activism with the need for immediate social support. This problem confounds all movements against oppression.4

When the need for immediate support is overwhelming, as it typically is, efforts to meet that need can divert energy from the larger political struggle. Yet without a vibrant political struggle, alternate supports flounder or are absorbed by established institutions.5

The challenge is to provide immediate relief (reform) and also organize against systemic suffering (revolution) in ways that advance both goals. Internet groups cannot solve this problem. As Tenney states,

With huge numbers of different people one way or another getting connected via the medium, what you have is no longer like-minded individuals getting together. And what results from this is conflict. Also cross purposes. While I am trying to organize activism, others are using these venues largely as a place of mutual support. And these very different purposes really don’t work well together. (p.73)

Burstow and Mills briefly discuss whether or not we should support efforts to retain or expand ‘mental health’ services. Should we welcome the loss of such programs as a social benefit that weakens the hold of psychiatry? Or would doing so embolden the State to defund beneficial services such as childcare support, disability benefits, and housing assistance?

On a practical level, should we support service providers who are striking to improve access to psychotherapy?6 Or should we oppose their efforts for increasing the reach of psychiatry and side instead with their employers and the State? Increasing the power of the State to crush workers’ demands makes it easier to oppress all rebels.

To solve this problem, we need to understand the nature of the modern State and distinguish between struggles that can challenge the foundation of existing society and those that can be coopted into strengthening the system as a whole.7

The State

The capitalist class created the modern State as a weapon to defeat the feudal aristocracy. In the process of centralizing State power,

Every common interest was immediately severed from society, snatched from the activities of society’s members themselves and made an object of government activity – from a bridge, a schoolhouse, and the communal property of a village community, to the railroads, the national wealth, and the national University of France.8

The capitalist State removed control of medicine from the Church, taking over the training and licensing of medical professionals who, in turn, were expected to satisfy State demands, which included the control of “mad persons.”9

Medical practitioners resisted being seen as agents of State control, so they created a false sense of autonomy by interpreting State demands as medical problems needing treatment. Joanna Moncrieff writes,

Medical explanations for madness and the medical approach to treatment are grafted onto an older system of social organization and control. Once medicalization takes hold, it obscures the underlying functions, but the system remains, in essence, a moral and political enterprise.10

Interpreting suffering, non-conformity, and rebellion as medical problems shifts responsibility from a defective social system to ‘defective’ individuals requiring ‘treatment.’ Today, all medical disciplines, not only psychiatry, locate pathology within the individual and, in practice, disregard the damaging impact of social conditions.11

Minkowitz believes that progress will depend on “severing the relationship between the state and psychiatry.” (p.162) Is this possible?

The medical system forms one branch of a State apparatus that, as Marx wrote, “encoils living society like a boa constrictor.” The State defines what medicine is: medical schools and facilities are regulated by the State; only State-licensed professionals are allowed to practice medicine; and medical professionals are compelled to enforce State laws, even when doing so would harm their patients.

The capitalist class require a repressive State to enforce their rule over society. If we could sever the branch of psychiatry from the tree of the State, it would have to grow another branch to serve the same function of social control. Therefore, any strategy to abolish psychiatry that does not include dismantling the State and ending class rule can, at best, substitute one form of State coercion for another.

Social Power

Opposition to psychiatric coercion is floundering because it has no revolutionary potential on its own. We made gains in the 1970s because we combined forces with other movements against oppression. We lost those gains, as have all oppressed groups, because we let ourselves be divided.

To acquire the social power we need to uproot coercive psychiatry and the State that requires it, we must join forces with all other oppressed groups and especially the largest oppressed group, the working class.

Workers are systematically deprived of social and economic power. Their oppression manifests in disproportionately worse health, shorter life spans, inferior schools, more exposure to industrial toxins, more poverty, and greater stress.

While oppressed individuals can be found in every social class, the discriminatory nature of oppression keeps most of them in the working class. As a result, the working class are not only the single largest oppressed group, they also include the largest numbers of people from every other oppressed group, including the psychiatrically oppressed.

Workers have massive collective power. They can stop the flow of profit and redirect production to meet human needs. That is some leverage!

Solidarity

In order to exercise their power, workers must put their common interests ahead of their differences. It is a matter of practicality. Workers who stand together can win more. Those who fail to challenge sexism, racism, and other divisive bigotries are defeated.

Currently, anti-government protests are sweeping the globe as millions of people rise up against decades of deepening austerity and rising inequality. Extended protests disrupt society, forcing ordinary people to organize the provision of food, childcare, and care of the distressed in new ways that meet their needs, not those of their rulers.12

Should global revolt become powerful enough to end capitalist rule, those new ways of organizing can grow into the new society we so desperately need, a society that treats everyone as equally worthy to contribute and equally worthy of getting their needs met.

As capitalism sinks deeper into crisis, the systemic roots of oppression become more obvious, as does the need for solidarity in action. Today,

A new generation of activists is seeking to identify and explain how militarism, imperialism, nuclear weapons, environmental degradation, gross economic inequality, and dehumanization by race, religion, gender, and sexuality all reinforce and legitimize each other, and many have concluded that none can be effectively opposed without addressing them all.13

Conclusion

The value of this book lies in its conversational style, the diversity of the interviewees, and a lively question-response format that invites the reader into the conversation. Many more issues were raised than could be addressed in this review.

Despite a hefty price that puts it beyond the reach of many activists, I recommend The Revolt Against Psychiatry as a springboard for broader discussion on how we can counter the stranglehold of psychiatry.

Show 13 footnotes

  1. Metzl, J.M. (2011). The protest psychosis: How schizophrenia became a black disease. Beacon Press.
  2. Prashad, V. (2019). The IMF is utterly indifferent to the pain it’s causing. Independent Media Institute, October 15. https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2019/10/the-imf-convenes-in-washington-deaf-to-the-suffering-it-causes-across-the-planet.html
  3. Chrisjohn, R.D., McKay, S.M. & Smith, A.O. (2014). Dying to please you: Indigenous suicide in contemporary Canada, p.10. Theytus Books. https://www.academia.edu/30608503/DYING_TO_PLEASE_YOU_Indigenous_Suicide_in_Contemporary_Canada_by_Chrisjohn_and_McKay
  4. Brown, T.M. (2016). Working with the Panthers to transform health care for poor Black communities. Am J Public Health. Vol. 106, No. 10, pp.1756-1757. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5024398/
  5. Fancher, M.P. (2019). Surviving until the revolution comes. Black Agenda Report, October 30. https://www.blackagendareport.com/surviving-until-revolution-comes
  6. Castañeda, L. (2019). Kaiser clinicians and patients protest long appointment waits and not enough providers. The Mercury News, October 19. https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/10/19/kaiser-clinicians-and-patients-protest-long-appointment-waits-and-not-enough-providers/
  7. Harman, C. (1991). The state and capitalism today. International Socialism, Vol. 2, No.51, pp. 3-57. http://isj.org.uk/the-state-and-capitalism-today/
  8. Marx, K. (1852). The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Chapter 7. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch07.htm
  9. Pinell, P., & Jacobs, A. (2011). The genesis of the medical field: France, 1795-1870. Revue Française De Sociologie, Vol.52, p.119. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41336865
  10. Moncrieff, J. (2018). So what is mental disorder? Part 2: The social problem. Mad in America, March 14. https://www.madinamerica.com/2018/03/what-is-mental-disorder-social-problem/
  11. Rosenthal, S. (2019). Rebel Minds: Class war, mass suffering, and the urgent need for socialism. ReMarx Publishing.
  12. Orwell, G. (1938). Homage to Catalonia.
  13. Appy, C.G. (2019) Recovering the legacy of GI dissent, in Carver, R., Cortright, D. & Doherty, B. (Eds). Waging peace in Vietnam: U.S. soldiers and veterans who opposed the war. New York: New Village Press.

42 COMMENTS

  1. In my State when the Unions started organising the Government passed an amendment to the Criminal Code called 54 (b). This meant that if three or more persons wished to gather in a public place they required a permit from the Government. Now people who were going for coffee with friends were not the target of this amendment, the Unions who were asking for a fair days pay for a fair days work were. Police moved in with horses and big stcks and beat them sensless.

    The Media is to Democracy what the Bludgeon is to the Totalitarian State said Noam Chomsky.

    What I have found is that when it comes time to stand up for what is known to be right, most people believe it is better to live on their knees. Should have seen what the ‘activists’ did when they were told by police that what they knew had happened, “never happened”.

    54 (b) was repealed by our High Court after 11 years. Enough time to smash the Unions and ensure the public knew that our Politicians would pass unconstitutional laws to get their way.

    I also find the quote from Dr Moncrieff interesting when looked at regarding our Euthanasia Bill that is being rushed through Parliament at present. Doctors have made their Christmas wish list known and the Minister is quite prepared to provide it. People are being abused in institutions, then lets find a way of having them volunteer to be assisted in dying. Life not worth living huh? (Where have I heard that before?) Imagine that with a system that encourages the ‘verballing’ by public officers to achieve outcomes and ‘destroying’ anyone who complains about their organised criminality. Unless of course there is an explaination for spiking citizens with date rape drugs before interrogations? The reaction to me having the proof is the pudding, and it tastes foul.

    The protection of the Law? Our Chief Psychiatrist doesn’t even know what a burden of proof is, or at least thats what his letter states. Along with some of the most bizarre claims i’ve ever heard. Community Nurses can travel through time and space to make “observations”? They can these days read minds? Maybe he thought I was one of their victims being drugged into a stupour and wouldn’t find any assistance to contest this? Well, he did know about the spiking with benzos, and was shocked to find out I had the documents. Probably because concealing evidence is an offence.
    Oh wait he was right about not receiving any assistance, the Mental Health Law Centre assisted the State by accepting fraudulent documents and slandering me rather than admit I was not a “patient” and was therefore kidnapped and tortured, It’s a Venus Fly Trap people. Nice to know you can rely on your pro bono lawyers to throw you under a bus in times of need. Scabs
    Probably consider themselves ‘advocates’ which could not be further from the truth. But a failure to examine and act on the truth results in preferred outcomes, and the wheels of the bus go round and around. Still they sacked them and filled the place with the next lot to take care of business. Can’t be seen not to have acted, that would be further negligence. Getting caught perverting being the sin, not that they’re doing it on Ministers instructions. Did she mention your funding?

  2. In my State when the Unions started organising the Government passed an amendment to the Criminal Code called 54 (b). This meant that if three or more persons wished to gather in a public place they required a permit from the Government. Now people who were going for coffee with friends were not the target of this amendment, the Unions who were asking for a fair days pay for a fair days work were. Police moved in with horses and big stcks and beat them sensless.
    The Media is to Democracy what the Bludgeon is to the Totalitarian State said Noam Chomsky.
    What I have found is that when it comes time to sand up for what is known to be right, most people believe it is better to live on their knees. Should have seen what the ‘activists’ did when they were told by police that what they knew had happened, “never happened”.
    54 (b) was repealed by our High Court after 11 years. Enough time to smach the Unions and ensure the public knew that our Politicians would pass unconstitutional laws to get their way.
    I also find the quote from Dr Moncrieff interesting when looked at regarding our Euthanasia Bill that is being rushed through Parliament at present. Doctors have made their Christmas wish list known and the Minister is quite prepared to provide it. People are being abused in institutions, then lets find a way of having them volunteer to be assisted in dying. Life not worth living huh? (Where have I heard that before?) Imagine that with a system that encourages the ‘verballing’ by public officers to achieve outcomes and ‘destroying’ anyone who complains about their organised criminality. Unless of course there is an explaination for spiking citizens with date rape drugs before interrogations? The reaction to me having the proof is the pudding, and it tastes foul.

    • Exactly, even in the face of knowing someone needs help, we prefer to “live on our knees”. Must be why if a woman’s screams are piercing the early morning hours of 4 AM, my husband pretends to be asleep because he knows I’m the activist, I’m the one who is “extra” (btw, that is a new term by millennials for being excitable or emotionally reactive) And NO, he’s not really asleep, in fact if I budge him, he will say “it’s just a domestic”, despite blood curdling screams. But really, he’s super nice and normal, liked by everyone.

      • It never ceases to amaze me how different our systems can be. In my country all my wife (a white woman) has to do is make one phone call and police dressed ready for combat in Afghanistan will turn up at my home and evict me for however many days she would like. Which worked really well for her when her boyfriend was in town and she didn’t wish to waste my money on motel rooms.
        I did ask her at one stage how she managed to have police turn up and with zero evidence throw me out of my own home and her response was “it did all seem a bit too easy”. I think her advice to anyone wishing to access this service is to slander the victim as being a “mental patient” and this will prime police ready to kill.
        Still, Joseph did spend 10 years down a well because of a false accuser so I guess i got off lightly. Or did I, as a result of the slander by a Community Nurse telling police a lie to make his torture and kidnapping appear lawful I haven’t seen my grand children for 8 years now. Because now police can’t ‘put the record straight’ because they assisted this guy with his torture and kidnapping and will be embarrassed about that. Much better to assist the criminals at that point and turn a blind eye while they kill the victim. Fortunate for me some don’t have the stomach for our hospital emergency departments being used as personal slaughterhouses.
        P.S. I don’t think this is a service available to women of color.

        Actually its funny because it was me trying to have my wifes nephew stop beating his girlfriend in front of her children that created the conflict with her family. Every time he got on the meth he was breaking into her home and well, the kids were falling asleep at school, and she was being told if she didn’t stop him they would take her kids. So I think your husband may be right about not getting involved because the real wife beaters are receiving support from authorities. They take a womans kids away if she doesn’t let it happen here. This was my “thoughts of harming others” noted by the Community Nurse when he travelled back in time three weeks to make his observations. So he arranged 3 other meth heads to come and home invade, but i’m being paranoid if I worry about his threats.

  3. ‘But what then’

    Yes, we have got no where… and I know this in a very personal way. I was drugged to oblivion unable to assert my views in front of the psychiatrist and his cohort, he shouted at me: “I’m the expert here, not you” “you have a chemical imbalance, it’s a illness just like diabetes” seriously that’s what he said to me earlier this year and me drugged until I couldn’t answer back. I looked like something out of Belsen, and for sure it could happen again, and is happening to others and much worse right now.

  4. If I can interject a few comments here without appearing to be persona non gratia for the effort let me do so.

    The book sounds like it has a lot of great things in offer, but the price, unless it is not actually populist but addressed to a professional caste and elite is, I would think, for the majority of us, rather prohibitive. I don’t, as a rule, have 60 ready $ to lay down on a single book.

    I have a somewhat different take on matters in that I don’t think forced treatment and the harm that goes along with it grew out of psychiatry, but I think the medical specialty called psychiatry grew out of the imprisonment, forced treatment, harm and segregation that proceeded it. Involuntary hospitalization (forced treatment) then is what needs to be abolished, not the bogus medical profession, aided and abetted by all sorts of other bogus professions, that feed on this socially controlling “legit” drug trade and updated “trade in lunacy”. If psychiatry is forced treatment, sure, abolish it, but if it is anything else, why bother? The palm reader still hangs her sign out from the corner of a street, and she isn’t going anywhere any time soon either.

    One talks about joining the workers movement, okay, but blue collar workers make more money, as a rule, than some of us are used to seeing. Poor people, on the other hand, need to forge a movement of their own, and former “mental patients” after state confinement, defamation, robbery and displacement are by and large poor people. It’s an uphill struggle for simple survival skills, and the economic opportunities that go along with them.

    Would embracing the movement of other oppressed groups lead to incorporation in the movement as a whole, yes, I’m all for dismantling the “mental health” system as a part of dismantling the state. Dismantling the “mental health” system, however, need not be dependent on dismantling the state. I don’t think you need to dismantle the state before you can dismantle the “mental health” system. If your focus is on dismantling the “mental health” system, to suddenly turn your attention to dismantling the state is to change the subject. I support abolishing forced psychiatric treatment, I don’t support changing the subject when it’s going to unnecessarily complicate the simple matter of abolishing involuntary mistreatment. We need to join with other people fighting the undue use of force everywhere, surely, but we don’t need to have that unity slow us down or stop us from following through in so far as abolition is concerned.

    • Dismantling the “mental health” system, however, need not be dependent on dismantling the state. I don’t think you need to dismantle the state before you can dismantle the “mental health” system.

      As a tool of social control psychiatry will adapt to any state system that supports it. In a capitalist system it will support capitalism, and since capitalism is the dominant ideology in the world psychiatry is in its service. Abolishing psychiatry may actually be a prerequisite for abolishing capitalism, rather than vice versa.

      • Modern psychiatry was created by capitalism and its profit based system. Given its current role in society labeling and drugging some of the most potentially rebellious sections of society, psychiatry CANNOT be abolished until we abolish the capitalist system.

        How would the capitalist class ever allow psychiatry to be dismantled, when it has become so valuable to their current existence and their ability to maintain control of certain sections of society?

        The struggle against psychiatric oppression in all its forms, however, is potentially a vital conduit for the growth of overall resistance to capitalism. Exposing psychiatric oppression to its core, gets right to the heart of what causes human alienation and psychological trauma, and what changes are necessary (socialism) to finally eradicate it, once and for all.

        Richard

        • It may be a chicken-egg situation to some degree. But what the ruling class “allows” is a function of the people’s determination to resist it. That’s the subjective factor — i.e. it’s up to us. Psychiatry is one of capitalism’s main props, so as the MC5 once famously sang, let’s “kick out the jams”!

      • Again, I see involuntary “hospitalization” as the problem, not psychiatry. If we look at the matter historically, psychiatry grew out of forced treatment, forced treatment didn’t grow out of psychiatry. Psychiatry is just a word, and a psychiatrist is little more than a glorified fortune teller. Strip him of the power he has been granted by the state, and he is just like anybody else. Involuntary “hospitalization” involves abduction, imprisonment and torture, that is, state sanctioned violence, all without benefit of a trial by a jury of one’s peers. Treat adults like adults and you don’t involuntarily “hospitalize” them.

        I don’t want the abolition of psychiatry without the abolition of forced “mental health treatment”. If you’re not going to abolish forced treatment, I can’t support you.

          • Regarding your first statement, you get rid of forced psychiatry by outlawing it. Forced sex is rape. Forced sex is illegal. Forced psychiatry has been legislated in. It should be legislated out. Psychiatry is not law. Forced treatment IS law. Forced psychiatry is legal. It should be illegal. Psychologists have the right to administer drugs in some states. Get rid of psychiatrists, and some other profession, psychology, for example, will be performing the same function. Forced treatment is law, bad law. Psychiatry is a profession and a choice, unlike forced treatment.

            I use abolish the way it is used in the dictionary, to put an end to, as in chattel slavery has been abolished in the USA. Forced psychiatric treatment should be abolished.

          • Oldhead, I agree. No psychiatry, no DSM, equals to no labels, no enforced treatments. The lifelong labels that follow people prevent them from receiving proper medical treatment and I think that is the most dangerous of all.

          • There are several dictionary definitions (though even dictionaries can reflect a bias). One can “put an end to” something without specifically outlawing it, though there are aspects of psychiatric practice which should be outlawed. So not all abolitionist-minded people support a decree abolishing psychiatry (though some would if they thought it were possible).

          • Okay, no need to quibble about whether abolish means end or quibble.

            How do you propose we get no psychiatry? By declaring it no more? Forced treatment is the law. Psychiatry isn’t the law. It would seem that you’d need two things to get rid of psychiatry and forced treatment. 1. You’d have to outlaw psychiatry. 2. You’d have to outlaw forced treatment. I have a problem with telling people they can’t be shrinks, and I have a problem with telling people they can’t consult with a shrink if they want to do so. I don’t have any problem whatsoever getting rid of the deprivation of liberty that comes with forced treatment.

          • Mental health law allows people to have treatment forced on them against their will and wishes. You do what mental health law allows you to do to a mental patient to anybody who is not so labeled and you’re breaking the law. I would have no problem whatsoever with this discriminatory and oppressive practice being thrown out of the law books. In other words, in clear and no uncertain terms, I think forced mental health treatment should be abolished–ended, scrapped, terminated, kaput.

          • Cheers Frank

            “You do what mental health law allows you to do to a mental patient to anybody who is not so labeled and you’re breaking the law.”

            So where do you go when the person is not a :patient”? I would have thought the police but ….. so I’ve ended up with the folk who broke the law knowing they broke the law, but the law won’t do the law because they prefer that the law wasn’t the law and that the false narrative that I was someones “patient”. I wasn’t, full stop, not true.

            I know that someone has figured this out. I also know that there is something causing an obstruction of justice because these folk who tried to murder me have still not been held to account. In fact they have the Minister for Health still running with a false narrative and misdirecting a legitimate complaint to a kangaroo court to ensure they are enabled. I can only assume he has them on a very short leash while they do a few ‘jobs’ for him.

  5. If you are in Toronto on January 24th, do come to the booklaunch of this important new book (OISE, 252 Bloor West, Nexus Lounge, 12th Floor) The event, which will be at 5:e0 will include speeches by activists who are part of the dialogue, including by me, by psychiatric drug critic Julie Wood. and by Chilean activist Tatiana Castillo. Correspondingly, there will be a stunning reenactment of part of one of dialogues in the book–as it happens between Robert Whitaker and me. Also included with be antipsychiatry updates, including about the stunning emergence of an antipsychiatry lending library. A moment of consciousness-raising and a not-to-be-missed event.

  6. Psychiatry admits they work by “theory”. Laying bare the facts? The courts, science, the whole medical system finds Psychiatry convenient. That is why it exists, just as religion. Considering that we cannot get rid of these entrenched systems, perhaps we are indeed mentally ill, or lacking in a certain capacity. Well, we only have to endure the garbage for 80 years. Funny that a system that is against suicides, creates more suicides than ever, if not by pills, then by inducing fear and shame. I believe people are intimidated and are only left to protest with words, words that the power systems sneer at. They do NOT take any of it seriously. In fact the loudest protesters don’t take action when the opportunity arises, I have experienced this first hand, and the powers that be, absolutely know that we do NOT have solidarity, we are all individuals still judging each other……and of course we should ‘globally’ be unified and actually do more than write or talk. We should first start with individuals, making cases, supporting cases, fighting it on legal levels. Action is the only possible way that we will see change.

    • I was not finished……There are many power systems, cops included that operate in bullying ways by scare tactics, lying, intimidating. We are not on board with each other at all. Even if we present our own individual cases to each other, someone will undoubtedly doubt or question validity of experiences and even facts. There is no solidarity in this movement, and that is failure. The reason psychiatry and other systems succeed, is that they support each other, even knowing there are no facts, just similar ideas and interests.

      • I think to say “There is no solidarity in this movement, and that is failure,” is a bit of an over generalization. There is solidarity in this movement, and there is success, even if you don’t see it and acknowledge it. The system is like a destructive machine that destroys everything in its path, however, some of us have bucked that system entirely. Outside of the system their labels mean nothing. Before the institution of slavery was abolished in this country, there was an “underground railroad” set up for people fleeing bondage. Today, we have our own “underground” network to help people fleeing psychiatric oppression, and don’t get me wrong, we’ve got our own “success stories” as well.

        • I understand how to buck the system, how it means nothing outside of their system, how no one has to buy the garbage they sell… IF it is only the psychiatric system. I include the whole medical system which adopts the psychiatric model. And I speak for myself, as I looked for one ear to see what the ‘systems’ are capable of, way beyond psychiatry.

        • It is really the DSM and enforced treatment that have to go. Both are used to either define words and behaviour, and both have the abilities to ruin someone. If we can keep psychiatry AND it’s meds, without those labels, great. We are led to believe that insurance can only be applicable in the context of labels. Who created that system? Why can’t a Doctor simply write a note that the patient is “not well enough to work”, the patient is “too distressed to work”. The doctor has that ability, it does not need a label. As it is, the people who make up the DSM bible, can’t agree and many psychiatrists/psychologists disagree with it.

          • Sticks and stones. The DSM is the mad doctor’s grimoire, but its come under much criticism in recent years for being, essentially, a piece of garbage. Magic spells, to my way of thinking, require a belief element on the part of the accursed in order to work. Phony sickness would be nowhere if not for hypochondriacs. As for the cure for folly…You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

  7. I have to take exception to those who believe that to abolish psychiatry we need to worry about “support systems.” This reflects a misconception about what psychiatry does, and a contradiction which has held back an effective movement against psychiatry since forever.

    Psychiatry is a police agency which is not there for “support.” While of course we all need to support one another as best we can while fighting to overthrow this inhuman system, “support” cannot be treated as something that happens in a vacuum, independently of the context of our lives and day to day struggles. It is largely irrelevant to eliminating psychiatry (or at least no more central to the process than in any other movement), as it was never something provided by psychiatry.

    Thus to say that the fight against psychiatry must have both a “political” and “support” wing makes little sense, and replicates the psychiatric approach of compartmentalizing and commodifying “support.” It also validates the false claim of psychiatry to be in the business of “support” when we say that before we get rid of psychiatry we must have an “alternative.” “Alternative” to what — something that was never there in the first place? Many of us are content to focus on ridding the world of psychiatry, supporting one another in the process, but not falling victim to the notion that “support” is a substitute for revolution, any way you define it.

    • I understand what you are saying and agree for the most or whole part. I am in a particular place however where I do need support and within a complicated mess, a complication within a fragmented system. To find support however is quite the endeavor, since I am not at all interested in accessing any therapist or counselor, not that I did not try a few times. The crux of the matter is that not everyone has a support system around them, for their own unique circumstances, many might not have the tools to navigate when things get tough and sometimes reading and commenting about your beliefs and passions online does not supply people with all they need. We are not islands and need more than. “support”, why would that be a substitute for a revolution? Why either or? And I understand that most ‘support’ out there suspiciously has an odor of psychiatry attached to it, however it does not have to be so. There are attempts by a few alternative support systems such as “psychedelic support”, which btw, does not mean or promote the use of. But a few in that area think beyond the box, although I’m afraid that even most of them are tainted by some ideology. I am idealistic in my thinking, hoping there will one day be ‘support’, in a non fragmented way, giving the narrators of their story the power. I understand we can abolish psychiatry for each one of ourselves individually, but ‘shrinks’ do not stop there. It continues into the whole medical system that one day, each one of us will use.

      • My point is that real support is part of the process of living an interacting with our networks of family & friends & colleagues, and comes as part of being part of an organic process and working towards to same or similar goals. The fact that this does not exist for many is an indictment of the system, not of those who seek human contact and support via alienated processes such as “psychotherapy” — which may or may not be a good thing for a particular individual depending on the situation. But even in the best of circumstances this is an alienated way of interacting.

        This is not to “rebut” anything you say, just to interject a few thoughts.

        • It is sad indeed that some people are so isolated that they feel they must resort to paying for “support,” in other words, “therapy.”

          There are still support systems in some areas for those that do not have any.

          I usually spend holidays alone, but I found out a local coffee shop is hosting a Thanksgiving event. If you look hard enough you will find support other than “therapy.” My main issue with “therapy” is that it tends to be a black hole that people can’t get out of. Who would want that, if they knew?

      • We are not islands and need more than. “support”, why would that be a substitute for a revolution? Why either or?

        My point too if I understand you — but this is the way the struggle is often framed, as “political” and “support” wings rather than support being incorporated into the real struggle, which is political.

        Many are guilt tripped by the idea that to oppose psychiatry they must “provide an alternative,” which is b.s. on several levels. What it implies is that before we expose psychiatry’s false claims to provide solutions to people’s problems, we must provide our own “alternative” false claims — because as long as we’re locked into this system there are no true solutions, so if we want to talk metaphorically about “psychic wounds” we must recognize that the most we can do for one another pending the revolution is provide “psychic band-aids.”

        The solution is revolution — at least as the first step. And this segues nicely into the discussion in Megan Wildhood’s review of Susan R’s own book…

    • I agree. Since psychiatry pathologizes natural emotions and behaviors, the alternative is to stop pathologizing natural emotions and behaviors. Existing social services are intended to “support” people with social welfare problems but are totally inadequate to meet the crisis of human suffering caused by the economic and political system.

  8. There’s something that makes me smile.

    Mental Health Services can’t deal with meth users who are beating women in front of their children, and arranging home invasions when people dont pay them when blackmailed. But Mental Health Services are prepared to arrange a kidnapping and torture to deal with the person being threatened by meth users with a history of home invasion to deal with the anxiety being caused by the very real threats being issued. Talk about making a square peg fit a round hole.
    No way my wifes family was going to have their little family secret exposed. Young Ben was never to be held accountable for his conduct, even if it meant the death of that young woman in front of her children.
    And the police? They prefer it when people are spiked with benzos and have weapons planted on them rather than dealing with the real threats. Makes the job easier and one doesn’t have to worry so much about things like the truth or ….. you know these meth heads are dangerous, much easier when the victims have been prepared for you by Mental Health Services.
    In the meantime, they too can claim the domestic violence and deaths that are resulting require more funding and extra ordinary powers to deal with.
    I don’t know that treating angry people unjustly can really end with positive results. The mischief makers do seem to benefit from it though. And as long as it yeilds a profit it will continue.
    Just a note on the divorce lawyer I approached. She was quite happy to take money from a person she believed was “mad” (to use her term). But was not prepared to assist a person who had the proof of what he had stated (regarding the drugging without knowledge) when it was put on the table.
    Do they really sit in wait for vulnerable people to charge thousands of dollars when they think they are mad for advice that consists of “my time is really expensive”?
    I quote, “but I thought you were mad, but you’ve got the proof” Not helping you anymore, that narrative doesn’t suit me, and here was me thinking it was easy money from a nutjob.

  9. Thanks for providing a great summary of Bonnie Burstow’s new book. Prestigious academics and authors such as Bonnie Burstow and Robert Whitaker and the other professionals of great integrity who write on MIA to forge on with this epic battle is remarkable and so appreciated. It’s a direly needed mission of good will for the many who have been snared, harmed and had their lives ruined by psychiatry. Of course supporting the authors, donating etc is important to further this battle but what other initiatives can I or other readers of MIA also do to further this battle?
    (Per Bonnie’s comment the “emergence of an antipsychiatry lending library” sounds promising if the price is too prohibitive to purchase)

  10. I think this movement has struggled, in my opinion, because it doesn’t know how to get past its fundamental refutation of the biomedical model of mental health and heart breaking stories by those harmed by the mental health system. Yes, those things are important, but when loved ones are experiencing ‘extreme states’ which are NOT drug induced, then how do the people around them help without knee-jerk calling the police or authorities? How do families raise children who aren’t even enticed by drugs and so many of the other things that people use to dull their overwhelming pain? How do people navigate the overwhelming stress that 21st-century life places on all of us, not just the poor and people of color, though it may be exacerbated within those groups?

    Until the movement empowers and teaches those around the person in distress how to help AND how not to freak out, I think the default is going to be to bring in the ‘authorities’, never realizing they themselves are actually the only people who can walk someone thru ‘psychosis’, extreme anxiety, paralyzing fears, ‘paranoia’, mini-seizures, dissociative issues, becoming comatose, flashbacks, panic attacks, and more.

    I contacted Open Dialogue a few weeks ago to see if there was anyone in Ohio that I could team up with, and there’s not a single practitioner here. That’s really sad. Until we start giving real, practical alternatives to people, they are going to go to the ONLY help there is, even if it’s terrible help.

    Sam

    • @Sam Ruck. So insightful. My view is that we DO need the availability of people who can assist families, “walk them through”. It is the one thing psychiatry and police will do, is instill more fear on an already vulnerable person, because they refuse to see someone through a crisis in a non medical, non diagnostic way. To instill in a person that somehow they are ‘sick’ and meet the criteria of a label, is soul destroying, fear inducing. Medical systems are not at all involved with empowering, and even if they talk that ’empowering’ talk…ie “let’s focus on your strengths”, it is still done in an environment of “I’m the healer, you are the patient”. One description I really hate is “the doctor/patient relationship”. I despise the authoritarian attitudes within medical circles. ‘alternatives’, being able to educate families, I believe is needed to move away from the psychiatric imprisonments. A lot of sufferers have triggers, often the family can be a trigger, even though the family is not consciously doing things to cause it, or simply not enlightened enough to see their disfunction. It is about educating the person who is going through a crisis. It is shocking how nothing is available as an alternative and people are left to freak out.

      • I had no idea what a vicious bunch of pricks these people at the hospital are. Once they got their hooks into my family they used them to ‘gaslight’ me in the hope I would commit suicide, and they could wash their hands of their little torture and kidnapping problem. Or maybe the Operations Manager meant something different when she told me they would “fuking destroy” me for continuing with my complaint regarding their use of a known torture method and kidnapping? She’s done this before folk 🙂 And has no doubt done it since.

        The things they can do to a person who has been ‘hijacked’ via having someone self appoint their ‘carer’ is disgusting and disgraceful. A total removal of a persons human and civil rights. They are now enabled to lie to you, and have you running around in circles chasing your own tail. Police say things like “we don’t have a copy of the Criminal Code” and persons with a duty to perform are aware that there are no consequences for NOT doing their duty. It’s a “patient”.
        And the families would go along with it thinking “they’re medical people and are trying to help” till they find their loved one at the end of a rope and watch as these filth bags walk away laughing.
        And believe me they think it is funny, ask the Community Nurse who laughed out loud when I said I’d have something done about his kidnapping.
        The terrorists within our system would appear to be more of an issue than any external threat i’ve seen. Public officers becoming so delusional that they are somehow enabled in any conduct they deem fit and that it will be concealed from public view out of a need to maintain reputation? And how has that worked out for the Catholic Church?
        Think it isnt true? Got the stomach to look at what was done to me? And how easy is the ‘cover up’ for the Government? Simply make the person into a “patient” post hoc via fraudulent documents and then refuse to even engage in discussions where you have to maintain the fraud lest the criminals be exposed.

        My argument, prove I was a “patient”. I’m certain the person who is obstructing justice has been identified by now, and a bit like Cardinal Pell is of the opinion that they are ‘untouchable’. Nothing could be further from the truth.

        Ghosts of the Civil Dead.

        • Boans,
          I never realized until years later that one of the most important things my wife ever asked me when we first started our healing journey was for me NOT to read anything about her issues, and I honored that request. That gave us about 2 or 3 years to develop a system of me helping her that truly worked for her and us.

          Later I started to read the literature out there, and only then did I realize how radically differently we were doing things, but by then I was unaffected because I’d already seen the extremely positive results we were getting.

          It is too bad that so many families that want to help are instead ‘turned to the dark side’ so to speak and become agents of more pain and suffering instead of the healing agents they could be.
          Sam

          • Funny you should say that Sam Ruck. One of the things that haunts me to this day is me saying the words to my wife “Do not speak to that woman (a psychologist), she is trouble” before she attended a meeting with said psychologist and was told to spike my drink, plant a knife on me and call Mental Health Services. I’m sure she understands what I meant now that she has been through what we have both been subjected to. I feel certain that she understands what conspiring to commit an indictable offence namely kidnapping is, and what it means to pervert the course of justice. Oh to have friends that would overlook such serious criminal matters for one.
            Eight years on and I’m still having to deal with corrupt police lying to my face. One point though is they are doing themselves no end of reputational damage, as they are having to follow up on their corruption with intimidation and threats to other members of the public. Not that they seem to care their mock executions and threats of pack rape seem to obtain the desired results, for now at least. Though I do note they have been given kill orders with the mentally ill who are probably aware that they have been threatening till now.
            So in the last instance I have a police officer who I explain that I now have the documented proof of serious criminal offences who claims to have reopened an Incident report. I follow up this with two separate letters to him that appear to have been lost. Along with his failure to do what he lied that he had done. One of my statements to him was that it would be better if the police got together with the organised criminals operating in our hospitals because when they sent me away refusing to take my complaint about being ‘spiked’ with a date rape drug, they attempted to have me killed. Fortunate that someone noticed and interupted the killing. He stated that “it might be best he didn’t know about that”. So what have I been paying taxes for all these years? For this criminal negligence by police? And it is criminal to not take a report when someone turns up in a police station with proof of crimes. Not that he cares, they will just threaten my grandchildren again.
            If only I were allowed a lawyer who would assist in having my property returned, I could leave this country that has been totally corrupted by public officers from the UK who have been identified as corrupt and dumped on us. Shame really because my family has worked so hard over many years and now the corrupt public officers from another country simply move in and take over the place. Like a cancer they will destroy their host and be looking for another in no time.
            Interesting that police handed one of Jeffrey Dahmers victims back to him. Saved handing him over to some brutal psychiatrist for ‘treatment’ I suppose. The psychologist who arranged the torture and kidnapping in my instance, her husband was a psychiatrist in the hospital where they attempted to hot shot me. But once again police won’t even take a look, preferring the lies that were told to them in the first instance that I was someones “patient”. Shame one can’t have them check things like that, because i’ve no doubt I wasn’t the only person these people arranged to have killed, and their negligence is what they use to conceal their criminality. With police that stupid it really wouldn’t be hard to use them as stooges for kidnapping and torture, and well, have them drop victims at the hospital for you. They will even assist in covering up the crimes should it be necessary. For example ask my wife about how they used police to (unsuccessfully) retrieve the documents proving I was ‘spiked’. Not that having proof of crimes will get you anything but arrested by police. Looking after their local organised criminals.
            Good people gone bad? Nope, they are rotten to the core. I guess they really never see it coming huh.