Obituary: Bonnie Burstow, Psychotherapist Who Rejected Psychiatry

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From The New York Times: “Professor Burstow became a forceful proponent of the anti-psychiatry movement in the 1970s, a decade or so after it was founded by David Cooper, a South African-born psychiatrist and theorist …

Professor Burstow contended that many states of mind conventionally described as mental illnesses are in fact rational reactions to social, economic and political conditions.

‘I always saw the world as having two negative responses to people they aren’t happy with,’ she said in a 2009 interview with Psychology’s Feminist Voices, a Toronto oral history project. ‘That is either “They were bad,” in which case they went to the criminal justice system, or they said, “They were sick,” in which case they went to the psychiatric system. They are mirror images of each other, the mad and the bad.'”

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Edward Shorter, the quack whose “opinions” NYTimes included in their backhanded obit, could give a shit about Mad Rights or Mad survival. That he was allowed to pollute Bonnie’s obit made it clear to the reader whose agendas truly mattered: those of psychiatry and the NYTimes, which may, perhaps, be correctly viewed as one and the same. By denigrating a woman they couldn’t ignore, yet did not want to recognize, Mad people, those of us who own dogeared copies of Bonnie’s books and who owe our liberty to her brilliant vision, got similarly denigrated. We got smeared as crazy dupes who don’t deserve to mourn the scholar that led us to the lives we cherish. More #FAKENEWS from the “failing” New York Times.

    MIA, please let NYT know how offended we are at its hatchet job on Bonnie’s obit and request that Shorter’s quotes be removed from this final account of her life.

  2. What I immediately noticed immediately about the NYT obit is that that it confuses the academic leftist “antipsychiatry” of David Cooper et al., which was little more than a school of psychiatry, with the anti-psychiatry movement, which actively seeks to defeat psychiatry. And it of course the NYT conflates the anti-psychiatry movement with “radical therapy.” just as it reduces Bonnie’s AP analysis to one based on feminism alone and refers to the movement as a whole in insultingly superficial tones.

    Still, as Mao pointed out, it’s good to be attacked by the enemy, as it highlights the demarcation between you and the enemy. If I can somehow get the NYT to trash me when I die, however snidely or passive-aggressively, I’ll feel posthumously honored. So I don’t think Bonnie would be too upset, or surprised, and would maybe even see it as an indication of success.

    • a movement that opposes psychiatry, in the belief that it is often more damaging than helpful to patients

      This NYT description of the anti-psychiatry movement was lifted directly from Wikipedia. Now that’s journalism for you!

      I even remember an email discussion with Bonnie about how lame that Wikipedia entry was (and remains).

  3. I can’t speak for MIA in this case, but I just retweeted Leah Harris’ tweet of this shameful obit to the New York Times on my personal account. It included this comment: @nytimes, an obit is supposed to honor the dead’s accomplishments, not make attacks they cannot answer nor be “objectively balanced.” Remove Dr Shorter’s nasty comments from this, please!

    Feel free to retweet me or send your own tweet.

  4. This was unbelievable, and yet all too common. We decided to make it an Around the Web because it was notable that the Times ran an obit. But then to solicit a comment from Ed Shorter, who in his history of psychiatry likened the arrival of antipsychotics to the arrival of antibiotics in infectious medicine, and then print his hateful comments was just such bad journalism. And of course revealing; you can be sure that if E. Fuller Torrey were to pass, the Times wouldn’t solicit comments from say David Oaks about Torrey’s work (or from anyone associated with Mad in America.)

    I was personally sickened by this, and intend to write a short piece about it, as soon as I get time. Hopefully later today or tomorrow morning.

  5. From the NYT obit: “’They’re trying to claim that there’s no such thing as psychiatric illness, and I think she did a lot of damage with the publicity she got surrounding that,’ Edward Shorter, a professor of psychiatry at the university and a longstanding critic of anti-psychiatry, said in a phone interview. The university, he said, ‘made a big mistake in setting up a special scholarship fund in her name; it’s an anti-psychiatry fund that legitimizes the movement.’”

    Shorter’s History of Psychiatry skips over the atrocities of Nazi psychiatry in less than a paragraph, ridicules the value of psychotherapy, and sings unqualified praise for bio-genetic explanations and drug-centered treatments for so-called “mental illnesses.” In fact, twenty-five years after Shorter’s mammoth tome was published, there still is no convincing evidence of a strong genetic component for “mental illnesses” and no known measurable biochemical, neurological, physiological, anatomical, signs for any of the so-called “functional disorders” commonly treated by psychiatrists.

    What’s more, as consumption of psychiatric drugs has skyrocketed, so has the proportion of the population disabled by “mental illness” and the suicide rate. This is not what happens when treatments work.

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