Just Like Viruses, Emotions are Contagious


The way we conduct our emotional lives and relate to one another as partners and family members has a bearing on the health or ill-health of our immune systems. Just like viruses,  emotions are contagious. Partners “catch” each other’s stress and there are adverse health implications. The good news is that partners also “catch” each other’s happiness. Cooped up at home to protect against the transmission of COVID-19, shared humor and goodwill gestures will not only help avert the outbreak of a parallel pandemic—more strife in family life—but also keep our immune systems well-toned.

Under normal circumstances, family life in America is a “fire shower of stress, multi-tasking, and mutual nitpicking,” according to journalist Benedict Carey, covering the results of a 4-year-long UCLA observational study of 32 urban families for the New York Times.  A survey funded by Sleepopolis a few years back discovered that kids have an eye-popping 4,200 arguments with their parents before they turn 18, averaging 14 minutes long, with parents “winning” upwards of 60 percent of the time. I’m assuming “winning” meant parents successfully cajoling their kids to complete household chores, clean up bedrooms and shared spaces, and finish homework—the most common reasons for disagreements.

In the weeks and months ahead, parents won’t just be overseeing kids’ homework but their entire remote-school learning experience. Schools in the majority of states across the country have shuttered their doors, leaving in excess of 43 million kids in grades K-12 housebound. Tim Robinson, a media-relations specialist for Seattle Public Schools, went on record recently: “Our goal is to keep the students from going into summer slide.” Truth be told, the burden will likely fall on parents to avert kids from losing the acquired school knowledge, similar to what typically happens over summer break. Aggravating the friction parents will face sheep-dogging their offspring to stay on task and produce quality work is the trend for school districts to adopt a no-grading policy for online assignments during the COVID-19 crisis. We’d like to think that all children are innately curious and intrinsically motivated to learn, independent of earning grades. Ask any parent, though, and without the built-in accountability a grade provides, may kids opt for rushing through their work—appearing smugly satisfied with its inferior quality—so they can hit the videogames sooner.

A perfect storm is in the making. Kids rushing through their schoolwork to maximize their videogame time and parents feeling hamstrung—capitulating when they know they shouldn’t because their own job responsibilities working remotely from home leave them, understandably, otherwise preoccupied. A few weeks ago nearly 75 million residents of California, Illinois, Connecticut, and New York were ordered to sequester themselves at home. Simultaneously, videogame play during Verizon’s peak hour of internet usage increased 75 percent from the week before. Being lax about videogame usage may be an unavoidable stop-gap measure parents are resorting to. But it’s a ploy that’s unsustainable, because data indicate that most parents are deeply concerned about the risks posed to their kids while playing videogames—94 percent, in fact, according to a McAfee study.  The conditions are ripe for one of the most unpleasant altercations many parents have faced, including myself: yanking the X-Box plug out of the wall, puffed-up and red-faced in a state of utter exasperation after numerous warnings to end a videogame go unheeded by an equally resentful kid!

How are we to stay sane during these insane times? “Train like an astronaut,” claims NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Public Engagement Specialist Rachel Zimmerman-Brachman. On her Facebook page, she shrewdly draws a comparison between the confined spaces in which astronauts live and work and our current COVID-19 predicament: “Attitude is everything: I’m on an adventure in a confined space with a small crew for a long duration mission, with occasional spacewalks and resupply missions. Sounds like astronaut training to me.”  Turns out that one of the key traits NASA is selecting for in the next generation of astronauts, beyond the requisite background in science and stable mental and physical health, is a sense of humor. Jeffrey Johnson, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, advises NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog on optimal group dynamics to be adopted by teams of astronauts on any future mission to Mars. He recently told a gathering of scientists: “Groups work best when someone takes on the role of class clown. These are the people that have the ability to pull everyone together, bridge gaps when tensions appear and really boost morale.”

This brings to mind a humorous exchange I had with my 21-year-old son a few days ago. Forlorn and on-edge at home due to his study abroad program being cut short, he had self-quarantined in his room to finish up college coursework online and hone his FIFA video-gaming skills. I was lowering my stress by doing sit-ups in a make-shift workout space in my bedroom. He meandered in and insisted that sit-ups were “old school,” and that planks would give me “killer abs.” He promptly threw himself to the ground and demonstrated a proper plank. I wryly remarked: “Planks look easy to me. Are you going all Millennial on me with that overconfidence thing: wanting big benefits from little work?” I launched myself into a perfect plank position—for 45 seconds.  My son replied: “Dad, you’re such a Boomer, you are supposed to hold that position for at least two minutes!” We both laughed uproariously.

Shared laughter is a marker of relationship well-being. Laura Kurtz and Sara Algoe, social scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, coded video-recorded conversations between intimate partners about how they first met. More shared laughter noticed during this task was a strong predictor of a couple’s relationship quality, closeness, and social support. Laughter also strengthens our immune system. This is highly relevant given our need to secure any control we can muster, no matter how small, over the viral threat we collectively face. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University in California drew blood samples before and after people watched a humorous video. Upon analyzing the data, he found that laughter releases a cocktail of immune-system boosting chemicals—NK cells and immunoglobin levels in particular—that last as long as 12 hours.

The health implications of intimate partners treating each other well or poorly are well documented. Decades of research by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues at Ohio State College of Medicine, looking at newlyweds and older couples, reveals that hostile behavior—sarcasm, disgust, eye-rolling, snarky tone of voice—contributes to poorer immune responses in both parties. After being administered nasal drops to a rhinovirus or influenza virus and quarantined for signs of illness, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found, people who exhibited a positive emotional style—lively, calm, and happy—were less likely to get sick.

The take-home message: Now is not the time for family members to be nursing old hurts or believe the all-too-common delusion we all periodically fall prey to—you can get, without giving, when it comes to goodwill.  Gestures of decency, gratitude and appreciation will need to prevail.

One of the greatest gifts parents can bestow upon their children is a loving partnership. It serves as a model for them to draw upon when they come of age; it also frees them from having to worry about the state of their parents’ relationship during worrisome times. Enacting this love can be perfectly ordinary, as in sharing positive moments, like swapping stories at the end of a workday, laughing together, watching TV shows that are mutually enjoyable, saying please and thank-you, and expressing affection through hugs, holding hands, and kissing. Courtney Walsh at the University of Texas, Austin, refers to this as building “emotional capital.” Because “bad is stronger than good,” a steady accumulation of such gestures on any given day or week lessens the impact of the distress caused by conflicts when they inevitably occur. There’s even a metric for this. John Gottman, a leading marriage scholar, figured out that five kind gestures are necessary to undo the emotional harm caused by one unkind act. Curiously, Gottman’s marriage lab has also shown that with antagonistic spouses, the task is not to get them to feel a positivity they don’t possess; it’s to foster acknowledgment of a positivity that is already there but stubbornly denied expression. When observed in the lab, unhappily married couples ignored 50 percent of their partner’s actual kind and considerate gestures.

Oddly, it takes courage to act on genuine feelings of affection and appreciation. It also takes courage to apologize and forgive. Humans are prideful creatures. Often we marinate in hurt and angry feelings when a big part of us knows that relief from a sincere apology is our best shot at resolution. We buy into the fallacy that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” An apologetic mindset requires that we see ourselves as fallible beings, capable of thoughtless acts. The apology guru, Harriet Lerner, reminds us: “To offer a serious apology, you need the inner strength to allow yourself to feel vulnerable. You need to be in touch with both your competence and your limitations.” Telling yourself that your bad behavior does not cancel out your overall goodness as a person helps.

For a sincere apology to have any chance of restoring emotional equilibrium to a relationship, the focus has to be on one’s own behavior and its hurtful effects, not the other person’s reactions: “I’m sorry I completely lost my temper and yelled at you. I know it scared you and I feel bad about that.” It’s the feeling bad part—the conveyed guilt and shame—that opens the door for forgiveness. Now that the offended party knows you feel bad, there is a “redistribution of pain,” in the words of Herant Katchadourian, professor emeritus of psychiatry and human biology at Stanford University. In a sense, the harmed person now feels good because you feel bad. The offender’s emotional pain signals “I’m painfully aware of the pain I caused you,” and the harmed person has an opening to let go of any feelings of resentment. The wellness coach Elizabeth Anne Scott captures the flavor of a good apology: “Apologies re-establish dignity for those you hurt.”

To be sure, the stay-at-home orders issued state by state are upending the economy, leaving many Americans worrying about smaller paychecks and employment cutbacks. An analysis by Moody’s Analytics claimed that nearly 80 million U.S. jobs are at risk to some degree. Still, somehow, off and on, we will need to force ourselves to quarantine our well-founded fears and listen for those existential voices in our head calling us to prioritize treating those we love, lovingly. And, for the time being, heed the warning of Joseph Grand, arguably the only heroic figure in Albert Camus’ dystopian novel, The Plague: “You get married. You go on loving a bit longer, you work. And you work so hard it makes you forget to love.”


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. Partner problems?

    Drop them with benzos, drop a knife in their pocket, and drop a dime in the phone to mental health services who will call police and have the new ‘patient’ ‘treated’ for an illness they make up on the spot. I had no idea a Community Nurse had the right to diagnose SMI on the spot, or that arbitrary detentions and interrogation of persons who had been stupefied/intoxicated by deception had become lawful in my State. They can’t do that in Guantanamo, but no problem here according to our Chief Psychiatrist who has put that in writing..

    I haven’t seen my family for 9 years as a result of complaining about the above, being told by the hospital that kidnapped and tortured me for 7 hours that they would ‘fuking destroy’ me for complaining about their ‘care’. In fact, i’m lucky to be alive given what was planned for me by one of the conspirators who was a little worried that police might actually do their job and check whether they had detained and referred a person for a weapon that had been planted for them to find, rather than someone who they “suspected on reasonable grounds was suffering from a mental illness” (which consisted of me collapsed in my bed as a result of being ‘spiked’ with benzos)

    Still, I love my daughter and grand children and if the government sees it as their role to fuking destroy anyone they have tortured and kidnapped who am I to complain. Particularly given they have distributed fraudulent documents to one lawyer who tried to look, and then denied me access to a lawyer when I exposed their fraud. The current Minister preferring to slander and maintain the narrative of the fraud rather than speak openly and honestly about the corruption in the public sector.

    But I get what your saying Enrico from the days before my life was destroyed deliberately by mental health services, and the ‘side effects’ of the vicious gaslighting and threatening of my family began to do their ‘cover up’. I guess like a ‘family’ having people like the Operations Manager who are prepared to pervert the course of justice to conceal the crimes of colleagues must create that familial environment.

    I mean imagine someone not wishing to speak to you as a therapist? What would one do other than ‘spike’ them with benzos and then have police induce an “acute stress reaction” by jumping them with weapons drawn? That outta get them talking right? And if we can ensure they have reason to detain? We can then exploit the “inherent in or incidental to lawful sanction” loophole in the Convention against the use of Torture. Any complaints drop them at a hospital for an ‘unintended negative outcome’. I know a doctor who accepts referrals for hot shots of psychotics driven insane by organised criminals operating in our hospitals.

    What I find really ugly about all this is that one might think illness (my paranoid delusion regarding the ‘spiking’ plain for all to see. But of course also criminal given I have documents to prove what i’m saying. Having police retrieve the documents turns the truth into an illness). The ugly part is that despite knowing the truth, not a soul is prepared to stand up and say, “this is wrong”, for fear of retribution from these vicious mental health service workers. And knowing what I know now, I understand why. They wouldn’t be gaining any benefit from your article, because like me, their families would be subjected to threats and intimidation from police and needle wielding doctors who deny intent (though have means and opportunity) and damage brains for profit.

    All that spying equipment and they can’t figure out what went on? Or maybe they did and did what? Cheaper to knock the victims, than lose the trust of the public. They think its ‘medicine’.

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    • At what point does two people getting together and conspiring to ‘spike’ someones drink with benzos to make it easy to plant a knife on them and obtain a police referral to a Community Nurse become medicine? When the victim is a “patient”? Yes according to our Minister for Mental Health. But what if the person were not a “patient”, and the Community Nurse simply lied to police to trick them into jumping the victim, and handing them over to create the appearance of lawfulness? Does this not, which has been my argument all along, not constitute criminal offences? Stupefying with intent to commit an indictable offence (20 years) namely kidnapping (20 years)? And then conspire to conceal evidence of a criminal offence, intoxication by deception and ……

      It’s clever, tell police you need assistance with a “patient” and then have them kidnap the victim for you and tell your colleagues at the hospital that you have detained as a result of a police referral for the knife you arranged to have planted. I’ve heard this called the man in the middle confidence trick. And it subverts any of the protections of the law (eg s. 29 protection of “suspect on reasonable grounds” which our Chief Psychiatrist denies even exists. Something that should concern our whole community, arbitrary detentions based on them “suspecting on grounds they believe are reasonable” which removes the “criteria” of s. 26 [and when did the Chief Psychiatrist get to rewrite the law without Parliamentary authority?] Is this not evidence of his delusions of granduer? He doesn’t like the protections afforded the public in the Act so removes them?)

      We don’t like that story so here’s a set of documents we prepared to get lawyers to assist the criminals, because these criminals don’t fit our profile. They were acting in “good faith”. Unless of course one were to examine the details then ….. no best we arrest the victim for having the documented proof of the offences and have them ‘treated’ for their illness of thinking police act against organised criminals.

      They don’t and in fact are providing material support to them via omission or commission of serious criminal offences (which fortunately they get to investigate and never find anything wrong other than denying the existence of documented proof). “we don’t have a copy of the Criminal Code in this Station” and “it might be best I don’t know about that” whilst failing to take evidence of serious criminal offences, constituting the crime of failing to perform duty as a public officer. Though as long as their colleagues are prepared to conceal the proof, they are all good to go with their misconduct. We’re all in this together huh?


      “So for what reason did you put the drugs into his drink?”

      “Well, two reasons, it was going to be difficult to plant the knife on him if he was awake and alert when you jumped him, and we were worried abut you guys shooting him when you did find the knife on him so thought it best we prepared him for you a little first. And of course combining the ‘spiking’ with benzos and the “acute stress reaction” is a well known method of torture and we wanted to make it subject to lawful sanction. What is torture looks like ‘medicine’ and everybodys happy then”

      “So why plant these things on him for us to find?”

      “well he wasn’t actually a “patient” and snatching people out of their beds for transport to a locked ward of a mental institution for forced drugging makes it look like a Police State, and we wouldn’t want that so we gave you lawful reason to act under s. 195 of the MHA”

      “Oh, okay, gee thanks. Hey listen we got these unsolved crimes we wouldn’t mind clearing, can you maybe plant some other stuff for us? We’re finding this a whole lot easier when the scene is prepared for us before we arrive. If you keep your mouth shut , we’ll make sure no complaint is taken and were all good. The Courts will never believe him in a million years. Ask Andrew Mallard about how effective ‘verballing’ is. 12 years for a murder he didn’t commit, and we knew all along.”

      The State sanctioning of ‘verballing’ by Mental Health Services much more dangerous than by police. At least your brain isn’t damaged when you do 12 years for a crime you didn’t commit. Not so with these vicious bastards. A life sentence for nothing more than what the Community Nurse makes up on the spot. Supported by his “colleagues’ with criminal conduct.

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  2. This is exactly NOT the time to be exploiting metaphorical concepts as “contagious emotions,” which is less a step down the slippery slope towards the “medical model” than a boot fully mired in the quicksand. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that this is not your intention. But if indeed you recognize this as a metaphor — while It’s not impermissible to use metaphors, people disposed towards psych-related “professions” can’t handle them and start using them concretely; i.e. instead of understanding “mental illness” as a metaphor like “sick joke,” they really believe that they are talking about real diseases. Which they use to rationalize “treatments” like ECT and drugging, needless to say.

    The confusion between metaphor and reality is deliberately and systematically promoted by the psych industry, and it is imperative that we don’t enable such propaganda. You could articulate the issues you address without using such a metaphor (which is pretty hackneyed anyway), which would be an act of solidarity with the anti-psych movement. Feel free to read this twice. 🙂

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  3. This certainly could be the start of the most creative time for the world, and also supremely healing. Embracing uncertainty, finding calm in the storm (or better yet, BEING the calm in the storm), tuning in to one’s inner voice above and beyond outside chaos, practicing self-resourcefulness, trusting the process of change, etc. All kinds of energy swirling around now, with no clear focus or vision or expected outcome, it remains to be seen. This is transformation time!

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    • I somehow think the media controls and changes us. If we do not watch the news, we still know the news, yet the world around changes. All we have to do is have the worst or best idea, then advertise it as a gem and everyone buys it.,
      Yes we have a virus.
      It’s bad for those locked up, or older and frail.

      I read signs on the highway that say “stay strong” or “we got this”. Media. I want to puke when I see those signs.

      The media has said NOTHING about psych wards. The media thinks the side effects from meds are the sickness.
      They used to think insulin shock was the “sick” part.

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      • People do need hope and positive vision at a time like this. I believe it helps at least some people.

        So what can we best do for the more vulnerable populations who need the most help and support right now, and who are in the most confining or powerless positions?

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  4. “This certainly could be the start of the most creative time for the world,” I do recommend doing creative activities while so many are out of work, especially since they are wonderful ways to get angst, fear, or frustration out of you. And I hope you’re right, Alex, that we see order and good come from this chaos, not bad.

    Enrico, I wish the “mental health” workers would take your advise on how to sincerely apologize to and for the millions they’ve harmed and killed, based upon their “invalid” DSM disorders, and with their neurotoxic drugs. I do agree, love and laughter are good antidotes for all this fear mongering. Thank you for your perspective.

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    • Someone Else, I believe this is the beginning of big changes, from that bigger picture perspective that I know we’ve talked about. There is tons of awakening to happen here. This global event is shaking it all up and it will affect everyone differently. Old systems and beliefs are being seriously challenged. That’s enough to change the world, one step at a time. As creative beings, we can do our part to make it a positive change. This is going to take stretching in thinking, taking us to new creative levels. This is my vision for the new paradigm. I think it’s time for artists to step forward in a big way.

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      • I’m keeping the faith, Alex, and I do know “a picture paints a thousand words.” And that my work is so “too truthful,” “insightful,” “work of smart female,” and “prophetic,” that an idiot ELCA psychologist recently wanted to steal it all. I do have legal proof of such, via his BS “art manager” contract, which I refused to sign. And I did file a police report regarding his attempted thievery.

        “There is tons of awakening to happen here. This global event is shaking it all up,” I agree. Many of the you tubers I listen to are optimistic that the truth will prevail, and that this lockdown will aid in that necessary awakening. But I do know the systemic evil of the globalists is staggering and mind blowing. And awakening to the magnitude of their systemic crimes, is not easy. I’ve been researching into, and painting their systemic crimes for decades now, and I’m still appalled. Perhaps due to their lack of repentance.

        Let’s pray the truth will prevail, and set us all free, Alex. And I do hope us Spirit led, anti-child abuse artists will be included in the art history books, to add truth and balance. To the story being told by those satanic “Spirit cooking,” pedophile artists, who are all the rage today with the globalist “powers the shouldn’t be.”


        And their mainstream media, “fake news,” minion. Yes, I like to think, us decent, truthful creators, are not actually “irrelevant to reality.” And I do have hope the decent majority will awaken, and we will win the spiritual battle of good vs evil, in which we all seem to find ourselves today.

        I like to agree with you, the decent artists, too, deserve respect and payment for our work. And our stories, too, should make the mainstream, and be published and promoted. But, unfortunately, the ELCA religion, my childhood religion, cares more about their multibillion dollar, systemic child rape covering up DSM “bible’ believing religion, than they do about the real Bible.

        I hope they, and their DSM deluded “invalid” “mental health” workers, will some day be seen as the criminal, systemic child rape coverers, that they actually are.

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        • “Many of the you tubers I listen to are optimistic that the truth will prevail, and that this lockdown will aid in that necessary awakening. But I do know the systemic evil of the globalists is staggering and mind blowing. And awakening to the magnitude of their systemic crimes, is not easy. I’ve been researching into, and painting their systemic crimes for decades now, and I’m still appalled. Perhaps due to their lack of repentance.”

          Yep, you said it right, SE, exactly where I am. It’s like an ever-binding loop that needs to be broken. I’m sure it’s a work in progress, it’s being chipped away at by all of us one way or another, that’s what I believe in any event. Too many are awake to this shit now in all corners of life, but it’s a hard one because it can be a dangerous game to bust up abusive systems, it is not a game of surrender.

          I think one reason for the optimism is that issues are in our faces and up front in the light now, more and more coming, so we’re all kind of looking in the mirror at this point. With the systems falling apart, I wonder what can we do to consciously create forward away from what is proving failed, toward something much, much BETTER! A world in which anyone who chooses to can thrive without sabotage based on hate and fear. I believe now would be a good time to assess this, given what we’re learning as we go here. Everyday something new in this unfolding.

          That’s what I mean by this being a highly creative time, what we need most for transforming society into something sound, humane, and functional. It’s becoming more and more obvious that this is exactly what we don’t have (we knew, others are starting to get it), and I believe it’s what we’re craving as a collective (aside from the power-mongers). Keeping the faith, indeed, that we can focus this into being. I appreciate your truth and light energy around this, SE, thank you!

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  5. “Are you going all Millennial on me with that overconfidence thing: wanting big benefits from little work?” I launched myself into a perfect plank position—for 45 seconds. My son replied: “Dad, you’re such a Boomer,…”

    Thanks for the blog Enrico.
    The above interaction reminds me how we “catch” words. From our kids, from our environment. We might have heard or read the word once, and it becomes part of our vocabulary.

    EVERYONE now talks about the “mental health”. “emotions” “stress”, “immunity”…..I won’t continue lol, since I doubt there is a word left that does not reinforce our “mental health” obsessions.

    I honestly think that it is not mentally healthy to use these words anymore. I’m not sure what words I am supposed to use now when I feel lonely, scared, or sad.
    Because shrinks have taken over the dictionary and turned it into the DSM and everyday language.

    I’m going to just grunt from now on. I need to differentiate myself from mental health.

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          • Not a choice here in my State Oldhead. If you don’t talk they drug you without your knowledge and then threaten you with weapons to cause an “acute stress reaction”. And from personal experience there is a reason they can not do this in Guantanamo, because it does constitute torture. Good news is they have developed a ‘treatment’ for the trauma it causes here that involves a stopping of the heart via ‘accidental’ injection of cocktails of drugs. They are seeking to tweak that ‘cure’ but for now it seems to be working.

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      • I will also point out that Enrico’s claim that it is acceptable to “listen for those existential voices in our head calling us to prioritize treating those we love, lovingly,” is very dangerous advice. In this world where the psychologists claim that all dreams, gut instincts, and thoughts – none of which are even “existential voices” – are “voices” proving the existence of “psychosis.”

        Not that I don’t believe that such is acceptable or appropriate. But since confessing to having dreams, gut instincts, and thoughts to psychologists today – not even claiming to believe in “existential voices” – will get you defamed and neurotoxic poisoned as “psychotic,” by the “mental health” workers of today. I can’t recommend people discuss “existential voices” with today’s so called “mental health” workers.

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        • There’s a lot in what you say there Someone Else that highlights the very problem with ‘psychotherapy’. When they create this ‘symptom’ of voices in your head, what is it that tells them that someone has voices in their head? The voices in their head? Because that then means that they know that someone is ‘ill’ because of their own illness.

          And while that might sound a little crazy, does it not show exactly why these people seem to be having trouble understanding what the problem is with their ‘science’?

          I really do believe that there are good reasons to leave these people to wander, and we can create a space where we can openly discuss what we know to be true, and find ways of actually helping people rather than dressing up brutality as medicine, and selling it to an unreasonably fearful public (dare I say paranoid? The voices are telling them those nuts are dangerous?).

          The one place we need to start though is in removing the powers to incarcerate and ‘treat’ people against their will. That to me is what is driving the absolute corruption within this system, and yet will it not also be its downfall?

          Al Capone not remembered for his community work, Dr Mengele not remembered for his parenting skills, and nor will these wanderers be remembered for their ‘humanity’

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