Speak Out! Britney’s Fight Is Our Fight

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I have been saying for a long time that our survivor movement should ACT whenever something takes place involving psychiatry that the public knows is really wrong. Britney Spears’ railroaded conservatorship is one such event.

There is incredible media coverage of her recent demand to be freed from it, and a lot of public outrage about her case. Most people who have been paying attention to this think, correctly, that Britney has experienced a great injustice. It is up to us to get the public to see where that injustice is coming from. At bottom, this is really about the power of psychiatry, though little in the media coverage says so.

As a practicing patients’ rights attorney here in California for 15 years, I can offer a legal perspective. But I think the fact that I was experimented on with shock treatment from the age of six, and then sent to a state hospital for the rest of my childhood, gives me a perspective that is even more valid.

The finding that a proposed conservatee (in this case, Britney) can’t take care of their own affairs, and should therefore have someone else make decisions for them, comes from court testimony from some psychiatrist, who typically has a brief conversation with the proposed conservatee, and then declares that they have a “grave disability” or whatever garbage phrase is used wherever the proceeding is taking place.

There is almost never any “expert” witness for the proposed conservatee, and their court-appointed lawyers typically do almost nothing to advocate for them. Once I happened to be able to sit in court where conservatorships were being processed one after another, rubber-stamped by the judge. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I’ve seen a lot. With all eyes on Britney, I think it is very important that we do as much as we can at this point of great opportunity to unmask the role of psychiatrists in hearings like this, where basically what the shrink says, goes, and the freedom and human rights of the proposed conservatees are stripped away with little ability for them to defend themselves.

Many of you reading this on Mad in America know this very well. But the average person doesn’t. Now is our chance to inform them. There is a lot of misinformation to correct.

Right now, belief in the helpful role of psychiatry is a kind of cult, not just among NAMI types, but very well-meaning people who advocate for “more money for mental health.” They don’t really understand what they are asking for, or how useless, at best, psychiatry is. We should point out to them how ridiculous it is to claim that humiliating Britney by supervising her dressing herself when she is able to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in one performance on stage, or forcing her to work when she is sick, could possibly be helping her. As I think most MIA readers know, there are plenty of abusive practices like this that psychiatrists claim are “helpful” to those under their power. This sort of propaganda is what cults feed their followers.

And there is the weird development I’ve seen recently with The New York Times. On the one hand, they have produced, and are pushing hard, the powerful and aptly-titled video, “Framing Britney Spears,” whose contents are just as militant as the title and illustrate the harm that can come from being labeled crazy and entering the mental health system. (You can watch the whole thing for free here.) On the other hand, they have published twice, in the last few weeks, a terrible, sloppily-written article basically saying that the increase in depression and suicide among American children means we must spend…(wait for it) “more money for mental health.” We need to clarify what this nonsense is in the media and the public mind.

There is no institution in America more “establishment liberal” than The New York Times, and few that are so influential. I think those of you that will work on this should do your best to reach the media in your area with our message, using Britney’s case to help correct the record about psychiatry whenever we have a chance.

At age 84, my health is very shaky now, so I can’t do all of what I think should be done, such as going to Los Angeles and around the country encouraging people to get involved. I do think the #FreeBritney activists would be very accepting of our point of view, since young and rebellious people tend to have lots of run-ins with psychiatrists. So I’m trying to find folks around L.A. who might be willing to connect with those people— YOU, maybe? —but it’s hard when you can’t travel.

You must have noticed how relatively easy it was, eventually, for Britney to hire her own lawyer after all, despite being ruled too incompetent to do so at the beginning of the conservatorship. It is clear to me that this happened because the judge, Brenda Penny, did not want to defy public opinion. At this point, I am sure that if Judge Penny values her career, she will want to get rid of this case as soon as possible. (If she doesn’t, maybe she needs a conservatorship herself.) It helps Britney’s case a lot that she has come up with a new attorney who is not only aggressive and high-powered, but also very ethical, or so I have heard.

The previous court-appointed lawyer, Samuel Ingham III, apparently did little or nothing to help his client, although media reports say he has been paid $16,000 a month for his “services” over the past 13 years. He even counseled her not to rock the boat, according to Spears’ testimony, and failed to inform her that she had a right to request an end to the conservatorship. If I or any other lawyer had violated our fiduciary duty to a client in this way, the State Bar would take away our licenses. Clearly, competence isn’t required for courts to decide which lawyers to hire.

It will be very interesting if Britney holds to her expressed desire not to have to talk to any more psychiatrists, whom she’s testified she’s been forced to see for therapy, drugs, and various assessments. I am sure there will be a lot of pressure on her to cave in on this issue. But there is nothing prohibiting Britney’s lawyer from getting another “expert” witness. This would be unusual, and almost never happens, but it can be done.

In the one conservatorship case where I was the defense lawyer, we were lucky, because we drew a very honest and conscientious judge. When I pointed out to her that it was not fair that my client had no expert witness of her own, the judge authorized payment for one. I got Loren Mosher, a psychiatrist who was a great friend of our movement and a very principled and decent man, to come up and talk to my client. What finally happened is that the two doctors canceled each other out, so the judge had to rely just on my client’s excellent testimony, and she ended my client’s conservatorship. This judge was not a doctor, but an intelligent and honest person. The point here is that since the two psychiatrists didn’t agree, the judge had no problem deciding on her own that my young client was not “gravely disabled.”

The determination of whether someone can take care of themselves is not mysterious. Lay jurors in similar cases here in California make this decision frequently. There is no reason that it can’t be done in most conservatorship proceedings, except for the misplaced confidence in and worshipful attitude our society has toward psychiatrists. Psychiatrists should not have this power.

I have thought of a few projects we can do (and that I can do with my limited resources). One is very simple. I am going to produce and distribute a button people can wear that says something like FREE BRITNEY FROM THE PSYCHIATRISTS. I had my doubts whether something like this would be effective, but as I thought about it and presented the idea to some politically sophisticated friends of mine, we all agreed that the unusual message would draw attention, both on the street and in the media, who will be looking to cover the latest Britney developments. Although Britney herself has strongly complained about how badly she has been treated by the shrinks, the media has hardly mentioned the role of psychiatry, even though it is the (usually uncontradicted) testimony of a psychiatrist that leads judges to take away the human dignity and legal rights of the proposed conservatee in the first place.

A button pointing out the destructive role psychiatrists have played in Britney’s situation is going to catch people’s attention. People wearing the button will become a sort of one-person demonstration, and I have no doubt that many people who see this will want to talk about it. So when I send out the buttons, I plan to include a fact sheet with suggestions for what our button-wearers can say. I hope that some of you who read this will want to work on it. It IS going to happen because I am going to make sure it does.

Other actions our people can take are also pretty simple. Find the #FreeBritney folks in your area. Participate in their demonstrations. Carry signs that mention psychiatry’s role in this outrage. If you are able, try to get articles about this issue in your local media. There is so much interest in Britney’s situation that I think smaller newspapers etc. will be glad to publish your op-ed.

Listen up, people! It’s time we start ending this destructive cult of psychiatry. Britney’s fight is our fight. If we can mobilize ourselves now, and use this opportunity, we can make great progress. The public needs to know what is really going on.

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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.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Ted:
    Where can I go to donate to the button campaign? I agree that most people still have no idea of how easily psychiatrists can strip away a person’s basic rights, and how little can be done to fight back.
    Thank you,
    Ed

    • Hi, Ed; I am a close friend of Ted and he says to contact him via his Facebook page – Ted Chabasinski. You can send a friend request if you wish. The button campaign is just starting and he will be able to tell you how to support it.Thank you so much for your support and interest! If you son’t have a Facebook account, try writing to him c/o Mad in America.

  2. Hi Ted,

    I hope that you are well.

    Thank you for speaking out and thank you for your many years of sacrifice and dedication to advocacy. I hold a lot of respect for your efforts as you are a true role model.

    Both my father and my brother experienced the worst of psychiatry. They went through hell. I also had bad experiences myself and witnessed first hand psychiatric ignorance and abuse. Despite personal experiences, I always maintain respect for those who claim psychiatric drugs, ECT and psychiatry helped them or a loved one. I don’t think it is my place to judge what others feel is successful treatment. I’ve also met psychiatrists who use medications judiciously in their practice, as well as holistic treatments such as acupuncture or vitamin/nutritional therapy.

    Absolutely, the allegations Ms. Spears makes involves psychiatric labels and the publicity her case is receiving makes for a prime opportunity to call attention to the unregulated power-base of authority psychiatry maintains when labeling people “mentally ill”.

    The pop culture mentality and lifestyle of Ms. Spears indeed creates a unique and complex situation. The widely publicized #FreeBritney movement is quickly expanding her already enormous fanbase.

    I recognize Ms. Spears is very talented and works extremely hard at her career, but personally I question the decline of moral standards and lack of integrity expressed in her work. Especially considering she is a “kid influencer”. I am from a different generation and it is important to me to maintain the values instilled by my parents and grandparents.

    Many of the statements Ms. Spears made during the hearing sounded somewhat arrogant to me, especially when she seemed jealous that her maids had their nails done but she was not allowed to go to a salon to have her nails done. Perhaps her maids did their own manicure or have a family member who did them. COVID restrictions probably played a role in some of what she is complaining about.

    Ms. Spears claims she was charged $60k per month for four months of individualized treatment, two months in a private home and two months at Bridges to Recovery. I was charged up to $1000 per day for forced treatment at facilities reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that provided limited cafeteria style meals and prepackaged snacks. Patients entertained themselves for hours on end with worn decks of cards and old puzzles. My brother was at a facility that deprived patients of water and for a week straight would feed patients hotdogs and macaroni and cheese for lunch. My family advocated not only for my brother but for all of the patients being deprived water. The facility made changes and purchased very nice water coolers.

    Bridges to Recovery provides holistic mental health care in luxurious resort-like, pet-friendly environments featuring gourmet meals. According to their website, clients participate in a minimum of five individual psychotherapy sessions per week along with daily therapy groups and holistic therapies. Bridges sounds like a Soteria Ritz-Carlton House. Yes, forced treatment sucks but if I had to choose, I’d gladly stay at Bridges for two months without a complaint.

    Once again Ms. Spears sounded jealous claiming the Bridges facility treated her unfairly and forced her to sit in a chair for 70 hours a week while allowing the other “kids” in the program to do whatever they wanted to. She also stated she gave 8 gallons of blood and it sounded like she was saying “ID” instead of “IUD”.

    It also sucks not having privacy but that is something that usually happens to psych patients who have expressed suicidal ideation. Her 2004 Official Video for the song “Everytime” eerily portrays her committing suicide.

    I guess her case demonstrates the long arms of psychiatry, impacting rich, middle class and poor alike, but her fight is in a world much different than the one that took my father and brother’s lives.

    • I think we all know that Brittany was under psychiatry, more so than under conservatorship.
      So I fully understand that life inside her mansion was not pretty.
      Psychiatry can make one pretty fed up.

      And we know that ALL of medical now practices psychiatry so basically there is no need for shrinks.
      Shrinks just make it “legal”. Illegal garbage done by laws psychiatry set.

      Call someone defective or ill of the head and that is all you need. No need for proof.

      “treason”. All their DSM labels say “treason”

      • The system, the psychiatric system, is resorting more and more to guardianship as a form of social control when it comes to stripping people of their human, age of consent, rights.

        Basically, this is the latest wave of the kind of treatment–confinement and drugging–that has been going on in this country since the middle of the 18th century.

        If it can happen to a celebrity like Britney, well, you know there is a lot more of it than that taking place, and removing her conservatorship has to be something of a big step in helping a great number of other people in similar predicaments.

  3. I agree. The reporting on the conservatorship, and Britney Spears’ efforts to free herself, often skims over psychiatry’s central role in all of this. The focus of coverage is often on the media’s role and the role of the Spears family and other celebrities who wronged Ms Spears. While these criticisms are all valid (certainly there were plenty of people and plenty of forces at play that put incredible stress on Britney, and, as has been said, most people would have buckled under all of that stress, harassment etc), the conservatorship could not have happened and could not have gone on for this long without psychiatry.
    I’ve noticed that the New York Times sways very pro-psychiatry. I see this in the articles and in readers comments. It’s a bit sickening. What happened to questioning things. They are supposed to be the paper of record.

    • Kate, I agree totally with your assessment. The reported coverage of her case seems to focus on all the players but not on psychiatry’s power, without which she would not have been put in this situation. I have also noticed the NYT’s pro-psychiatry sway. I find it very upsetting as especially during this era of “fake news” I have turned to the NYT as a cornerstone of fact based journalism. I cannot understand why no mainstream media will address the potential harms of psychiatry and psychiatric medication. Like Maria, who commented above, I respect that some people say that the drugs and psychiatric care has improved their lives but just because those people have been helped does not take away that some people have been grossly harmed, constrained, traumatized, or even died in the hands of psychiatry.

      • PH, thank you for your reply. I’m really disappointed, as well, in the NY Times. I used to worship that paper when I was younger. Maybe I was naive. They did have several articles on the Alzheimer’s drug that was just approved by the FDA. I commented that the FDA has been doing this for years with psychiatric drugs.
        I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of having respect for people who state that they have been helped, a little or a lot, by psych drugs or other psychiatric treatment. I think I have respect for anyone’s reporting on their own experience, and I would never suggest to anyone that they either should or shouldn’t take a drug. I wish I had been afforded the same respect and the same autonomy. I went for years of being told by practical strangers, as well as people closer to me, that I needed to stay on medication, or go back on medication, or get more ECT, or do TMS. Because I wasn’t successful in preserving my own bodily autonomy, and I wound up taking drugs that I didn’t want to be taking and doing treatments I didn’t think would help, either through coercion or outright force, for so long, I’m forceful now in expressing my views. I think everyone should have the right to decide for themselves. But I also think that true informed consent is a must, and that the drugs should not be given to children. I think that argument, that some people have been helped by the drugs, is kind of a non sequitur. As you say, it doesn’t change the fact that many people have been seriously harmed or even killed by the same drugs and procedures. I saw a meme that said, “ECT saved my life. Therefore your brain damage is irrelevant.”
        I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a rheumatologist. I was telling her how I had stopped taking Cymbalta because I felt strange on it, and that I went through a very hard time withdrawing from it. I also mentioned to her that there were several class action lawsuits against Eli Lilly for their failure to disclose the Cymbalta “discontinuation syndrome.” The rheumatologist said that Cymbalta is safe and effective and that she has prescribed it to many patients who have done well on it. She said she had never gotten a negative report about it. In my head, I was like, well, now you have. She didn’t seem particularly interested in hearing more about the class action lawsuits. I doubt she even gave it a thought after the appointment ended. (Sorry if this is a bit rambling).

  4. Ted, this is great. You have been at this a long time and we are all very lucky that you never
    wavered from your position.

    Brittany is a perfect example of psychiatry at work. I am glad it’s out there and even if there is a “woke” media person, they could not voice against the propaganda.
    To speak against psychiatry is treason.

    It really is exactly like the middle ages, except more lose their heads.

    Whether you chop my head or drug it and take away my rights to live here on earth, treated like a piece of shit, it’s all the same.

    Psychiatry simply gets run by a bunch of dumb asses that will not give up their power, even though that power is available to them for a measly 50 years max.
    It’s rather funny to think of a bunch of men and women using their time to ruin lives.

    The buttons are great, and I think you should send Brittany a bunch.

    Thanks Ted.

    • I agree, Sam. It is considered a kind of treason to say anything negative about psychiatry, in this land of free speech. I think of the way Marianne Williamson was attacked, including by the liberal media (Rolling Stone, the New York Times) when she expressed the opinion that antidepressants are over prescribed. People on Twitter, journalists…the reaction was so over the top, as if she had condoned murder. It was frankly ridiculous. Critical thinking skills fly out the window when it comes to this topic.

      • Marianne Williamson was running for president at the time, so when she was attacked and when she was told that she was stigmatizing mental illness and thereby preventing people from seeking help blah blah blah, she said the following:

        “My point is that over the last few decades, there has been a medicalization of normal human despair.
        I have never weighed in on anything like bipolar, schizophrenia, obvious mental illnesses, for which psychotherapeutic drugs have what seem to me to be clear benefits and lifesaving effects. I’m not getting in anyone else’s lane. But the pharmaceuticalization of normal human despair is other people getting into my lane.”

        I’m not surprised she reframed the argument in this way., but I do find it disgusting.

  5. Thanks, Ted, great idea. And I agree with you and others above that people don’t see the connection between these conservatorship contracts and the psychiatrists / psychologists who help create them. And I do include the psychologists because I was handed over one of those contracts, under the disingenuous guise of an “art manager contract,” by a non-clinical psychologist.

    Thankfully, I knew enough not to sign the contract, and requested a police report be filed against that psychologist. But I will say it is staggering the criminal lengths both psychologists and psychiatrists will often go to “maintain the status quo” – which is basically to maintain their multibillion dollar, primarily child abuse and rape covering up, scientific fraud based “mental health” system. Also known as “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions,” according to an ethical pastor.

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