Besides life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, man must add the golden rule: “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (Leviticus 19:18)
How the Medical Model Fails Humanity
Focusing on biology and using the framework of disease to connect with people who are mad limits access to the fullness of their humanity. This process of attributing human exceptionality to disease, when no biological disease is present, often permanently damages the body and psyche. The introduction of body- and mind-altering drugs not only influences behavior, it often permanently alters the biological make-up of a person.
Many biological cures for psychological turmoil cause bodily illnesses that permanently alter or kill people who are mad. These people have lifespans twenty-five years shorter than non-psychologically diagnosed.
In the 1980s, I was given lithium as treatment for being labeled bipolar, type II. It did not relieve my suffering. Even my prescriber was dissatisfied with the long-term results. Even though I was withdrawn from the lithium after two years, for the past 40 years I have needed to supplement my thyroid hormone because of lithium-acquired deficiency. This is an example of the harm that current biological “treatments” can impose on a person who is mad, including causing permanent damage to a gland.
As a part of the mental patients’ liberation movement for over 50 years, I know firsthand of serious and fatal consequences which have happened to colleagues, peers, friends, and relatives, such as tardive dyskinesia, epilepsy, and heart, liver, kidney, and brain damage, which have all led to early death. The drugs have even been known to cause suicide and murder.
In desperation, others and I take risks. We have been inundated with, and influenced by, seductive multimedia advertising, as well as medical psychiatry’s reliance on drugs for behavioral relief of suffering.
Another area in which the mad are required to take risks and make sacrifices is the realm of the psyche: soul, mind, heart, and spirit. The education and training psychiatrists receive in medical schools to become medical doctors who believe they treat the brains of people who are mad is irrelevant to connecting with their psyche.
Medical practitioners are trained to maintain professional distance, the clinical gaze, immodesty over their unique learning, and intentional mystification. Constructive psychological intimacy through empathic, active listening is not sought. The core needs of people who are mad are ignored, allowed to wither and withdraw further from life.
Psychological contact with a person who is suffering is vital nourishment. It takes time and dedication to develop close, mindful trust between people seeking relationship. But psychiatrists are not taught to create in this way. Instead, they are taught to label and sort people’s behavior into categories of illness and dysfunction. Then they proceed to deliver drugs to their patients. Exploring a person’s psyche is not on the agenda for most medical professionals.
And in turn, patients learn to maintain that distance too. Patients never learn the skills to build a relationship or how to connect to their inner selves. They learn to fear another rejection and reprisal for revealing their existential selves.
We hide from each other. We lie to each other. We develop elaborate, confining ways to avoid truly being with another. And what is it we fear? We fear rejection, humiliation, and annihilation, not realizing our psyche is already living the pain of that self-fulfilling prophecy.
I did this for years. The traumas of my earliest years taught me to do this. As a baby and child I learned that I was not safe. The uproar, the confinement, the isolation, the lack of physical tenderness, the abundance of physical and psychological pain, all served to facilitate a kind of soul death. I did this to myself in an effort to survive, contradictory as that seems. Disconnecting and withdrawing to a place of mute immobility was my effort to endure.
Because the medical model is historically the origin of psychiatry, the flaws, transgressions, and mistakes of that model are magnified when applied to the soul, mind, or spirit. The biological method confounds, confuses, and obfuscates the psyche. To apply mind-altering medicine, cliches, proverbs, parables, and behavioral rigors to a person who is searching for truth, meaning, and to be valued as a contributing member of society, exacerbates confusion.
It seems to me that the psyche (that is, the soul, mind, heart, and spirit) must be examined, understood, and comforted in a way that is unique to its metaphysical and psychological roots. Biology-based psychiatry is not only inadequate but it is irrelevant when seeking the causes of psychological suffering and addressing the needs of people who are mad.
Biological, medical treatment never cured me of the twelve or more severe chronic mental illnesses I was labeled with over my 76-year quest. I attribute a mere 10 or 15 percent of my joy and wisdom today to medical-model treatment.
The harm that doctors and other medical-model practitioners inflicted on me had to be managed and overcome. This delayed my progress, depressed my energy and caused me to seek death out of feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
I know that my original abuse, programming, and trauma occurred when I was a baby and in my childhood. In my journey for psychological help through the medical model-based mental health system, I endured (and eventually overcame) the harm from its inappropriate treatments. The delays I had to accept in order to lessen my confusion from the system’s treatments, and the expenditure of time and energy that had to be used to keep focus and survive, put off my progress resolving my original childhood traumas.
Although I see and experience life more clearly and more fully, now, it is almost over. I think the one overriding help I received was acquiring the skill of achieving deep psychological intimacy with another person. Eighty-five to 90 percent of my ability to simply feel good is from the contact I have had and continue to have with others.
It took almost half my life to achieve that first relationship. The pills, the shock treatments, the hospitalizations, the varieties of behavior modification, the brush with psychosurgery, my re-traumatizing childhood talk therapy, none of it had as much life-giving effect on me as rekindling my mind, heart, and soul through the acquisition of connection and relationship with another.
That is why seeking help for the alleviation of psychic suffering caused by painful isolation, disconnection and other trauma must be done in relationship with another. That is why the medical model techniques are failing humanity and causing harm, not only to individuals, but also to society.
Condoning soul death by ignoring its existence is not only potentially lethal to individuals who are mad, but it is counterproductive to the development of a functional society.
Who Are the Mad?
People like me who are angry for being treated shabbily and cruelly for having unique ways of surviving within the confines of our human condition. People like me who, when we were in the middle of our suffering within the walls of an inner tomb which we created to survive, felt hopeless and helpless. People like me who relegated themselves to the authority of theories based on fuzzy, subjective, inaccurate, careless thinking by men of the elite class of their time. People like me who survived the lethal false hope of achieving psychic health through medically based psychiatry. People like me who survived to live outside the prison of the mental health system. People like me who found the opportunity to learn the skills of human connection and relationship. People like me who are grateful for a life in which they now thrive. People like me who live in a frenetic, chaotic society, yet, one that is built on flawed, but evolving humanitarian principles under G-d. People like me.
A New Kind of Liberation
Since the 1960s, the Mental Patient’s Liberation Movement has maintained a motto of “Nothing about us without us.” I suggest a deeper, more encompassing image of change is due.
The history of “Nothing about us, without us” derives from the psychiatric belief that the mad have no capacity to control ourselves or our lives. The belief that we need the constant overriding authority of medical psychiatry to make all decisions on our behalf.
The Movement conceived this as a galvanizing statement to bring together people who are mad in order to support, organize, educate, and advocate for ourselves. The statement is a denial of the validity of medical and forensic control, along with an adamant demand for the right to control ourselves and our lives. This concept was useful politically for gaining access to mental health administration, committees, boards, and other policy making bodies, including state and federal legislative entities and so forth.
It was also helpful in opening doors to funding mad-run alternatives to the controlling psychiatric institutions. This process has been somewhat carelessly implemented by excessive collaboration with the wrong-thinking mental health system. It can be argued that the peer mental health worker movement embraced by the medical model psychiatric system is no longer an alternative.
While this motto has been a useful and successful image to ignite and further the cause of mad liberation, there is more to life than the struggle to merely survive to struggle another day. Achieving the right to be liberated from restraints, shackles, wards, and jails is vital. Gaining influence on policy-making bodies has not gotten thousands of us off the streets, however. The institution walls have been torn down, but now we are houseless in our freedom to suffer psychologically and biologically. The right to be treated with dignity and respect, and to be valued for our unique visionary departures, is yet to be accomplished.
Central to the non-medical model is recognition of how the principle of stability and equilibrium contrasts with variation, change, going beyond. Madness can be thought of as an expression of variance, exceptionality, alternative. In nature, homeostasis exists alongside the mutations that carry life forward to the new and previously unknown.
There is a place in society for the unique as well as the routine, the adventurer, the visionary, the communicator of the profound expressed through the arts and sciences. In addition to acknowledging the civil and human rights of mad people, society can learn to embrace mad gifts and appreciate the contributions and the contributors.
What appears to be madness may be a reaction to suppression, repression, oppression of psyche, heart, soul, spirit, mind. Madness may be an expression of an original perception of life or an expression of one’s cognitive uniqueness.
The art of Frida Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh has become iconic. The phenomena they have become is a recognition by their followers of the value, uniqueness, and depth of connection our human psyche, heart, soul, spirit, mind can achieve. This adoration of the art of these two painters may represent a profound understanding of the value of unique and original communication in the forwarding of humankind. They are an example of the change that can be brought about through the gifts of whom psychiatry has labeled aberrant mental illness.
There can be a depth of perception, unique and enriching to life through support, nurturance, and psychological intimacy with not only those labeled as mentally ill by the medical psychiatric system, but with exploration of the unique and enriching qualities of each of us whether we identify as mad or not.
The medical model of psychiatry is founded on achieving diagnostic and treatment uniformity. Diversity and liberty are considered aberrant. The Mental Patients Liberation Movement asserts our right to be different and independent, but both have ignored the psyche and the necessity of relationship.
My hopeful vision is that by shifting the paradigm away from the medical model and toward supporting and nurturing benevolent human relationship, a new kind of mad liberation can be achieved. Not only will this provide access to a neglected spirit, mind, and soul, it has the potential to facilitate insight into the value, purpose, and meaning of life for all of us, whether we identify as mad or not.
This piece is dedicated to, no, because of, my long-time mentor-scholar-educator, colleague, peer, and friend, Andrew R. Phelps, Ph.D. of Berkeley, California. He has dedicated his life to the liberation of psyche: soul, spirit and mind. Because of his brilliance in assimilating, in depth, vast and esoteric areas of mathematics, psychology, philosophy, politics and history, the genius of his insight and wisdom can only be fathomed through intense psychological relationship. Through his generosity, I take this opportunity to share what I absorbed and integrated into my own lived experience. He offers areas of knowledge, experience and reasoning that gives me a desire to communicate some unchartered ways of proceeding toward living with an open mind, heart, and spirit. These lessons nurture kindness through connection and relationship. These teachings, hidden and neglected, are the stuff of change for the good of the mad and all humanity.
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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