Japan’s Radical Alternative to Psychiatric Diagnosis


From Aeon: “In Japan, a radical approach called tōjisha-kenkyū has emerged to challenge the prescriptive narratives that dominate mainstream psychiatry. In tōjisha-kenkyū, which roughly translates as ‘the science of the self’ or ‘self-supported research’, people with disabilities and/or mental illness learn to study their own experiences. During the past few decades, this approach has grown from a grassroots movement created by people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses in a small Hokkaido fishing town, to a revolutionary method for moving beyond psychiatry – a method that is being embraced across the strata of Japan’s rapidly ageing society.

. . . Tōjisha-kenkyū is based on a simple idea. Humans have long shared their troubles so that others can empathise and offer wisdom about how to solve problems. Yet the experience of mental illness is often accompanied by an absence of collective sharing and problem-solving. Mental health issues are treated like shameful secrets that must be hidden, remain unspoken, and dealt with in private. This creates confused and lonely people, who can only be ‘saved’ by the top-down knowledge of expert psychiatrists. Tōjisha-kenkyū simply encourages people to ‘study’ their own problems, and to investigate patterns and solutions in the writing and testimonies of fellow tōjisha.”

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  1. Thank you for this wonderfully informative article!

    Tojisha-kenkyu sounds very much like the self-reflection/self-study from Daniel Mackler’s many videos and books on self-therapy. But I worry about psychiatry hijacking jojisha-kenkyu to reflect its rigid medical model.

    “Imagine what would happen if experts stopped only defining and diagnosing patients, and instead taught people to study themselves.”

    Imagine what would happen if people began respecting themselves instead of psychiatry.

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  2. Sounds brilliant, honestly! I will say from my own experience as a counselor that my goal was always to help the person study their own decisions and experiences and make new decisions (if need be) based on their own observations and conclusions. This seems like it cuts out the middle man and just takes people right there! Perhaps the most important point is that it communicates to the person that s/he CAN figure out what’s going on and what is needed through study and sharing, essentially the opposite of what they hear from the mainstream “mental health” system!

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    • I am sure there are such people. What’s unfortunate is that they do not appear to be the “thought leaders” in the field, and are in my observation frequently set upon by those with a different agenda. The problems with psychiatry are not those of individual psychiatrists being good or bad people or even good or bad clinicians. It is a matter of the profession itself being committed to misguided values and priorities, including the priority of making money as a profession and maintaining status, and the actual needs of the patients/clients in such a scenario too often take a back seat, if they get a seat at all.

      I am always encouraged to find psychiatrists who take a saner approach, but in my experience (and I have more than a bit), they tend to be the minority, and with few exceptions, have little influence on how the profession as a whole considers the problem of “mental illness,” which they seem to have somehow obtained the right to define for the rest of us.

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    • Who exactly are you addressing when you say “you probably will not” believe it?

      Are you familiar with Mad in America? If so, you would know that we often feature psychiatrists who take a different, healthier, saner, and more ethical approach than the mainstream.

      If you’re not familiar with Mad in America, then aren’t you making a big assumption — i.e., aren’t you projecting?

      Psychiatrist, heal thyself.

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  3. “Tōjisha-kenkyū simply encourages people to ‘study’ their own problems, and to investigate patterns and solutions in the writing and testimonies of fellow tōjisha.”

    Although I do wish the word ‘tōjisha’ were more accurately translatable into English. “The term was originally used in law and politics where it referred to the parties – the tōjisha – involved in litigation. Its definition expanded in the 1970s when it became a means of self-identification for people in discriminated groups, including women struggling against a patriarchal society, those with disabilities who had become outsiders, and those who did not conform to gender norms.”

    I guess I would best be described as a “women struggling against a patriarchal society,” since I’m a woman who stands against child abuse, who is also fighting against the patriarchal “pedophile empire,” and the patriarchal religions and medical community, that still stand in support of it … and are profiteering off these crimes.


    But I did do my homework, I became a researcher into my own legitimate distress. And now that the medical evidence of the abuse of my child was handed over. I still stand against pedophilia, and the systemic child abuse covering up, and “scientifically invalid,” paternalistic, “mental health” industries, who freely confess they are “partnered” with my ex-religion.


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