In 2021, New York Times reporter Benedict Carey, after covering psychiatry for twenty years, concluded that psychiatry had done “little to improve the lives of the millions of people living with persistent mental distress. Almost every measure of our collective mental health—rates of suicide, anxiety, depression, addiction deaths, psychiatric prescription use—went the wrong direction, even as access to services expanded greatly.”
If one has a dark sense of humor, psychiatry’s medical model can be seen as the root cause of a comical farce in which an institution charged by society to decrease suffering actually increases it. In 2022, I described how psychiatry’s medical model traumatizes, re-traumatizes, and perverts healing, and I am often asked: What then is a helpful alternative to psychiatry’s medical model?
The simplest answer is its complete opposite. Here, I will spell out exactly what that means. Specifically, I will discuss: (1) how psychiatry’s control-freak medical model fits into contemporary society; (2) how only with rebellion can professionals be healers; (3) emotional wounds and healing; and (4) how genuine healers help create healing conditions.
How Psychiatry’s Control-Freak Medical Model Fits into Contemporary Society
Psychiatry’s medical model is a technical-mechanical model, in which behaviors and emotions that cause tension and discomfort are subject to various manipulations. The medical-model psychiatrist is a technician who views healing as synonymous with fixing.
While the medical model may work for suturing a laceration or removing a malignant tumor, it routinely exacerbates emotional suffering and behavioral disturbances.
Much of what makes life tragic or comical comes from applying a manner of thinking that is appropriate in one mode to a completely different mode. This is the case with psychiatry’s medical model, which is essentially a model for mechanics. While it is silly for a car mechanic to try to create the healing conditions for a rusted-out muffler to naturally heal and become whole, it is tragic to treat individuals who are emotionally suffering like rusted-out mufflers.
Emotional suffering, including what we commonly call “depression” and “anxiety,” is routinely fueled by trauma and the pain of disconnection, including breaks to personal wholeness in which people disconnect from the truth of what happened to them and who they are. Emotional suffering is also fueled by the absence of genuinely supportive community, resulting in many of us becoming terrified that we cannot survive without becoming compulsively controlling, which creates suffering for ourselves and others.
In saner cultures—those that value wholeness and community more than consumerism, comfort, and control—it is widely known that a compulsively-controlling ego is a major source of misery. However, in our insane society, those designated to reduce emotional suffering and behavioral disturbances—psychiatrists and other mental health professionals—are trained to be control freaks who create even more emotional suffering and behavioral disturbances.
Control-freak psychiatrists are reflections of our control-freak culture. With each failure of its control techniques, some now viewed by much of society as barbaric—such as lobotomy and insulin coma therapy—control-freak psychiatrists seek new techniques to reduce discomfort, but all these techniques ultimately increase discomfort and misery.
Ushered in during the late 1980s as a “miracle drug,” SSRI antidepressants have been repeatedly linked to higher suicide risk; found to create a far higher percentage of sexual dysfunction than to positively affect depression (with SSRI success rates no different or even lower than placebo rates); and create tolerance and dependency resulting in painful withdrawal.
Following psychiatry’s repeated failures, a sane society would not give it increased status and power. However, our insane society so worships technology—including surgical, chemical, electrical, and digital technologies—that rather than thinking critically about the value of any technology, it uncritically accepts and celebrates anything promoted as technological.
So while a sane society would view electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), commonly known as electroshock, as barbaric—given that there is no scientific evidence that it is effective, and a great deal of evidence that it results in adverse cognitive effects—our insane society continues to buy psychiatry’s promotion of ECT as “the gold standard for treatment of severe depression.”
In the twentieth century, there were prominent mental health professionals, even some psychiatrists, who recognized that what is helpful are not control-freak “treatments,” but the opposite—acceptance. Carl Jung in 1932 pointed out:
“We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses…. If a doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is.”
Many humanistic theorists came to Jung’s conclusion, and the idea that manipulation and force only make emotional suffering worse has long been held in Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Buddhism. In contrast, by the 1980s, psychiatry began to be completely dominated by anti-humanistic control freaks who were clueless that their “diagnoses” such as “borderline personality disorder” and “schizophrenia” were, in effect, condemnations; and rather than acceptance, they manipulated their patients with behavioral, biochemical, and electrical technologies.
How Only With Rebellion Can Professionals Be Healers
One can “treat” emotional suffering and behavioral disturbances with a mechanical-technical model, or one can recognize that manipulations subvert natural healing. Depending on one’s approach, one is going to be a very different type of doctor—and likely a very different type of person.
Most people who enter the mental health profession truly want to help others, but they are often naïve to the reality that the selection, socialization, and training processes are fear based, aimed at creating control freaks who then become unhelpful. Most mental health professionals, especially psychiatrists, are naïve to the reality that those professionals who are helpful have rebelled against their socialization and training. Sadly, the majority of professionals do not rebel, and so only a minority of professionals are truly helpful.
While most professionals want to believe that their intelligence allowed them to achieve the grades and test scores necessary for degrees and credentials, the reality is that these achievements were mostly the result of their fear of academic failure and compliance with authorities’ demands.
Owing to their fear-based compliance, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals suffer a loss of wholeness in their training. They are routinely so afraid of not appearing “professional” that they are intimidated into shedding core aspects of their personality, as many readily incorporate professional jargon at the expense of their own authentic language. This disconnect from their authentic being renders them impotent as healers.
Professional demands create even more fear. Psychiatrists are charged by society with evaluating whether or not a person is mentally ill, and whether that person poses a threat to themselves or others. There are multiple fears attached to this role. At one level, there is the fear of making an incorrect assessment, not diagnosing a person as mentally ill and a threat to themselves or others who then acts self-destructively or is violent with others. Moreover, there are legal fears of being sued over their actions, and career fears that their actions can jeopardize their professional license.
Fear is obviously an unpleasant emotional experience, and professionals can privately become angry with patients for creating a condition that results in fear for them. When professionals have anger and don’t acknowledge it, they are vulnerable to coercive retaliations that increase the suffering of their patients.
Most individuals who choose the mental health profession—this includes those who become medical-model control freaks as well as those who become genuine healers—have been emotionally wounded when young. Often the wounds were from abusive or neglectful parenting, and from various types of dysfunctional family violence. Among professionals who buy into the medical model and become control freaks, these wounds have never been healed; and so they compulsively react to all pain and discomfort by trying to control it. Professionals who have not actively attempted to recover their own wholeness cannot possibly actively care about their patients’ wholeness.
Genuine healers have acknowledged their wounds and opened themselves to healing; and so their wounds become a formative positive experience, creating a deep connection and compassion for the pain of others that results in acceptance and not manipulations.
Emotional Wounds and Healing
In order to physically survive, it may have made sense to shut oneself down and numb oneself when on the battlefield—whether that battlefield was Vietnam or Iraq, one’s parents’ alcoholic brawls, or one’s sexual molestations. Such shutdowns may well have helped one to survive, but when people are no longer on the battlefield, they often cannot let go of what helped them survive, and their defense becomes a burden that interferes with healing.
When it comes to healing, one must be emotionally open. Healing requires an openness to the truth of one’s pain and confusion. However, having been assaulted, humans are understandably often afraid to be open emotionally, as they fear that such openness makes them vulnerable to further assaults.
The unhealed and unwhole can be so terrified by emotional pain that they move quickly to defenses, protections, and shutdowns. And those very defenses, protections, and shutdowns block the process of healing. People who need healing most are in the most pain, and they are most likely to defend and protect themselves. They can block healing in many ways, including by a guarded attitude of defensiveness; by reflexively disagreeing; by distrusting others’ motives; and by compulsively predicting and controlling.
It is difficult to be open if one is being diagnosed, judged, compartmentalized, and condemned. If mental health professionals are diagnosing and “treating” via controlling, their patients likely stay in a protective rather than a receptive mode. Emotional suffering and behavioral disturbances are only made worse by judgmental diagnoses and technological manipulation.
Our emotional wounds heal naturally when we are not in a state of defensiveness. Healing occurs when there are healing conditions which encourage openness. These conditions allow us to naturally move toward wholeness. If we can create the conditions for healing, healing will naturally occur.
How Genuine Healers Help Create Healing Conditions
What sets genuine healers apart is their wholeness and their lack of fear of individuals experiencing emotional suffering and behavioral disturbances.
The very presence of genuine healers—in contrast to control-freak technicians—has a soothing quality. Genuine healers’ facial expressions are easy on the eyes, and their speech is equally easy on the ears. They are not only good listeners, but go beyond that. In sharp contrast to control freaks, they are not reactive to negativity. If others are hurt, angry, frustrated, or pained in some way, this does not make them anxious. Genuine healers are uncontrolled by someone else’s pain—not detaching with coldness but with warmth, and others feel that they care about their pain. This wholeness and lack of fear allows genuine healers to have a special kind of humor that is extraordinarily sensitive to pain, adept at knowing how to lighten its burden.
Genuine healers, unlike medical-model control freaks, recognize that their job is not to manipulate “symptoms” but to help create conditions for natural healing. When such healing conditions are in place, the barriers and defenses to healing are more likely to disappear. This allows us to become open to feeling cared about; and this results in us being more likely to become open to caring about others, and open to the entirety of nature beyond ourselves—and this results in healing.
Genuine healing is a phenomena that cannot be quantified and scientifically measured, and so it does not fit into a mechanical model. Healing conditions are created by kindness, gentleness, and love, and one cannot pass an objective exam to evidence proficiency in these areas.
Kindness includes generosity, the giving or sharing of what one has of value, such as time. Kindness is warmheartedness, a turning toward rather than away from suffering. It is tolerance, an acceptance that those in pain are often unpleasant.
Gentle speech, gentle movements, and gentle touch are healing. When one is noisy, erratic, and rough, others stay in a protective mode, which is not amenable to healing. Gentleness is knowing that people who are suffering have difficulty tolerating much discord. And gentle people have patience; if one feels the pressure of time, one cannot heal.
Love is the opposite of fear. If we fear that the pain of another will overwhelm us, we cannot love that person. Love is a deep affection for the uniqueness of another. It is a union that maintains the integrity of each individual, and a valuing and respect for another. It is a heartfelt concern for another’s pain, and an experience of resonation to another’s being.
Healing is not a technical-mechanical controlling process but a natural one, with the goals of the healer being to help remove the barriers to this natural process.
Such natural healing, unlike repairing, is not a top-down, vendor-to-customer kind of process. It is not unidirectional. In the natural healing process, both helper and helpee can receive healing.
In our insane society, we are told that we must seek experts to fix all of our problems—and this results in missed opportunities. People, by virtue of being alive, can heal and be healed. There are all kinds of roles in which healing can take place. This truth is often denied because it plays havoc with capitalism and consumerism.
Our increasingly control-freak society creates—directly and indirectly—emotional suffering and behavioral disturbances. Insanely, those charged with reducing our emotional suffering and behavioral disturbances are trained to be control-freaks who then increase our emotional suffering and behavioral disturbances. Thus, healing can only occur with rebellion from such insanities.