Monday, June 18, 2018

Comments by Sera Davidow

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  • I’d encourage you to watch it, Oldhead. I think you’re right, we don’t need to keep asking… And in fairness to the film, it doesn’t overtly ask. It’s pretty smartly constructed. But it does put the viewer – many of whom will not have come to the same conclusions as you already – to give thought to those points.

  • The thing is that acknowledging racism does *not* mean we can’t also acknowledge collective fights. It also doesn’t need to mean that it’s ‘race against race’. In fact, the Hamiltons said many times while they were here that we’re all in this. We’re all being affected.

    It’s also possible to acknowledge racism in a way that isn’t all about blame. I benefit from white privilege. I benefit from white supremacy. That doesn’t mean it’s me vs. black people, or that I’m operating with intent with any of that. Often there’s power to be found in acknowledging these issues honestly.


  • (I should add that – as aforementioned – I know zero about Roseanne’s politics, and have never seen the new version of her show so I have literally no opinion on any of it. I’m simply responding to her comment, and the subsequent effort to excuse it as ‘mental illness’.)

  • Fair enough, meremortal. I would have balked less had Oldhead not begun his entire commentary by stating flatly that he hadn’t read anything I’d actually written… 🙂 As an author here, it can be very frustrating to have people come in and immediately go off topic. It can, unfortunately, change the whole energy of the piece.


  • Just one last quick note:
    When you say this “There’s also something deeply bizarre with the idea that “the Blood is at” Roseanne’s “doorstep.” You may, as a white woman, feel that this extreme stance is really putting your weight behing the noble cause of supporting POC. As a POC, I can tell you that I find it profoundly weird that you would compare one comedian’s offhand, ambien-fuelled comment on Twatter to things like redlining, slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, police brutality, etc. ”

    It really makes me wonder if you’re misunderstanding how the phrase is getting used? As I understood it when Dameion stood at one of the screenings and told the audience the blood is now at all of our doorsteps, it was more about not being able to ignore what’s happening in the world… Not an accusation that we are each responsible or any sort of direct cause so much as a call to action, to not look away, to face the challenge of making change… Again, I’m not sure you’ve taken the time to understand what I offered here, but I at least wanted to be clear about that point.

  • Rachel,

    As I understand it, Dontre was *not* homeless. He was simply resting in a park in the middle of the day. I believe there was a report that went out stating he was homeless, but I believe that that was an erroneous assumption (and likely an assumption worth examining the roots of).

    I don’t actually know if Christopher Manney knew of Dontre’s diagnosis when he interacted with him. But I do know that how they painted Dontre afterward was skewed by that fact… (Check out the film if you have a chance.)

  • Make of it what you will, meremortal. Oldhead came in here, openly acknowledged not reading this article, and then proceeded to make the whole thing about Trump verses liberals which has absolutely nothing to do with anything I wrote. I know what happens around here when people do that. It has the potential to throw the entire comments section off track, and, yes, I find that disrespectful.

    It also seems to me that you’ve misunderstood much of what I’ve said here. I certainly didn’t compare her commentary to those things. What I actually said was:

    A) It is ridiculous that people are trying to excuse her behavior under the defense of ‘mental illness’.

    B) That, yes, there is a history of ties between psychiatry and racism, but that it is of a very different nature.

    C) That while, yes, Roseanne’s behavior shines a light on a much deeper and more serious issue of racism in this country, our focus would be much better served on the people and stories worth hearing about… That focus on a famous person’s offensive comments aren’t where to put our attention.

    So, while you seem to have read what I wrote, I’m not sure you’ve taken time to understand. That’s fine. At least you read it. Thank you for that.

  • I called everyone in the article by their first name, as best I recall. Yes, I referred to Trump as Trump… That’s just habit, I guess. But typically, I go for first names.

    And no, I will not be changing my lead in. It is what it is. I don’t know if you’ve actually taken the time to *read* the article at this point, but one of my points is that racism is *systemic* and Roseanne’s comment is merely illuminating that fact. She’s not so different than many people in the country, and as you know very well, I’m someone who believes that all white or white-presenting people have benefited from racism and white supremacy in this country, so it’s far more complicated than Roseanne being any sort of villain. However, I do absolutely believe that consequences for such overt racism are merited and necessary to initiate any sort of real change…

    MOST importantly, though, the point of the article is that it’s *absurd* to try and excuse her behavior as a symptom of ‘mental illness…’ That that’s wrong on many levels. And that the rush to focus on her while we’re still ignoring the voices and stories that deserve to be heard is a problem.

    This is the last time I’m replying to you on this. I find it disrespectful to come onto articles – especially articles that expressly make the point about how important it is that we shine the line on the people who deserve to be lifted up – and attempt to derail things in this way.

  • I do hope you’ll take this elsewhere, Oldhead. I didn’t know that Roseanne was a Trump supporter at the time I first heard about her Tweet, and I certainly didn’t have to have that in my head to hear her comment as pretty blatant bigtory. I don’t care if she is or isn’t a Trump supporter. It’s irrelevant. And.. If she didn’t realize that Valerie was black… Well, I don’t even know what to say about that. I find it hard to believe, even if she’s now claiming it.

    More than anything, I really don’t appreciate this article being turned into a ground for strange political arguments and insults. This isn’t what all this is about. It’s more important than that.

  • Fiachra,

    It means they were given a diagnosis. I quite intentionally use that language when stating a diagnosis that is relevant to a story or circumstance because being given a diagnosis is a fact (if someone in fact was given one by a doctor, psychologist, etc.), but what that means or why is left open.

    For example, I was personally given a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Can’t deny that. I sat before a therapist. They wrote it in my chart. But that still leaves space for me to say ‘and it was bullshit, and means nothing to me beyond the pain it caused me in the system.’ It’s fundamentally different than saying someone ‘has’ or ‘is’ a diagnosis in that way. It was relevant to mention here because the fact that Dontre was so diagnosed influenced how people, including the police, saw, interacted with, and spoke about him. It makes no claim about who he was or why.

    I certainly hope that is not all that you got out of this. I quite intentionally didn’t make this yet another article that goes on about the injustice of the labels themselves because I believe it’s clear in what I did write (for example, in the paragraph where I name some of the relationships that have existed between racism and diagnosis) that there is a problem. The main focus deserves to not be lost.


  • Thanks, Jan! 🙂

    So, we did do a facilitator training in Melbourne, and the e-mail address for folks in that area who are getting things up and running is this: [email protected]

    We just did some broader events in Sydney and hope to go back to do a facilitator training at some point, but the contact e-mail publicly listed for that area in relation to the events we did do or bringing a facilitator training to that area is listed as [email protected]

    In Perth, there’s a committee managing getting things up and running (we’ve done the largest number of events/trainings in Perth) and their e-mail is: [email protected]

    It’s all still quite in the early stages, but hoping things develop soon. 🙂 🙂


  • Hi Jan,

    Yes, Caroline and I arrived on March 1 and begin our flight home late on the 24th. We started in Melbourne where we offered an Alternatives to Suicide facilitator training. We then went to Sydney and did a couple of related events with hopes to return in the future for more. We’ve been in Perth for a week now, and between last week and this one up we will have done several events and both a When the Conversation Turns to Suicide and an Alternatives to Suicide Facilitator training. 🙂

    We didn’t get to Brisbane, unfortunately, but would love to in the future! 🙂


  • Jasna,

    Challenging feedback is hard, and I’ve certainly been subject to it myself when I’ve written here. However, I feel confused by your feedback which seems to be largely referring to my comment (though maybe I’m wrong about that?). I wasn’t simply looking for the fine points with which to argue for the sake of argument… I found pretty substantial issues with what was offered here that I think either confuse or take away from what was good, and I guess I don’t see the value in ignoring that. Endless fighting over irrelevancies won’t take us forward – you’re right about that… But neither will silence.


  • Hey there,

    Well, you named Alternatives to Suicide so inevitably, I’m sure you knew, I’d pop up at some point. 🙂

    There is plenty I agree with in what you wrote, but I guess I have a lot to say about the things I question or disagree with… I want to start with the opening paragraph:

    “The radicalness of the anti-psychiatry movement has unfortunately become one of its greatest hurdles to overcome. Even in otherwise radical spaces like prison abolition, neurodiversity, or intersectional feminism, the most common reaction to anti-psychiatry ideas is to dismiss them as so intuitively ridiculous they need not be engaged with. Sanism, behaviorism, drugs and force have permeated our culture to the point many people literally can’t imagine life without them.”

    I see others already disagreeing with your first sentence. I guess I do want to say a few things about the paragraph as a whole, though. I still think that ‘anti-psychiatry’ falls way short as a term. It implies focus on psychiatry rather than a whole system, and distracts from the actual arguments for being a term so often used as an attack or diagnosis against someone others wish to dismiss.

    Meanwhile, I’m concerned about terms like ‘sanism,’ as well. I don’t get it. These terms seem to be raining down on us from leftist intellectual land, but I guess I don’t really appreciate what this one seems to suggest. If racism is a systemic oppression that centers whiteness and assumes it as society’s ‘default,’ and heterosexism does the same where heterosexuality is concerned… Are we saying that society society is centering those who are sane and setting that as society’s ‘default’ as opposed to those who are insane? I don’t get it. And I really, really do not accept the idea that I am ‘insane’ (or mad, etc. etc. etc.).

    This language seems to fly in the face of the idea that we all have (or have the potential to have) deep distress, extreme states, etc. at various points, and that those experiences often make a ton of sense in relationship to our environments. It also flies in the face of the idea that experiences like hearing voices or seeing visions are the norm within some cultures, and can be a variation from the norm that does not mean anything is actually ‘wrong’ in our own. So, not only do I not really get that terminology… it actually seems actively harmful to me.

    So, on to your second paragraph:

    “On a good day, our leaders pontificate about “reforms” that would somehow fix a system whose deepest foundation is a bed of violence, oppression, and at best pseudoscience. They ask for cultural awareness training, yoga classes, art therapy, and healthier food options in psychiatric facilities, without ever questioning the confinement that made those things unavailable in the first place (let alone the coercion involved when participation in such activities becomes a condition of obtaining release).”

    Wait, who are you thinking of as our ‘leaders’? And who on earth among our ‘leaders’ isn’t questioning the confinement and coercion? Myself and most (if not all) of my co-workers fall in the middle of the ‘reform’ vs. ‘abolition’ debate… Many of us believe abolition would be best and is a noble goal, but also that it is naive and harmful and unfair to desert those individuals still stuck in the system… And so we spend time working on making the conditions more tolerable, too. But we *NEVER* lose sight while engaged in our efforts in the latter of the force and coercion that occurs. We write articles about it, we talk to providers about it, we offer trainings that incorporate awareness of it, and – most importantly – we take action to push back against it wherever we can both in individual situations and overall.

    I think there are some people who fit the description you offer, but it’s completely inaccurate to suggest that any and everyone who hasn’t invested all their time in abolition talk fits the definition you’ve provided here.

    Another section I want to quote directly: “Mad and neurodivergent people would be managers, not “peer specialists…The essential function of a “peer specialist” is to appear non-threatening, earn people’s trust, and convince them to stay on their meds. Hiring managers know that these positions only exist because others don’t, that there are far more job-seekers than jobs to fill, and thus that anyone they hire is easily replaceable.”

    Again, this seems misinformed to me. I certainly agree that a *huge* number of ‘peer’ roles are co-opted, poorly designed, and harmful. But the definition you offer defines the co-opted lot, and not what these roles are truly meant to be. And what they’re truly meant to be *does* exist in at least some peer-to-peer *and* provider settings. It also suggests to me that you’re unfamiliar with the true landscape of things when you say that there are far more job-seekers than jobs to fill. In many areas, people are struggling deeply to find qualified individuals to fill peer roles.

    Also, there are a number of places where people who you might define as part of the ‘mad’ movement do hold managerial roles. I know many in my state alone. Although, what precisely are you suggesting they should be managers of, if the system will no longer exist?

    I understand where you’re coming from with the following: “If the “peer specialist” has more power than the patient, then they’re not a peer, and if they have the same or less power, then they’re not needed.” Yet, it also seems a little misinformed to me. There’s still a tremendous need to have someone – even who has no more power than the individual stuck in the system – to be by their side, bear witness, help them strategize about how to get heard, help them learn about ways out, etc. There’s tremendous power in these things. Though, I’ll also add that of course people in peer roles don’t have exactly equal power as the person they’re trying to support.. They’re getting paid. They get to leave locked environments. They’ll be seen as more credible because they’re an employee. Etc. Etc. Etc. But if they’re well trained and supported, their role will be designed to reduce and avoid power imbalances as much as possible.

    This is also inaccurate: “Currently, all hotlines train their staff as mandated reporters, to listen for key phrases and if the caller utters one of them, secretly send people with guns and a history of recklessly using them, directly to the caller’s location. The sole exception is Trans Lifeline, which is of course exclusively for trans people, only a fraction of everyone who might want to call a crisis hotline.”

    Unless you’re not counting ‘peer support lines?’ The Western Mass RLC operates a Peer Support Line and we absolutely do not track calls or notify 911 no matter what someone says. I agree with you that what you describe is a huge issue among such lines, but please be careful about misrepresenting these points. I’m pretty sure there are at least a few others who do not track calls, too.

    Meanwhile, I’m also concerned about your use of the language of ‘mandated reporter.’ While some employees within the system are misinformed that mandated reporter is generally connected to reporting people who are suicidal, this is not what it means in most places. Rather, ‘mandated reporter’ most commonly means that people are required to report known or suspected abuse or neglect of children, elders, or individuals labeled disabled by care givers. It’s important that we not further contribute to that common misunderstanding.

    And there’s this: “In a post-psychiatry world, both would be regularly, sternly reminded of their humility. Moreover, they would be taught when not to intervene, and they would not need to have basic respect packaged as just another proprietary methodology, with a sexy name like “Open Dialogue,” “Intentional Peer Support,” “Emotional CPR,” or even “Alternatives to Suicide.” You follow this up with the following in the comments section: “Essentially they boil down to “don’t do Mental Health First Aid” or “don’t call the police” and the rest is just fluff to make them sound more like something social workers might accept into their existing paradigm. IPS, eCPR and Alternatives to Suicide are good tools for mitigating a big problem, but I long for the day they become unnecessary.”

    So, first of all, I wasn’t aware that “Alternatives to Suicide” was a ‘sexy’ name, but… thanks? I will say that the rest of what you say about it here, though, is both confusing and offensive, if I’m honest. I’m not aware that you’ve been through the Alternatives to Suicide training… Have you? Am I mistaken about that? Caroline and I are currently traveling around Australia offering a variety of presentations and trainings on just that approach right now, and while I’ll agree with you that some of each training and presentation focuses on the research about how current approaches are harmful… There’s a heck of a lock more to the approach than ‘don’t funnel people into the system’ or ‘don’t call 911.’

    We talk an awful lot in these trainings about what *to* do… How to respond… questions that can be really useful to ask… fears that can arise for the listener and how to work through or learn to sit with them… This is only the briefest of summaries. But the point is, it’s not ‘fluff.’ I also don’t experience Intentional Peer Support in the way that you describe.

    And I wonder about the society where you feel these sorts of supports would have no use? Do you really mean to suggest that its only the mental health system that’s seen death and suicide as taboo? Cause I’m pretty sure religions that long preceded the mess we’re in now have had issue with it… And that families and communities have struggled in various ways since basically the beginning of time.

    Are you really meaning to suggest that the absence of the mental health system trap would mean a lack of need for healthy supports for people who are struggling? Cause I can’t quite help but hear some of that in what you’re saying right now.

    I’m going to stop going through your article point by point because it’s just so long and I don’t want to basically write a blog of my own in your comments section… I do agree (as I said at the start) with many of your points including the problems with the idea of rebranding (although I think there’s value in referencing psych diagnoses as opposed to most of the other terms as it’s simply a fact that one’s been diagnosed and said nothing about what’s *actually* going on), with the need to dispose of the diagnostic system, and with some of the overarching points about the problems with in and need to do away with the mental health system.

    But I keep getting lost in what feels like a lack of full understanding, contradictions, and what feels like a disregard of how the mental health system and its functions and perspectives are rather inextricably linked to school systems, prison systems, capitalism, and so much else…


  • Bradford, Sounds like you may have spent even more time in at than I did! I missed the angel bit. :p Thanks for sharing some of your experience. It is strange (but true) how both the absolute fear to talk about death and the hyperfocus on preventing on death at all costs can co-exist. In a way I guess it make sense… because if you talk and act only to prevent it, then you don’t need to actually talk about it in any depth? It’s definitely a symptom of how messed up society is.

    I’m sorry about your friend. I’ve lost a few people to suicide. It’s hard, and only gets harder when no one will actually talk about what happened.


  • Richard,

    I’ve come back to your comment a few times, and I’m not really sure how to respond. I guess I agree with a lot – maybe almost all – of what you’re saying. And yet, I do find the message paralyzing, as much as you say you don’t mean it to be. I’m also not totally sure I agree that the *only* way to shift some of this is to undo capitalism. Even with capitalism in place, I think I’m going to have to at least hope that there are other ways to adjust its focus or what feeds it… Somehow it feels more attainable to me to *use* capitalism’s tools to undo its capitalist appeal than to undo capitalism. Perhaps that’s foolish, but I’d be interested in a conversation about what *that* could look like.


  • Eh, I see some of what you’re talking about, Julie… I personally support people to use *any* drugs they want in whatever way works for them, and without needing to post about it. People always have used drugs. It’s not inherently bad. What’s bad is the system that pushes a particular set of drugs as the ‘cure,’ while demonizing people who use the other set.

    I personally do talk about not using psych drugs at this point in my life… because it’s important to have some people (and not just some, but a critical mass of people) out there challenging the perception that psych drugs and psych diagnosis are a meaningful and consistent link in any sort of way…


  • Rasselas,

    Thanks for your comment… Although, I don’t think this is accurate:

    “Some people, I accept, such as Sera, work hard at bringing people together. Other people, such as myself, encourage people to break free and go it alone.”

    I think part of the challenge of the community in which I work, myself, etc, is that we do both things… We offer talks and trainings to providers, attempt to develop better ways for people who might be more succeptible/willing to ‘get it’ to begin to think about things in a different way… While *also* making films like the ‘Virtues of Non-Compliance’ that is basically all about how being so-called ‘non-compliant,’ ignoring what we were told in the system and getting on with life, in fact, saved our lives… Or a project we’re working on right now that is all about gathering information from people who’ve survived the system to share their wisdom about how they navigated the system’s unwritten rules and were able to ‘play the game’ well enough to get out, etc.

    We do both, and we don’t apologize for it. That makes us pretty hard to tolerate for a lot of people… And that’s fine.


  • Thanks so much for your reply, Susan.

    I love what you wrote here:

    “I came to the conclusion that many people who say they to want to hear ‘the other side’ actually don’t. They want to feel smug in their ‘open-mindedness,’ but they are threatened by any hint of real change.

    It’s called cooptation – they pretend that you have a place with them, but that place is only to make them look better than they are.”

    I think it is exactly true… Please stick around only so long as you make us look/feel good about ourselves.


  • I genuinely am not sure why you are posting this here. This blog isn’t about ‘recovery.’ I’ve been pretty clear for many years that I don’t support the concept. And I am a part of a community that rejects most conventional ideas about psychiatric diagnosis and ‘help,’ and takes many pretty concrete actions toward change.

    Feel free to not like what I do or say, but arguing with me about something that has nothing to do with me because you – for some reason – need to believe that that’s part of my message is… not too much better than how the system treats me at the moment.

    I’m not going to respond anymore. 🙂



  • Yes, I believe you are being presumptuous… You responded to a blog that has nothing to do with recovery with what feels like an attack on what I do based on the concept of recovery. And when I say you are being presumptuous it is because there is nothing that I write about that indicates support of the concept ‘recovery,’ and in fact, what I write about specifically speaks to my rejection of the term. Because there’s nothing on our website that speaks to ‘recovery’ beyond our name. And so on. We didn’t come up with our name, and while we’ve talked about changing it, frankly, we’ve been too busy with the ‘doing.’

    If you’re curious to see what happens with our work, just take a look… at our films, at our materials, etc… We’ve been around for over ten years. There’s already plenty to see in terms of where we come from.

  • Nope. What you’re saying is presumptuous and sort of empty. Our name has the word ‘recovered’ in it because it was chosen 15 years ago and we didn’t have control over it. We’ve talked about changing it more recently and are working on that. But I don’t think there is a single person on our leadership team that would say they are invested in the concept of ‘recovery.’ We talk about our lack of belief in that, ‘mental illness’ ‘suicide prevention’ and many other such concepts all the time. So, please stop making assumptions and look at our actual work. 🙂

  • Thanks, Deena. Unfortunately, I just haven’t experienced most folks in the system *truly* hearing too much, even when watered down. Sure, they are less angry, more entertained, more thankful. But not necessarily more changed. not saying it never happens, but the overall trend…. I dunno.

  • Thanks, Brett. I appreciate your reading and kind words. I know it can also be difficult to be in a more clinical role and oppose the current paradigm. In fact, in one of our current film projects, there are three groups – individuals who’ve been ‘in’ the system, clinicians/direct support works, and administrators… And truth be told, Group 3 (administrators) was FAR angrier with Group 2 (clinical providers) when they said critical things about the system than they were with Group 1 (people who’d been ‘in’ the system). I imagine the reasons for that could be interpreted in at least a few different ways, but nonetheless, there it was.


  • I have to admit this comment makes me angry, so I’m going to do my best to respond as best I can without falling into that.

    I am not ‘in bed’ with anyone in the sense that you speak. The community with which I work has done more to support people to get out of the system, to push back against the system, to challenge psychiatry, etc. In the last ten years than most other communities and groups and activists I know. We work hard beyond our limits and take risks all the time to have that be true. I would suggest you check out our work first hand before assigning it to any category.

    I do not ‘want to be.’ I am. And at least half the folks I know who disparage what we do as being somehow ‘in the system’ are spending most of their time saying those things, not actually doing themselves.

    By the way, my blog says nothing about change ‘needing to come from the inside.’ And frankly, it’s more than a little insulting that you suggest I have such a childish view that lacks any real nuance.

    This blog was about how hard it is to hold the lines I’ve held and do the work I do and the cost that comes with that… the cost to me as a human being who can only take so much poor treatment, even if it is expected.

    Perhaps my next blog should be the predictable way in which people in this movement tear each other down, too.

    Thanks for reading,


  • Pat,

    I continue to be perplexed by your portrayal of things. I’m sorry that you didn’t feel welcomed with Hearing Voices USA. And yet, I repeatedly hear you misrepresent what people have said, what Hearing Voices USA or the charter stands for, what I’m saying here, etc. You’re also conflating Hearing Voices USA and the RLC. The RLC is the group that brought Rufus May and Elisabeth Svanholmer to the US to offer some training on Voice Dialoguing. We don’t expect others to do what we are doing. We choose our own priorities, and I think many people have benefited from many of the choices we have made. I’m sure they also disagree with some of them, or wish we’d prioritize other things. We do the best we can.

    My experiences with you in person have always been pleasant, but I’m pretty baffled by the parts of yourself that you bring to this forum. Ultimately, I guess it’s your choice how you show up here, but I do want to ask that you do your best not to misrepresent other people/groups wherever possible.



  • Oh for goodness sake. You’re over hear arguing semantics, and Pat is down below ignoring the problems that paid peer roles have created. Perhaps the two of you could argue together?

    I’m done and holding out hope that people may show up here who want to actually talk about the blog, and not these arguments that are getting us nowhere.

  • Oldhead,

    I guess part of my point is that it’s (largely) impossible to not eventually feel beaten down by the constant abuse, disregard, dismissal, etc… It doesn’t have to be about approaching them as lesser than or needing their approval. That I don’t is, I imagine, part of the problem. And yet, I am human. And it gets exhausting.

    I very much disagree with your ‘black power’ analogy, although I get your point. As I’ve already stated, I don’t care for the term ‘anti-psychiatry’ and it’s not really about try to soothe anyone’s fears. I simply don’t relate to it, and the fact that that’s actually my *truth* and people *still* want to use it to dismiss makes the whole thing all the more maddening.

    Yes, I realize that a large part of the downfall of the strength of this movement came with paid ‘peer’ roles and such. I talk about that with a great deal of frequency. And yet, expecting people to network, gain strength, and have a voice long-term with*out* any funding to support that is part of what made what was also not sustainable, I believe. Kind of a lose:lose…


  • It’s funny. My post feels so clear to me, and seems to be connecting with several others to whom it also feels very clear. But, I guess we all see things through our own lenses and experiences, and so I can’t fault you for feeling otherwise.

    Perhaps it comes down to my simply not liking the word. I do not think that the term ‘anti-psychiatry’ conveys the things that you say above very well at all. I also feel that many people who talk about ‘anti-psychiatry’ as their primary perspective tend to over simplify things, but as you’ll see above some people feel that over-simplification is a bonus.

    It doesn’t work for me. That’s kind of all there is to it. It’s like arguing about what the word ‘bipolar’ means. Even for those who accept that label, it actually *looks* a thousand different ways, let alone if you factor in those who do not. It is not a way I choose to identify myself, and I think the term misses the mark, at the very least, in being a way to accurately convey what (some) people mean by it. I don’t really see the point in arguing about it, honestly.


  • Criticism is fair, and there’s already a good amount of it in this comments section if you missed it! But I’m often troubled by your comments, as they seem to misrepresent what I say and what I do more often than not. I’m also confused by your capitalization in the above, but that’s also fine. And, you’re welcome to continue to e-mail me or the RLC for resources… My point was that you seem to tend toward attack here, and yet you clearly must see *some* value in what we do.

  • Yes, I like to call like to call it activism with integrity, and you’re right, it’s hard to do that sort of activism without burning out. 🙂 It’s hard to imagine that you’re actually trying to argue with our push back against the Boston Globe for their deeply offensive ‘mental health spotlight’ series, or the way our school systems are failing our kids… Is that really what you’re doing? Also, my ‘getting along/synthesizing’ comment wasn’t about my blogs. I say what I want here. I was talking about my ability to navigate my daily work. 🙂 And speaking of my daily work, didn’t I – at your request – just send you a book I wrote on developing peer respite? It escapes me a bit why you keep coming on these blogs and intentionally misrepresenting or disparaging what I have to say. 🙂 But that’s okay. I hope all is well in your neck of the woods. 🙂


  • I absolutely refuse to have the slavery compared to psychiatry argument again. This blog was deeply personal for me and took me a long time to write, and I simply won’t participate in having it hijacked in that way.

    As to the rest… The whole argument misses the mark for me. Almost any perspective that is completely one-sided is usually missing something in my eyes. That is how ‘anti-psychiatry’ feels to me. It a) misses that humans have used drugs for an eternity to manage their feelings, experiences, etc, and I’m not entirely sure that’s wrong in the most fundamental sense b) misses the fact that iatrogenic harm and dehumanization happen in the system for many reasons that include but extend beyond psychiatric drugs… At a minimum it misses those things.

    In any case, I’m done arguing about this, too, but thank you for reading the blog.

  • mecarlym,

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting, as much as you’re not so generally inclined. 🙂 There seems to be a real push/pull for so many of us when it comes to staying in this work and fighting vs. walking away to do something else, or at least not get paid within the system. Touch choices all around, but you sound like someone I’m happy is still connected. 🙂


  • I suspect we will continue to disagree on elements of this, Frank. I’m mostly going to look past your first paragraph (which feels a little insulting) and say this:

    As I said in one of my comments above, I agree that wiping the slate clean and starting over in terms of what we regard as ‘helping’ people and why and how to go about all that in our society is the ideal.

    Where we most strenuously disagree, I believe, is where I feel you have over simplified things. It’s not *just* about people being ‘different,’ as much as that’s a huge part of it. It may, in fact, be the most motivating part of it for the roots of this system… And yet, there are also people who are really struggling and want help, etc. Additionally, whenever I hear people get so fixed on abolition rather than change, it feels like it comes from a place of privilege to me. (Not privilege as in wealth or lack of hardship or whatever, but privilege nonetheless…. The privilege of not so much being at risk anymore of ending up in one of these places. The people I work with go in to institutions every day to try and help people get on their feet and get out… Abolitionist talk misses that. I realize that if we were truly successful in abolition, those people would also get out… Except, it wouldn’t be those people… They would have been lost and died off long ago. And I’m just not comfortable with sacrificing people in the now for what we might achieve somewhere far down the road.

  • I hear you, feelindiscouraged. Most of this blog was directed as those who hold power and aren’t at any particular risk, not people who are trying to avoid incarceration. I’ve definitely experienced marginalization, but fortunately haven’t faced any real threat of incarceration in a long time for which I am very thankful. -Sera

  • Mark,

    Eh, there are lots of ‘smart’ reasons why people leave those of us who are speaking up on our own, yes. It’d probably be smarter for me to shut up, too… Maybe follow my brother’s path, and work in the field of computers. And yet, here we are.


  • Thanks, J. In the best of worlds, I think abolition is indeed where it’s at. I’m not sure how we fix something that is being driven by so many interests that just aren’t helpful or healthy. What keeps me chasing reform is knowing how many people are stuck in there if we stop tending to that, and the numerous successes many of us have seen of helping people move beyond stuckness to a full life. I don’t feel great about getting too black and white about abolition goals primarily for that reason… But, yes, we need something totally different than what we have now.


  • Not totally sure how to interpret some of your comment, but thanks for reading, either way.

    I disagree with your link between ‘critical psychiatry’ and ‘moderate,’ but perhaps that does – as you say – depend on who you’re asking. I only know that the only place I ever get called a ‘moderate’ is around here, and only by a pretty small group of folks. :p

    Personally, I’m not backing away from ‘antipsychiatry’ to justify anything. I’ve never cared for the term. It’s too black and white. I prefer to be critical of anything and everything. 🙂


  • Hey Will,

    I’ve been traveling and am super sleepy at the moment, but wanted to write a quick comment since you took the time to name us (Western Mass RLC) in your blog!

    I hear you on the fact that our movement hasn’t been nearly as successful as we want to be or should be or need to be in making real change… And I can totally support the idea of trying to re-evaluate strategies, and decide if we need to change direction a bit (or a lot) and how. This is actually not the first conversation I’ve had of this nature in the last sevenish days.

    However, I feel confused about your proposed strategy here… Not because I think capitalism hasn’t been harmful, but… because I’m not sure lack of capitalism has particularly led to success for individuals with psychiatric histories, and I certainly don’t feel more hopeful about our changing the tide of our political and economic systems than I do about changing the the mental health elements around us…

    I also feel confused about why you called out RLC specifically? I’ll just assume it’s because we’re such a good representation of what peer-to-peer support can actually look like 😉 … But bear in mind we aren’t just doing peer support and sitting around for others to change the world. We’re trying to work on all of it… but we’re definitely open to new ideas about how to move forward. 🙂



  • Hi Patrick,

    I’m finally back. I hope you’ll bear with me in my more detailed response to your piece. It’s going to be long, although it’s late and so I’m afraid it won’t be quite as thorough or well thought out as I would have liked.

    First of all, let me begin by saying (once again) thank you. In order to respond to your blog, I needed to go back and read my own. I forgot how much I liked that particularly blog, so thanks for making me take another look! 🙂

    Okay, but, let’s get down to business. For starters, no, I am totally not kidding you. Do I mean to suggest that this certification has taken a completely healthy ‘peer support’ industry and knocked it off its perch onto the ground? No. ‘Peer support’ was suffering for being an ‘industry’ at all, and it was already deeply in trouble. But, Mental Health America certainly ain’t helping the situation.

    My complaints about Mental Health America (MHA) date back well before this last blog. In fact, the very first blog I ever wrote for Mad in America (back in December of 2012) was about MHA’s disappointing connection to mental health screening tools. See here, for more:

    I followed that up with others, including ‘Dear NAMI: My apologies. I’ve been unfair’ ( in 2014 (in which I detail MHA and a few other organization’s heavy connections to the pharmaceutical industry), and ‘Do NAMI and MHA suffer from Anosognosia’ ( back in 2015, where I discuss (among other things) Gionfriddo’s testimony in support of the Murphy Bill. So, you see, the problematic roots of MHA run deep.

    But, that aside, let’s look at what you wrote.

    So, the bell. I think you missed quoting what the bell *actually* said, or accurately representing my concerns with it at all. It’s not the ‘mental illness’ language. As harsh as that is on my ears, I understand the language of the era and all that. It’s the actual message. A refresher: Here’s what the bell’s inscription says in full:

    “Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.”

    It doesn’t say that the bell shall ring out hope for the ‘mentally ill’ and victory over the system, the abuses they have suffered, the discrimination, the maltreatment, or whatever words might have been most commonly used to describe these phenomenon in that year. No, it suggests the bell ‘ring out hope’ for ‘victory over mental illness.’ That’s a *completely* different message, isn’t it? In fact, it sounds exactly like NAMI’s message, and every other organization that seeks to increase treatment to ward off and conquer these destructive ‘diseases’ without any real critical eye on the system itself (except perhaps to say it doesn’t offer enough beds or access for the “seriously mentally ill”). So, either you have re-interpreted what was written to what you wish it said (or what serves you in this moment), or the author(s) was a really poor writer. Either way, I’m sticking with my assertion that it is tone deaf and gross.

    You continue with several other points (I particularly appreciate the details on who makes what per each certification, so thank you for that), but also misrepresent another point I made here:

    “On a side note, I have no qualms about saying that all of the peers, including me, involved directly in the creation of this credential have just as much right to claim membership in the peer community as anyone else. When other people, particularly those with large audiences, try to disparage our “peerness” I have visions of a so-called recovery center I once visited which required proof of diagnosis before people were allowed access to the facility. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.”

    Not a single time did I question anybody’s ‘peerness.’ Anyone who knows me or has read much of what I written will know that anything that links me to any place that would ask people for their diagnosis (or any other such thing) isn’t taking the time to understand what I’m saying at all.

    This is what is called a straw man argument, Patrick. You are responding to an argument I never made in order to (intentionally or not) distract from the points I actually made. I have *never* questioned the experiences of anyone who claims to have a psychiatric history or to have faced enough life-interrupting challenges to work in a peer role. What I *actually* said was that many organizations eat up the people who have internalized oppression, or who are prone to be silenced and changed when their paycheck comes from those they’ve previously sought to change.

    This is an important argument. It does not seek to diminish one’s experience or identity (and certainly doesn’t seek to ‘prove’ whether or not they qualify for membership to the ‘club’), but rather it questions whether or not they have had or currently have the support to not be swallowed up whole, co-opted and used by the system. And, it further questions the nature of a system that would prefer to hire people in this position than those who have gone through a fuller process of self and system realization.

    Based on what you say here, I’d also go several steps further and question your use of the word ‘peer’ in at least two other ways. First, you seem to be using it to mean an identity. Thus, right from the start, you are using the word in a co-opted manner. ‘Peer’ is not an identity you get to claim because you have some particular life experience. ‘Peer’ is a way of relating to other people. It’s an approach. A way of being. You serve to do the work of co-optation of the role simply by changing it to mean something else. (See my blog, ‘Cheers for Peers’ for more on this:

    Meanwhile, by claiming doctors and licensors and all that can be ‘peers’ you also go a step or two deeper into dangerous territory by not only claiming ‘peer’ as a singular identity, but by also ignoring that peer supports and peer-to-peer relationships are fundamentally built on minimizing power imbalances. So, while doctors, licensors, and all sorts of other people may have psychiatric histories and legitimate wisdom to share from those experiences, they are full of power.

    Is this what you mean when I say I’m questioning people’s ‘peerness,’ Patrick? Because, if so, then I guess you’re right on. I do not question anyone’s right to claim a psychiatric history, or to choose to work in peer support. I do not think someone needs to share a diagnosis, take a qualifying test, prove they’ve been hospitalized, or anything else in order to play this game. But, yes, I sure as hell reject that I am a ‘peer’ (I am a human) or that doctors who have psychiatric histories are able to participate in offering peer support for all the power they hold.

    On to the clinical dance: You say, ” What is not said, through no fault of Ms. Davidow, is that in the initial interview I accentuated that individuals choosing to participate in DBT do so voluntarily and arrive at treatment goals and methods in concert with their therapist.”

    Now it’s my turn to say, ‘Are you kidding me!?’ Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced into DBT-inspired programs. If they’re given a choice at all, sometimes it goes something like this, “So, you could live in this here DBT-based residential program, or… you could be homeless. What do you choose?”

    Additionally, some people who ‘choose’ DBT do so under coercion or misinformation. And, once they’ve ‘chosen,’ and they realize it’s not working for them, they can’t easily or immediately undo their ‘choice.’ So, yeah, what you offer here changes nothing, and simply re-enforces my impression that you’re not paying attention to what’s actually happening to so many people in the mental health system.

    By insisting that peer supporters deviate from listening to the person they’re supporting over all other influences, you are diminishing the most very basic point of this all. At the very least, if a person participating in DBT chose it voluntarily, then surely THEY know that. If, knowing that, they still choose to reach out to a peer supporter and ask them to advocate or help with something that clinicians may seen as ‘interfering,’ they do so also knowing that. Are you suggesting that the peer supporter nonetheless treat that person as a child who can’t knowingly decide to act outside of the DBT framework, and that the peer supporter needs to take on that responsibility?

    In my world of peer support, we practice responsibility *to* one another, not for. The system has already done far too much harm being responsible ‘for.’ If a peer supporter has a question (so much of our work is about questions and curiosity), then they can *ask* the person with whom they’re connecting. After all, this is all so much more about understanding THAT person’s worldview and NOT someone else’s (and certainly not Marsha Linehan’s). I reject this idea entirely, and continue to assert that such beliefs will contribute to further destruction of whatever good and potential may be left. So, yes, ‘clinical, I do think so.’

    You go on to offer that, “Ms. Davidow’s comments on the Code of Ethics are her opinion… They are the same as the majority of codes of ethical behavior that any certified professionals agree to.”

    Well, okay, but this isn’t the “majority” of work. It’s an employment structure for people who have faced silencing and discrimination. It’s already been severely co-opted and misunderstood. While I don’t agree with everyone here who says its pointless altogether, I do seriously question whether there’s any way to have it exist and hold it on track as anything else than what people here accuse it of being. Peer support is also already something that people like Tim Murphy, Susan Inman, Elinore McCance-Katz, E Fuller Torrey, and DJ Jaffe have sought to control or destroy. The language of not practicing beyond one’s expertise is precisely what was put into the Murphy Bill in an effort to control peer roles in really limiting ways.

    Saying this is all ‘just the same’ as any other license is just silliness as far as I can tell. Don’t you at least think the level of potential for discrimination is worth considering before people start signing off on this thing? Has it not occurred to you that various Anosognosia disciples might lodge complaints simply to push these issues? Are you ignoring national news of the Murphy Bill passing under the 21st Century Cures Act or McCance-Katz making her way into SAMHSA with destroying peer support on her mind? Might you not be handing them just the tools they need?

    I just recently received an e-mail from someone wishing we’d get ‘shut down’ simply for hosting a Coming Off Psych Drugs event. You seem to be very naïve about the potential dangers here, and that is terrifying given you are constructing a framework in which so many other people may get caught.

    You close with this: “Ms. Davidow is writing this in a blog about Mental Health America, so the clear implication is that MHA is shrouding itself in “so-called peers” and “party liners.” The comments about not being able to see through their own medicated haze and tokenism are even more revolting.”

    Are you denying that organizations across the country are hiring up “party liners” and people who haven’t made their way out from under the weight of over prescriptions and other varieties of disabling treatments enough to think about their role? If you’re truly suggesting that’s not a thing, then you’re not paying any attention at all. None of that is meant to disparage the people working in peer support who get caught up in that trend, as it’s usually not really their fault. But, to ignore the phenomenon is just as dangerous as everything else you suggest.

    But you seem really wed to ignoring all this. For example, when you say “The individual who “confessed” to feeling beholden to their employer was not referring to us since they are not an employee of our office,” you’re missing the point entirely. Is it intentional?

    It doesn’t matter if they were talking about Mental Health America when they told me how silenced they felt at times. They were saying it in regard to a presentation they were offering, and in general. They were explaining how they felt that – whenever they acted in a professional capacity relating to their role in any way – they felt they needed to watch what they say, and tow at least some part of the party line. Your unwillingness to understand how that connects to MHA’s work is baffling to me.

    Patrick, this national certification is not a good thing. (And neither, I suspect, is Canada’s, though I know much less about it.) None of this is news to you. People have spoken up at your presentation at iNaps, at Alternatives, and more. Your blog really doesn’t present a convincing argument otherwise. I hope you’ll consider this further, but it seems clear you won’t.

  • Hi Patrick,

    I don’t have time to respond to this right now (but, boy is there a lot to respond to)! However, I just wanted to say thank you! I’ve been cited in blogs and articles before, and even been the focus of an article outside of the Mad in America world.. But this is totally my first Sera-focused Mad in America blog written by another party. 🙂 It’s kind of like when I got my first ever hate mail following a letter to the editor that got published in the New York Times. Pretty exciting stuff.

    I look forward to having the time to respond.


  • Eh, I see you are poking at another argument underneath your main points here, oldhead. I don’t disagree with much of what you say – that he is recklessly exposing what others don’t want to have seen.. .But much of this is also about him, specifically.

  • Thanks, Fiachra. Neither one is my gig, but I hear ya… The discrimination they put out there and the assumptions inherent in it are obnoxious! Not only is there that statement, but they ask you in your application form about your psychiatric history.

  • Hi CatNight, Very true indeed. I almost included some of that history in the blog, but decided not to go off on another thread… However, it’s nonetheless a valid point. This is not the first time we’ve had a president who is potentially ‘diagnosable’, but that means little for each president and certainly nothing for them as a group compared to one another.

  • Thanks, Eric. 🙂 You bring up an important point that I’ve also argued at times… Not only is there a low prevalence of violence among people with psych diagnoses, but the fact that someone who commits violence has a psych diagnosis does not necessarily mean there’s a causal relationship. Far fewer people recognize the latter, than the former. And, of course, when we *do* start to look at what qualities and characteristics are most common in people who commit violence, it points us in another direction entirely…


  • Thanks, littleturtle. I agree, looking at the bigger picture and how we got here/where on earth we’re headed is much more important… and much more productive than the same old routine of putting the weight of the blame on those who are already marginalized.

  • Thanks, Stephen. I’ve heard the comparison to Hitler before, certainly, and the first part of it seems apt (in terms of people thinking the idea that he’d end up in office is absurd and thus nothing to worry about, etc.). Hoping that’s as far as it goes!!

  • Thanks for your thoughts, Anonymous!

    This is an interesting and good point: In some respects, I hope they do succeed with getting the president with a diagnosis. I would love to see a congressional hearing on it for all the world to see. How annoyed do you think he might become then? Can you see his lawyers pick apart the basis for psychiatry and diagnosis?

    However, the likelihood of that success is super low, and the likelihood of harm done (or at least perpetuated) is high (and already happening).

    In some ways, this article is a bit of an experiment. I’ve intentionally NOT challenged the basic psychiatric paradigm (though I’ve equally as intentionally not supported it), because I’m not sure it’s necessary (and in fact may be detrimental) to use that as a starting point with people in the liberal/progressive camp. It’s such a leap from where they sit now, but trying to win understanding by focusing more on the basic human rights violations and injustices is less of a leap…

    Perhaps, if the conversation starts there, rather than with something that is SUCH a leap for people to take, they might listen a bit more… And then, if they do, they might be more open to the next push..

    We’ll see. 🙂


  • Hi BigPicture,

    Thanks for your lengthy and eloquent response. 🙂 I certainly want to believe by ‘doing’, we are leading the way to something different, and in many ways, we see the evidence that we are… And yet, it is all so easily co-opted and then the ‘doing’ can also lead us astray.


  • epthe,

    The Hearing Voices movement definitely isn’t about telling people that it’s safe to come out about hearing voices! It’s definitely understood that that’s a risk for a lot of people. And, at the same time, when people are willing to come out, hopefully they make it a little safer for others to be able to do the same eventually. Totally respect your position, though. 🙂


  • JanCarol,

    Thanks for your comment! Yeah, I’ve noticed more and more the weird little recommendation buttons popping up in my chatboxes on Facebook… or ads that correspond to some element of what I’m saying! :p It is disconcerting to say the least… Though in fairness to Joy, what I’ve seen in her responses suggests a total lack of attention, rather than too much. But, I hear you and your fears on this count seem totally valid to me!