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Blog des AK Psychiatriekritik der NFJ Berlin

Antipsychiatry, (Ex)consumers, Peers, and ‘This Movement’: Assembling the Histories of Reform and Resistance, Part 1

Within the communities that surround Mad in America one is likely to hear reference to ‘the movement.’ The basic meaning of this phrase seems clear enough. The movement broadly refers to the groups of people actively rethinking the mental health system, and the treatment of persons labeled as mentally ill, in the United States and abroad. Upon further inspection, however, we realize that there is no centralized ethos uniting these groups. There may be consensus that the current mental health models are troublesome, but within each subset of ‘the movement’ there are many different perspectives about such troubles’ causes and solutions.

In recent years many articles and books have been published, and many conferences held, outlining various problems facing the mental health system in this country. Each person speaking out seems to have their own solution to these problems. There does not appear, however, to be any work that outlines, compares, and synthesizes the broad array of what we call ‘the movement,’ as a whole, with all its the varying proposed solutions, perspectives, and reform initiatives.

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Allen Frances and the Spurious Medicalization of Everyday Problems

On April 5, Allen Frances MD, published an article on the Huffington Post blog.  The title is Can We Replace Misleading Terms Like ‘Mental Illness,’ ‘Patient,’ and ‘Schizophrenia’  It’s an interesting piece, and it raises some fundamental issues.

Here are some quotes from the article, interspersed with my comments.

“Those of us who worked on DSM IV learned first-hand and painfully the limitations of the written word and how it can be tortured and twisted in damaging daily usage, especially when there is a profit to be had.”

The fact that words can acquire multiple, and even contradictory, meanings is well known to most high school graduates.  People of all walks of life are generally sensitive to this reality, and take steps to clarify their meanings, especially with regards to words that are known to be ambiguous.

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Psychiatry and the Business of Madness: An Ethical and Epistemological Accounting

This latest book by Bonnie Burstow, PhD critiques psychiatry, and effectively annihilates any claims that the profession might have had legitimacy.

Bonnie gives us a scholarly, but very readable, account of:

  • the history of psychiatry, ancient and modern
  • the significance and shortcomings of the DSM
  • the legal, ethical, and personal ramifications of involuntary “treatment”
  • the training of psychiatrists and the dynamics underlying their uncritical acceptance of their profession’s spurious concepts and destructive treatments
  • the ways in which non-psychiatrist mental health workers are co-opted into the system, and become, often despite good intentions, supporters and active participants in the psychiatric travesty
  • the role and tactics of the psycho-pharma industry
  • the stark, destructive, degrading realities of electric shock “treatment.”

In the final chapter, Bonnie offers us a glimpse of what an alternative approach might look like.

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“Doing” Antipsychiatry on all Cylinders: Possibilities, Enigmas, Challenges

On several occasions I have written about the complexities of antipsychiatry politics, exploring more specifically, how to “do our politics” in a way that moves society squarely in the direction of the abolitionist goal (e.g., Burstow, 2014). In this article, I am once again theorizing the “how” of activism—for understanding this territory is critical to maximizing effectiveness. However, this time round, I am approaching it from an angle at once more general and more practical. That is, I am investigating the tools or approaches at our disposal as activists. What relates to this, I will be discussing the genus of politic—that is, the manner of politics being engaged.

Pivotal questions grappled with in this article include: What fundamental approaches might be taken to end/rein in psychiatry? What are the strengths and shortcomings of each? What dangers do they present? To what larger genus of politic do they belong?  How are we to understand these in themselves? In relation to psychiatry? What are some of the enigmas, or challenges facing us? And how might they be met?

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Why Is There An Anti-psychiatry Movement?

On February 18, the eminent psychiatrist Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, former President of the APA, published a video and transcript on Medscape.  The article was titled What Does the New York Times Have Against Psychiatry?, and was essentially a fatuous diatribe against Tanya Lurhmann, PhD, a Stanford anthropologist, who had written for the New York Times an op-ed article that was mildly critical of psychiatry.  The essence of Dr. Lieberman’s rebuttal was that an anthropologist had no business expressing any criticism of psychiatry, and he extended his denunciation to the editors of the NY Times.

“Why would such a report be printed in a widely respected publication such as the New York Times? What other medical specialty would be asked to endure an anthropologist opining on the scientific validity of its diagnoses? None, except psychiatry. Psychiatry has the dubious distinction of being the only medical specialty with an anti-movement. There is an anti-psychiatry movement. You have never heard of an anti-cardiology movement, an anti-dermatology movement, or an anti-orthopedics movement.”

I have already written a critique of Dr. Lieberman’s paper, but my purpose today is to address the question:  why does psychiatry have an anti-movement?  In my view, there are ten reasons.

  1. Psychiatry’s definition of a mental disorder/mental illness embraces virtually every significant problem of thinking, feeling, and/or behaving, and psychiatry has been using this definition to formally medicalize problems that are not medical in nature for the past several decades.
  2. Psychiatry routinely presents these labels as the causes of the specific problems, when in fact they are merely labels with no explanatory significance.
  3. Psychiatry has routinely deceived, and continues to deceive, their clients, the public, the media, and government agencies, that these vaguely defined problems are in fact illnesses with known neural pathology.
  4. Psychiatry has blatantly promoted drugs as corrective measures for these illnesses, when in fact it is well-known in pharmacological circles that no psychiatric drug corrects any neural pathology. In fact, the opposite is the case.  All psychiatric drugs exert their effect by distorting or suppressing normal functioning.
  5. Psychiatry has conspired with the pharmaceutical industry in the creation of a vast body of fraudulent research, all designed to “prove” the efficacy and safety of pharma products.
  6. A great many psychiatrists have shamelessly accepted pharma money for very questionable activities. These activities include the widespread presentation of infomercials in the guise of CEUs; the ghost-writing of books and papers which were actually written by pharma employees; paid psychiatric “thought leaders” who promote new drugs and diagnoses for pharma; acceptance of fraudulent advertising in peer-reviewed journals; acceptance of pharmaceutical money by the APA; targeting of captive and vulnerable audiences in nursing homes, group homes, and foster-care systems for prescription of psychiatric drugs; etc., etc… In addition, 70% of the DSM-5 task force members had received funding from the pharmaceutical industry.
  7. Psychiatry’s spurious diagnoses are inherently disempowering. To tell a person, who in fact has no biological pathology, that he has an incurable illness for which he must take psychiatric drugs for life is an intrinsically disempowering act which falsely robs people of hope, and encourages them to settle for a life of drug-induced dependency and mediocrity.
  8. Psychiatry’s “treatments,” whatever transient feelings of well-being they may induce, are always destructive and damaging in the long-term.
  9. Psychiatry’s spurious and self-serving medicalization of every significant problem of thinking, feeling, and/or behaving, effectively undermines human resilience, and fosters a culture of powerlessness, uncertainty, and dependency.  Relabeling as illnesses problems which previous generations accepted as matters to be addressed and worked on, and harnessing billions of pharma dollars to promote this false message, is morally repugnant.
  10. Psychiatry neither recognizes nor accepts any limits on its expansionist agenda. In recent years, they have even stooped to giving neuroleptic drugs to young children, a “treatment,”  the long term effects of which can only be guessed at.

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