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Critical of Western practices of psychiatrization? You may be a bully 06/06/2012

Posted by ALT in Patient Rights and Advocacy.
Tags: , , , , ,

What does the term “bully” mean?

If you’d asked me that question 10 or even 5 years ago, I probably would’ve answered that a bully is:

  1.  A young person (almost always male)
  2. In school
  3. Who uses muscles and aggression to terrorize and manipulate his peers and (more so) his inferiors.

But it doesn’t seem to mean that anymore.

Exhibit A, from my hometown:

The Box says: “No one should be bullied to give a handout.  Give real help.  Give help here.”  Note one of the so-called “bullies” sitting in the background.

Homeless people requesting money, food, or aid on the street (of which I see an increasing number in my city) are apparently bullies, manipulating innocent passers-by into giving them money instead of the city-wide coalition for the homeless [which will, of course, distribute funds in a fair and equitable manner, or so we are told on the other side of The Box].  So we should put our donations in “The Box” and say “NO” to bullies.

[My significant other and I always joke about dumping a big pot of soup in The Box.  How long does it take 5 full time, fully educated/certified employees – supported by Box donations – to distribute 5 cups of soup?  And will the soup be any good by the time they get around to doing it?]

I myself have been told that what I do with my writing here on ALT_mentalities is akin to “cyber bullying.”  Funny.  I thought I was critiquing erroneous articles and bad “scientific studies,” and perhaps doing a little musing here and there.  I was not aware of the “hurtful nature” of my writing.

It seems that one of the main effects of the bullying public awareness campaign that began more or less a year ago has been to vastly expand the boundaries of the term.  The word bully now carries a dizzying array of new connotations – hater, criminal, maybe even dissident, protestor, reformer —  we’re at the point now where any person who disagrees with a dominant paradigm can be labeled a “bully,” and promptly booted from the discussion.  Or, as in my first example, forced to find a new mode of survival in a field of ever diminishing options.  Forced, most likely, to become dependent on that lovely city-wide coalition staffed by certified people who, out of sheer goodness, would help even the despised bullies of the city.


To every critical thinker, every person engaged in the search for mental balance, every activist fighting for mental rights and freedoms, and every soul participating in a healthy critique of the industry that calls itself “psychiatry,” searching for a more human and human alternative:

You’re in danger of being called bully.  And it’s total bull.

What does the term “anti-psychiatry” mean?

On the surface, it seems pretty simple.  “Anti-psychiatry” = Against psychiatry.  “Psychiatry” seems to refers to the Western practice of psychiatrization, including (but not limited to) a biopsychiatric model of mental illness as brain disease, “scientific” diagnosis with the DSM, psychotropic medication as first line treatment, chronicity and decreased lifespan an assumed, prophetic outcome of “treatment.”

That probably describes a lot of folks, myself unabashedly included.

But we must remember the true meanings of the language of mental health.  Go to the Greek, and you find that to be “anti-psychiatry” is to be “against soul healing.”  Well that’s no good! The major critique of psychiatry [and, again, by psychiatry we mean the Western practice of psychiatrization here] is its complete lack of respect for, failure to even acknowledge the existence of, the soul.

Recently, psychiatrists have been talking amongst themselves, most notably in their trade journal Psychiatric Times, about the “rise” of virulent anti-psychiatry.

Sometimes I wonder if hatred of psychiatrists is one of the few remaining forms of acceptable bigotry. If the vitriol on many anti-psychiatry Web sites is any indication, the answer may be yes.

– Ronald Pies, “Moving Beyond Hatred of Psychiatry: A Brave Voice Speaks Out,” in Psychiatric Times

Those who try to help people with psychological problems also become stigmatized…

Unfortunately, sometimes in a society, those discriminated against will fight internally or compete against one another. So it is in the US at times, especially with gang conflicts. A psychoanalytic explanation for this phenomenon could be “identification with the aggressor.”

Now we may be seeing more and more of that in our field as the antipsychiatry movement of Scientologists seems to be expanding to former patients and their families who felt they were hurt by psychiatry. While some anger and criticism is surely warranted, the vitriol and call for the end of psychiatrists seems to border on hate speech.

– H. Steven Moffic, “Psychism: Defining Discrimination of Psychiatry,” in Psychiatric Times; emphasis added

Aha!  Now we’re getting somewhere.  Anti-psychiatrists are “aggressors.”  They engage in “hate speech.”  And the beliefs they espouse, the critiques they publish, their every critical thought about psychiatry likely has its roots in Scientology, whose virulent anti-psychiatry beliefs have “spread” to some non-scientologist psychiatric survivors and their families.

Maybe even a few former professionals, too.  Like Alice Keys, a recused psychiatrist who blogs at Mad In America about what reading Robert Whitaker’s books has done and continues to do to her perspective on the Western practice of psychiatrization.

What Moffic is essentially saying is that anyone he describes as “anti-psychiatry” is a bully [remember – aggressive hate speech] and as such should be not be engaged with – not by psychiatrists or any other mental health professionals – because doing so would only instigate a Stockholm Syndrome-like effect where professionals would “identify with the aggressors.”

By which I think he means mental health professionals might actually start to agree with the critique of psychiatrization or at least consider its many salient points.

Presumably this is Alice Keys’ diagnosis.

We’ve got their attention!

I found Moffic’s article about anti-psychiatry especially interesting because almost 5 months ago, he published a Psychiatric Times blog where he claimed that:

Thankfully, the anti-psychiatry movement has died down. In an unexpected way, there’s more of a pro-psychiatry movement becoming embedded in our systems. These are our patient consumers and peer specialists.

– H. Steven Moffic in January Psychiatric Times blog

A lot has changed in 5 months!  Moffic and the psychiatric community at large have noticed that they’re under intense public scrutiny.  Protestors are coming out to events like the APA conference, inconveniently lifting their voices, sharing their message with an increasingly receptive public.  And as much as Allen Frances and his ilk would like to confine scrutiny to the development of the DSM alone – they can’t.  Like an ocean wave, critical thought about many of Western psychiatrization’s dehumanizing practices is pushing inexorably towards the shore of the general public’s consciousness.

To my fellow critical thinkers, those who question Western psychiatrization but wholeheartedly support “soul healing,” … I say again, we’ve got their attention!

This didn’t have anything to do with it, did it?

Now here’s how we keep the positive momentum going, here’s how we sidestep their name-calling, here’s how we rip off the label of anti-psychiatry/bully so that more and more people can hear our message:

1.  First, let’s honestly consider psychiatry’s critique.  Are we bullies?  Are we aggressors?  When we tell our stories about what we’ve seen of psychiatry, when we recount scientific studies, research by folks like Robert Whitaker and Loren Mosher, philosophical ideas about the causes and purposes of so-called “mental illness” from John Perry, RD Laing, and Carl Jung, are we engaging in “hate speech”?  Are we distorting the truth?

My friends, to the best of my knowledge, we are not.

We are telling the truth as best we can, we are building up a body of experiential, anecdotal, as well as scientific, knowledge as we go, we are engaging in honest and sincere dialogue with anyone who cares to join us, whether they “belong” to our “movement” or not.  We want to find balance.  We want to find real “soul healers.”

Psychiatry’s label does not describe us.

2. If we’re not bullies, let’s not act like bullies!  What I mean by this is: no violence.  Let it be, as MindFreedom International’s slogan states, “a united, non-violent revolution to rethink psychiatry.”  Psychiatrists, social workers, mental health professionals at large are welcome to be a part of this re-thinking, assuming, of course, that they, too, agree to be non-violent in their engagement with fellow human beings.

PLEASE NOTE: This does not mean that survivor stories containing violence should not be told, that voices speaking with passion or strong emotion should be silenced, that only certain material is now considered legitimate (“non-violent”), a part of this dialogue.  It would be foolish address the label of “bully” and “anti-psychiatry” by allowing only politically correct voices of sugary sweetness to be heard!

Rather, let’s follow the basic rules of productive conversation – we stick to the facts.  We do not libel anyone.  We call a spade a spade, certainly, but we don’t use name-calling for its own sake.

We’ve got a good thing going.  Let’s keep it going!

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1. Becky - 06/06/2012

As usual, great post! I wrote about the bullying for bullying awareness month last year.

2. Rossa Forbes - 06/07/2012

This is an excellent post, but a long one and I may have missed some of its finer points. I wonder what organization is behind the collection boxes? Everybody’s got their hand out, it seems, including boxes! Why should we trust a box?

Right on about Allen Frances. He’d like us to confine our scrutiny to the DSM alone. Personally, I think he’s taking the safe road by calling attention to the motherhood issues that just everyone is scrutinizing – overdiagnosis, ridiculous new diagnoses, and

I have two thoughts re Moffic’s antipsychiatry and bullying comments. The first is that he links everyone who is antipsychiatry to Scientology, a sly move on his part. He does have a point about bullying which I agree with, and that is that there are a lot of psychiatric survivors (he claims the whole group, which is dishonest) who can’t disagree in a civilized way. They attack the person, not the ideas. That’s bullying. I’m glad that the MIA site called attention to this, and is taking a tougher stance. People who don’t know the difference between attacking a person and attacking an idea are going to drag us all down.

My experience with cyberbullying really only concerns one blogger who refuses to publish any opinion she disagrees with. I consider this person as bully.

ALT - 06/07/2012

“The Box” is a campaign spearheaded by a city-wide “Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention.” They are a non-profit agency with funding from … well they don’t reveal much except that the local big Pharma company based in our town is a sponsor (for most people around here, that’s something to be proud of!).

Though they are not technically a “business improvement district” (a private coalition that bands together to enforce “business standards” on public areas like commons and streets — namely, no homeless people or “delinquents” allowed!), they partner with one in our city. They want homeless people safely out of sight, out of mind. Where will they go?

They haven’t really said.

This essay is an excellent analysis of the current effort by these business improvement districts to control public space for the good of “local” business (more often than not franchised national chains!) — including any kind of violence necessary to shunt homeless and street culture people OUT.

3. Hey-Hey - 06/07/2012

I don’t know whether I should feel honored or dismayed to be quoted here (again out of context). No, I don’t feel the expanding critics of psychiatry are Scientologists, though it is sometimes hard to tell, especially when so little information – even a name – is shared by the critic. Please don’t presume that what you thought I meant to say is what I meant. To try to clarify simply: the intent of that blog was to indicate how all of us that have been involved in mental healthcare have been subject to discrimination and prejudice, and to get past this “Psychism”, we eventually will have to work together. Of course, the ones hurt the most have been patients and those patients and families hurt in some way by trying to get help.
I thought I was having some nice conversations with ALT, but then they just stopped unilaterally. I wish we had discussed the blog before you reached your conclusions. “Identity with the aggressors” has nothing to do with what you say it does.
Then, for the other blog of mine quoted, also out of context, as far as re-hospitalization goes, my major point was to recommend we have the possibility to provide adequate treatment, not too brief med checks or too brief hospitalizations; when too brief, everything becomes worse. Our enemy here is the payers. Do you understand for-profit managed care (see my book The Ethical Way)? I knew about my patient because the same thing had happened before.
As to DSM, I think it has become a major problem, but actually most psychiatrists don’t even pay attention to its criteria.
I think the protest at the APA was useless as to improving psychiatry.
I have written other blogs about the tragedy of suicides in the military.
I have been trained in, and use, some of the alternative healing mechanisms of Native Americans.

4. Hey-Hey - 06/07/2012

Oh, I forgot to clarify another mistake. Psychiatric Times is not a trade journal. It actually arose as an alternative critique to the trade journal Psychiatric News.

ALT - 06/07/2012

Dear Hey-Hey [for readers who don’t know, this is Dr. Moffic’s nick name],

Thanks ever so much for your comments and willingness to engage in dialogue. I will attempt to answer you as best I can.

A “trade journal (or magazine)” is defined by Wikipedia (pretty good for definitions, I think) as “a magazine published with the intention of target marketing to a specific industry or type of trade.” So I think my description of Psychiatric Times as “psychiatrists[‘]…trade journal” is accurate — given that articles there are almost always written by mental health professionals for an audience of other mental health professionals, and that users on the website who identify as users/consumers are not allowed to comment (participate in the dialogue).

You say that I have quoted you “out of context.” I believe you’ve said that about every instance I’ve ever quoted you on this blog. I don’t think this is a valid critique. Typically I quote you in full, with little to no use of ellipses. I never quote you unless I have read your full article multiple times and believe myself to have understood your meaning well.

The English language is my native tongue, I read voraciously, and spend a good deal of my free time writing articles for this blog and other publications. I believe I have a fairly good grasp of this mode of communication.

So either my reading comprehension and ability to connect ideas to each other (understand context) is somehow atrocious — despite constant exercise of these skills — or, more likely, what you mean when you say I “quote you out of context” is really more like I use your quotes to illustrate points you don’t like. I’m sorry if you don’t like the points I make — counter them with facts if you can!

You claim that “the intent of that blog was to indicate how all of us that have been involved in mental healthcare have been subject to discrimination and prejudice, and to get past this “Psychism”, we eventually will have to work together.”

Well, if you would’ve said that, I’d have had little to say in response! A nod of agreement, perhaps.

But that’s not what you said. You used charged language [“Scientology” “spread” (like contagion?) “hate speech” “aggressors”]. This language indicates violence. It indicates all sorts of things that I don’t believe describe me or many other members of the growing movement that questions Western practices of psychiatrization.

If you can tell me how your use of this language is meant to convey the idea that we should all work together (despite the name-calling), that we can all be friends (despite the accusations of violence!) — please explain.

Until then, I’ll stick with the above interpretation of your blog, which makes the most sense to me…
given the context.

Yours truly,

5. VenusH - 06/11/2012

Bullies? That’s a new one. I recently read how “anti-psychiatrists are scared” (of MI or whatever…. honestly, the argument was in style “yes Mussolini was a horrible fascist, but trains ran on time” (or in the case “psychiatry safes lifes and there are bad automechanics too…”).

As somebody who was born on the wrong side of iron curtain into occupied country… I am pretty sensitive to attempts to supress freedom of speech in name of “greater good”: If you cannot defend what you are doing… then you are doing it wrong. I am sick and tired of pro-psychiatrists screeching how reporting bad things deters people from getting *treatment*. I hate that people are told they should just put up with the bad system. That not liking it means that you are ill and delusional, scared, a bully, have and agenda (Pharma industry is as big as oil industry globally…. yet, it’s the critics that have “agenda”),

ALT - 06/11/2012

Really great to get your perspective! The gradual erosion of [individual] free speech in this country is a downright scary thing. Corporate free speech, however, grows “freer” by the day.

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