What do we want to call ourselves? I could currently go by patient, client, consumer, user and the psychiatrized. I am neither an ex-user or a psychiatric-survivor just yet–though I hope to become both of those. Some might argue I’m surviving, but as long as I’m a “consumer” I don’t feel I can call myself a survivor. I’d like to think that ultimately, like in Breggin’s piece yesterday I will “triumph” and move beyond the self-limiting term of a mere survivor. I am determined to be free of the system and thrive without it.
The mainstream term considered most politically correct at this time for someone who uses psychiatric services is “consumer.” I find this name to be particularly unpalatable. A term created based on a capitalistic system where money and purchasing power dictate all. The consumer is one who buys on the free market. One who has choices and is empowered to choose. We are rarely if ever offered choice. We are also some of the poorest people in the country–consumerism is driven by money and the power money gives you.
And then to turn the word on it’s head–what do we as people who utilize psychiatric services consume the most? Drugs. We are consumers of drugs. We consume them with our pockets and we consume them with our mouths and bodies. Who in the hell thought that this term did a service to those of us with psychiatric labels?
I’ve talked to people who are offended by the term “client.” I’ve always felt it was a very neutral term and seemed respectful. I used it as a social worker for the people I worked with and it never made me feel anything but the respect I already had for them. It was towards the end of my career that the shift to “consumer” began. It made me cringe from day one.
I’d be curious to get comments on this issue in general. But I’m also interested to know why we went from patient to client to consumer and what people think about that. I understand not wanting to be called a patient, which implies illness and we certainly don’t all think of ourselves as ill–though I’m sure with the biomedical model many people are completely comfortable being called patients as well. It’s rather odd that an organization like NAMI who pushes the biomedical model so hard is probably the leader in the “consumer” movement. Seems like active double-speak to me.
In any case I suppose for me now, as educated and in control of my care as I am, consumer may actually fit. My psychiatrist certainly works for me. I tell him what to do. He trusts me and allows me to employ him. He is not a patsy. He recognizes my motivation and intelligence and my right to self-determination and respects it. This kind of relationship between “consumer” and doctor is extremely rare. I also choose with empowerment what I put in my body and what I am slowly removing from my body. I am a consumer in a truly rare sense. Most of us are not so lucky.