Antipsychiatry

I’ve begun thinking about the “antipsychiatry,” movement and concepts as a result of reading Philip’s post the other day on Furious Seasons. I was triggered by both his post and the comment made by Ruth (author of Off Label) which you can read below the post. I made a comment as well, but not a lot of thought went into it and I’ve since given the issue much more thought. Ruth’s insightful comment makes up most of this post. I don’t have a whole lot to add to it.

Philip on the accusation that he is anti-psych responds:

Many newish readers assume that I am anti-psych because I am deeply critical of psych meds, diagnoses, doctors, Big Pharma and the media. Well, there’s a lot to be critical of amongst those actors, but the flow of information for patients is so skewed in favor of what pharma companies and psych researchers claim is true that I thought a blog like this could be a useful way to offer some transparency and accountability in the mental health world in much the same way that a city hall reporter is supposed to be telling his/her readers about how their tax dollars are being spent. If that makes me anti-psych in some peoples’ minds, then I’d say they are being completely simple-minded.

I responded:

I lean towards “anti-psychiatry,”–I share many ideas of those in the so-called camp–but what does that really mean? First I am measured in my beliefs–I’m not as dogmatic as some in “that” camp. And I work with two psychiatrists I like, who respect me and trust my experience. So I say banish the word “anti”–we need radically transformed psychiatry. One not informed primarily by the pharmaceutical companies.There is nothing wrong with being in a helping profession for those suffering mental anguish. What is wrong is how those professions are acting at this point in time.

And Ruth says:

I probably wouldn’t have much quality of life now if I hadn’t been “non-compliant” and got the hell away from shrinks and my parents when I was a kid. I imagine I could have made quite a nice little career for myself as a “professional patient”, ricocheting in and out of hospital, making a mountain out of every emotional molehill, allowing post-traumatic stress to degenerate into outright psychosis, taking drugs, drugs and more drugs and never having to engage with the demands of the outside world.Having such an experience is obviously not conducive to developing a positive attitude to psychiatry. However, I’d hesitate to call myself “anti-psychiatry”, which is a term loaded to the dots on its i’s with specific historical and philosophical baggage, which means some caution is called for when using it. It can no more be reduced to the bare sum of its phonemes than “consumer” can be said to mean “someone who shops” and nothing more.

“Critical psychiatry”, on the other hand, implies a much broader church, encompassing people who choose to see psychiatrists and/or take medications and people who don’t; people whose primary concern is in the tactics of the drug companies; or the scientific or philosophical underpinnings of the discipline; or the abuses of power that occur both in hospitals and in outpatient therapy. Some are just wounded, raw and angry, feeling betrayed by a system that purported to help but only made their problems worse. Some are psychiatrists, psychologists and related professionals themselves.

People who have been hurt by psychiatry have already had to deal with having their wishes constantly overriden, their perceptions denied, and their opinions mocked and invalidated. To then have some “self-righteous recovery zealot” come and hector them about coming off their Zoloft would merely perpetuate that dynamic. So indeed, “don’t let the self-righteous recovery zealots intimidate you”. But who/where exactly are these zealots? Sure, there are one or two couch-jumping high-profilers who don’t know when to shut up, and a few not-so-famous people who are just so fucking pissed off that their passion overrides their politesse. But the majority of psychiatric critics I’ve encountered would not say “Throw away your medication,” but “If you’re considering taking such-and-such, make sure it’s an informed decision. If you want to stop taking such-and-such, whatever you do, don’t do it suddenly.”

Ruth’s analysis resonates with me. As a hapless participant in my psychiatrization–that is I accepted to some degree the hurt that was wrought upon me because, once coerced, I like “they” bought into the only show on the road. It would be disingenuous to respond by reactively taking a hard-core, one sided stance such as the anti-psychiatry movement does. I sympathize with the dogmatic, absolutist ideas many people hold within antipsychiaty, but I cannot embrace them. It is not difficult for me to understand a radical stance and I in fact identify quite deeply. I have similar problems with anger and bitterness towards the system. But I equally feel a connection to everyone still in the psych system and still choosing to take drugs.

I guess I sort of feel like I embody the whole continuum. I’ve certainly lived the paradigm from all sides. I’ve been the victim of forced and coerced inpatient treatment, I’ve been the good, compliant (perhaps still coerced, but that’s another post) patient, I’ve been the brainwashed social worker trying to do good by encouraging her clients to stick to the program, and now I’m the critical, angry, soon-to-be ex-patient extracting herself from psychiatry. How in hell can I judge anyone on any part of the spectrum? If I accept myself, past and present and my reality as it is now then I can only say–we are all kin in this matter. We all need to be given the opportunity for informed consent and respect one another once that consent is made or not.

What we must do, as Philip is quoted above, is get “deeply critical of psych meds, diagnoses, doctors, Big Pharma and the media.” We all know things aren’t working well in the mental health system. That opens the door for all of us struggling to do the best we can to question authority and truly learn what informed consent means. We don’t need to critique each other, we simply need to converse and share information. We can only be sure of our own experience.

I sometimes wonder if I seem dogmatic on my blog. I’d like to say I’m simply enthusiastic. I was talking to my brother yesterday and he asked me how my withdrawals were going. It was the first time in a long time that he had shown any interest in anything I was doing–he’s just been too sick to care. He seemed quite interested so I delved into sharing all sorts of things regarding the issues I deal with on this blog. He joked and said, “when are you going on tour?” I laughed and I said, “yes, I can be a bit evangelical, but it’s just that it’s so exciting.” And so that is how I feel. I know that my path is not for everyone. And I don’t impose my beliefs on anyone in my real life and I do have friends and family on psych meds. I approach people taking into consideration where they stand and if they want to have a conversation about all things mental health then I’m more than happy to discuss my opinions. I also know when to leave it completely alone.

I had an experience in the comments section on this blog a few days ago. I did do a bit of challenging when someone left a comment that was not at all in keeping with the ideas behind the blog. I had mixed feelings about doing that, but I wanted to keep the integrity of the blog. This blog is my forum for letting it all out. I do always hope to maintain good will and respect, because like said I believe we’re all in this together. And bottom line–I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t actually know what the final outcome of my journey will be, though it’s looking pretty good. I hope never to have such arrogance to think I know what anybodies answer should be. I do however have strong opinions and I enjoy spreading them around to anyone who cares to stick around my blog.

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About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

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