Will Hall’s thoughts on the psychotropic drug use

I wrote a post on my musings about psychotropic drug use last night. And musings they are. I have no fixed opinion. I am in process.

I got a brilliant, developed and well thought out response from Will Hall in the comment section which I’d like to share here. Remember to read the above linked post if you haven’t because it gives the context for which this was a response.

I am in graduate school studying psychology and a while back we had a class on the DSM and related topics. More than one student kept asking “When does someone need to be on meds?” “When should someone be medicated?” and “When is it necessary to medicate someone?”

I of course offered a lot of information and the students learned a lot, but something about the questions keeps bothering me. Not the lack of accurate information surrounding medications, but something more basic. This is somewhat hard to explain but I’ll give it a try:

It’s as if a certain way of thinking about the problem is behind the way the question is formulated. “Are medications necessary?” is for me not as meaningful a question as “Are medications useful? Are they helping you? How do you experience them? What options do you have? How did you come to the decision to take medications? How informed are you?”

In asking “When are medications necessary?” there is somewhere a God figure who Knows What’s Best. This figure has always been behind medical authority. It also never really exists.

You can never know if medications “are necessary” because you can never time travel into the past or future. It is not a meaningful way to frame the question, because you are asking to know the Truth about the past or future. Nothing is ever “necessary.” All you can say is “So and so said they were necessary” or “So and so believes they are necessary” or “they feel necessary to me.”

Think about any choice you make in your life, any choice. “I need to go to work.” “I need to take care of my children.” These are choices we make that people would support, and make sense, choices we make every day. But are these choices “necessary?” We feel they are, but we can never really know if they are from the God’s Truth, time travel point of view. Maybe a different choice would be better?

Say someone for example quits their job suddenly and plunges into poverty, completely overturns their stable life. Sounds like a disaster, but many people have in fact done this and come out much better off. Maybe they get a better job and a better life.

Same thing with taking care of your children. Some parents may hand over childcare to a grandparent or a spouse and it ends up being much better for them and the child. People do terrible things to children because they feel it’s “necessary.”

The reality is that we give doctors a power to “know what we need” when in fact, does anyone ever really “know what we need” in a final sense? All we have is our experience. “I took a Klonopin last night and today I was able to go to work because I got some sleep.” That feels sound, it feels useful to you, it feels positive. So you decide it was the right choice. Great, I totally support that. But the nature of being human is that we can never know if any choice was Right in an objective, final sense, because, unlike God, we can’t time travel and see the implications of taking different choices.

I can look at your Klonopin taking and see you are strung out during the day, not getting good sleep, and have anxiety that is probably a result of taking the Klonopin, realize that you are going to have a hard time getting off, and see that your physical health is declining from taking it. I can tell you all these things. If you say “I don’t believe you, I need my Klonopin,” can I really be so sure I have the answer when the person doesn’t? Maybe they are in denial and stuck for a reason — maybe they are protecting themselves from some demon of trauma, some memory, some family situation, and the time just isn’t right to deal with it, and if they did push and got off Klonopin they would end up in a crisis and worse off than when they were taking it. Can I time travel to alternate realities and know what’s best?

I realize this sounds like a radical point of view, but I don’t think you can get around it. You never really know for any choice for certain if it was “necessary.” No choice is “necessary,” we can agree it is necessary because it feels like the best thing, but we can’t ever know all those alternative realities or time travel to see what different options would lead to. All you know is you made the choice (or it was made for you) in specific circumstances, you try to do the best you can, and you look at the consequences and decide whether something is right for you. “Whatever works for you” is a mantra I’ve repeated over and over again in my work. “Should I take medications?” “Whatever works for you.”

This comes up around suicide, another place where doctors like to play God. People have told me, “Will, this group you started saved my life.” I appreciate the compliment and value the way the person feels helped, but I see this statement as predicting the future. What if they never found the group? Can they time travel and know that some other way of getting help would never be found? Maybe they find a better group, maybe they learn to help themselves after spending more time alone? Saying something or someone “saved me from suicide” is in a sense to predict the future or claim to know an alternate reality. Even someone who is talked back from a ledge or found and rushed to the hospital – all you can say is “almost certainly” or “extremely unlikely” that they would have survived. Maybe somebody else would have been there to help them. Maybe they have a freak physical reaction to the overdose they took. Maybe there is a miracle (they do happen). Life is fundamentally creative and unpredictable.

That goes for medications too. No one really knows. I am absolutely not saying that because you can’t predict the future, people shouldn’t know that drugs are toxic or addictive or they have specific results. They should know. Some consequences are so completely predictable that they might as well be certain. But very strange things are possible. Remember that science used to believe we don’t grow new brain cells, that the brain can’t heal. Now that is known to be false: the brain does grow new cells and the brain can heal. When a friend told me he had cancer a few years ago I supported the decision for surgery and was very worried for him. I also told him to take the information about likely outcomes and how much danger he is in very seriously, but to hold out the possibility that not even doctors know 100% what is going to happen.

This may sound like an abstract philosophical point of view, but it’s instead extremely practical. People want Answers. There are none. They want Certainty. There isn’t any. Doctors thrive on this need people seem to have to know their choices and life paths are Right and Necessary. We can never really know. All we know is that we have an experience. A choice feels right, it is useful, people around us seem to agree. So we go with it. But can we know the other choice wouldn’t have been better?

This gets into a direction I think it is very useful to explore: Doctors as priests and science as religious belief. What doctors and science deal in are very practical decisions and tools. Its not the same as religion. But there are very strong parallels in how we turn to them as Authorities and they step in to give us Answers based on some presumed power we seem to give them to travel in time and to know alternate realities resulting from different choices. That authority is comforting. We do need certainty. But like the decline of religion over the past 150 years or so, we need a decline in blind obedience to doctors and science, and we need to put more authority in ourselves.

I feel very strongly that I needed to get off neuroleptics and get out of the mental health system. When someone comes to me and says, Do I need to get off neuroleptics and get out of the system?, I don’t respond by saying Yes. All I can do is tell them my experience — and be open to theirs. Maybe their circumstance is such that, unlike me, the alternative options are worse than the ones I faced. Maybe things will go differently for them than they did for me. There is no way for anyone to predict the future.

If you read the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs that I wrote, you will see that this subjective perspective informs the approach throughout. I think it is part of Harm Reduction philosophy — only you can know your life. It deeply honors the uniqueness of each person’s experience and validates the importance of discovering for yourself without anyone else giving you final authority over the right and wrong of your experience. This is for extremely practical reasons. We just don’t know. The experiences of people taking meds are all over the map, from I’m Saved to They Ruined My Life.

If we validate the individual, put the power back in personal experience, and open up to experimenting with the unknown (based on as much information we can about other people’s experience and what the science does and does not know), we offer something that can in my mind truly help people: a sense of control of their own lives.

22 thoughts on “Will Hall’s thoughts on the psychotropic drug use

Add yours

  1. Reading back over what I wrote, I should distinguish institutional religion as some people experience it and spirituality and spiritual practice. I am actually a ‘religious’ person in the spiritual sense, and do not make a blanket condemnation of religion, as atheists and some scientists do. – will

  2. Will,

    Much gratitude with what you’ve done with the Freedom Center.
    I like the name!

    And, with your work on Madness Radio – You have a calm and soothing voice – and, it helps create much-needed dialogue. (your voice is a gift)

    My best,

  3. Will,

    The piece was well-written. I enjoyed it. You reminded me of two of my favorite professors in grad school. Two I still touch based with on a regular basis – one is a neurofeedback trainer, and has run a lab for years at UNT, the other a woman who grew up in the country in North Texas – down to earth, but very insightful – very introspective, and very compassionate. I enjoy each of them….and, am grateful for all I was able to learn from them.

    You said – re” religion….

    “The parallels are huge however, in the way we surrender our own personal experience to what amounts to faith in an outside authority.”

    I’ve always considered faith to be a gift, and faith communities built on people who experience a similar gift. I disagree with the bishops of my church, and I let them know when I disagree. Those of us in any faith community have free will, and I was taught, many years ago, that conscience is a supreme authority – a precious gift from God as I see it….We are each guided by this conscience of ours….Natural Law – a gift to all mankind – of all faiths, to include agnostics….and was taken into account in our Constitution, and our “law” in general.


    Surely, we can all agree – every person in this country…that neuroleptics are off limits for children. Surely, we can do that.
    If not, we are having nothing more than an academic exercise, while kids’ lifes are being lost. Sometimes, we have to stand up for things. Life is complex – without question, but there are a few things that are black and white. Giving a neuroleptic to a baby is insane.

    I hope we can all agree on that.


  4. Hi everyone, wow it is inspiring to read these responses, thanks everyone for the reply.

    I do know people who I would consider very informed about drugs but choose to use them, largely because of the lack of an ‘infrastructure of care.’ I sometimes have a sense they might be limiting themselves out of fear, or have adopted too many of the assumptions of their doctors, but I also honestly believe they may very well be making the best decision for them at this time. I can’t be in a position to judge someone else’s life.

    As I wrote in the Harm Reduction Guide, I do believe that if the science and medicine were honest and the FDA regulatory apparatus had integrity, no or virtually no psychiatric drug would have ever made it to market to begin with. I’m also against most psychiatric drugging of children (psych drugs are such a broad category that it’s hard to make sweeping statements) because they aren’t legally allowed to give consent.

    The science = religion comparison is definitely too simplistic. Science relies on independent and repeatable results, and has to consistently create effective tools with practical effects. This starts to get into a bigger discussion of philosophy… The parallels are huge however, in the way we surrender our own personal experience to what amounts to faith in an outside authority. People typically disregard the truth of their own experience in their desire to believe the truth of medical authority. What goes unexamined is the need for an outside authority in the first place. I do sometimes want that outside authority – I am happy to put my faith in my car mechanic, or in the guy who came to fix our furnace. Authority has its place; it’s when authority oversteps its bounds that the problem arises.

    In a sense the problem is that science is not truly scientific enough. An honest science would affirm the limits of science and be much more humble about what is know and not known. John Horgan, who wrote The Undiscovered Mind (interview with him at madness radio here: http://www.madnessradio.net/audio/by/title/john_horgan_the_undiscovered_mind) is a great example of using scientific skepticism to debunk neuroscience; Robert Whitaker who wrote Mad In America is another example. Science fills a need left by religion, and ends up being something other than what science is.

    Thanks again everyone for the opportunity to share my thoughts and have this dialog.

  5. “Life is fundamentally creative and unpredictable.”

    This is my favorite line in this piece.

    There is no future. Cliche: but there is only now. As much as we want to control all the variables to make life comfortable and certain, it ain’t happening.

    Pema Chodron calls it “groundlessness.” This groundlessness may seem scary, and it is, when we are so conditioned to believe what our authority figures tell us, but it’s ultimate freedom when you really grasp it.

  6. Marian,

    It’s surreal.
    That’s all I can say about it…..

    Watching professionals promote this stuff…
    It’s surreal.

    Like a bad nightmare.

    And, what you had to say about “what is left” of people….I’m with you!

    Informed consent.
    If there was informed consent, very few people would opt to ever get on psych drugs….very few! And, if they started on them, they would quickly see the “benefits” are far outweighed by the “fallout”….

    I’m for freedom of people to choose, as long as there is informed consent….And, part of that “informed consent” needs to be giving people all the facts to the “science” behind the drug approvals….”Informed consent” about how half of the clinical trials are never published….How the FDA (in U.S.), works in parnership with the drug companies….How these drugs have very short-run clinical trials, how data is fabricated, falsified, hidden, tossed out, thrown in the dumpster….

    Once this type of “informed consent” is given to people….there will be very few on psych drugs….And, those who are – We need to find some ways to help them get off – If/when they change their minds!!!

    One last thing – kids. Neuoroleptics should be off limit to kids….That’s where an adult’s “freedom” is moot! Kids need our protection….They don’t have a political voice in this mess…..and it is a mess!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Until we sort through this crap, we need to protect kids – some of whom are only a few years old, or in the case of Texas – under one year old!!!!!!!!!!!

    What needs to happen to someone who puts a one-year old on a nueroleptic? They need to be given a fair trial, and then fitted for an orange jumpsuit, with shackels placed on their ankles and wrists, and tossed into a federal tank with their “collleagues”!!!


  7. Ok, I’ll jump in on the science and religion thing. I do believe Will Hall was comparing the rather strictly enforced hand of “organized religion” (Christianity in the West) over 150 years ago–factually true–with the almost frightening sense of authority doctors wield for many people. He made the point that in both arenas, it’s good to go on your own personal quest. Sure enough, the “new spirituality,” meaning personally crafted, private theologies, have seemed to rise in tandem with the kind of explorations into holistic health that also burgeon.

    Of course there is an intersection, because if your spiritual quest is true you will confront your personal responsibility for your body and mind. I don’t think Will Hall said that, but I did.


  8. “their spirits broken to a degree where choice is no longer an easy option.”

    If it is an option at all. I’ve met people – people? no. what is left, when the spirit is gone… – for whom choice simply wasn’t an option anymore. And you know what the worst was? That everybody else, not just the professionals, thought, that this was completely ok. That it was as it had to be.

    What really scares me, is that therapists, psychologists, often contribute to this. Today more than ever.

  9. “well I can’t speak for Will, but I don’t see disagreement in what you’re talking about unless you start interpreting everything said too literally.”

    Maybe so.
    As much as I enjoy these blogs, and the forums, they have limitations.

    Most of communication is non-verbal – body language.
    Another percent is based on tone, inflection of voice, etc.
    So, we miss out on what people are saying sometimes….

    A person can write: “Let’s eat grandma”……When they meant “Let’s eat, grandma”…..

    What a difference a comma makes in an email…and without the emphasis on the word eat (rather than grandma), things can be miscontrued!

    The other thing is that when it comes to politics and religion, we’re into complex areas….areas that require time, and real listening – to hear one-another.

    I thought it was a very good piece.
    I may have misunderstood.
    I may find myself in disagreement – even with a full explanation from Will (he, afterall is not here)….

    I’ll go to my grave believing it’s okay to cheer someone on with 90% of what they say, and strongly disagree with 10%.
    Adimantly disagree.

    To quote Stuart Smalley (from SNL fame): “That’s okay.”


  10. another point about the infrastructure of care…it’s not just being able to afford therapy…sometimes it’s needing safe haven and 24 hour care…what for those folks??

    Right now, in general, they are incarcerated and forced drugged—their spirits broken to a degree where choice is no longer an easy option.

  11. Marian,
    I left a couple of comments on the other post where Will’s comment first appears. You quoted from one.

    I’m going to post the second one that I wrote here too:

    think it is part of Harm Reduction philosophy — only you can know your life. It deeply honors the uniqueness of each person’s experience and validates the importance of discovering for yourself without anyone else giving you final authority over the right and wrong of your experience….

    …The experiences of people taking meds are all over the map, from I’m Saved to They Ruined My Life.

    there is so much I’d like to say about all the stuff you’re writing—and I’m not up to fine analysis these days..AT ALL because of cognitive problems, BECAUSE of the drugs…BUT, the above is so totally right on…

    in one perspective “drugs ruined my life,” yes. In another, they gave me purpose. Who knew I would go on to have a voice to help others make different choices based on the fact that the drugs “ruined my life?” They’ve created my purpose at this moment. My life is hardly meaningless as a result of taking drugs.

    Reframing our experience, reinterpreting the hard times…all sorts of things allow us to see we do not know what is for another and even for ourselves quite often.

    Drugs have completely disabled me. I can barely get out of bed. I hate drugs.

    I hope to keep people from drugs. This is the goal of this blog…but it’s only for those people who WISH to take that message from it….

    that’s why everyone is free.

  12. One tiny objection here:
    “I wouldn’t be me anymore,” is a thought, that immediately crossed my mind, when I was asked to take psych drugs. This is where I see, these drugs differ from any other drug. They alienate the person who takes them from herself. Which can make it difficult to take responsibility for oneself (hard to take responsibility for something, you don’t know, you’re not in contact with), and make choices. The spellbinding effect of these drugs, Breggin talks about.

    But, as you, Gianna, write in your answer to Will at the other post:

    “I’d rather see an infrastructure of care (that doesn’t exist) where people wouldn’t need to take drugs either…right now there is no such thing” (my italics)

    At least, there is no infrastructure that would allow everybody to choose. I only had a choice, because I could afford to pay for therapy sessions. Others may have a choice, because there’s one or the other self-help group nearby where they live, or because they have an extraordinarily supportive network. A lot of people have neither of these possibilities.

  13. Because they become “sound bytes” in a forum like this…that’s why.

    I’ll give it a shot, but it’s hard to in a few words:

    I dont’ see a strong parrallel of religion to medicine.
    Or a strong parrallel to “blind” belief in either.

    Science is based on data, evidence, theory.
    Religion is based on faith.

    I don’t think belonging to a religion necessarily makes a person “blind” to what the leaders of that church have to say.
    I think it makes them members of a community of similar-believing people.

    And, belonging to a community of similarly-believing people, doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is not open to being deeply respectful and “open” to hearing other’s beliefs – from other faith communities….

    Once again, it becomes “soundbytes”.


  14. Duane,
    why not risk conversing about disagreements if you’re going to make a point to say you have them?

    Noone ever agrees 100% with anyone…that’s human nature…

    but if you’re going to raise it as an issue, why don’t you say what it is?

  15. Self-determination, and freedom to find ones way in life.
    These are the things I agree with on this piece.

    There are a couple of specific lines that I don’t agree with, but would rather not go there….

    That’s how most things are with me, and the way I see the world…I rarely find what one person has to say about anything to be the “one way”. I enjoyed his talking about what I consider to be “freedom”….

    But, as fate would have it, found myself “free” enough not to agree with each and every thing he said.

    I’m feeling a bit nervous about where we are right now in this country….I want the new President be successful. But, it’s frightening to me that those of us who don’t agree with some things are asked to “shut up”….

    All of us get to have opinions with each issue….every issue, and we get to have those opinions heard in this broken system of ours….If not, it won’t be broken any longer…It will be shattered – beyond repair.


  16. Thank you so much Will for writing this and Gianna for posting it. It’s very thoughtful and certainly sounds like the voice of hard learned experience talking.

  17. His words sound like many I heard from two of my favorite professors in grad School, studying Rehabilitation Counseling. There were a couple of profs who talked this way all the time…..

    I learned a lot from them.

    Informed consent. That’s all.
    No drugs for kids. That’s all.

    If that happens, I get quiet on drugs, but not until that day.
    Until that day, I stay loud – politically.

    Kinda like the old song from John Lennon (slight variation):

    “All we are saying is give freedom a chance.”


  18. This is excellent:

    “It’s as if a certain way of thinking about the problem is behind the way the question is formulated. “Are medications necessary?” is for me not as meaningful a question as “Are medications useful? Are they helping you? How do you experience them? What options do you have? How did you come to the decision to take medications? How informed are you?”

    and so is this:
    “This may sound like an abstract philosophical point of view, but it’s instead extremely practical. People want Answers. There are none. They want Certainty. There isn’t any.”

    it’s all wonderful and profound. thank you Will.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑