Printed with permission from John Breeding. See his website here.
My purpose in this short essay is twofold. The first is to describe my understanding of the nature of psychological distress and emotional healing. The second is to expose the truth about our modern mental health system, call it Psychiatry, which diagnoses citizens as “mentally ill” and “treats” them accordingly.
On Human Nature
My view is that in order to have even the slightest hope of a clear understanding of psychological distress and healing, one has to have an accurate view of human nature. A paramount truth about humans is that we tend to see the world not as it is, but as we are. To a large extent, our beliefs and assumptions determine how and what we perceive around us. Until they are consciously challenged, the beliefs we hold are determined by what we experienced and learned as developing young people. School, religion, and family have all played major roles in affecting how we now see the world.
Let me briefly illustrate this with a few prime examples. In the United States, we have grown up in a mostly Christian culture. Though Christianity is certainly evolving, most of us are still affected by a tendency to believe that we are born in sin, somehow unworthy and needing to be saved. Add to this the impact of Darwin’s ideas about natural selection and the survival-of-the-fittest. This has supported the notion that we need to somehow tame and civilize our naturally aggressive children. Psychology’s emphasis on behaviorism, and a school system designed according to these principles, leads us to see humans as born empty, a so-called tabula rasa or “blank slate” waiting to be written upon. Behavior modification (reward and punishment) becomes a primary tool to shape or condition children to be properly socialized. The worst example is that of biological psychiatry, which I will elucidate towards the end of this essay. The bottom line is that we see others and ourselves as inherently sinful, unworthy, aggressive or empty, and we treat each other accordingly. We live in fear and worry, and we lack trust in ourselves.
My own view, and that of many others, is that humans are glorious beings. Our inherent nature is not fundamentally aggressive, unworthy, lazy, irresponsible or dumb. Nor is it empty. The truth is that we are born highly intelligent, zestfully energetic and naturally inclined toward closeness and affection. Just look with fresh eyes at those awesome babies, when their needs are well met, and you will know that.
On Psychological Distress and Emotional Healing
Where does distress come in? Well, take another look at those babies when their needs are not met. The sweet, delightful being disappears and a contorted, crying or screaming creature arrives. We are born with a wonderful true nature, and we are also very very needy and dependent for a long long time. Our development is complex and we need a lot of help.
The process of psychological distress is really quite simple.
1. Our true nature is intelligent, zestful and loving.
2. When we are hurt physically or emotionally, this causes distress (anger, grief, fear, shame, etc.).
3. Distress interferes with true nature. We become less intelligent and less loving.
That covers most of it. Left unresolved, hurts and distress accumulate, distressing behaviors become chronic, and it becomes easy to see why many people think humans are basically dumb, lazy, irresponsible, and violent.
The good news comes from another aspect of our inherent nature.
4. We have a natural, built-in mechanism, call it emotional discharge, for healing from the effects of hurt.
This healing is accomplished by releasing the effects of the hurt. We discharge hurt and loss by crying, frustration and insult by angry storming, fright by shaking, trembling and sweating, etc. By releasing these distressing emotions, we restore ourselves to our natural intelligence, vitality and loving. We are then able to reconsider and stop living from the unresolved past hurts.
Psychological healing, then, is mostly about finding a safe place and safe people to support the natural process of facing hurts, releasing painful emotion, and letting these things go. This allows an individual to have attention in present time, and to live more and more in the presence of one’s own true nature.
Janet Foner, an international leader on issues of mental health system oppression within the Re-evaluation Counseling Community, explains that psychiatry’s view on “mental illness” is really a failure to understand the above principles. In her words:
There is no such thing as “going crazy.”
You can’t “lose your mind.”
What is “mental illness” really? It’s a very long “session” seeking discharge or having lots of discharge, without a counselor.
One Caveat: Genuine Medical Conditions Can Cause Psychiatric Symptoms
There is one other very important factor to consider, especially with the faces of severe distress, what psychiatry calls “severe mental illness.” Though it is a great error to primarily define us as biological or genetic beings, our physicality must be honored and cared for. A host of physical conditions (e.g., blood sugar imbalance, thyroid dysfunction, brain tumor, allergic responses, nutritional deficiency, and so on) can and do cause psychiatric symptoms. It is important to address the physical level of our well-being.
On Biological Psychiatry
Now is the time for part 2 of this essay. I want to provide the basic information necessary to understand the misguided beliefs, and subsequent harmful practices of psychiatry today. As there are millions of homeless people in this country, and as “mental illness” is purported to be a major cause of homelessness, I will focus on how psychiatry treats homeless people. Know, however, that the principles apply to everyone. Our mental health system today is almost entirely guided by a very specific belief system, called biological psychiatry (biopsychiatry). Therefore, The assumptions of biopsychiatry have had an enormous impact on modern life. Modeled after the practice of medicine, biopsychiatry has all the trappings of language that we associate with scientific medicine. Biopsychiatry has the language, but not the science. To understand psychiatry today, it is necessary to be very clear that it is not about medicine; it is really about social control. The basic assumptions of biopsychiatry are as follows:
1) Adjustment to society is good.
2) Failure to adjust is the result of “mental illness.”
3) “Mental illness” (Depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.) is a medical disease.
4) “Mental illness” is the result of biological and/or genetic defects.
5) “Mental illness” is chronic, progressive, and basically incurable.
6) “Mental illness” can (and must) be controlled primarily by drugs; secondarily, and for really severe “mental illness,” by electroshock.
7) People with “mental illness” are irrational, and unable to make responsible decisions for themselves; therefore, coercion is necessary and justified.
For a fuller exposition of these seven assumptions, please see my books, The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses, and The Necessity of Madness and Unproductivity: Psychiatric Oppression or Human Transformation. For now it is sufficient to recognize that these false beliefs provide the rationale for a coercive “final solution,” a logically inevitable expression of a dangerous and distorted worldview. Psychiatry supports and defends the power structure, values, practices and appearances of the status quo; it looks at the world and selects out “defective” individuals for “treatment.”
In effect, psychiatry performs a great magic trick. Once an individual is “selected,” then everyone is absolved of responsibility. The individual can’t help it; he or she is “mentally ill.” Everyone else, including society as a whole, is absolved from responsibility. Social justice issues become irrelevant since the problem is said to reside in the defective biology and genetics of the afflicted “mentally ill” individual. The citizen with civil rights becomes the incompetent patient in need of help “for their own good.” Anger, dissatisfaction, indignation, and especially refusal to admit their “illness” and accept “treatment (drugs), is called lack of insight and used as evidence that they are indeed “mentally ill.” For example, the first question when a homeless “mentally ill” person is experienced as disturbed or disturbing, is: “Have you taken your medication today?”
The Common Ground: Coercion and Control
As I discussed above, shame-based religion, behavioral psychology, and biopsychiatric views of human nature are not remotely compatible with my own. It makes absolutely no sense to glory in children if we arrive in the world empty-minded, or if we are essentially depraved, or if our problems are reducible to defective genetics and biology. But let us press on.
The Inquisition was a time when concerned religious folk used extraordinary means to save souls. It is understandable that many see either behavioral psychology or biological psychiatry as a vast improvement over the religion-based attempt to save souls by torture. By comparison, our move into the so-called age of enlightenment, the age of reason, seems a good one. Our faith changed direction, withdrew from religion, and invested in rational, scientific progress. The apparent progress left certain problematic social phenomena very intact.
Thomas Szasz, perhaps the greatest challenger of the false assumptions of biopsychiatry, coined an illuminative analogy about this transition from religion to science.
The Inquisition is to heresy as Psychiatry is to mental illness.
Do you see the connection? Psychiatry replaced religion as society’s primary non-judicial means of social control. Both institutions use knowledge not as information, but to define social power; heretics as witches, social challengers, misfits and homeless people as “mentally ill.” From such worldviews that see people as inherently shameful or defective, coercion and control are completely justified, absolutely necessary.
Make no mistake about this business of psychiatry. It is a belief system, not a science. A large part of our nation has been so successfully conditioned that they believe problems in living are primarily caused by biologically or genetically based “mental illness.” We are seeing the results of this way of viewing the world: millions of our precious children on toxic drugs, at the behest of those who they expect to take care of them, and millions more of adults on similar drugs, euphemistically referred to as medication. The reader can be assured that a country does not deliberately drug millions of its children unless many more millions of adults are on drugs. It is hard to imagine anything as pathetic.
Mostly unconscious belief systems play a powerful determining role in how we perceive the world and how we respond to what we see. Grossly distorted perceptions of human nature, like that of biopsychiatry, lead to great harm. Since we act according to our beliefs, it is urgent that our beliefs be based in reality. Fortunately, the reality of human nature is really wonderful. Knowing our true nature, trusting in ourselves, ready to resist government psychiatry’s false beliefs and coercion, and armed with a little information about the nature of psychological distress and emotional healing, we really can move forward in a good direction. Regarding homelessness, we can then do two things. One is to trust that inherent human nature is most excellent, and responsive to good will, good listening, and good support. Second is to restore our common sense and really tackle issues of jobs and housing.