Editor’s note: I have uploaded a PDF of this article to Scribd since it’s long and some folks may prefer downloading and reading it offline.
by Paul Levy
I first entered the psychiatric world in the middle of a life-transforming spiritual awakening which had gotten catalyzed because of intense emotional abuse from a psychopathic father. Spiritually emerging into a more expansive and whole part of myself, I was beginning to recognize the dreamlike nature of the universe, a universe in which we were all inseparably interconnected with each other. I was so enthusiastic about my realizations that the anti-bliss patrol got alerted and I got put into psychiatric hospitals, where I got (mis)diagnosed and medicated out of my mind such that my spiritual awakening got extinguished and I felt traumatized—literally, made sick—by the treatment I received. While I was under the “care” of psychiatry, it was a waking nightmare: the more I was solidified in the role of being the sick one, the sicker I got, which in a diabolically self-perpetuating feedback loop, only confirmed to the psychiatrists how “sick” I truly was. After the “treatment” I received from the psychiatric system, I became truly sick.
It was as if I had gone into a hospital suffering from one illness, and was treated as if I had a completely different, an illusory illness which not only made my real illness worse, but it literally drove me crazy, completely destroyed any semblance I had of a family and almost killed me. To use a physical example, it was like I went into the hospital suffering from kidney stones and the doctors removed my appendix instead. In essence, psychiatry put fuel on the fire of the pathological part of my process, and treated the healthy, healing aspect of my process as if it was a cancerous tumor that needed to be exterminated at all costs, and I would be the one paying the bill.
Not only was my spiritual awakening not recognized but, rather, pathologized instead, but in addition, I was not believed about the abuse from my father; on the contrary, psychiatry colluded with my father and unwittingly enacted a variation of the very abuse I was pointing at. To top everything off, I was diagnosed as having a mental illness that I didn’t have, and forced to take medicine so as to “correct” what every single psychiatrist who treated me told me was a “chemical imbalance” in my brain (Unbeknown to me at the time, the DSM III had just come out the year before announcing this “discovery”). This chemical imbalance “theory” was later proven to be completely bogus.
Diagnosis is a slippery slope; oftentimes it can be a smokescreen for ignorance. Jung describes a certain type of understanding that I imagine informs many diagnoses as “a fearfully binding power, at times a veritable murder of the soul.” [emphasis added] When I was given a written-in-stone diagnosis by psychiatrists who had a complete certainty in what they thought was happening within me but actually had less than no idea, it did feel like “a veritable murder of the soul.” The shadow side of diagnosis is that it is the outcome of staring at phenomena with the “objective look,” that “ethically blank, heartless scientific gaze,” as late psychiatrist R. D. Laing calls it; a gaze which “does not see or hear us.” When I received my psychiatric diagnosis, to say I felt “unseen” was an understatement. At the same time that the psychiatrists were laying on me their misdiagnosis, I was in turn diagnosing them in my own head as simply being incredibly stupid (what I simply call “the stupid diagnosis”). Laing continues, “the methods used to investigate the objective world, applied to us, are blind to our experience, necessarily so, and cannot relate to our experience. Such blind method, applied blindly to us, is liable to destroy us in practice, as it has done already in theory.” I am truly fortunate to have escaped from psychiatry with my sanity intact.
In being mis-diagnosed by psychiatry as suffering from a chemical imbalance in my brain, my perceptions about the nature of my own experience were deleted from having any validity, as if I was being treated as a mental “in-valid” (which was truly “crazy-making”). I felt both objectified and marginalized in my own treatment. In consulting their hallowed diagnostic manual, the DSM, it was as if the psychiatrist’s were reading from a grimoire, trying to match what little they understood of my experience to something somebody else wrote in a book; it was truly insane. When I was diagnosed, I was downgraded from having full existential status as a sovereign human being, as I was no longer considered to be the arbiter of my own experience or rightful possessor of my own image or definition of myself. Once I received my diagnosis, as if my condition was being etched in stone, everything I said or did from that moment on was seen through the stultifying lens of my diagnosis.
A normal baseline for “chemical balance” has never been established; the chemical imbalance theory was a complete and utter fake, in which its proponents pretended they knew something that they didn’t. There is no definitive laboratory test for any so-called mental disorder. Dr. Allen Frances, who has been called “perhaps the most powerful psychiatrist in America” and who in 1994 headed the project to write the latest edition of the psychiatric bible, the DSM-IV, recently blew the whistle on his own profession. In an interview with Gary Greenberg from Wired Magazine, Frances says “There is no definition of a mental disorder. It’s bullshit, I mean you just can’t define it.” Modern day diagnosis of psychiatric disorders is like those medieval maps that dealt with places in which they didn’t know what was going on by writing “Dragons Live Here.” The modern-day “dragons” are all of the various psychiatric diagnoses concocted so as to fill in the blanks for what we don’t know.
To quote Dr. Ronald Pies, editor-in-chief emeritus of the Psychiatric Times, “In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend — never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.” And yet, every single psychiatrist (and there were many) who saw me in all the multiple hospitals always told me I was suffering from a chemical imbalance in my brain. Were they all simply some of the “less-informed” variety of psychiatrists? Pies continues, “In the past 30 years, I don’t believe I have ever heard a knowledgeable, well-trained psychiatrist make such a preposterous claim [about chemical imbalance in the brain], except perhaps to mock it…the ‘chemical imbalance’ image has been vigorously promoted by some pharmaceutical companies.” Were all of the psychiatrists who gave me my “preposterous” diagnosis, a diagnosis that was worthy of being “mocked” by those in the know, not knowledgeable nor well-trained? Pies statement about the idea of a chemical imbalance being “vigorously promoted by some pharmaceutical companies” is revealing, as it truly blows the lid off of what’s really been going on.
It has come to light that the pharmaceutical companies knew all along that the idea of a chemical imbalance was made-up (thought up by people whose brains were truly chemically imbalanced, I might add). Fabricated by the pharmaceutical’s marketing department, the notion of a chemical imbalance was the product of a fevered imagination informed by dreams of big bucks, so as to give people a reason to buy their drugs. Pharmaceutical companies are not “not-for-profits;” they are all about profits, which is to say morality is left behind. In wanting to make me part of the apparatus of their system, psychiatry wanted to harvest my money, time, life-force, mind and health as one diagnosis would invariably follow another in a never-ending spiral that definitely would have ended my life as I know it. If this isn’t evil, I don’t know what is.
But I digress. Once in the clutches of psychiatry, I was then medicated to heal my newly diagnosed chemical imbalance (the medication serving to abort my spiritual awakening and shut down my creativity), and told that I would have to be on medication till my dying breath. One doctor even “guaranteed” (I wonder if I can get my money back?) that I’d have this illness for the rest of my life. I was being given a life sentence with no possibility for parole, with no time off for good behavior (It should be noted that I haven’t taken any psychiatric medication for over thirty years, with no “episodes,” which, from the psychiatric point of view, is impossible if I truly had what is now called bi-polar illness). The fact that I wanted to dialogue about this and question their diagnosis not only made them angry, but was proof, to the psychiatrists in charge of me, of my alleged illness. The psychiatrists hoped to one day make me “a functioning member of society;” I, on the other hand, was hoping to make psychiatry a functioning member of society, not one day in the future, but right now. Psychiatry didn’t just want to give me a diagnosis, it wanted to inaugurate me into a whole new “career” as mental patient.
In my wildest dreams I couldn’t imagine more of a hell-realm than psychiatry. It was only years after I had left the psychiatric community that I began to re-contextualize and reframe my experiences with psychiatry as a shamanic descent into the underworld, into the depths of a modern-day Hades. What the psychiatrists were doing was truly maddening and crazy-making. Psychiatrists are trained to pathologize; once I was diagnosed and labeled with a mental illness, my behavior was myopically viewed through the lens of pathology, which only served to draw out the pathological aspect of my process, further confirming to the psychiatrists the correctness of their diagnosis in a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, once my emerging lucidity was violently shut down by psychiatry, I began feeling depressed, which was a “normal” thing to feel under such horrible circumstances. My feeling depressed inspired the psychiatrists, however, to solidify their diagnosis of me as manic-depressive (as I was now seen as “cycling” into the depressive phase of my “illness”), and they then prescribed an anti-depressant to “help” my depression, adding to the cocktail of the anti-psychotic and lithium they already had me on. It was like I had re-created my family-of-origin trauma—in Freud’s words, “new editions of the old conflicts”—only this time on pharmaceuticals.
As time passed under their watch, the spiritual awakening component of my experience faded into the background, and the unresolved abuse from my father came to the fore, front and center; this makes perfect sense, as what psychiatry was doing was simply a variation on a theme, an iteration of the same abuse. Then, in an even more crazy-making double-bind, the fact that I wanted to talk about the abuse from my father became the very thing for which I was further pathologized. And, in a true “mind-bender,” just like my father, I was told that the treatment I was receiving from psychiatry was “for my own good.”
The psychiatrists were like the high priests of a modern, scientific religion who had invested in them by the power of the state the ability to deem who was sane and to “doom” who was insane. By unconsciously identifying with their positions of power, rank and privilege, they were monopolizing the role of the healthy one, unwittingly “casting” the patient—in this case me—into the solidified role of the one who is sick. The psychiatric system was under a self-created and self-reinforcing delusion (is there a pharmaceutical for this?), as it was simultaneously casting a spell both on itself as well as its patients. The psychiatric system’s mal-practice is harder to see than in other, more concrete fields, and hence the incompetence and harm often go unrecognized, as they are operating in the province of the psyche, where much is hidden, shrouded in both mystery and misunderstanding to begin with.
Though the sickness in a family system is fundamentally nonlocal in nature, which is to say it pervades the entire system, it typically gets “localized” and is thought to exist only in the member who is cast in the role of the “identified patient”—in this case, me. Psychiatry treated me as if I existed as an isolated entity who had an “illness” that was unrelated to the family of which I was a part. In a family system, the members are not seen as independently existing “parts” of the system; rather, all of the members are viewed relationally, which is to say relative to each other, as ultimately speaking, each interdependent member does not exist apart from the whole web of interrelations within the system. Apparent pathology in any one of the family’s members are oftentimes derivative from the mutual interactions, communications, shadow dynamics and unconscious power issues between its members. This is to say that if someone becomes sick in the family, it is important to place their sickness in the wider context of the inter-subjective relationships within the family system, which is the underlying matrix out of which the illness originated and is continuing to be maintained. Since the family is a system which is contained within, as well as being an expression of, a deeper interconnected field, when a family member becomes “sick,” it is an expression of a pathology in the whole system and deeper field. In becoming the identified patient, I had also unknowingly assumed the archetypal role of the “scapegoat,” the sacrificial lamb who typically carries the family system’s (which in my case, now included psychiatry’s) split-off, disowned, unconscious shadow and madness.
I tried to explain to the psychiatrists that I WAS sick, however, but just not in the way they were imagining. I was suffering from a creative, psychological illness—a “healing illness”—which was my psyche’s way of metabolizing the trauma of having a psychopathic father who had a blank check to act out his pathology. I wasn’t manic-depressive; rather, I was “perturbed,” in that my “emotions” were “disturbed” due to being the recipient of over-the-top abuse at the hands of a desperately sick, sociopathic father. The psychiatrists were having none of it, however, as they were of the opinion that they knew what was happening—both within my mind and in my family—better than I did. I had no legitimacy in their eyes regarding my own experience, as if I had no psychological title to my own experience, which was truly “crazy-making” beyond anything I had ever imagined, even in my wildest dreams. The whole thing was so sci-fi—like a bad horror movie—it was beyond belief, and yet it was actually happening.
In the psychiatric system, I found myself in a place that felt truly “bewitched,” as if under a curse of and controlled by black magicians, where reality was inverted in a way that was truly get-me-out-of-here crazy. Here’s what I wrote in the Afterword of my recent book Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil:
I was one of the lucky ones, however, as I was able to extricate myself from the Stone Age, draconian horrors of our “might makes right” mental health system as soon as I possibly could. In retrospect, the overall treatment I received from psychiatry is truly staggering in its incompetence and level of abuse; I’ve barely scratched the surface [in these words]. The psychiatric system’s egregious lack of insight into the nature of the mind is truly tragic and causes great harm. The extent of disservice and mistreatment that I received from the “mental health” community has been so traumatic and overwhelming that it has taken me more than thirty years to even begin to wrap my mind around the horror of what played out. The abuse I suffered at the hands of the psychiatric community, which embodied true psychological violence in the flesh, is so beyond my comprehension that even now I struggle to find the words. I struggle because the abuse was truly an “unspeakable” form of torture.
What psychiatry acted out was truly criminal, a form of criminal insanity. Psychiatry is utterly unconscious of the unconscionable psycho-spiritual carnage they are wreaking on a global scale in order to increase the bottom line of corporate profits.
Blindly enacting their shadow in their treatment of patients as “objects,” rather than fellow human beings with whom to be in “relation,” the psychiatric system had unwittingly become instruments for what the Native American people call “wetiko”—simply put, the spirit of evil that is at the root of humanity’s inhumanity to itself—the very psycho-spiritual disease that years later I would write a book about. Having graduated college a few years before, while my college friends were in graduate school busy studying to become doctors, lawyers and professors, I was being “certified” in a different way. Little did I realize at the time that my forays into psychiatry were “field work” in which I was gathering data so as to prepare me for my future life’s work.
In a spiritual awakening, the old and antiquated structures of the psyche are breaking down, which can become a breakthrough, however, depending on how it is contained and related to by the surrounding community and unfolded. The dis-integration of the personality can be the beginning of a coming together at a more coherent, and unified level of consciousness. When someone is having a spiritual emergence, it is as if they have snapped out of a life-long spell and are beginning to see through the illusion of consensus reality which is woven all around us; because of this they are typically in an incredibly open, vulnerable, fluid and fragile state. When the person who is spiritually emerging is being judged and pathologized (by the world, their friends, their family and “the authorities,” i.e., psychiatry), however, this can literally evoke the pathological part of their process to manifest, which simply confirms to those who are pathologizing them the objective truth that the person is indeed in a pathological state, as they now have even further evidence to prove the rightness of their judgment, ad infinitum. This process—a self-perpetuating feedback loop—can quickly become a nightmare for the person who was waking up, as it can literally make them sick. Before my awakening got violently shut down by psychiatry, my inner subjective feeling was that my prayers were being answered—the trauma from my father was being released and liberated.
In a spiritual awakening, an enormous amount of psychic energy and latent creativity is released, as if a beach-ball that was being held under water had been released to its natural buoyancy. Talking about the birth of the true personality and its “therapeutic effect,” Jung writes that it is “as if a stone lying on a germinating seed were lifted away so that the shoot could begin its natural growth.” As is typical when something is long-held down and suppressed, there can be an over-compensation in one direction until “the shoot” sprouting out of the germinating seed of the personality naturally gets in balance over time. Typically, the person who is waking up can become quite “enthusiastic” (“en-theos” means to be filled with spirit) about the “good news” they are realizing (“Have you noticed that this universe is a mass shared dream?”), which can easily be interpreted as being a form of “mania.”
In its initial stage, a spiritual awakening can, and often does look like and mimic a nervous breakdown, as the person’s habitual structures of holding themselves together fall apart, as their inner constitution is being rewritten. Indigenous cultures the world over are more aware than our modern, industrial society that when someone begins to act a little “weird,” it might be the beginning of their call to potentially become a shaman or healer, a role which would benefit everyone. Once my spiritual awakening became ignited, I have no doubt whatsoever that all I needed was a number of months, maybe even a year, to have a safe container, supported by friends, family and mentors to help me to integrate what was being revealed to me. Instead of being pathologized, medicated and all the rest, which simply aborted a deeper process that was emerging, all I needed was to have my process held in a certain way so that it could creatively unfold itself and be naturally metabolized and assimilated.
Experiences of trauma, wounding and abuse almost always initiate and catalyze the “shamanic archetype” to begin to formulate and crystallize itself in the unconscious. This precipitates a deeper part of the psyche to become mobilized, as the person enacting the shamanic archetype journeys deep inside themselves, flying on the wings of their creative imagination so as to address and become acquainted with what has gotten activated within them. Because spiritual awakenings get catalyzed by experiences of wounding, abuse and trauma, in a genuine spiritual awakening there is almost always a co-joining of healthy and pathological factors. The idea is to nourish the healthy aspect of the process so that it becomes stronger, and the pathological factors naturally fall away as they become integrated into the wholeness of the newly emerging psyche.
It wasn’t just that I was having a spiritual awakening and it was misdiagnosed as mental illness; due in large part to the “treatment” I received from psychiatry, I was literally driven insane. I remember one psychiatrist (who himself was what Woody Allen might refer to as being a “major loon”) passionately insisting to me that I had had a “psychotic break” from reality. I unquestionably had broken from the trance of consensus reality; whether it was me or the psychiatrist who was the one who had the real psychotic break was the question in my mind, a question which I was quickly learning to keep to myself. It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I authentically expressed what I was subjectively experiencing, I would be pathologized. Many years later, my friend, the late Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack, shared with me his definition of being “crazy:” “It’s not knowing who to tell, or not tell, what you’re experiencing.” From his perspective, I was out of my mind to share my mystical experiences with his colleagues, and in retrospect, I fully agree.
Of course there are people coming into the psychiatric system who are already sick, but oftentimes psychiatry cultivates and sustains people’s illness, and then comes in and says it can help to manage it (filling the pockets of Big Pharma in the process); the whole thing is sinister beyond belief. Psychiatry has been subsumed into becoming an arm of a more powerful agency whose darker agenda it unknowingly served. The mental health system in our country is seriously broken. The psychiatric system and the pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma) are co-dependently intertwined with each other in a genuinely pathological, mutually profitable, and crazy-making relationship. Seen as a whole system, psychiatry/Big Pharma is like a pathological self-generating entity that perpetuates itself through its “care,” creating illness for all involved as it keeps itself “in business.” This isn’t a paranoid, conspiracy-based point of view; rather, it the opposite: a clear-sighted perspective of the nature of the beast we are dealing with.
Here’s what I wrote in Dispelling Wetiko:
Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of well-intentioned psychiatrists, including the ones with whom I worked. I am not talking about individual psychiatrists; I am talking about the underlying psychiatric system as a whole. It is important to acknowledge that in some ways the psychiatric system has evolved since the early ’80s, but in other ways it has not, or has even gotten worse—with its increasing reliance on the use of medication to address most problems, for example. Our mental health system is an expression of the mental health, or lack thereof, of our culture. Within the psychiatric worldview, there is a consensual agreement and implicit, unreflected-upon set of assumptions with reference to behaviors and modes of thinking/perceiving that are considered “normal.” There is a way of understanding the very nature of health and sickness, as well as fundamental ideas of who we are, that all representatives of the “academy” have to accept in order for them to be considered card-carrying members in good standing. There is an axiomatic set, a way of perceiving the world that has been drilled into psychiatrists’ heads during their “training” in medical school that is required for them to become true initiates. The psychiatric system is set up to be a setup, in that built into the system is the unconscious set of assumptions of materialistic science, not the least of which posits that we exist as encapsulated, separate selves apart from the underlying field…. In fact, for most psychiatrists, there is no concept of an underlying field of consciousness at all. Consciousness is rather understood as something that arises from matter and thus can be manipulated by material, that is, electro-chemical means (via psychiatric drugs, for example). It takes an exceptional practitioner of the art of psychiatry, a true doctor of the soul, to see through the implicit materialist in-doctrine-ation they have received as part and parcel of their very conditioning and training. Built into the non-level playing field of psychiatry, into the very organization and structure of the field, to the extent that self-reflection is not part of its practice, is the hidden abuse of power (which also gets played out, once internalized, within traumatized psychiatric patients’ heads). It takes more than good intentions for a psychiatrist to not unwittingly become an instrument for “the system” to play out its unconscious, destructive aspect. A true healer knows that they are meeting themselves time and time again in their patients.
Thankfully, after I got out of the last hospital in 1982, I began meeting my Buddhist teachers, who instead of pathologizing me for experiencing the dreamlike nature of reality, were teaching just that. The very fundamental, transformative insight that I was beginning to realize in my awakening—the non-objective, dreamlike and symbolic nature of reality—which was what I was pathologized for psychiatry for attempting to articulate, is in fact the very same insight which is not only the pith essence of all of the great esoteric spiritual wisdom traditions from around the world, but was also the very insight that ultimately redeemed my experiences with both the psychiatric system as well as my father and literally saved my life. Needless to say, I was happy to find myself in such good company, though I wasn’t overly thrilled at being left on my own to deal with the psychological clean-up operation resulting from the traumatic aftershocks and aftermath of a most unnatural, and unnecessary, psychiatric disaster. Over the years, as I’ve deepened and stabilized my realization of the dreamlike nature of reality, I’ve developed creative ways to get across this realization to others, making a living—and a beautiful life—in the process.
Our species and its civilization are currently in the throes of a collective nervous breakdown. If what we, as a species, are doing to ourselves isn’t collective madness, then what in the world is? Our underlying institutionalized and incorporated structures that are helping to keep us asleep are breaking down and coming apart. Ironically, people who are awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality—people who psychiatry is more than willing to pathologize and prescribe anti-psychotics for—are the true “anti-psychotic” agents in the greater body politic.
Intrinsic to the Hippocratic oath that all medical doctors take is to cause no harm; in my case every single psychiatrist broke their sacred vow big time. The treatment I received from psychiatry not only nearly killed me, but completely destroyed my family; both of my parents went to their graves convinced, with the “certification” of the alleged experts in psychiatry, that their only child suffered from an (illusory) chemical imbalance and would be mentally diseased for the remainder of his days. Ruptures of the moral order the likes of which psychiatry plays out on a daily basis do not lend themselves to language; there are simply no words for the desolation that the abomination that is psychiatry enacted in my life. Psychiatry could pay me all of the money in the world as retribution for the devastation it directly caused in my life and it would barely be a drop in the bucket for the unimaginable wreckage it is responsible for.
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the author of Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013) and The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over thirty years. Please visit Paul’s website www.awakeninthedream.com. You can contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org; he looks forward to your reflections. Though he reads every email, he regrets that he is not able to personally respond to all of them. © Copyright 2014.
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