human rights

University of Toronto’s Anti-psychiatry Scholarship In The News

Were you to do a Google news search with anti-psychiatry as the key search term, until recently, you’d get what amounted to, predominately, a lot of anti-anti-psychiatry*  news turning up on your search page. This situation changed dramatically not that long ago when the University of Toronto launched a scholarship in anti-psychiatry. Now if you do the same search you will get a whole lot of anti-anti-psychiatry scholarship news on your search page. Thank you, Bonnie Burstow, for almost single-handedly putting anti-psychiatry back on the map. Now we know, anti-psychiatry is still out there even if the official news services haven’t caught up with it yet.

“Anti-psychiatry” gets official recognition at the U of Toronto

*A note on the terminology: Yes, I know anti-anti-psychiatry is a neologism, and I also know that it is a double negative, and, therefore, perhaps, technically speaking bad grammar, however, this goes to another issue, namely, what is a wolf in sheep’s clothing? In some instances, you know, the walls do have ears. Obviously, anti-anti-psychiatry is going to be, as some psychiatrists themselves have put it, and to distinguish anti-psychiatry from it’s adversaries, pro-psychiatry. Also, I’ve heard some people object to the term anti-psychiatry because they felt it was too negative. I don’t see it that way, especially given the amount of harm and destruction wrought by the profession of psychiatry. Psychiatry is negative, and given that it is negative, that makes anti-psychiatry a very positive matter indeed.

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Anti-Psychiatry Is Dead. Long Live Anti-Psychiatry!

The anti-psychiatry movement has already been consigned to the history of psychiatry (Tantum 1991) despite the relatively recent first use of the term in the literature (Cooper 1967).

So goes the first paragraph in a piece, entitled What Was Anti-Psychiatry, on the website put up by Donald Duncan for a Critical Psychiatry Network.

The paragraph goes on.

A key understanding of “anti-psychiatry” is that mental illness is a myth (Szasz 1972).

Okay, I suppose, and the paragraph ends with…

The argument is that illness is a physical concept and therefore cannot be applied to psychological disorder without any physical pathology. As soon as it is accepted that mental illness can refer to psychological abnormality then the “anti-psychiatry” argument fails (Farrell 1979).

Remembering that Dr. Duncan is a psychiatrist, not a psychologist, the question becomes, What the bleep is a psychological pathology?

I personally don’t see how harboring ideas about thought disease would not in itself be a pretty abstract matter. Organs get diseased, thoughts get jumbled, but however jumbled thoughts might get, there is not a disease present in the thinking of the person with the jumbled thoughts.

Many of the most prominent psychiatrists in the world disagree with Dr. Duncan about the demise of anti-psychiatry. According to them, disagreeing with the orthodoxy of bio-medical psychiatry IS anti-psychiatry. A heresy some of them might even accuse Dr. Duncan himself of indulging in.

The fact that ‘antipsychiatry’ has existed in one form or the other for some time, and indeed has sometimes been vehement enough to approach psychiatry as a demon to be exorcised, is noteworthy.

Such a statement, authored by Indian psychiatrist Nimesh G. Desai, was published under the title Anti-Psychiatry: Meeting the Challenge in the 2005 Oct-Dec issue of the Indian Journal of Psychiatry.

Even if the anti-psychiatry movement of  psychiatrists has elapsed, for some of us, its victims, in the psychiatric survivor movement, as long as there is a psychiatry, anti-psychiatry never died. We will fight on. We will fight on until psychiatry ceases to exist at which point anti-psychiatry, having served its purpose, itself will cease to exist, for there is no anti-psychiatry without psychiatry.

Of course, just as NAZIism was replaced by neo-NAZIism, keeping alive the anti-fascist vision, the chances of that happening anytime soon are not so great as we would like for them to be.

Anti-Psychiatry however is a phoenix-bird, and it is reborn from the ashes of its previous existences. So long as psychiatry continues to oppress and abuse, it will meet with resistance. Sure, anti-psychiatry was yesterday. Not only was it yesterday, but it is today, and given the abuse and arrogance of psychiatry, it will be tomorrow.

You can bank on it.

R. D. Laing, Thomas S. Szasz, and Mental Patients’ Liberation

Maverick psychiatrist Ronald David Laing once defined madness as follows: “Insanity — a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.” This speaks to the theoretical divide between R.D. Laing and his contemporary, fellow psychiatrist Thomas Stephen Szasz. His attitude towards Laing, from the beginning, was that of almost a visceral rejection, but on the grounds that Laing was, in his eyes, dissolute or lacking in moral fiber. This sort of symbolizes the distance between these two figures often falsely associated in the public mind.

Laing was a seminal thinker for the decade that came to be known as “the turbulent sixties”. Thoms Szasz was an emigre from a Hungary that fell under the soviet orbit following WWII, and thus reflected an older and more established world view, although similar claims could be made there, too. Szasz disputed the idea of mental illness, and approved, when it came to treatment, only of a therapist client sort of arrangement, an arrangement that jived with free trade. Laing wanted to throw off the divisions between patient and therapist in his unstructured and freer environment, the experimental therapeutic community, or residence.

What Szasz saw in Laing’s therapeutic setting, in his social experiment, was collectivism, of which, regardless of whether you are looking at communism or monasticism, he violently disapproved. Laing, on the other hand, recognized some of his clients “issues” as situational and social rather than imaginary and isolated. The theory is simple, you put some plants in one environment, and they are going to shrivel and die, however, if you transfer the same plants to another environment, they thrive. Animals, specifically the human animal, must be pretty much the same way.

There were other differences between the two, the stance of Szasz was moral. He was against forced treatment, and being against forced psychiatric treatment, he opposed the insanity defense as well. Laing, despite his social experiment, would never go so far as to oppose psychiatric force across the board. Power was something, for him, a psychiatrist might ruminate about, melodramatically, without relinquishing. He also was not beyond using the insanity defense, of which Szasz disapproved, in testimony before a court of law. Laing was operating under a mandate to live one’s life completely, and in so being, he would not be restricted by such moral constraints.

Another issue Szasz attacked Laing over was his use of psychiatric terminology, disease language, which he rejected. If “mental illness” was a myth, we shouldn’t speak of “problems in living”, as Szasz saw them, as “diseases”. Laing thought the disease theory, merely a theory, and not one that he necessarily subscribed to, but one he was not beyond utilizing in the interests of research and treatment. Basically it boils down to this. Laing served as an inspiration to those in favor of alternatives to forced and conventionally harmful treatments while Szasz served as an inspiration to those who would abolish forced treatment. Szasz’s approach to treatment focused more on accepting personal responsibility for one’s actions rather than evading that responsibility.

Thomas Szasz’s most famous book, in which he first expounded his views, The Myth of Mental Illness, was published in 1961, a year after he had published a landmark essay by the same title. R. D. Laing’s entrance into the published world began with The Divided Self, arguably his most famous book, in 1960. Kingley Hall, the first Laingian experiment, operated in London from 1965 – 1970. The mental patients’ liberation, or psychiatric survivor, movement began in 1969/1970 with the launch of the Lunatic Liberation Front in Portland, Oregon. The mental patients’ liberation movement, in so far as it existed, before becoming almost totally co-opted by federal financing, was against force and for “alternatives”, and thus, could be said to have been influenced and inspired by both figures.

Unlearning Spurred On By Undiagnosis

Unlearning is very important to me. The school system I grew up with taught me I couldn’t do anything correctly. Unlearning this education meant I could do things correctly despite all I had been taught to the contrary. One wonders how many lives have been squandered at the alter of learned futility. Unlearning, in this case, was a matter of recognizing the value of utility instead.

Obviously, being taught that you are “incapable” of doing anything worthwhile is going to complicate the project of living one’s life severely. This complication translated, for yours truly, into a “serious mental disorder” diagnosis. Taught by the education system that I was “incapable”, there were all these doctors ready and willing to jump in with a “disease” diagnosis. My “incapacity”, in their eyes, was due to my having a “disease”, specifically, a “disease” of the brain.

If you read the literature on institutionalization, you will find mention of something they call “learned helplessness”. One could say, in a sense, that this diagnosis process merely represented an extension of the business of education. Here was, after all, confirmation that I was “incapable” of producing anything of value. Not only are people taught that they are “incapable”, but the suggestion is made that this “incapacity” is owing to having become “stricken” with “disease” rather than schooling.

If you succeed in failing at being educated, no wonder, for continued if lower education, we’ve got the mental health system. It can help if this unlearning process is accelerated by the shock of the mental health system. Through the mental health system, I learned to undiagnose fictitious disease. or rather because these “diseases” come to you through other people, pretty much the same thing, to unlearn them. The mental health system could be referred to as a form of radical unlearning.

If learning is a diagnosis, continued unlearning must, logically enough, encompass undiagnosis. Anyway, it makes sense to me. If nobody ever told you to be wary, if the mental health system doesn’t unteach you wariness, that wrong place must be the right place for you. Theoretically speaking, of course. There are some evil scoundrels in the world, and some of them are in positions of authority. Cardinal rule: You don’t attain positions of authority through unlearning.

More and more people it seems are discovering unlearning. The textbook may have black print on white paper, but transparent print on a transparent sheet of, say, plastic isn’t outside of the realm of possibility. One has to wonder, in most learning situations, where is the person in the classroom to tell the class to take everything said in front of it with a grain of salt? If there is such a person, it’s usually the person catching hell from the teacher. I would like to suggest that this may be because the teacher has a lot of unlearning to do yet.

Free Tziona Ben Aharon From Northeast Florida State Hospital

MindFreedom International Human Rights Alert

Tziona Ben Aharon was Baker Acted five times by her son, and one of those detentions led to her civil commitment at Northeast Florida State Hospital in Macclenny near Jacksonville. Tziona, a 58 year old Miami resident, has been given a diagnosis of “dementia”. There are affidavits attesting that Tziona has been physically attacked by hospital staff. Tziona is currently malnourished, dehydrated and “asleep” most of the time. On one occasion, her sister, Jaffa Raviv, reports that she was found by hospital staff to be non-responsive, pale, and unconscious. She is under a regimen of six or more drugs, one of which is the powerful neuroleptic Haldol. She is also unable to communicate with the staff at the hospital because she doesn’t speak english, she only speaks Hebrew. There has been evidence of the use of restraints on Tziona by NEFSH, and she is also said to have been subjected to shock treatments.

Recently we staged a protest in support of Tziona in front of Northeast Florida State Hospital. The protest went very well, and was even covered by Channel4 News in Jacksonville. Although this protest went well, it has not lead to Tziona’s release. Neither of Tziona’s sisters, despite a court order, have been allowed by the hospital to visit their sister. Jaffa Raviv is afraid that continued treatment at NEFSH will result in her sister, Tziona’s, death.

Tziona has been put on a feeding tube she cannot swallow or eat on her own, yet the hospital refused to transfer her to VITAS Healthcare, Sunrise FAX: 1-877-848-2702, where she might receive the medical attention that she so desperately needs. The hospital has also refused to transfer her to North Beach Rehabilitation Center FAX: 305-945-8280. Members of her family have also spoken about the possibility of moving her to Israel ASAP.

MindFreedom International has issued a previous alert on Tziona, but her situation at NEFSH has changed little since that alert was issued. We are, therefore, issuing a second human rights alert on behalf of Tziona Ben Aharon. You can help Tziona by calling the following numbers and by asking for Tziona’s immediate release from Northeast Florida State Hospital, and her transfer to the care of her family and, through them, to a real medical facility.

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Office Phone: 850-921-8461
Email: http://www.flgov.com/contact-gov-scott/email-the-governor/

Hayden Mathieson
Florida Mental Health Commissioner
Department of Children and Families
Phone: 850-921-8461
Fax: 850-487-2239
email: hayden_mathieson@dcf.state.fl.us

Disability Rights Florida
800-342-0823 Toll Free
850-488-9071
850-488-8640 Fax

You may also want to call any of the numbers listed from our previous alert.

1. Joseph A. Infantino – Hospital Administrator (904)259-6211 Ext. 1104
2. Alice Oswald – Assistant Administrators Institutional Superintendent
(904)259-6211 Ext. 1107
3. Doug Shine – Head of Social Workers Administration (904)259-6211 Ext. 1505
4. Dr. Colleen Belle – Head of Psychiatry (904)259-6211 Ext. 1751
5. Dr. Garry Dopson – Head of Medical – Critical Services (904)259-6211 Ext. 1618
6. Dr. Stella Rodriguez Medical Services Tziona’s Doctor Building 3C
(904)259-6211 Ext. 1534
7. Bob Bark – Nurse Psychiatry (904)259-6211 Ext. 1985
8. Brian William Hurd Tziona’s Attorney 1(321)759-6719 CELL
1(321)453-5007 Office
9. Chaplain – Rabbi Mendy Levy (305)342-6665

For additional information call:

10. Yaffa Raviv (305)773-0717