Beloved David Oaks, human rights activist and leader of Mindfreedom.org, is home from a lengthy hospital stay and rehab, after surviving a very serious accident. Here is the inspired human spirit we all share in full view.
One of the subtle but underlying factors that keep the great divide active between psychiatry’s medical model of human emotional suffering, and the alternative paradigm that challenges it, is the existence of a class system based on meritocracy, that accounts for some of psychiatry’s rigidity in considering an alternative paradigm position. The credible research that supports such an alternative view is often ignored, which is inconsistent with the scientific method that psychiatry claims is the legitimizing foundation of its theory and practice. I’m offering a partial explanation of why such valuable research is ignored.
My remarks here are based on working side by side, every day for over 30 years with my friends and colleagues who are psychiatrists. Some of them seemed to suffer from what I would, in good nature at times describe to them, as an addiction to deference!
Most psychiatrists come from middle class backgrounds and have accomplished a huge feat to get an MD and to practice psychiatry. They are accorded deference in a professional hierarchical class structure based on merit, that reflects another way that our classist society stratifies itself.
Their daily and decades long experience is that every nurse, secretary, and other mental health professional in every clinic and hospital, will defer to their judgment and authority, due to their status and more advanced degree and license to practice medicine.
The medical settings where they work positions them at the top, in terms of pay and status and authority, and the huge power to prescribe medical treatments that are exclusive to their profession. Sometimes these treatments can only be done on a doctor’s order, such as ECT, forced and voluntary medications, and restraints.
Having worked along side psychiatrists everyday for all these years, I can only say they have always been shocked when I did not defer to them.
They would want the last word in every decision about every treatment they authorize or drug they prescribe with “their patients,” as they proprietarily call consumers, because they believe their license requires them to take sole responsibility for the quality of care given.
When necessary I would not give them the last word. I hold my obligations to the people I serve as an ethical and sacred trust too.
From decades of experiencing psychiatrists’ reactions to me when I would professionally, and while showing them all due personal respect, not defer to them about decisions that effect the consumers I served, I learned that a huge obstacle to the honest debate that non-psychiatrists would have with them, is caused by the fact that such questioning of a psychiatrist’s theory, research and practice is so often experienced by them as impertinence.
In those 30 years I was almost always the only professional I knew who openly and consistently would not defer to them if need be. It slowly occurred to me, that a regression to the psycho-familial grips a great many psychologists and other professionals in the field, when faced with the psychiatrist’s expectation that they should defer.
The old adage that children are to be seen and not heard, feels like the unspoken message, and in fear of surrogate parental anger, a child-like regression seems to block some adult care givers from speaking up with psychiatrists.
There are real time consequences for other professionals challenging the psychiatric authority that claims an absolute position of superiority in the meritocracy hierarchy. That hierarchy replicates the power dynamic we experienced with our parents.
In addition to serving consumers 40 hours per week for 30 years, I believed that part of my service as the elected president for 16 of those same years, of my 250 white collar union mental health staff unit, was to embolden co-workers to question authority and stand up for themselves and the rights of the consumers we served. As human rights activists, we needed to do that with mental health system administrators and politicians as well.
Sadly, only a handful of my co-workers were consistently able to speak truth to power.
So, if you are a psychiatrist reading this now who probably never has experienced any response but being deferred to for the reasons I have given, you may feel like the psychiatrist who glared at Bob Whitaker all through a presentation Bob was doing, that I heard him report about at a conference.
As I heard Bob’s telling of the story, it went something like this- the glaring psychiatrist approached Bob after his presentation. Bob was hoping for a forthright exchange about the research issues that he had offered for consideration. The psychiatrist instead said something like, “I came up to tell you that I am not interested in your ideas or to discuss them with you. I just want you to know this Mr. Whitaker, I do not like your attitude.”
This exchange with Bob, captures the feeling tone of all of those times I would respectfully challenge the stated opinions of psychiatrists, as for example, when I witnessed them telling many consumers I served in therapy, that they had a life long, genetic based brain disease, that would require them to be on medication for the remainder of their lives.
First things first. Don’t defer to anyone who says what you do not believe to be true.
First published at Mad in America.
In this amazing, over-the-top rant by Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, the new president of the American Psychiatric Association, he contemptuously denounces activists who openly challenge psychiatry as being “misguided and misleading ideologues and self-promoters who are spreading scientific anarchy.”
I believe his aggressive rant proves we are making progress, in raising public awareness about the human rights abuses done by psychiatry.
October 17th, 2011
The Icarus Project Speaker Series
The California Institute of Integral Studies
An Integrative Approach To Transformative Madness
Michael Cornwall, Ph.D.
Much Madness is divinest Sense–
To a discerning eye–
Much sense–the starkest Madness–
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail–
Assent–and you are sane–
Demur–and you’re straightaway dangerous
and handled with a chain.
– Emily Dickinson
Here are some thoughts that I wanted to share with you about how to best serve your clients, friends, and loved ones who are experiencing a psychotic/visionary experience. These thoughts will also be of help in doing self-care if you are entering or traversing a madness process.
These suggestions are mainly gleaned from my own unmedicated, untreated experience of madness in my early twenties, and from working daily as a primary therapist for almost 30 years with actively psychotic clients using a Jungian/Transpersonal, Laingian approach.
During that time I worked for over three years at a 24/7, alternative, 20-bed, free-standing, transpersonally-oriented, acute care open door program called I-ward in Martinez California where no medications or leather restraints were used or diagnoses given to consumers who were acutely psychotic.
I also helped develop a similar five-bed program in Marin County, Passages In, that was short lived. I did several months of internship at St. George’s Homes in Berkeley where a similar Jungian/Transpersonal approach was used.
After that I worked for 25 years in public sector clinics and on a mobile crisis team as well as in private practice. Even in those settings, most of the psychotic clients I served were not on medication.
I also am drawing on my doctoral research follow-up study done on the San Francisco-based, medication-free Diabasis House for clients in acute psychosis and my 25-year relationship with its founder, Jungian psychiatrist John Weir Perry.
But my early experience of serving from age 18 as a medic in the Army Reserve for six years and then as a State Hospital attendant with profoundly retarded men and for two years as an orderly at a nursing home with brain damaged, demented and Alzheimer’s patients also informs my advice on how to relate to people in pain and suffering.
So, here are two basic principles for helping someone or yourself in a psychotic/transpersonal process which are distilled from my own experience and the study of successful Bay Area alternative programs.
1. Keep suspending your disbelief
Every time you tell yourself (believe that) the psychotic person you are being with has a tragic, lifelong, and threatening physical illness that has no inherent meaning or purpose – such as an injured brain, a genetically based diseased brain, an incurable thought disorder, or chemical imbalance – suspend your disbelief that another explanation may be possible.
Instead, hold the belief that they are going through a necessary, meaningful, developmental, initiatory, transformative, transpersonal/archetypal, symbolic and/or purposive natural process – one that is neither pathological nor indicative of a bio-medical brain disorder.
Hold the belief that, as Dr. Karl Menninger said, they might even come through the process “Weller than well!”
2. Be Receptive
Once you are able to stay open to the possibility that this person’s process is an important, potentially transformative natural life event, draw on all your skills of receptivity and empathy in order to be with them. Begin by simply listening and receiving the person with an open, compassionate heart. Let the gentle feelings of love that you would feel for a loved one who is frightened and suffering be present within you.
As their process unfolds, gently invite and encourage the person to express both the emotional and symbolic content of their process. People in a psychotic process may need to use modalities such as drawing, painting, movement, and evocative music to express themselves in addition to or instead of speech. Somatic modalities of touch and bodywork can be especially welcomed and grounding and soothing.
The common and overwhelming evidence from Diabasis, I-Ward, Soteria, and every other alternative program from all over the world confirms the basic need for a person in such a psychotic/ transpersonal process to be believed in, listened to and lovingly received and responded to in this way.
Today I also wanted to share some observations I slowly learned for myself the past 30 years about how to more specifically make yourself available to the person in the room with you who is in a psychotic/transpersonal process.
To be most helpful try and feel like your inner subjective state is more emotional than mental.
Create a physical and emotional state of receptivity. Let warm feelings of caring be present in you.
With your feet flat on the floor, hold the awareness that there is now a solid base and foundation beneath you.
Remember to keep your anal sphincter relaxed.
Keep a focus of energy in the hara chakra below your navel.
With your stomach muscles relaxed, feel yourself do deep and slow belly breathing.
Drop down your shoulders.
Let your face become calm and relaxed–not becoming pensive or quizzical.
Let your voice come up from your hara in lower octaves, emerging with the energy of your heart chakra as you speak..
Let your kindly, gentle, even loving and tender feelings of empathy and compassion arise in your heart chakra for a fellow human being in distress and suffering who is sharing the room with you.
Don’t seek direct eye contact if it seems to make the person uncomfortable.
The person may be in a very heightened state of awareness and is processing minute inflections in your voice and body language.
Their ability to see into you may surprise you as uncanny and psychic.
In this state they may directly or symbolically tell you secret things about yourself that are disquieting.
If the person is hostile increase your vigilance on your own physical and emotional markers of receptivity.
Because you may find that you may involuntarily be holding your breath.
You may notice your throat becomes constricted and your voice goes up in octaves.
You may notice you are opening your eyes very widely and blinking a lot.
You may feel the need to fold your arms across your chest or cross your legs.
To the degree that you can be aware of these shifts in you prompted by anxiety, you can refrain from them as much as possible and remain in the open, receptive, emotional, and physical posture with a potentially physically or verbally assaultive person in a psychotic process.
The more you stay grounded and centered the more they will calm down, will not sense a fight or flight visceral response to them building in you.
Being with agitated clients in a psychotic process is kind of like practicing an internal martial art at times – a form of Aikido.
To give yourself the best chance of staying open and receptive be realistic about real danger to yourself.
Have another person keep an ear open and check at your door if you are meeting with a hostile person.
Position your chair by the door if with an agitated person to allow quick exit if you are attacked.
Give yourself the intentional permission that if necessary to survive a physical attack you will struggle to defend yourself in a way that would cause the least amount of injury to your self and to the other person until help arrives to contain the situation.
Madness is an ancient form of uncivilized wildness.
If you are given the opportunity to serve those traversing it’s mysterious depths and heights count yourself lucky, especially if they are not emotionally anesthetized by medication.
The efficacy results from the Agnews Project, I-Ward, Diabasis, and Soteria House all clearly demonstrate that without medication, most acute psychotic/visionary crises will in fact be the occasion for a life changing spiritual transformation if a 24/7 alternative, non-medical model sanctuary is provided.
My experience and research into alternative approaches for serving those in a psychotic/visionary process has led me to believe that that at least 50% of the consumers who become trapped in the mental health system could have avoided that fate if acute care, 24/7 Bay Area sanctuaries like Diabasis House, Soteria, and I-Ward (where I worked) were available at first contact with the system.
They never would have gone on to be labeled Schizophrenic.
Jung said that: “Psychiatry has turned the Gods into diseases.”
Unfortunately Jung and most Jungians have turned the Gods (and Goddesses) into archetypes: named and minutely described denizens of the collective unconscious that we can have an ‘as if’ relationship with at weekend workshops and schoomze with once and a while in our dreams.
Please don’t make the mistake of underestimating the spiritual dimension of our human birthright as you enter your own shamanic vocation.
In my experience, behind every image, thought and word, there is an emotion first. Behind every emotion there is a universal archetypal power and emotional energy that must come forth as imagery that expresses that deep emotion. Behind every archetype is a totally autonomous living force of deity that has no historical bounds, no time bound form.
These ancient and emerging deities, that use our lives and bodies as their playgrounds and every second hold us in sway as they incarnate themselves in us, ever emerging anew, arise out of a greater unifying mystery of benevolent silence.
Weep for the prophets and so-called psychotic visionaries who are robbed of their life giving gifts from the Gods by our culture of fear and human arrogance. And weep for us that we still treat them as lepers when they are, and always have been a divine source of the mana we need to survive on earth.
As a psychotic process begins, the psyche is faced with such overpowering unbridled emotion that the inner emotional charge grows to become profoundly existential in nature and magnitude. As the person faces the initiatory challenge of young adulthood in such an all pervasive liminal depth, the ego, the frail manager of consensual reality, simply is engulfed by the soul depth liminality of an emotional power that triggers all forms of desperate, seemingly delusional attempts to give some fragmented sense of meaning to the inner experience.
It is a visceral, first chakra existential experience that seizes the individual. It is the emotional response to being lost. It may be experienced mainly as one feeling exalted and indestructible at first or feeling totally doomed and bewildered.
The experience may also fluctuate between being plunged into the underworld and being drawn up into heavenly realms with amazing rapidity.
In any case, if not made numb by medication, the psyche creates a mythic story along predictable lines. The drama is played out on the stage of the central archetype, the Self, where every kind of polarity may be experienced and transmuted: good/evil, dark/light, male/female, life/death, terror/serenity, grief/joy, desolation/birth. All the emotion generated and image fueled polarities may be contained in the mandala crucible of the relationship you create with the person who is mad. In that container with you, all the polarities can be balanced into a cohesive unity.
That relationship with you is crucial, is a prerequisite for transformation and healing to occur.. Without a loving other to make the mandala crucible forged of their two hearts and psyches, the mad person spins on out of control.
Psychosis is the ultimate identity crisis and is for some, a potentially shamanic initiation. Our feeble, arrogant egos usually assume we are master of knowing “Who am I?”
As the pre-psychotic/visionary ego floats in this ignorant vulnerability over an abyss of the unfathomable depth of the collective unconscious and spirit world of gods, demons and ghosts, the ego is always just a few nights without sleep away from psychosis, or a drop of LSD away from psychosis, or from a psychosis triggered by a kundalini eruption, or a loved one’s sudden death.
The unprepared ego of an especially vulnerable young adult facing autonomous functioning separate from their family is at risk from drowning in the depth of the affect and images of the collective unconscious.
It is remarkable that the childhood tasks of such a vulnerable ego do not overwhelm it. However, in the late teens and young adulthood comes the awareness of mortality and the knowing that physical survival and social acceptance and success depend on functioning separately from parents.
Because of the power of our toxic and soulless culture to create enormous deficits in our family systems, most notably an epidemic of the lack of a strong infant-parental love bond, when faced with the often cruelly threatening social Darwinism cultural gauntlet one must traverse into young adulthood, the pre-psychotic ego for some is simply not prepared to traverse the hero’s journey and initiation across so much underlying liminality.
We can’t underestimate the corrosive and pervasive effects on vulnerable children and young adults that our largely loveless and spiritually barren corporate culture inflicts through degradation ceremonies of endless winner-loser competitions where shame and guilt and punishment break the spirits and hearts of so many.
For such vulnerable young persons, an affect of an unnamed existential terror, the dreadful sense of an abyss of yawning ontological insecurity seizes them. This overpowering challenge may then trigger an attempted visionary alternative restructuring of the ego through a radical immersion in a mythical inner struggle for adult independence.
This inner heroic struggle for ones future life is carried out at the archetypal center of the Self, if the young person’s process is not aborted, if they are given sanctuary and not medication.
I have seen them come out the other side with a new, heroic ego strength that grew out of their trial by fire.
As the great R.D. Laing said after witnessing and attending many on such a journey at the Kingsley Hall sanctuary he provided:
‘From the alienated starting point of our pseudo-sanity, everything is equivocal. Our sanity is not true ‘sanity.’ Their madness is not true ‘madness.’ The madness that we encounter in ‘patients’ is a gross travesty, a mockery, a grotesque caricature of what the natural healing of that estranged integration we call sanity might be. True sanity entails in one way or another the dissolution of the normal ego, that false self competently adjusted to our alienated social reality; the emergence of the ‘inner’ archetypal mediators of divine power, and through this death and rebirth, and the eventual re-establishment of a new kind of ego functioning, the ego now being the servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer.’
©Michael Cornwall, Ph.D. 2010
As an Occupy APA protest speaker outside the APA convention tomorrow, I’m going to add two sentences to my speech:
“Mr. President, your legacy of good works has just been tarnished here today by your cheerleading for a group of physicians who blindly inflict human rights abuses on those they have sworn to serve. In supporting the American Psychiatric Association as their keynote speaker here today, you have turned a blind eye to the suffering that psychiatry creates, and have proven that although you may be the most masterful politician of your generation, you have failed miserably to be on the right side of history.”
The chemical imbalance theory is so yesterday. Here comes the genetic theory of mental illness. Of course, pharma drugs supposedly fix the genetic flaws. If true, our brains are being genetically engineered by drugs.
by Michael Cornwall, Ph.D.
Does Anyone Want a Genetically Modified Brain? – Anti-Psychotic Medications May Have Been Causing It To Happen All Along
Move over outdated chemical imbalance theory, now it is claimed that genetic misregulation underlies psychiatric disease, and that psychiatric drugs themselves can fix the genetic misregulation problem. The just released report by the Toronto-based Krembil Epigenetics Laboratory says:
Anti-psychotics and mood stabilizing agents are capable of promoting epigenetic modifications associated with an active transcriptional state at disease-relevant loci, suggesting new molecular mechanisms of anti-psychotic efficacy.
The report—entitled “Epigenetics of Major Psychoses: Progress, Problems and Perspectives”—was supported by the Canadian Institute for Health and the National Institutes of Health. It represents the cutting edge science on the brain, genetics, and so-called psychiatric disease.
To me, this report heralds an Orwellian prophecy of hugely ominous proportions. Anti-psychotic and mood altering agents are being cheerfully seen as acceptable gene modifying substances that reverse the genetic misregulation that is boldly claimed to underlie so-called schizophrenia and bi-polar.
This is the new model. No more unprovable, debunked chemical imbalance theory of causation. Now we read:
Rapidly growing evidence shows that epigenetic regulation underlies normal cognition, and that cognition dysfunction occurs upon epigenetic misregulation.
Several psychiatric medications have been shown to produce epigenetic changes in the brain … the therapeutic actions of current medications for psychiatric disorders may occur via epigentic mechanisms.
Epigenetics, is the study of modifications that occur in our DNA, which cause certain genes to be suppressed. This report says that healthy genetic functioning or expression underlies normal cognitive functioning, and that genetic misregulation underlies psychiatric disease.
That in itself is a game changing model of human emotional suffering and madness if it is true. It tightens the science that says that all causation of human experience is caused by genetically determined neurological and biological forces and processes of normality vs. disease.
But to then assert that the psychiatric medications already in use can remedy all that, by altering us and changing how our genes work, is really breathtaking in its reach and possible consequences. The moral imperative to hesitate and deeply ponder how genetic science impacts people has been a much proclaimed safeguard in the field of genetics. That requisite moral imperative seems to have been skipped over in this zeal to applaud anti-psychotic medication use as a ready way to modify genetic expression. Won’t all prescriptions for anti-psychotic medications now have to include an informed consent about their genetic modifying effects? Most people I know don’t like to eat genetically modified produce. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people will be against their prescribed psychiatric drugs affecting their genetic functioning.
In this one landmark article, these researchers are claiming to have found the cause, and in psychiatric medications, the probable genetically modifying treatment for so-called schizophrenia and bi-polar. Should we doubt that every other DSM diagnosis will also be found to have such epigenetic underpinnings soon?
Maybe now the decades long, holy grail quest for a single gene causation of so-called schizophrenia, by the believers in the bio-psychiatry medical model, will come to an end.
Bob Whitaker’s recent courageous blog and video here on Mad In America traces the thread of eugenics in our history right up to the present in “The Taint Of Eugenics In NIMH-Funded Research Today.” It looks like our Canadian neighbors may have beaten our own NIMH in boldly declaring the new era of the interface of psychiatry with epigenetics.
Will this new era also seek to separate those perceived as normal humans from those believed to be genetically abnormal? Will pathologizing eyes care to look deeper and ask questions about human rights?
Does anyone deserve to have their brain and gene functioning altered, perhaps permanently by psychiatric medications?
Instead of celebrating this research, I grieve for the millions who were not offered a viable alternative to such medications and who still are not.
Republished from Mad in America with thanks!