Psychiatry Disrupted 

On August 15, 2014, McGill-Queens University Press published Psychiatry Disrupted: Theorizing Resistance and Crafting the (R)evolution.  The work is a collection of papers by various authors, edited by Bonnie Burstow, Brenda A. LeFrançois, and Shaindl Diamond.  There is a Foreword by Paula Caplan, and a Preface by Kate Millett.

It is no secret that there is growing opposition to psychiatry.  No longer marginalized and ignored, as in former decades, anti-psychiatry writers are proclaiming psychiatry’s spurious and destructive nature in a wide range of venues.  Even the mainstream media is taking tentative steps in our direction.

But there is also a growing awareness within our movement that speaking out against psychiatry’s abuses is not enough.  Increasingly, we are hearing the question:  what can we do about it?  And in this respect, Psychiatry Disrupted is timely and welcome.  This book does indeed criticize psychiatry, but it goes beyond criticism, and addresses the crucially important question:  what can we do to stop it?

Here are the titles and authors of the fourteen chapters, with a quote from each one:

1.  Impassioned Praxis: An Introduction to Theorizing Resistance to Psychiatry, by Bonnie Burstow and Brenda LeFrançois

“Children are being massively over-drugged as a result of the complex relationships between pharmaceutical companies vested capitalist interests and child psychiatry’s subsequently entwined influence over parents, carers, and other professionals working with children (such as within social work, nursing, and education).”

2.  Becoming Perpetrator: How I came to Accept Restraining and Confining Disabled Aboriginal Children, by Chris Chapman

“And what held all the violence, care, and rationalization at the treatment centre together as sensible, but which has no secure foundation, is the myth of achieving an enduring state of normalcy, free from emotional discomfort, even in the face of violence and oppression.  The children and staff were both disciplined toward this imaginary state, parallel to one another, but distinctly.  Following restraints, we ‘debrief’ new staff to help them feel at peace with perpetrating these forms of violence; and then we ‘processed’ with the child who had just been restrained, requiring them to accept ‘full responsibility’ for having individually caused the entire situation (see Jenkins 1990).”

3.  The Withering Away of Psychiatry: An Attrition Model for Antipsychiatry, by Bonnie Burstow

“The power of psychiatry, its continual growth, its ever more tenacious entrenchment in the state is a brutal reality and not one for which we bear responsibility.  I would like to suggest, however, that antipsychiatry is also floundering because it has no model or models to guide its action.”

4.  Psychology Politics Resistance: Theoretical Practice in Manchester, by Ian Parker

“Women are expected to be as busy ministering to the needs of others in their workplace as they are at home, and the ’emotional labour’ they undertake leads to deeper and more draining forms of alienation.  Women, and the men who learn from them how to behave nicely to customers and clients at work, are thus expected to engage more fully in their work and the stage is set for more pressure and more personal breakdowns for those who are eventually unable to cope.”

5.  From Subservience to Resistance: Nursing versus Psychiatry, by Simon Adam

“Why is it that despite the obvious ethical violations psychiatry commits, nurses remain silent?  What are the institutional conditions under which this silence comes to be?”

6.  Developing Partnerships to Resist Psychiatry within Academia, by Peter Beresford and Robert Menzies

“When it comes to psychiatry and mental ‘health,’ the vision advanced by the champions of biogenetic psychiatry and new realist mental health is abidingly neoliberal.  The new discourse constructs a psychiatric subject who stands in contrast to the robust, autonomous, trustworthy, self-governing citizen of the liberal dream. This psychiatrically outcast subject is an alien, an object of sympathy, and/or derision (or simply an object), a victim of a ‘broken brain’ (Andreasen 1985), a being to be spoken and written about (but who cannot take part in the dialogue herself), and above all else, ‘a problem’ (DuBois 2005[1903]) to be risk-monitored and rehabilitated through the application of law, science, and technology.”

7.  “We Do Not Want to Be Split Up From Our Family”: Group Home Tenants Amidst Land Use Conflict, by Chava Finkler

“Language that emphasizes dependence as a prominent psychiatric survivor trait reflects an outlook based on the privilege of able-bodiedness and wealth.”

8.  Disability Divisions, Definitions, and Disablism: When Resisting Psychiatry is Oppressive, by A. J. Withers

“Another reason that psychiatrized people resist inclusion within the disability label is the view that disability is permanent.”

9.  Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Liberation from Psychiatric Oppression, by Tina Minkowitz

“The recognition of forced and non-consensual psychiatric interventions as torture represents in itself a step towards reparation of the harm done by these acts of violence.”

10.  Deeply Engaged Relationships: Alliance between Mental Health Workers and Psychiatric Survivors in the UK, by Mick McKeown, Mark Cresswell, and Helen Spandler

“After all, the survivor movement has a noble history of its own in providing a persuasive, reasoned, and moral critique of bio-psychiatry and an equally compelling vision for change.  These kinds of discussions, debates, and alliances are happening in various contexts internationally.”

11.  Trans Jeopardy/Trans Resistance: Shaindl Diamond Interviews Ambrose Kirby, by Ambrose Kirby

“But the point is that people are still being directed to go through the hoops of psychiatrists to get access to medical transition.  And it’s clear that psychiatry is holding onto the right to classify and determine the best course of action for us.”

12.  Taking it Public: Use Art to Make Healing a Public Narrative, by Rosemary Barnes and Susan Schellenberg

“Equating emotional pain to mental illness functions to suppress other possibilities, other meanings, and other stories for naming and responding to such pain.”

13.  Feminist Resistance against the Medicalization of Humanity: Integrating Knowledge about Psychiatric Oppression and Marginalized People, by Shaindl Diamond

“As institutional psychiatry grows in power, more and more people are coming into contact with the psychiatric system and are being labeled and subjected to different types of psychiatric intervention.”

14.  Sly Normality: Between Quiescence and Revolt, by China Mills

“Pretending to be normal – mimicking – seems to emerge in the stories of those who have survived the psychiatric system as a tactic, a strategy of deception that enables some freedoms, at a cost.”

Psychiatry Disrupted is a compelling, thought-provoking volume for anyone interested in this field.  Please read and pass on.


  • cledwyn bulbs

    One of the best ways to at least try and stop this depravity, is to use the internet to disseminate information. Problem is, very few websites where you might actually be heard, value open discussion. Instead, they are regulated by these procrustean rules stipulating as a condition of posting mindless agreement on certain issues, so that one can’t express one’s opinion on this issue without regurgitating the accepted pieities of our time, without having to marinate every sentence in honey whilst observing the empty verbal rituals of supposedly polite discourse.

    It is the sign of a society that has little interest in truth and honesty. Nevertheless, moderation is being largely used as a pretext for waging the war on heresy, so that all one has to do is recast someone’s comment as “abusive”, “violent”, or “oppressive”, as a prelude to removing that person and depriving someone of their democratic right. Ergo, the most intransigent criticisms are rarely heard. What a very cunning animal is man.

  • Anonymous

    Cledwyn, when can we chat?

  • cledwyn bulbs

    “No longer marginalized and ignored…”

    That’s only true for an infinitesimal percentage, almost none of them victims of this system. Most anti-psychiatry writers, especially those who can bring their experience to bear on this issue, and the insights they have purchased through this experience, are still marginalized and ignored.

    The truth of the matter is that until the views of those of us who have been harmed by the system are given a fair hearing, instead of being systematically marginalized, as is currently the case, alas, on both sides of the divide, then there can be no justice.

    The article about an alliance between survivors and mental health workers seems interesting, but I am very sceptical about the worth of working with such people, or trying to establish a dialogue with them. All this talk about an alliance and a dialogue is just empty rhetoric.

    Paolo Freire once said that the indispensable precondition of dialogue between oppressed and oppressor is that the terms and parameters thereon be defined by the oppressed. This is the opposite of what is happening.

    The way MIA is run offers, in microcosm, insight into this problem.

    On MIA, the only people in the parody of a dialogue taking place on that site who wield any influence are the oppressors, not the victims. What is going there is mostly a de facto monologue that basically reinforces the power imbalance upon which oppression subsists.

    The facts are, for the “dialogue” to happen on that website, Whitaker has to cede to the threats and demands of the oppressor, because it is they who have the power to shut the dialogue down whenever they please because the facts are it is not they who need this dialogue; their interests are not imperiled by its not happening, ours are, ergo, they can wield influence over what are to be considered legitimate and illegitimate areas of discussion through the making of threats and demands that threaten the “breakdown” of the dialogue.

    This is why, inter alia, Whitaker has allowed these people to wield the influence they do on that website, and also why, on principle, any true advocate of the oppressed has a duty to boycott that site in protest at the way in which Whitaker has allowed these de facto eminence grises to control the “dialogue”.

    I repeat, any “dialogue” or “alliance” between oppressor and oppressed that reinforces the power imbalance that ostensibly this “dialogue” or “alliance” is meant to remedy is no dialogue at all. Yet the problem is, the oppressor demands that he define the terms of the dialogue, bringing his power to bear in ensuring this happens, so dialogue in this regards is just a delusive hope.

    You see this on MIA. Sandy Steingard, one of the mental health professionals who, supposedly, we are in alliance with, not only uses her leverage within the community to ensure that her most uncompromising critics are censored and banned (which, to borrow from Freire, is the very essence of “anti-dialogical” action in this regards), but whenever she doesn’t like what someone says, she talks about how that person is “breaking down the dialogue”, which roughly translated reads, “behave children, because if you don’t, we, the oppressors, will just ignore you, and its you who need the dialogue, not us”.

    The same goes with other oppressors on that website, who likewise use their leverage within the community to ensure that the oppressed know who it is who makes the rules. Jonathan Keyes, for example, likewise threatened not to comment on that website, because a victim of psychiatric torture, which he practices, kept on hassling him, which tested him beyond the limits of tolerance.

    If these people were truly interested in dialoging with the oppressed, they would not make such importunate demands. Instead, they would accept that people have a right to be angry, and sometimes they will say things they may not want to hear but that for such a dialogue to happen, and for justice to be done, such people must be heard, regardless of the manner in which they voice their grievances.

    But no. They cynically use their leverage to manipulate the discussion in directions they find acceptable, to this end making threats and demands that, because they threaten to shut down the “dialogue”, which is supposedly the raison d’etre of MIA, Whitaker yields to, seemingly oblivious to the fact that any true dialogue between the oppressed and the oppressor stipulates as a condition for its existence that it is the former, and not the latter, who define its terms and parameters.

    Of course, this isn’t the only reason why the oppressor is allowed on that site to wield such influence.

    Another reason is that Whitaker, like most critics, identifies more with the oppressors than he does with the generality of their victims, because it is with the former that he shares a cultural milieu, and like them he has been nourished on the same values, beliefs and attitudes, many of which are a part of the oppressor’s self-serving mythology which serves to justify his oppression, be it oppression on economic, sexual, racial, ethnic, religious or psychiatric grounds.

    Part of that mythology, as Freire has pointed out, is that the oppressor is benevolent, that he only desires to help those whose misery he profits from, and Whitaker’s acceptance of this, upon whose basis he exercises the censorship and exclusion of opinions and commenters respectively, as is the case with other critics like Bentall and Johnstone who likewise have bought into this mythology, can perhaps be seen as a measure of the degree to which he has internalized the viewpoint of the oppressor, which can also be seen in his usage of the very language that dehumanizes the oppressed and justifies their domination

    I say all this, just in case it has escaped anyone, in support of my contention that all this talk about a “dialogue” and an “alliance” is just so much rhetoric, and that my experience is that these people can’t be trusted generally, that they are too contaminated with the oppressor’s worldview, with their prejudices; they are too submerged in a society whose values, attitudes and beliefs reflect the worldview of the oppressor to be relied upon, lacking the insight that the interposition of historical distance between themselves and the object of their study would bring.

  • cledwyn bulbs

    Continuing where I left off, and on the subject of what I see as the superior identification most of the critics feel with the oppressor than the oppressed, it is not only a shared cultural milieu and the ethnocentrism this implies, and by extension, a shared set of normative standards and principles about how people should conduct themselves, that binds the majority of the critics to the oppressor, but also narcissism.

    Identification is often a narcissistic process precisely because we like to see in others our own reflection, unless you are filled with self-loathing. As I see it, the average critic sees much more of himself in the oppressor than he does in the oppressed.

    Whitaker for example, clearly finds the average psychiatric patient offensive, which is why, inter alia, he bans people from his site, and his strongest relationships on that site seem to be either with mental health professionals who despite, their involvement in one of history’s great tyrannies on the side of oppression, nevertheless conform to his ideals, or with patients from the same milieu.

    This is an impression I get from most critics. They come from a different cultural milieu, one too detached from the reality of the people whose interests they claim to represent, and they display, as is common amongst “liberators” throughout history, a distrust of the very people they at least seem to want to liberate.

    Yet as Paolo Freire pointed out, liberation cannot happen without the people. It must be done with the people. Yet all I see is that the majority of patients who have grievances on this issue are ignored and marginalized on both sides of the divide, seen as unfit to have any say on the relevant issues, and that the framing of alternatives, for example, of what would fill the space vacated by institutional psychiatry or simply by the current paradigm, has been monopolized by mental health professionals, especially ones who are invested in the maintenance of the system and who are therefore biased against what I see as the only course of action that will truly liberate, namely, the destruction of institutional psychiatry, or at least those elements that are not extraneous to it.

  • cledwyn bulbs

    Should have reread the third paragraph, it’s a bit confused.