Working Axioms for Understanding Psychiatric Oppression and Implementing a Program of Personal and Social Transformation
by John Breeding, PhD

Understanding the Problem

1) Psychiatry, as represented by the institutionalized mental health system, is our society's official response to distress. It is also our society's primary enforcer of the normative social order, when the enforcers cannot or do not want to apply the statutes of criminal and civil law. Psychiatric Oppression is the systematic mistreatment of the group of individuals selected and labeled as "mentally ill."

2) Psychiatry is coercive. Much coercion is overt; people are incarcerated and given drugs or electroshock against their will. Even more coercion is subtle, rooted in the covert threat of involuntary "treatment." As long as such involuntary treatment exists, there can be no truly voluntary treatment in Psychiatry. In fact, where there exists no medical evidence of disease, as in Psychiatry, there can be no such thing as legitimate treatment.

3) The language of Psychiatry is misleading and confusing, based on false beliefs and concepts. It is prescriptive rather than descriptive, statements of power and control rather than of information and understanding. Its purpose is to mystify and control.

4) Economics are the primary determining factor in our country's health, including "mental" health, care system. The medical industry (including doctors and their professional associations, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, insurance companies, governmental regulatory and research agencies and universities) is a very powerful lobby, assuring state acceptance and support of psychiatric authority. In return, Psychiatry is expected to fulfill its role as a primary agent of social control.

5) In the second half of the twentieth century, and especially in the last two decades, the pharmaceutical business has become one of the most profitable international industries. Governmental decisions, psychiatric policy and practice, and public beliefs and desires are increasingly shaped by the power of drug company financial influence and propaganda. An exponentially increasing amount of industry profits in the last decade has come via psychiatric drug sales.

6) Psychiatry acts as a "stop sign" on liberation from other forms of institutionalized oppression in our society. This includes the root of economic oppression, classism, and its attendant means of dividing people against each other and themselves (e.g., adultism, sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, etc.). By identifying troubled and troubling individuals as biologically or genetically defective "mentally ill patients," we are effectively distracted from oppression which is the real cause of our hurts and unmet needs. We are also distracted from other ugly and very real consequences of an irrational, oppressive society, including poverty, homelessness, legal and illegal drug use, crime, violence and growing numbers of us in prison, pollution and environmental degradation. A "benefit" we all receive is that we are allowed to escape responsibility for each other, for our community, and for our planet.

7) Psychiatry's guiding belief system is that of biological psychiatry, or biopsychiatry for short. The fundamental, erroneous assumptions of Psychiatry are as follows:

a) Social adjustment is good.
b) Failure to adjust is the result of mental illness.
c) Mental illness is a medical disease.
d) Mental illness is the result of biological and/or genetic defects.
e) Mental illness is chronic, progressive, basically incurable.
f) Mental illness can be controlled primarily by drugs; secondarily, for serious mental illness, by electroshock.
g) People with mental illness are irrational, often unable to make responsible decisions for themselves; therefore, coercion is necessary and justified.

8) Psychiatry argues, the media propagandizes, and the public accepts that "mental illness" is a real medical disease. The truth is that no problem routinely seen by psychiatrists has been scientifically validated as a disease in the same way that legitimate medical illnesses are validated. Diagnosis of "mental illness" is based strictly on subjective reports of mood and behavior. The concept of "mental illness" was created as a metaphor for physical illness, and no matter how strong the rhetoric asserting otherwise, the truth is that it is still a metaphor.

9) There are a variety of organic illnesses, physical insults, and toxic invasions which can alter brain and central nervous system functioning severely enough to cause a wide range of troubled and troubling thoughts, feelings and conduct. Psychiatry calls these "symptoms" of "mental illness."

10) Nutrition is profoundly important for psychological well-being. We know so much now about the detelerious effect of junk foods, sugar, food additives, pesticides, overconsumption of animal fats, etc., on mood and behavior. And we know the restorative value of optimal nutrition. Failure to act on this common sense is a major flaw in Psychiatry.

11) Psychiatry's physical "treatments" are dangerous and harmful. Psychiatric drugs "work" by disabling the brain and central nervous system. One of the most common causes of so-called psychiatric symptoms is the use of psychiatric drugs. Effects of withdrawal from psychiatric drugs are often misinterpreted as signs of "mental illness." Electroshock always causes brain damage. The damage is the "therapeutic" effect.

12) The core of Psychiatric Oppression is suppression of the individual. Society defines certain thoughts, feelings and conduct as undesirable, and Psychiatry enforces this normative opinion by suppressing the offending individual.

13) We have a natural built-in mechanism for healing from the effects of distress. This mechanism involves specific forms of emotional expression or discharge, including animated talking, crying, laughing, shaking, trembling, sweating, and storming in anger. By defining these natural forms of expression as deranged medical conditions, and individuals as biologically defective "mentally ill patients," Psychiatry denies the possibility of positive growth and resolution.

14) We have an inborn urge to wholeness; unconscious aspects of ourselves relentlessly seek to be made conscious. These include the effects of specific personal hurts, but also include transpersonal contents seemingly unrelated to our personal biographical history. The challenge of facing and integrating these emergent experiences into consciousness can be frightening and feel overwhelming. Psychiatry labels these and other non-ordinary states of consciousness, necessary for psychological healing and for spiritual emergence, as pathological and suppresses them. Psychiatry disrupts and perverts the continuing process of individual and societal spiritual transformation, preventing movement to the next level of development.

15) We have a survival nature which comes from our evolutionary heritage and includes so-called negative emotions, including the fight or flight response and related emotions of fear and anger. Whereas fear and anger are necessary physical survival emotions, they are easily distorted and harmful to all forms of life.

16) Our nature also includes complex emotions peculiar to human brain development, mind and self-reflective awareness, including guilt, shame, envy and doubt. Whereas the initial twinges of these emotions are helpful self-correcting signals, they are also easily distorted, becoming toxic and harmful to both the individual organism and other life forms.

17) The effect of physical or psychological hurt on human beings is to cause distress, evidenced as alienation and impairment of function on all levels-- physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Thinking and relating are impaired by internal distress.

18) Non-organic hurts are sufficient in and of themselves to cause patterns of distress severe enough to meet the official psychiatric diagnostic criteria (all based on subjective reports of thoughts, feelings and conduct) for any of the so-called mental illnesses.

19) One of the core distresses resulting from hurt, occurring in utero or at birth for most of us, is the illusion of separateness, the false belief that we are isolated, separate beings, that we are not, in fact, completely connected to all of life. Psychiatry's oppressive practices add greater hurt and distress, reinforcing isolation, hopelessness and despair.

20) Vast numbers of our citizens are spiritually bereft, spellbound by the incessant and eminently successful purveyors of the world view of consumerism. We are lost in the inherently unsatisfying demand for fulfillment through what we buy and have, pathetic victims of gross, materialistic excess. Psychiatry's reductionistic medical model, and reliance on external, physical "silver bullet" drugs and electroshock supports the materialistic worldview, and the desperate search for outer solutions to the felt unsatisfactoriness of existence. An enormous challenge for all of us is to find a meaningful cosmology, and to deeply root ourselves there. This is an essential teaching of the perennial spiritual traditions throughout the ages

21) The effects of hurt, and the feeling of separateness, tend to be cumulative and to become habitual over time. Habitual patterns of distress generally operate outside an individual's awareness such that the individual assumes that the pattern is actually his or her essential nature. An individual observing habitual patterns in others, when that individual lacks good information or when operating out of their own distresses, tends to make one of two false assumptions. If the observed pattern is similar to his or her own, the individual assumes that the other's behavior is human nature. If the observed pattern is different, it is assumed that the person suffers from an inherent defect (Psychiatry calls this "mental illness"), rather than distress which can be overcome.

Implementing a Solution

22) The Universe consists of and is sustained by an invisible energy, sometimes called Spirit, which is inherently benign and uplifting. We can call this energy loving because of its essential interconnectedness or relatedness, and its tendency to expand in communion or empathy.

23) We humans are essentially intelligent, creative, curious, zestful, adventurous, responsible, cooperative, loving and gentle. We know this is our inherent nature by observing babies and children whose developmental needs are well met. We know this by observing how right, and how most alive we feel when we are expressing these qualities. We know how loving kindness enhances our physical and emotional well-being.

24) Each of us is doing the best we can with who we are and what we know, and to the extent that we have been hurt (or not) and emerged from the effects of hurt.

25) The energy of loving is abundantly available, waiting to be called upon. Loving is a natural contradiction to distress; when focused on another individual with delightful attention, the loving tends to trigger a natural healing expression of emotional discharge. We need each other, and we need to be safe in order to thrive.

26) Because of the powerful economic determinants of our "mental health" care system today, any lasting transformation of this system must also be a social revolution, affecting change in economic policy, and in any institutionalized systems of social injustice, including but not limited to oppression because of class, age, sex, race, creed, color or circumstance.

27) Enduring transformation of the way we care for each other, in or out of crisis, must move decisively beyond theory which treats individuals as isolated entities whose well-being is purely a function of internal psychodynamics. Growing remembrance of human dependency on and utterly complete relatedness to the environment is offering a ray of hope to the prospect of continuing this grand human evolution on planet Earth. Many of us are realizing that human well-being requires an awareness rooted in our natural selves in the natural world. All adults must reclaim their connectedness with nature, and extend this great gift to our children. Fortunately, it comes quite naturally to those who are not deprived of time and space to develop and enjoy themselves in the natural world.

28) Our society is undergoing a severe crisis of community. Many citizens are working, in the face of tremendous challenges, to create supportive community for ourselves and others, but most of us still desperately need and desire a richer and more intimate experience of community. We need ongoing availability of support for individual development, and individual and community emotional healing. We learn by looking at certain tradtional cultures, prior to industrialization, that the community has a solemn task of recognizing, embracing and supporting the unique gifts and talents of each individual member. In return for this great gift of recognition, support and valued inclusion, the community gains the lifelong benefit of that individual's contributions. We also learn that another sacred task of the community is to provide uniquely tailored support for individuals in pain or transition, and for the entire community on important events such as births, funerals and a variety of significant times. These supportive events are called rituals, and bear little resemblance to the emotionally staid "ritualistic" ceremonies we typically see at weddings and funerals in our society. Traditional rituals do have form, but, when properly done, participants are moved by the Spirit and abandon themselves to a cleansing outpouring of feeling. Rituals are a community experience of emotional healing. Our Western society needs to learn from these traditions, and remember and recreate the experience of community support and healing, both in times of crisis and in ongoing fashion for all of our sakes.

29) All decision-makers should bear in mind, learning from Native American tradition, the effects of any decision on children of seven generations yet to come.

30) Institutional actions are a summation of the consciousness of all the involved individuals. Psychiatric policy and practice is created, promoted and allowed by individuals. Therefore, in order to effect enduring social change, it is necessary that individuals change. The first step is to move from denial into awareness and recognition of the reality of Psychiatric Oppression. Next is to take responsibility for change.

31) Real change, authentic transformation, requires truth. Generally speaking, truth is best communicated and received on a 1-1 basis. However, societal change also requires that public channels of information become vehicles of truth. This means a reversal of the trend toward control of more and more media outlets by a very restricted number of corporate entities invested in perpetuating the status quo. We must restore a truly free press, open to all people and all points of view.

32) Openness to truth usually requires release of rigid or distressed patterns of thought, feeling and action in the receiving individual. When we are unaware of our distress-based rigidities, we inevitably project the patterns of hurt and distress, acting out our own abuse on others. Therefore, taking responsibility for and alleviating the effects of our own past hurts is necessary for transformation. In order to overcome the desire to dominate others and break this abusive cycle, it is necessary to do our own inner work.

33) Until supporters of Psychiatry are able and/or willing to honestly look at themselves, face their own emotional pain, and take full responsibility for harmful and coercive actions toward others, it is necessary that their actions be interrupted, to prevent harm and to allow them the possibility of change. This is why speaking out and challenging Psychiatric Oppression is important, valuable and necessary work.

34) Psychiatry and the law must be disentangled and separated. There must be immediate and complete cessation of the abrogation of civil liberties, with indeterminate psychiatric incarceration, of individuals who otherwise would have definite criminal sentences, or would, in fact, be free as they were never actually convicted of any crime.

35) It is helpful to consider at least three levels in the continuum of care necessary to support individual psychological well-being:

I. Preventive/developmental -- This involves good, accurate information and education, and support for natural emotional expression. The uniqueness of individuals, the significance of emotional discharge for psychological well-being, and the value of non-ordinary states of consciousness must be understood. Conversely, the harmfulness of enforced conformity, and suppression of thought and emotion should be understood and avoided as much as possible. Natural, spontaneous expression flows, is recognized, allowed, encouraged, and supported. As a given, a rational society provides excellent medical care, and basic human needs of food and shelter for all.

II. Extra Support for Acute Distress -- At this level, the individual functions, but thinking and relatedness are impaired, and personal counseling is necessary to heal around relevant patterns of emotional distress. With enough emergence as a society, this would be naturally available from family and friends in the community. Until this time, the society should provide training for a cadre of lay counselors, operating with excellent theory and having done significant personal work, to augment any gaps in an individual_s personal network of support. Professional counselors may be necessary for crisis intervention, and through a period of transition, until more natural, less economically determined means of support are readily available. These counselors should be supported by the community as a whole, rather than a private pay situation which excludes those with less money. The critical work is for our society to support adults to take full responsibility for our own healing, and to challenge any and all excuses for adults to hurt children and justify it by blaming it on the children and the need to correct and shape them.

III. Intensive Support for Severely Disabling Distress -- Intensive support is necessary when an individual_s functioning is severely impaired. This care is holistic in that physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs are all considered. It must always be custom-tailored to the needs of each individual. It often happens that someone needs short-term intensive counseling to work through the emergence of pockets of deeply painful and overwhelming emotion; a few hours of counseling in one day, or over a few days can make all the difference. At other times, this level of support needs to be maintained for a few weeks. Rarer, but not uncommon, is the need for short or long-term work in a place of great protection, safety and nurturance. It makes no sense whatsoever to put a bunch of people suffering severe, chronic distress all together, with professionals who see them as defective and primarily needing to be controlled. Healing and reemergence into inherent nature occurs most easily in the presence of people who are resting relaxed and confident in their own true nature and in the true nature of others expressing even the most troubling patterns of distress. Recovery is not so much a function of severity of distress as it is sufficiency of resource; it has been repeatedly demonstrated that even those individuals who carry the most severely stigmatizing, and supposedly incurable, label of "chronic schizophrenic" can and do recover with good care and enough time.

36) Countless numbers of us are entangled, lost, and often destroyed in the throes of substance addiction. Our continuum of care must include excellent understanding of the dynamics of addiction, and support at all levels for the process of recovery. Regarding psychiatric drugs, we have excellent, safe and effective guidelines for the process of withdrawal. Until Psychiatry as we know it is dismantled, support for psychiatric drug withdrawal must be readily available at all levels.

37) The process of spiritual transformation is an inner revolution, beyond the issue and scope of psychological theory. Our need and yearning for spiritual experience, wholeness, meaning, and connection is deep and everlasting. Furthermore, the movement of that invisible energy we sometimes call the Spirit is relentless and unceasing. Much of what we treat as psychiatric crisis can properly be understood as spiritual emergence. The efforts of those who are educating us in discernment and support of spiritual emergence deserve support. At the least, our care for each other must be gentle, non-judgmental, non-suppressive, tolerant, respectful, open to surprise, and rooted in a deep sense of reverence, mystery and awe.

38) Fundamental to all of the above is a profound recognition and trust in the goodness and excellence of human nature. This should include a solid understanding of the mechanisms of psychological hurt, distress and recovery. We need to fully realize and continually affirm our complete interconnectedness, on all levels. A good-natured tolerance of our flaws and idiosyncracies is essential. A basic attitude of loving kindness is the foundation which we should all keep reaching for, and from which we should move and act toward ourselves, each other, and the world.