A married couple came to me for counseling in September, toward the beginning of the school year. Steve works for the city as a paramedic, Jane for the state as a social worker in child protective services. They have a 3-year-old son name Kirk, but their presenting concern was with their daughter, Stephanie, who will be 12-years-old on December 23. Jane left Stephanie's biological father when she was a baby, and spent five years as a single mom, alone with her daughter. She and Steve have been married six years; he adopted Stephanie, and she calls him "Daddy."
These parents told me in our initial consultation of their grave concern for their daughter, explaining that last April, just five months previous, she was "so out-of-control" that their psychiatrist had admitted her to Shoal Creek, a local psychiatric hospital. Stephanie reported having suicidal feelings at the time and hearing voices which were critical and encouraging of self-harm. Her parents, especially Steve, were also afraid that she might hurt her little brother. Stephanie spent three weeks at Shoal Creek; her mom described her as a "zombie" upon discharge. She was now on an extremely potent cocktail of three very toxic psychiatric drugs -- Adderall, Lithium, and Risperdal. Jane reported that Stephanie was "thoroughly unhappy," that "I hate the meds, but I don't want her suicidal or homicidal." Let me share with you the story behind Stephanie's apparent experience of severe "mental illness."
Jane remembers her young preschool daughter as a "free spirit," zestful and full of life; her greatest wish is to have this free-spirited daughter back. She began to lose Stephanie at age five in kindergarten; that's when she was diagnosed, like millions of this countrys school-age children, a suffering from "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" (ADHD). She was given the popular stimulant drug, Ritalin, at that time, and has been on psychiatric drugs ever since. Again like countless other children, Stephanie's drug use moved along in what we now recognize as an expected progression. By the second grade, they kept increasing the dosage; Stephanie was characterized as "unhappy, having poor peer relations, hot-tempered and emotional." In the third grade, they switched her to Dexedrine, a dextroamphetamine, even more powerful than Ritalin. In February of this year, they switched her to Adderall, a blend of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. In April, Jane and Steve became worried about Stephanie's anger, and consulted a local psychiatrist who, according to Jane, asked if there was a family history of depression, and upon an affirmative answer, promptly diagnosed depression, and put Stephanie on Paxil, a so-called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor(SSRI) and Prozac competitor, and another in this long line of increasingly strong amphetamine class of drugs. Now this 12-year-old was on many stimulant drugs at once, a dangerous polyglot of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine(Adderall), with Paxil added into the mix. Peter and Ginger Breggin, in their 1994 book, Talking Back To Prozac, clearly demonstrate that the effects profile of these so-called SSRI anti-depressants is virtually identical to amphetamines -- hyperarousal and excessive stimulation as demonstrated neurologically, physiologically and behaviorally. Regarding the last, there has been a flood of incident reports linking Prozac to violence against self or others; the prestigious British medical journal, Lancet, warned in a 1990 editorial that SSRIs were associated with "the promotion of suicidal thoughts and behavior." Little did these parents suspect that their psychiatrist was giving drugs to their daughter which have been demonstrated to cause the very behaviors for which Stephanie was hospitalizedÑas well as a variety of other stimulant and behavioral abnormalities. Brief tests on adults for Paxil revealed the common pattern of stimulant effects: insomnia, tremor, nervousness and anxiety. Frequently reported effects include CNS stimulation, depression and emotional lability. Infrequent CNS reactions include psychotic depression, antisocial reaction, and hostility. That these SSRIs were never tested on children did not stop doctors from writing an estimated 580,000 prescriptions of them in 1997 for children age 5 and older ( Breggin, 1997).
By April 24, Stephanie was so "out-of-control" that her parents worriedly called the psychiatrist back, and Stephanie was admitted to Shoal Creek Hospital. Another expected development in psychiatric experience occurred; new psychiatrist, new diagnosis. The new doctor labelled Stephanie as "bipolar," took her off the Paxil, and added two other exceedingly powerful and very toxic adult psychiatric drugs, Lithium and Risperdal, to the Adderall she was already taking. Lithium is a mineral salt which was originally promoted to the public as the ultimate example of a specific drug treatment for a specific biologically based "mental illness" called manic depression. Early reports by Psychiatry, which still tend to pass as the conventional wisdom, claimed remarkable effectiveness and relative freedom from side effects. The truth is that lithium has been demonstrated to be highly toxic even in low doses. Its so-called therapeutic effect is probably due to general dulling and blunting of personality, and slowing of thought processes, both well-documented effects in "normal" research subjects. Furthermore, research has in time disproven all the proclaimed positive effects. Lithium is no more than a toxic brain-disabling agent, pure and simple. As to Risperdal, it is a more recently marketed neuroleptic, a class of drugs referred to euphemistically as antipsychotic, the "therapeutic" effect is really a deactivation of higher brain functions, in truth a chemical lobotomy. Used by veterinarians to control wild and domestic animals, Psychiatry commonly uses them to control children and adults in institutions. Widespread use of neuroleptics such as Thorazine and Haldol has resulted in a worldwide epidemic of neurologic disease, with tardive dyskinesia being most prominent Risperdal is marketed as a "new, atypical neuroleptic", and it is claimed to cause less "side effects." The truth is very little research has been done. What research there is shows that Risperdal tends to produce adverse stimulant effects such as insomnia, agitation and anxiety, and rage attacks, and all the classic extrapyramidal reactions found with other neuroleptics (Breggin, 1990; 1997).
So Stephanie was discharged after three weeks at Shoal Creek, on a regimen of Adderall, Lithium and Risperdal -- amphetamines, highly neurotoxic Lithium, and a neuroleptic which "therapeutic effect" is best likened to a chemical lobotomy. These are adult psychiatric drugs, each with known brain-disabliing effects. No one even knows whether the developing brain of a child can ever fully recover from the effects of these drugs. And 12-year-old Stephanie is on a dangerous combination of drugs, demonstrated to produce many of the effects they are purported to treat Psychiatry presents this last regimen of standard and customary "treatment" as a response to a girl's "mental illness," her "bipolar disorder," her emotional lability, her anger, her "auditory hallucinations." My interpretation is that Stephanie's hospitalization was a direct result of her reaction to Paxil. Remember the effects profile: insomnia, tremor, nervousness, anxiety; frequent CNS stimulation, depression and emotional lability; infrequent CNS reactions of psychotic depression, antisocial reaction, and hostility. Psychiatry calls it treament; I call it child abuse.
I have already made clear my opinion, based on the evidence that psychiatric drugs are not "medications;" they are toxic, brain-disabling drugs. What is also true is that the "mental illnesses" which Psychiatry purports to treat are not genuine illnesses; they are labels placed on people and used to justify "treatment." The truth, as remarkable as it may seem to those who have not studied this issue, is that not one routine psychiatric problem has been scientifically demonstrated to be of biological or genetic origin. This is absolutely true about ADHD, the alleged disease for which Stephanie was originally given drugs at age five, and continued on drugs to this day (Breeding, 1996; Breggin, 1998). It is equally true for her Shoal Creek diagnosis of "bipolar disorder." No authentic illness, no authentic treatment.
No wonder Stephanie was a zombie. No wonder she was thoroughly unhappy. And, given the fear-based propaganda the parents had recieved about biologically and genetically-based "mental illness," no wonder they were afraid and allowed the "medication," rather than act in defense of their daughter. Fortunately their concern was greater than their fear, and they came to me for help. This is what the help looks like.
In order to address the problem of Stephanie's family, it is necessary to understand the depth of hopelessness that these people feel. The message of biopsychiatry is about hopelessness; the actions which constitute what I call Psychiatric Oppression, such as the epidemic drugging of school-age children in our society, are acts of despair. When we drug a child such as Stephanie, the core message is that we have given up, we canÕt really help you, we have nothing worthwhile to offer you, you are biologically or genetically defective and need drugs in order to cope with life. The parents have, of course, internalized these feelings of hopelessness after years of involvement with Psychiatry. The first step, then, in helping this family to extricate itself from such a quagmire, is to provide a ray of hope. In the beginning, this may be as simple as a confident assertion that it can get better.
With at least a suggestion of hope comes an opening to new possibilities. Jane and Steve had been given misinformation over a period of several years. They were fed the beliefs of biopsychiatry, faulty assumptions falsely presented as scientific facts. In short, they were systematically brought to a conversion experience, to the religion/pseudoscience of biopsychiatry. This family desperately needed some accurate information. Four significant pieces of information they needed were about Psychiatry, about responsibility, about human nature, and about emotional healing. Jane and Steve needed to understand that they had been led down the garden path. They needed to know that Psychiatry assumes that "mental illness" is the cause of problems in social adjustment, and that this incurable "mental illness" is biologically based, therefore requiring drugs to control. They needed to know that there really is no scientific evidence of these "mental illnesses" from which their daughter is said to suffer, and that the drugs she was taking are not authentic "medicines," simply drugs. They needed to be encourage and empowered to gain and seriously consider full knowledge of the effects of the drugs she was taking.
Perhaps the very biggest and most intensely challenging information anyone needs to face psychiatric oppression, any oppression for that matter, has to do with authority and responsibility. We are naturally inclined to trust authority, and conditioned to accept the opinions and guidance of professional experts such as medical doctors. It is a disillusionment of the highest order to consider the possibility that the very professionals to whom you reached out and relied on for help may not know what they are talking about, may be doing you more harm than good, may in fact be ruining, even endangering your daughter's life. This is the greatest challenge faced by Steve and Jane, and by all of us in challenging human oppression on any level.
The third area of important information for these parents has to do with human nature. Psychiatry presents humans as geneticallydetermined organisms, social and psychological well-being an artifact of biological functioning, problems in living explained away as biologically based "mental illness". With this perspective, itÕs no wonder hopelessness becomes the norm; there's nothing you can do with it except perhaps pray to avoid a breakdown. My own view of human nature is that we are inherently good, intelligent, creative, cooperative, zestful, close and affectionate beings. We are born very dependent, naturally trusting our caregivers to provide for our many needs on all levels. Our human nature includes an enormous vulnerability, and when we are hurt it affects us deeply. One most significant result of physical and/or emotional hurt is that our inherent nature recedes; we become less intelligent, less resourceful, cooperative and affectionate: in short, a real problem. This is what Psychiatry calls biologically based "mental illness;" I call it the effects of having been hurt. For Psychiatry, the only alternative is to "treat" the so-called illness. Fortunately, and here is the fourth piece of needed information, the truth of human nature includes a natural, built-in mechanism for healing from the effects of hurt; it is called emotional expression, or discharge. Humans heal sadness by crying, fear by shaking, trembling and sweating, insult and frustration by storming in anger, etc. Inherent nature is soon restored when individuals are supported to release or discharge the effects of having been hurt. Stephanie does not need drugs; she needs supportive, aware adults with good information to protect her from dangerous adults, and to help her release the effects of past hurts.
After hope, courage is the most important quality for an individual to have in challenging oppression. Courage is an antidote to the fear on which Psychiatric Oppression thrives. I have worked with a number of people desiring to get off their psychiatric drugs, and fear is the biggest obstacle. Stephanie's mom was very afraid of what might happen with her daughter when she came off the drugs; her father was afraid Stephanie might hurt their little boy. Psychiatry feeds on fear to elicit compliance; most psychiatrists have little understanding that fear is actually a tension held in the body from past frightening experiences. Fortunately, as with other types of hurt, we humans have that natural healing mechanism mentioned above; itÕs called emotional discharge. Fear is released by shaking, trembling, sweating, and maybe screaming in the presence of a relaxed, confident, safe support person. A good way for Jane and Steven to start was to talk out loud about all that had happened over the years with Stephanie and Psychiatry, and about all their fears, large and small, of what might happen when she came off the drugs. Then, if they so choose, they could work on their own underlying fears which get restimulated by this parenting ordeal. Stephanie was also understandably afraid of getting off the drugs; after all, she had been on them as long as she could remember, and everyone had emphasized how much she needed them. My experience with Stephanie has been consistent with that of other children with whom I have worked. They may have fear and other distresses, but by sheer virtue of age and experience, it is easier for them to come around to inherent nature than us well-entrenched adults. There is always hope and good prognosis when parents are willing and courageous enough to really face their lives, work on themselves, and change whatever is necessary for the well-being of their family.
Shame rounds out the trilogy, with hopelessness and fear, of emotional demons which must be faced to successfully see through the lies of biopsychiatry and withdraw from the use of psychiatric drugs. As hope is to hopelessness, and courage to fear, so is complete self-appreciation the necessary antidote to shame. Shame is that awful feeling that goes with beliefs or conditioning that one is flawed, defective, incompetent, inadequate, or unworthy. The obvious message of Psychiatry is that patients are genetically of biologically defective. Stephanie and her parents had heard, again and again, literally thousands and thousands of times over the years, from educators, mental health professionals, and others that something was really wrong with her. So reducing the amount of shame they all carried was crucial to a successful recovery. There are ways to work directly with healing shame, but the best way I know is to move right into self-appreciation; the shame just canÕt stand it when songs of praise come rolling in. As I say in my book, The Wildest Colts Make The Best Horses, the greatest gift we can give to our children is to see them through the "eyes of delight." The challenge for Jane and Steve, and for all of us parents, is to clear out anything that gets in the way of being delighted with our children. And the best way I know to do that is to love and appreciate ourselves and our children.
Besides the aspects of emotional recovery I've been emphasizing, there is the concrete reality of drug withdrawal. Psychiatric drugs are potent and generally addictive, meaning that tolerance and dependency are developed. In general terms, withdrawal should be systematic and gradual. Excellent self-care in such areas as rest and nutrition is important. The so-called 10% rule is a useful guideline; incremental dose reductions, 10% at a time. It is important to understand that withdrawal may take several months, with uncomfortable symptoms all along the way. It is common to experience all of the drug effects, and all of the suppressed original "symptoms," typically in reverse of the order in which they were suppressed by the drugs. Peter Breggin's books (1990; 1994) offer useful guidelines on drug withdrawal, as does David Richman's Dr. Caligari's Psychiatric Drugs (1984). The supervision of a qualified medical doctor is recommended.
I have addressed the importance of emotional discharge as our built-in mechanism for healing from the effects of hurt. Jane and Steve needed to discharge some of the chronic hopelessness they were carrying to move into the possibility of reclaiming their daughter from Psychiatry. They needed to discharge fear which might stop them when the inevitable crises and obstacles occurred. Residues of shame and guilt that interfered with clear and positive thinking and action needed to be faced. In addition, the faces of anger, an unavoidable part of all relationships and undoubtedly present with all this family has been through, need to be expressed and worked with in a safe and appropriate way. Finally, perhaps at the deepest level, they need to feel and express the sorrow for all that had been suffered and lost over these years. Stephanie, too, needs to spend some time expressing her own experiences and feelings with encouragement, safety and support. Ten weeks into our work together, this family's recovery is well under way,. Already, Stephanie is off the Adderall, and her Lithium dosage is reduced by 50%. Soon she will be done with the Lithium, and begin tapering off the Risperdal. Jane and Steve have been great, educating themselves, being very direct with both the school and the psychiatrist about what they are doing. They have been willing to look at themselves, to make changes, to encourage and stand by Stephanie. Not that itÕs been easy, nor is it a done deal. I want to end this article with this week's example of the ongoing challenge.
One of the "symptoms" of Stephanie's "mental illness" which most frightened her parents was that she "heard voices" inside her head, so-called auditory hallucinations. Jane and Steve were frightened that she might be violent. Psychiatry was justified in responding to this sign of incipient psychosis by labeling Stephanie with a "major mental illness," and giving her Lithium and Risperdal. This was big-time "anti-psychotic" warfare, using two highly suppressive, adult psychiatric drugs. My own experience is that I continually have thoughts that seem to intrude themselves upon me, coming from apparently nowhere. Sometimes these thoughts have a certain potency, either a distressing or frightening content, or an energy and experience like an inner voice speaking inside my head. Virtually everyone I've ever discussed this with reports similar experiences. It's common talk, really, as people say, "Part of me said to do this, but another part wants this," of "something inside just said "Go for it," or "You better not," or whatever. Sometimes it's called, "I heard my dad's voice warning me not to go down that road," or "telling me what a piece of shit I am." The latter is referred to in psychological parlance as a "shame voice." John Bradshaw, in his book, Healing the Shame That Binds You, helped many to understand the damaging and insidious nature of this voice of internalized shame, this inner critic and put-down artist. We all contend with this, and it is usually worse under times of stress. When we've been shamed a lot, and go into psychological overwhelm, this voice, or oftentimes voices, can take on intense emotional charge, even the quality of a so-called "auditory hallucination" bringing one to tears or compelling action which is self-destructive. It can also be other-destructive. Every parent knows what itÕs like to be possessed by shame, to fall out of loving with your child, to see him as "bad,, and deserving of the shame and punishment you wreak upon her. There is no "bad" child, just as there is no "mentally ill" child; there are children who are hurt, emotionally distressed, out-of-control, and needing our help, not our punishment and shame. It's our job to clear that up for ourselves.
I knew that the distress of Stephanie and her family would show up and need to be faced in a positive way as they went through their healing process. Last week, I got a call from Steve saying they'd had a really hard day. Stephanie had apparently decided not to do an assignment, and had lied about it. She got caught, the parents got angry, she got defensive, then overwhelmed, then reported "hearing voices.. All in all, the parents handled it very well, but understandably their fear came upon them. I listened to Stephanie as she told me very clearly about what happened, about her "bad decision," about Steve's anger that scared her, about having to spend the day handling the assignment, about hearing voices. They were several voices, all clear faces of shame -- "You're no good," "You're stupid," "What's wrong with you,"and worse. Many were rather dramatic, some she recognized -- a "mean " boy at school, a parent, a teacher -- others were more like dramatized characters. Let me assure you that this is the stuff of which psychiatric diagnoses such as "psychosis" and "multiple personality disorder" are made. It is also the stuff we all must face to "heal the shame that binds us;" fortunately, Stephanie is quite lucid and most responsive to encouragement. She will do just fine.
It is interesting that our conversation brought forward another significant piece of information with which to work. I was most concerned about avoiding another psychiatric hospitalization, losing ground on the drug withdrawal, and strengthening Stephanie's dangerous identity as a "mental patient." Stephanie, however, revealed that there were several benefits to Shoal Creek -- a comfortable room, lots of attention, a respite from family conflict, good meals, her choice of ice cream -- and that part of her liked the idea of going back. This attraction, of course, felt stronger when things weren't going well at home. Stephanie was not aware that Shoal Creek is also one of two Austin hospitals that routinely practices electroshock on its patients. Although we managed to outlaw electroshock for individuals under age 16 in Texas, it is being done to children in other states. And it most definitely is the "backup treatment," after drugs, of the practitioners of biopsychiatry. The role of "mental patient" is a dangerous one. Regarding this last week with Stephanie's family, the task was to validate how well her parents handled the situation, and to educate them further about this thing of "hearing voices." I wanted to continue the ongoing reinforcement of the fact that her drug withdrawal and emotional recovery were the most important factors in her life right now, and that they were all doing very well. I let them know how delighted I was that this had happened the way it did. I saw the experience as an important step in reclaiming the naturalness of a child and family's life challenges from the dangerous interpretations and resulting actions of Psychiatry. I encourage all of us to be allies to individual children and families and respond positively to children's needs, even while we challenge the bigger picture of Psychiatric Oppression in our society.
- Bradshaw, J. Healing the Shame That Binds You. Health Communications, Inc., 1988.
- Breeding, J. The Wildest Colts Make The Best Horses. Bright Books, 1996.
- Breggin, P. Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy, and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of "The New Psychiatry". St. Martin's Press, 1991.
- Breggin, P. Talking Back to Prozac. St. Martin's Press, 1994.
- Breggin, P. Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry. Springer Publishing Co., 1997.
- Breggin, P. Talking Back To Ritalin. Common Courage Press, 1998.
- Richman, D. Dr. Caligari's Psychiatric Drugs. Available from L.R. Frank, 2300 Webster St., San Francisco, CA 94115.
- Re-Evaluation Counseling(RC) P.O. Box 2081, Main Office Station, Seattle Wa 98111.
The ReEvaluation Counseling Community is recommended to anyone interested in learning intelligent theory and solid principles of emotional counseling in a grassroots, non-professional context. The RC community also publishes a wide array of literature; the author particularly likes the pamphlets on parenting by Patty Wipfler.
This is the author's website. He recommends it to parents and to anyone concerned about Psychiatric Oppression.