Current busy-ness

Anitra Again (
Fri, 6 Feb 1998 08:39:14 -0800 (PST)

I haven't posted much lately, partly because I've been sick.  I'm
getting well again!  I am way behind on several writing projects, but
now starting to catch up with those.

One project was an expansion of a previously book review, to be
re-printed in Moondance, an online magazine.  I thought this topic may
be of interest to this community, so I'm sending you a copy.

Warning, Rosaphilia:  I mention the S word. :) 

[start of article]
In the Name of Help
Diane Klein
Commonwealth Publications
ISBN 1-55197-230-1

	This is a novel, about one woman's life being almost destroyed
by the "help" of the psychiatric system. Unfortunately, it is based on
	I have already run across those who claim that the novel is
"hysterical paranoia", a fanatical ax-attack on psychiatry. It did not
seem like such to me.  While I read it, Shirley Allen was being
besieged in her own home by state troopers in Roby, Illinois because a
family member had complained to the courts that she was "acting
strangely". Shirley was finally taken into custody and spent over a
month in a psychiatric hospital -- a month that she will be billed
for, even though she was there against her will -- before a judge
finally released her, saying that she had never been a danger to
herself or to anyone else in the first place.
	There is no report of Shirley Allen being abused in the hospital, but 
the fear by many across the country that she would be was not based on 
"hysterical paranoia".  My own fear was based on family history.  When my 
mother was in psychiatric hospitals, she was given Thorazine although it 
was directly contra-indicated by the physician's reference materials due 
to a disease she was officially diagnosed with that was clearly indicated 
on her records. This "treatment" probably hastened her death.  
	I am not "out to get all psychiatrists." I know that there are 
responsible people who do a great deal of good, in psychiatry and 
psychotherapy and psychological counseling in all its forms. But the 
field is also extremely vulnerable to abuse, and has to be closely 
monitored. I don't want any other family to find out years after a loved 
one's death that their trusted doctor's treatment harmed, instead of 
	I hope the facts woven through this novel -- about the effects of 
psychoactive medications and electroshock therapy, the procedures of 
involuntary commitment, the conditions in many nursing homes and 
psychiatric hospitals -- will make everyone take responsibility for their 
own treatment and that of their loved ones, and question all doctors and 
treatment centers closely.  
	Another thing the novel does is point up the alternatives to 
complex-sounding diagnoses and psychiatric terminology. Sometimes a 
person is "acting crazy" because they are in an insane situation.  They 
don't need therapy or medication, they need to solve a physical problem. 
In a true story I read recently, a man went to therapy, unsuccessfully, 
for years.  He finally had a marvelous turnaround in his mental health 
when he quit and changed jobs.  
	The book doesn't dwell on the other basic factor in many problems that 
appear to be "mental illness" -- undiagnosed medical problems.  Years 
after my mother's death my sister was diagnosed with an inflammatory 
disease that occasionally affected the nervous system -- a disease whose 
symptoms closely resembled many things our mother complained of.  
	The book presents in the end what I described to my friends as "a 
Utopian hospital", one that seems too good to be true, where each 
patient's dignity and free will are nurtured to growth instead of 
suppressed, where the staff believe that no matter what traumas a person 
has suffered, with quiet and calm and care they can usually recover 
themselves. I hope there really are such places.  
	There are many people who need help, and I am glad that there are 
professionals willing to help them. I am also glad there are those who 
will harry the invasive, arrogant and irresponsible tactics of false 
"helpers" out of the field.
	The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists have 
organized a Committee on Human Rights and Psychiatry, reporting -- among 
other things -- on "human rights of the mentally ill."  The title is an 
ironic echo of the adamantly anti-psychiatric activist group founded by 
the Church of Scientology.  The Citizens Committee on Human Rights 
campaigns against psychoactive medication of any kind and all intrusive 
psychiatric methods such as shock treatment, brain surgery, and the 
controversial "sleep therapy" in which patients are kept unconscious for 
extended periods of time.  CCHR widely publicizes any abuses by 
psychiatrists or psychiatric hospitals.  
	While Scientology is among the highest-profile
"anti-psychiatry" groups, they are not by any means the only
ones. Psychiatry is has always been under attack, even from within,
from those like Dr. Alice Miller who would see it reformed to
those like Dr. Thomas Szasz who would see it all but abolished.  A
national-level activist group of "psychiatric survivors", called
Dendrite, monitors psychiatric abuses and puts out frequent calls for
political action.  Their latest, at the time of this writing, is a
demonstration on Saturday, February 14, at 4 PM, in front of
Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk (Los Angeles, CA).  A quote
from one of their widely circulated emails says, "The _Los Angeles
Times_ has reported that the hospital's own statistics show restraints
are used hundreds of times a month on these children. Many of them are
heavily drugged, so that their hands tremble, their bodies are
bloated, and they fall asleep during the day. There is little
recreation for these children, and they are locked up all day. The
only outdoor space they have is prison-like concrete patios."
	It was a psychiatrist who helped send Shirley Allen into
confinement against her will; it was also a psychiatrist who signed
the report that led to her release.  I and many of my bipolar friends
have been mis-diagnosed and wrongly medicated at least once in our
lives, with personally disastrous results -- and all of us that are
still alive and functioning met at least one psychiatrist who was
alert, sensitive and caring and judged our treatment correctly.  On
the whole, I am not personally in favor of outlawing all psychiatry
and shooting all psychiatrists.  But it is a field where, more than
ever, the buyer must beware -- the individual must retain
responsibility and control in treatment, and not turn all authority
over to the doctor, who remains a fallible human being in spite of the
medical degree.
	This is the crux of the problem in the area of mental illness.  
	Ten years ago I had a doctor who became outraged when I asked for 
explanations of each medication prescribed.  He had the medical 
degree, I had come to him for advice, I should take the advice without 
question.  This attitude is found less and less among medical doctors, or 
it has been starved out of the field by a population increasingly taking 
responsibility for their own health.  But it is much more difficult to 
erode this attitude in the field of mental health.  It is difficult 
enough to ask analytical questions when you are in physical distress and 
you just want to ask the doctor to make the pain go away.  It is even 
more difficult when you are in mental or emotional distress.  Even when 
being in mental pain does not mean being mentally incompetent, it often 
means being treated as such.  
	Because of this massive balance of power that the doctor has over the 
patient in mental illness, the field has to be subject to closer scrutiny 
and tighter controls than in fields where the power balance is more 
equable, as between copier repairmen and customers.  And in a society 
where even copier repairmen come under rude jokes and unfair attacks, 
psychiatrists are just going to have to adjust to harsh criticism and 
loud exposes of every mistake as realities of their existence.  
	There are other ways of equalizing this imbalance of power and 
guaranteeing the human rights of psychiatric patients, besides subjecting 
all psychiatrists to frequent public cross-examination and critique.  One 
is for the family and friends of a person with mental illness to educate 
themselves, and not reflexively discount everything their loved one says 
when it contradicts the doctor.  
	Another is to expand on a concept expressed by a group called the 
National Empowerment Center.  As their mission statement says,  "The 
Mission of the National Empowerment Center is to carry a message of 
recovery, empowerment, hope, and healing to people who have been 
diagnosed with mental illness.  We carry that message with authority 
because we are a consumer-run organization and each of us is living a 
personal journey of recovery and empowerment. We are convinced that 
recovery and empowerment are not the privilege of a few exceptional 
leaders, but rather are possible for each person who has been diagnosed 
with mental illness."
	Any form of treatment for mental or emotional illness should
have as its objective to restore the individual to fuller control over
his or her own life.  Every possible opportunity to exercise
self-direction should be built into the treatment, and anything that
undercuts self-direction should be adamantly avoided.  In the end,
that subversion of self-direction is my main criticism of psychiatry
as some practice it In the Name of Help, and the increase of
self-awareness and freedom of choice is my purpose for reviewing and
recommending this book.
	Write On, Diane Klein!   

Some references:  

National Empowerment Center

Bibliography sources on technology abuse and human/civil rights

Support Coalition International (Dendrite)

Citizens Committee on Human Rights

The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Committee on 
Human Rights and Psychiatry

Dr. Alice Miller

Dr. Thomas Szasz
[end of article]

WRITE ON! -- Anitra