Orwell: To see what is in front of one’s nose requires a constant struggle.
I began to think about mental illness as protest while I was studying to become a psychotherapist, growing repulsed by the teachings of psychology and the compliance of the mental health shredders I worked alongside during my time as an apprentice in the field.
Institutionalized mental health is a twisted business, on par with institutionalized racism, sexism and any categorical human rights violation. Unlike sexism and racism, the institution of mental health bears a cultural and scientific stamp of approval, strenthened by what has become knee-jerk pharmaceutical intervention, which boils down to little more than a mindless manipulation of inconvenient human behavior. I’d rather be the devil than contribute to an institution that has nothing to do with the meaning of the word “psychology”, and everthing to do with the word “oppression.” I quit. A lot of very pissed off people quit psychology/social work, and then spend the rest of our lives beating ourselves up with our own futility and no idea what do do now.
“First, what has been pathologized needs to be re-humanized. We need to reacquaint ourselves with those aspects of our humanity which – though not fitting neatly into the new world order – are in fact fully human. Next, we must rebel – a common sense rebellion.”
That’s Bruce Levine, one of many psychologists who we will celebrate for biting the hand that feeds them, for challenging the dominant paradigm, from their position within the paradigm.
This excerpt is from an interview in LiP magazine about a book you should read called Commonsense Rebellion: Debunking Psychiatry, Confronting Society, a Guide to Rehumanizing Our Lives. At the end of each chapter are solutions you can take, most have to do with being true to yourself, affirming your own perceptions and your right to say them, and why this is the best thing we can do for ourselves and the world we live in. It makes me think of possibilities, about what could be if anti-psychiatry can look like this in the 21st century:
“What I believe is that a lot of what people call mental illness and disease now are kinds of rebellions against what’s around them. What people need to understand when they take a look at others doing self-destructive drinking or not paying attention in their classroom is that there’s a kind of rebellion. That if you really pay attention to these people and get to know what they’re all about, they’re angry, resentful about something going on around them. What a lot of people have done over the ages, and you see this both politically and psychologically, is have their rebellion without wisdom. Their rebellion becomes self-destructive. A lot of what people do, without help, good parenting, good teaching, good counseling, is rebel irrationally, without thought. And then they make life worse for themselves and everybody around them. What I do, clinically—and what I argue for in the book—is try to understand and assume that there’s a reason … for why someone is angry, depressed or bitter. What you are supposed to be doing as a counselor, teacher or parent, is to help folks move into a more constructive kind of rebellion…as opposed to what we do in our culture, our society, and certainly within the mental health business, which is to try to squash rebellion. And worse than that, not even identify it as such. The ultimate invalidation is to look at some kid who is refusing to pay attention or behave well, and not respect that there’s something by way of rebellion and resistance going on there, and then to medicalize it and then to drug it. The thing that most embarrasses me about my business is that I’m utterly convinced that all of this will be obvious to people down the road—especially kids who have gone through it—that there was a kind of rebellion going on and it was squashed by biochemical means. But the thing is, it won’t ultimately work. It won’t. As we know, lots of these teen shooters have been on these psychiatric drugs. Things won’t work the way they want them to work. These drugs are short-term, and they get folks to be a little bit more compliant in the short-term, but in the long-term—like all of the attempts to control people—you produce resentment and resistance and even more anger. And God knows what kind of horrific behavior is going to be happening more and more down the road.”
LiP: Do you have words of optimism and encouragement for people suffering with psychological pain? How might they go about finding this sort of path you’re describing?
What I’ve found from my patients over the last 16 years is that the people who I see who are depressed and anxious are a lot of the most likable people I know. To me, it usually indicates that their soul is still intact. They’re capable of feeling hurt, loss, pain—they haven’t utterly anesthetized themselves like a lot of society. Take a look: one out of four people are on psychiatric drugs.
So, the first thing is, feel good about yourself that you’re human enough to still feel hurt, anxiety and pain.
The second thing is, forgive yourself for probably doing a hell of a lot of stupid things w/ that—self-destructive things, unkind, selfish things to yourself and others.
The third thing is that once you understand that there are good reasons for why you’re feeling the way you are, you want to move into finding a way to transform your life. That can be a real, satisfying, lifelong project.
Partially, what you start to understand is that you need to develop, in your life, a community of people who are like you, a community of people who really dig you. People who, when you see them and they see you, are really excited.
Well yeah, that’s a lucky thing, community, and its lack is a big heavy social problem when everyone’s bowling alone, let alone those of us who bring such a colorful array of problems the party, I know we don’t make for easy company.
But when the road ahead is hard to see it keeps you going to think this way, and thinking is prior to making it so.