10 Reasons Survivors Might Know More Medicine Than Psychiatrists
We’ve been discussing a potential role for psychiatrists on this site, and I wanted some of the doctors to understand why many mental health escapees or graduates may know more about the mental health outcomes literature than doctors. One previous blogger pointed out that wearing a white coat and taking the Hippocratic Oath gave them some kind of expertise, but now the question is, “Who really is the expert?” Here are 10 reasons why it may not be the person with the degree and all the training.
This is an update of a post that appeared a month ago on Wellness Wordworks’ blog.
1) It’s life and death for us. That’s a pretty good motivator to learn new things.
2) Free time: Most Medical literature and medical education has been heavily influenced by the pharmacuetical industry. Most doctors have no formal exposure to mental health outcomes literature challenging the disease model of emotional suffering. My favorite blogger, 1boringoldman.com does an excellent job of explaining this. Doctors can only find truth through their own off the clock efforts, and 80 hours a week of med school and residency training doesn’t leave much off the clock time. Many mental health professionals also work a lot more than 40 hours a week, so even after their training they don’t have time. In contrary, many of us survivors have been fired repeatedly due to the labels we have been given, so we are a bit more likely to have time available.
3) Risk: Many people in recovery are often at the bottom of many pits before we start looking for new ideas. We have nothing to lose. Yet for professionals, it’s practically career suicide for them to question whether people can completely recover by exiting the mental health system and coming off medications if meds aren’t helping. Maria Bradshaw pointed out in a comment on this blog: Many doctors support struggling parent privately, but few of them are willing to risk supporting us publicly.
4) Public relations. Many people have never even heard that there might be another way to look at things, that we can improve mental health outcomes for practically free, practically overnight. We need to tell a story that we know how to help people recover, that we have a better way to do things than using labels and medications first, for everyone and forever. If we want people to leave the APA’s storytelling and tell ours, it has to be palatable. Linda Andre wrote an excellent book called, Doctors of Deception that outlined how a masterfully crafted public relations campaign has been able to show ECT as safe and effective when it’s neither.
5) Emotional toll: It’s tough to read that you’ve been harming people you wanted to help. Many more people in recovery know the true story on mental health outcomes because it’s a good news story to us, so it’s much easier to read and keep reading on our free time. It tells us we can be free again. It takes a lot of digging to come a place of intellectual honesty about deciding what is true. I read about 150 research articles, 15 books, and went to two conferences before I was sure that Whitaker was right. This is especially hard to follow through on when it means you have been hurting people your whole career. If survivors like me keep throwing up things like my 7 ECT’s, loss of grad school, loss of a chance to have kids, and loss of 10 years of my career in their face, they aren’t willing to pay that price.
6) An honorable way out: People might need a way out without admitting they have been wrong. Maybe we can figure out some way to show that life situations do intead cause our chemical changes and not just some random genetic or physical defect. This scientific explanation could satisfy the disease model advocates – simply explaining how much of our distress is due to trauma.
7) Future career plans: Many professionals don’t realize there’s a booming career in helping people get off meds or publishing medical literature about this practice.
8) The wrath of peers: Truamatized people hurt other people. This does not make hurting people right and honorable and just and excusable. Or productive. When we speak publicly in ways that scare off professionals, we get labeled with their N-word, which is the A-word in our field: antipsychiatrist. Yes, an antipsychiatrist is pretty much anyone saying anything they don’t want to hear. But, it’s also anyone who talks with emotion and anger and hurt. We need to figure out other ways to share our pain besides personal attacks on people who may or may not have caused it. This is very difficult, and I cannot always do it. Instead, I feel great respect for the advocates who snuck into the APA convention to present Max Fink with a platter of brains for his work promoting ECT.
9) Ego: To listen to survivors, you have to admit that our experience has meaning. This is contrary to the entire disease model paradigm, which says that our behavior is irrational, and not a normal response to our life situations.
10) Fear of other professionals: psychiatrists are already stigmatized compared to other medical specialties, and probably thus less likely to be able to admit they are wrong.
I’m writing this as requested by an amazing woman I know <3
You’ve either never heard of it or have heard of it and may think you get it but probably don’t.
Stick “anti” in front of anything and it is (and rightfully so) assumed that it is 100% against whatever the word that follows it is. This is not the case with anti-psychiatry…not completely anyways.
I only recently, within this past year, found out what anti-psychiatry was and had actually never heard of it before. Many, because of their lack of understanding of what anti-psychiatry is, usually immediately write off as being, dare I say it, “crazy”. Who could possibly be against a system that helps them?!!? Well…….
Here is my understanding of what the general population thinks anti-psychiatry is all about: not believing that mental illness is real, not believing in medication or other treatments and believing psychiatrists are full of garbage.
To be honest that assumption is right but it’s also wrong!
I recently read a book called Talking Back to Psychiatry: The Psychiatric Consumer/Survivor/Ex-Patient Movement by Linda J. Morrison that explained what anti psychiatry or “the C/S/X movement” is.
Like many things in the world anti psychiatry exists on a spectrum. There are many ways to “be” anti psychiatry and they all have valid points to make. You have groups of people who believe in mental illness, seek treatment, are on medication and consider themselves apart of the C/S/X movement. Then there are the groups of people who do not believe in mental illness or in anything psychiatry has to offer. There are people in the middle as well (which is where I would place myself).
Regardless of where you are on the anti psychiatry spectrum the groups all have one motivating factor in common and that is POWER. Anti psychiatry is against the God-like power that psychiatrist hold over their patients.
If you’ve ever sought treatment and seen a psychiatrist you have seen their power. They tell you how you think, how you behave, what it means and only they can provide you with the cure. That’s a lot of power for one individual to have.
Those in the C/S/X movement want doctors and patients to work together. They want recognition of their knowledge on their life and their mental illness or do not want to be labelled as having an illness (which can then become a symptom of a mental illness). Having a partnership instead of a hierarchy of one being better than the other can improve the recovery process because the individual with mental health issues is seen as important and valuable instead of just an illness that knows nothing and needs to be treated by the educated one.
We have seen in cases such as women’s and civil rights when the hierarchy was removed, and those in the groups were seen as having value, they were able to rise up and be successful in the world.
Another part of the power struggles in anti psychiatry and the C/S/X movement is choice in treatment. The treatments most commonly prescribed are talk therapy and medication (especially medication). What happens to those who do not want talk therapy or medication (such as myself)? Not much can happen because we really haven’t created options! This can lead back to power because if we take away medication and therapy as being the first, and sometimes the only, option given then psychiatry loses out. (see: http://www.mindfreedom.org/campaign/choice)
It was this need for options within mental health that helped create peer support; support groups run by those with lived experience of mental illness. This provided a unique experience that you just couldn’t get in a therapists office or in a bottle. It allowed people to connect with others like themselves, to share their struggles and triumphs and support each other. When someone gets it and you know they get it, wonderful things can happen.
A more recent example that is happening within my city of Toronto, Ontario is a running club for young people who have mental illness. These young people run a few times a week and it allows them to clear their head and be active. (see: http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1096474–teen-suicide-chasing-down-demons)
A final part of anti psychiatry, the C/S/X movement and power is stopping forced/involuntary treatment. As it sounds, this is when a person is given treatment without their permission. This happens more than we may think. Forced treatment definitively keeps alive the power imbalance between patients and psychiatrists and continue, to a worse extent, a lack of choice. It also helps to perpetuate stigma by telling society that people with mental illnesses are unable to care for themselves, do not know what they need and therefore the “normal, rational” ones need to step in and provide what they feel is the appropriate care. Once you get into forced treatment is it very hard to get out.
In total this amounts to PATIENT RIGHTS!
- The right to choice in treatment and accurate information on those treatments
- The right to be an expert in one’s life and illness
- The right to not be forced into treatment
- The right to refuse treatment (voluntary or involuntary treatment)
- The right to informed consent
- The right to be treated with dignity and respect
How can we change this power imbalance? It’s actually very simple.
I say simple because it should be a basic act for us to say, “Hey, I don’t want to do this! I want to do this instead!” But the power imbalance as I have been mentioning helps to silence us. But really, who knows you better than you? No one! Especially not someone who speaks to you for 5 minutes and then can magically determine the course of your life.
This YOUR LIFE! You have ALL RIGHT to demand what you feel is best and reject what will not work. Your body, your mind! if someone won’t listen to you, keep talking or find someone else who will! Gather family and friends to advocate with you for your desired treatment (even if it is no treatment).
In summary (sorry this was so long): anti psychiatry is a mix of pro and con psychiatry but 100% for eliminating the power imbalance between doctor and patient, improving treatment options for people with mental health issues, stopping involuntary treatment, and informing and improving patient rights.