“Big, Bad” Anti-Psychiatry

I’m writing this as requested by an amazing woman I know ❤


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!

This means:

  • 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.


2 thoughts on ““Big, Bad” Anti-Psychiatry

  1. I love this. I have been fortunate in that I have dealt almost exclusively with doctors who considered me an integral partner in the treatment process, not “just a patient” whom they could tell what to do. But I was also taught from a very young age that you don’t automatically and blindly respect someone because they are a doctor (or a teacher, or a police officer, etc.). I was taught that respect has to be earned, and you use the same yardstick to measure your psychiatrist as you do your co-worker.

    I really wish that more could be done to encourage all people to take an active role in their health care, be it mental or physical.

    • I’m happy to hear that you’ve had an experience based on teamwork and not a whole “us vs. them” kind of thing. For me, everyone always had a base level of respect but yeah, we’re in a world where we’re told to trust our doctors, and we should, but they are still human and do not always do the right things.

      I agree that we need to be more hands on in our own health. We blame our genetics and rely on pills when sometimes all it takes is getting up off the couch and deciding you want to make a change! I’m lucky that I’m on a waiting list for Planned Parenthood’s counselling service. I told them that I didn’t want my past mental health to be the focus of what I currently want to do in working with them and the intake worker said, “yup, that’s fine! You write your own story!” I almost hugged her!

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