The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.
Interview with Peter Breggin
EM: You run a website about “psychiatric drug facts.” What are your intentions with that website?
PB: Throughout my career as a psychiatrist, I have found, on a clinical and scientific basis, psychiatric drugs do much more harm than good. My professional website (www.breggin.com) began as an attempt to present my scientific research—books and peer-reviewed articles—to the public, and to keep interested reformers abreast of the latest issues in psychiatric reform. The website makes available information about my more than twenty books, and more than fifty scientific articles, as well as my radio show, newsletter, educational videos, media interviews and other reform activities.
At the time that I started my reform efforts in the early 1970s, I was nearly alone among psychiatrists or any other professionals in standing up to the pharmaceutical industry, the electroshock industry, the American Psychiatric Association, the AMA, and other members of what I defined as the “psychopharmaceutical complex.” My website, and the conferences we hold, from the beginning were intended to provide mutual support to me and to any other professionals and citizens who wanted to stand up against the abuses of organized psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry.
As I have become increasingly active as a medical expert in legal cases, that too has become a significant part of my website. I describe recent court victories in regard to harm done by psychiatric drugs, electroshock, psychosurgery, involuntary treatment and other aspects of modern psychiatry. I am proud to have been the medical or psychiatric expert in the very first malpractice trial victories involving electroshock (ECT) and psychosurgery, and more recently, many cases involving the adverse effects of psychiatric drugs such as tardive dyskinesia (a movement disorder caused by antipsychotic drugs), and murder and suicide caused by antidepressants, stimulants, and benzodiazepines.
Several years ago, my wife and I began a nonprofit 501c3 organization aimed at promoting more caring, empathic and effective forms of therapy. The organization, called the Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living, is located at another website, www.empathictherapy.org. That website provides a resource center for people seeking help. It also presents my concept of what an ideal therapeutic approach involves. We hold or cosponsor conferences with cutting edge, pioneering professionals and other reform-minded individuals.
EM: You’ve written a book called Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal. Can you share with us some of the headlines of that book?
PB: The first half of the book presents an overview of the damaging effects of psychiatric drugs that should lead people not to take them or to withdraw from them as soon as is feasible in a safe manner. It examines every category of drugs including antipsychotics, antidepressants, stimulants for ADHD, mood stabilizers, and sedatives such as benzodiazepines to treat anxiety and insomnia.
The reader will be shocked at how damaging drugs are and how little evidence there is for their effectiveness. When taken for months or years, all psychiatric drugs can seriously damage the brain, prevent recovery, and ruin the individual’s quality of life. The first half of the book also reviews better psychological, social and educational approaches to helping individuals and families.
The second half of Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal aims at helping prescribers, therapists, patients and their families in the process of drug withdrawal. It is a client- or patient-centered approach with emphasis on building a strong support group, with a gradual withdrawal guided by a collaborative process with emphasis on the individual’s assessment of how well the withdrawal is proceeding.
PB: Some well-meaning people believe that guilt or shame provide a “moral compass” for living our lives. Many years of clinical and personal experience have convinced me that guilt and shame in fact have no positive role in living a mature, successful life. Along with anxiety, guilt and shame are primitive emotions built into us by biological evolution. As humans evolved with a combination of conflicting violent and loving tendencies, guilt, shame and anxiety evolved to inhibit the expression of violence, aggression and willfulness in our most personal or intimate relationships. When people get into conflicts, these emotions tend to disrupt dangerously assertive thoughts, feelings and actions—but in modern life they end up becoming self-destructive.
Unfortunately, these emotions are indiscriminate and tend to suppress freely chosen actions, even when they are constructive and loving. Because evolution built this capacity into our genetics and biology, it is very primitive and gross. In addition, early childhood experiences, for better or worse, elicit and shape the expression of guilt, shame and anxiety. Thus, these emotions are not only primitive, they are prehistoric—almost fully formed before we can even remember and long before we could understand what was happening to us emotionally.
My book Guilt, Shame and Anxiety provides helpful charts and tables for learning to identify these negative legacy emotions from our primitive pasts and early childhood. It then provides guidance in how to control these emotions and instead to guide our lives with reason, principles, and love.
EM: What are your thoughts on the current, dominant paradigm of diagnosing and treating mental disorders and the use of so-called psychiatric medication to treat mental disorders in children, teens and adults?
PB: I began attacking the medical model, including diagnoses and physical treatments, decades ago. Many people continue to benefit from one of my earlier books about it, called Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of the ‘New Psychiatry.’
The psychiatric model of human suffering has caused untold damage to hundreds of millions of victims of involuntary treatment, psychiatric hospitals, drugs and electroshock. It has also set back civilization by undermining Western traditions of individuality, personal responsibility, and love. It has convinced modern society that emotional suffering is based in so-called biochemical imbalances when in reality it is rooted in a complex combination of human nature, individual experience and choice-making, and societal influences.
This flawed biological model ignores all the important realities in human life from the dreadful effects of childhood trauma and adult disappointment and loss to the importance of living by worthwhile principles and ideals. First, we need to weed out the influence of modern biological psychiatry, where it strangles our individual lives and cultural values. Then we need to replace it with values such as independence, mutuality, responsibility, and love.
EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?
PB: Very few psychiatrists will offer an individual in distress the needed psychotherapeutic help through individual, couples, or family therapy. Instead, psychiatrists now reflexively drug and shock nearly everyone who passes through their offices. As a result, when you or a loved one are feeling emotionally vulnerable and distressed, it is safest to avoid psychiatrists.
Instead, if you wish professional help, seek a therapist who offers both individual and family therapy. These therapists include counselors, marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers and clinical psychologists. And before you see a therapist, check ahead of time if they will agree to treat you without referring you to a psychiatrist or other physician for psychiatric medication. The best therapists know that psychiatric drugs do more harm than good.
If you have a distressed preteen child, then the therapy should focus on the adults in the family, and not on the youngster. When children are young, and before peer pressure and drugs become a big issue, parents need to focus almost entirely on how they are raising and caring for an upset child. If you have an adolescent who is having problems, then the therapy should include both the adolescent and the parents, either together or separately, or both.
Remember that therapy is only one of many ways to heal emotional suffering. In a sense, all of life is the source of our healing, including spiritualty, God, nature, creativity, productive work, meaningful activities and, above all things, responsible and loving relationships.
Peter R. Breggin, MD, has been called "The Conscience of Psychiatry" for his many decades of successful efforts to reform the mental health field. His scientific and educational work has provided the foundation for modern criticism of psychiatric drugs and ECT, and leads the way in promoting more caring and effective therapies. He has authored dozens of scientific articles and more than twenty books including the bestseller Talking Back to Prozac (1994, with Ginger Breggin), Medication Madness: The Role of Psychiatric Drugs in Cases of Violence, Suicide and Crime (2008), Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal: A Guide for Prescribers, Therapists, Patients and Their Families (2013) and Guilt, Shame and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions.
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at email@example.com, visit him at http://www.ericmaisel.com, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com
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