Therapeutic State

The real history of psychiatry
Dr. Peter Breggin


There have been recent calls for a national Mental Health Registry, and then additional calls to link such a registry to gun licensing. In the dreadful wake of Newtown, both the left and the right and the current US federal administration are demanding that we tighten mental health statutes to make it easier and even mandatory for health care providers including psychiatrists and psychotherapists to incarcerate people on suspicion of perpetrating violence.

In a recent blog, I evaluated all the ways psychiatry and individual psychiatrists already have too much authority to lock up American citizens. I’ve pointed out how ineffective that power has proven in preventing violence.

Indeed, as many are now learning, psychiatric drugs can cause violence and have contributed to school shootings and other mayhem. Here I want to remind and to warn that psychiatry has been and continues to be the cause of some of the greatest abuses in the Western World. In the aftermath of the school shootings, psychiatry should not be allowed to garner even more power.

Consider as a start the several-hundred year history of the state mental hospital system. Given the power to lock up people at their own discretion, psychiatrists “put away” untold millions of people over several hundred years in the Western World. In its heyday in the 1930s, by turning innumerable state hospital patients into guinea pigs, psychiatry invented and practiced lobotomy, insulin coma shock, and electroshock. Despite overwhelming evidence for its damaging effects, electroshock continues to flourish and to be pushed by advocates, probably afflicting several hundreds of thousand patients each year in the US.

Psychiatry never reformed itself. It became so costly to the states to maintain these facilities and the federal government obliged by providing Social Security Disability Insurance for “mental illness.” This enabled the states to throw out the inmates from their giant facilities to live on the streets or to languish in oppressive nursing homes with meager federal support.

How devoid has psychiatry been of any self-critical restraint? In the early 1970s, when a resurgence of lobotomy threatened another wave of brain mutilation, I stood alone as the first psychiatrist to publically oppose this “treatment.” My successful international campaign against psychosurgery launched my psychiatric reform career (see here also) in earnest. The violent reaction from psychiatry to my reform efforts taught me how dearly psychiatry holds onto its power and even its most barbaric treatments.

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