Psychological Fairytales and Manipulation

Psychologists tell/sell stories about people’s lives that we may find more or less appealing and live according to them. Psychotherapy is about instilling different ways of viewing one’s difficulties, which is believed to replace the behavioural disorder with more “appropriate” ways of personal conduct. More specifically on could say that psychotherapy is about providing people with a repertoire of different thoughts, feelings, and behaviours deemed appropriate, whereby it is the mental health elite that decides what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate experiences and behaviour.

These psychological stories told by mental health experts have become authoritative guides of how to understand our difficulties and live our lives, while other stories are deemed invalid (e.g. personal, sub-/cultural, political, spiritual, etc.). One can only wonder why psychologists would have better stories about life’s difficulties than a family member, a friend, a colleague, a neighbour, that cashier in one’s local supermarket, the homeless person by the local train station, or a stranger that one meets online, unless of course there’s an implicit assumption that they are experts in living.

One thing is for sure. Apart from learning how to conduct themselves professionally (e.g. being polite, friendly, caring, semingly nonjudgemental) psychologists spend years of their training on their story telling abilities (i.e. rhetorics) when they learn about psychological formulation, which is about developing convincing stories about why people are experiencing difficulties in their lives. When it comes to psychotherapy clients translating their newly found (instilled) wisdom about themselves (i.e. an appealing story) into reality psychologists have also learnt not to be too leading but to rely on what they refer to as assisted self-discovery. This is regarded as a gentler and more empowering method than direct orders. Ultimately, it is of course still manipulation, though very cleverly disguised. So the psychologist provides the client with therapy until they eventually come up with a plan to deal with their difficulties that the psychologist has already envisaged and approved of. Only then would a psychologist speak of a therapeutic success.

Image  —  Posted: January 21, 2013 in Blogs
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ice cream killer

It is possible to demonstrate that when ice cream sales are highest, that acts of violence are at their highest. This will lead some to conclude that eating ice cream can turn people violent. Now before you start thinking about the effects of too much sugar, fat, genetically modified ingredients, or cold substances on the brain let me assure you that such a conclusion is nonsense. This apparent relationship between ice cream sales and violence is called a spurious relationship, meaning that here is no direct relationship between these two factors but that they can both be explained by a hidden third factor. This so called confounding variable in this example would be the heat that occurs during the summer months.

Now, it is important not to immediately jump to the next conclusion by claiming that heat alone makes people to be violent. Heat can be wanted and/or familiar such as when people expose themselves to extreme temperatures in saunas, enjoy an afternoon of sunbathing, or grow up/live in places with high temperatures. And then heat can of course also be unwanted and/or unfamiliar such as when  people try to get to work in the early ours of the morning in overcrowded subway trains, not being able to sleep at night because of an excessive heat wave, or going on a package holiday at a time when and place where everybody else is going to and it is much hotter than back at home. The point here is that heat (e.g. just as well as cold weather, rain, wind, etc.) can of course under certain conditions represent an additional stressor that might make people more irritable but not cause them to behave violently. It would be better to understand the heat that occurs during the summer months as producing conditions where more people than usual gather together which together with many other factors (e.g. overcrowding, lowered inhibitions as part of a crowd, thrill seeking, long-standing rivalries, opportunist crime such as theft, excessive alcohol consumption, etc.) can start a “fire” (e.g. during summer vacations, school holidays, more major public events that draw in large crowds such as festivals, concerts, sporting events, demos, etc.).

Pseudoscience: On the Psychotropic Drugs/Violence Link

I think it’s very problematic if we accuse psychiatry of being unscientific about their claims of the existence of “mental illness” and their panacea, i.e. the chemical cure, if we ourselves resort to unscientific methods such as using anecdotal “evidence” (e.g. “I know someone”, “somebody told me”, “I have heard in the news”, etc.) to prove our points, such as psychotropic drugs turning people into mass murderers. We cannot fall into the same trap that psychiatry has fallen, that is being led by one’s presuppositions and looking only for “evidence” that seems to support one’s position. I also think that such a strong belief in the power of chemicals over human behaviour (I am not talking about effects on mood, perception and cognition here!) makes this position very close to that of psychiatry, i.e. simplistic, reductionist, and deterministic.

I have heard this story before of someone being “sweet and innocent” only to turn into a violent monster when being under the influence of a drug. The same kind of story has been told numerous times to account for all sorts of anti-social or violent behaviour, e.g. heavy metal music, horror movies, violent video games, and alcohol. The temperance movement in the US that ultimately led to the prohibition era was convinced that it was alcohol that caused social decay, crime and violence only to discover that prohibition itself led to one of its biggest crime waves. Of course one needs to acknowledge that heavy alcohol consumption is well known to contribute to late night/special event street violence as well as domestic violence (e.g. due to factors such as clouding judgement, impaired consequential thinking, loosening of inhibitions). However, one should not disregard the very specific social contextual factors of these events such as competition, courtship, anonymity, overcrowding, and rivalry between groups in the case of street violence, and pre-existing marital/relationship difficulties in the case of domestic violence, as well as personal factors, e.g. willingness to use violence, perception of threat. One should also not forget that very serious acts of violence are committed only by a minority of all alcohol consumers while under the influence. There are about 16000 murders in the US per year (approx. 11000 with firearms). Estimates suggests that alcohol plays a role in about 40% of all murders in the US which equates to 6400 murders where alcohol played a role. With 160 000 000 regular alcohol consumers in the US this again equates to one murderer amongst 25 000 people who regularly consume alcohol. This is a clear demonstration that although alcohol can of course contribute to violence (including murder) it does not turn people into homicidal monsters. This does of course not mean that drugs like alcohol do not cause any other significant damage. Quite on the contrary! Tens of thousands of lives are lost every year in the U.S. because of alcohol related accidents (approx. 30000) as well as diseases (approx. 35000).

Returning to the link between psychiatric drugs and violence, I have to say that it would be very hard to prove that a particular drug could turn someone seriously violent (and I am not just talking here about someone getting into rage mode and/or wanting to kill someone, which is so very common anyway) because of the existence of numerous confounding variables that are not being controlled for, as would be the case in experimental designs, e.g. what behaviour led the individual to come under the radar of psychiatric service in the first place, subsequent experiences of being turned into a psychiatric patient, age, gender, drug dosage, length of drug consumption, use of other drugs, etc.

To even begin making suggestions about a link (not even a causal link) between psychotropic drug use and violence you would have to count the numbers of people who consume the exact same drugs and do not commit acts of violence, as well as count the numbers of people who commit acts of violence who do not take any of these psychotropic drugs. Only then you could start to make some inferences, while you would still have to control for a host of other variables (see above) that might have much higher contributory power.

Finally, I also think that this over-focus on side effects of psychotropic drugs not only distracts from the real issue, i.e. the absurdity of regarding behaviour as an illness and treat it with chemical means, but might lead people to think that it’s only about making better drugs with less side effects. I don’t think that this is what the anti-psychiatry movement ultimately wants.

Image  —  Posted: January 3, 2013 in Blogs
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Musical Polemic by the Blue Panthers Party, Based on “I won’t back down” by Tom Petty.

Video  —  Posted: December 31, 2012 in Videos
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Supporters of Psychiatry have been busy blaming “mental illness” while supporters of the Anti-Psychiatry Movement have been pointing their fingers at psychiatric drugs over what recently happened in Newtown, Connecticut, Here I shall focus on anti-psychiatry’s position rather than on psychiatry’s dubious notion that such acts of violence (i.e. school shootings) must be signs of what it defines as “mental illness”.

How can anti-psychiatry possibly assume that a drug (rather than a myriad of factors, e.g., being young and male, which accounts for most violent acts) can lead people to go on killing sprees? This can only be done when conveniently ignoring people’s circumstances that led them to get involved with psychiatric services in the first place as well as their subsequent experiences of being turned into psychiatric patients (e.g. invasion of privacy, surveillance, control, detention), being unclear about drug dosage and the time gap between drug consumption and violent behaviour (e.g. if a drug has been taken for months or even years how can one be so sure about a causal link between drug use and an act of violence?), disregarding information about other consumers of psychiatric drugs who do not commit violent acts, and ignoring acts of violence committed by people who don’t take psychiatric drugs at all.

The above is not to suggest that drugging people who do not have an actual illness is ok or safe. Quite on the contrary, it is poisoning! Any powerful psychotropic drug (e.g. alcohol, cocaine) can cause a variety of very severe physical (including death) and cognitive symptoms (e.g. clouding judgement, slowing down thinking, loosening of inhibitions, impairing consequential thinking), the latter of which can of course be a contributing factor in the emergence of violence given the right circumstances as well as personal predispositions. Alcohol is already very well known to be a contributing factor when it comes to violence. This of course does not mean that drugs like alcohol predict violence as there are countless consumers who do not engage in drunken violence.

Arguing that some mystical “mental illness” or that a proclaimed chemical cure for such called illness can cause people to kill others is over-simplistic and deterministic. The idea that a single factor is responsible for complex phenomena is of course very appealing as it seems to suggest very easy solutions (psychiatry is pushing the idea of a mental illness rather than considering social, cultural, economic, political factors to account for all sorts of social behaviours). In reality of course even simple phenomena are produced by a myriad of different factors.

The biggest problem of all is that neither psychiatry or anti-psychiatry seem to be willing to see the bigger picture when it comes to gun violence. Is it so hard to see that this problem in the US is about a trigger happy nation that has learnt to be on constant high alert about some impending danger and is more than willing to defend their own interests with deadly force both within and outside of its borders. What possible message, apart from distrust and hate, can the free availability of guns in a society tell us about how people think and feel about each other and how they are supposed to solve conflicts?

For Your Own Good

Posted: December 18, 2012 in Quotes
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“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” (C.S. Lewis)

Psychiatry vs. Democracy

True inclusive and direct democracy unlike oligarchy requires broad participation. If we are (made) too busy working for someone and consuming their goods like in our capitalistic society we eventually have to give up more and more responsibilities and place them in the hands of a few technocrats (e.g politicians, lawyers, educators, dieticians, personal trainers, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc.) who will readily take over and think and act on our behalf. This increasing professionalisation of everyday life appears to result in us becoming more and more incapable of dealing with everyday live without our life managers.

Mental health professionals have been very successful in disguising largely moral and political issues about social life as individual (mental) health issues arising from our very own deficits, while we have become increasingly reliant on them to define and treat our difficulties in living. Cultural, political and economical factors are largely ignored while focusing on “problem behaviours” of individuals rather than viewing peoples’ experiences and behaviours in context and seeing the wider picture. We have been made to focus on the “depressed” woman rather than a male-dominated, sexist and oppressive regime, the child with ADHD rather than an ignorant education system, the stressed out worker rather than intolerable working conditions, exploitation and poverty, and the soldier with PTSD rather than the horrors and senselessness of war. We are made to adjust to a system and not change it.

Some adversities that people face in their lives (e.g. illnesses, accidents, deaths) will of course be unavoidable (this is of course not to say that one should not also address these to minimise risk of physical harm) while others could and should be addressed (e.g. inequality, exploitation, poverty, racism, social exclusion, etc.) to reduce human suffering. If we truly want to be free and independent then we have to get back into the driver’s seat and not let a bunch of elitists take us for a ride.

Image  —  Posted: December 14, 2012 in Blogs
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In my blogs on anti-therapy I have been using what is sometimes referred to as institutional analysis, which is just a fancy word for examining how institutions behave and function. (e.g. Michel Foucault, Noam Chomsky, Friedrich Nietzsche). I’m applying observations that have been made in other areas like religion, politics, medicine, commerce, and many more, to the area of “mental health”, e.g. psychotherapy. In an attempt to lessen the impact of bias I am purposefully making use of quotes by psychotherapists about their own profession. What I am saying here about psychotherapy could easily be applied to any other “mental health” profession, e.g. psychiatry. Important things in such an analysis to consider include what psychotherapy actually is (e.g. its components), what it claims to do and what it actually does, where it comes from and what it replaces, who are/were the main players in its development, marketing and distribution, how and why it has become so popular and powerful.

Here I shall focus on economics to demonstate what such an analysis can look like. Psychotherapy is an industry like many others, because there are people who sell products and services and there are people who buy them. This commercialisation started when in 1910 Freud with Ferenczi, Adler, Jung, Abraham and Stekel formed the stock company “The International Psychoanalytic Association, for the purpose of promoting and distributing psychoanalysis, and continues today with big business empires like that of the CBT practitioner Christine Padesky. When I claim that the car-manufacturer “Ford” wants to sell cars, and that like any other company it needs to make profit and expand in order to survive in the market place only a few people would disagree with such a statement. Now when I make the same claim about the industry of psychotherapy, people are outraged. Psychotherapy, just like Ford, has to make profit and expand in the market place. And that is exactly what it has done! Proof? There are now several hundreds of different kinds of psychotherapy, and hundreds of different kinds of problems (e.g. DSM) it offers treatment for compared to say 50 years ago. Offering various different kinds of psychotherapeutic treatments for an ever increasing number of different kinds of what are regarded to be “psychological” problems, means expansion (more customers) and more profit. The same can be said and has been said about any other related industry such as the medico-pharmacological industry and the diet industry. In the case of the medico-pharmacological industry it would be financially disastrous to invest in curing diseases. Instead one focuses on “treatments to help you live with it” (heard that one before?). This is the only way of making customers come back for more, and thus create a loyal customer base and increasing profits. Similarly, the diet-industry is not interested in slim people or making people slim, or even change society’s perception of beauty and the ideal weight. It cannot be interested in that as it would be self-sabotaging. There wouldn’t be any fat people to treat!For an industry to compete against other business rivals it needs to develop a marketing strategy (e.g. advertising) to achieve a certain amount of market share (e.g. customers who are willing to buy your product or service). When advertising companies make sure that they use the “right” people to make sure that their products and services comes across as attractive, reliable and/or respectable. Car manufacturers make use of superstars such as glamour models or Formula One drivers while the psychotherapeutic industry use superstars such as famous academics and scientists to promote their goods.

Potential customers need to be convinced by any business why their products or services are necessary in the first place and why they would help to live a safer, healthier, easier, more comfortable, and better life compared to buying products and services from other providers. In the case of Ford, their latest model represents the ideal car to achieve the most desirable outcomes, e.g. speed, small yet spacy, low gas consumption, etc., according to its makers. Similarly, in the case of psychotherapy, their particular therapeutic intervention represents the best therapy to achieve the most desirable outcomes, e.g. not to take drugs, not to be too sad, not to be too happy, etc. according to its makers. Of course many industries also use scare tactics to create what is commonly refereed to as F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty and doubt) by using different form of “shockvertising” (e.g. many companies that sell cleaning products warn of millions of invisible germs lurking everywhere in your home; insurance companies that warn you of pretty much everything that could potentially go wrong and result in financial ruin, etc.). Likewise, in the area of “mental health”, one is constantly being reminded of things like “1 in 4 have a mental disorder”, that one might be affected by some psychological problem withou even knowing it, and that it would be best to get oneself checked out, to avoid things getting worse and being condemned to a life-long “mental illness”.

In the area of people’s private affairs psychiatry and psychotherapy have become the biggest market players, leaving very little business to competitors such as faith healers, spiritual healers, and astrologists, etc. who have pretty much been pushed out of the market by being labelled unscientific, ineffective, exploitative and even dangerous. In other words psychiatry and psychotherapy have created a monopoly. That means that whenever people face any kind of adversity or difficulty in their lives, people are likely to immediately think of psychiatry/psychotherapy that will help them sort out their difficulties. This is the power of marketing! It is not rocket science! Industries spend billions of dollars to make sure you keep them in mind from the moment you wake up in the morning when you have your Kellogs Cornflakes, at work while you are preparing documents using Microsoft Office, during your break when you have a KitKat and call your friend on your IPhone, in the evening when you grab a burger from McDonalds, at home when you have your Bud while watching commercials that keep being interrupted by that boring movie, and finally until you go to bed and have a Nitol to help you sleep through the night.

Let me conclude by saying that anti-therapy is not about denying the very reality of adversity that people experience in their lives. Anti-therapy is not about denying that many users of therapy like it. Anti-therapy is not about taking away your “Coca-Cola”, “Lucky Strikes” or “IPhone”. It is about highlighting that one is buying products and services from an industry that needs to create a loyal customer base in order to survive.

The idea that there must be something seriously wrong with individuals who transgress social norms or conventions is very old and has been used throughout the ages, most notably by the Catholic Church. In the middle ages, for example, people who chose to think for themselves, live independently and not believe in the teachings of the dominant Catholic Church were regarded as heretics and blamed for engaging in pacts with the devil. In modern times the name of the heretic has changed to mental patient. We no longer speak about what used to be known as spiritual problems (supposedly caused by some kind of demonic possession) but physical problems such as mental illness (supposedly caused by some chemical imbalances in the brain, or some sort of trauma that occurred early on in childhood).

Although mental patients are not being blamed for their so called mental illness they are blamed if they chose to refuse to accept “help” from those who supposedly know best (i.e. the mental health professionals, e.g. psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, etc.). The very existence of so called “mental health services” (or “mental hell services” as I prefer to call them) and the massive lobbying for psychotherapeutic interventions to combat what is defined as mental illness produces intense social pressure on people to get a cure for their apparent “sickness”. If they feel that there is nothing wrong with them and choose not to accept any help they are blamed for being “difficult” and resistant, which is really about striving for independence and autonomy. The success of the mental health propaganda machine can be most notably seen in the US where a large proportion of society regularly receives psychiatric treatment. People are constantly being reprimanded for taking the wrong kind of drugs, having the wrong kind of weight, or the wrong kind of thoughts and they more or less willingly turn to their masters, the so called mental health experts to make it all better. Of course there is no right or wrong but simply conformity to an ideology which is sold as the norm (i.e. the norm as defined by mental health professionals).

There seems to be something very convenient and comforting about the notion that problems in society are simply due to a group of people who seem somewhat alien (note that psychiatrists used to be called alienists as they were dealing with people who found themselves alienated from mainstream society, because they were poor, unemployed, homeless, not married, etc.) compared to mainstream society. I am talking about scapegoats here and society’s attempt to explain it’s difficulties away by blaming groups that are different and doing away with them in a desperate attempt to establish order. This brings me to the point about “mental” disorder, which is one way society tries to make sense of people who are different and seemingly undermine its very values and conventions (e.g. to be heterosexual, to consume the right drugs with moderation, wanting to be alive, etc.). So it comes that in modern times indifference, non-conformity, rejection or outright protest in relation to society’s moral code of conduct is regarded to be due to some kind of “mental illness”. Surely, one must be mad if one does not care about or does not want to uphold what society regards as important (e.g. getting married and having a family; having a proper job; etc.), right? So really, what we are talking about here is the lack of conformity and obedience and the abundance of independence and autonomy.

Psychiatry has established very clear and strict guidelines of what it regards as acceptable ways of behaving, feeling and thinking about the world (see “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, DSM). If one steps out of line one can quickly be declared to have a “mental illness” and to be in need of psychotherapy. What this really means is that one does not behave, feel, and think in a way that is acceptable to the psychiatric doctrine and therefore requires correction. Psychiatry has created numerous facilities in which mental patients are dealt with. For some strange reason psychiatry refers to “mental hospitals” when talking about these institutions as if to suggest that inmates (i.e. prisoners) were actual patients afflicted by some kind of disease from which they are meant to be cured. In reality, these institutions are correctional facilities aimed at shaping the individual so he or she conforms to psychiatry’s code of conduct. What makes these facilities ultimately worse than prisons is that one can be admitted to them indefinitely without even having committed an actual crime. In prison you pay for what you have done with your liberty. In mental hospitals you pay for how you feel and think about yourself, others and the world in general.

So what happens to you when you are declared mentally ill? You will receive so called psychiatric treatment often against your will. The term itself is an interesting one. It is composed of “psyche” which obviously refers to the mind, and the suffix “-iatry“, which is Greek and means “to cure“. So psychiatry deals with what it describes as the cure of the diseased or sick mind. Again, this is not a new idea but simply a new term for what the Catholic Church has been practising for about two millennia by saving “lost souls” and bringing salvation. Both secular priests (e.g. psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, and counsellors) representing the powerful institutions of science and medicine, and clerical priests apparently representing god’s will on earth listen to people’s troubles, offer advice, support and comfort, while upholding the principles of warmth, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard. Just like it is the case in traditional religious interventions, the so called mental health patient has to be repentant and pay penance by agreeing to some form of punishment such as confinement (similar to seclusion and isolation in monasticism), psychotropic drug treatment (similar to the use of holy water), electroconvulsive therapy (similar to the use of flagellation), and/or psychotherapy sessions (similar to confessing one’s sins, as well as praying for forgiveness). In relation to conversational psychotherapy, the notion that is beneficial to have a discussion with someone else about one’s troubles dates back to Greek philosophers who would practise the art of what they referred to as “healing words” (“iatroi logoi“, Aeschylus, ca. 525 – 456 B.C.). For those philosophers this was not so much about being a science, the way we talk about it today, but more a form of healing rhetoric, intended to please and comfort, influence and persuade another. One of the earliest philosophers to suggest the notion that individuals can be so distressed that would leave them no longer able to help themselves was proposed by Cicero (106-43 B.C): “The soul that is sick cannot rightly prescribe for itself, except by following the instruction of wise men“. This idea was obviously very much welcomed by the Catholic Church and later by psychiatry in order to justify their existence as society’s guardian and protector from evil and “mental illness”, respectively.

No matter how kind and benign in appearance and behaviour, the psychotherapeutic profession itself is corrupt as it depends for its existence on other people’s misery. The very mainspring of psychotherapy is profit from another person’s suffering. Remember that therapists have never been in the forefront of the struggle for social change. It is not in their interest to create conditions that would lead to the dissolution of psychotherapy. The psychotherapeutic profession profits from a system that exploits people’s unhappiness and places their loyalty to their profession above that of their clients, no matter how much rhetoric they use to disguise this.