reprinted from MOTHER JONES Magazine 14 (1989) p. 13


The Anti-Shrinks

SALLY ZINMAN, THE ex-patient. Peter Breggin, the radical therapist. Jeffrey Masson, the persistent outside critic. Theirs are among the strongest voices in the growing psychiatry reform movement, a nationwide coalition that opposes shock treatment, involuntary hospitalization, and debilitating drug therapies.

Zinman says the abuse she suffered from one psychiatrist "was so horrible it changed the whole direction of my life." She blew the whistle on the doctor, and he lost his license. Next she started a patients' rights group, and today she's director of the Berkeley Drop-in Center, a client-run alternative mental-health facility in California. Zinman thinks these are crucial times in the politics of psychiatry. 'They're trying to turn the clock back to the 1960s," she says, referring to proposed legislation in California and other states that would make it easier to commit people to mental hospitals without their consent. "With all the cutbacks in spending, We're seeing more homeless people, more people in mental distress on the streets." Zinman fears the shortcut answer will be "to put more of these people away." Instead, she says, "we need more self-help alternatives. We need to help people before they get caught up in the mental-health system."

Maryland psychiatrist Breggin is concerned with what happens to people once they re hospitalized. "We have the power, with electroshock and neuroleptic drugs like Thorazine, to take away people's minds. The frightening thing is that we use this power." On television and elsewhere, Breggin has advised mental patients to stop taking their medication. "The drug companies provide money to the American Psychiatric Association for fellowships, publications, media events, even the annual meeting," he says. "No one would take those drugs of their own free will, so the pharmaceutical companies need the complicity of psychiatrists to force them on people. It's a shame on the profession. Even more radical is writer Jeffrey Masson, who argues, in his new book Against Therapy, that psychotherapy is as bad and essentially unreformable as slavery: "It's a relationship of unequal power based on dominance and submission. You can't reform something that's basically corrupt. Masson adds: "There may be a few decent people doing [psychiatry], but that doesn't make the institution bearable. " The training and certification of therapists creates only an illusion of protection, Masson argues: Your whole emotional well-being is at stake. and you're expected to say, "This person will be fine, he's got a plaque up in his office, I can trust him, he's never going to exploit or hurt me.' That's just not true."

Peter Breggin doesn't agree; he believes he and other therapists help people. Still, the two critics have found enough common ground to work together on a new book about psychiatrists in Nazi Germany. "Psychiatry has the power in any society to enforce conformity," Breggin says. ~People who think or look different--gays, minorities, the homeless--they're in the greatest jeopardy."

Even in the psychiatry reform movement, says Sally Zinman, there is confusion about "what this thing is we call mental distress." She's not concerned with "the medical model," which asks *why* about mental illness, says Zinman. "We listen to people and what they *want*." Some just need "a place to take care of their business, use the phone, have some coffee. People want off the streets, out of shelters. Survival is a lot of what people are talking about now."


-- Michael DiLeo