07 May 2010


Shocked. Angry. Incredulous. Sad to the point of tears. Moved beyond being able to cry. Frustrated. More than anything else, frustrated, with an overwhelming sense of desperate powerlessness.

Today was the first day of the two-day PsychOUT Conference at OISE—the first, international, scholarly conference specifically focusing on activism and organized resistance against the abuses of psychiatry, and the institutions and industries that support those abuses. I am volunteering at the conference (and moderating a paper session tomorrow on organizing youth resistance).

Were it not for the fact that I have witnessed, with my own eyes, events that corroborate and are consistent with some of the psych-survivor (and family members’) stories I heard today, I would not believe that such things were possible in Canada.

Had some of the descriptions of institutional and authoritative abuse come from the detention centres at Guantanamo Bay or Bahgram Air Base, they would have made headlines in the press.

Had some of the testimonies of family members being psychologically abused and manipulated to perpetrate beatings of children been written in a history book, they would have been examples of some of the worst tortures of Stalinism, or Nazism, or the contemporary hell-holes of brutal conflicts in some African war zones.

Had some of the pleas of individuals faced with impossible choices of seemingly inevitable death one way or the other, under threat (unless one of the presented options is chosen) of yet a third even more excruciating and slower death been enacted on a stage, they would have been scripted by Kafka or Orwell.

And yet, each and every one of them was perpetrated in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the privileged, supposedly civilized world. Each of them was perpetrated under the auspices of legitimated authority, most often wearing the white coat of psychiatric medical establishment, aided and abetted by governments, police, schools, and other institutions that have come to define civil society.

The conference brings together an often at-odds coalition of psychiatric survivors, individuals who self-identify as members of the Mad movement, and those who are vociferously anti-psychiatry in all its forms. Its focus is personal and collective empowerment, resistance to systemic abuses, and collaborative approaches to activism that results in overall beneficial change. Its messages are powerful, shattering, and profoundly disturbing. These are messages that should – no, must – be heard personally and directly by anyone who seeks to work in the healing and helping professions.

Let me also be completely clear on my own standpoint here: There are individuals who have been helped by psychiatric treatment. There are good, helpful, and caring psychiatrists. There are institutions that, in fact and effect, perform good and useful work with those in emotional and psychological need. I deny none of these. However, there are also pervasive and systemic abuses being perpetrated in the name of a particular model of treatment that is, by definition, limited in its ability to understand and give credence to those most in need of assistance, most vulnerable to systemic abuse, least able to be heard by the wider society. It is not that there are those who do good that we may ignore or deny the rest; it is that there are those who do unspeakable evil in the name of good that this conference exists.

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