What is the BizOMadness Blog?

This blog is devoted to raising critical awareness of psychiatry generally. It is likewise devoted to the antipsychiatry research projects, publications, and related activities of Dr. Bonnie Burstow. Especially foregrounded are The Psychiatry Project, The Madness Project, and "Psychiatry and the Business of Madness". Related to one another, The Psychiatry Project and The Madness Project involve hundreds of interviews, a dozen focus groups, analysis of several hundred documents and their activation, and dedicated periods of institutional observation. The culmination of both as well as of decades of related interviews and activities is "Psychiatry and the Business of Madness" (timely updates on its publication will be provided)--a cutting edge book in which psychiatry is investigated from multiple angles and which begins to tackle the inevitable question: So if we get rid of psychiatry, where do we go from there?

For the Events page to find events related to this research or this book, see

To check out reviews of Psychiatry and the Business of Madness and related publications, see http://bizomadnessreviews.blogspot.ca/

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Landmark Victory against the “Oak Ridge Torturers”—Do We Cheer or Cry?

On June 1, a landmark decision was handed down by Justice Paul Perell of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against the defendants the government of Ontario and two former Oak Ridge psychiatrists—Dr. Elliott Barker, who is hailed as the mastermind behind Oak Ridge’s therapy program, and Dr. Gary Maier—Barker’s successor. This suit (for damages) was launched by 31 of the men who had been “patients” (read: inmates) at Oak Ridge during the years 1966-1983. According to the ruling of the judge, three of the programs to which the “patients” were subjected constitute torture (see https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/doctors-at-ontario-mental-health-facility-tortured-patients-court-finds/article35246519/), and as such, there was a violation of fiduciary responsibility.

 As one of the many activists who fought to get the horrors at Oakridge stopped over the years and indeed kept finding remnants of the horror persisting long after the 1983 date (see Burstow, 1986), I am relieved that at least a few of the victims have lived to see a modicum of justice —nonetheless, given the extent of what transpired, additionally, the possibility of appeal, I am caught between cheering and crying.

 So what is Oak Ridge? What is this judgment all about? And what are the lessons to be gleaned here?

Starting in 1933, for 81 years Oak Ridge was the maximum security forensic unit of Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre (Ontario)—a place where Ontario men were incarcerated who were found “criminally insane” or “unfit to stand trial”. What was wrong with this place was more than just the bad treatment and human rights violations typical in institutions of the ilk—not that the “usual” is remotely acceptable. Beginning in the early 1960s, largely at the direction of Barker, Oak Ridge introduced and developed what it called the STP (Social Therapy Program). And it is precisely the ingredients of this “therapy” that have been deemed torture—three central aspects of it specifically named so.

Touted by its creators as the height of enlightenment and dubbed “Buber Behind Bars”, in a 1968 article of that same name published in The Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal (http://www.oakridgeclassaction.ca/document/vol%203/Vol%203%20%20sec%20%201.pdf), two of the program’s initial architects described and defended it as follows: “Psychopathology” is a disturbance in communication, and accordingly, forcing the “patient” into non-stop encounter with others (also called dialogue)—a central feature of STP—would force them to examine themselves, thereby cure them. Despite the Buberian overlay, seemingly recognizing some resemblance to Third Reich doctoring here, Barker and Mason went on to state, “If the process were one of eradicating a set of disapproved ideas . . . then we would be committing offences as grievous as those involved in The Third Reich . . . On the other hand, if our patients did not choose to deviate from society’s norms but rather were driven to such deviations by internal unresolved conflicts, then we should have them resolve such conflicts by every means at our disposal, including force, humiliation, and deprivation . . . And this force will not be lifted until he changes his behaviour.” A gut-wrenching bit of reasoning, to say the least, and yet the world welcomed this development with open arms!

So what were the primary components of “Social Therapy”? Besides solitary and sleep deprivation, which were pervasive (both of which the judge deemed tortuous), were three subprograms, all of which the justice ruled to be torture. While a detailed overview of the programs is beyond the scope of this article [for such detail, see my 1986 article “Oak Ridge before and after the Hucker Report”] (http://www.psychiatricsurvivorarchives.com/phoenix/phoenix_rising_v6_n2.pdf),  in short, the subprograms in question were: 1) Defence Disruptive Therapy (DDT); 2) Motivation, Attitude, Participation (MAPP), and 3) the capsule.

DDT consists of forcing hallucinatory drugs on “patients” to break down their defences and hypothetically force them to confront their unacceptable behaviour.  Patients subjected to this “treatment” for obvious reasons, walked around delirious.

Far more extensive, and arguably even more torturous was the Motivation Attitude and Participation Program, in which “patients” were kept for hours at a time one day after another generally for fourteen days on end, typically on the floor, not allowed to move a muscle, often chained to one another while being overseen by “patient teachers” who had authority over them, would punish them for the slightest movement, even force them to take drugs, all of this transpiring in a confine which McGuire describes as “three square feet” (see https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/06/08/treatment-at-ontario-mental-health-facility-was-torture-judge-rules.html) This hyper-surveillance and disciplining by “patient-teachers”, I would add, continued on for some time after MAPP was officially cancelled.

Finally, nothing compares with the horror of the capsule, the part of “social treatment” ironically that seems to have inspired Barker to call STP “Buber behind Bars”. In a tiny room, patients were kept chained to one another, naked, forced to “encounter” each other for hours on end, day after day—and with the only food which they imbibed during the “treatment” being liquid, which was fed to them via straws emerging through tiny holes in the walls. Herein we appear to be witnessing Barker’s understanding of  “healing dialogue” and “total encounter”, though clearly what was happening was torture.

Is it any wonder that those subjected to this “treatment” were severely traumatized?

Now eventually, after decades of scandal, the most gruesome features of STP were discontinued. And recently, the Oak Ridge site itself was closed. Would that such torture had never been allowed in the first place! And would that at least some semblance of justice for the victims (the 31 litigants represent but a fraction of the victims) had been meted out decades ago! All of which brings me to ponder what has materialized here—and I invite readers to do the same.

There are of legions of questions that cry out to be answered: With reports of the horrid abuse at Oak Ridge surfacing frequently over the years, and with Barker’s own articles conveying a sense minimally of profound violation, how could this travesty have continued unabated for so long? What is wrong with the world and with the “therapeutic” community in particular that what happened here was hailed as a major advance? If STP was called “punishment” instead of “help”, could anything remotely this invasive have been practiced? And while what happened is an extreme, given that extremes “write large” the typical, and in so doing illuminate it, what does this tell us about the relationship between “mental health” practices and social control generally?

A few more questions, to bring the focus squarely into the here-and-now: Why is the current and laudable protest against the use of solitary in prisons not being coupled by an equally voracious protest against its use in “mental health facilities”? Can anyone really believe that solitary is “torture” for one population and “necessary treatment” for another? Correspondingly, in light of the flagrant abuse that went on in Oak Ridge for decades, how is it that the University of Toronto and Waypoint have recently mounted a digital commemorative archive of Oak Ridge, which is up for all to see on the internet now, moreover, which is more laudatory than not (called “Remembering Oak Ridge, see https://historyexhibit.waypointcentre.ca/).  Indeed the impression created is that what Barker introduced was good and the problems leading to the Ridge’s closure were simply created by his successor Maier, who, being hippy-like, overdid the use of psychedelic drugs! Contrast this with the tenor of the various archives dedicated to Third Reich atrocities—the reference point that the Barker himself introduced—and the problem with our response to our own human rights violations becomes crystal clear. 

That noted, there is indeed something to celebrate today—not only the Perell verdict per se, which is decidedly enlightened, but the wording accompanying it. Note in this regard, after stating that “torture is torture” irrespective of either intent or how it is seen at the time, Justice Perell went on to say, “It is a breach of a physician’s ethical duty to physically and mentally torture his patients even if the physician’s decisions are based on what the medical profession at the time counts for treatment for the mentally ill [my emphasis] (see https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/doctors-at-ontario-mental-health-facility-tortured-patients-court-finds/article35246519/)
What in essence this means is that the fact that something is accepted “medical practice” does not legally absolve practitioners of wrong-doing. Herein we have ruling by a judge that can be cited as precedence. Moreover one that willy-nilly invites society to re-examine current practice.

Is not all seclusion torture—whether it happens in a prison or something called a “hospital”? What about involuntary treatment itself? Moreover, given that no less reputable an organization than the United Nations has declared that forced psychiatric treatment could be considered torture (see Minkowitz, 2014), and given that every state in the world is blithely ignoring such pronouncements, should these states not be held accountable, beginning with our own?

Correspondingly, if hallucinatory drugs can be ruled torture and a breach of fiduciary responsibility even though it was accepted at the time, how about the current use of “electroconvulsive therapy” or ECT, what with the grand mal seizures produced, the eradication of memory, the terror instilled, the profound interference with ability to navigate life? (for details on these ECT realities, see Burstow, 2006); alternatively, examine survivor testimony at  https://coalitionagainstpsychiatricassault.wordpress.com/articles/personal-narratives/).  

More generally still, are not both biological and institutional psychiatry to a degree at any rate inherently torturous?

Be that as it may, the bottom line is that not only is torture still happening, it remains rampant in the “mental health area”; and it has to stop. The good news is that we now have a verdict that can serve us.  Let’s start utilizing this ruling, this precedence to penalize and in the process begin putting an end to current abuse—tortuous practices, that is, that pass as acceptable largely because they constitute “standard” practice. Lawyers, survivors, advocates, let’s put our heads together on this.

Meanwhile, psychiatrists, be forewarned. And if for no other reason than self-protection, give some thought to what you yourself may be complicit in.


Burstow, B. (1986). Oak Ridge: Before and after the Hucker Report. Phoenix Rising, Fall, 1986: pp. 25-29.

Burstow, B. (2006). Electroshock as a form of violence against women, Violence Against Women, Vol. 12, No. 4: pp. 372-392. 

Minkowitz, T. (2014). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and liberation from psychiatric oppression. In Bonnie Burstow, Brenda LeFrançois, and Shaindl Diamond, Psychiatry disrupted (pp. 129-144). Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Antipsychiatry—Say, What?: Once Again with Feeling

Over the last couple of years, I have written several articles intended to shed light on the term/phenomenon “antipsychiatry”—to name just a few, On Antipsychiatry (see http://bizomadness.blogspot.ca/2014/07/on-antipsychiatry.html), Antipsychiatry Revisited (see https://www.madinamerica.com/2014/10/antipsychiatry-revisited-toward-greater-clarity/), and On Fighting Institutional Psychiatry with the “Attrition Model” (see https://www.madinamerica.com/2014/07/attrition-model-psychiatry-abolition/). This is the next in the series. Questions addressed include: What exactly does “antipsychiatry” mean? And if there is more than one meaning or reference, how do you choose between them?  Is the term useful or hopelessly ambiguous? Can one be antipsychiatry without being abolitionist? Does antipsychiatry partake of degrees, such as being “very antipsychiatry” or “somewhat antipsychiatry”? And if one wants to end the use of psychiatric coercion only, does that position qualify as antipsychiatry? In the process of offering what clarification I can, I will be dipping in and out of history, for we cannot come to terms with this phenomenon or the tangle of confusions surrounding it without delving into historical developments. I would just add in passing that I am writing this article not only as an antipsychiatry theorist but as someone who has been actively involved in antipsychiatry activism non-stop for forty years. 

One further note in passing, throughout, I will be spelling “antipsychiatry” precisely as I have done so here.  For more on the question of spelling, see the end of this article.
To begin, the term “antipsychiatry” (spelled by him “anti-psychiatry”), was invented by a colleague of R.D. Laing’s, Dr. David Cooper in 1967 (see Cooper 1967). It was quickly picked up by the various people in the society that surrounded Laing. What the Laingian group were intending by the term is a different approach to “help”, with what had been called psychiatric problems being reframed as inherently social, political, and psychological rather than medical, with the existential philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre figuring in critical ways in the mix (see Laing, 1963).  Laing and Cooper likewise explored and to varying degrees set up live-in therapeutic communities—where people were at least hypothetically given help as they went about their journey through madness, and with Cooper in the process introducing the concept “antihospital” just as he introduced the concept “antipsychiatry”. Now Cooper was far more activist than Laing and very much thought in terms of social movements. However, what is evident, even with Cooper, despite his legendary critique of “experts”, the movement that he was discussing was a professional movement—not a movement of the oppressed themselves. What is likewise relevant, despite how deeply he felt it, his opposition to psychiatry was in its own way muted, moreover (though admittedly, he did go back and forth), it became more muted over time, and indeed, eventually, became so “moderate” than he himself dropped the term antipsychiatry, as can be seen in Stephen Ticktin’s informative memoire “Brother Beast—A Personal Memoire of David Cooper” (see http://laingsociety.org/colloquia/inperson/davidcooper/brotherbeast2.htm), turning instead to the term “non-psychiatry” and alternatively, “non-medical psychiatry”. 

Now with regard to this latter term, I had an interesting conversation with Ticktin over it less than a month ago that proceeded roughly as follows:

Ticktin: Later David abandoned the word “antipsychiatry”, using instead the more political term “non-medical psychiatry”.
Burstow: That doesn’t sound more political to me. It sounds less political.
Ticktin: You think it’s less political?
Burstow: Look at the term. It is not announcing opposition to psychiatry or even to biological psychiatry, it is simply staking out a different form of practice. (personal conversation, CAPA meeting, June 3, 2017)

While I will be commenting on this curious shift later, for the time being, I leave readers themselves to reflect on how we might understand it.

Now in fairly short order “antipsychiatry” (and yes, still spelt “anti-psychiatry) made it into the lexicon of accepted scholarly terms. Nonetheless, instead of having a clear-cut meaning, it became somewhat of a “grab bag” category, with the term being applied to the positions of a large number of scholars who substantially critiqued psychiatry, albeit from very different perspectives. Examples are theorists as varied as Thomas Szasz in the US and Michel Foucault in France—the first, a right wing libertarian psychiatrist who demonstrated that the very concept of “mental illness” was a myth, the second a French philosopher who approached the profession/practice as a paradigmal example of what he called “power-knowledge” (see Foucault, 1980). Significantly, while almost all the theorists whose critiques of psychiatry figured heavily in the 1960s, 1970s, and the 1980s—e.g., Szasz, Foucault, Goffman, Becker—were lumped together under the umbrella term “antipsychiatry”, and while they all greatly influenced others who so identified, not a one of these theorists personally laid claim to the term antipsychiatry. In fact, quite the opposite, one of the very last books of Thomas Szasz (2009), specifically attacks what he saw as antipsychiatry, with Szasz not simply distancing himself from it, but soundly dismissing it as “quackery squared”.

That said, there is yet another constituency—and I would suggest, a more important one— that is associated with the word “antipsychiatry”. It is comprised of psychiatric survivors and their allies, people who see themselves as part of a social movement—the overriding goal of which is to abolish psychiatry. What distinguishes these activists—and to be clear, I count myself among them—from the individuals and groups discussed to date are:

1)    They invariably combine a medical position (a position on what science does and does not show and on what is wrong with the allegedly medical claims being advanced), with an epistemological position (a position on how we know and on the very nature of the claims to knowledge), with an ethical position (what, in light of what has been revealed, society is called upon to do).
2)    They identify as part of a liberatory social movement.
3)    The experience and the standpoint of survivors—not that of professionals--is considered the primary one.
4)    Psychiatry is theorized as a bogus branch of medicine and an oppression.
5)    The overarching commitment is to rid of the world of this oppression—that is, to rid of the world of psychiatry—just as feminists are committed to ridding the world of sexism.
6)    Antipsychiatry is not simply a label stuck on members of this constituency by others. It is at once a form of self-identity and a calling that is actively embraced.

This position and this identity found expression in various movement magazines from the early 1980s onward (see, for example, the various issues of the totally antipsychiatry Toronto-based magazine Phoenix Rising, aptly subtitled “the voice of the Psychiatrized” at http://www.psychiatricsurvivorarchives.com/phoenix.html), which featured among other things, the voices of iconic survivors like Don Weitz. While drawing heavily on the theoretic foundations provided by writers like Szasz, while drawing at least as significantly on the lived experience as well as the theorizing of psychiatric survivors everywhere, under the banner of antipsychiatry, what all such activists have done and have continued to do over the years is fundamentally critique psychiatry and fight for its abolition. It was likewise a major ingredient in survivor magazines that combined both antipsychiatry and other critical voices, e.g., Madness Network News (see http://www.madnessnetworknews.com/).

Some salient points and distinctions: While hardly being identical to the psychiatric survivor movement, antipsychiatry as practiced by the people discussed above, profoundly connects with the survivor movement. At the same time, it is also distinct. As discussed by Diamond (2012) in her ground-breaking thesis, some members of the survivor movement are antipsychiatry, while others are not. Correspondingly, while psychiatric survivors make up a major part of the antipsychiatry movement, the movement is not restricted to them. 

What is by far the largest and longest standing antipsychiatry organization and network in the world—Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault or CAPA (see https://coalitionagainstpsychiatricassault.wordpress.com/)–is instructive in this regard.  Committed to psychiatry abolition, and guided by a survivor standpoint, it is open to everyone who takes an abolitionist position, irrespective of social location. Note in this regard these words in its very inclusive mandate statement, “CAPA is a coalition of people committed to dismantling the psychiatric system and building a better world. Radical and visionary, we are comprised of activists, psychiatric survivors, dramatists, academic and professionals.” Herein antipsychiatry organizations mirror the operations of social movement groups like Marxist organizations, for example, in which the basis of unity is the set of common principles and commitments and not the social location. And herein this movement differs from both the survivor movement and the mad movement (to which, once again, it is intrinsically connected).

One further bit of context: Contrasting with, while to varying degrees interacting with the various groups discussed to date—that is, both those who self-identify as antipsychiatry and those whom third parties simply label antipsychiatry—are still others whom no one sees as antipsychiatry but who nonetheless argue/fight for something better than what exists, with many but not all of these at the same time seeing themselves as part of a social movement. I do not locate the survivor movement in this category, for the survivor movement is its very own special entity and spans most of the other movements. Pivotal here are movements of professionals, albeit survivors often identify with them and very commonly work with them. An example is “the movement for a democratic psychiatry”, which originated with Basaglia in Italy (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco_Basaglia) and is exemplified currently by the work of Asylum Magazine in England (see http://www.pccs-books.co.uk/asylum-magazine). A more formidable example is the far larger network of theorists, survivors, and activists who identify as “critical psychiatry”, with the “democratic psychiatry” folk now largely being subsumed under the umbrella term “critical psychiatry”. The primary mandate of such groups may roughly be described as  “mental health reform” or “psychiatric reform”.

The context now clear, to return to the questions with which this article began, so what does “antipsychiatry” mean? And is the term useful? From one very limited perspective, it surely does seem ambiguous for the term has blatantly been used in different ways by different players. That said, I would like to pursue a different line of reasoning here. On one hand, the word has evolved and when a word evolves, we don’t compare it to the original meaning and on the basis of the difference between them claim ambiguity. Doing so here would be a bit like saying that the meaning of the word “typewriter” is ambiguous for it initially referred to the person operating the machine. What is likewise significant, the original inventor and promulgator of the word does not get to determine what it means. 

More generally, words can have meaning and relevance on a number of different bases. One—and an important one it is—is a practical basis. Questions to ask, in this regard, include: does a given usage of the word sharply distinguish the phenomenon in question from separate albeit related phenomena? And does it establish a direction?  And what is clear is that activists who proclaim themselves antipsychiatry are using the term in a way that establishes a direction—abolition—and in the process, we have created a niche that distinguishes antipsychiatry very sharply from critical psychiatry. As such, antipsychiatry has an “evolved meaning” which is both unambiguous and useful. What is likewise relevant, of all of usages of the term that have surfaced over the years, this is the one—and this the only one—that stands out as “linguistically correct”. How so?

Closely examine the word “antipsychiatry”. It is a complex term composed of two parts, the first of which defines the orientation to be taken to the second. So there is “anti”, which means “against” and there is “psychiatry”, the meaning of which, alas, we all of know only too well.  “Anti” identifies the orientation toward psychiatry. Ergo, to be antipsychiatry, by the very logic of how language works, means to be against psychiatry. To be “against”, note, is blatantly different than “coming up with a new version thereof”, “reforming psychiatry”, or “modifying it” –which in essence is what critical psychiatry stands for. Two conclusions follow. The first is that the activists who are using the term “antipsychiatry” to designate an abolitionist position, which is what the vast majority of self-proclaimed antipsychiatry activists are doing today, are using it correctly.  The second—and we have already touched on this—is that it is not an ambiguous word, but one with a clear and precise meaning. To be antipsychiatry, in a nut shell, is to be “against psychiatry”, is to be committed to getting rid of it.

How does one square this reality with the early historical use of the term?  By acknowledging that words change meaning. Beyond this, however, by taking in that when Cooper invented the term “antipsychiatry”, what he did in effect is come up with a “misnomer”, for, while for sure he had issues with psychiatry, strictly speaking, he was not “against psychiatry”. The term was quickly accepted without anyone commenting on or seeming to notice the misnomer. What resulted from this acceptance of the term is that for a very long time everyone with a substantial critique of psychiatry got lumped together under this word. Come the modern activists—and survivors were absolutely pivotal to this change—slowly but surely, a huge turnabout happened. For the first time, the linguistic meaning of the word and what it was being used to designate actually came together! The upshot? Though the term “antipsychiatry” entered into our political vocabulary as a misnomer, what materialized in the fullness of time is a useful word associated with a clear position and a very important agenda. Correspondingly, there is no question whose meaning of the word is accurate.

Herein lie answers to most of the questions posed at this beginning of this article. Yes, the term is useful. No, it is not ambiguous. Yes, it is clear which usage to follow. No, it is not subject to degrees. In this last regard, to be clear, one may of course have a strong critique of psychiatry without wanting to get rid of it—but in that case one is “critical psychiatry”, not “antipsychiatry”. The same is true of people who call themselves antipsychiatry while taking the position, for example, that they only want to get rid of nonconsensual psychiatry, as vitally important as such an advance would be.

To fathom why I am saying this, look at comparable political terms in other areas—terms such as “antiracism” and “anti-sexism”. No one, for example, would say that they are avidly antiracist, but that being so does not imply that they want to stop all racism—just “non-consensual racism”. Nor would anyone say they are anti-ableist”, while meaning it is okay if people are ableist privately—that they are only against ableism that is institutionally organized—that they have no objection to other types.

Now if people opt to take a critical psychiatry position, they are, of course, free to do so. What would be helpful, however, is that they not confuse their own position with antipsychiatry, that they not turn an unambiguous term into a vague term, that they not conflate antipsychiatry with critical psychiatry, that they not, as it were, send us retreating back into the “grab bag category” era.

I am aware, of course, that there are people who straddle the divide between antipsychiatry and critical psychiatry, or to put this another way, between abolition and reform.  And of course, I respect people’s right to use words as they choose. In the interest of clarity, nonetheless, what I would encourage people who straddle these positions to do is try to articulate their stance without calling it antipsychiatry for despite the best of intentions—and I no way doubt the people’s intentions are honourable—doing otherwise does “muddy the waters”. And while I realize I am “stretching” here, I would encourage them more generally to ask themselves what is stopping them from taking an abolition position? And are there perhaps better ways of dealing with what worries them without taking a position which, for all intents and purposes, involves propping up a bogus and destructive system, lending it both power and legitimacy (for an article that illustrates that despite the best intentions, history shows again and again that this is where non-abolitionist reform leads, see https://www.madinamerica.com/2014/11/liberal-mental-health-reform-fail-proof-way-fail/)

By way of example, if they are worried that people need help—and who among us is not?—then how about working to establish participatory help networks which as well as being voluntary, do not empower psychiatry?  Correspondingly, if you are worried that people will be deprived of their way of coping if psychiatry is phased out—will be robbed of the drugs that get them through the day, for instance (obviously, a totally legitimate concern)—please note that there is nothing in the abolitionist agenda which implies “leaving people in the lurch”. Herein, let me suggest, lies the difference between thoughtful and thoughtless abolitionist work.

Now I will not be mounting a case for antipsychiatry in this article, for I have done so often in the past and such is not the purpose of this article. Suffice it to say at this point, that it has been demonstrated repeatedly by hundreds of solid theorists (both of the antipsychiatry and the critical psychiatry variety) that psychiatry lacks foundations, that it is a bogus branch of medicine, and that it overwhelmingly harms (see, for example Breggin 1992, Whitaker, 2010, and Burstow, 2015, and Gøtzsche, 2013). As such, however one imagines that happening, does it not make sense bringing it to an end? Nor is the issue of respecting people’s choices relevant, though understandably, this issue almost invariably pops up when people explain why they are not antipsychiatry. Of course people’s wishes need to be respected! That is absolutely non-negotiable. And of course, people need choices! As I have argued in detail elsewhere (see https://www.madinamerica.com/2014/07/consent-psychiatry-problematizing-problematic/), that is a totally separate issue from stopping bogus medicine from passing as real medicine, stopping the public funding of psychiatry and the industries surrounding it, stopping giving them power and legitimacy—which, not coincidentally, is a good part of what most of us mean by psychiatry abolition. Moreover, as likewise shown in the article referenced above, psychiatry overwhelmingly drives out choice; that is, it actually curtails the plethora of services that many want, while coopting whatever else exists.

As for those who are uncomfortable with the notion of abolition itself, while abolition may seem extreme to people, and I totally understand the impulse toward “moderation”, as I have argued elsewhere (see https://www.madinamerica.com/2014/11/liberal-mental-health-reform-fail-proof-way-fail, albeit commonly a wise position, “moderation” is not an answer to everything. If a practice or institution is fundamentally unacceptable (take “murder, take “slavery”) should we not be getting rid of it rather than just looking to develop a less horrific version? By the same token, while some are afraid of the concept because it seems tumultuous, note that there is nothing in the commitment to abolition that in any way involves a commitment to instantaneous overthrow. I would remind readers here of the painstakingly careful attrition model of psychiatry abolition, where bit by bit, you unravel psychiatry, supporting only those reforms which lead in the direction of abolition (for details on how to implement a strategy such as this, see Burstow, 2013). More generally, pursuing abolition intelligently, kindly, sensitively, in ways that take seriously the plight and the rights of everyone, that is precisely what good abolitionist work is about. 

To summarize, in short, the term “antipsychiatry” has a very clear meaning, a very clear goal. It carves out a totally distinct space. And its agenda is defensible, one might even say, necessary. More generally, the arguments against it do not hold. At most they apply to careless abolition work, which is in no way implied in the commitment to abolition.

That said, to quickly return to the early history with which this article began, learning that I was penning an article of this ilk, several days ago, one of my friends asked me this: Had Cooper lived long enough to see what both psychiatry and antipsychiatry were to become, do I think he himself would have endorsed an honest-to-God antipsychiatry vision? To share my answer with the reader, while it is hard to know for certain, my guess is probably not—or he would never have abandoned the term in the first place. My guess is that in part Cooper abandoned the term precisely because it began to dawn on him just how out-the-box it was. On the other hand, who is to say where he would have gone had he stayed in the field and found himself contending with the mega growth of biological psychiatry? Let me suggest, however, that even if he would not have endorsed antipsychiatry, besides that his endorsement is hardly needed, that would not make the term an iota less clear, or the antipsychiatry agenda an iota less pressing. What it would do rather is stand as yet another indicator of the limitations of social movement initiatives that originate from professionals as opposed to originating with the oppressed. In this regard, professionals can be important, even invaluable allies, and beyond that, brothers and sisters in struggle—and thankfully, we all know ones who are. Except under certain circumstances, however, professionals are simply not the oppressed. This notwithstanding, hats out to David Cooper for coming up with a term which was gutsier and even wiser than he knew!

Finally, in ending, to return to the enigma surrounding spelling which I hinted at early on, regardless of how you spell “antipsychiatry”, linguistically speaking, it means the same thing. Correspondingly, like Shakespeare who spelled the word “spear” in three different ways throughout his portfolios, I have always considered society’s preoccupation with “standard spelling” as at best pedantic. Nonetheless, a curious difference surfaces in the spelling of the term “antipsychiatry”. While the word that Cooper invented was hyphenated (as in “anti-psychiatry”) and while the vast majority of others who went on to employ it or reference it followed suit, there are generations of activists who have consistently spelt the word differently, in some cases even consciously intending a break with Cooper. In this regard, all thirty-two issues of the historical antipsychiatry magazine Phoenix Rising consistently used the non-hyphenated version, as have legions of antipsychiatry activists and their organizations (e.g., Resistance Against Psychiatry and Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault). I personally have published 7 books consistently employing the unhyphenated version and literally hundreds of articles. And all the writings of the iconic survivor author Don Weitz  (and his writings in this area date back to the 1970s) similarly uphold the spelling “antipsychiatry”.

Of course, spelling is “just spelling” and the vast majority of folks who come across your writing are unlikely to even notice the difference. So “no sweat” if you choose to retain whatever spelling you have been employing. This notwithstanding, if you want to stand in an almost forty year old tradition of people who have used “antipsychiatry” consistently to mean “abolition” (note, “antipsychiatry” without the hyphen has never been used in any other way), if you want to line up with the activists and radicals as distinct from the professionals, if you want to stand your ground as an abolitionist visionary, do consider joining us and bidding the hyphen “adieu”.


Breggin, P. (1991). Toxic psychiatry. New York: St. Martins Press.
Burstow, B. (2013). The withering of psychiatry: An attrition model for antipsychiatry. In B. Burstow, B. LeFrançois, and S. Diamond (Eds.). Psychiatry disrupted (pp. 34-51). Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.       
Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness. New York: Palgrave.
Diamond. S. (2012). Against the medicalization of humanity. Doctoral Thesis. Toronto: University of Toronto.
Cooper, D. (1967). (Ed.). Psychiatry and antipsychiatry. London: Paladin.
Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge (C. Gordon, Trans.). New York: Pantheon.
Laing, R. D. (1965). The divided self. London: Pelican Books.
Gøtzsche, P. (2013). Deadly medicine and organized crime. New York: Radcliffe.
Szasz, T. (1961). The myth of mental illness. New York: Paul B. Hoeber.
Szasz, T. (2009). Antipsychiatry: Quackery squared. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press.
Whitaker, R. (2010). Anatomy of an epidemic. New York: Broadway Paperbacks.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Conferring Legitimacy on the Counterhegemonic

Those of us who are radicals are commonly struggling to find ways to confer legitimacy on positions which substantially challenge hegemonic constructions/ruling  (oppressive status quo ways of constructing/operating made to look like common sense). In this article, via a case study, I will be exploring how to accomplish such feats successfully, leveraging the authority of mainstream organizations in the process (obviously, not the only way to go). Highlighted are: what kind of problems happen along the way, and how you might deal with them. The “case” in question involves two separate but related campaigns to establish an antipsychiatry scholarship at a leading university. What makes this case particularly instructive is that psychiatry and all that surrounds it is the height of hegemony, universities are recognized gatekeepers of what counts as knowledge, and academic psychiatry is pivotal to psychiatric hegemony (for a discussion of academic psychiatry, see Burstow, 2015). 

The Case

The first of the struggles to launch such a scholarship began early in 2006.  Knowing of course that someone personally endowing such a scholarship would be pivotal to making this happen—for the extremely counterhegemonic are hardly agendas that mainstream organizations rush to implement—I wrote the Senior Development Officer in the Gift Planning Office at the University of Toronto with this proposition:  That in accordance with previsions that I was creating in my will, my residual estate would go toward creating scholarships in two different areas—antipsychiatry and combatting homelessness, and such scholarships were to be awarded annually to thesis students at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).  The stipulations were: 1) students who were psychiatric survivors and students who had experienced homelessness would be given priority; and 2) the words “homelessness” and “antipsychiatry” would both be squarely in the title of the award. Why I put these two areas together, to be clear, is that besides that they often interact and that I was committed to both, I was counting on the fact that the antipsychiatry area could, as it were, “ride in on the coattails”  of the homelessness area.

At this point, you may be wondering why did I not just let the will speak for itself after I died?  I did not because that would seriously jeopardize the success of the venture. After I died, the president of the university, the university’s lawyer, and the dean of OISE would have to agree to the terms of scholarship, and I would not be around to marshal my arguments.  Given how out-of-the-box the antipsychiatry part was, given, moreover, that it conflicted with the teaching of psychiatry, and given that academic psychiatry is a mainstay of most universities, such a gift would hardly be approved easily.  However if I could prevail upon the current dean, current lawyer, and current president to agree in principle in now, it could pave the way for future agreement.

Was there any interest in the scholarship?  There was. Nonetheless, what followed was a very difficult nine-month struggle—at this juncture, all of it at OISE.  Examples of challenges presented and how I responded were: I was told that having such a scholarship was probably a no-starter for it would outside of everyone else’s area of expertise and so no program at OISE would ever agree to administer the scholarship.  I realized that this was likely to be the first of many obstacles, and if I did not deal them thoroughly, the initiative would go nowhere. I proceeded to ask the coordinator of my program (adult education) if our program could oversee it.  She sounded doubtful.  I instantly suspected that my best course of action would be to see if I could interest another program in it, for this might well result in two programs agreeing to oversee the award. Whereupon I turned to “Sociology and Equity Studies” (SESE), who quickly passed a motion agreeing to administer it.  Then I returned to Adult Education. As I had intuited, in response to SESE, adult education passed a similar motion (see minutes, Adult Education Program October 11, 2006).  So now I had official minutes of meetings showing that two different programs were happy to oversee the scholarship. With such obvious “buy-in”, would it now be “clear sailing” for the scholarship?  Of course not!

Next problem: I was informed that while it was just fine giving priority to students who had experienced chronic homelessness, there was a serious problem giving priority to students who were psychiatric survivors for doing so would constitute a human rights violation, moreover, no students “in that position” would even want such a scholarship. Leaving alone the question of possible prejudice here, I quickly demonstrated that it was not a human rights violation for we have queer scholarships for which gay students are given priority.  Correspondingly, I went on to write both an antipsychiatry and a mad organization, who forthwith consulted their membership, then went on record stating that their members very wanted such a scholarship (Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault and The Mad Students Society). All of which evidence, I duly presented. Was this the end of the objections?  Hardly!

Though naturally, this had been the issue all along, the word “antipsychiatry” was now objected to. I proceeded to successfully defend the term/concept.  Whereupon, I was asked to sign a variance clause that in essence would allow the university to do anything they wanted with the money if they thought that the area was no longer relevant.  Knowing that no gift is acceptable to the university without a variance clause, I immediately created a substitute variance clause that seriously limited what they could do, would ensure that the money would be used for the purposes intended. And indeed, they agreed to the clause.

Now I thought that this must surely be the end for nine months had passed and I had dealt with every single objection. However, at this very juncture yet a further objection arose: I was told that it would be important to consult with the head of my department to see if antipsychiatry made sense to her as an area (a very nice person but one who, significantly, had no knowledge of the area at all). Realizing that the same issue was just returning in a new guise but that it was possible that they wanted my money more than they hated the area, I figured that the moment had come to “play hardball”, so said to the dean, “Thanks for the consideration, but this has been going on too long, and if the general tenets of this scholarship have not been approved by you, the university lawyer, and the President of the university within the next week, I will extend the offer instead to the School of Social Work at Carleton University.” Three days later an agreement had been reached—all three players had consented. And a few days after that, in a highly collegial spirit, the dean, the gifting specialist, and I got together for a celebration.

Now I proceeded to go on to other projects as if this matter had been thoroughly resolved. However, about eight years later it dawned on me that the antipsychiatry part of this scholarship might not be secure after I was dead, for here lie the bones of contention—moreover, no one else would fight for it as skilfully as I did.  My solution? To endow and to endow now a scholarship in antipsychiatry only —an initiative that I took on partly because it would be good for the movement if such a scholarship existed now, partly to prepare the way for the later and far larger scholarship which would materialize upon my demise.  I named the new scholarship “The Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry” and I constructed it as a  matching scholarship wherein I would be matching up to $50, 000 of contributions by others, and where I would do the fund-raising work necessary.

Negotiations quickly ensued. Now this battle I deliberately fought on the grounds of academic freedom—something that was transparently an issue and something dear to the hearts of all of us academics.  And “sellable” grounds it proved, for everyone at OISE quickly understood the relevance. Nonetheless, on four separate occasions I was asked to remove the inconvenient term “antipsychiatry” from the name of the award—something which, of course, I refused.  In fact I was even asked to consider endowing instead a scholarship in counselling—obviously, an attempt to depoliticize. Now at one point for reasons unclear to me, the process stalled for about a year, though I used this time profitably to construct lists of possible donors.  Then something utterly unanticipated happened—the administrator who had been the central contact for both scholarships was let go—at which point I found, much to my chagrin, that no one at OISE had any record whatever of the previous agreement. Fortunately, I had kept 7 years worth of email and found what I needed.  New people stepped up and negotiations continued, and support at OISE grew. With the new dean agreeing, we approached University of Toronto.  Where once again, we encountered stalling.

It is here where my having upfronted the issue of academic freedom really paid off.  Interceding on my behalf, picking up on my words, the person doing the negotiating for OISE, repeatedly told the relevant official at University of Toronto, “I have two words for you—academic freedom”. And in the fullness of time, the scholarship was approved by University of Toronto. 

And was everything okay now?  With respect to the University of Toronto part of the struggle, yes.  We happily signed on the dotted line, and with helpful staff at OISE lending a hand with the fundraising, the next stage of the work commenced. However, this was also the time where the most unpleasant of the obstacles presented themselves.  From where?  From the mainstream media.  Not exactly surprising that the media would react highly negatively once they heard tell of the development, as for decades now, they have “tripped over themselves”, rushing to support psychiatry’s standard line (e.g., psychiatry is progressive; its treatments are life-saving, and anyone who says otherwise is an enemy of progress). Though who would have guessed the extent of it?

Both the scholarship and I personally were forthwith trashed in several major newspapers, including The National Post (see http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/barbara-kay-u-of-ts-antipsychiatry-scholarship-and-not-believing-in-mental-illness-is-an-attack-on-science). We were likewise trashed on one national television program, on approximately a dozen radio programs, and several leading social media blogs. Although I am a recognized scholar in the area, who, among other things, has challenged psychiatry precisely on the basis of science, I was portrayed repeatedly as unscientific, as the enemy of progress, and someone who was unconscionably placing vulnerable people at risk, this by people most of whom had read virtually nothing that I had written, never mind checked their own bogus claims. Correspondingly, the scholarship itself was depicted as “affront to science”. On top of which, I began receiving death threats. I was likewise warned (read: threatened) that several lawsuits were in the process of being drawn up against me. Moreover, I was repeatedly urged by an OISE ally not to talk to the media at all.

Now amidst this onslaught, this utter ignoring of the principles of good journalism, I “kept my cool”. I decided carefully what to respond to and what not.  I ignored the lawsuit threat for it was not credible.  Despite being urged to, I never once cancelled a speaking engagement—and the public turned up to my events in droves. I asked one particular publication as a counter to the sensationalistic article penned by their reporter that they grant me an op ed piece, to which they consented (see http://thevarsity.ca/2016/11/13/op-ed-understanding-what-is-at-stake/). I gave an interview to a solid reporter—Kevin Richie—who worked for a sympathetic lefty newspaper—Now—and he wrote a terrific piece (see https://nowtoronto.com/lifestyle/class-action/bonnie-burstow-launches-worlds-first-antipsychiatry-scholarship-at-oise/). I likewise rallied students and other allies to respond to some of the attacks. More significantly, along with students, I created a video about the scholarship (see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJyA6RyQmMo), wherein, among other things, antipsychiatry students shed light on  the bias which they face when applying for scholarships—and how this award counters the inequity. Moreover, we created both fact sheets and letters. Along with allies like Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault, correspondingly, we all of us together created fundraisers, with one that was particularly enjoyable and participatory being an auction facilitated by a joke-cracking auctioneer who donned a thick Yiddish accent for the event. In essence we created our own good press, while making what we could of the bad press.  We created community. And we all of us watched as the contributions rolled in.

What is especially interesting here is that while the bad publicity pieces greatly outnumbered the good, if anything this only encouraged more people to join the cause. The point is that bad publicity is still publicity—in fact the contributions to the scholarship picked up considerably after the bad press began for now way more people knew of it, moreover, many were outraged by the shoddy journalism.

Now by most standards, our fundraising was proceeding well. This notwithstanding, as the campaign began to draw to a close, we still had come nowhere near reaching the $50,000 target—and please remember we needed to, for this was a matching scholarship with me matching up $50,000 of donations by others.  That said, close to the very end came a most unexpected development.  An anonymous Texas donor materialized who pledged enough to bring the amount to be matched to $50,000.  How did he know about it? In a word, because of the deluge of negative publicity. 

And were this not gift enough, the anonymous donor proceeded to create a second stage of matching. That is, he signed a contract with the University of Toronto committing to match every Canadian dollar subsequently contributed over the next period with an American dollar.

In short, we had prevailed beyond our wildest dreams!

As an aside, I would add, I received a call around that time from the executor of my will, who said, “Bonnie, I can’t tell you how relieved I am that you did all this! Otherwise they would never have honoured the conditions of your will.”

Lessons to be Gleaned

While every situation is of course unique, what follows are general “take-away” lessons that arise from this “case”, some guidance for others, whatever their cause, in their efforts to involve a mainstream organization in the struggle to bestow legitimacy on their counterhegemonic area:

1)   Ask for something relevant to your cause, that fits with their standard ways of operating, and which they have the power to grant.
2)   Always keep your eye peeled for what could go wrong imminently or in the long run.
3)   Keep in mind both the instrumental goal and the final goal, as well as various accompanying goals. In this case, the instrumental goal was getting the scholarship approved.  An example of an accompanying goal was assuring that students doing research in this area had access to scholarships. The final goal was raising the credibility and enhancing the profile of antipsychiatry.  Now by way of example, had my only concern been the immediate goal and the accompanying goal, I could have simply contributed the whole $100,000 myself and saved us all literally thousands of hours of work. Creating a matching scholarship, however, and involving many in the campaign was a way of mobilizing the community—which community, in the final analysis, are critical to what Foucault (1980) calls “the insurrection of subjugated knowledge”.
4)   Know the law or consult an ally who does.
5)   Prepare for a long haul and prepare to do a whole lot of educating.
6)   If you think at any time that you are “home-free”, think again.
7)   Be prepared for the fact that parts of the fight that seem to have been won will return in new ways, for such is the nature of hegemonic rule. Do not get frustrated. Just tackle whatever new form emerges.
8)    Do not accept the concept of impossibility. In this regard, take every obstacle in your path as a practical problem for you to solve.
9)   While working cooperatively with the organizations whose cooperation you are requesting, always be prepared to challenge and to stand your ground.  Note they will likely want you to “water down” what you are asking for—and please note, this is just not the way that revolutions happen.
10)                  If there is money that you are giving in the process, know that this gives you leverage and you should use it (if not, do spend time figuring out what your leverage is or might be—for battles of this significance are seldom won without leverage).
11)                  Identify principles held in common by you and those whose cooperation you are seeking.  Then use this as leverage, and what is even more significant, use it as a basis of solidarity (note the enormous importance of the principle of academic freedom in the saga above).
12)                  What relates to the last point, help people comprehend exactly what they are standing for in aligning themselves with this project.  In the case study, they were standing for academic freedom, they were standing for the creation of new knowledge, they were standing for liberatory knowledge; and they were standing up for equity. 
13)                   Realize that the very slowness of the process can work in your favour. The time taken gives folk with whom you are dealing the experience necessary to truly identify with the cause.  Then by the time the inevitable challenges arise from higher ups or the public at large, the people that you have spent all this time educating have become so identified with the cause, they are not simply fighting for you. They are fighting for something they have come to believe in, something that they too have invested their care and energy in. 
14)                  Be very clear what the organization as a whole gets from taking the measures that you are suggesting and help people internalize this.  In the case study just presented, note, they got money, they got the opportunity to both be moral and be seen as moral, they got the opportunity more generally to be leaders in the sense that the University of Toronto would be the first university anywhere to have such a scholarship. 
15)                  What relates to the foregoing, help people take in that they have something to lose if they do not get involved.  This sense of gain and loss and can enter in in a variety of ways.  Sometimes the issue is that someone else might get what you are offering them—in which case it starts to look more attractive.  Note how the coordinator of adult education became more interested in an adult education connection once it looked like SESE as opposed to adult education would end up associated with the award, similarly how the dean of OISE in 2006 became more committed to the scholarship once the prospect arose of it going elsewhere. Other times, it is simply the reality of losing the chance to be associated with and to be part of a wonderful and ground-breaking venture.
16)                  Hold on to evidence of agreements reached for institutional players come and go, and when they leave, institutional memory typically goes with them.
17)                  Be aware that most of the press will be lined up against you, and so begin developing a media strategy early on.
18)                  Even if you and the venture are being attacked mercilessly, never devote more than 2% of your effort to responding to attacks.  Instead spend the time getting your message out.  Note in this regard, I personally responded in writing to only one attack (in the OP Ed piece referenced earlier).  Correspondingly, I quickly summarized what was wrong with the article, then devoted the vast majority of the piece to explaining what made this scholarship vital. To put this another way, be active, not reactive.
19)                  Rally your allies wherever you can. You at once receive considerable help and what is far more significant, you turn this struggle into what it absolutely has to become —a community effort and a common cause.
20)                  Build in fun events, optimally using art and celebration.  In this regard, remember anarchist Emma Goldman’s famous remark, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” (see http://www.ificantdance.o rg/About/00-IfICantDance/OnEmmaGoldman)
21)                   Upfront the voices of those who will benefit from the measures being taken (note, in this case, the up-fronting of voices like the Mad Students’ Society and the voices of current students who would themselves benefit directly or indirectly from the scholarship).
22)                  Figure out what to counter and what to ignore.
23)                  Reach out to sympathetic media and create/co-create your own positive coverage.
24)                  Never let threats scare you off. The more they threaten you, the more visible/audible you need to become. Such is the nature of revolutions.
25)                  Operate on the principle that “bad publicity” is almost invariably better than “no publicity”.

Finally, keep in mind that there is a type of dialectic by which issues of this ilk operate. That is, in the very ways that the forces of hegemony go after you lies the seeds of your eventual (and collective) success. You have but to apply the moral jujitsu of principled social activism.

Concluding Remarks

My hope is that these general principles are of service to you in your ongoing work.  Whatever your counterhegemonic battle is, whether it be antipsychiatry, or prison abolition, or gender-bending, feel free to use them, add to them, share them with friends. This said, I, along with many of my readers have a special interest in their use in the war against psychiatry. May they help us reach new heights! May they help us slowly but surely turn antipsychiatry/critical psychiatry into an accepted form of knowledge.

In concluding, to return to Dr. Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry itself: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all who joined the cause, including my ever trusty allies Lauren Tenney, Don Weitz, Peter Breggin, and Cheri DiNovo; thank you all who contributed money; all organizations who put time and effort into the venture (e.g., Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault); all the students and others who phoned people, mounted fundraisers, co-created videos, responded to critics, spread the word (e.g., Sharry Taylor, Sona Kazemi, Efrat Gold, Lauren Spring, Simon Adam, Rebecca Ballen, Mark Federman, Edward Fox, Nichole Schott, and Oriel Vargas). Likewise, a special thanks to OISE employees for your enormous support, for going the “extra mile” (e.g., Mark Riczu, Inna Hupponen, Charles Pascal, and Sim Kapoor). 

To close, correspondingly, with a timely reminder: A new stage of matching has just begun—so if interested in contributing to the cause, check out the OISE website (http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/oise/About_OISE/Bonnie_Burstow_Scholarship.html); also see https://donate.utoronto.ca/give/show/271).


Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness. New York: Palgrave.
Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge (C. Gordon et al, Trans.). New York: Pantheon.