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/

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Good News on the Publishing Front: BizOMadness and Antipsychiatry, Full Speed Ahead

As the holidays approach, I am just posting a very short blog article to let people know that there has been terrific news on the publishing front.  But a day ago, Palgrave Macmillan  signed a contract with me for the publication of my book Psychiatry Interrogated--an anthology of institutional ethnography investigations into psychiatry--featuring stellar researchers/authors from Canada, the US, the UK, and Poland. About a month and a half before that, Inanna Press signed a contract to publish my second novel--The Other Mrs. Smith, whose fictional narrator is an ECT survivor, struggling to make sense of her life.

And and all, a very good year!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Could Life Be Sweeter?: Signing a Contact for "The Other Mrs Smith"

 Just when I thought life could get much sweeter for those of us in the antipsychiatry world, the Canadian feminist publisher Inanna sent me a contract to to publish my blatantly antipsychiatry novel "The Others Mrs Smith."

Why am I so excited about this novel?  But it conveys the reality of ECT in the way only a novel can, and yet almost no novel really does.

 There is a vast array of different characters in this novel, many of them very colourful.  For example, there is Gerald, a very kind transman with a flair for research and a dim view of the world; Earl Smith, the overbearing Newfoundland husband and an avid environmentalist; Rose Cohan who is Naomi¹s  twin, a bisexual, a twin with a keen telepathic ability; Ruth, Naomi¹s angry daughter; Ida Cohan, Naomi¹s mother, a clever and witty woman, who has the unfortunate habit of creating lifelong feuds at the drop of a hat. And then there is Jack, fondly known as the indomitable Jackman--an extremely helpful fellow patient, an Aboriginal man who is the admiration of most all the patients at St. Pukes, for among other things, as Naomi puts it, he rolls "the meanest cigarette in Turtle Island.  That said, the novel revolves around one character, in whose head we frequently find ourselves mired--narrator and north end Winnipeg Jew Naomi Cohan Smith. Critical to her circumstances is having been subjected to ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), and as a result suffering enormous memory loss, additionally an estrangement from her family of origin that she has no way to wrap her mind around. From the moment that we come across this confused woman wandering the corridor of St. Patricks-St Andrews Mental Health Centre (referred to by the inmates as "St. Pukes"), not knowing who she is or even what species she belongs to, Naomi's  plight becomes our world--what has happened to her, what will happen to her. Just as the protagonist slowly comes to terms with the damage as well as the hidden details of her life, so do the readers.

Via the device of flashback chapters, the novel moves back and forth in space and time, between a relatively happy childhood in the legendary Jewish north-end Winnipeg of the mid 1900s and her post-ECT adulthood in Toronto. In this regard the structure of the novel itself may be seen as a metaphor for Naomi¹s mind. While the movement in space continues, the foray through the past comes to an abrupt halt when we come to the limits of Naomi¹s memory.

The novel per se  begins a few years after of what is called Chapter One, with the kindly figure of Gerald as he goes about the unusual task of cleaning someone else¹s house. The introduction of Gerald sets the stage for a query that haunts the novel. Putting Naomi¹s binders back in order, he stops to re-read Back Binder Number Three. He ends it, feeling certain that there is something more to this binder that meets the eye.

What follows is what Naomi calls her memoir (in three books).  Other character breath life into this memoir and this novel.  Examples are It begins with her in the hospital. An uncompromisingly unsentimental novel, every time an easy or cliché solution appears to be offered, it is refused. The novel culminates in Naomi making something important of her life, of her creating meaning and purpose despite the very real damage, indeed, out of it and along side it. The final vision with which it leaves us is one of wisdom. Critical events which transpire along the way include: fleeing Toronto and indeed her controlling husband,  building a new foundation with the twin from whom she has been estranged,  establishing dual residence so as to connect up with her daughter. It ends with Naomi, her sister, and Gerald taking aim at the very institution which is her nemesis and in the process uncovering the hidden truth which lurks in the pages of Black Binder Number Three.

The novel, as circumstances will have it, will not be coming out till 2017, but already I am looking forward to it.  And already book launches in two different countries are being planned.

Check this blog and check Facebook for updates.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Why Did 158 People Plus Attend An Antipsychiatry Book Launch?: A Reflection

Two weeks ago, on Friday September 18 2015, people assembled at Ontario Institute for Education of the University of Toronto for the last of the three international book launches for Psychiatry and the Business of Madness, preceded that same day by a press conference. While others also spoke, major scheduled speakers included the author (me), Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) Cheri DiNovo, and leading Canadian mental health lawyer Anita Szigeti. There were many wonderful highlights of the evening. Ones that immediately come to mind are: the articulation of the findings of the research, all leading to the inescapable conclusion that psychiatry has no foundation and should be phased out (and while admittedly, it would be difficult under the circumstances, not a soul raised an objection). Member of Parliament Cheri DiNovo’s thrilling statement that while it was virtually impossible to move on “reining in psychiatry” before, “now we have the facts -- and now there is no excuse.” Leading mental health lawyer Anita Szigeti declaring Psychiatry and the Business of Madness a must-read for  lawyers and professionals everywhere. ECT survivor Connie Neil bearing witness to the atrocity to which she was subjected. All good. All riveting.

That said, there are several astounding facts about the Toronto book launch that are not captured in this description. Half an hour into the launch, according to the official count, there were 158 people in attendance. I kid you not! 158! And an hour later, there were at least 15 additional people. This is an amazing turnout for the launch of any book, never mind something as far from the mainstream as antipsychiatry. And what adds to the triumph, well before the launch began, there was standing room only, with the Nexus Lounge at OISE (room where the launch was held) virtually packed to the rafters. “Bonnie, never in its history has any event in the Nexus Lounge drawn so many,” observed one excited OISE staff member in amazement. Moreover, people remained the full two hours, including the people who were standing. Which leads me to ask these questions:

How is it that such a huge crowd showed up? And how is it that so many people, who after all were only able to stand, remained without budging a full two hours?

Something of an enigma, though there are a number of possible answers. To touch on a few of these:

Answer One: All of the speakers were well known. Absolutely true. And without question, the reputation of the speakers was a factor. That said, reputation is clearly not the whole of it for we have had a number of  these speakers together on a stage before, with nothing like such a stellar result.

Answer Two:  The organizers did a great job publicizing. Again, true—and much thanks to everyone for the hard work. However, despite doing what was ostensibly a first rate job of publicizing before—at one point several years ago, note, we even had a professional publicist helping us—never have we drawn an audience of this proportion.

Answer Three: The book was known to be controversial: This is the least compelling of the answers for everything critical of psychiatry is controversial. And again, historically, such events have not tended to deliver anything close to this turnout.

Which brings me to a final answer—one that I am suggesting has considerable explanatory value: There is a hunger out there for a foundational critique of psychiatry—something that pulls no punches, minces no words. That is, there is a hunger for a reasoned antipsychiatry position. Something that explains how we ended up here, provides solid evidence that psychiatry should be abandoned, and begins theorizing what we might do instead. Moreover—and here we connect up with the first answer—people were acutely aware that this is exactly what this book and this launch were all about.

Elsewhere I have written that the tide is turning against psychiatry (see http://www.madinamerica.com/2015/09/yes-the-tide-is-turning-against-psychiatry/). May I suggest that the turnout on September 18th is yet another indicator that this is so.

What is, as it were, an accompanying indicator, besides that the audience were hanging on the various presenters' every word, who was present was not just “the usual suspects.” In attendance was a clear cross section of society, from youth to the elderly, from survivors to professionals, from the mainstream to the counter culture, from the poor to the ostensibly well off. Again, all of which would have been unthinkable but a few years ago.

There is a change in the air. People have come to strongly suspect that the emperor “has no clothes.” A minority for sure, but a healthy minority are ready to start entertaining modes of living together and of approaching human distress in profoundly different ways. And indeed, the people in attendance could sense that change, additionally could sense that everyone around them could sense it too. Hence the high spirits.

The point here is, while social change agents often declare events historical moments which prove not to be, and oftentimes we are simply hoping that our words will be self-fulfilling, there was a palpable feeling in the room that we had genuinely arrived at one such moment. Only time will tell whether rightly or wrongly.

Was there any downside to the day? There was, and fellow old-timers in the movement may well be able to guess what–-the conspicuous absence of the media.

How many “regular” members of “The Fifth Estate” turned up? Despite a major effort on the part of the organizers, including reaching out to over 300 media people, in a word, none. But in this very conundrum or rather in our response to it lay part of the beauty and the brilliance of that day. We responded in the only way that made sense—proactively. Having been “around the block” enough times that we had more than an inkling that this would happen, we met four days prior to the event to strategize. We proceeded to create our own press—“The Peoples' Press”—and that press turned up in full force at both events, asked insightful questions, and covered and indeed covered brilliantly several of the more stirring highlights of the day—of the press conference in particular (for highlights of the press conference, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjtJvjDG4uM).

So the bad news is, the mainstream media is still ignoring this book (Burstow, 2015). They are likewise ignoring Whitaker's and Cosgrove's (2015) book and indeed, all the leading antipsychiatry and critical psychiatry publications that have come out this year (for a discussion of why and for a number of suggestions about what to do about it, see http://www.madinamerica.com/2015/04/getting-anticritical-psychiatry-authors-read-case-book-activism/). The good news is the organizers did not rely on the traditional media (a default mode which ill serves us). We were proactive. And thanks to a combined effort, both the book and the event are literally “all over” the social media—and note, as long as this is the case, sooner or later the mainstream press will be forced to take note.

The power of the social media—herein lay the new reality. Albeit hardly everything—and we ignore its limitations to our detriment—it substantially alters the “playing field.” Moreover and more to the point, it works to the advantage of those of us involved in counterhegemonic struggle.

To end this article with one final highlight of that memorable day, that evening Member of Parliament Cheri DiNovo spoke confidently of our winning this fight—a note that we had not heard struck by a legislator heretofore. Correspondingly, she reminded us of the famous Gandhi quote: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. And then you win.” (see http://philosiblog.com/2011/05/25/first-they-ignore-you/).

I would add, while we are still in the “ignoring” stage, there are distinct signs of fighting here and there (e.g., the special issue of Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica; see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acps.2014.131.issue-1/issuetoc).

Moreover, 158 people plus from all walks of life turning up at a launch of this ilk is hardly being ignored!


Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness. New York; Palgrave.

Whitaker, R. and Cosgrove, L. (2015). Psychiatry under the influence. New York: Palgrave.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Canada -- A Human Rights Violator

In Canada, we pride ourselves on our human rights record. That noted, while this is hardly the only area where we badly slip up, there is one area where we habitually fall into the abuser category with almost no one noticing. Did you know that every single mental health law in Canada contravenes human rights as understood by the UN? Our practice in this area is likewise in contravention. Nor is there any discussion of this infraction. Correspondingly, not only are we doing nothing to remedy it, in the name of promoting "good mental health," we are constantly advancing changes which magnify the violation.  

More particularly, there are a number of instruments of the United Nations which have made rulings that we ignore. To focus in on the most significant, I would draw readers' attention to the Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD; see http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml), of which Canada is a signatory. We contravene a huge number of articles therein, but I would focus in on two -- articles 12 and 14 -- for their contravention is integral to how we approach what is called "mental health."  

Article 14 reads:

State parties shall ensure that people with disabilities, on an equal basis with others:
      a. Enjoy the right to liberty and security of the person
      b. Are not deprived of their liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily … and that the existence of a disability shall in no way justify a deprivation of liberty.

Given this provision -- and note, we signed this Convention -- every single mental health act in Canada violates our convention obligations for indeed, enabling deprivation of liberty, facilitating involuntary lockup is the mainstay of our mental health legislation. Now people may think that what is happening here is okay because it is done under the auspices of carefully worded laws or because the "mentally illness" area is somehow exempt. The Committee responsible for monitoring compliance, however, is clear that is precisely these laws and the practices thereby authorized that are unacceptable. In this regard, it provides the following guidelines:

Involuntary commitment of disabled people based on health care grounds totally violates the absolute ban placed on deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairments ... The Committee has repeatedly stated that the State parties should repeal provisions which allow for involuntary commitment of persons with disabilities in mental health institutions based on actual or perceived impairment. see http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CRPD/14thsession/GuidelinesOnArticle14.doc).

And to place this issue on an ethical rather than just a legal footing, even had we not signed such a provision, it minimally should worry us that our everyday practices constitute a human rights violation according to a human rights authority as credible as the United Nations.

Now the violation of Article 14 is cut and dry. Judging Canada's noncompliance with Article 12 is more complicated. Article 12 unequivocally bans all involuntary psychiatric "treatment." That is, it states, "State parties shall recognize that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life." Enjoying legal capacity on an equal basis, to be clear, means being equally entitled to make one's own decisions, and again, it is precisely depriving people of the right to make their own decisions on matters like "treatment" on the basis of deemed incapacity which is core to our mental health legislation.

Now throughout Canada we have built in very minimalist approximations of human rights protection via a mechanism known as "substitute decision making." People are entitled to appoint a substitute decision-maker to make decisions for them in the event of being deemed "incapable." To be clear, in no way is this in keeping with the UN ruling, as the Canadian officials signing the Convention were well aware. Accordingly, Canada stipulated a reservation on article 12, stating that we understand it to mean that substitute decision-making is allowed. Which led to the Committee responsible for monitoring compliance to provide the following clarification: "The Committee shall ensure that the provision of health services, including mental health services are based on free and informed consent of the person concerned … States have an obligation not to permit substitute decision-makers to provide consent on behalf of persons with disabilities." (article 11)

With this clarification, Canada's reservation "kicked in." As a signatory, it in essence protected us from being forced to truly honour the human right in question. That said, the moral imperative remains. Nor, I would add, is the CRPD the only UN instrument whose rulings on issues like involuntary treatment we as Canadians are defying. In this regard, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture, for example, declared the involuntary subjection of people to antipsychotics (major class of psychiatric drugs) a form of torture (see chapter by Tina Minkowitz, in Bonnie Burstow, Brenda LeFrançois, and Shaindl Diamond's Psychiatry Disrupted): And torture, note, is paradigmatic human rights violation.

The fact that we are so far from compliance with international standards should give us pause. Now I am aware that the United Nations determinations may be alarming to some. How can we protect ourselves if we do not lock people up when they are psychotic?, some might wonder. And how can those so "impaired" possibly have the wherewithal to make reasonable choices for themselves? While I cannot adequately address all such concerns in one short article, I would point out that research shows that people deemed mentally ill are no more dangerous than anyone else. Correspondingly, while of course looking out for people in emotional difficulty is a "must," given that the choices made on their behalf have them hooked on brain-damaging drugs, it is hard to believe that on average those deemed "mentally ill" would make any worse choices for themselves than are currently being made for them (not that enjoying basic human rights can ever be contingent on making "good decisions"). And lest people think the CRPD is licensing benign neglect, I would point out the CRPD explicitly specifies that if people need help making decisions, it behooves the state to assist them, much as one might assist a physically disabled person to gain entrance to a building. In other words, the UN is not being naïve or thoughtless here. While I personally would prefer that the state not be the help mechanism but the community itself, providing assistance as needed is transparently part of the Convention obligation.

That said, not only do we do nothing of this nature, we routinely drag people to "hospital" against their will, drug people against their will, and indeed control their every move. Correspondingly, we interpret all objections to such treatment as evidence of "incapacity." Nor are we as a country discussing such issues, never mind making plans on how to bring ourselves into compliance. In fact, quite the opposite, we keep looking for ever new ways to make it easier to violate people's rights. Nowhere is this more obvious than with Ontario's Bill 95.

A piece of legislation which has already received second reading, Bill 95 (http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&Intranet=&BillID=3316) would authorize a special committee to propose legislation that would further erode the already woefully inadequate rights that psychiatrized people currently enjoy. In the name of ensuring good mental health for everyone, it would make it easier to both commit and to treat involuntarily. For example a change is proposed to what is called the A criteria whereby even a "perceived" danger to self or other that is in no way physical in nature would be grounds for involuntary commitment. And instead of "involuntary treatment" being held in abeyance while the person was under initial observation, it would allow for immediate involuntary treatment (see http://www.ontla.on.ca/committee-proceedings/committee-reports/files_pdf/Select%20Report%20ENG.pdf) Moreover, parental consent for "treating" children would be unnecessary. Additionally, in the name of prevention, it would unleash armies of "mental health professionals" into our schools, all poised to swoop down on youth and deprive them of rights. In other words, it would be intensifying our human rights violation.

As such, it is time for the average citizen to take a long hard look at what is being done in our name. A good beginning is asking ourselves these questions:

How do we feel about Canada being in such profound violation? Why do our elected representatives not attend to the violation? How is it that we have become so comfortable with compulsion and detention that we have lost sight of the importance of basic human rights? Is it really okay to deprive folk of rights just because we are scared of them or for them? How is it that that the most esteemed international body in the world can not only conceive of but actually legislate what the Canadian state appears to find unthinkable?

As you ponder this, I ask you to avoid pat answers like it behooves us to ensure that everyone enjoys "good mental health" for besides that the underlying concepts lack validity, it is precisely such discourse which has landed us in the current untenable situation. 

In ending, I would touch once again on Bill 95. It is clearly promoting an agenda that is a danger to everyone -- but not equally. Who are especially targeted as needing extra help (read: extra intrusion)? Children. Seniors. The Aboriginal community. All of which should sound an alarm.

Which brings me to two final questions: Is the rampant and ever increasing violation of the human rights of vulnerable populations what we want our country to stand for? And do we really think that it is the only way?

(If your answer is no, please contact your elected representatives and make your objection known.)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Yes, the Tide is Turning Against Psychiatry

The suggestion embedded in this article’s title seems counter-intuitive. How could the tide be turning on psychiatry when the institution has never been so strong? And indeed indicators of its growing strength and tenacity are all around us. The exporting of its model to the global south via the World Bank, the emergence of outpatient committal, the explosion of funding for psychiatric research (see Burstow, 2015). Correspondingly, daily are there calls for most aggressive “detection” and “treatment”  (e.g., Jeffrey Lieberman, 2015). And the mainstream press has never been more closed to truly foundational critiques. That acknowledged, let me suggest that such intensification is common when an old system is in the early days of crumbling.

Of course, intensification itself is hardly an indicator that a reversal is at hand. So how would we know? Examples of possible indicators are: Ever growing critiques from inside and outside the profession, growing discomfort with “anomalies” (in essence, the indicators of a paradigm shift spelt out by Kuhn, 1962). Established moral authorities making unprecedented negative pronouncements about the current state of affairs. The surfacing of more and more tales of corruption and fraud. The rising up of those subjected to it. Each of these signs and more we are experiencing now with psychiatry -- hardly conclusive individually, but taken together, convincing portents of a societal shift.

While psychiatric anomalies have always been with us, note, never have they been so visible. Even as we hear calls for the early detention and treatment of “mental illness” to prevent school shootings, for instance, we discover that the majority of the shooters were on psychiatric drugs. Correspondingly, as the system pushes western ways of handling “schizophrenia” on the rest of the world, World Health Organization studies conclude that the countries with the highest rates of “recovery” are those without the “benefit” of  modern “treatment” (see Robert Whitaker, 2010). As for the dissatisfaction experienced by people in the psychiatric and related professions, just check out the speakers at the 2015 conference of the International Society for Ethical Psychiatry and Psychology (http://psychintegrity.org/plenary-talks/), and you will quickly get a sense of it. Telling likewise is what happened in the years leading up to the release of DSM-5. While their goal, of course, was not "changing” but rather “saving” the current paradigm, well in advance of DSM-5’s release, in what was a historically unprecedented move, the two previous taskforce chairs, Robert Spitzer (2009) and Allen Frances (2009), each came out with hard-hitting critiques of what their colleagues were doing, describing it as once bad science and an exercise in subterfuge—critiques echoed, I’d add, to an unparalleled degree by mainstream media. At the same time, a plethora of radical survivor groups have sprung up. And sites dedicated to deconstructing psychiatry are legion (e.g. madinamerica.com and endofshock.com).

By the same token, proofs of fraudulent trials and fraudulent claims of discoveries abound. Witness David Healey’s (2009) unearthing of the systematic “cooking” of drug trials. Witness the exposés on the Breggin site (http://www.breggin.com/). And note the publishing this year of a book which clearly establishes that the American Psychiatric Association has intentionally misled the public throughout its history -- about “mental illness” being a proven brain disease, for example, about the efficacy of the drugs (Whitaker and Cosgrove, 2015).

Even as these developments unfold, major international organizations have cast doubt on psychiatry both morally and scientifically. Take the aforementioned World Health Organization’s studies. And what is particularly suggestive, in its role as moral compass, two different instruments of the United Nations have declared involuntary neurolepticization a form of torture. Moreover, trace the practical implications of the recently minted Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and it becomes clear that it positions a key modus operandi of psychiatry everywhere -- involuntary treatment -- as a human rights violation (a victory, I might add, for which the vintage work of groups like the Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry must largely be credited; for details, see Minkowitz, 2014). All of which, note, paves the way for the current survivor-led campaign to rescind involuntary committal laws throughout North America.

Another salient indicator comes from non-psychiatric medical practitioners and students, for quiet though they remain about it, cogent evidence suggests that their opinion of psychiatry has plummeted. A major study written up by H. Stuart et al. (2015) involving 1057 non-psychiatric medical teaching faculty in 15 countries, for example, shows that the vast majority hold a highly negative view of psychiatry. They find psychiatrists, for instance, too powerful, “unscientific,” and “illogical.” Correspondingly, there is currently a formidable decline in the percentage of medical residents open to specializing in psychiatry. In the UK, for example (once a psychiatric hotbed), less than 5% of medical students choose to enter psychiatry (see Read, 2015).

Indeed, psychiatrists are aware of their faltering reputation. And in what is an unprecedented move, in January of this year a major psychiatric journal (Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica) devoted a special issue to psychiatry’s “image problem” (Vol. 131; see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acps.2014.131.issue-1/issuetoc), with leading figures in psychiatry weighing in -- e.g., current and former presidents of the European Psychiatric Association and the current president of the World Psychiatric Association. What the very existence of this special issue seems to suggest is that so bad is the public image that the upper echelons of the industry are taking alarm. Correspondingly, their response is how regimes of ruling commonly respond when their seemingly unquestionable authority begins to slip away -- for example, portraying themselves as victims and blaming everyone else. Bhugra (2015), current president of the World Psychiatric Association, for instance, lays the blame on the “anti-psychiatry media” -- ironic, given the enormity of the media’s support.

That noted, if the tide is turning – and, as shown, it is -- the question is how far? And what form will the change take? At the moment, despite critiques which demonstrate psychiatry’s utter invalidity, the primary discourse is reformist. This news is worse than it appears, for throughout the centuries, in the long run, reform agendas have only served psychiatry. Temporarily, for sure, they create a modicum of improvement, like with “moral management.” Nonetheless, as shown by Burstow (2014), each and every tempering of psychiatry under a reform agenda has culminated in the return of biological psychiatry with a vengeance. As such, despite good intentions—and I am in no way doubting the intentions and hard work of most of the people involved -- all “reformism” ultimately succeeds in doing is losing the momentum.

That said, at this point, many movement people are keenly aware of this dynamic. Correspondingly, we are seeing a renewed interest in psychiatry abolition, especially versions committed to societal rebuilding. The reception which I have been receiving among psychiatric survivors – and survivors, after all, is where the resurgence of subjugated knowledge must come from -- is suggestive in this regard.

Significantly, up until a few years ago, there was but muted interest in psychiatry abolition within survivor circles. What I am seeing now, conversely, is an abundance of posts of the ilk “If antipsychiatry is what Bonnie says it as, then I am antipsychiatry.” Additionally, more and more antipsychiatry websites are popping up. The point is, antipsychiatry -- and not just any type but one of a visionary nature -- is markedly on the rise.

And indeed, a visionary antipsychiatry is precisely psychiatry’s worst nightmare—hence the current barring of foundational critiques by the mainstream media and hence psychiatry’s worried references to “antipsychiatry.” Simple reform, as history shows, is inevitably coopted. And critique alone can easily be dismissed. A true revolution -- one involving reclamation -- is a whole different matter.

In ending, let me invite those in the Toronto area interested in continuing this conversation to come to my book launch on September 18 (5:30, Floor 12, 252 Bloor West). And more generally, let me ask all readers: Is a coercive, invalid, and damaging “system” really the best we can do? What makes setting our sights on but tempering it and/or but adding “alternatives” the “practical” option?

And now that the tide is turning, what can the average citizen do so that this time round, we as a society do not “squander” the moment?

(for this and related articles, see http://bizomadness.blogspot.ca).


Bhugra, D. (2015). To be or not to be a psychiatrist? Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 131, 4-5.
Burstow, B. (2014). Liberal “mental health” reform: A fail-proof way to fail. Mad In America. November 17 (http://www.madinamerica.com/2014/11/liberal-mental-health-reform-fail-proof-way-fail/)
Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Frances, Allen (2009). A warning sign on the road to DSM-V. Psychiatric Times. June 26 (http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/warning-sign-road-dsm-v-beware-its-unintended-consequences).
Healey, D. (2009). Psychiatric drugs explained. London: Elsevier.
Kuhn, Thomas (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lieberman, J. (2015). How to halt the violence. The New York Times. August 28  (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/29/opinion/how-to-halt-the-violence-treat-mental-illness.html?smid=fb-share).
Minkowitz, T. (2014). Convention on the rights of people with disabilities and liberation from psychiatric oppression. In Bonnie Burstow, Brenda LeFrançois, and Shaindl Diamond (Eds.). Psychiatry disrupted (pp. 129-144). Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Read, J. (2015). Saving psychiatry from itself. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 131, 11-12.
Spitzer, R. (2009). DSM transparency: Fact or rhetoric. Psychiatric Times. March 6 (http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/dsm-v-transparency-fact-or-rhetoric).
Stewart, H. et al. (2015). Images of psychiatry and psychiatrists. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 131, 21-28.
Whitaker, R. (2010). Anatomy of an epidemic. New York: Broadway Paperbacks.
Whitaker, R. and Cosgrove L. (2015). Psychiatry under the influence. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What is The Bonnie Burstow Blog All About?: Getting A Sense of the Territory

[my first blog on Rabble, with whom I also maintain a blogsite. For the original publication of this article, see http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/bonnie-burstow/2015/08/what-bonnie-burstow-blog-all-about-getting-sense-territory

As I sit down to draft the first of what will hopefully be a long series of articles for Rabble.ca, I am aware that I am carving out a very new type of space; and so an introduction of sorts is in order. So what is this new space about? The clue is in the title. 

All words in the title of the blog site are pointers, signaling what to expect. On a relatively simple level, The Bonnie Burstow Blog is antipsychiatry. At the same time, the positioning of the phrase "Toward a World with Commons" announces that the blog is concerned with piecing together a vision of a better society that we might jointly build together—one based on such values as sharing, mutuality, equality, participatory governance, freedom. Does the society being envisioning include services for those with emotional difficulties (people currently deemed "mentally ill")?  Absolutely, and an abundance thereof but not services "managed" by "experts" -- for rule by experts, however benign individual experts may be, is part of what has landed us in the current morass.

So what kind of articles might you find? Articles that demonstrate psychiatry’s invalidity and the harm it does, which makes visible the ideological circularity and how psychiatry functions as a regime of ruling, that illustrate the tie-in with other forms of oppression (e.g., sexism and racism). Articles that explore non-psychiatric community-oriented approaches to helping people, which, for example, delve into participatory ways of resolving conflict, while attending to the well being and safety of everyone. Articles on how to create a society where people can thrive, where there is greater acceptance of difference, which is less alienated/alienating. In this regard, the "commoning" of services are likely to figure particularly prominently, for it is precisely what we create together as opposed to what is bestowed upon us where I would suggest that the promise lies.

That said, my suspicion is that at that this point, most readers are to varying degrees in agreement with expanding the social commons. I suspect as well that many are uneasy about the enormous power of psychiatry, also by its relentless pursuit of ever more markets. This withstanding, I suspect as well that most are convinced that even though it ought to be reined in, that psychiatry has a legitimate place in the scheme of things, for however important the social is, it is believed, we are, after all, talking about bone fide illnesses for which some measure of "medical treatment" is in order. That is, there are "diseases" here for which substances like psychiatric drugs are necessary. Such are the beliefs of most people. And for the most  part, such are what people are socialized to believe.

In the interests of helping readers begin grappling with this common set of beliefs right from the start (and please excuse the objectivizing language) let me introduce some relevant "myths" and "facts":

Minds can be ill, hence the validity of the concept "mental" illness.
Minds are activities of bodies and can no more be ill than other activities like "running" can be -- also an activity of the body. Only an organ (the brain, for example), can be the site of an illness.

It has been proven that "mental illnesses" are bone fide brain diseases.
While claims about proof are repeatedly made, none of the phenomena framed as "mental illnesses" have been shown to be a "brain illness." Not even "schizophrenia" (see in this regard, Burstow, 2015 and Robert Whitaker, 2002).

Chemical imbalances have been established for most "mental illnesses."
Not a single chemical imbalance has ever been found for a single "mental illness."

Even if there are no chemical imbalances, there are other physical indicators of "mental illnesses."
FACT:  Not a single physical abnormality has been found for a single "mental illness."

Psychiatric drugs correct chemical imbalances.
Not only is there no proof of this, there is incontrovertible proof that psychiatric drugs, rather, routinely create chemical imbalances. In the process brain damage commonly occurs, much of it irreversible (see Peter Breggin, 1991).

Psychiatry, like other branches of medicine, proceeds via a painstaking process of scientific discovery.
Psychiatry does not "discover" "illnesses" but proclaims them, sometimes via the mechanism of a vote, much like one votes for a candidate in an election (itself an indicator of the inherently political nature of what is transpiring -- for note, no one votes on whether or not tuberculosis is a disease). For a window onto how this disease-making process actually works, see Stuart Kirk and Herb Kutchins (1992). 

MYTH/ CLAIM: The "mentally ill" are dangerous, hence need to be controlled.
FACT: What evidence shows is that people deemed mentally ill are no more dangerous than the average person. Correspondingly, despite the panic that is whipped up whenever harm is done by someone deemed mentally ill, people so deemed are typically far less dangerous to others than others are to "them", with state-authorized "helpers" posing a special problem (see Burstow, 2015).

Horrific developments like the mass school shootings would have been prevented had only these shooters been on psychiatric drugs.
A "side effect" of the drugs (the antidepressants and the stimulants especially) is that they can badly impair judgment and give rise to a kind of intoxication named "intoxication anosognosia." That said, while each major school shooting has culminated in a call for youth to be systematically screened for "mental illnesses," then put on psychiatric drugs as "needed," the frightening reality is that the vast majority of the school shooters were on a therapeutic dosage of either antidepressants or stimulants at the time of the shooting -- a factor which would appear to be causal (see Breggin, 2000 and 2008). What is being taken as the solution, that is, is actually one of the causes.

New modified ECT (electroshock) minimally is safe and effective.
FACT: There is nothing new about modified shock, for it has been with us since the 1950s. Correspondingly, as researchers like Collin Ross (2006) and Howard Sackeim et al. (2007) respectively demonstrate, after six weeks no form of ECT outperforms placebo, and all result in substantial, often overwhelming cognitive impairment.

MYTH/ CLAIM: Psychiatry serves the public good.
-- Ah, but that is precisely the crux of the matter.

The point is, it is transparently the case that psychiatry permeates every facet of society, fashions how we think about things, how we deal with one another--and the contention of this blog is that is that besides that it is void of foundation, it is highly deleterious. We have a historically unprecedented number of people hooked on mind-altering drugs and brain-damaged. We have a veritable epidemic of iatrogenic (doctor-caused) diseases. We have childhood itself treated like a disease. And we have a regime that in its own way threatens the freedom of everyone.

That noted, the purpose of this blog is to help us move beyond the hegemony that has bit by bit been build up around this institution. It is about unmasking psychiatry, as it were, and promoting an "turn-about." It is about finding ways that we as members of communities can take back our power to govern ourselves and begin grappling with societal problems in a benign, participatory, caring, egalitarian, and non-coercive way. Ultimately, it is about finding ways to value and incorporate the unique wisdom and gifts of everyone.

For those intrigued, please continue to check out this blog. Correspondingly, in preparation for the challenging journey ahead -- and it will be challenging -- I would end this article by inviting readers to do three things: Whatever your beliefs about psychiatry:

1)    Try using everyday terms for the distress you see around you, including your own, that is, letting go of institutional terms and getting back to what you actually see, hear, feel (examples of institutional terms are "mental illness," "schizophrenia," "hallucination," "medication," "symptoms"). 
2)    Think of people that you know that are alienated or distressed and ask yourself -- and them: What changes in society might help them feel less distraught, less alienated, more part of the social fabric?
3)    Dare to imagine a more benign, egalitarian, respectful, and participatory world.


Breggin, P. (1991). Toxic Psychiatry. New York: St. Martins Press.
Breggin, P. (2008). Medication madness. New York: St. Martins.
Breggin, P. (2000). Reclaiming our children. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kirk, S. and Kutchins, H. (1997). Making us crazy: The myth of the reliability of the DSM. New York: The Free Press.
Ross, R  (2006). The sham ECT literature and what it tells us. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 17-28.
Sackeim H. et. al (2007). The cognitive effects of electroconvulsive therapy in community settings, Neuropsychopharmacology, 32, 244-255.
Whitaker, R. (2002). Mad in America. New York: Perseus Books.  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What Do We Owe When a Shock Survivor Dies?: On the Death of Sue Clark-Wittenberg

On August 7, 2015, prominent ECT survivor and antipsychiatry activist Sue Clark-Wittenberg died. That day, I sent the following message to members of Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (of which Sue was one), also to my Facebook friends:

It is with profound sadness that I am writing to let everyone know that Sue Clark Wittenberg has just died, but hours ago . . . Everyone who knows anything about Sue knows that she has been an enormously important person in the community of people battling shock. A shock survivor since she was 17, Sue has fought against ECT for decades and decades, with fierce determination. She received an award from CAPA a few years ago for a lifetime of work combating psychiatry . . . May her memory be as a blessing. (personal correspondence)

A few hours after posting this, I began thinking about the loss of ECT survivor Leonard Roy Frank, that magnificent ECT warrior, famous for his activism and scholarship (e.g., Frank, 1975/1978), who likewise passed away this year. I was honoured to be one of those who memorialized Leonard. Then I found myself worrying who would memorialize Sue. Shortly, thereafter, to my relief, tributes on Facebook began pouring in.
That noted, in that moment of uncertainty, when I did not know whether or not people would rise to the occasion in response to Sue’s death, a curiously existential question came to me, which question, in part, motivated this article: What do we owe to shock survivors when they die? Whether they are extremely famous like Leonard, legendary but in more limited circles like Sue, or people leading comparatively obscure lives? Whether they were activists or folk who never became involved in a single social movement?  Whether they went on to do wonderful things like Sue or Leonard or simply went about their lives? What do we owe to each and every one of them?
One answer to this question which I would like to advance is that we owe them what we owe everyone who underwent an atrocity that is ongoing, that is being visited on others daily—doing something about that atrocity. Given, as shown by Breggin (2008) and Burstow (2015), shock is anything but a legitimate medical procedure, given that it is profoundly damaging, what we owe is doing everything in our power to rid the world of the “treatment” so that never again is it visited on anyone. Every time a survivor dies, it is minimally an opportune moment to renew our commitment and our pledge to both bring an end to this treatment and to build a world where brain-damaging people in the name of help would be unthinkable.
There is something else that we owe them as well, something of a more personal nature—and it is this that I will be honing in on in this article. We owe holding their experiences in our memory. Indeed we owe something of this ilk to everyone subjected to  ongoing atrocity, but the onus is all the more pressing here given that this “treatment” is precisely about the destruction of memory. More generally, we owe them taking very seriously the disjuncture that happened to them, however long ago—and all that this disjuncture points to. To be clear, the ethical imperative which I am referencing here is  of both a commemorative and witnessing nature for sure but likewise of a pedagogic nature. The point is that insofar as these stories can be used to conscience-raise, we help make them something beyond just the senseless tragedy which they otherwise are. A work of transformation, I would add, which the survivor takes upon themselves each and every time that they do us the courtesy of bearing testimony.
Which brings us to the Sue Clark electroshock story. The key questions taken up in this article are: What does Sue’s ECT story highlight? Exemplify? Teach us?

Sue’s Story and its Significance

Who was Sue Clark in the years before ECT? She was a very bright child, with a powerful instinct for survival.  She was also a child who had been subjected to ongoing abuse most of her life (see Burstow, 1994 and 2002, and Inquiry into Psychiatry, 2005).  
 Sue first ended up in a psychiatric institution as a teenager. How and why? Initially, she ran away from an abusive home, with that abuse at one point including sexual abuse. Now homeless, she began missing classes at school. She was soon summoned to speak to the school psychologist, who had concerns about her “absenteeism”. Upon hearing Sue’s story, the school psychologist observed that Sue needed help and suggested an appointment at the Royal Ottawa Hospital.
What can we learn from the story thus far? That at that time, minimally, there was insufficient support for abused children. What is also highlighted is the treacherous connection between school and psychiatry. Note that Sue did not have a “mental health problem”. Her “problem” was that she was being abused—and help in ending the abuse and creating safety—this was the kind of assistance that would have been useful. Instead the school psychologist began the process of redefining Sue’s problem as “mental” and turning her into a “mental patient”. What is highlighted here is at once the psychiatric transformation of social problems into personal diseases and the implication of schools in that transformation.
It was at this moment that Sue’s life as she knew it truly began to fall apart. One of the first acts of the institution was to create a “family meeting”. At the meeting, Sue courageously introduced the issue of the abuse. According to Sue, the family responded, “Oh no, we never abused Sue.” (see Burstow, 1994) Whereupon, the abuse as Sue had lived it was discounted, or put this another way, was turned into a “symptom”.
What truths about psychiatry’s mode of operating does the nature of the family meeting bring to light? That once a redefinition has occurred, the newly minted “psychiatric patient” has little credibility compared to everyone else. Indeed, the further at odds their story is with the ones of those around them, including those being identified as abusers, the more dire the mental illness that is likely to be assumed.
What happened to Sue after that? Having entered the Royal Ottawa voluntarily, she quickly found herself involuntary. States Sue, “Right away I was given heavy doses of tranquilizers. I had no coordination as I walked down the hall and had to cling to the walls.”(Inquiry into Psychiatry, 2015) In essence they drugged her into a stupor while refusing to let her go. All of which points to the brutality and the coercive of the “care” given long before ECT became part of her lived reality.
Upon being released, she went to live with her abusive family. Why? Because she had nowhere else to go and no one so much as mentioned a single resource that she might access—a reality which again points to the negligence of the “care” afforded the young.
More hospitalizations and more infringements of rights followed. Horrified by the daily infringement of her rights and understandably in despair over the turn her life had taken, one day while under lock and key at the Royal Ottawa, this increasingly desperate teenager tried to hang herself.
Obviously the question that any thinking person responsible for her care should have asked at this point was: Why did this youth resort to such a desperate measure? How are we failing this person? What this part of the story highlights is that questions of this nature are never asked. Instead, the institution continued to interpret what was happening through the frame which they had adopted from the start. To wit, her trying to kill herself, in their understanding, could mean only one thing—that her “mental disorder” was “deteriorating” and so more aggressive treatment was warranted. Whereupon, she was transferred to Brockville Psychiatric Hospital. And it is here where ECT entered in.
Once at Brockville, Sue was “informed” that she was going to be given ECT. This was a moment of absolute terror for her. She protested, stating that she feared what ECT would do to her. She was told that her worries were needless, that ECT is safe and effective— responses which, as we all know, highlight the misinformation which pervades the ECT industry (see Andre, 2009 and Burstow, 2015). What happened next?  Something that epitomizes at once power-over, indifference to people’s wishes, violence, and trauma. ECT was physically forced upon Sue, this I would add, despite the enormity and indeed transparency of her objection to it. In this regard, Sue tells us: 

On the morning of my electroshock therapy, I yelled and screamed as loud as I could, I bit the staff and I kicked them . . . but no one came to my rescue, no one helped me . . .  Eventually the staff forced me into the ECT room . . .  I yelled to the staff that I did not want ECT . . . No one listened . . . It was a traumatizing experience that haunts me to this day. A rubber band was wrapped around my forehead and a rubber mallet put between my teeth. Then the psychiatrist turned on the shock machine and zapped me with electricity through the brain. (Inquiry Into Psychiatry, 2005)

While of course not all ECT administration involves people kicking and screaming in protest, what this story writes large is that everything about ECT is violent. That the entire experience is traumatizing. A reality which is all the more horrific when you factor in what allowed this to transpire in the first place—besides the avarice and the grandiosity of the ECT industry, a obvious distrust of youth, a dismissal of people’s words, rights, choices, a willful disregard for very real circumstances of people’s lives, an arrogance of massive proportion, and what minimally looks like callousness.
 What has happened here? A young woman was abused at home. She was persuaded to seek help only to be imprisoned and otherwise abused by the so-called helping institution. Moreover, she was singled out for a experimental treatment that was already known to be brain-damaging (see Breggin, 1979).
Now people reading the literature on the efficacy of ECT with suicide might consider the choice of ECT appropriate in this instance. But here not only the senselessness of psychiatry but the groundlessness of official ECT claims are highlighted. Besides the fact that there was a simple solution to what was now seen as Sue’s “suicidality”—listening to her and stopping abusing her—the point is, as documented in Burstow (2015) and Breggin (2008) just as ECT has no efficacy in general, it has no efficacy whatever with “suicide”. That said, insofar as we are trying to figure out what the story so far has to teach us, there is one additional dimension to factor in, albeit one less obvious.  
Step back and look at what is happening at this juncture and what led up to it. The adult male is forcing ECT on the female youth. This is adultism and indeed child abuse at the extreme. What is perhaps less obvious to some, though, it is also sexism. The woman’s story, significantly, is disbelieved. It is assumed that “the woman” needs ECT. And, note, the statistics on gender are clear: Throughout the entire history of shock, two to three times as many as women as men receive ECT irrespective of whether or not they are deemed “suicidal”. For a possible explanation of why, I would draw attention to this historical statement by shock promoter Abraham Myerson:

I believe there have to be organic changes or organic disturbances in the physiology of the brain for the cure to take place.  These people have for the time being at any rate more intelligence than they can handle . . . and the reduction of intelligence is an important factor in the curative process. (quoted from Breggin, 1979, pp. 142-143)

Given the statistics, it is clear that the people covered by Myerson’s term “these people” are largely women, and that on some level, the reduction of women’s intelligence is being deemed acceptable, and beyond that, desirable.
To make a more general statement about gender here (though this part is not so clear), Sue might not have been abused to this extent had she been male—certainly, was less likely to be sexually abused, given what we know of sexual abuse. Had she been abused to this extent, she was less likely have landed in a psychiatric facility. And had she landed in psychiatric facility—and here the statistics are irrefutable—she would have been far less likely to be subjected to ECT. What is relevant in this last regard, throughout the history of electroshock, irrespective of diagnosis, women have received ECT two to three times as often as men (for an example of a current statistic, see Weitz, 2009).
How many “treatments” did Sue end up having? Five. All against her wishes. All brutal. Why so few? Because a physical “complication” entered in, forcing them to stop. 
What happened after that highlights additional realities about shock. From that period hence, Sue was someone who suffered from major memory and cognitive impairment, The hospital had done its “job”, and now she was forced to live her life with the consequences. Which for all intents and purposes boils down to this: Whatever her original dreams may have been—becoming a philosopher, having a regular job—thanks to a purported “safe and effective treatment”, all such options were now nullified.
And here one further fundamental truth about ECT is highlighted—how little it takes for massive damage to happen. Sue, note, had five treatments only—a very low number.  While ECT advocates sometimes suggest that trying a few treatments could not hurt—the consequences for Sue, as for legions of others, demonstrate otherwise. 
The point is no matter how many shock are given or what type of shock is used, the memory loss can be enormous. Nor does it self-correct. The memory loss is not, that is, as promoters like Fink (1979 and 2009) are so fond of claiming, minor and transient.
Flash forward: For the rest of her life, Sue had to take notes all day long just to keep track of what was happening. “I’ll be talking to you today,” she stated in my video, “and tomorrow, it’ll be hard for me to recall . . . our conversation.” (Burstow, 1994).  She further stated 11 years later:

I have a difficult time remembering things from hour to hour, let alone from day to day. I forget to mark things down in my date book and I have forgotten appointments, meetings, trips, conferences, and the list goes on. People come up to me to this day and say, “Do you remember me—and I don’t know who they are. I can’t remember some of my neighbours’ names who I see on a daily basis . . . You can’t get a job when you can’t remember. You can’t go to school to get a good education if you can’t remember anything . . . Marking things down doesn’t even help me much for I forget where I wrote the things down. (Inquiry into Psychiatry, 2005)

A reality, I would add, which not only points to the damaging nature of this treatment—which it surely does—but once again points to the gender dynamic. In this regard, Sackeim et al. (2007) conducted the large study in ECT history and they established at a level of statistical significance that women administered ECT become more cognitively impaired that men, with inability to recall details of their lives particularly pronounced.
In summary, what Sue’s story reveals and reveals powerfully is the damaging nature of ECT particularly and psychiatry in general, psychiatry as an inherently oppressive and inherently dishonest institution, the foundationlessness of ECT as a “treatment”; the destruction of self that is part and parcel of ECT; psychiatry’s erasure of the social nature of people’s problems; and the dearth of real help for people in difficult predicaments. It likewise sheds light on the degree of social buy-in into psychiatry, with psychiatry’s cooptation of our educational system especially highlighted. And last but hardly least, it sheds light on the role played by sexism and ageism. 
That said, what we can learn from Sue’s life hardly stops here. Sue’s life likewise offers us a glimpse into a very different reality. And I could not end this article without also focusing in on it. The damage done to Sue was horrific and beyond dispute. The point, however, is, as philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1943/1956) put it decades ago, we can always make something of what has been made of us—and indeed Sue did—and did so brilliantly and with panache.
Albeit while persistently having to take notes all day long—and to be clear, these  dire effects never subsided—after consulting with a few of us when in her early 20s, Sue went on to become a fearless antipsychiatry activist and one of the world’s foremost advocates against ECT. In the end, as those of us who have had the privilege of knowing this remarkable woman are well aware, Sue led a highly meaningful live—a life of commitment, humanity, generosity, and integrity—and in the process, besides accomplishing much, she became a critical part of the social justice landscape and an inspiration to those around her. She demonstrated against ECT tirelessly. She meticulously highlighted what the research actually shows. She created numerous myth-fact sheets. She was co-founder along with her husband Steve of the enormously important International Campaign to Ban Electroshock (ICBE) and she managed its website (see https://intcamp.wordpress.com/). She wrote poems about ECT. She created and disseminated petitions. She networked with other activists and with legislators and scholars across the world. She made deputations. And she created her own whistle blower hotline.
 And whenever a hearing was happening, a video being made, there was Sue offering thrillingly frank testimony, never missing an opportunity to draw on her own experience to expose and teach. She also pointed the way, not only insisting on the importance of ending ECT but also of targeting the state.
In this last regard, to end this article the only way that I could imagine it ending, with a quote from the fearless, the outspoken Sue Clark-Wittenberg—here is Sue at her quintessential best, mincing no words, and announcing to everyone that ECT is torture in which the State itself is complicit:

All the therapy in the world is not going to erase the scars of being dragged into a room, having a band on your head, and having your brains fried. People say there’s no torture in Canada. That’s pure bullshit.  And excuse my language. There is torture being paid for by the Ministry of Health. (quoted from Burstow, 1994)

In the end, what words better than her own to show who this remarkable woman was?  And what words better than hers to commemorate her? 

(for this and other related articles, see http://www.bizomadness.blogspot.ca).


Andre, L. (2009). Doctors of deception. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
Breggin, P. (1979). Electroshock: It’s brain-disabling effects. New York: Springer.
Breggin, P. (2008). Brain-damaging treatments in psychiatry. New York: Springer.
Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness: An ethical and epistemological accounting. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Burstow, B. (1994). When women end up in those horrible places. Video. Burstow: Toronto.
Fink, M. (1979). Convulsive therapy. New York: Raven.
Fink, M. (2009). Electroconvulsive therapy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Frank, L. (1975/1978). The history of shock treatment. San Francisco: Network Against Psychiatric Assault.
Inquiry into Psychiatry (2005). Retrieved August 9 2015 from https://coalitionagainstpsychiatricassault.wordpress.com/articles/personal-narratives/
Sackeim, H. et al. (2007). The cognitive effects of electroconvulsive therapy in community settings. Neuropsychopharmacology, 32, 244-255.
Sartre, J-P (1943/1956) Being and nothingness (Hazel Barnes, Trans.) New York: Pocket Books.
Weitz, D. (2009). ECT statistics 2008. Unpublished statistics released under Freedom of Information. Austin.