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The Little-Known Sordid History Of Psychiatry

Posted by on September 19, 2020 in Psychology-Psychiatry, Sci-Tech with 0 Comments

By Dr. Mercola | Waking Times

Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist, has written more than a dozen bestselling books on psychiatry and the drug industry. He’s frequently referred to as “the conscience of psychiatry” because he’s been able to successfully reform the psychiatric profession, abolishing one of the most harmful practices, namely lobotomies and other experimental psychosurgeries.


He was the first to take a public stand against lobotomies as a young man, and was able to change the field as a result. He’s featured in Aaron and Melissa Dykes’ excellent documentary, “The Minds of Men.”1

Now 83 years old, Breggin has seen a lot, and in this interview, he shares his own evolution and experiences as a psychiatrist. His interest in psychiatry began at the age of 18, when he became a volunteer at a local state mental hospital.

“It was a nightmare,” he says. “It was like my uncle Dutch’s descriptions of liberating a Nazi concentration camp. The place stank. People were sitting in these bare, barren concrete corridors.

They had a TV set that wasn’t working … and bolted down tables and chairs so the people couldn’t throw them at each other. No attention being given to them at all. Often just sitting there; some hallucinating, and somebody told me that the girl in the corner coiled up in a ball on the floor by a radiator had been a Radcliffe student …

The doctors were callous, the aids were callous, there was just no love in the place at all. I could tell, even though I didn’t really have much experience growing up with love, I could feel that what was missing was love, care, nurturing. It was so clear.”

Toxic Psychiatry

Breggin eventually became the leader of that volunteer program. He and 200 other students painted the walls and took patients for walks. He asked the superintendent to assign one patient per volunteer aid, to build real relationships. The superintendent balked at the idea, but eventually gave in. Breggin tells this story in his book, “Toxic Psychiatry.”2

“We ended up getting almost every patient out of that hospital,” he says. “We got them placed in different places that were much better. We got some back with their families. It was so clear to me that this was the way to go …

I watched electroshock and insulin coma shock where people would come in and they’d give them overdoses of insulin to send them into coma. They’d be frothing at the mouth, unconscious, having seizures and getting ready to die, literally. Then they would give them orange juice or sugar water and they would become alert again.

It was so clear to me what was going on. People would come in full of energy — angry, depressed, anxious and often resistant … They’d get this injection of insulin to knock them out, killing them, basically, but when they came awake they were like puppies. They were grateful, they said ‘Thank you, I feel like you saved me.’ They’d be docile … There’s no fooling about what this was. I knew exactly what it was.

I knew what shock treatment was … I’ve been fighting this, but we’re still doing it … It’s when they put electrodes on the forehead of the brain … You get a shock of a voltage … 10 times what you need to give convulsions … and it makes docility. It makes people out of touch with themselves. It makes people unable to complain … [Elevated mood] is the artificial euphoria [caused by] brain damage. This is very brain damaging.”

All of this is what motivated Breggin to go into psychiatry, in order to help reform the profession from the inside. Interestingly, as early as 1963, Jerry Klerman, who later became the highest-ranking psychiatrist in the federal government and a professor at Harvard, told Breggin there was no future in helping people strengthen their mental resilience.

The future, Klerman told him, was in drugs, and using computers to decide which drugs to use. After his first year at Harvard medical school, Breggin left and went back to the Upstate Medical Center (University) in New York, where he had already done internship.

“Then I went on to the National Institute of Mental Health … for two years. There I saw clearly what was happening. Psychiatry was leaving the psychosocial model behind.

My volunteer program had already been described by the last big Federal Commission on Mental Health. It’s mentioned two or three times and described as one of the solutions to the vast mental hospital problems … Nothing about drugs, drugging and shocking people in it.

It was much more real, much more about what was really going on with human beings and human sufferings, spiritual, psychological. I could just see this writing on the wall and I was not sure what to do. I was invited to stay at the National Institute of Mental Health.

I accepted briefly, in the child division. I was very interested in helping children. Then I thought, I can’t do this. I gave them warning without even having a job that I was leaving. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went into private practice.”

Breggin Spearheaded Drug-Free Psychiatry

Breggin focused on helping people without medication. “I learned very quickly that the most disturbed people would calm down and relate when somebody cared about them, wasn’t afraid of them, was interested in them and made no pretense of being superior to them,” he says. Drugs, he explains, were simply stifling the patients. While they might ease some of the suffering, that relief came at the expense of brain damage.

Breggin goes on to tell the story of how he prevented the return of lobotomies and psychosurgeries — strategies in which the brain is purposely damaged through electric shocks, radium chip implants or puncturing the prefrontal area of the brain with an ice pick inserted next to the eyeball, for example.

Breggin refers to lobotomies as a rape of the soul, the permanent mutilation of an individual’s selfhood, as damage to one area of the brain will harm the integration of the whole brain. As noted by Breggin, you cannot “plop out aggression” like a pit out of an olive. The brain doesn’t work like that. It’s an integrated organ and mental processes arise from integrated processes involving many different areas of the brain.

So many people now know that drugs are dangerous and shock treatment is horrible. But, the power of psychiatry grows and the drug companies grow … and more and more people are being recruited by all the ads and all the fake science.

He decided somebody had to stop the madness. And, while he received no support from any other well-known psychiatrist or professor, and came under vehement attack by the establishment, including threats of physical violence against himself and his family that at times necessitated the use of bodyguards.

Breggin eventually succeeded. It’s a fascinating story, so I highly recommend listening to the whole interview. When asked why he took on this formidable fight, he says:

“When I saw what was being done to people, I said ‘Somebody has to do this. I have no choice about this.’ I had no idea what I was up against. I had no idea that everywhere there would be enemies; that I’d be threatened with violence.

When I was invited to speak by Harvard Medical students, that people would rip down all the signs about the meeting; that there’d be blowback on the students and stuff like that. I had no idea what I was walking into.”

The Lawsuit That Ended Lobotomies

The end of lobotomies was brought about by a lawsuit filed by a young lawyer named Gabe Kaimowitz on behalf of a chronically hospitalized patient who had been promised release from the mental hospital if he underwent experimental psychosurgery. Breggin tells the story:

“[Kaimowitz] found out they were going to do a psychosurgery experimentation in the state hospital with a local university, Wayne’s State. It was all set up to go. He intervened. In fact, the case is called by his name, which is unusual … Kaimowitz v. The Department of Mental Health Wayne State University.

A three-judge panel met about the case. This [patient] had been interviewed by the Commissioner of Mental Health. He had been chronically hospitalized and then allegedly had sexually assaulted a nurse or something, but there was no record of it and certainly no adjudication about it; no meetings about it. He was a lifetime patient.

The Commissioner told him he could get out if he underwent the psychosurgery. Well, the judges looked over his case and decided that, first, he was going to be discharged because he was being held illegally. They discharged John Doe. Then the state said, ‘Well, the case is over.’ They said ‘No. You guys have set up this whole thing. We’re going to look at it.’

Well, I was the go-to person as … [Kaimowitz] brought me in. I couldn’t testify the first day because they were filibustering me. They wanted to force me to stay overnight so that … they’d have the whole weekend to review the case with the surgeons. Follow me?

Of course, they’re forcing me into testifying in the afternoon, filibustering in the morning. Gabe said, ‘This is really too bad because now they’re going to have the whole weekend to talk about your testimony with the surgeons.’ I said, ‘No, no, no. We’ll filibuster back. I’ll testify on something else for the afternoon.’ He said, ‘How are you going to do that?’

I said, ‘Well, I’ll talk about the history of psychiatry. I’m going to tie it into the extermination camps, which were very much modeled on state mental hospitals. Show the comparison and hopefully the judges will invoke the Nuremberg Code, which says that, of course, that man couldn’t volunteer in a state mental hospital because he’s in a total institution, just like the Nuremberg Code was applied to.

He said, ‘OK.’ I gave him a few questions and we went that afternoon and did that. Then on the following Monday, I started to talk about psychosurgery. They were so unprepared that all they could do was go through this 100-page paper that I had written …

We won the trial and it stopped, on the spot, all psychosurgery in the state hospitals in the federal programs. NIH stopped; VA stopped and all the state hospitals stopped. This was 1972-1973.”

It’s important to realize just how important this was, to put a stop to the return of lobotomies and experimental psychosurgeries. It was widely accepted as a practical solution for all sorts of problems, including race riots and behavioral problems among young children.

The beginning of the end of psychosurgery was the early 1970s. At that time, Breggin, who for most of his career struggled to get support, got the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, who could see the social consequences of psychosurgery being used on black children, as well as certain conservative Senators who thought it was immoral.

“I was the first person to criticize lobotomies in public, let alone the first psychiatrist. It was crazy. I still don’t understand human beings. I work hard about it, but I keep falling short. I couldn’t believe that I was so alone doing this,” he says.

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