Blog des AK Psychiatriekritik der NFJ Berlin

Kategorie: Mad Studies

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.


The rise of Mad Studies

At the end of term last spring, Jijian Voronka stood before 120 people at Ryerson University and clicked the play button for a short video made by a former student in her History of Madness course. Ms. Voronka watched the audience of mainly Ryerson staff and faculty as the student’s over-sized words scrolled across a video screen: “I only got four hours of sleep again” and “I’m not depressed.” The student had made the film about herself and titled it “A little slice-of-life video about madness and why a girl isn’t looking for the light at the end of the tunnel,” tracking herself on camera as she spiralled into exhaustion. When Ms. Voronka clicked the stop button at the end of the video, no one said a word.

Ms. Voronka, a sessional instructor in Ryerson’s school of disability studies and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, had faced challenging audiences during events like this one; she was hoping this audience wouldn’t “pathologize” the student. The talk, offered with two colleagues, was called “Making Mad Studies,” and it was part of a series on diversity at Ryerson.


“Doing” Antipsychiatry on all Cylinders: Possibilities, Enigmas, Challenges

On several occasions I have written about the complexities of antipsychiatry politics, exploring more specifically, how to “do our politics” in a way that moves society squarely in the direction of the abolitionist goal (e.g., Burstow, 2014). In this article, I am once again theorizing the “how” of activism—for understanding this territory is critical to maximizing effectiveness. However, this time round, I am approaching it from an angle at once more general and more practical. That is, I am investigating the tools or approaches at our disposal as activists. What relates to this, I will be discussing the genus of politic—that is, the manner of politics being engaged.

Pivotal questions grappled with in this article include: What fundamental approaches might be taken to end/rein in psychiatry? What are the strengths and shortcomings of each? What dangers do they present? To what larger genus of politic do they belong?  How are we to understand these in themselves? In relation to psychiatry? What are some of the enigmas, or challenges facing us? And how might they be met?


Speaking As A Survivor Researcher

Academia has long been the official search engine for knowledge. Here supposedly are the ivory towers where seekers after truth, men and women intellectuals, teach new generations and carry out learned research, to add to the sum of human wisdom.

This is a powerful and seductive image, that even those of us who work in academia can’t entirely escape. But we also know that the academy is as tied to rank as the army, with as clear a hierarchy – from temporary research assistants to senior professors. It is as discriminatory as mainstream politics, with a dearth of black women tenured professors and a growing bottom layer of low paid ancillary staff increasingly marginalised by modern outsourcing economics.



Psychiatry’s Poor Image: Reflecting on Psychiatrists’ “Apologias”

Those of us who critique psychiatry were recently treated to an interesting phenomenon—the publicly available part of the January 2015 issue of Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, which contains multiple articles devoted to the question of psychiatry’s “poor image” — how to understand it, how to assess it, what to do about it. The release of this issue is hardly the first occasion where articles have appeared in which psychiatrists have speculated on outsiders’ negative image of the profession. Indeed, more and more, we are seeing such articles together with other evidence that the professionals are concerned (e.g., Bhugra and Moran, 2014; and Oxtoby, 2008). What makes this issue special is that there is a sizable number of commentators; moreover, they include such leading figures as Gaebel, current President of the European Psychiatric Association, Wasserman, former President of the European Psychiatric Association, and Bhugra, President of the World Psychiatric Association. Could it be that the upper echelons of psychiatry, whether they admit or not, are becoming alarmed? Regardless, these psychiatric reflections are themselves a source of data—hence this article.