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Sunday, June 07, 2020

Doctors Who Jumped Ship (Part 2: Peter Breggin)

Peter Breggin, M.D., Psychiatrist

Who else made the list?  Check here. 

Dr. Breggin deserves to be first on my list because I came across his book Toxic Psychiatry in 1995 when I was in the midst of my own bumpy journey.  

Ironically, Dr. Breggin was a psychiatrist who helped me discover the chiropractic profession.  He didn't know it, until I wrote him a letter about 12 years later. 

Back when I was working as a mental health therapist I was beginning to spin myself into a cocoon.  

Like a maturing caterpillar who needed to face new scenery, I was conflicted by the biological theory that espoused drug therapy to help the brain.  Deep down I knew that was something not for me personally and I was grateful I didn't have a mental illness.  

Being a fairly new graduate from my counseling program, I was enthralled with the techniques of Alfred Adler, Albert Ellis, and the Gestalt followers.  I was looking forward to forming the supportive relationship people were lacking in order to help them reach their goals with confidence.   

It didn't take me that long to realize my clients were not improving. In general, we were trashing their dignity. My clients were looked down upon.  They were not encouraged to stretch their minds to strive towards a meaningful life of independence.  They were coached to just get through the day and eek out some type of existence on a meager disability payment.  Yes, they were chronically mentally ill with deep patterns of dysfunction, but they were short changed by lazy professional attitudes.  

If I had someone in my family struggling with his or her emotional balance  I would be on them like a hawk.  Why?  because I am very wary of the mental health system so I don't want my family member talked into something unhealthy.  Doesn't that sound odd coming from a mental health therapist?  Maybe not.  As someone on the inside, I knew in my heart how I would want myself or a loved one cared for.  Someone in the middle of a personal crisis needs understanding, a thoughtful ear, and reassurance that they are going rise above it with a new strength.  

Someone in a fragile state doesn't want to be questioned in an impersonal office setting or emergency room worried that their answers will be misinterpreted.  No one wants to be given a stigmatizing label and treated as if they cannot be trusted.

So, at a time in my life where I was at a crossroads realizing there has to be a better way to reach people, I discover a book by someone with the same idea. 

I was in a library one day where Toxic Psychiatry was propped up on a shelf of new releases.  I grabbed it and voraciously read it from cover to cover. Here was a psychiatrist who didn't use psychiatric medications.  It was refreshing and exciting to see my thoughts were validated by someone who has dealt with this longer than I have.  

Peter Breggin's book is written in an autobiographical style as he gives a chronological story of his experiences helping people reclaim their lives without the risky option of psychiatric medication. 

What struck me with Dr. Breggin's narrative, is that he does not fear people. He is comfortable with them.  He welcomes them and is eager to hear their stories. Doctors are programmed to get to the solution as quickly as possible, which in a psychiatric scenario, it is usually medication or hospitalization.  Dr. Breggin is not in a rush to that kind of treatment.  He is able to draw out of his patient's their strengths and weaknesses so they can work out a therapeutic plan that the person can work through with a clear mind knowing where to go for appropriate support. 

Dr. Breggin speaks out about the disabling effects of psychiatric drugs.  These types of drugs do not allow someone to accomplish any goals.  Rather they are numbing to the brain and have unpleasant side effects.  He has been an expert witness for malpractice trials and works tirelessly on reforming psychiatry.  

At the time I was considering a career in psychiatry, but his book helped me look elsewhere.  I knew there was an important connection between the mind and the body and I realized I needed to learn more about the physical body.

At my position as a mental health therapist I was frustrated to watch my clients struggle with mental and physical complaints.  The psychiatrist would refer them back to their physicians who would report that blood work and other tests were normal.  When my clients came back to their follow up appointments they would say they are supposedly fine physically so their concerns were all in their head.  They were falling through the cracks and no one could help them.

I had also stumbled into a challenging  experience with situational grief and was offered the same drugs my clients were taking.  After all, there was a lock box full of complementary samples provided by the generous pharmaceutical reps.  My immediate response was a polite, "No, thank you.  I need to feel this.  I need to learn from this."

So that self talk lead me away from the mental health environment on to a drug free path.  Now, I realize I was not prescribing medication to my clients, but it was such a roadblock to helping people learn self management, it could not participate in it or tolerate it.  To me, that was unfair to my clients.  I had to be part of a group that could be free to employ natural means to assist the innate healing ability.

Dr. Breggin's book helped me see there was another niche worth pursuing.  Around 2008 I found out he had relocated from Maryland to New York and I wrote him a letter informing him how influential his personal calling and book were to me.  I met him and his wife, Ginger, some time later.  Their strong desire to relieve people of their emotional and mental suffering keeps them busy. Their perseverance is truly needed in our society.  

Read one of Dr. Breggin's articles here

I have more names of doctors who jumped ship.  Stay tuned.  

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