Talking Back To E. Fuller Torrey

DJ Jaffe’s bigoted Huffington Post blog most recently included an post by fellow bigot and big shot shrink, E. Fuller Torrey. This guest entry blog post is entitled, What should we call people with mental illness? E. Fuller Torrey wants to censor the language of, as it has been put, “people with lived experience” in the mental health system. Dr. Torrey seems to think that about ½ the people receiving mental health treatment are in no condition to speak for themselves and, therefore, people like E. Fuller Torrey and DJ Jaffe must do their talking for them.

His argument concerns how people in and out of mental health treatment should refer to themselves. First, a word this psychiatrist is most friendly with is “client”. “Client” is the word that most conveniently kisses the ass of the mental health “professional”. It helps define a functional and therapeutic relationship. Dr. Torrey would keep this word. “Client” is a good word. “Survivor” is a bad word. Why is survivor a bad word? Frankly, he seems to object to the use of this word because psychiatrists and mental health professionals didn’t come up with it.

”Survivor” is… a term is used by psychiatric patients, not like ”cancer survivor” but in a more menacing sense like ”rape survivor” or ”Holocaust survivor.” It implies survival of a traumatic event, specifically in this case involuntary treatment for a psychiatric illness. A major goal of (people who use this term), is to abolish all involuntary treatment. Such a goal ignores the needs of those individuals with schizophrenia who are unaware of their illness and who, because they are not being treated, are regularly victimized and end up homeless and/or incarcerated. Thus, ”survivor,” like ”consumer,” applies to only some individuals and is not all-inclusive. To use such terms ignores the needs of those to whom it does not apply and is thus a form of discrimination.

Every expatient is a psychiatric survivor, regardless of whether they take to the term or not, by definition. What we mean by psychiatric survivor here is a psychiatric treatment survivor. An even more exact way to express the matter might be to refer to him or her as a psychiatric maltreatment survivor. I’m still waiting for a “treatment plan” that has a “ land of opportunity” feel to it. Most of these “treatment plans” fall way short, to say the least, of a step ladder onto “peak performance”. Some of the practices that pass for standard psychiatric care these days can do much more harm to an individual than good. Some of these treatments can, in fact, even result in death. Any person who has not survived their psychiatric treatment is a cadaver. No amount of jargon is going to change that very basic fact.

Dr. Torrey goes even further in his revision of Websters dictionary.

The latest term being used for people with schizophrenia and other severe psychiatric disorders is ”people with lived experience,”…being increasingly used by groups funded by SAMHSA. …In reading the literature… it is apparent that most of the time the term is meant to imply that the delusions, hallucinations, and other symptoms experienced by individuals with schizophrenia are merely part of a spectrum of human experience. It is thus an implicit refutation of the medical model of disease. …

Most individuals with schizophrenia, including those promoting terms such as ”people with lived experience,” are receiving medical disability benefits such as Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, and veterans disability pensions. …Logically, if they do not believe that they really have a disease, they should not apply for, or accept, such benefits….

I imagine he is trying to say here that the schizophrenia label removes a people from their personhood, but I’ve got my own semantic problems articulating that one. Whatever happens in what we refer to as schizophrenia has ceased to be a “lived experience”, and this makes it a term of complete dismissal, if not disparagement. If it represents a human experience, why ignore it?

Dr. Torrey needs to wake up, and look around himself sometime. The results of the recent economic downswing, coupled with Reagonite trickle down economics, are all around us. We call these results homeless people. When you get 5 people applying for every 1 job opening that becomes available, that leaves 4 people out of work. You do not get people working by depriving them of basic necessities. You get people working by providing them with employment opportunities. Realism should tell him that there’s a relationship between chronic unemployment and chronic emotionally disturbance that is not going to be addressed through further deprivation and punishment.

We, people, excuse me, with lived experience in the mental health system have fought long and hard for every word that comes from our own lips and not from some self-appointed mouthpiece for us. Given a chance, some of us can think, act, and speak on our own behalf. Those of us who haven’t developed this knack yet, I suppose you can count many of them among the 50% who are content to let Dr. Torrey speak in their stead. Let me point out that this doesn’t speak highly of their chances for making a complete recovery.

Recovery, there you go! Although Dr. Torrey didn’t deal with the phenomenon of recovery in his article on language, perhaps he should have dealt with the notion of recovery. I’m sure he would have had something to say on the subject even if he thought it was another term whose usage should be discouraged, if not restricted. Myself, I’d like to see more of it.

4 Responses

  1. Some of us have been discussing this posting of Jaffe’s at psych Thus far, the most fascinating piece of information to arise is that Torrey was once an admirer of Thomas Szasz. It makes for some interesting reading:

    • Thank you for this link, spiritual_emergency. The comment in the discussion pertaining to Dr. Torrey’s former admiration of Dr. Szasz is #19. Very interesting. Dr. E. Fuller Torrey would go so far as to justify fraud in his pursuit of the forcible treatment of people labeled “mentally ill”. This is the kind of thing we expect from stool pigeons, jail birds, and other characters of dishonest means, but not from respected professionals. It just goes to show that I haven’t done nearly enough to de-frock, or perhaps more aptly put, de-labcoat, the likes of Dr. Torrey.

  2. The notion that people with “mental illness” are so delusional that they need experts to speak for them is part of a systematic dehumanization that is a central trait of psychiatry.

    Psychiatry is not designed to help patients. It is designed to keep people who violate the “accepted social norms” under control and out of the way. If you don’t believe me, browse the DSM and note how that phrase appears over and over.

    The “normal” among us want these troublesome people to disappear and stop making them uncomfortable, and they don’t care much about how that gets done.

    Thus we accept locking people up in psychoprisons and the inevitable abuses of a helpless population as “treatment.” When survivors try to speak, their accounts are dismissed as just another symptom of their illness–an illness defined, if not created, by psychiatrists.

    When we listen reverently to psychiatrists and blow off survivors, we are oblivious to an psychiatry’s unbounded arrogance. If the shrinks really want to help their patients, why do they strive to demean and devalue everything survivors try to tell us? Probably because a lot of what they’re saying is stuff we need to hear.

    Thus psychiatry enforces silence–the best way of making people invisible I know.

    • Relatives, self-proclaimed experts, and everybody else under the sun, moon, and stars wants to speak for those who are seen as “voiceless” and “unable to speak for themselves”. Sometimes this “muteness” is more illusory than actual. Sometimes these “vulnerable people” can speak up for themselves. They can in all probability do so more times than many others would like to give them credit for. This ventriloquism act achieved by the self-appointed “advocate” of the “mentally ill” is part and parcel of the scapegoat role that the person labeled by the mental health system has been selected to play in life.

      E. Fuller Torrey starts in his article by defining schizophrenia as brain disease and abnormality. I submit that there remains much confusion as to what people refer to as schizophrenia actually is. Were it brain disease, it would just be another one of those conditions covered by neurology, but looky here, it isn’t neurology we’re talking about, it’s psychiatry. Psychiatry is trying to attain as solid a standing in the medical community as neurology by fixating on the possibilities of organic causation when it comes to distressed thinking. The problem is that dissing social and environmental factors does not make those factors go away. If one thing can be said for certain, it is that it isn’t entirely an organic matter in all cases. Saying so opens an veritable pandora’s box of other possible causes to factor in that biological minded psychiatry is just too narrowly focused to consider. This opting for an organic explanation has more to do with maintaining the status of the psychiatric profession than it does with anything that is actually going on inside the head of any person having what is termed a “psychotic break”.

      Dr. Fuller went from “client” to “consumer” to “survivor” in his article on what he thinks we should call a person labeled by psychiatry. I chose to ignore “consumer” simply because some of us chose not to “consume” mental health services. Professionals often speak of a person’s right to mental health treatment. What they don’t speak of is a person’s right to refuse mental health treatment. I’d like to reaffirm that right.

      You are absolutely on target about biological psychiatry encouraging silence. The mainstream psychiatrist doesn’t want a person to speak from experience. He or she wants the labeled individual to verbally regurgitate his or her understanding of the individual’s label as categorized in the DSM. You’ve got just got another method of snuffing out the voice of the oppressed by the oppressor. In every instance where a person talks back to psychiatry, you’ve got a person taking back the language that has been stolen from him or her. You have a person speaking in the language that the psychiatrist, his or her relatives, the police, politicians and all sorts of other people don’t want that person to use. You have an individual using his or her own words. As Dr. Torrey makes abundantly clear in his article, he doesn’t want people who have received psychiatric treatment to reappropriate the language and use their own words.

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