Coming to Terms

Through earlier work and my field research, I spent a considerable amount of time understanding what I have termed as this “Movement with Many Names” (Tenney, 2006).  To help readers understand, people with psychiatric histories have as many different perspectives about the psychiatric system as there are people with psychiatric histories.

Some of these people’s perspectives are so strong that they get involved in advocacy, activism, and offering alternatives to the traditional, biomedical model of psychiatry. The people who were involved with (de)VOICED, with some overlap between roles, were people who both had a psychiatric history and worked to change psychiatric systems, and identified themselves in certain ways, as a consumer, or as a survivor, or as a recipient of services, or as a person. The strands of this Movement in broadest terms are as follows:

Consumer Movement: This movement is comprised of people who want and feel they need psychiatric services and work toward expanding, reforming, and improving the service delivery system.

Survivor Movement: This movement is largely comprised of people who have been coerced or compelled or court-ordered to receive psychiatry’s most controversial treatments including Metrazol and Insulin shock treatment, electroshock, lobotomy, forced psychiatric drugs, restraints, seclusion, and aversives such as skin shocks, beatings, pinching, spraying, being subjected to unpleasant smells, having food, water, toilet paper, etc. withheld. Sometimes, people involved with the Survivor Movement were in psychiatric places voluntarily but without informed consent and often were misinformed about the practices and procedures with which they complied. The Survivor Movement in some ways will work with allies, people who have not had these direct experiences, but are people who support an end to forced psychiatric practices, procedures, products, and places.

Ex-Patient Movement: This movement is comprised of people who are no longer involved with the psychiatric system and frequently overlaps with the Survivor Movement.

C/S/X Movement: An attempt at having the Consumer, Survivor, and Ex-Patient Movements come together on as many points as would be allowable by the missions and values of each movement. Often uses the language of people as ‘recipients of services.’

Recipients of Services (the term): This term came into use because the term ‘consumer’ implied voluntary consumption, while the fact remained that many people are coerced, compelled, or court-ordered to take psychiatric drugs, electroshock, institutionalization, etcetera. The term recipient indicates a person is receiving services without suggesting the services received are under voluntary or involuntary status.

Peer Movement: This movement is comprised of people who unite around their shared experience of having a psychiatric history. This term is akin to the nineteenth century term for this phenomenon, “Fellow Feeling” (The Opal 1851 -1860).

Human Rights Movement: This movement is comprised of human beings. Human beings are what all people are. The human rights movement works toward abolishing human rights violations and puts forth that we all ought to be working toward protecting and promoting human rights and civil rights for people involved with psychiatric systems.

As you can imagine, there is much conflict between the divisions of the movements, as the goals are often diametrically opposed. For example, and in the broadest of terms, people who identify themselves as consumers often want to see improved services, system reform, and expansion of benefits. While those who identify with the psychiatric survivor perspective, such as myself, where people who often want to see the whole system abolished.

The Journal of Radical Psychology allowed for Weitz’s antipsychiatry perspective on the situation. Weitz (2004) who survived insulin subcoma shock and discussed psychiatry as committing human rights violations (2008), also discussed why the language of each movement causes tensions for the others:

The labels ‘mental health consumer’ and ‘consumer/survivor’ are misleading and insulting to many of us who’ve suffered psychiatric abuse, the terror and injustice of involuntary committal, and other violations of our human rights. A ‘mental health consumer’ is a person who accepts psychiatry’s medical model including pseudo-medical diagnostic labels such as ‘schizophrenia,’ ‘bipolar mood disorder,’ ‘attention deficit disorder,’ as well as ‘medication,’ and ‘mental health reforms.’ ‘Consumer’ also means real choices in the marketplace, but ironically there are virtually none in the psychiatric system—especially if you’re poor or homeless. The label ‘mental health consumer’ makes no sense, we should stop using it along with ‘mental illness’ and other psychobabble, and start using plain language if we want to be understood. (Weitz, 2002)


Despite the differing opinions these movements have on what should be occurring, the people who make up the movements all have risen up against the power structures that assigned us into a category which produces a psychiatric history in a person. We have consistently contested the way we ourselves, and others who are assigned to these categories are treated. Many of us contest the categories, themselves. We work to make changes in the future experiences and environments of psychiatric systems. Systems those generations to follow will encounter unless something transformative is done (Bronfenbrenner, 1977, 1979).

While these conflicts among individuals and the movements themselves are significant, a third cause of the tensions (earlier noted), greater than any struggles coming from within our own community is present, in the form of two entrenched dynamics. These intertwined dynamics from which all other problems stem have at their core a circular logic (or circular pathway, perhaps with only a small escape route):

Figure 3 escape route

The first dynamic is that the general public—and the fields of psychiatry and psychology as a whole—do not accept that what we experience is torture. Psychiatric torture is real and it has persisted for centuries with occasional periods of being put in check, with no lasting systemic end to forced psychiatric interventions.

For example, in The Opal (1852) one Opalian wrote an article entitled, “Truthfulness with the Insane” (pp. 33 – 35). The despair felt by a lack of confidence in the psychiatric assignors when they are dishonest with the assigned causes great distress, as described by this author who stated, “what it needs is something different and opposite which it has been fed upon and that something is TRUTH” (p. 34). To this Opalian, the relationship is based on confidence and living in a place where violence and deceit are used to communicate its messages is what is at the root of the problem. In an environment based on truth, this Opalian stated, “Renders unnecessary, in a great measure, the whole restraining apparatus—muffs, mittens and solitary confinement (p. 35). This is the psychiatric torture we speak of, which dates back for centuries, as discussed in Volume Three of this dissertation. As far back as 1852, when people got a chance to speak out, they say they want to see an end to what happens to people involved with SSOPI. This Opalian writes:

We are satisfied that the whole system of deceit and falsehood practiced toward the insane can safely be dispensed with. In all conscience then, it surely should be” (p. 35).


The Opalians wrote of the psychological torture experienced by not having a relationship of confidence with the people who were their assignors. Physical tortures were routine, as discussed in Volume Three, with attempts of ridding the industry of their practices.

As discussed in Volume III of this dissertation, torture is wrong and the United States is party to the Convention Against Torture (United Nations Human Rights Council, 1984). The United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the Convention against Torture and Ill Treatment (2008, 2013) has written that several psychiatric procedures routinely forced onto people through court-ordered treatment over objection, such as electroshock (also known as electroconvulsive treatment, ECT), restraints, seclusion, and forced drugging may meet the standards of torture (2008). In its follow up report, it was found that these practices and procedures do meet the standards of torture (2013).

When people who may not otherwise have had the intention to torture people they have power over, they commit torture more often than was once thought (Milgram, 1963, 1973, 1974, 1981; Tenney and MacCubbin, 2008; Zimbardo, 2007, 2008; Zimbardo, et al., 1973). Stanley Milgram’s controversial studies on obedience to authority showed that nearly two-thirds of people would purposely use electric shocks on people whom they thought were other study participants when under the direction of an authority figure (Milgram, 1963, 1973, 1974, 1981). Prior to Milgram’s undertaking his study, it was predicted that only 1% of the study population would commit this act. Zimbardo (2008) suggests the reason for how it could have happened that nearly two-thirds of study participants shocked the person in the role of learner three consecutive times with a switch marked “XXX EXTREME DANGER” is because it started with only 15 volts, which delivers a seemingly harmless, small pang of pain. Zimbardo (2008) called the XXX voltage the “Porn of Power.” So the human proclivity toward obeying authority is a major detriment in preventing practices that are tantamount to torture from occurring, and is the first part of the major barrier we face in being heard with actionable consequences.

The second entrenched dynamic is that the general public believes that we have biological ‘brain diseases’ which need to be controlled with psychiatric drugs. The psychiatric professions and the public (perhaps due to the influence of the psychiatric professions and pharmaceutical industries, media exploitation of rare violent events, and media bombardment of commercials identifying mind-altering drugs as solutions) are perfectly happy to see us locked away, forced-drugged in and out of our communities, and rarely see anything that happens to us as being anything more than for our own good. A veil of ‘public safety’ somehow justifies what we call torture and abuse. Issues of the human need for “freedom of choice,” and how Proshansky, Ittelson and Rivlin (1970) discussed that freedom affects privacy, territoriality, and crowding are rarely given any weight in the decisions to take our freedom away.

As discussed by Sen (1999), freedoms are things that make life worth living. Respect and health are just as required for the good life as economic well-being is. Financial resources aside, respect, honesty, and trust in the relationships which people have are paramount for even just a “decent” experience of daily life. For Sen, “unfreedoms” are things that blunt the human spirit and squash the soul. Disrespect, abuse, and torture are spoken of as often as the effects of poverty.

Unfreedoms come as denials identified by Sen to include denials to participation in a democratic society and the market, education, communication, human rights, civil rights, health, choice of tradition, agency, and a full lifespan. People with psychiatric histories experience many of these denials. When these denials are removed—ideally never placed as barriers to freedom at all—a wider range of possibilities for whole people, acting with autonomy to experience freedom and possibilities of attaining the good life, as each individual defines it, will exist.

There are only small spaces of time in the mainstream media where there is any credence given to what people who identify as survivors of psychiatry describe about our experiences. One recent moment was the murder-by-neglect of Esmin Elizabeth Green at Kings County Hospital Center Psychiatric Emergency Room on June 19, 2008. This was one of the first times in the memories of many people involved with the network WE THE PEOPLE which immediately emerged in remembrance of Esmin Green, could remember such positive media coverage of issues which concern us—abuse and torture—exposed by a video-taped murder-by-neglect-and-disregard committed by organized psychiatry.

It was commented by members of WE THE PEOPLE that on the news broadcast in 2008, written on the title screens under the names of people being interviewed by the media who were at the demonstration and candle light vigil that the term, Psychiatric Survivor, was not in quotes, as it had been many times before, as it was not necessarily a reality, but propaganda of a special interest group, rather than people who had experiences with the practices, products, and procedures of psychiatric places—people who survived those experiences. Along with Esmin Green’s murder-by-neglect came a clear understanding that we identify as survivors because some people do not survive.

Discriminatory practices against people who are psychiatrically labeled are deeply problematic and are so pervasive that there are guidelines put out to the public about ‘coming out’ about having a psychiatric disorder. Another damaging discriminatory practice comes from psychiatric practitioners and trade organizations that claim the legitimacy of creating safety nets for funding of mental health programming, as a way to protect public safety and protect society from the dangerous mental patient. Psychiatric professionals and trade organizations using the idea that people with psychiatric histories are dangerous to secure and enhance their tax-payer funding is a huge problem. These actions thicken the othering of people with psychiatric histories as dangerous, by the general public. Research shows that people with psychiatric histories are fourteen times more likely to be a victim of a crime, than a perpetrator (Brekke, et al., 2001).

However, when the general public watches news programs on major networks—or worse still on cable television—they will often get a different story—that it is people with psychiatric histories who are dangerous. The media (which relies upon pharmaceutical commercials to an ever increasing extent) perpetuates the discrimination we face, which produces an air of illegitimacy to our claims of being misdiagnosed, mistreated, abused, neglected, held in servitude, tortured—and others, who are still in the clutches of psychiatry—or dead because of them.

As a way of changing these entrenched dynamics, some individuals, often against all odds, who have risen above what we describe as experiences of human rights violations, constitutional rights violations, and civil rights violations including oppression, torture, abuse, and medical neglect at the hands of the psychiatric system and are now part of a liberation movement. We work together toward abolition of forced psychiatry and protecting and furthering the civil, constitutional, and human rights of people involved with psychiatric systems today and in the future.

(de)VOICED is about trying to improve the future but it is deeply rooted in the past and present.

Harkening back to the past, Phebe Davis, for example, in 1855 published the first of two books concerning her experiences as an involuntary inmate at the Utica State Lunatic Asylum (which is now the State-Sponsored Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center, in New York State). In her first volume Davis wrote:

And when I was in the asylum they locked me up as they pleased, but what did I care for that as long as they had no key that would fit my mouth, I knew that I should live through it all, and I told them I should and that when I got out they would hear from me. (Davis, 1855, Geller and Harris, 2004, p. 49).


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United Nations Human Rights Council. (2008). Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak : mission to Sri Lanka, 26 February 2008, A/HRC/7/3/Add.6. Retrieved on February 14, 2014 from

Weitz, D. (2008). Struggling against psychiatry’s human rights violations. Journal of Radical Psychology, 7. Retrieved on February 16, 2014 from

Weitz, D. (2004). “Insulin Shock — a survivor’s account of psychiatric torture.” Journal of Critical Psychology, Counseling and Psychotherapy, 4(3), 187-194; see also

Weitz, D. (2002). Call me antipsychiatry activist — not ‘consumer.’ Ethical Human Sciences and Services, 5 (1), 71-72.

Zimbardo, P. (2008). Philip Zimbardo: The Psychology of Evil. Video. Retrieved on October 28, 2013 from

Zimbardo, P. G. (2007). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York: Random House.

Zimbardo, P. G., Haney, C., Banks, W. C., and Jaffe, D. (1973, April 8). The mind is a formidable jailer: A Pirandellian prison. New York Times Magazine, Section 6, 36, ff.

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