Peter Breggin and his editor
In my previous book I had said that the psychiatrist Peter Breggin has denounced the folie à deux between the parent who abuses his child and the psychiatrist who drugs not the aggressor, but the abused one. Unfortunately, like Szasz Breggin’s successors suffer from a dire blind spot.
Critics of psychiatry who flourished around the 1960s, and the paradigm would be Ronald Laing, saw the most important thing in their profession: the family is responsible for mental disorders. However, as soon as the embryonic anti-psychiatric movement proposed by Laing and others was conceived, it was aborted. Today’s critics are much more politically correct than those of the 60s, including the associations of survivors of psychiatry. Although they fight biological psychiatry, these professionals and survivors don’t want to see what’s in front of them: abusive parents are the number one cause of mental disorders. From this angle, the criticism of the profession by Modrow and Miller, who do not suffer from this blind spot, is far superior.
EHPP stands for Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry. When I learned that a journal that Peter Breggin created was challenging psychiatry, I was delighted. That’s what the world needed! Although already in my forties, with a youthful spirit I sent to the journal’s editor an original contribution to the academic critique of psychiatry (eventually published as an appendix in my previous book under the title ‘Why psychiatry is a false science’). I was very excited and fantasised about contributing various articles and reviews to Breggin’s journal. What would be my surprise when the new editor, a certain Laurence Simon, answered me saying that it was necessary to modify some passages related to the trauma model. The condition for publishing was to tone down the idea that abusive parents could psychologically harm their child. Simon’s request surprised me because Breggin had written some texts indistinguishable from Miller’s point of view; in fact, Breggin mentions Miller several times in his books. Laurence Simon, his new editor, had turned one hundred and eighty degrees on what the journal’s founder had written. In Simon’s email to me, the trauma model ‘has long lost credibility with the scientific community as have all the older analytic theories that blame poor mother’.
To the poor mother! Simon didn’t answer my question if he had read the researchers of the trauma model. Nor did he respond to another of my letters where I pointed out the existence of academic books on this model published in the new century. In one of his emails Simon even complained that I kept using the word ‘trauma’ in a modified version of my text. I still had hopes of publishing in Breggin’s journal and was willing to sacrifice a few paragraphs from my article. But Simon’s anti-trauma stance made me think that, like my attackers at the Cineteca, the new editor harboured deep-seated fears about something in his past. The old work of authors who studied cases of maddening parents was left out of my article. I relented on this point, but it seemed incredible to me that references to Theodore Lidz, Ronald Laing and Silvano Arieti, widely read authors in the 1960s and 1970s, would have to be censored in the journal that Breggin had created. Simon then revealed his true colours by insisting that all references to the trauma model, including contemporary authors, should be left out of my article.
I complained to Andrew Levine, the person in charge of responding to letters sent to the organization that Breggin founded, and to co-editor Johnatan Leo. None responded. I complained to Dominick Riccio, the director of international affairs. No reply. I complained to David Cohen, the editor before Simon and a close associate of Breggin. Cohen sided with Simon. I complained in several letters to Breggin himself, the director of the organisation that publishes the journal. Breggin hid behind in a wall of silence. I insisted and his wife, Ginger Breggin, wrote a few words in her own hand in one of my missives that she returned to me. Ginger simply claimed that her husband ‘no longer worked’ at the journal. But the truth is that Breggin continued to lead the organisation that publishes it, and his attitude seemed inconsistent with his previous position, if not cowardly.
Only now do I realise that, like Szasz, I had idealised Breggin. It was very hard for the idealist that I was to wake up to the fact that, although he has dedicated himself to denouncing what psychiatrists do with minors—an issue in which Carlos García so miserably cowed—Breggin hadn’t the stature I imagined. It is impossible to convey in a few paragraphs how confused I was by this little affair. I couldn’t believe my senses: that the most important thing of all had to be censored in the pages of the journal that Peter Breggin had created. In my private diaries of those days I wrote:
18 September 2003
It seems that my article won’t be published. See what Simon tells me this day, and my response.
I had to take another long walk in the street saddened by the resistance of the world even in those who professionally criticise psychiatry. As Miller says, the greatest resistance comes from the professionals themselves. Every time I run into a jerk like Simon I enhance the figure of this woman even more. I think I should try again with Cohen and Breggin but I highly doubt it will work. As always, Caesar, the people are incomparably more Neanderthalesque than you imagined.
Hopefully this is false and Breggin understands me…
He didn’t. Even two years after the rejection of my article, I still couldn’t believe my senses: that Breggin’s editor took a position contrary to something Breggin himself had written. So in September 2005 I made one last attempt at communication. To make sure my letter got through, I sent it to him through Federal Express. Somewhat edited for this book I quote some passages of the letter:
Dear Dr. Breggin:
I would like to thank you for your work. When I was a teenager, my mother ruined my young life by putting neuroleptics in my orange juice without my knowing it. Thanks to your work I now know that the hellish akathisia I experienced was the direct result of the drug. I am truly grateful for enlightening me on this issue.
I wrote you two or three letters in 2003 and 2004. Although none were answered, I hope this one is, and directly from you. The fact is that Laurence Simon contradicts what you say in chapter 2 of Toxic Psychiatry. Allow me to quote something from your book, which in my opinion is one of the best on the subject: ‘More than one patient of mine has begun with just such anguished fragments of memory before discovering the agony of his or her abusive childhood and its relationships to current entrapments’ (p. 24). Then, saying something very similar to what Laing used to say, you wrote:
Mad persons are victims of a corrupt upbringing: Behavior that gets labeled schizophrenic is a special strategy that a person invented in order to live in an unlivable situation [your emphasis]. What’s wrong is not “in the patient,” but in his family and society [p. 31].
You made many other similar pronouncements in the chapter on schizophrenia under the headings ‘The Family,’ ‘Envy and Shaming in the Family,’ ‘Blaming’ and ‘Should Parents Feel Guilty?’ In fact, the view you present on what is labelled schizophrenia is identical to mine. This is why I am so puzzled that your new editor takes the opposite position: that the aetiology of psychoses is a mystery.
I am about to finish a book that includes extremely harsh criticism of Laurence Simon and EHPP because Simon’s ‘poor mother’ stance is an insult to people like Modrow and many others who have had terribly abusive mothers (and fathers alike). I would like to spare you from such criticism. Those passages above show that you are—or at least were when writing Toxic Psychiatry—a very understanding person towards survivors. They also show that you believe there is some truth to the claim that some parents drive their child mad.
So please reply to this letter. How was it possible for your editor to take exactly the opposite position from what you say in your most important book? If the topic of parental abuse is central to understanding mental disorders, why haven’t you fired him?
The years that followed the editor’s rejection and the wall of silence behind which Breggin hid from me represented a great confrontation with reality. In addition to resigning myself to publishing my article not in a specialised journal but as an appendix to my previous book, I had to swallow the bitter drink that critics of psychiatry suffer from the same fears as psychiatrists, analysts, and psychologists. To give just one example: the EHPP editors failed to publish an obituary, or even better a tribute, to Theodore Lidz: one of the most prominent Americans in the trauma model of schizophrenia in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, who died in 2001 at the age of ninety (I talked to him over the phone when I lived in Houston). Even when Breggin and Cohen were EHPP editors, I didn’t find a single article in their journal about the work of Lidz or other authors of the trauma model, not even a critical one. Just as psychiatrists do, for these ‘anti-psychiatrists’ the trauma model is not even mentioned. Clearly, in recent decades there has been a failure of the nerve among critics of psychiatry.