Dr. Peter Breggin’s Empathic Therapy Conference 2012


One of the greatest things in the world is coming home. I come through the front door, crawl into my jammies, pour a big glass of my usual iced tea and sink into bed. The hotel where the Empathic Conference was held had lovely, wonderful beds, but they were not my bed and I didn’t sleep much. My bed is electric; I push a button and the head raises up.

I pull the tray table across the bed, fire up the computer and wonder what I should tell you about the conference. Sometime—today?—we talked with a woman who reported not sleeping, her head spinning with thoughts. We assured her that she was not going crazy; she was just reacting to the conference.

For me, one of the two biggest things was that I sold five times as many copies of “Surviving Psychiatry: A User’s Manual” as I expected to. In fact, I sold out. As soon as I recover from the conference, I will post on-line how to purchase a copy by mail, and I’ll have a second printing done.

The other big thing was the breakout workshop, “Treating the Psychiatrically Maltreated,” that Dick Gottlieb had invited me to do with him. He was wise and thoughtful and insightful, and I was kick-ass. Lots of heads were vigorously nodding up and down as we spoke. My favorite comment afterwards was that I was “hilarious.” I mean, if you can’t make psychiatric damage fun, then what’s life worth?

A lot of people are not yet far enough removed from their pain to find the funny in it. I heard some of the most horrible stories—beyond anything you can imagine. There was the woman whose son killed himself on Seroquel six months ago. The woman whose teenage daughter killed herself on some psych drug. Horror stories that I couldn’t deal with.

They need therapists, not me. I’m an activist, an advocate, a warrior. Next year maybe we’ll have a sanctuary room for the people who’ve been bruised and brutalized by the psychiatric system and its drugs. They come to these conferences feeling like they’ve got their act together, and then they hear speakers saying things they never expected to hear and the pain comes pouring out. It happened to me last year and I wrote about it in “The ‘Chemical Imbalance’ Lie” (http://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/fucking-bastards-and-new-friends/)

Too much horror. Too much horror. The damage being done by physicians prescribing psychiatric medications is beyond anything you can imagine. One person dying is only the beginning of how terrible it is. For every kid who dies there are two parents who have spent all their time and energy and money trying to figure out what’s wrong and what to do about it. They have committed the original sin: they have trusted their doctors. For every kid who has been tormented into suicide, there are younger brothers and sisters who have had anguish as a role model, been deprived of parental attention, and drowned in guilt over the role they think they played.

There were so many people at this conference: doctors from the Bronx and Montana and Australia. A lawyer from Arizona. Two mothers from Upstate New York. Therapists from all over the place. People speaking will all kinds of accents, reporting all kinds of news. There even was a dog. (Who the heck brings a dog to a three-day conference?) There were old men, wise with years of knowledge, and young people still writing papers for classes.

The conference sessions began every day at 8:30 a.m. and went as late at 11:00 p.m. Breakfast was served from 7:00 a.m., and that’s when the stories and questions started. There were plenary sessions and breakout workshops. Lunch was served on-site but suppers were on our own. Then there was dessert—a chocolate fountain?—and music from a bring-your-own-instrument jam session that was a tremendous relief from all the pain, and then another teaching session.

I keep referring to the pain. A lot happened at the conference—a lot of teaching and learning—but what stands out in my memory is the suffering of good human beings who got sucked into the psychiatric system. After Dick and I spoke, they kept coming to me to tell their stories. Dick thinks it was because they heard my story and figured I’d understand. Fact was, I understood only too well.

On the first day, Dr. Peter Breggin started speaking at 8:30 a.m. By 9:00 a.m., I was in tears and Dick was talking me through the high grass. Peter Breggin is a fine and kind and humble man but—but what can I say? How much pain has he felt in the decades that he’s been practicing psychiatry? An enormous amount, I would guess, but he was relating it as information. I was remembering it as it happened to me.

Lying on the floor of my therapist’s office when the paramedics walked in to take me to the Emergency Room because Prozac had knocked out my instinctive thirst mechanism and I was critically dehydrated . . . the patients at NIMH, sheet-wrapped and screaming, parked in the hallway . . . Oh, I don’t want to tell you. Don’t want you to know what goes on behind the locked doors of inpatient psychiatry.

It’s going to take me a long time to process what happened at the Empathic Therapy Conference this weekend. But I am home in my own bed now, with silence wrapped around me like protective insulation. I couldn’t go to a lot of the presentations, and couldn’t cope with even more because, you see, I am grievously damaged by psychiatric drugs.

We are going to fight this, Dick and me and you.   Philosopher John Macmurray said, “All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action, and all meaningful action for the sake of friendship.”  There will be an action outcome from this conference. We will organize and make change. The only way to live with the horror stories is to take action.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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