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Liberation From "Mental Health" Oppression

RC Versus "Therapy"

RC is not "therapy." It's easy to get confused about that. RC is often presented as something to do to help you with your own life, to help you to cope, make you smarter, make you more powerful, help you get along with people. That, in most people's minds, falls into the category of "therapy."

At the North America and Oceania Continental Conference in Philadelphia, it was made clearest to me that RC is something other than "therapy." We spent most of the five days listening to panels (blacks, Jews, Arabs, Latinos/as, women, men, MHSS, etc.). All these people shared about their lives, and all towards the possibility of constructing a world in which there are no oppressions and in which every individual's heritage is celebrated and appreciated.

I saw that the project that is Re-evaluation Counseling is not "therapy" but an evolutionary attempt to remake the world. We're not in the business of "remaking individuals" but of empowering people to go out and change the environment, to take charge of society.

"Mental Health" Oppression/Liberation Theory

The "mental health" oppression/liberation theory in RC is not something that was handed down from God. It's largely the thinking of a couple of people, including Janet, myself, and a few other RC people, who had gone through the "mental health" system and were trying to make sense of our experiences there and of our basic theory and practice in RC. If we look at fundamental RC theory, our basic working assumptions that we bring to every session, and extrapolate from those towards the "mental health" system, what we get is "mental health" liberation theory.

I was highly motivated because I have a very inquiring mind and want to make sense of my life and my world, and because I went through some experiences that I cannot make sense of without the insights of RC.

"Mental Health" Experience Paradigms

I'm going to back up and talk about what I went through. I was being offered various explanations of what was happening. Some of the explanations were being offered by "mental health" professionals and books, and some from outside that context.

One of the obvious outside explanations came from religion. Sometimes we go through what have been called "mystical experiences" in our lives that we cannot make sense of within the rational framework that we've constructed. We seek a paradigm to make sense of them.

The religious paradigm offered to me is that you make sense out of the world by ascribing certain things to God. I grew up with a sense that if you don't understand life, you're not supposed to, because life and God are bigger than you. Within that is a whole tradition of prophets, prophecy, visions, and ecstatic conversions. If you happen to be deeply rooted in a religious community, the community explains these experiences for you and gives guidance. For instance, if you say, "God told me I should murder my children," they'll say that must have been the devil because God wouldn't say that. But they don't say you never heard that voice. They just say, "Was it a good voice or was it a bad voice?" and judgments are made.

It's possible for me to look at my own experience, which includes visual hallucinations, and try to explain these within that religious paradigm. I can do that to a certain level of personal satisfaction. It would be possible for me to go on the church circuit and talk about my religious visions and the things God said to me and my relationship to God and what it all means. Yet I'm left unsatisfied with this explanation since what I was going through was a questioning of the very religious tradition that I would be calling on to explain what was happening.

I saw that the project that is Re-evaluation Counseling is not a "therapy" but an evolutionary attempt to remake the world.

The Scientific Explanation

There are people who in a Western, medicalized society would be labeled "psychotic," who explain things completely satisfactorily to themselves within their culture, within their religious paradigm. Yet I'm also something of a philosopher of science (and I recognize that in many ways science is sort of a religion in an industrialized society). Medical science offers me an alternative explanation for what happened to me. The "scientific" explanation is that I have a genetic predisposition towards developing chemical imbalances in my nervous system which caused me, under situational stress, to generate perceptions internally in my nervous system which did not have any relation to the external environment. With all due respect to the scientists who have developed this theory, I find it disempowering on the basis that if this is happening to me because it's something genetic, I have no control over it. At least if it is within the religious paradigm, I can get myself in the right relationship with God. I can do all the religious rituals or whatever it is that I need to do to get my life straight.

Within the "scientific" paradigm, it's as if there is no explanation. The answer is, "Don't worry about it; that's just the way you are; there's nothing you can do about it." You can learn all about genetics, but that's not going to change it.

In the religious paradigm, I may have been honored as a visionary, I may have been separated a little bit from people on the basis of talents or something, and it might not all have been good, but at least I would have been welcomed in this idea that we are all children of God. There was nothing that said that only certain people could be visionaries. It's the tradition that God works in mysterious ways, and you don't know what they are, but it doesn't mean that you're "freakily" different from everyone. It doesn't make you a different class of creature. It's just part of human experience. Not everyone experiences it in his or her lifetime.

In the medical paradigm, you're different from other people. You feel separated. You're being told not only are you genetically different, behaviorally different, but you're inferior, sub-human, not all there, and consequent to that you don't deserve the consideration, the rights, the human treatment that real human beings deserve. So you become something more of an animal and less of a human being. People sometimes treat their cats better than their "schizophrenic" relatives or charges. For various reasons, this medical, "scientific" paradigm is not satisfying to me.

The RC Model

Most of why I'm able to say these theories weren't very satisfactory to me is because I have RC as a third alternative. When I apply RC theory to my experiences, it explains everything which happened to me so much better than the religious or medical paradigms, and at the same time it does not leave me with a sense of personal inferiority, of hopelessness, or powerlessness about changing things. Instead, it gives me the tools to do what I will with my life and encouragement to go out and change the world. I find the RC paradigm terrifically satisfying.

The first part of RC theory that was important to me was the notion that I was hurt. This is a big contradiction to men's oppression. I didn't realize it until years later that that's what it was. For some reason, in spite of all that I've gone through in my life, the hallucinating, being in the hospital, and everything, I had the notion that no one had ever hurt me. Growing up male, it doesn't matter if someone hits you, or bashes in your head with a two-by-four - you get up and say "I'm okay, I'm fine." You just weren't hurt, by definition, no matter what happened to you. A steam roller rolls over you. "You hurt?" "No, I'm okay, not even winded." Along comes RC theory and says you've been hurt. And when you're hurt, you'll cry, and that's natural and a good thing. It doesn't mean you're not a man. This was very important to me and very satisfying. Part of what I was going through was, I was crying a lot, right up against the male conditioning. I was not supposed to cry or be hurt. And I couldn't explain why I was crying. Never mind why I was seeing funny things on the wall. I just couldn't explain why I was crying. I had a job and a family who loved me and I'd never been hurt. How do you explain it?

So I loosened up my patterns that were related to growing up male: Allowing myself to be who I really am, not having to always try to be someone else other than the way I felt deep inside.

The next part of theory I needed was that I'm smart. That was a real important piece for me, especially at the time when I was in the hospital and being drugged. I would tell my psychiatrist a little about what was going on for me, and he decided, "You're having crazy thoughts." When I hear "crazy" that means "stupid," on some level. (Words like "imbecile" and "moron" had an actual technical meaning in different periods of history. A "moron" was someone who scored a certain percentage on a test. It wasn't a pejorative term; it was a precise technical term. But it has come to mean what it does now: "moron," "idiot," "imbecile," "stupid" all mean sort of the same thing.)

Being told that I was intelligent and had the possibility of figuring things out by discharging and re-evaluating was really important. If I discharged enough, I would figure out what happened to me. I didn't just have to take drugs and live with it, and I didn't just have to pray to God and hope that he had the plan.

Another part of RC theory that clarified things for me is that human beings are naturally loving. That my parents really loved me. They put me in the hospital but they were doing the best that they could do. They didn't put me in the hospital because they hated me or were trying to get rid of me. The whole fundamental RC theory that human beings are inherently anything, is a very important piece of information. Within the "scientific" medical and psychological models, there is a school of psychology which says that human beings are not any particular inherent way at all, that they're just what you make them to be. The notion that there's an inherent nature to human beings is very powerful.

The force of "mental health" oppression is to deny our inherent nature, to deny that we perceive reality. Or to deny that our perceptions can be accurate. You have to trust your own thinking. You may make mistakes. But if you trust your own thinking and act on your own thinking, when it doesn't go right, you'll recognize it and you'll change both your thinking and what you're doing.

About Hallucinations

I've been encouraging people to discharge on hallucinations for a couple of years. And I've done some discharging on my own. I've told the stories about things that I've seen. A counselor who is a "mental health" worker and a survivor wrote me a letter a long time ago and asked, "How do you contradict the distress of hallucinating?" I reviewed my hallucinations and what was going on while I was hallucinating, and I came to the conclusion that she was confused, that hallucinating itself was not a distress. This is my opinion, and it seems to be true. I need other people who have had hallucinations to discharge on it and talk about it so we can find out if it's true.

Well then, what is it? Hallucinating is an ability that is inherent in humans and occurs under certain circumstances. Hallucinating seems to be a mechanism connected with a particular quantity of distress. (It's a little unclear about quantities of distress. Distress isn't something that has been quantified.) If a human being has been conditioned against using the natural process of discharging and re-evaluation, the distress will accumulate and accumulate up to a certain point. These small accumulations cause a quantitative change to happen. The organism as a whole, not the part of me that I consider to be me, but the subconscious part of me, makes a decision on some level. The organism decides that I have to deal with this accumulation of distress now or my survival is threatened. Ordinarily the accumulation of distress would be handled through the discharge process. But that channel is blocked to me because I've been conditioned against discharge. My unconscious mind will throw up a little piece: "discharge on this," and my conditioned mind will say "I can't. I'm a man; I don't cry," or whatever it is. I get into this conflict with myself, part of me trying to discharge, part of me trying not to discharge, to please my parents, to please society, to be appropriate, for whatever reason.

At some point the part of me that's desperate to discharge and re-evaluate this accumulated distress, makes the decision that I can't go through usual channels. Instead, it goes through the perceptions. It takes that distress that needs to be re-evaluated and it bypasses the memory and comes directly into my senses, stimulates my visual or aural neurons, and I end up seeing things and hearing things that are the content of the distress that I need to discharge on. It's like dreams, but it happens when I'm awake. It's not uncommon when this is happening for people to be awake for long periods of time, not able to sleep because you're trying to sort this stuff out and present it for discharge and re-evaluation. It's coming in through what you might call unusual channels, but that doesn't mean that it's "abnormal." The same thing would happen to any individual, given a sufficient accumulation of distress and sufficiently heavy prohibition against discharge. That's what we're often looking at when we're looking at people who are institutionalized - basically an accumulation of distress and a prohibition against discharge.

Question: Did the things that you hallucinated make sense to you in terms of the distresses you found in yourself?

Jamie: Absolutely. My sister almost died when I was three. I saw a hallucination of my sister's body lying in bed, dead. I've mentioned some of my early religious training - I saw Jesus walking around on the walls and a lot of religious iconography.

Question: Is this what led you to your opinion?

Jamie: Yes. The content of the hallucinations was the content of the distress. I don't believe the ability to hallucinate is distress. It's like a safety valve. Stuff accumulates and you can't discharge it, and all of a sudden this "valve" pops off and you start hallucinating. While I was hallucinating, I was discharging. I cried profusely. I shook, I trembled. It was like a religious experience, a complete, overwhelming, total body experience, but nothing really different than discharging in a session, except that I didn't have RC theory, I didn't have a counselor. In a way I was counseling myself. The vast intelligent part of myself that inherently knows what to do took over and started counseling me. It's like a good counselor saying, "Tell me about your sister. Remember when she almost died?" and you cry and shake, etc. There was that image projected out on the wall of my sister dying; I had to think about it, and I had to cry about it. I didn't seem to have any choice, really.

And yet I recognize that that was a decision. It wasn't one that "I" made in my conscious mind, but it was a decision that this organism made that this distress has accumulated too much, it needs to be discharged. It's similar to when you're teaching somebody RC; you're not teaching them something new, but something they already know. It's inherent. Part of me, even under all the conditioning, still knew that that process was available to me, functional, valuable, and decided, "Okay, I've had enough; I don't care about this conditioning." I don't think it's straining the point to say it's a life or death decision. People who are exhibiting behavior that's considered "crazy" are often dealing with life-or-death. The organism decides this is that important. It doesn't matter if you die. It's like what comes up when you're making a commitment. It seems to me that we make these decisions under an immense amount of pressure and fear, when the organism can no longer survive otherwise. If we continued the way we were going and we did not hallucinate and discharge and we continued prohibiting ourselves from discharging in other ways, we would simply get physically sick and die, or we'd step in front of a car. We hallucinate. It's a wonderful thing.

Question: Do people usually discharge during hallucinations? Is that real prevalent?

Jamie: Yes. Let's take a poll. How many people have had hallucinations, that are aware of it? I told you I was discharging profusely, all during.

N: I was when it was a safe situation.

Jamie: And then the hallucinations would leave or abate as you discharged?

N: Not in my experience.

Question: It would continue?

N: I was in a specific situation that made it possible for me to get at that stuff, and as long as I was in that situation I kept seeing things and hearing voices, and when the time came that I had to leave that situation, I stopped.

W: During my whole experience around the time I was hospitalized, I was discharging profusely, but the times when I was hallucinating were very brief. It was more what other people called "delusions" that were going on for me. I don't remember specifically what happened with the hallucinations. I think I was shaking with the one that I recall, but that was a very brief time.

Jamie: Those who have had hallucinations should be considered as the experts. That needs to be said again and again because it's such a contradiction to the oppression. A very large piece of "mental health" oppression is the belief that the people who have gone through this have nothing to say about it, that people who have gone through universities are the experts with the information and that the people who have the experiences don't know anything about it.

The people who work the mines, who build the houses, etc. are oppressed by being told, "You're stupid, you're incompetent." The people who make the mental judgments, the managerial class, are thought to be the experts. I'm not saying that people shouldn't go to university or become engineers; it's a good thing to do; but my position is very strongly that everyone here who is a MHSS is an expert on the "mental health" system and should be widely consulted. Not to put "mental health" system workers out of a job. But if you're a "mental health" worker, it would seem to be in your best interest to consult the people who've been through it, to try to get their advice. They know a lot, and not just those of us in RC. There are a lot of ex-"patients" who don't know anything about RC who are very competent and know a lot in terms of helping each other through these difficult times.

We're being organized in the U.S. to have "mental health" "consumer" groups. There is a lot of political activity and organizing work going on outside of RC that is pretty much coming from the work of some individuals in the anti-psychiatry movement, from government, from lawyers, from people who have said, "Hey, people's human rights are being violated. We can't go around locking people up and treating them this way." There's a lot happening.

More on hallucinations: I want to say a few more things about hallucinations. First, I believe that this is an ability, and I believe that it's positive in that light, but also it's necessary to present it in a positive light to contradict the oppression. This is another large piece of "mental health" oppression: if you are hallucinating, supposedly there's something terribly wrong with you, and it needs to be stopped as quickly as possible. At the same time, I don't mean to be saying that if you're not hallucinating, there's something wrong with you because you're not using this ability. It doesn't naturally operate all the time. Re-emerged humans would not be walking around hallucinating. They'd be too much in contact with present time and with the environment and thinking about interesting things. Yes, it's an ability, and yes, I want to perceive it as positively as possible, but I don't want to leave anyone with a sense of, "Oh my God, I don't know how to use my ability to hallucinate. I have to go get more distress so that I can experience this." It's something that happens under conditions of stress.

The point I want to emphasize about when I was hallucinating was that I felt isolated. I had an accumulation of distress. I had a prohibition against discharging, and I felt alone and isolated. I didn't have a counselor, so I took over and started counseling myself. That's wonderful to know that if you're locked in a basement prison somewhere all by yourself you can hallucinate and at least get some relief that way. But that doesn't mean that you have to seek it out. What we do need to do is to seek out being with other people and Co-Counsel and discharge in sessions.

About "Delusions"

Delusions are different from hallucinations, and it's an important distinction. The "mental health" system says that an hallucination is something you perceive that's not "real," and delusions are thoughts that you have that are not "real" and they don't have anything to do necessarily with perception.

In RC, we take a different perspective. What is rational and logical has to be separated from what your assumptions are. You make certain assumptions when you're going to do thinking, and you make the assumptions that most closely match reality that you can, but you're always aware that you're making assumptions, that you can't prove in a rigorous, logical manner that this is true or not true. For instance, we make an assumption in RC that every person is a good person, that that's our nature. We make that assumption and we act on it, and in acting on it, we find that it gives us power in certain ways - a power that we wouldn't have if we made a different assumption (e.g., that people were either good or bad, or that people were bad). Different assumptions would lead to different conclusions. If we assume that people are bad by nature, then it's logical to set up a system that punishes bad behavior to try to train people into being good.

Because we assume that people are good, certain things follow from that. We assume it and we act as if it's true, but we don't know it. It is clear that if you construct a logical system based on a set of assumptions that don't contradict each other, then you'll have a coherent theory to work on. How you act in the world and relate to people will come out of that. People running the "mental health" system make all kinds of assumptions about people, and given the assumptions that are made, the "mental health" system is completely "rational." If you believe that there are genetic imbalances that cause different behaviors, if you believe all the assumptions that the "mental health" system makes, and you proceed in a logical manner, then you arrive at the "mental health" system.

What I'm trying to get away from is the idea that somebody can think in an illogical manner. By our definition, it's impossible to think in an illogical manner. That's because in RC we make an assumption that human beings are rational, intelligent creatures, that we think. To say that we think and that we think logically is redundant. There's oppressive conditioning that males and females have about thinking and being logical. In reality, everyone, male, female, young, everyone, inherently thinks logically because that's what thinking is. That may not mean that you sit down with a paper and you say, premise number one, premise number two. But when you're actually thinking, you are being logical and rational.

So what's a "delusion"? A "delusion" is simply someone's most logical thinking based on an erroneous assumption. It's not so much that the thinking is wrong or that they can't think logically. It's more that there's either a piece of information which they haven't got, or a piece of misinformation that they're basing their thinking on.

The largest piece of misinformation that causes "delusional" thinking is the belief that distress recordings and people are the same thing. So we see someone wearing a particularly nasty distress recording, and we don't think, there's a person with a particularly nasty distress recording. We think, "Oh, there's a particularly nasty person." And that's "delusional" thinking. You get into these situations where you're trying to make sense of the world and you're using every bit of information that's available to you, but you're constantly having to sort out what is information about the real world and what are lies or misinformation or assumptions that are unproven or that have no basis in reality. You're always trying to construct your most rational viewpoint of the world. You're trying to make sense out of your life, your experience, your universe. "Why are we here? Is there a God? Why is there war? Why is there suffering?"

One way for me to explain my experiences is within the religious paradigm that I was brought up in. One of the assumptions that I have to make, given my religious upbringing, is that there was a person called Jesus, who was the son of God, whatever that means, and that I have some special relationship to that person and that I have to figure out what makes sense about that. It gets very difficult and very confusing. A lot of these assumptions are made and not discussed as assumptions. They are presented as information.

I get to a certain point in my thinking, my distress, and my experiences, and I'm hallucinating. It seems to me as if God is talking to me. I hear a voice. I say, "This is God's voice talking to me. God is looking out for me."

From where I am now, I would say that what was going on was that I was trying to make sense of my religious heritage, my place in the universe, all these assumptions. From where I am now, I say, "It's not real." It seemed real at the time. So I say it was "delusional" because I'm not really Jesus. I'm Jamie Alexander. But then I have to ask myself why I thought I was Jesus at that point. Is it because I was "crazy" or because I have a Jesus gene? Or is there something wrong with my genes which made me think I was Jesus? I think that it was because I was trying to make sense out of stuff without having information and with a lot of misinformation. I didn't have information about human nature and how we're hurt. And I had all these assumptions from my religious upbringing pounded into my head which were taken as reality when they were only assumptions.

I will venture to say, without being able to prove it directly, that every individual that believes they're Jesus or Napoleon, if you questioned them closely on it, could tell you in great detail exactly why they came to that conclusion. Given the assumptions that they started with, that was the most sensible explanation of their situation that could be constructed, that they were in fact completely rational about that point. That's also why there's a great power in RC in simply providing correct information. Providing counseling is important; providing the space to discharge is important. But we can't always, especially if we have someone who seems to have a lot of distress, make a commitment to counsel the person for twenty-four hours a day. But we can always give them a piece of information: "You're all right." "I'll remind you that you're loved," or, "You're smart."

If we can get this information into people's assumption structure in a way they can then use it and do their own thinking, often it's all you need to do. You don't need to counsel them for weeks while they go through their heaviest fears and terrors. All you have to do is tell them, "Look, this is what human beings are like; you're a human being." That's an important piece of information that MHSS often lack: "It's other people who are human beings, but I'm not, and I don't belong here because I come from some other planet." You run into this distress out in the world quite a bit.

About Depression

When we are hurt, we feel sad. When we hear the news, and it's about somebody getting killed in another country or in our own backyard, or floods, or people starving, we feel sad. It's very natural to feel this way. When you feel sad because your mother died, and you talk to the psychiatrist and say, "I feel sad all day long, I feel depressed, and I feel like crying all the time," the psychiatrist may say, "This is normal grieving. Don't worry about it." It's accepted. But if you're going to the psychiatrist and you're saying, "I feel sad, I feel depressed, I feel like crying all the time," and the psychiatrist says, "Well, did your mother die recently?" and you say, "No." "Well, what are you depressed about?" This becomes a power issue. People who go to psychiatrists end up endlessly discussing where is this depression coming from, as if figuring it out would make it go away. Figuring out where it's coming from isn't going to make it go away.

If you're depressed and you know why you're depressed, then you're "fine," you're "healthy," you're just going through a period of depression. But if you're depressed and you can't put your finger on just exactly why, then you're "mentally ill." Then there's something really wrong with you.

There's no significant difference between the depression that people feel at the death of a loved one where they know that's what they're depressed about, and depression that people feel when they can't identify the source. It's exactly the same. It's the same sadness, the same feelings, except that in one instance the other person knows what they're crying about and in the other instance the person doesn't know what they're crying about and feels embarrassed that they're crying because they have no reason, no excuse for crying. They feel they haven't been hurt so they shouldn't be feeling depressed.

Claiming Attention

A big issue in the RC Communities relating to "mental health" liberation is dealing with someone who's claiming your attention. What are the appropriate ways of asking for attention? We can discharge on the distresses we accumulate in our relationships because of this awkwardness of claiming people's attention or asking for help or of feeling resentful when we have a distress that causes us to give attention, give attention, and feeling like that's being demanded of us a lot. These are distresses that can be contradicted, cleaned up, and discharged.

Question: That's an important issue in terms of how RC develops. As you stated, the basic idea is to get the people who think the most rationally. What are you going to do with all the others?

Jamie: The idea is that you get the people in the best shape together and you get them counseling, get them discharging, and then we can figure out together how to multiply our resources so we can reach everybody. Ultimately the plan won't work unless we go on the basis of reaching everyone. We have to make black, Asian, etc., friends if we're white. We can't just have this little thing and do it for ourselves. It has to be something we share.

Jamie Alexander
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

(1989 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA "Mental Health" Liberation Workshop)
(First printed in Recovery and Re-emergence, No. 5, pp.7-12)

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00