“Mental Health” Oppression and Liberation
This is the fourth revised version of the “mental health” liberation policy. Our first three policies were primarily for “mental health” system survivors. Since they were written it has become clearer that this liberation issue directly affects everyone, so the policy concerns everyone.
The third version of the policy, the pamphlet What’s Wrong with the “Mental Health” System and What Can Be Done About It, contains the main points of current policy in more detail. This version summarizes those points and adds new thinking.
We use the term “mental health” oppression, not “mental health” system oppression, because the oppression is neither caused by the “mental health” system nor confined to it. Quotes are used to denote terms that are based in the oppression and not in reality.
“Mental Health” Oppression
“Mental health” oppression is the systematic suppression of discharge and the invalidation of people’s minds. It is the attempt to control people by enforcing standards of conduct, invalidating the discharge/re-evaluation process, categorizing people into diagnoses, pressuring them to take drugs and other harmful treatments, and punishing attempts to stand up for their liberation. The point of “mental health” oppression seems to be to oppress “mental” patients. However, it is actually to maintain the status quo by reinforcing and obscuring the functioning of other oppressions, and enforcing conformity.
“Mental health” oppression affects everyone in our society. It affects us whether or not we have had direct involvement with the “mental health” system. “Mental health” oppression obscures and denies how much oppression hurts all humans and instead blames individuals rather than the oppressive society for people’s struggles. “Mental health” oppression works with the other oppressions to keep people inside their oppressed and oppressor roles. It keeps people believing that the oppressive society is “the way things are supposed to be.” In this way “mental health” oppression impedes all liberation movements.
“Mental health” oppression makes people afraid of feelings and afraid of “losing their minds.” Extended, deep, or profuse discharge is misconstrued as “mental illness.” Oppressive phrases, such as “crazy” or “having a screw loose,” discredit people’s minds.
“Mental health” oppression labels people as “mentally ill” if they show any of a wide range of feelings and/or behaviors that are considered to be outside of what is acceptable in our society.
“Mental Health” Oppression, “Normality,” and “Mental Patients”
Psychologists have delineated standards to judge whether people are “normal” or “abnormal.” However, we have found that much more is possible for humans than is generally understood, given how limited humans still are by distress patterns. We assume that there is no such thing as “abnormal” development of people, nor is there any such thing as “mental health” or “normal.” There is no set of expectations that we are trying to reach, only unlimited possibilities.
“Normal” consists of a collection of oppressor patterns (usually white, male, middle- and owning-class, heterosexual, Protestant, able-bodied, age thirty to forty-five). If you are anything else, you are not “normal.” People who carry many oppressor roles often end up with heavy “normal” patterns. They may find it hard to reclaim the discharge process because of the severity of their hurts around discharge. If they become Co-Counselors, some Co-Counselors may find it difficult to counsel them effectively because, given their patterns, they tend to never show distress. These patterns appear to be “the way things are” and are often hard to identify as patterns.
The pressure to be “normal” makes people feel “abnormal,” afraid of being “different,” and afraid to question or try to change society.
“Mental patients” are used as examples of how one will be punished if one does not conform to the oppressive society. This keeps people afraid to change the society to one that works well for everyone.
Everyone is oppressed by “mental health” oppression. It keeps everyone scared to discharge, scared to be themselves, scared to disobey “the rules.” However, “mental patients” usually receive the most damaging end of the oppression. They become symbols of what can happen to other people if they step out of line or make a fuss about needing help.
When people end up in the “mental health” system as “patients,” they are often attempting to get help so they can discharge early hurts. A particular “mental patient” may carry more or less distress than someone regarded as “normal.” There is no way to objectively measure the depth or amount of someone’s distress. Current and ex-“mental patients” become divided from the rest of society by an intangible “line” that divides “crazy” from “normal” people.
“Mental health” oppression is pervasive in society because of how it gets laid in. Young people are cut off from discharging by young people’s oppression. When they attempt to discharge they are pressured to conform to what school authorities expect, and are squashed and hurt even more. Those who do not conform are often labeled “emotionally disturbed,” “maladjusted,” and so on. As time goes on, young people get more and more separated from their feelings and their own thinking, and the older they get, the more discharge is prohibited.
“Mental health” oppression is unique among the various oppressions—anyone can become a “mental patient” at any time in her or his life. Once one has become a “mental patient” one is targeted for having the identity.
Racism and “Mental Health” Oppression
Society’s definition of “normal” (see section “Mental Health” Oppression, “Normality,” and “Mental Patients”) sets things up so that racism is “normal,” and people targeted by racism are “other,” “strange,” or “crazy.” People targeted by racism are left feeling like they don’t “fit in” to the white-dominated society and are not “okay.” They are made to feel that they have no place in the society, that their cultures are inferior to the dominant white culture, and that they can’t show how they feel about racism for fear of being further targeted. In addition, the worldview of “normality” supports and reinforces the white dominant system, a backwards view of the world. The idea that people targeted by racism are the “minority” belies the truth that they are actually the majority of the world’s people.
Justifiable anger about racism is likely to be seen as “going crazy” and sets things up so that people targeted by racism, especially black men, have to hold tightly onto their emotions. They have to pretend that the racism directed at them isn’t happening.
When everyone discharges on the intertwining of racism and “mental health” oppression that gives people targeted by racism more space to discharge. Doing this work contradicts the pervasive oppressive idea in our society that there is no racism going on and that people targeted by racism are “crazy” or “troublemakers” for noticing it.
“Mental health” oppression makes it hard for people to listen to heavy discharge and difficult subjects because they might indicate “craziness.” When white people have discharged on the intertwining of racism and “mental health” oppression it is easier for them to listen to people targeted by racism. They also get to discharge their oppressor-role material about racism not existing. They can see the larger context of how racism works, which makes it easier to feel and discharge outrage about racism instead of feeling stuck in guilt recordings. It shifts the “blame” to society instead of leaving it on the individual.
The lies perpetuated by racism, held in place by “mental health” oppression, have become part of the societal status quo. For example, psychiatrists have perpetuated this intertwining by putting a medical stamp of approval on it. During the period when slavery was the “norm” in the United States, African-heritage slaves attempting to escape to freedom were diagnosed with “drapetomania.” Not wanting to be slaves was perceived as a “mental illness.” People targeted by racism, especially African-heritage people, are more likely to receive the worst treatment in the “mental health” system. They may thus be more aware of how “mental health” oppression works than are white people.
In a white dominant culture, the cultures of people targeted by racism are regarded as “strange.” “Mental health” oppression reinforces assimilation—people targeted by racism have to take on white culture in order to survive economically. The “normal” context makes it seem like white people need not learn about cultures of people targeted by racism (they miss out on a lot of the world’s richness!). Colonialism and genocide are examples of how violently assimilation is enforced on people targeted by racism.
“Mental health” oppression intertwines in similar ways with all other oppressions. We have focused here on racism and “mental health” oppression because the 2001 World Conference of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities adopted the following goal: “That the elimination of racism, in particular the racism aimed at people of African heritage, be actively made an ongoing, central piece of the work of the Re-evaluation Counseling Community.
“Mental Health” Oppression and Re-evaluation Counseling
We assume that all humans, unless they have damage to their forebrain, are inherently intelligent and have unlimited potential. Genetic inheritance is not the main cause of human irrationality. Distress recordings are the main cause, the bulk of which are caused by oppressions. Hurtful experiences leave all humans with distress recordings that interfere with access to our full human potential and flexible intelligence. These harmful effects on our intelligence can be discharged, re-evaluated, and our inherent human abilities restored to excellent functioning. Humans’ inherent nature is to be brilliant, loving, cooperative, and zestful; we are not predestined to behave in irrational ways. A corollary to this is that no one can “lose her or his mind.” Having a mind is a necessary condition of our humanness. One can feel a loss of connection to one’s mind—for example, feel like one can’t think—but the mind is still there and still completely intelligent. Any feelings of not being able to think are the result of distress recordings.
Our experience is that the natural processes of discharge and re-evaluation work for all humans. “Mental patients” are not different from other people. Any difficulties a “mental patient” has can be discharged and re-evaluated, the same as with anyone else. It is harmful and misleading to label any individual’s difficulties “mental illness.”
No “Mental Illness”
“Mental illness” does not exist; anything that is called “mental illness” is the result of hurtful experiences that the individual has not had the opportunity to discharge and re-evaluate. In RC we consider someone who has been labeled “mentally ill” to be someone whose attention is stuck in a distress recording.
When very young we are “socialized” to suppress and control discharge. Many of us mistakenly conclude that discharge is wrong or harmful for us and that we are not in charge of that process or of our minds. Some of us become completely cut off from discharge and as a result are increasingly rigid in our functioning. Others of us discharge, but are scared or worried about it. We may be afraid we can’t stop discharging and/or are “going crazy.” Still others unawarely “bring up” and act out heavy distresses, in what we in RC would call an attempt to discharge and heal from the distress. Any of these common responses to the suppression of discharge can be, and are, labeled as “mental illness.”
While many have these responses, it may not be noticeable until a person has an emotional or other kind of crisis. At that point, they may be so separated from the discharge process that they don’t understand what’s happening. They may begin to feel, or are told, that they are “crazy.” This response may be part of why they become “patients” in the “mental health” system.
Basic RC theory explaining undischarged distress, restimulation, and the installation of patterns, is sufficient to explain the phenomena commonly called “mental illness.”
The main reasons people are diagnosed as “mentally ill” are as follows:
1) People are diagnosed as “mentally ill” because they are doing a lot of crying or other types of discharge, that seem “out of control.” The term “nervous breakdown” is a common but inaccurate way of explaining this phenomenon.
2) They are diagnosed as “mentally ill” because they are dramatizing (acting out) their distress in ways that are not understood or accepted by those around them. Most of us frequently dramatize distress—for example, adults yell at children. However, someone who believes and acts on, for example, being the reincarnation of a historic figure, is dramatizing distress in a way that is not acceptable. However, if such a person is listened to long enough with awareness and caring, he or she will eventually reveal the early hurts that caused the distress recording and dramatization. Someone dramatizing is always, either awarely or unawarely, seeking attention to discharge her or his early hurts.
The following are three common ways of dramatizing distress that are considered “unacceptable” behavior and are commonly diagnosed as “mental illness”:
• “Delusions”: These are distress recordings that a person has become preoccupied with and may or may not be acting on.
• Acting or being completely unaware for long periods of time, not being in present time at all. Such a person has not “lost her or his mind” but is stuck in distress.
• Showing distresses that may be tolerated in one’s family or community, in social settings where that behavior is regarded as “too strange.”
3) People are diagnosed as “mentally ill” because they are showing the effects of oppression and/or war. Some people experience so much oppression, or live through such deeply damaging events—for example, war—that they cannot hide how deeply hurt they have been by these experiences. (An example would be someone who is perpetually furious.) Virtually everyone who is diagnosed “mentally ill” is a member of several oppressed groups. These oppressions include racism, genocide, colonialism, anti-Jewish oppression, sexism, Gay oppression, classism (particularly working-class and raised-poor oppression), disability oppression, young people’s and young adult oppressions, elder oppression, parents’ oppression, and artists’ oppression. The reality is that they are crushed under the oppressions; they are not “mentally ill.”
4) People are diagnosed as “mentally ill” because they are experiencing hallucinations. Hallucinations are recordings of an early distressful incident, complete with visual and auditory components. Like any recording, they can be restimulated and our minds can be carried back to and re-experience the incident. These particular recordings are especially vivid. They appear to be real, as if we were dreaming while awake. We ordinarily censor sound and vision recall while awake; we don’t censor them in our dreams. Hallucinations are simply recordings, like any other recording.
Psychiatric labels describe, reinforce, and perpetuate distress patterns instead of contradicting them. They are never useful.
The Function of “Mental Health” Oppression in Oppressive Societies
“Mental hospitals” were originally “warehouses” for poor people who could not perform in the manner required to survive in early industrial society. Before industrialization, “mental health” oppression existed but was not institutionalized in societies.
Advanced capitalism creates more and more pressure on people to perform the tasks it requires. Our society also emphasizes conformity and “fitting in.” Individuals are not encouraged to trust their own minds. Everyone is supposed to have a job and support themselves in a “responsible” way. If people want to be seen as “normal,” they are expected to organize their lives according to the needs of the workplace, not according to their own needs and wishes. There is little or no time to grieve when someone dies, to be with a sick child, or to have a baby. Always doing things the way one is “supposed to” makes it nearly impossible to think outside the “box” created by the oppressive society.
Distress patterns that keep people numb within rigid adult roles (for example, looking happy while suffering inside) are not regarded as problems but are viewed as “normal” and desirable. The society supports patterns that keep capitalism going and punishes those that don’t. For example, so-called “depression” can often mean someone doesn’t go to work. However, it is considered acceptable (and is not generally considered “depression”) to regularly use alcohol to numb oneself enough to be able to go to work every day.
A person who is regularly unemployed can rapidly become a “social misfit” and is vulnerable to becoming a “patient” in the “mental health” system. Fear of “losing one’s mind” and thus losing the ability to survive in the class system, keeps people in line. People know that the social welfare system is not actually a safety net. They fear that the “mental health” system or the prison system is where they will end up if they don’t “hold it together” and do their jobs. The need to function on the job, without fail, has accelerated the proliferation of anti-depressants at work. Anti-depressant use is considered “normal,” whereas organizing for a change in workplace conditions (in order to create a workplace a person would want to be part of) is more and more seen as “crazy.”
”Mental health” oppression, along with all other oppressions, confuses people about reality and about how the society needs to change so that all people can flourish. It operates like a “stop sign” on all liberation movements by focusing our attention on individual struggles rather than on the oppression that led to the struggles. It keeps people from noticing that oppression is the problem, that individual patterns don’t create the main difficulties. Our restimulations about individual patterns confuse us and pull our attention away from the bigger issue. “Mental health” oppression is used to silence political dissent, to silence anyone who takes a visible stand against the status quo.
Once society is divided into “crazy” and “normal” people, “mental health” oppression keeps us focused on what is “wrong” with certain individuals. For instance, the “mentally ill,” “crazy” dictators in other countries grab our attention, rather than the question, “What’s wrong with a society that continues to allow oppression to exist?” We are living in a time of advanced capitalism; more than ever, the “mental health” system is intertwined with the courts, police, prison system, schools, nursing homes and assisted living, adoption and foster care, and more.
The real challenges are: (1) to build enough resource that enough people can discharge (teach RC), (2) create a cooperative society, (3) make sure everyone has access to food, shelter, and a good life. After that happens, the “mental health” system will disappear, as will the concept of “crazy.”
Re-evaluation Counseling and the “Mental Health” System
The actual purpose of the “mental health” system is to make people “fit in” to the oppressive society, through force and other means. In contrast, RC theory and practice are organized to assist people to be the unique human beings they inherently are by freeing them from distress recordings. RC theory also includes how to change society—to make it cooperative, flexible, supportive of all humans, and without oppression. When we pursue our own re-emergence we move in different directions from the conformity enforced by oppressive society.
We assume that everyone is inherently fine. We assume that if the discharge process had not been interfered with when we were young, all of us would seek to recover our full humanity by use of the discharge process. With discharge and re-evaluation, we can all understand how very “okay” we always have been. We can reclaim more and more of our inherent intelligence. RC doesn’t “fix” us; it helps us to reclaim who we really are.
Any amount or type of discharge is useful, whether it be hours of crying or a few minutes of yawning. All of this helps eliminate distress recordings. In contrast, “mental health” system theories label aspects of discharge as signs of “mental illness”—for example, “inappropriate” laughing, “uncontrollable” shaking or crying.
RC theory and practice can be used effectively by “mental health” workers. It is the process that every “mental health” worker and “mental health” client would wish for in order to make therapy workable. However, the assumptions and purpose of RC are radically different than those of the “mental health” system.
Psychiatric Drugs and Electroshock
Psychiatric drugs are damaging. They are not a real solution and they add another layer of hurt. They interfere with discharge, re-evaluation, thinking, having one’s attention in the present, human connection, and the ability to counsel others. The drugs damage what they are purporting to help (the human mind). These drugs are said to increase resources but actually deplete them. They are a substitute for the human interaction that is actually needed. They distract people from pursuing real solutions to their difficulties. (See Guidelines for the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities, Guideline N. Psychiatric Drugs.)
Many drugs can cause permanent physical damage to the central nervous system. Some can cause death. Many of them affect the ability to learn. Some people may “look better”—for example, they can “perform” at work—but optimum functioning is interfered with and numbed by the drugs. More important, it is the numbness caused by the drugs that allows people to appear more “functional.”
Psychiatric drugs are not very different, chemically, from illegal drugs. Both can shut down the functioning of the central nervous system and can cause permanent physical damage. Psychiatric drugs can cause diseases such as tardive dyskinesia. They install distress recordings, for example, feelings of powerlessness, that further interfere with our minds.
More and more frequently, psychiatric drugs are used to silence the struggles of young people and people targeted by racism, and others, against oppression. Though the situation may vary from country to country, forced drugging of “mental patients” is a common practice in much of the world.
In these latter stages of capitalism, people generally see their worsening difficulties as personal, rather than as the effects of the oppressive society. “Mental health” oppression convinces people that they can fix their “personal” problems by taking psychiatric drugs. The assumption that psychiatric drugs are useful in curing “mental illness” arises from the idea that there is a “disease” that needs to be medically treated. The highly profitable psycho-pharmaceutical industry takes advantage of this confusion. It is expanding rapidly and is making huge profits by exploiting people hurt by oppression. It widely promotes the misinformation that there is “biological/genetic ‘mental illness’” and that drugs are the best and only solution.
The fact that electroshock is a medical procedure can make it seem as though it is a way that doctors can help, which can be persuasive when one is completely desperate. In reality, electroshock seems terrifying to most people. It is actually one of the main threats that keep them terrified of nonconformity. It is extremely damaging. It can cause irreversible brain damage. It may seem to “work” because the terror from the shocks, and/or the brain damage, has made the person forget their original difficulty.
There is also the placebo effect. If people believe that electroshock and/or psychiatric drugs are helpful, they may become confused enough to believe that they have been helped.
Getting Off Psychiatric Drugs
All RCers are encouraged to discharge on and think about the use of psychiatric drugs and the philosophies behind using them, so that they can determine their own thinking on these issues. Our experience has consistently been that people, especially those who have been prescribed psychiatric drugs, move toward opposing the use of these drugs. It will be helpful to discharge about past use of drugs of any kind in order to carry out this guideline.
Some people in RC are taking psychiatric drugs. People using psychiatric drugs are not to be blamed. The oppressive society is the actual source of the difficulty. A decision to stop using psychiatric drugs should only be made by the person using them. (However, young people, vulnerable adults, and some others are not, by law, allowed to make that decision. In these cases, parents, caregivers, and allies should firmly oppose the imposition of psychiatric drugs on them.)
We do not want to pressure people to get off drugs but rather give them our experience with RC and psychiatric drugs, so that they can make their own decision. It is important not to hide one’s use of psychiatric drugs and to seek assistance if a decision is made to get off them. It is important for RCers to remember that a person taking psychiatric drugs still has her or his mind intact and is still capable of thinking, as well as discharging. The counselor needs to remember and use this information when helping someone decide to stop taking psychiatric drugs.
RCers taking these drugs are encouraged to work closely with their teachers and Area Reference Persons about deciding to get off them. They will not be able to make full use of RC until they can decide to get off the drugs. However, they should take the time to clearly decide for themselves whether they want to stop taking psychiatric drugs. Usually, heavy distresses will need to be faced and discharged in order to stop taking these drugs. If a person has not made his or her own decision to stop, it will be difficult to do the work needed to stop using psychiatric drugs.
It is not the purpose or obligation of the RC Community to assist people to get off of psychiatric drugs. However, individual RCers, an RC class, or a Community can decide to assist someone to do this. The people assisting will need to have sufficient attention for such a project. They need to have discharged enough on “mental health” liberation issues and their own drug histories (drugs of any kind) to do this well. They should also work closely with their Area Reference Person or teacher(s) and be familiar with others’ work on this subject. (See Recovery and Re-emergence No. 6.)
No matter how many psychiatric drugs a person has taken, for no matter how long, it is possible to get off them. Facing the challenges of getting off psychiatric drugs will help build the strength one needs to lead one’s life well.
Internalized “Mental Health” Oppression
Everyone in industrialized societies carries one piece or another of internalized “mental health” oppression. Feelings that one might “go crazy” at any moment, that discharging beyond what is considered “acceptable” indicates “mental illness,” or that using counseling is a sign of weakness—are all recordings of internalized “mental health” oppression. Another common recording is that simply having distress is shameful. This leads people to assume that they don’t have distress themselves and to focus on and be upset by other people’s distresses. (If we didn’t have patterns ourselves, nobody else’s distresses would upset us.)
Most “mental health” system survivors—whether ex-psychiatric inmates (people who have been incarcerated as “patients” in “mental hospitals” for one night or longer or who were “patients” on psychiatric wards in regular hospitals) or not—have similar , but usually more intense, recordings from their involvement in the “mental health” system. This draft policy focuses on ex-inmates’ internalized oppression in order to clarify the most brutal form of the oppression. It is possible to discharge the internalized oppression completely and set up one’s life to go extremely well.
Psychiatric inmates are subjected to coercive mistreatment. They are severely isolated from the rest of society. They are made to feel they deserve this treatment because there is something “wrong” with them. Once they become ex-inmates, if their history is known, they continue to be stigmatized by society and experience oppression, which compounds their feelings of shame and the need to hide their history. Additional feelings of internalized oppression are believing that one is fragile, that there is no way out, that one doesn’t belong in society, and that no one will understand.
There are many common manifestations of the internalized oppression: giving up, limiting ourselves, leaving, self-destruction, living in environments that keep one hopeless, being rebellious or mistrustful, trying to “look good,” not being able to form lasting close relationships.
The deep isolation of ex-inmates can make frozen needs more confusing. The longed-for person, often another ex-inmate, can appear to be the only person who can be trusted or who can understand. The reliable direction outside of the internalized oppression is to become close with, and trust, many people and to set up a re-emergent life of one’s own choosing.
A key factor in ex-inmates’ internalized oppression is shame, which often leads to not talking about these experiences. Thus ex-inmates who have become integrated back into society may be invisible as ex-inmates. They tend to live two lives, one secret from most people. This tendency may make it difficult to discharge their “mental health” oppression experiences. Internalized oppression may pull ex-inmates to avoid each other. All this can be discharged. Intense shame from the internalized oppression makes it seem as though one has to disconnect from the fact of having been a “mental patient.” To completely discharge the internalized oppression it is necessary to fully claim the identity and discharge completely the feelings from the “mental hospital” experiences.
The internalized oppression of therapy survivors may include the feeling that they have little or nothing to discharge about their experiences because they were not hurt as badly as ex-inmates.
All “mental health” system survivors can be excellent Co-Counselors. Because of their experiences, they know that people are capable of surviving anything. They tend not to be afraid of lots of discharge. They are usually inclusive, strong liberation leaders who are sensitive to others. They tend to be wary of hurting others.
Building the “Mental Health” Liberation Movement Inside RC
The RC “mental health” liberation movement has made it possible for many “mental health” system survivors, particularly ex-psychiatric inmates, to feel safe enough to participate in the larger RC Community. RC is the best support we have for “mental health” liberation work. We need many “mental health” system survivor RC teachers who can lead “mental health” liberation work within RC. This will support the growth of “mental health” liberation within RC. It is essential that these RC “mental health” liberation leaders maintain excellent relationships with all other RC leaders and support the general work in their Communities. In this manner we can circumvent the tendency of “mental health” oppression to marginalize “mental health” liberation work.
“Mental health” oppression keeps most people feeling like it is too scary, embarrassing, or “crazy” to discharge very much. The one-point program of RC is to assist everyone in the world to recover his or her intelligence. To achieve this, people will need to discharge and re-evaluate about how “mental health” oppression has affected them. When a critical mass of people has reclaimed their full ability to discharge, they will no longer feel as threatened by “mental health” oppression, and this will accelerate all liberation work everywhere.
The Role of Allies in Building “Mental Health” Liberation in RC
To be effective allies, family members, “mental health” workers, and other allies to “mental health” system survivors will need to discharge extensively on their own “mental health” oppression experiences. They need to recognize that this work is for their own benefit, not just helpful to “mental health” system survivors. Being allies means encouraging and counseling “mental health” system survivors, and especially ex-inmates, to take the lead in this work. Allies, including leaders of other liberation groups, can lead “mental health” liberation within their own constituencies, welcoming assistance from “mental health” system survivors.
Many people belong to multiple “mental health” constituencies, for example, “mental health” system survivor and “mental health” worker. Such people should discharge on their “mental health” histories with people from each constituency to keep their “mental health” liberation work from becoming confusing.
Building the “Mental Health” Liberation Movement Outside RC
The wide world “mental health” liberation movement has transformed the lives of many psychiatric survivors. It has given them a useful perspective outside of psychiatric theories and treatments. This work is held back by the vicious nature of “mental health” oppression. It continues to be unrecognized and unsupported among the larger population. It has not been able to make many well-organized, large-scale moves.
RC tools for combating oppression would be useful in the wide world movement. RCers who have discharged on their “mental health” histories and who lead in this work can effectively support movement leaders. It is re-emergent for RCers to take thoughtful action in the wide world movement.
Family members of “mental health” system survivors have many issues in common with survivors and have thus been welcome at many survivors’ workshops. It may be oppressive for them to work with a “mental health” system survivor Co-Counselor on their oppressor material about a survivor in their family. They should ask permission from the “mental health” system survivor Co-Counselor before doing so. Family members also need to discharge separately from survivors on their family histories. It is especially important to discharge separately on any confusion about the difference between their own family member and other “mental health” system survivors who are in RC.
One family member’s oppression by the “mental health” system can affect, in different ways, the parents, children, partners, siblings, and other relatives.
For parents of “mental health” system survivors, “mental health” oppression is intertwined with parents’ oppression.
“Mental health” treatment is stigmatized—parents often feel ashamed if their child is being treated in the “mental health” system. They are also expected to deal with the entire situation by themselves due to their feelings of shame and the lack of discussion about this in the general society. They get little help in caring for a child who needs a large amount of attention. They are generally forced to involuntarily participate in the oppressive system and may feel defensive and guilty about that.
Children of “mental health” system survivors are hurt by “mental health” oppression intertwined with young people’s oppression. Society offers little support to parents who are struggling; as a result their children are oppressed by having to stay in a bad situation. Particularly if the parents are drugged or hospitalized, often the child is forced to try to assume the parent role.
Most children of “mental health” system survivors, especially those of ex- or current inmates, are subjected to similar “mental health” oppression as their parents. It may be difficult for such children to see that this oppression directly affects them. Isolation from the rest of society, overwhelm, ostracism—all are commonly experienced by children of “mental health” system survivors. They often feel that they are not like other people and that they have to hide what happened to their parent as well as hide their own feelings. They often fear “going crazy” because of the popular myth that “mental illness” is genetic.
In order to make things better for their parents, they might try to look good or help everyone at their own expense on the assumption that one cannot expect help. For these reasons children of “mental health” system survivors often become “mental health” workers, though they may have other, more rational, motivations as well.
“Mental health” workers and physicians
“Mental health” workers and physicians are good people. They are caught in an oppressive system that forces them to become the agents of oppression, similarly to parents and teachers. Their interests are inherently the same as those of their clients. Many “mental health” workers and physicians are good allies to “mental health” system survivors. With discharge and re-evaluation all workers and physicians can be good allies. The oppression is the enemy, not the “mental health” workers and physicians.
“Mental health” workers are oppressed as workers. They are expected to carry caseloads too large for anyone to handle well, contributing to their taking on the oppressor role. They are required to have no needs of their own, especially not for emotional discharge (which is necessary for effective work).
As part of classism, the “mental health” system operates as a rigid hierarchy, with psychiatrists at the top and “patients” at the bottom. Psychiatrists who direct “mental” institutions have virtually complete control over “patients’” lives, with no operable rights preserved by “patients”. Similar hierarchies are repeated in other “mental health” settings. The closer to the top of the hierarchy one is, the less human interaction between workers and clients is allowed. Most “mental health” workers carry out the middle-class role—feeling guilty for what happens to those on the bottom but unable to challenge those at the top.
The professional training of “mental health” workers includes a large amount of misinformation and leads them to act out the oppressor role toward “mental health” clients. For example, they are supposed to know what is good for the client better than the clients themselves. They are increasingly required to administer drugs to control people’s “symptoms” of “mental illness.” Workers often enter the system with good motivations. However, they often lose sight of these. It is difficult to oppress clients without becoming numb and increasingly oppressive. Not being allowed to discharge at work can mean they have to become numb to do their jobs. Many “mental health” workers long to make changes in the “mental health” system but have difficulty seeing how to do this.
The medical system within which the “mental health” system operates is increasingly dominated by the pharmaceutical companies. General practitioner physicians are becoming “mental health” workers and are increasingly prescribing psychiatric drugs. Also, insurance companies and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) have more and more control over physicians and psychiatrists. They often pressure physicians and psychiatrists to use more psychiatric drugs and do less “talk therapy.”
There are many opportunities to be liberation leaders in the “mental health” field. It is also personally re-emergent—standing against “mental health” oppression is standing against one’s own powerlessness. RC “mental health” workers can teach RC to other “mental health” workers and clients. Of particular importance is the RC policy against the use of psychiatric drugs.
Focusing One’s Attention on Present-Time Reality
Focusing our attention on present time is a crucial part of “mental health” liberation. The oppression tries to tell us that our minds are defective. Taking full charge of where our attention goes reminds us that there is nothing wrong with our minds. If we can keep our attention in present time we are unlikely to be considered “crazy” or end up in the “mental health” system. We also tend not to act out the oppressor role or tolerate “mental health” oppression.
Almost everything about the “mental health” system conspires against focusing attention on the present. Internalized “mental health” oppression often makes it difficult for “mental health” system survivors to reclaim their lives. However, it is possible to do so no matter how heavy the mistreatment has been. Key to doing this is developing the ability to focus on present time long-term.
Giving a lot of one-way attention to someone who currently can’t focus on reality may reinforce “mental health” oppression. People should instead require the person to give back attention, however unequally, as soon as possible. People in the helping role also need consistent counseling on staying present in order to do so.
It is often assumed that “mental health” system survivors can’t think at all, much less lead. “Mental health” liberation leaders need to clearly and persistently contradict these pervasive messages. By staying in present time one models a “mental health” system survivor who belies the oppression.
Most people believe that “mental illness” exists. For this reason “mental health” liberation leaders may be attacked more often than are leaders of other liberation work. We need to stay in present time to handle these challenges—and we will need regular and effective counseling in this area to do this. (See page 36 of Recovery and Reemergence #5 for an example of a workable program.)
We seek the liberation of all “mental health” system survivors from “mental health” oppression. This actually requires leading people to build a cooperative, non-oppressive society.
To become fully liberated we need to take general leadership as well as lead “mental health” liberation. Having wider and wider influence contradicts our internalized oppression and accelerates our re-emergence.
“Mental health” oppression is invisible to most people. Ex-psychiatric inmates often have the clearest picture of “mental health” oppression—their making it more visible will lead others to take it on. Many survivors refused to accept the oppressive society, which has allowed us a viewpoint outside of its patterns. Most of us held on to the discharge process and tend not to worry about the depth of people’s discharge or that someone is “going crazy” if they think in unusual ways.
Many of us were institutionalized because we refused to take on the oppressor or oppressed roles that we were “supposed to” take on. We have been de-classed so there is no one to look down on. We are often good at being peers and staying close to and getting sessions from those we lead.
“Mental health” liberation leaders need to communicate well with and form close connections with others, especially our leaders. We have to actively contradict our deep isolation and “rebelliousness” as we seek to establish ourselves as solid RC Community members. Each “mental health” liberation leader needs to build a support group of “mental health” system survivors and encourage them to lead.
Ending “Mental Health” Oppression and Transforming Society
We can’t end “mental health” oppression without transforming society. In the meantime, we can offer supportive healing alternatives in place of the current “mental health” system—for example, a facility run by both staff and the people using it. Co-Counseling, including liberation work, would be used. Of course there would be no psychiatric drugs, electroshock, psychosurgery, or other irrational “treatments.”
In a rational society we will not have a “mental health” system. The “need” for a “mental health” system is created by oppression—by “mental health” oppression and other oppressions. People will no longer carry large amounts of undischarged distress from harsh situations, so they will not seek or be forced to have “treatment” in a “mental health” system. Discharge and re-evaluation will prevail everywhere. Oppression will be gone—people’s distresses will not accumulate to where they lose connection with present time. Support systems will exist everywhere and people’s rational needs will be easily met. People will be able to be themselves in every aspect of their lives. The creative and intelligent expressions of all human cultures will be celebrated and enjoyed everywhere. Young people’s thinking will be trusted and they will flourish in every endeavor they choose. Adults will play, have leisure, and have plenty of attention for young people. All work will be done in a creative, cooperative manner.
As we reclaim ourselves as we really are, we can create in our lives ways of doing things that are outside of “mental health” oppression. These actions will keep opening the way to more clear thinking and more free attention for building such a society. “Mental health” liberation and the supportive networks we build around ourselves will help create the conditions for such a society.
“abnormal”—as defined by “mental health” oppression is not fitting in to what is called “normal” (see below).
acceptable in our society—every society has unwritten and written rules of behavior defined by the oppressor patterns that dominate that society. Being accepted by the mainstream of the society requires conforming to these rules.
Co-Counselor—a person who learns Re-evaluation Counseling theory and practices exchanging the roles of counselor and client with another person on a regular and equitable basis.
client—the role of agreeing to accept someone’s attention while attempting to discharge one’s past distress.
counselor—a person who agrees to focus all of his or her attention on another person (the client) in order to help the client discharge his or her distress. The role of the counselor is mainly to listen with awareness and not advise, guide, or analyze.
cut off from discharging—the effect that many patterns have on people, preventing them from using the natural discharge process.
de-classed—taken out of the economic class system. The term usually refers to people in the “mental health” system or the prison system. These people are no longer available as workers and can therefore no longer try to be upwardly mobile.
discharge—a profound set of processes that remove the fixed rigidity from information contained in recordings of past distress. These processes are dependably indicated by tears, trembling and perspiration, laughter, indignant storming, laughter again, reluctant talk, eager talk and yawning.
distress recording/distress pattern—a rigid recording of “thoughts,” behaviors, and feelings left by an undischarged experience (or experiences) of distress.
dramatizing distress—the unaware repeating, either in words or action, of some part or all of a hurtful memory without discharging it (this is often labeled “acting out”). Dramatizations may lead to discharge but are not the same as discharge, which can always be recognized by its physical characteristics.
focusing attention on the present/focusing on present time/having attention in present time/staying present/staying in present time/being in present time/connecting with present time/focusing on reality—the act of focusing one’s attention away from one’s distress and on to what is actually happening right now. The zestful enjoyment of the present moment.
frozen need—a hurt that results when a rational need is not met in childhood. The hurt compels the person to keep trying to fill the need in the present, but the frozen need cannot be filled; it can only be discharged.
get off drugs—a colloquial term for stopping the use of drugs.
give back attention—giving attention in return as in a two-way Co-Counseling session.
give one-way time—give attention to someone in order to assist him or her to discharge without receiving attention from that person in return.
“hold it together”—a colloquial expression meaning giving the appearance of “normality”; maintaining one’s emotional equilibrium without discharging or without discharging “too much.”
internalized oppression—believing and/or acting out the distress installed by oppression on another member of your group or on yourself.
“look better”/appearing “more functional”—appearing to have attention and appearing to be able to do one’s job.
medical stamp of approval—in our society doctors are given special status, making what they say appear to be more intelligent, acceptable, and important than what ordinary people say. The term “medical stamp of approval” refers to this situation.
“mental health” system—the institutions of psychiatry and psychology, including their manifestations in social work, religion, education, and those parts of the hospital, police, and court systems that support and enforce them.
“mental health” system survivors—people who have been or are being “treated” by the “mental health” system and are still alive, and their close relatives.
“mental health” liberation—the program and process of freeing all people from “mental health” oppression.
“mental health” oppression—the systematic suppression of discharge, the enforcement of conformity, and the invalidation of people’s minds, affecting everyone in the society whether or not they have had direct involvement in the “mental health” system. It is also the systematic mistreatment of those people “treated” by the “mental health” system (ex- and current “mental patients,” those who have had therapy, those who have taken psychiatric drugs, and their relatives).
“normal”—standardized “acceptable” behavior, as if some ways of being are more human than others. It is a compilation of oppressor patterns (usually white, male, middle- and owning-class, Protestant, heterosexual, able-bodied, thirty-to-forty-five-year-old, born in the United States patterns). People belonging to other groups are considered “not normal.”
“normal” patterns—people who belong to the “normal” groups carry these patterns. They are harder to see as patterns than the patterns of oppressed groups because people with these patterns tend to conform to the roles expected by society.
operate on a peer level—know, and show, that others are as powerful as we are, even when we are the designated leaders.
oppressor material—distress acquired from being forced to play out the oppressor role. These patterns may appear to benefit the oppressor but they are actually severe hurts that need to be discharged.
the oppressive society—current societies maintain the status quo by systematically oppressing many groups of people; the mistreatment is encouraged and enforced by the society and culture.
oppressed role—the role of “agreeing” to be oppressed. Each person fights hard before they are forced to give in and take on that role.
oppressor role—the role of “agreeing” to carry out oppression. The person in the oppressor role has always been oppressed first. No one freely takes on the oppressor role—it is necessary to have been mistreated as preparation for it.
re-evaluation—the process through which distress recordings are understood and turned into usable information. Re-evaluation occurs spontaneously after discharge.
restimulation—the usually unaware, but nevertheless originally intentional, bringing up of past distress because of some similarity in the present, in the hopes of securing attention from another person or persons and achieving some discharge.
safety net—a colloquial expression that refers to the practice of spreading a net underneath someone who is doing something dangerous, such as walking on a high wire, in order to catch them if they fall. A social welfare safety net would, for example, provide economic help in case of emergency.
step out of line/keep people in line—colloquial phrases that refer to people being expected to conform. To “step out of line” is to behave differently than is expected by the society. “Keep people in line” refers to what oppression, especially “mental health” oppression, is doing to make people conform.
stuck in a distress recording—having the recording playing in one’s mind in such a way that one cannot tell the difference between the recording and reality.
think outside the “box”—a colloquial phrase that refers to thinking in an unconventional way, the “box” being the confines of conformity.
“unacceptable” behavior—behaviors that are restimulating to people who place a high value on “normality.” Certain behaviors so flagrantly go against what is considered acceptable that they are often diagnosed as “mental illness.”
undischarged distress—distress that remains unevaluated and makes it difficult for a person to think clearly.