Three days ago I received a note that Peter Breggin, M.D., was having an Empathic Therapy conference in Syracuse this weekend. All I knew about Dr. Breggin was that he was user-approved by the radical wing of the psychiatric peer support movement. A little research revealed that Dr. Breggin (http://www.breggin.com/ ) not only thinks that taking drugs can hurt you but also that stopping drugs can hurt you—and he’ll help you get off drugs. My kind of guy.
Dr. Breggin and his wife were putting on this conference and I tried unsuccessfully to reach them by phone and fax to see if there was still time for me to register. Likewise, my friendly local recovering psychiatrist tried and failed, so we decided we would just show up and see if we could gain entry. Then, about two hours after the conference started this morning, I got a call-back from Ginger Breggin.
I explained that I would only be able to attend for a few hours Friday and Saturday afternoon (because of ill health). The conference is running all day Friday and Saturday, and half-day Sunday. Ginger said I was welcome to come for whatever time I could. Then I asked if I could have some reduction in the cost of the conference, which is $250. She inquired about my circumstances. I said, “I took antidepressants every day for twenty-six years and consequently have a dozen chronic illnesses, and—”
And Ginger Breggin said, “Oh, come. Just come.” And that’s when I knew this was really going to be a different kind of conference. You’re not putting the money first? You’re putting me first? Wow. Then I started to inquire on behalf of my recovering psychiatrist friend and Ginger said, “He’s already here.” Well, okay then.
So I showed up this afternoon. They had chosen the Embassy Suites hotel, which had lovely indoor ramps for wheelchairs but the buffet had been set up so that it blocked wheelchair access to the dining room, nevertheless, a hotel staffer quickly and easily pulled the table aside so I could get in.
In the hallway, I suddenly realized I was positioned next to Dr. Breggin. He’s a short, rounding man with white hair and a tendency to twinkle. He looks like the great-uncle who slips you an extra cookie after your mom has said “no more.”
The first session I attended was Building a Person-Centered Private Practice and Clinic: Sarton Weinraub, Ph.D. The presenter was firm in that we all must sit in one circle facing each other, so we dutifully did. In the first two minutes the presenter made it clear that this group was more about “building a private practice and clinic” and less about “person-centered.” I was in the wrong place, but, oh well, I kept listening. Until he told the story of recently waiting while a client (not a “patient”) wrote him a check and said, “I guess I’m paying you to be my friend.”
To which the therapist replied, “Yes, I guess I am your friend,” which is bullshit, so we had a little discussion about friendship and therapy, focusing on the idea that what the “friend” is paying for is your time. The conversation ended when I eyeballed the guy and said, “That’s deceitful. If I’m paying a therapist it’s because he has specialized education and experience, not because he has time. You don’t pay your friends for their time.” I did not add, “And you and I both know damn well that you’re not coming over to my house for supper. We are not friends.”
Peter Breggin was in the circle and at some point another member turned and asked for his opinion about something. I’ve been to conferences. When the head guy gets asked, he always steps up and answers; he is, after all, the authority—and he’s got an ego as big as the room will hold. However, Peter waved off the opportunity to grandstand, murmuring “I am just here like everybody else.” And he actually meant it.
I am not being real thrilled with the presenter’s attitude until we come to the point where he flatly announces, “You cannot have a clinical practice without accepting insurance; you have to accept insurance.” The recovering psychiatrist does not accept insurance. He soaks the rich and accepts homegrown chicken eggs from the poor.
When I worked for the NYS Office of Mental Health, a survey report came across my desk about the use of restraints in New York State hospitals. What the survey revealed was that if a hospital had a policy that it was okay to use restraints, then the hospital often found it necessary to use them. Alternatively, if the institution had a policy that restraints were unacceptable, then they never seemed to have an occasion when they needed to use them. What you do follows what you think; practice follows policy.
The presenter in this group has made a personal decision to accept insurance (he also made a decision to move to New York City because it’s a good market for therapists) and he is now informing beginning-therapists that this is the only way; it’s what they have to do. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s close-mindedness, so I wheel out of the room and enter the next room where Non-Violent Communication is taking place. (To be continued)