How to Complain: An Introduction


Last night I had a phone call from a fellow who had just discovered my blog.  He was frustrated and overflowing with stories of the abuse he’s suffered at the hands of the psychiatric system.  He also was off on a wild goose chase, filing complaints in places where they wouldn’t do any good, so I’m going to devote the next few blogs to explaining where and how to file effective complaints against therapists, doctors and agencies, not to mention the occasional receptionist. 

We’re going to cover things like PAIMI (Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness), the CQC (Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities), OPMC (Office of Professional Medical Conduct) and a few other acronyms your therapist has never heard about.  We’re going to talk about filing complaints about both private and public agencies, and at the local, state and federal level, e.g., I know a civil rights lawyer at the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

The first step in a complaint comes when you feel hurt.  You, as a child of God, have the right to be treated with respect and courtesy, no matter what the employees of the psychiatric system believe.  You also have the right to competent, effective treatment.  If you’re not getting it then you have the right to complain.  You have the right to hold care givers to the standard of performance that has been set for them by their various oversight agencies, not by their mean and venal selves.

You must understand, particularly if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, that you are still a valuable person.  You are not trash; you are worthy.  Nobody has any reason or right to treat you as anything less.  No one has the right to judge you, either.  You should not be degraded, humiliated, frightened or physically constrained or damaged.  Your civil rights should not be denied.

If you have been hurt then you should complain.  The best way to file a complaint is in writing and by mail.  Words spoken aloud can be twisted, misunderstood or forgotten but words on paper don’t go away and can’t be removed with a delete button.  Words on paper sit on somebody’s desk and demand to be attended to.  They can be filed, copied and passed around.  They are patient and wait for the right time and person.  They accumulate and tell a story.

Of course, you always can address your complaint orally or file it by email and sometimes that’s the right choice for you.  Don’t hesitate to complain just because you don’t have the time, energy or skills to write a letter.  But, whatever method you choose, do complain.  Do make your voice heard.  If you don’t, then two things happen:  (1) the person with whom you are dealing will continue on a path of increasing abuse, and (2) you will become a progressively more passive victim.  You must complain to save yourself.

Somewhere, at some time, you have to decide to stand up for yourself and push back against those who abuse their power over you.  Any power that is not constrained by an equal and opposite power will take over your life. When the psychiatric industry convinces patients that it can do whatever it wants to then all your freedoms are at risk.  Power is an inky black pool that spreads like toxic waste. It has no boundaries unless we establish them and enforce them.  We must push back against those who insult and degrade us. The excesses of psychiatric workers must be met with the strength of the patients. We must make clear that there are boundaries beyond which they may not go—boundaries that we will enforce.  (http://annecwoodlen.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/push-back/ )

What a complaint does is push back.  It says, “You’ve got to stop treating people this way because it’s wrong.”  This is all based on your self-respect.  If you are lacking in self-respect and need some lessons, read your bible.  In 2001 I stopped taking psych meds and started reading the Holy Bible.  What I found was confirmation from God that I was supposed to be cared for: 

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matthew 25

In short, if you don’t help me when I’m in need then you go to hell.  God says so.  That is the authority, and all the authority, that you need in order to file complaints.

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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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4 Responses to How to Complain: An Introduction

  1. Ms. R says:

    I would like to learn how to complain. My child and I had a 3 day ordeal with Stonybrook CPEP, Long Island, NY in which I am trying to draft a letter to send to the board of directors, Attorney General as well as to my insurance company. I am not a very good writer, without getting emotional. This ordeal not only left my child traumatized, but me as well that I am now seeking a psychologist for her and myself. I also wanted to have others from my area in Long Island to tell me what happen to them or loved one in Stonybrook CPE, I believe that when more voices are heard, they will listen, thus far no one has replied. I really would like your help in drafting a letter and where I can send it to get a response and/or investigation. I have been reading stories from people all over the USA and It is terrible that this is happening in America! Laws must be changed.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Hang in there, Ms R, and keep reading:

      “Today’s mail brought this message from Ms R: ‘I would like to learn how to complain. My child and I had a three-day ordeal with Stonybrook CPEP, Long Island, NY, in which I am trying to draft a letter to send to . . . ‘”

      https://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/how-to-complain-about-cpep/

      • Ms. R says:

        Hi Anne,
        It almost been a month since I wrote my letters. Well, I received my first letter from PAMI it was very short & sweet – we received your letter. I’m giving you the cliff note version, but that was it. A day later, I received a letter from interim Director. Now his letter was wordy and telling me how the doctors wanted the best care for my child,blah, blah, blah and how he’s sorry that I had a bad experience, blah, blah, blah. I have not received a reply from the Director of CPEP or the Board member, but will keep you posted. I’m disappointed that they can sweep this under the rug like this. It is terrible, my heart goes out to all that have gone through this and the ones that can’t get out. Take care

  2. Pingback: I Am in Charge of Me. | CreateWhatYouWant

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