Dr. Peter Breggin’s Empathic Therapy Conference 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are going to fight this, Dick and me and you.  Somebody told me that all knowledge is for the sake of action, and all action is for the sake of love.  There will be an action outcome from this conference.  We will organize and make change.  The only way to live with the horror stories is to take action.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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3 Responses to Dr. Peter Breggin’s Empathic Therapy Conference 2012

  1. Natasha says:

    Hello Anne, thanks for your reply, these conversations are so important and I am so happy to have met you and Dick — the dynamic between the two of you makes me smile. I love his style (and I love your fierceness!) — in one conversation he and I had about clients being their own experts, Dick said that he approaches clients with complete ignorance, and then he pointed his finger at me and emphatically said “You are stupid!!” to which I laughed and had to agree: “Yes I AM!”. Gotta love him!

    I COMPLETELY agree with and love the idea of having a Sanctuary Room (brilliant!) for people who need to be heard and understood by people who care and want to listen, give support, and help people process the sea of emotions that come from these discussions. I think this is IMPERATIVE because academia (what I call academentia) is a removed way of talking about such intense human distress — I dislike school for this reason, I see it as a business and I’m playing the game in paying for my piece of paper so I can do the work I want to do, and it’s so frustrating that my school teaches so little about being HUMAN with our clients and more or less tells us to shuffle “more serious cases” to the “experts” of psychiatry. I’ll be damned if I do that to my clients. I asked one fellow student who is a psychiatric nurse and pro-ECT, if she would get ECT on herself or allow her loved ones to get it, to which she replied without hesitation that she certainly would! I wonder if she’d change her mind if she attended this conference.

    I applaud Breggin & company for recognizing and organizing this desperately needed part of mental health — if there’s no empathy, there’s no healing. I think the academics did a good job conveying this, and more needs to be done **for the survivors** of psychiatric horrors. I understand what you’re saying about not wanting to hear other people’s stories who are drowning in pain (in reply to my question about a space for only survivors). You have your own sea of pain to deal with, that would just be too much and not helpful to you or other survivors, especially with a history of NOT being heard, or else misunderstood, by the mental health industry (I hate to call it an industry but that’s what it is). One of my favorite discussions (besides yours and Dick’s) was Bert Karon’s because he was so real and non academic; he profoundly moved me and a lot of people in many ways. As you’ve said, the conference opens emotional floodgates for survivors, so a safe space to process it all should be a major part OF the conference. How can pain *not* come up in this environment? And what better place for survivors to get the support they need than a hotel full of professionals who “get it”?! I applaud you and Dick for getting this Sanctuary Room idea into motion! What a dynamic duo, you two should be the poster children for what a client-therapist team looks like!

    I’d also like to have seen some workshops with music therapy, dance therapy, pet therapy, and any other so-called “alternative” modes of healing — they had one, Recreation Therapy, which was interesting, but we only did a 5 minute art activity and the rest was a talk about the theory and logistics of it all (good woman who put it on, her name escapes me at the moment). These are the kinds of things I want to incorporate into my counselling work.

    Wow, this has turned into an essay! Have a good Thursday Anne, and let’s definitely keep in touch.


  2. Natasha says:

    Hello Anne, this is Natasha writing you from Toronto, Canada. I attended yours and Dick’s workshop; I was sitting in the front row and one of the people nodding vigorously. Bought your book too, congrats on selling out of them. I really appreciated your Spirit and I thank you for sharing your experience with us, your story inspires the kind of action I’ll be taking in my counselling work.

    I appreciated how you said that the professionals were relaying the info as info (though not without compassion) while you and other survivors were coming from the raw pain and horror of experience, which we all know is the best teacher. I have much respect and compassion for survivors like you who a) have *survived* (!) and b) tell your stories so that others can know better. Do you think a full workshop by survivors for survivors would be a good addition to future Empathic Therapy conferences?

    It was a pleasure meeting you. Home/jammies/comfy bed sounds divine, and that’s where I’m off to myself right now!


    • annecwoodlen says:


      Thanks for your kind words. You were one of the people who clearly “got it”–the message we were sending.

      My previous response to you was based on my failure to process what I was reading. I thought you were talking about a separate conference, when you actually meant a breakout workshop within the Empathic Therapy Conference. I think such a workshop would only attract people who wanted to talk, not listen. People are desperate to tell their stories. I would not attend because I don’t want to hear other people who are drowning in pain. Maybe that’s just me.

      One idea we’re talking about is having a Sanctuary Room which would be staffed by care providers who volunteer to listen and help. So many people come to these conferences feeling like they’ve got their act together but listening to the presentations just tears them apart. So much factual information comes out about the specific effects of drug damage that the user is left howling in pain, “WHY DIDN’T SOMEBODY TELL ME! I COULD HAVE BEEN SPARED ALL THIS. MY SON WOULD STILL BE ALIVE!” We must do everything we can to get the word out, to spare others the pain we have suffered.

      Let’s keep in touch. Dick asked for your contact information, which I will forward to him.

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