I got a shock this morning. While checking out the latest on Facebook, I came across a post from Peter R. Breggin, MD, about the Empathic Therapy Conference 2013. Then I discovered that Dr. Peter and Mrs. Ginger Breggin have fully planned the 2013 conference—reserved the dates at the hotel, lined up five “keynote speakers,” detailed seven “special topics,” and listed fifteen “special presenters.”
Earlier this year, the Breggins’ made multiple public announcements that there would be no conference in 2013. This was in effect up to and including the middle of this year’s conference, April 13-15, then Ginger relented and said she would do it. Now, only a month later, they’ve got the whole thing planned and locked in.
Here’s my problem with this: they are taking full fees—$295 this year—from survivors and their relatives but they are not programming or planning for them. They are doing this despite the fact that their brochure clearly states “For Independent Counselors, Social Workers, Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Educators.” Not survivors or families.
Based on my experience, my advice to survivors and families is this: Stay away from this one. Here’s why: I attended the conference in 2011. I had been out of the psychiatric system for a decade and thought I had my act together but what I heard at the conference so shocked and wounded me that I broke down—and there was nowhere to turn for help. (https://behindthelockeddoors.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/fucking-bastards-and-new-friends/) No plans had been put in place for wounded survivors.
The conference surfaced the fact that I had PTSD as a result of my time spent in toxic psychiatry, but the conference was not prepared to deal with it. I did, however, make the acquaintance of a phenomenal therapist at the conference, Richard Gottlieb, MSW, and he spent weeks talking me down out of my distress.
This led to Dick and I doing a presentation the first day of the 2012 conference, “Treating the Psychiatrically Maltreated.” Our workshop was well-attended and well-received, and addressed what a therapist needs to do differently when treating a person who has been abused by the psychiatric system. The presentation included information on where and how to file complaints against abusive providers or agencies. I had compiled a book, “Surviving Psychiatry.” I asked Ginger how many copies I should bring to sell and she said “five.” I brought 25 and they sold out.
After our presentation, people kept coming up to me and trying to tell me their stories—stories of abuse, injury, medical damage, dehumanization, and—most horrifically—the deaths of their children. Dick said they came to me because, after hearing my story, they trusted me to understand. There was only one problem with that: I couldn’t deal with it. I’m not a therapist; I’m an activist. If you’re ready to file complaints and kick serious ass, I’m there for you. I’m ready to teach you the ways and means of fighting back to change the system and make sure the various offenders never hurt anybody else.
But I couldn’t sit there and listen to the stories these survivors and family members needed to tell. I lived through it and they were tapping into a pain in me that is so deep that it never can be erased. A couple of times Dick was able to re-direct these people to talk to him. I honestly don’t know how a good therapist can listen to this shit and stay sane, but Dick not only can and does but in the process he also brings deep relief and comfort to these folks. These were people who were suffering—they were crying, not sleeping, and afraid for their sanity. Their pain, which they thought they had under control, was brought to the surface by the conference speakers, but the conference planners had done nothing to deal with it. They were planning for professionals, not ex-patients and their families.
By the last day of the conference, I was sick and Dick was frustrated to the point of anger. What we were hearing over and over again, in virtually every workshop, was either the presenters or someone in the audience telling some horror story of what toxic psychiatry had done to them—and nothing was being done about it! There was no treatment plan, no action plan, no call for attendees to commit themselves to change! There was just one horror story after another, and when somebody would ask, “What can we do?” the answer would be a simplistic, rote, “Keep telling your stories.” Bullshit. Story-telling doesn’t cause change; informed action does.
The conference was not framed to carry people forward into action. Nobody—except Dick and I—was talking about concrete, specific actions that you can take to put a stop to the psychiatric industry’s damage. Sue the bloody psychiatrist! File a federal complaint against the hospital! Therapists who’ve been in the business for twenty years have never heard of PAIMI—the federal Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness, or MHLS—the Mental Hygiene Legal Service. They don’t know what agencies handle complaints and nobody was telling them.
After the 2011 conference, Peter Breggin asked Dick Gottlieb to serve on his Advisory Council. After the 2012 conference, I asked Dick if the Advisory Council’s input had been elicited for planning the conference. No, said Dick. In fact, his advice had never been asked about anything the Breggins’ are doing. So we set out to debrief ourselves—what went well at the conference, and what needed to be changed. We wanted to make recommendations to the Breggins’ that would help shape the 2013 conference and make it a better experience for ex-patients and their families.
And then, this morning, I found that Peter and Ginger have already locked in next year’s conference. There’s nothing in it for survivors or their families, but the Breggins’ are going to go ahead and take registrations and money from people who don’t know the pain they’re walking into.
It’s for professionals. It’s always about the doctor, never about the patient. A social worker fresh out of college attended a “client-centered” conference. When I asked her how many clients had attended, she looked aghast and replied, “None.” It’s always about how they treat us.
It’s never about us.