unsafe at any dose

exposing psychiatric dogmas so minds can heal. (sic)


review by Mira de Vries

Johnson cries out in frustration at being unsuccessful in persuading his colleagues to stop mistreating psychiatric patients. He laments that even David Healy who has lectured and written extensively against psychiatric drugs betrays dissident psychiatrists and damaged patients by endorsing electroshock.

Johnson provides neither new evidence nor personal experience to support his position against drugs. Instead he refers to books by Whitaker and Breggin – indeed highly recommendable.

But Johnson must not have read Breggin’s book very well, because Breggin rejects the idea of mental illness. Johnson doesn’t. He states “Don’t try and define what mental health is. There is no need to.” Yet he does try to define mental illness as “once the mind no longer relates to the reality of its owner.”

Referring to it by various terms, including “mental illhealth” (sic), he states that it is always caused by fear. In infancy these fears are justified. A baby is dependent on adults for survival. In adulthood they are “obsolete” leading to “a pathology of denial” he posits.

Like Breggin, Johnson places the onus of people’s sanity on their parents:
  • “…every sufferer from uncontrolled irrational emotions is looking for an ideal parent to sort things out, rather as their original parent somehow failed to do,”
  • “Parenting keeps infants alive, and adults insane.”
Although he vehemently rejects all biomedical treatments for mental illness (drugs and electroshock), he continually speaks of it in medical lingo, using terms as symptoms, treatment, and medical healing. His book is rich with analogies between somatic and psychiatric medicine. He calls the mind “the most important organ in the body.”
  • “Fear plays exactly the same role in mental health as pain does in physical health”
he writes, though most of his analogies are more lyrical:
  • “The mind [is] the one organ in the body which has function without form, physiology without anatomy”
  • “…plaster casts support the bones, but the healing is done by the living leg – apply emotional support in an appropriate way, and all minds heal.” 
  • “[Human beings] … have first to rinse out all the bits of fear which seem to breed ubiquitously, like so many bacteria.”
It makes stirring reading, but not sense.

He satirizes the DSM thus:
“…this is how [the DSM-IV system] would apply to leg pain. …your doctor says – “you’ve got a broken leg. I’m not the least interested in finding out what led up to this. In fact we have recently adopted a significantly novel approach – we’ve decided to be entirely neutral as to whichever causative factor might have led to this break.”
Humorous as this sounds, it is unpersuasive. A physician can set a broken leg without knowing what broke it. The need to know "what led up to this" regarding non-somatic complaints is precisely because no break or other anomaly can be identified.

Johnson’s method of treating mental illness is, according to him, supporting the person emotionally by talking to him. Like so many writers on both sides of the psychiatric divide, bio versus babble, he portrays his method of treatment as being spectacularly effective. He even claims to have used it successfully while employed at a prison – a job he admits to having attained through nepotism, though he couldn’t keep it for long. To his credit he does insist that treatment should be voluntary.

How talk can do such a spectacular trick he does not say. Instead he provides examples of lengthy conversations he allegedly had with patients. Such cases must be either fabricated or gross violations of the patients’ privacy which neither changing their names nor obtaining their consent can justify. Since he says that these are transcripts from tapes, it’s probably the latter. Nevertheless, what his fail-proof method is and how it can be learned by others remains obscure.

What is truly spectacular about Johnson is his illogic. No doubt some people do cope with “obsolete fears” whether or not he has hit on a method for making the “symptoms evaporate.” But surely it is absurd to assume the same cause for whatever brings millions of people in contact with psychiatrists. Such sweeping generalization disregards the diversity of humankind. And how does Johnson explain psychiatric intervention with people who have until then functioned perfectly well and normally all their lives, or conversely, people who have functioned poorly since infancy when these alleged fears were not yet obsolete? Does Johnson reject psychiatric intervention concerning people who have legitimate fears or problems not stemming from fear? Does he send such clients away?

Yet more examples of his illogic:
  • he admits that the mind is intangible, "you have no fingers to poke" it, and at the same time repeatedly calls it an organ of the body;
  • he identifies himself as a member of a profession – psychiatry – and at the same claims to reject all of that profession’s dogmas;
  • he recognizes that this profession is an “inhumane branch of medical practice” that has destroyed millions of lives and at the same time he calls it “the Queen of Medical Specialties” and the profession he loves. He even advises the reader to “overcome the fear of psychiatry.”
In summary, this is an excellent book as long as it is judged by its cover.

Copyright © MeTZelf