Brain Distrust: Shrinks and Scientologists Find Weird Common Ground Over the DSM-5

San Francisco Weekly/May 22, 2013

The Achilles heel of the Occupy movement was that extreme and - some would say - unbalanced individuals hijacked the spotlight and the message.

So, perhaps it's fitting that this past weekend's protest, titled "Occupy the American Psychiatric Association," was forced to reschedule so that extreme and - some would say - unbalanced individuals wouldn't hijack the spotlight and the message.

The APA gathered in the city over the weekend prior to the rollout of its controversial fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. On the 18th, the marching masses of the Citizens Commission for Human Rights, outfitted in matching T-shirts reading "CHILDHOOD IS NOT A MENTAL DISORDER: Stop Psychiatric Drugging of Children" were slated to demonstrate at Moscone Center. Occupy the APA wanted nothing to do with them.

"There was an announcement they were going to do their protest on the 18th, so we moved ours to the 19th," explains Jim Gottstein, a co-organizer of Occupy the APA, a gathering of mental health professionals, patients' rights advocates, and other critics of a drug-first approach to mental well-being. "We want no confusion about this being a joint effort."

That's because while the CCHR describes itself as a "psychiatric watchdog," it's also an offshoot of the Church of Scientology - which wants to do to psychiatry what your dog wants to do to a squirrel. For folks like Gottstein with nuanced objections to the current state of psychopharmacology, it's deeply frustrating to be constantly queried if he's part of a Scientology front group.

He isn't. But there is common ground. Both the psychologists protesting on Sunday and Saturday's Scientologists object to the lowering of thresholds in the DSM for conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder, which led to a boom in drug prescriptions. Kirk Schneider, a psychologist and adjunct professor at San Francisco's Saybrook University, worries about a "growing reductionism in psychiatry that is equating people with their biochemical functioning - and the main reason for this is so they can be treated with drugs."

The CCHR has long targeted ADD as bogus and lobbied against therapeutic drugs for minors. But it goes further - Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard likened psychiatry to terrorism. The church's current leader, David Miscavige, has been quoted stating that one of Scientology's ultimate goals is to "eliminate psychiatry in all its forms."

So, if you were seeking a method to discredit people like Schneider and Gottstein - complex men who use words like "holistic," "Procrustean," and "reductionism" - there's no easier way than by tying them to Scientology. "The presence of Scientology in the storytelling mix served to taint all criticism of the medical model and psychiatric drugs, no matter what its source," author Robert Whitaker lamented in Anatomy of an Epidemic.

Having a straw man is handy for the psychiatrists and drug companies who stand to financially benefit from the DSM-5's proscriptions. Says Gottstein with a sigh, "If the CCHR didn't exist, the psychopharmoceutical complex would have to invent them."

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