Psychiatric re-victimization

To contextualise this series about psychiatry, see: here. Below, an abridged translation of a chapter of one of my books:

Let us imagine Dora, a girl in a state of trauma because she was raped by her father. Imagine that instead of taking her to a common hospital, she is taken by her father to a psychiatric ward. The girl does not want to go there. All she wants is for some of her loved ones to comfort her. What would she feel if the admissions officer to the ward told her?:

We are going to commit you. The rape did not cause any trauma. That is completely surpassed in scientific psychiatry. You live in a paranoid, world Dora. Because of your symptoms, my diagnosis is that you suffer from schizoidism. And you run the risk of schizophrenia. A chemical imbalance in your brain is causing your anxiety attacks.

I see that my scientific interpretation causes you panic… Do you know, Dora, that the first sign of recovery of a teenager who feels violated is to accept that she is a sick woman? For the same reason, and to help you accept it, my prescription is to bombard your brain with antipsychotics.

Any rejection of my diagnosis and prescription will be considered resistance. And the resistance to you taking your meds, my dear Dora, is involuntary commitment in this ward.

Would not this ‘bio-reductionist’ interpretation—which reduces our pains to a biological factor—be an additional blow to this minor, something even more devastating than her father’s rape? The example, although hypothetical, illustrates what happens to many adolescents in the doctors’ offices: something that I call the re-traumatization or re-victimization of a victim, which could be defined in thus:

In common jurisprudence, measures are taken against the aggressor. In psychiatric jurisprudence, measures are taken against the victim.

Does this sound like Alice in Wonderland? In real life there was a case in which psychiatrists diagnosed a young victim of rape as ‘schizophrenic’. And even more incredible: a fourteen-year-old girl in a state of trauma for having been raped was electro-shocked, against her will, by the psychiatrists.[1]

These are not isolated cases. The following is an example of psychiatric re-victimization in the United States:

Rana Lee remembers the time she went to her doctor because her husband was beating her. The doctor, she told a congressional committee, ‘prescribed 10 milligrams of Valium three times a day to calm me down… He refilled it for five years, with no questions asked’. [2]

This doctor prescribed to drug not the aggressor, but the victim of the aggressor. I have heard testimonies from women that something similar happened to them. But at least these women were saved from a psychiatric diagnosis, not another victim of domestic abuse:

Psychiatrists are fond of stressing how much suffering schizophrenia causes. However, I can truthfully say being labeled a schizophrenic has caused me a hundred times as much suffering as the so-called ‘illness’ itself. Since recovering my sanity in 1961, I have spent decades struggling to gain some measure of self-understanding and self-esteem. In this regard, I never fully recovered from what psychiatry and my parents did to me until I finally realized I had never been ill in the first place. [3]

This confession comes from John Modrow. Re-victimized by psychiatrists, Modrow concludes that psychiatric praxis seems to be calculated to drive a person, who has already been traumatized, into madness.

A psychological re-traumatization is a direct violation of the Hippocratic oath: Primum non nocere!, first, do no harm. The practice itself of psychiatry represents a violation of this oath. ‘How, for example, can a psychiatrist validate his identity as a medical doctor without labeling others as mentally sick’, asks Modrow, ‘that is to say, without dehumanizing others and thoroughly destroying their identities?’ [4]

Of the theoreticians who approached the subject of what I have called here re-victimized victims, Harry Sullivan made the most valuable contribution to understand the interior world of these individuals. According to the Sullivan-Modrow model, the panic that makes a re-victimized victim enter a state of madness is caused by a consecutive series of external assaults that collapse the individual’s defences. In his self-analysis, Modrow ratifies Sullivan’s notion that when these defences collapse, ‘the individual goes into an intense state of panic and simply comes “unglued”, so to speak. In this panic state, the individual has a terrifying vision of himself as a person of no value or worth’. Talking about his own experiences, Modrow adds that ‘painful memories once repressed rise and come flooding into awareness with a gruesome, hallucinatory vividness’. [5]

The experience of the demolishing panic of the inner self could be described as a tearing up of the self where the betrayal of the universe is experienced. We could illustrate it if we imagine that Dora escaped the mental institution just to be repudiated by her extended family, as it was accustomed to do with raped girls. What would she feel? According to Modrow, the panic state that immediately preceded his own mental breakdown was ‘the most appalling and devastating experience that any person can undergo’. [6]

Pre-psychotic panic is the state when the mental health of an individual is at most risk. In this state the mind loses its centripetal force that gives cohesion to its inner self, so to speak.

I dislike medical terminology to speak about problems of the soul. Yet, I could say that Modrow’s panic attacks were iatrogenic. Iatrogenesis (from Greek iatros, physician) is one of the aberrations of the psychiatric profession. In his misguided endeavours to heal the therapist provokes new and more serious disorders than the already existent.[7]

The re-victimization of a victim of family abuse, frequently iatrogenic, is central to understand the nature of psychiatry but very few critics of psychiatry have pointed out to something so consequential. The exception is precisely Modrow:

The psychological harm which psychiatrists inflict on their patients is a subject which is not often discussed. One reason why this topic is seldom discussed has to do with the fact that the people who are the most knowledgeable on this subject—namely, the people who have been psychologically damaged by psychiatry—are rarely listened or taken seriously. The entire narrative section of this book [How to Become a Schizophrenic] illustrates the kind of psychological harm which psychiatry can cause. [8]

Due to the double spiral of extreme abuse, parental and psychiatric, the young Modrow had a psychotic episode. For a brief time he believed himself to be John the Baptist: a delirium of grandeur which, according to Modrow himself, was nothing more than a desperate attempt of his unconscious to super-compensate the feeling of bestial humiliation occasioned by his parents and the doctors paid by his mother.


[1] The young man’s case is mentioned in Peter Breggin: Beyond Conflict: From Self-Help and Psychotherapy to Peacemaking (St. Martin’s Press, 1992) p. 107; that of the girl, in T. Baker: ‘The minor issue of electroconvulsive therapy’, Nature Medicine, 1, pp. 199-200.

[2] Rana Lee, quoted en Breggin: Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of the ‘New Psychiatry’ (St. Martin’s Press, 1994), p. 219.

[3] John Modrow: How To Become a Schizophrenic: The Case Against Biological Psychiatry (Apollyon Press, 1996), pp. 147f.

[4] Ibid., p. 227.

[5] Ibid, p. 18.

[6] Ibid., p. 19.

[7] An explanation of psychiatric iatrogenesis appears in chapter 5 of Robert Baker’s Mind Games: Are We Obsessed With Therapy? (Prometheus Books, 1996). Incidentally, in 1994 I talked to Dr. Baker personally in a conference of critics of pseudosciences.

[8] Modrow: How To Become a Schizophrenic, p. 226.