Dr. Brent Potter
The following interview originally appeared on The Dr. Peter Breggin Show in August 2013. Below is the transcript which was previously unpublished.
Dr. Peter: This is Dr. Peter Breggin. I have another interesting guest today. I hope to plunge the depths of some of the deeper issues of human nature with them today. But before getting there want to alert you to do information on just how much family life in America is in trouble. And when family life in America is in trouble, individual children are in trouble and the nation is in trouble.In a recent PEW report on families, what they emphasized is that there is a rise of young adults within their parental home. Their own data shows that from 1968 to 2012 there was a two percent rise of young adults of age 31 living at home went up from 32 percent to 34 percent.
Hidden more deeply in the data is the fact that these young people 18- to 31-year-olds are collapsing in the rate that they form households, that they get married and raise children. From 1968 to 2007 the rate dropped from 56 percent household formation among young people up to age 31 to 27 percent, that’s a halving, more than a halving of the rate of household formation. So where are these people going? In fact they’re not going to live with mom and dad, that’s a mere two, when we have got a percentage point drop of 29. Well, they are going into no man’s land, the they are living alone, they are living unmarried with someone, they are living with a child alone. I was particularly struck by the increase in seven percent of people living alone over the decade.
So young people now they are delaying getting married, they are not getting married, they are getting divorced, they are making living arrangements that don’t constitute solid family households, this is a very, very serious problem.
What are the effects on kids going to be? Kids are going to be growing up without as much emotion, maturity, wellbeing and responsibility and sense of confidence, all of which is best nurtured in a stable home. In addition without this kind of home building, household building we are not going to have as many communities where kids are being raised, household decide household and getting to know other children and other families the way many of us did as children. They are really growing up now to be people who lack a confidential belief in a stable love relationship, stable family relationships and even stable careers.
I think this is a catastrophe that we really, really need to look at.So that’s my introduction for today. My guest, are you there Brent?
Dr. Brent: Yes sir.
Dr. Peter: Hi, this is Dr. Brent Potter. One of the interesting things about Brent is that like me he started to work in the field of mental health when he was 18 years old. I’ll let him explain that to you and like me, he was I think working on issues that he had in his own family growing up and was drawn because of that into the mental health field.
He knew he wanted to work in psychology since he was in the 7th grade, I think that beats me. He has been 20 years in the psychotherapeutic practice. For those of you who are too young haven’t read, haven’t really studied the history of reform in psychiatry Laing is spelled L A I N G, R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience and many other books.
His best book from my viewpoint is written Aaron Esterson, whom I had the privilege of giving a conference with in England many years ago and it was on family life and its effect on people who became later schizophrenic.
Dr. Potter’s new book, Elements of Self-Destruction, is out now. He brings a really complex forceful perspective to all of this involving disciplines that we call psychology and existentialism and phenomenology and psychoanalysis and so on. I am hoping to have a discussion with him that makes all of this perfectly understandable. Hi Brent.
Dr. Brent: How are you doing?
Dr. Peter: [laughing] Actually good, I am having fun introducing you. Where would you like to begin?
Dr. Brent: You mentioned kind of what brought me to psychology. I was always interested; kind of an introverted kid and I guess psychological life and dreams and things like that. I remember talking to my mom and explaining some of these things to her some of my interests. She said, “Well, there are these people they are called psychologists nd they tend to study a lot of this sort of thing,” and I thought oh that’s great. And I went and I found a phonebook, went to P under psychologists and started calling people down the list in kind of a practical way and a few poor people actually picked up the phone and I inundated them with lot of questions about you know what are dreams and what is this and what is that.
One of the people that picked up said, “Well, I don’t know a lot about dream symbolism but there is this guy named Freud who wrote a lot about it and maybe you should check that out. I went to the library and went through their system there and started reading Freud really early-.
Dr. Peter: How old when you were reading Freud?
Dr. Brent: I remember I wrote a paper on dreams that I had to present to a class and that was in 7th grade. So I had been reading on around that time and I really enjoyed it, it clicked. It was one of those moments that was just like ah I get this and you know from there I was just hooked. I was really fascinated with psychological life and then had a few kinds of physical moment as I went through academia one of which was when I was at Duquesne and was taking a class. I’d always had this idea having read Freud I’d picked up a lot of the theory, but I always wondered like what happens if we just treat other people the way that we would want to be treated even in a clinical or counselling setting.
That was just kind of a running unpolished idea that I had and then when I picked up Laing at Duquesne and started reading him, he makes frequent comments to are we treating people like diagnoses clinically or like the biological machines and that just made a lot of sense to me. So, Laing clicked and then when I was working in the field, I also was really suspicious about the DSM. It seemed like it was kind of a superficial way of picking up something as important as diagnosis. And I just had a ton of hard time with that and then also seeing the way that people were struggling just in life and with medications as a response to that, it just didn’t seem right to me and I felt like I was kind of alone in the field at that time because most people were just going along with psychiatry is the proper way to do things.
And then another moment was picking up your book, which is why I was so grateful to get the invitation “Toxic Psychiatry,” that was like thank goodness, someone who sees things perhaps the same way and that maybe some of the things that I think about psychiatry are true I found in that book. So I just kind of continued along that path and working clinically I have tended to work with people who are very distressed, people who are really suffering and children, teenagers, adults and so it’s given me hopefully a lot more compassion and insight into what’s going on with then and how people are struggling these days.
Dr. Peter: It’s so interesting, we both started young and we both early on. When I was 18 worked in the state level hospitals and as a college freshman at Harvard 18 and 19 running the program I thought exactly the same thing from the beginning that well these folks should be treated just like I would want to be treated.
It is a profound puzzle to me why some of us have that empathic viewpoint or the identification of the other person and others don’t. I have not been able to explain it from any origins in my childhood. Have you thought about that Brent, we didn’t plan to talk about that, have you thought about that?
Dr. Brent: You know I have thought a lot about that and I’m kind of puzzled by that too. I think part of it is, I am not sure about your training but I know that in my training in a lot places it was very much about code and procedure. So, there was high volume especially mental hospitals I worked at in community mental health were case notes especially in community mental health were running 70 to a 100 people.
And if you are working with children 70 to hundred there is also families in there and other systems. Here is the presenting issue with the diagnosis, label the diagnosis.
Dr. Peter: What you are saying you really don’t have any more, much more of glimmer than I do about where that comes from, that sense of empathy. Now that I think about it, there have been books about it for example about the people who rescued Jews, now a lot of them came from Christian background or they came from loving families. I truly didn’t come from a loving family, I gathered maybe those some issues in yours. I’m willing to leave that [laughing]if you don’t have a better explanation than I do.
Dr. Brent: You know I wasn’t thinking about that but it’s quite possible. I did have struggles in my family, and I remember very early on being somewhat conscious of those. At the time when I was a little kid, I didn’t have the maturity or reflective insight into some of these things. But I had developed kind of a special place of suffering in my heart and so then when I saw that in others I think that I could link to that and I could also notice it missing in other people of in other clinical situations. So I think that sort of like you is probably the spark of that and you know what I really think that that’s why people get up on when I meet with them clinically as they get the sense that I really care and that I am really partnering with them in their struggles and trying to work with them towards wellness. I think people can pick up if that’s sincere or if that’s not sincere pretty quickly.
Dr. Peter: Oh, very, very, very much so. Let’s talk some about your current interest, you have put a lot of it into your book Elements of Self-Destruction. When did you first get interested in it, what are your thoughts about how you got started dwelling on why people are self destructive? God knows of many, many of us have puzzled overnight and wondered about it ourselves.
Dr. Brent: Well I think of the area of destructiveness as being inherent in all of us. I think that in psychological life there is organic growth towards aliveness and there is kind of a counter pull towards the deadness in all of us. I think that explains quite a lot of phenomenon just from if I have a project there is something I am supposed to work on and for whatever reason I am not doing it or it is something I should be doing and I am not doing it, it’s like there is inertia or a force working against it. I think that that and kind of the simplistic every day form can be present.
And then if there is trauma involved in someone’s life that counter life point, the anti life point it can become exaggerated.
Dr. Peter: Something like fully, I mean this is basically the Freud matter demeaning because Freud did a lot of thinking. The Freudian idea that there is a life and a death and instinct there is kind of a war in us and that the trauma maybe brings out the death aspect more strongly.
Dr. Brent: Yeah I think so, you know Freud struggled with that. There are a lot of letters that he wrote where he simply couldn’t believe that there was an antilife force inherent in the human being because everything about us is towards growth and towards adaptation and reproducing and life, but it took him some measure of struggle within himself to finally say goodness, look at the state of the world today, look at the state of people presenting themselves with issues that they simply can’t stop. I mean kind of the clinical presentation of things when people come in and present is I am depressed, and I can’t stop feeling that way or I am anxious and I can’t stop it or in more extreme circumstances I am hearing voices and I can’t make it stop or I am drinking too much and I don’t know why I can’t stop.
There is something kind of compulsive, something inherent in this antilife energy of this phenomena where we find ourselves doing things constantly that we don’t understand and that we have really hard time stopping.
Dr. Peter: That is really interesting. I don’t much think in terms of Freud anymore though like you and I was young I really immersed myself in reading his stuff but it is sort of inevitable to have to come to some kind of conclusion about human nature, having such huge capacities for destruction towards others and towards oneself. I think about these young people who become athletes and become movie stars and singers, they have the whole world open in front of them and they can’t handle it and they go down the track of active self destruction usually involving drugs. And they then think brings out that death force, it’s over drugs including psychiatric drugs.
Dr. Brent: Yeah, tragic and I am not like a orthodox Freudian or anything like that I just mean sort of descriptively it is interesting to note you know starting with him and then moving through the field of psychology up to today, it’s very interesting that there is destructive forces going on and just to open up the question. First of all to kind of acknowledge it.
When you look at the body of research on all the different ways that we’re self destructive individual and then if you look the collective levels it’s pretty fascinating and the way is and how pervasive it is. Especially as you say you know these young people who seem to have everything going for them and then all of a sudden are wrapped up in drugs and sadly, you know what is it every month or two there is some story of someone who is found overdosed in their apartment or in their home just dead.
Dr. Peter: When you talk about self-destruction, talk about the range of behaviors you are talking about.
Dr. Brent: Well, the way that I formulated, I think that it has to do with connection points with consensual reality. I think that once we have a trauma or some very challenging experience and we take a step back from reality to kind of defend ourselves or to feel safe, that sets in motion or has substantial that’s set in motion kind of an addictive process where we become increasingly reliant upon now adaptive ways of knowing and being in the world which kind of atrophies the metaphorical muscle that we need to exercise to be in contact with consensual reality.
So the more one withdraws, the less one is able to contend with reality and then before long you have kind of lost sight of shore. I also think that in kind of withdrawal from this contact points, there is a phantasy or something that rushes in to fill the gap which has to do strongly with like imagination or fantasy and so instead of concrete, with experience with reality a lot of it is mediated by kind of imagination or fantasy. Then there is a lot of danger points there and that can relate to you know schizo like conditions or very withdraw in conditions up through Schizophrenia or as you pointed out you know concrete substance dependence, it’s a lot like that.
It’s an ever more atrophy sort of connections with reality and increased fantasy of usually party fantasies of power, fantasies of ease and comfort, it comes from relief, from substance ingestion or fantasy life. But that’s just we went further and further away from these contact links.
Dr. Peter: Yeah, I think that you know again I usually don’t think this way but I think it helps understanding to think particularly of drug addiction as a kind of killing of the self, a kind of I can’t stand my moving self anymore, the pain is too great, the anxiety is too great, the shame, the guilt, the negative emotions are too great, I can’t stand this life, this way I am and that is certainly in line with what we are talking about. The notion of consensual reality is interesting,
The way I think of it is that we are made of each other, you know made of each other physically and spiritually or nurtured by each other, we grow up and that we are a part of a social fabric, the human experience and when we are traumatized, unloved, injured, that fabric tends to pull apart. We may even pull it apart ourselves in our anger, in our anxieties and shame. And the pulling apart of the fabric is I think how I review what you are calling the coming apart of the consensus points and I am so much in agreement that when you pull apart that then you end up in hideous and private fantasy life, your own personal fantasy life which increasingly is actually fairly stereotyped and not very creative kind of social fabric breaks down.
Dr. Brent: Yeah, we are always already in a shared world with others and so we are always already a part of this unity, this social fabric that we are all a part of and then once we have fantasies of departing from that it really is just a fantasy. It’s an illusion and then what happens is there is a disparity between how others perceive me, how I perceive myself and then all these different points of disparity I think are like it labelled as mental illness. It’s really just being different out of step with the kind of social norms and things like that.
Dr. Peter: How do you view what we call hallucinations or delusions in terms of what we are talking about?
Dr. Brent: I see them as being on the extreme end of what I was talking about from this withdrawal from social engagement in the shared world that we are always a part of. As I depart from that, and I think that addiction is actually a good metaphor for a lot of these self-destructive processes. I think there is an increasing reliance upon fantasy life, a decreased ability to relate to reality and that difference, that gap has to be made up with something. Psychological life only fills itself, it’s never just empty or blank. And so there is an increasing reliance upon fantasy which turns into hallucinations and then before you know it it’s impossible for someone who is that withdrawn or it is very difficult almost to really re-engage and be in those shared relationships because a lot of those skills, the nutrients that are needed are engagement with reality has been missing for so long. So then it is hard to go back and re-establish those links.
Dr. Peter: Yeah, you can actually see it in traumatized children at the time or looking back with an adult on a very traumatic child. You can see the child withdrawing into books and fantasy life, building relationships with trees in the backyard that they love or pets or imaginary friends, going off their minds to the typical and trauma like going up on the wall and you looking down, you also going off into fairyland and just created worlds. I don’t think the child experiences as much as a conscious, surely there may be some peace making Bob, the child is driven into those alternatives and I agree with you that that is the beginning of evolution of what we later in our ignorance call Schizophrenia rather than saying this is a natural result of abuse that the adult now has to try to overcome by re-engaging with people and trying to read behind the places they were driven into by abusive, unloving human beings.
Dr. Brent: Well and I think that that’s perhaps one radical difference that we have in viewing so called psychopathology is that if we have two competing hypothesis, one is that such behaviour is result of a chemically imbalanced brain organ on a one hand or looking back through someone’s history and seeing a lot of these incidents of abuse, some of which are obvious, very objective and sometimes this kind of abuse is very insidious and has to do with communication patterns, double binds, things like that that such behaviour is the logical outcome of that background.
Those are two very different ways of looking at it and its more likely, at least I found that the likely hypothesis is that it’s very well explained by a person’s circumstances, relational context and background rather than to say its a chemically imbalanced brain organ.
Dr. Peter: Yeah, and I think that’s where R.D. Laing, by the way again we are talking with Brent Potter, he is the therapist and expert in understanding the psychology of human destructiveness.
That’s where Laing and Esterson really broke around and they published dialogues if they saw in the families they were treating. As you said, what we call the psychosis of Schizophrenia whatever, I mean it was so clearly embedded in the conversation even of the young adult with the family and of course now you go back to infant preverbal and expose that infant to rejection and injury and humiliation before it can even formulate explanations and thoughts in a clear fashion. And you have quite a legacy to overcome as you grow up.
Dr. Brent: Hmm. I think that Laing was very good at pointing something that is unduly ignored and that is that not all abused, not all trauma that we talk about is really objectively present. But Laing was very good at pointing out some of the more subtle and serious kind of trauma that occurs like a slow strangulation overtime that is the result of communication systems of power differential, sending very confusing message to the child or young adult.
Both options of which are your kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t but you have to make a decision and so these patterns over time have a brittle layer effect on the mind and I think these things tend to be ignored because people aren’t really paying attention or they are paying attention more to the objectively present abuse and tend to ignore that someone could have been sort of emotionally tortured over time and subject to these communication patterns that left them feeling helpless.
Dr. Peter: That’s a really good formulation, we are going to go to the break now and when we come back let’s talk a little bit more about the details of the kinds of communication patterns that were identified and continue to be identified and really drive children either really crazy and let’s talk about how people get better after these kinds of trauma.
I don’t know how many folks know much about Laing anymore. He certainly influenced me. I mean, his book Politics of Experience, I think came out in 1962 approximately. Is that about right?
Dr. Brent Potter: It sounds about right.
Dr. Peter Breggin: In the same year so comes Szasz’s the Myths of Mental Illness. That was just quite a year of really thoughtful critiques of the psychiatric models. Szasz coming from the viewpoint of strict libertarian analysis of freedom and how psychiatry’s in defense against freedom and the power structure that uses the false metaphor of mental illness to empower itself. And Laing coming out a critique of how we view people who are disturbed, something Szasz had little personal interest in, you know, the suffering of human beings and where it comes from, and how intervening in it. And I would say that maybe ’62 was the high point in the history of psychiatry with there being two outstanding psychiatrists making profound critiques, and it’s been pretty much downhill since then for psychiatry.
My own contribution, by the way, has been to–different from both Szasz and Laing has been to look really at the horrific effects of the drugs, and shuttering the lobotomy, and to take a personal, and a legal, and a political stand, you know, against these abuses, in addition to some theoretical work and other things, but Brent, if you want to talk a little more about just the kind of communications that have been identified over the years. You mentioned the double bind. Most folks aren’t going to know what that is, the double blind from Gregory Bateson and from–oh gosh, what’s his name? He used to be on my board before he passed on Jay Haley.
Talk about the kinds of communications and well, I’ll describe the double blind. Tell me if this an accurate viewpoint. In the double bind, a person from early on is confronted with a communication that is completely contradictory with each other such as put on your shoes while you put in your shoes. And then, when the individual gets disturbed, instead of helping out the person who started the double bind says finally, “Why you’re disturbed,” something along those lines. Is that an accurate description?
Dr. Brent Potter: Yup, that sounds about right. There is a certain pressure behind double bind is one-half to make a decision and basically they’re damned to stay, they’re damned to stay down.
Dr. Peter Breggin: Yeah.
Dr. Brent Potter: So the pressure behind it, and also someone has to make a decision, and no matter what decision he or she makes, he’s going to be–he or she is going to be criticized for that. And I think–I recently had a conversation with a client. And she told me about her experience of her mother passing away. And then, during a part of her grieving period, shortly thereafter, her family seems to have some of these dynamics, and she was criticized heavily by her father sort of saying, “Why are you grieving so much? Why are you grieving more than I am?”
That’s a kind of double bind because one is a pressure behind it, and two, what’s an appropriate response to that because if she is grieving too much, then she’s in the wrong and if she’s not grieving, then that’s also wrong. And so, it raises kind of a confused and confusing state in the mind of the person who is experiencing a double bind because then you think, “Oh, my goodness, am I grieving too much? Maybe I’m depressed or what’s wrong with me?” or, you know, it takes what’s a very normal process and it puts her in a position where she really couldn’t formulate a good response to it.
Dr. Peter Breggin: Yeah. That’s a good description. I view it as a kind of raising the identity of the person over and over again.
Dr. Brent Potter: Yeah.
Dr. Peter Breggin: And they never have a way out. They never have a way of having the truer calling, the consensus, the fabrics always being torn, the relationship is always being put in doubt, the person is right, but the correctness is being undermined. And that could happen so suddenly. I mean, that could happen at abreast, you know. The mother who is ambivalent about nursing. It could happen when dad comes in, and gets angry in an instant, and hits, and no one ever knows that he’d been hitting the crib but the kid had some terrible experience that’s pretty durable. So, to sum it–
Dr. Brent Potter: Yeah, where is the aggression coming from? Why am I the object of this aggression? And then, of course, the younger the person is, the more confused the state that’s produced in the mind of the infant or the child. There is an old psychoanalyst who gave the example of an infant kicking at the mother and the first mother looks with a look of anger upon the child, or a look of disgust, or a look of being hurt. And then, the other mother looks at the child because she’s excited that the kicking, even though it hurts, is a sign of aliveness. And so she’s happy that the baby is kicking.
You know, those are two very different responses to the same thing. And I think that this sort of communication styles over time have insidious kind of grueling gets empowering effect. And so that by the time someone hit adulthood, it can produce some very distressing states of mind.
Dr. Peter Breggin: Do you think that they–the baby in utero, before birth, gets some of these communications?
Dr. Brent Potter: In utero?
Dr. Peter Breggin: Mmhmm (affirmative).
Dr. Brent Potter: Yes, I do. It’s interesting that you asked that because that’s an area that a lot of us are giving a thought to right now as we really wonder about some of these experiences perhaps in utero or very early. And there seems to be a growing body of evidence that in fact, you know, these environmental factors are pretty critical later on.
Dr. Peter Breggin: Yeah. I mean there are studies. You know, I haven’t looked. There are really some studies I haven’t looked at, but I’ve been hearing about studies that adopted child grieve. Even though they’re adopted at birth that somehow they’re familiar with the environment of the mother, smell, taste, sound, and then they have a grieving in loss if they’re adopted right after birth. Something we never thought about when I was–as far as I know when I was a younger psychologist or psychiatrist.
Dr. Brent Potter: No. I think that we’re just looking into that now and it’s a relatively new area but it has a kind of common sense, I think portion to it and that I’m not surprised to hear these sorts of things. It seems like the environment has a huge influence on one’s wellness.
Dr. Peter Breggin: Yeah. Let’s talk some about your views on healing, on healing because I do want folks to know that people heal, people gets stronger and sometimes even stronger than most people through the process of overcoming these terrible experiences. Think about Helen Keller and not being able to speak or hear, and how–or see, I guess, and how she learned ultimately to communicate with an enormous help from another human being and come out of other darkness in–on communication, and to become a really great communicator. People can overcome all sorts of things and become stronger, but what are your thoughts on growth after these kinds of deprivations and trauma we’re talking about?
Dr. Brent Potter: Well, my perspective on that is that I’m extremely excited about it. I really–I think that another–you know, people don’t recognize this but something that is inherent in a lot of training in psychology, as well as psychiatry is that there is a fundamental belief that’s surrounding some of these psychiatric labels that recovery is not possible. That there are chronic unrelenting conditions such as – Perhaps access too disorders the personality disorders and also varying degrees of psychosis and things like that. The recovery is not possible that these people will be patients forever, they will need to take medication forever. And I think that perhaps that’s a point where you and I disagree with them because I have seen that recovery is entirely possible. There is no matter how dire the circumstances or how horrendous the trauma maybe in someone’s past that it really is testimony to the human spirit that wholeness, recovery, wellness is entirely possible with these people. That it’s none of the psychiatric labels are sort of death sentences to psychological life. People do recover from these things. People are able to get off psychiatric medication and they are able to live very successful even lives.
Peter Breggin: Tell me what your feeling is by the way this is I think a wonderful conversation you know folks out there when I first talked with Brent he is quite a scholar and quite thoughtful and quite drenched in academic knowledge and hasn’t done a great deal of radio and I said I think we should have a really understandable good conversation that’s not directed at academics but at anyone and we’re having a great conversation. You’re doing a really good job.
Brent: Thank you.
Peter Breggin: And it’s just working out really, really, really well and again Brent’s new book; his first book is Elements of Self Destruction. What do you think the elements of healing for people who have really had dreadful childhood experiences?
Brent: Willingness, I think that its people who experience recovery or would say would define it as wellness they actually do quite a bit of work. I think there is a willingness to connect with someone, to find someone and to reach out and say you know there are things that I need to talk about there are aspects of my life, things where perhaps I’m feeling or engaging with, so just not me, it isn’t me, something doesn’t feel right. It isn’t how my life is supposed to go and so they reach out and they connect with some. Or perhaps a group of some kind or a community of likeminded thinkers and reach out and share their experience. And so I think that there is a kind of willingness to really reach out and to do some or to try and figure out, investigate what’s going on beyond things like psychiatric labels, medication and things like that. And this may make me a little bit less popular in the eyes of my colleagues. But you know I think that cycle therapy is one powerful way to do that. But I found that that it’s not the only way, I have noticed that some people will perhaps do a little bit of psychotherapy but they also might be a part of a community or they might take into account nutritional things; exercise. I mean there is a whole body of research looking at exercise and the impact it has specifically upon depression. And so as time has gone on there isn’t just the elements of like willingness in a client but there is also a broader perspective, a more holistic perspective on the kinds of things that affect and can help one’s state of wellness.
Peter Breggin: I’m so glad you’re saying that and I think that’s hugely true and spirituality and religion and all of the ways that people approach helping each other and finding meaning are critical to recovery from profound injuries in childhood. And I also would emphasize and I imagine you would agree that finding a psychotherapist is like finding a good friend and it can be difficult, take time to find the right person. And don’t ever let a psychotherapist to tell you therapy isn’t helping you enough you need drugs. I would — I think a more honorable thing for a therapist to say would be, you know I don’t seem to be helping you as much as I would like, have you any suggestions? Would you like to visit another therapist, I’ll keep working with you? Would you like to look into something else? Or can you help me because I’d like to see you progressing more? I think it’s so hypocritical and arrogant to tell somebody they need drugs because their therapy is not helping.
Brent: Yeah thank you for saying that actually and that is something I’m also kind of critical in a psychotherapy is I think that and I was kind of alluding to that I think that psychotherapists just like psychiatrists in their own way you know see their field as the one way, the one world, the one avenue towards people improving. It is one very powerful way that someone can work towards wellness but it is not the only way. Recovery, seeking wellness is different for everyone. Some people find it through a combination of therapy and a religious community or spiritual community or just the community of like-minded people. Some people find it in nature, some people I mean there’s 100 different ways that people can recover. And you know it’s almost a standard of practice now if it isn’t that us therapists are required to let our clients know that medication is kind of the first avenue of approach to wellness and that is just I mean it is one approach but I don’t know about you but I just feel they go down just…
Peter Breggin: I don’t think it’s an approach for…
Brent: So many bad roads with that.
Peter Breggin: Yeah. But I don’t think medication is one of the roads to wellness. It’s one —
Brent: I don’t either.
Peter Breggin: It’s one about it but I don’t think it is.
Brent: Yeah I don’t think so either. But there’s a pressure on us as psychotherapists to refer people. We are you know there’s — it’s like a standard of practice that the first thing that you do is make sure that they see a psychiatrist. And I think that that’s just baloney. You know I have not seen medications work well with my clients. Of course if someone wants to seek that then that’s their prerogative. But I have not seen it go well at all in 20 years.
Peter Breggin: Well bless you for those brave observations. Make two quick points about that. First it’s a myth that therapists are really in jeopardy for not recommending meds or a psychiatrist. In fact you know I do huge amount of legal work and cases of therapists being sued because they haven’t referred are almost non-existent. There maybe one or to I haven’t heard about but I’m a lightning rod for this. And no one has come to me with such a case in maybe 15 years. So this is not a common event at all it’s all PR by the drug companies and psychiatry. And my new book Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal is intended among other things to empower therapists to learn about psych drugs, to learn more than the psychiatrists know, to feel free, to discuss openly with patients their views on drugs, to encourage patients to look at the signs. So I’m 100% in favor of empowering therapists and one of the points I make is a therapists should never again enforce medication compliance. I don’t care if you’re a clinical psychologist or a social worker or a counsel or; don’t take the role of enforcing the psychiatrist’s ideas about medicating. The psychiatrists are hurting people; my colleagues are hurting people with these medications.
So I’m so glad you brought that up and I really want to encourage therapists. It’s one of the purposes of my book Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal is that — is to really empower therapists to stand up for themselves in these issues, to become informed, to have scientific and personal conversations with clients about the drugs, no holds barred; there’s no reason why psychologists can’t point out the adverse effects of drugs and the lack of any evidence for any long term advocacy, they can read my books and rely on them, they can read Anatomy of an Epidemic, this is a very, very good book. It’s just a lot of stuff out there now, there’s no — and somebody psychologist about you know depressants don’t work. So you know I just want to see folks in our health professions, nurses and doctors of all kinds not putting up with this medication compliance stuff anymore.
Brent: And I would add to that also some of the things around people not being able to recover from some conditions. You know there are these philosophical pre prepositions that were like branded into as, as if they’re God’s honest truth and they’re not.
A lot of those philosophical presuppositions really have to be questioned and that’s one of the things I appreciate about your work and I hope I call into the question in some of my work is that we need to question them. They may not be correct.
Peter Breggin: Absolutely. By the way I mentioned anatomy of an epidemic the author that is a journalist Robert Whitaker and he and I had the pleasure of doing a full day of presentations a few weeks ago to a large group of behavioral service providers. We talk to over a hundred people including 10 psychiatrists and he did the whole morning and I did the whole afternoon. We had an incredibly positive response. Times are changing.
Peter Breggin: …the room would have emptied, and the psychiatrist would have ganged up and practically assaulted me and they even threatened to. Times are changing and it saves time for therapist to feel empowered to say what they believe, learn and say what you believe. Tell me – we got about three, four, five minutes left talking with the Brent Potter’s book ‘Elements of Self-Destruction’, how can people get in touch with you or are you doing therapy actively?
Interviewee: I know we’re running out of time that it is great to be working in the field these days and to see psychiatry declining. It’s great to see a lot of the so-called evidence-based cognitive behavioural and sort of natural science approaches to psychology declining and to see that’s placed strong sings you’re your work, Bob Whitaker’s work. You know there is the Recovery movement. There is Mind Freedom. There is all of these organizations and people that are springing up to take up things to focus on a person’s ability to achieve wellness and success in life as they define it. It’s not have to rely upon these archaic systems in ways of looking at people from the medical model. It’s great to see this transition in happening and as you pointed out it absolutely is.
Peter Breggin: You were really articulate about talking about these things. It’s really a pleasure to hear you talk about them and tell us a little bit about your therapy practice.
Interviewee: I work very much from recovery I guess they would call it perspective. It’s basically the way, the way that Laing, I would guess that Laing work is now I guess called Recovery which really just focuses instead upon a person’s deficit or an assumed chemically imbalanced brain organ upon a person’s strength and ability to recover from whatever they’re going through so I adopt very much that perspective. I also adopt kind of a depth psychology or I guess psychoanalytic perspective in working with people on a lot of past trauma and things like that so I got kind of a perspective of really partnering with people, but I also bring to it some of his skill sets that are very conducive to healing trauma and have things like that so that’s just my kind of way working with people.
Peter Breggin: Now you haven’t emphasized a lot relationship but I have a feeling you believe very much in it. Laing, Laing certainly believed it was pretty much everything I think he had tried to establish will have successfully where we establish this small homelike settings where no distinction between patient and therapist and people live together.
Peter Breggin: A very good way to end, to me a really lovely conversation. I feel like I’m getting to know you Brent. It’s one of the great things about doing a show is once in a while I really, really get to know somebody new that I’m just happy out there in the field. I’m so great you’re out there. My guest Brent Potter, Director of the Society for Laingian Studies, a psychotherapist and just a real thoughtful human being, thank you for being on the show.
Interviewee: Thank you so much Sir.
Potter, B (2013). Elements of Self-Destruction. London: Karnac Books
Potter, B. (2012). The Turning Point: Dr Peter Breggin, MD, Interviews Expert on Primitive Mental Disorders and Addiction, Dr Brent Potter, PhD, PhD. Copyrighted, unpublished manuscript.
“Summit”, Courtesy of Pablo Heimplatz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Don’t Give Up”, Courtesy of Rosie Kerr, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Guiding Star”, Courtesy of Aziz Acharki, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Green Flower”, Courtesy of Harris Vo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License