Never again! The real history of psychiatry

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 by: Peter Breggin
Tags: psychiatry, real history, school shootings

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(NaturalNews) There have been recent calls for a national Mental Health Registry, and then additional calls to link such a registry to gun licensing. In the dreadful wake of Newtown, both the left and the right and the current US federal administration are demanding that we tighten mental health statutes to make it easier and even mandatory for health care providers including psychiatrists and psychotherapists to incarcerate people on suspicion of perpetrating violence.

In a recent blog, I evaluated all the ways psychiatry and individual psychiatrists already have too much authority to lock up American citizens. I've pointed out how ineffective that power has proven in preventing violence.

Indeed, as many are now learning, psychiatric drugs can cause violence and have contributed to school shootings and other mayhem. Here I want to remind and to warn that psychiatry has been and continues to be the cause of some of the greatest abuses in the Western World. In the aftermath of the school shootings, psychiatry should not be allowed to garner even more power.

Consider as a start the several-hundred year history of the state mental hospital system. Given the power to lock up people at their own discretion, psychiatrists "put away" untold millions of people over several hundred years in the Western World. In its heyday in the 1930s, by turning innumerable state hospital patients into guinea pigs, psychiatry invented and practiced lobotomy, insulin coma shock, and electroshock. Despite overwhelming evidence for its damaging effects, electroshock continues to flourish and to be pushed by advocates, probably afflicting several hundreds of thousand patients each year in the US.

Psychiatry never reformed itself. It became so costly to the states to maintain these facilities and the federal government obliged by providing Social Security Disability Insurance for "mental illness." This enabled the states to throw out the inmates from their giant facilities to live on the streets or to languish in oppressive nursing homes with meager federal support.

How devoid has psychiatry been of any self-critical restraint? In the early 1970s, when a resurgence of lobotomy threatened another wave of brain mutilation, I stood alone as the first psychiatrist to publically oppose this "treatment." My successful international campaign against psychosurgery launched my psychiatric reform career (see here also) in earnest. The violent reaction from psychiatry to my reform efforts taught me how dearly psychiatry holds onto its power and even its most barbaric treatments.

A few years later, I became the first psychiatrist to speak out in public against electroshock. Now I'm the first one to have been a medical expert in successful malpractice suits against a psychosurgeon and more recently against a shock doctor. I tell you this not only to share some of what I've been doing as a psychiatrist these past 50 years, but also to tell you that psychiatry cannot be trusted to monitor itself. It always seeks to aggrandize itself with power with resultant severe injuries to those it alleges to help.

It has grown unfashionable to talk about Nazi Germany. But the information I am about to convey is still known to only a tiny fraction of our Americans. More than anything else in history, it teaches us to beware increasing psychiatric power.

Without any involvement from Hitler, in the late 1930s German psychiatry implemented the mass extermination of its psychiatric population, calling it merciful "euthanasia" but really rid the German nation of "useless eaters." At the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi War Criminals held after WWII, several of the highest ranking observers declared that the Holocaust might never have taken place without German psychiatry first demonstrating that mass murder could be carried out in a systematic fashion. The four highest ranking official medical observers at Nuremberg were the two representatives from the German medical association, the American representative from the AMA, and the U. S. Army psychiatrist in charge of ferreting out psychiatric crimes all. All four agreed that that psychiatry's organized annihilation of Germany's mental hospital population was the entering edge into the Holocaust. They furthermore agreed that the Holocaust might never have occurred without psychiatry demonstrating the feasibility of systematic, organized mass murder.

I have previously written about the psychiatric holocaust in detail in a paper I delivered at the first conference held in Germany on Medicine in the Third Reich. The article was published in the conference proceedings and then in a respected European medical journal. That article, available on my website, documents all the tragic and dismaying details, including the quotes from observers at the Nuremberg Trials. You can also watch a video of a younger and fiercer me delivering a speech about the German psychiatric mass murders. In addition, I've recently talked about the German psychiatry murder program on Mike Bundrant's March 13, 2013 radio show on Also see a recent peer reviewed journal article "A long shadow: Nazi doctors, moral vulnerability and contemporary medical culture."

In a nutshell, psychiatry developed the first killing centers in Germany, complete with wooden soap in fake showers fed with poisonous gas. Psychiatry also pioneered mass cremation to hide the details. The program was highly organized and ferried the patients to the death centers in what would later become those infamous trains with people crammed like cattle in boxcars. After nearly all the existing hospital inmates were slaughtered, including many children, German psychiatry brought in a steady stream of new patients to be killed. When the formal program ended because of public opposition, state hospitals took up the burden on their own, poisoning and starving patients, and then cremating them.

When the "euthanasia" program was ended, equipment from the psychiatric killing centers was shipped eastward to Poland to build the first extermination centers for Jews and other designated undesirables. The first commandant of an extermination center was a physician and the transplanted director of a euthanasia center. A brand new, unused "euthanasia" center was turned into one of the first Holocaust facilities. The first Jews were killed on euthanasia forms from the old psychiatric murder program and the first "selections" were made by psychiatrists, until the pretense for "euthanasia" in the name of medicine was dropped. Once again, all of this is documented in my medical article.

Back in America, organized psychiatry had been sterilizing tens of thousands of Americans. For a time in California, you couldn't be discharged from a state hospital unless you were sterilized. In Virginia the retarded were targeted. American advocates of sterilization went to Berlin to help the Nazis plan their sterilization program. These Americans reassured the Germans that they would meet no opposition from America in sterilizing their mentally and physically "unfit" citizens.

While the murder of mental patients was going full swing in Germany, knowledgeable American psychiatrists and neurologists didn't want to be left out. In 1942, the American Psychiatric Association held a debate about whether to sterilize or to murder low IQ "retarded" children when they reached the age of five. Those were the only two alternatives in the debate: sterilization or death.

After the debate, the official journal of the American Psychiatric Association published an editorial in which it chose sides in favor of murder ("Euthanasia" in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 1942, volume 99, pp. 141-143). It said psychiatrists would have to muster their psychological skills to keep parents from feeling guilty about agreeing to have their children killed.

From the psychiatric holocaust to lobotomy, electroshock, and the mass drugging of America's children and elderly, what makes psychiatry so driven to perpetrate harm? There are of course multiple explanations for this. One key is psychiatry's misguided attempt to treat human beings "scientifically" which ultimately means treating them without empathy, like inanimate objects. When we approach human beings without genuine care and even love, we do not become neutral or objective, we become destructive. This is one reason why my wife Ginger and I founded the Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy. At our upcoming international conference April 26 to 28th 2013, we will examine both the dangers of modern psychiatry and better approaches based on a variety of empathic perspectives.

We must not let the tragedy of Newtown empower psychiatry to gain even more authority and control in our society than it already possesses. The potential consequences are dehumanizing and catastrophic.

Peter R. Breggin, MD is a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York. With his wife Ginger, he is the founder of the Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living (a nonprofit 501c3). In a few weeks, the Center will hold its Empathic Therapy conference in Syracuse, New York, April 26-28, 2013. The conference combines trenchant criticism of biological psychiatry along with frontier innovations in the field of empathic mental health. Dr. Breggin is the author of dozens of scientific articles and more than 20 books including Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal (2013).

About the author:
Peter R. Breggin, MD is a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York. Dr. Breggin criticizes contemporary psychiatric reliance on diagnoses and drugs, and promotes empathic therapeutic relationships. He has been called "the Conscience of Psychiatry." See his website at

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