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Psychiatrists fire back at Tom Cruise
Tuesday, July 5, 2005
By RACHEL SCHEIER
With Tom Cruise taking on Brooke Shields, the American Psychiatric Association and other supporters of "pseudo-science," as Cruise called psychiatry on the "Today" show recently, he spotlighted a decades-old feud.
Cruise was specifically railing against Shields for saying that antidepressants helped her to cope with post-partum depression. The actor, a well-known follower of Scientology, surprised few psychiatrists with the outburst. The Church of Scientology and its founding father, the late science fiction writer and former New Jersey resident L. Ron Hubbard, have been crusading against the mental health establishment for approximately half a century.
In 1950, Hubbard published the best selling "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health," a manual for his unconventional theory of mental and physical illnesses and how they should be treated. A few months later, The American Psychological Association responded by excoriating the book as phony science.
Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology a few years later, and the battle has been raging ever since.
Psychiatric Association response
Last week, The American Psychiatric Association, representing some 36,000 physicians, responded sharply to Cruise's "anti-psychiatric" remarks.
"It is irresponsible for Mr. Cruise to use his movie publicity tour to promote his own ideological views and deter people with mental illness from getting the care they need," said the group's president, Steven Sharfstein.
In "Dianetics," Hubbard encompassed many of the ideas in his writings about the human mind from the 1940s and 50s, and outlined what he considered a solution to human behavior. He held that the brain has two components, "analytic" and "reactive." Problems are the cause of the latter and its "engrams," which are deep-seated, photo-like memories of stressful events, according to Hubbard, that can extend as far back as to previous lives. His prescription for the resulting mental and physical suffering was a process of therapy in which the patient would re-experience the memory, thereby erasing it.
The book was so popular that it spawned "Dianetics clubs" and other similar groups around the country with the aim of applying Hubbard's principles. Fans filled his house in Elizabeth. "Dianetics" has since been translated into more than 50 languages.
With the development of Scientology in the following years came Hubbard's most virulent attacks on psychiatry as well as the introduction of outer space into the doctrine. The flaming volcano on the cover of the paperback edition, etched in countless memories thanks to late-night television commercials, is assumed to be a reference to Xenu, an intergalactic ruler who brought billions of people to earth 75 million years ago, stacked them around volcanos and blew them up with hydrogen bombs.
Scientology's main argument
Scientologists gradually stepped-up their attack on psychiatrists, who they considered their supreme enemy, depicting them as craven devils who performed lobotomies and injected people with drugs. In 1969, it formed the powerful Citizens Commission on Human Rights, "to investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights." CCHR sponsors organized protests, forums and exhibits dedicated to exposing the "unscientific nature" of psychiatry and the dangers of conventional mental health treatments, especially in recent years, antidepressants.
Scientology's main argument against psychiatry is that there is no medical basis for the modern concept of mental illness. "One common psychiatric lie put forth is that individuals exhibiting behavior problems have some kind of 'chemical imbalance' in their brain that can be cured by taking psychiatric drugs," explains the CCHR Web site. "There has never been any scientific test to determine any such 'chemical imbalance.' "
But Jagdish Dang, the chairman of psychiatry department at Barnert Hospital in Paterson, pointed out that the exact mechanisms of many illnesses - and treatments -remain unknown to modern science. "We don't know really know how most illnesses are caused =97 we just guess it and have theories," said Dr. Dang. "But we know that schizophrenics function a hundred percent better with drugs."
The Church of Scientology, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, has attracted a number of celebrity followers over the years, from John Travolta to Kirstie Alley. As its followers have multiplied, so have its anti-psychiatry campaigns and activities, which have often attracted controversy. Earlier this year, school districts in San Francisco and Los Angeles dropped a widely used anti-drug program called Narconon after questions were raised about its connections to Scientology.
Hundreds of high-security prison inmates in California, many of whom are diagnosed as mentally ill, have participated in Criminon, another Scientology-sponsored program, that eschews antipsychotic drugs.
The church has also backed legislation that critics say aims to discourage public school students from seeking mental health services.
But some say Scientology is simply one of the more colorful forms of an entrenched cultural suspicion of psychiatry, which deals, after all, with the manipulation of the human mind.
"This is of those things that will be going on forever," said Dang.
Reach Rachel Scheier at (973)-569-7131 or email@example.com.