Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Former Scientologist Gives Account of Group's Anti-Psychiatry Activities

Nancy Meany, author of My Billion
Year Contract
Credit: David Hathcox
Protests by members of the Church of Scientology outside APA annual meetings are the latest manifestations of a veritable war that the organization declared against psychiatry over a half century ago. Inside the Honolulu Convention Center during this week's annual meeting in Honolulu, a panel discussed the war’s origins and tactics.

“War” is no mere metaphor, said Nancy Many, a former Scientology member who addressed a packed meeting room. Many belonged to the “paramilitary wing” of the organization and ran an espionage operation that placed agents in every psychiatric hospital in the Boston area, for instance. Other agents broke into psychiatrists’ offices to steal and photocopy patient records, and infiltrated local professional psychiatric societies, she said.

Until 1954, L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, spoke condescendingly about psychiatry, but afterward he associated the profession with communists, the FBI, and the pharmaceutical industry. Hubbard likely saw psychiatrists as competition for his ideas, which promised a better life for adherents through a rigorous (and expensive) training regimen. The advent of psychotropic drugs in the mid-1950s captivated the American public and threatened to sideline Hubbard, said panelist Stephen Wiseman, M.D., a psychiatrist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. In 1969, Scientology set out not merely to oppose but to destroy psychiatry, calling it is a pseudoscience because there were allegedly no biological tests for mental disorders and no cures.

At stake is more than a conflict between organizations, said Wiseman. Scientology and front groups consistently work to limit access to psychiatric care. They lobbied against parity legislation, supported black-box warnings on psychotropic medications, and testified against FDA’s reclassification of electroconvulsive therapy. That wider threat against not only psychiatrists but their patients should stir members of the profession to understand the organization and develop clear and comprehensive ways to deal with it.

More coverage of APA's annual meeting will appear in the June 17 issue.


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