The Psychoterrorists

by Barry Drogin

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As an engineer, I have been privileged to participate in all of the stages of the life cycle of a machine, from product definition to prototype design to final technical specification to vendor verification to manufacturing process to quality assurance to repair support. Throughout this process, there is a mythical belief that an actual constructed example of the machine will perform the functions specified for it under an expected set of use circumstances, and that "flaws" introduced at any stage in the life cycle will be "corrected" or at least minimized.

Human beings are a wonderful creation, and have almost no similarities to the mythical idea of a machine. We are not provided with a product definition, there is no difference between a prototype and the final product, we have no technical specifications or user's manuals, our parents are not subject to vendor verification, the world we grow up in is not a controlled manufacturing plant. It is immoral to kill a human being off as a form of "quality assurance", and non-holistic service models for "treatment" of diseases and defects have become our strongest cultural myth.

Each of us has unique DNA, unique life experiences, unique circumstances, and unique interpretations. And yet, we partition people into pseudo-scientific categories of "normal" and "healthy" vs. "deviant" and "sick," as if a person born without a nose, or traumatized by the loss of a parent at an early age, or under- educated due to lower social class, or hit by a truck and missing an arm, or raised believing in the wrong religion, was not simply another unique human being following the path of his or her DNA, life experiences, circumstances and interpretations.

I do not know what we were built for; in fact, the question itself attaches to human beings the qualities of a machine that I disagree with in the first place. In other words, the question itself is nonsense. When human beings exhibit observable symptoms that we diagnose as a form of "cancer," how can we claim that these people were born with something "wrong" in their DNA, or experienced something "damaging" in their environment, or acted in some "inappropriate" way, or had "bad" thoughts. Why must we believe that we weren't built to develop "cancer," and so people with cancer, or of the wrong skin color, or performing anti-social or criminal behavior, are defective in some way that may or may not be fixable, but should be fixed?

Anything that we assume is not "normal" is a "symptom." We want to be "normal." We want to be able to smash our thumb with a hammer and not feel pain by using pain-killing medications. We want corrective surgery and prosthetic devices that compensate for congenital or acquired "defects." We want to lose our loved ones and ritualize our grief into a socially non-disruptive form. And most of all, we want to be loved, appreciated, and happy.

We have created metaphors for disease. A virus "invades" our body, and our body's immune "defenses" may or may not be able to handle it. In fact, we are constantly exposed, inside and out, to foreign objects that our body reacts to, sometimes to our advantage, sometimes not. We imagine "heart disease" as a little time bomb whose fuse can be shortened by the intake of fatty products, or lengthened by the practice of exercise. We believe that when we rip open a person's chest and install a new heart or new valves, we are treating only the damaged part, when in fact we are also imposing a life-changing traumatic experience upon the "diseased" person and those in close contact with that person's life.

The most dangerous metaphors we have created recently are those of "mental illness." The myths of unconscious motivation and psychic well-being have pervaded our culture at break-neck speed; we speak of addictions and dependencies, syndromes and coping. The fundamental tenets of psychiatry, masked in technical jargon, are actually surprisingly easy to understand, and reduce the wonder of human existence to a few simple beliefs. We are inundated with psychological self-help books, group therapies and individual treatments.

It is bad enough that the theories and "treatments" fail to explain, help or "cure" those at the extremes of symptomology: the poor souls which society has imprisoned in "mental hospitals." We have also developed drugs which create little portable prisons for the "mentally ill." These are the most obvious victims of our belief in the desirability of the "normal."

But we are all quickly becoming victims to this cult of psychological theory. It is affecting our views of ourselves, of our loved ones, of humanity as a whole. On the societal level, it is paralyzing our ability to tell right from wrong and corrupting our definitions of justice and responsibility. In the arena of face-to-face interaction, it is alienating us from love and trust and happiness while simultaneously promising us the same. We no longer get "sad" or "excited" or "impersonate" --- we are "depressed" or "manic" or "schizophrenic."

Psychoterrorists definitely believe that the solution to ineffective "treatment" is more "treatment." We have brought counseling into our schools, our workplaces and our homes. We have become oblivious to the ramifications of allowing "professional" empathizers to participate, from a weird distance, in our lives. We no longer believe, as Goffman has written, that "the domain of face-to-face social contact [is] one in which every participant is equally licensed to carry and use a scalpel"; we have entrusted our very humanness to social and psychological activists.

I believe we must go far beyond the delegitimization of mood- altering drugs as acceptable medical treatment for unhappiness. The games we are allowing people to play with regression and transference, while hiding behind the facade of medical treatment, are an inhuman experiment without accountability, review or informed consent. I do not doubt that the psychoterrorists themselves believe that what they are doing is for the good of individuals, society and all humankind. The Nazis also believed that they were "curing" society and building a better world. In fact, the Nazis conducted psychiatric experiments, too.

Our very souls must be saved from the grips of these psychoterrorists before it is too late.

ACT ONE, SCENE 5

(MR. TEALEAVES sings from his desk.)

MR. T:

An intruder.
A crazy man.
A dangerous person
Undoubtedly in need of
Psychoanalysis.
Destroying the treatment
The relationship I spent
Ten years
Nurturing.
Building.
Building my practice
Building her commitment to me
Billing her father for my fee
Ha! Who does he think he is?
I know more than he does
A lawyer...
How dare he!
(A buzzer sounds.)
Come in.
(ADAM enters and sits on the couch.)
Ah, sit down, sit down.
Eve has consented to
Let me talk to you.
But still there is a
Doctor-Patient privilege
You understand?

ADAM:

I understand that
Eve and I have been
Seeing each other
For almost a year now.
I love her very much
And she loves me.
She's given me the courage
To pursue my cooking
Professionally.
I've started a
Business and may
Give up the law.

MR. T:

Yes, go on.

ADAM:

But, of course,
You know this already
I suppose.

MR. T:

Eve may have told
Me something about it.
But I don't know
All the details.
Do you need to talk
To someone objective?
Is that why you are here?

ADAM:

No!
I'm mad at you.

MR. T.:

At me? Why?
I'm merely helping Eve.

ADAM:

I'm not so sure
That helping Eve
To argue with me
Is helping her.
She loves me
She cares deeply
And so we get passionate
About things.
We argue
It gets very unpleasant
But then it's over
It's settled
Or it would be
If she didn't then
Repeat it back to you.
She comes in here
And relives the emotions
Tells you her side
Gets all anxious, excited
And the settlement is broken!

MR. T.:

Adam, you are the best thing
To happen to Eve ever in her life.
Her sad, troubled life.
I've been treating her for years
And you've only seen what she is like now.
She's nearing a breakthrough
Her treatment will soon be over
But I need your help.
I can see you're angry
But you still think like a lawyer
And that's not appropriate here.
Unfortunately,
I can't tell you any more
That's privileged,
You understand that.

ADAM:

Privileged, yes.

ADAM & MR. T.:

The relationship with a client
Is sacred
A bond of trust
That cannot be violated
If that secrecy is broken
Trust will soon evaporate
And the client's interests
Will not be served.

ADAM:

I want to help Eve
You can't know what's going on
If you hear it only from her.
If you really want to help her
Then you must know her life
Talk to her every day
Hold her, comfort her, love her
As I do.

MR. T.:

I'll speak to Eve
About the possibility
Of your coming together.
Perhaps on alternate weeks.

ADAM:

I'm glad we were able to settle this.
At times I've felt like
Challenging you to a duel
But that's not possible
In the twentieth century.
You must believe
I love Eve very much
And only want what's best for her.

Mr. T.:

So do I.
(MR. TEALEAVES rises, so ADAM does, too.)
I'll charge this session to Eve
You can work it out financially
With her.
(He offers his hand.)
Thank you for coming.
(ADAM takes it and freezes. To audience:)
An intruder.
A crazy man.
A dangerous person
Undoubtedly in need of
Psychoanalysis!

The first half of "The Psychoterrorists" (since retitled "The Couch") and conceptions of the ending and epilogue were written in a white hot creative outpouring of a few days (psychiatrists would undoubtedly say a "manic episode") in November of 1990. Over the two years prior, my first wife had, with the collusion of various members of the psychiatric community, been secretly planning the destruction of our marriage. She put her plan into effect that fateful month and the truth of my situation (and of the psychiatric "profession") suddenly became very clear to me. In what was a successful attempt to save myself, my wife, and my marriage, I stopped seeing my psychiatrist and our marriage counselor; providence further rewarded my efforts --- my wife's psychoterrorist went into the hospital with a heart attack.

"The Psychoterrorists" ends with the possibility of a happy life for the couple --- I was not so fortunate. The work is, as must be obvious of any artistic work, a fictionalization of my life, with many details omitted, compressed, changed, reversed and so on. This is necessary to make an audience believe in the plausibility of the events portrayed. Real life is too strange to be believed by modern audiences. In my life, over six years elapsed, four in marriage, and the psychiatrist (in addition to the psychoterrorist) was also, for a period of time, acting as marriage counselor. There was also a fourth psychiatrist involved, "treating" my wife with Elavil, Valium, Prozac and, finally, Lithium. This fourth (person and drug) remained after the three main actors had departed; a few months later, the psychoterrorist recovered from his heart attack and, via that wonderful modern invention, the telephone, resumed his "treatment" also. In March of 1991, my wife proceeded to Plan B, and abandoned me; a few weeks later she showed up with a moving van while I was at work and stole most of the furniture and kitchenware. Except for a brief reconciliation and a few returned dishes, this situation became permanent.

After forming my own opinions and writing much of "The Psychoterrorists," I started researching the psychiatric "profession" and discovered the works of three quite outstanding critics: Thomas Szasz, Erving Goffman and Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. Szasz, a professor of psychiatry and, horrifyingly enough, still a practicing psychiatrist (considering the experimental nature of the "treatment," it is no wonder these people are always "practicing"), sets out the important fundamentals in "The Myth of Mental Illness" and, especially, "The Myth of Psychotherapy." He can't resist, however, replacing the "science" of psychiatry with pseudo-scientific musings of his own. Goffman, a sociologist (now deceased), spent a few years observing a mental hospital from the inside --- his "The Medical Model and Mental Hospitalization" from the classic "Asylums" is required reading. "Mental Symptoms and Public Order" from "Interaction Ritual" is also very good. Masson studied psychoanalysis after already establishing himself as a Sanskrit scholar --- a highly intelligent researcher, he shied away from the "treatment" end and eventually became Projects Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives. His "Against Therapy: Emotional Tyranny and the Myth of Psychological Healing" is the best critique of all of the branches of "therapy" I have found yet; "Final Analysis: The Making and Unmaking of a Psychoanalyst" exposes the secret society of psychiatry from a more personal, and distressing, perspective.

From the patient's end, Kate Millet's "Loony-Bin Trip" describes the stigmatization of the ex-mental patient, the social difficulties of going off psychiatric drugs, and the horrors of incarceration in a mental hospital. The few chapters which describe her sister's attempts to have her "voluntarily" committed, played out in an East Village apartment and street, are perhaps the most harrowing pages I have ever read. To contrast, I would not recommend the much touted "Darkness Visible" by William Styron, who may find himself enlisted as psychiatry's poster boy for spouting the party line so eloquently. Those who would insist, as Styron does, that "depression" is an "illness" will simply discount Szasz and Masson; they would still benefit from a dose of Goffman, with Susan Sontag's "Illness as Metaphor" thrown in for good measure.

Modern society has encouraged psychoterrorism to flourish, just as it has promoted the cult of the individual and the spread of divorce. Psychoterrorism is well-protected: except for sexual behavior, it is close to impossible to make a malpractice charge stick against a psychoterrorist; consumer fraud seems out of the question, too. I believe that psychoterrorism is, implicitly and inherently, malpractice and consumer fraud; that psychoterrorism is not medicine and should not be covered by insurance companies; that psychiatric drugs, like electroshock, lobotomies and mental hospitals, are immoral and barbaric. If society wishes to punish bad social behavior, so be it; but masking such punishment under the aegis of "treatment" is nonsense. Similarly, it is convenient for society to encourage its malcontents to voluntarily seek escape from the difficulties of social change through alcohol, nicotine, dieting, aerobics, entertainment, tranquilizers, mood elevators and "counseling." We have founded whole economies around each of these, which help us to forget the other evil economies we also have constructed and, perhaps, work to keep in place. We simply cannot afford to consider whether our jobs, actions and goals are moral or not. We have sold out to money and that which it can buy. Psychoterrorism is bought face-to-face interaction --- rather than talk to each other and risk being judged, we pay someone to listen and act as an artificial "friend."

Since modern society believes so heavily in itself, it has obsoleted social tools of the past. Thus, I cannot challenge the people who have destroyed my life and my love to a duel, nor find legal financial renumeration for my pain and suffering at their hands. Current law is that I can obtain copies of the "medical records" of my various psychoterrorists, but I cannot insist that the originals be destroyed, since such records are the property of the psychoterrorist, are business records, and would be required in the defense of the malpractice suit I cannot win. I seek the dismantling of the entire psychoterrorist "profession," which means, of course, that I would be depriving many of their current means of livelihood. Such a deprivation is usually the basis for a successful libel suit. Nevertheless, I must insist that society afford me the opportunity to name the names of my personal tormentors. I do not mean to imply that these four are any better or any worse than their colleagues, or that any of the specific actions of one of the characters of my opera can specifically be attributed to any one of them. I would request that you not patronize their services, or those of any of their colleagues:

Spencer Levey, 72 Floral Avenue, Murray Hill, NJ
Mark Novick, 26 West 9th Street, New York, NY
Lynne Sacher, West 96th Street, New York, NY
Carlo Filiaci, Fifth Avenue, New York, NY

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007