A one-day anti-psychiatry display by the Church of Scientology set up in Palmerston North yesterday has been dismissed as propaganda with no scientific base by Massey University’s top psychologist.
Professor Ian Evans, head of the School of Psychology, warned people to be careful about information in the display.
“It’s actually quite destructive. It pretends to be representing a humanistic civil rights perspective (on the history of psychiatry), but it’s thinly veiled propaganda for Scientology,” he said.
The display was brought to Palmerston North for one day only by the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights New Zealand, which was set up in 1969 by the Church of Scientology. It has no connection with the Human Rights Commission, which is a government agency.
Prof Evans said the commission’s press release advertising the display was irresponsible. It claimed that psychiatry had been a failure for the past 300 years.
“A lot of people are receiving really first-class psychiatric care (in New Zealand),” he said. “To try to vilify all psychiatry (with a display of this type) is really a mistake.”
Aucklander Steve Green, a commission spokesman, said the display traced the history of psychiatry from its early beginnings to its links with Nazi Germany and black slave-labour camps in South Africa to its present-day practices of drug treatments, restraints and electroshock treatment.
“The purpose is to raise awareness,” he said.
Prof Evans said that psychiatry had made some mistakes — as had all mental health care — but at least it is evidence-based. There is no science in scientology, he said.
Mr Green said one of the commission’s main areas of concern is “psychiatric drugging”, especially of children, to change behaviour that is in fact normal.
One panel of the display quotes Dutch hyperactivity and ADHD researcher LJM Pelsser: “Sixty-two percent of children diagnosed with ADHD improve if you simply change their diet”.
The display implies that drug companies make big profits and governments could cut mental health costs by giving people pills instead of treatment.
Another panel explains Scientology’s approach to treating mental illness.
‘We advocate proper medical care — not psychiatric. Good nutrition and a safe environment to promote rehabilitation (is) paramount, not seclusion, electric shocks and powerful drugs,’ Mr Green said.
The display, outside K Mart in The Plaza, attracted a lot of interest from people passing. Most stopped to read some of the panels, grabbed by the arresting art work which was created in Los Angeles by the group’s American branch.