Pointing to Soviet psychiatric abuses of the ’60s and ’70s, a group with links to the Church of Scientology lambastes mental health practices today.
In the late Soviet period, psychiatric diagnoses were notoriously used as smokescreens for locking up people with independent political ideas. But a traveling exhibition about the shocking side of psychiatric treatment is funded by an organization with its own hidden agenda.
“Stock up on courage and healthy cynicism, and come along,” reads the press release for an exhibition called “Psychiatry Unmasked” that opened at the Georgian Cultural Center last Tuesday. At the exhibition, large display boards show photographs and information about treatments for mental illness, from electric shock to Ritalin. Psychiatry is linked to human rights abuses in the Third Reich, apartheid-era South African and the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. “The fact remains a fact: Psychiatry created the ideology that gave birth to the Holocaust and turned Hitler into a maniac and the Nazis into bloody murderers,” one section states.
The exhibition is backed by the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights, or CCHR, an organization founded in 1969 by the Church of Scientology. Based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology rejects psychiatric medicine, its web site citing the “array of primitive methods dreamed up by ‘modern’ psychiatrists.” It is the Scientologist’s duty “to expose and help abolish any and all physically damaging practices in the field of mental health,” the site declares.
The exhibition, which tours worldwide, was displayed at the Leningrad regional government building in St. Petersburg last month and will travel to Samara, Kazan and Vladivostok. A sign near the entrance stated that CCHR was founded by the Church of Scientology as an “independent organization.”
Young people in blue T-shirts stamped with the CCHR logo urged visitors to record their impressions and write their names and addresses on a petition calling for ethical guidelines on psychiatry. “Psychiatry is just awful. It should be abolished,” one visitor wrote. “The exhibition shocked me.”
Grinstead, Sussex, England, who falsely claims academic and other distinctions, and whose sanity
is to be gravely doubted.
– Prefatory Note to the official Report of the Board of Enquiry into Scientology, by Kevin Victor Anderson, Q.C., Published 1965 by the State of Victoria, Australia
Scientology came to Russia in the early 1990s with the Russian translation of Hubbard’s primary text, “Dianetics.” The movement encountered numerous difficulties in registering with the Justice Ministry, but fought off a 2002 bid to shut down Moscow’s Humanitarian Hubbard Center for improper registration.
The Russian wing of CCHR opened in 1999, long after the Soviet Union’s practice of incarcerating dissidents in mental hospitals caught worldwide attention in the 1960s and ’70s. According to Alexander Ivanov, press secretary of the Moscow branch, the international organization did not campaign against those abuses. “Then it wasn’t possible to break through walls,” he said.
While CCHR does not advocate simply closing mental hospitals and releasing the patients, psychiatrists “do a lot more evil than good,” Ivanov said. “If a murderer evades responsibility because he paid $3,000 for a psychiatrist’s conclusion that he is irresponsible for his actions, that … makes a mockery of justice.”
Ivanov stipulated that the organization does not offer counseling on medical treatment. “We don’t give advice,” he said. The chairman of the St. Petersburg branch Roman Chorny concurred. “We’re not a medical organization. Although I’m a doctor, I haven’t practiced since 1999. I am involved with human rights and questions of medical ethics.” The organization concentrates on lobbying and court action to stop abuse in psychiatric hospitals and orphanages, he said.
Chorny emphasized that CCHR does not advise patients to stop taking medicines — an accusation that dogged the exhibition in New Zealand last month. “You can open any of our CCHR booklets, and read there … ‘Never stop taking psychotropic medicines because that can lead to … suicide,’ for example. For that reason a person should gradually lower the dose under the observance of a doctor.”
Historian Anatoly Prokopenko, who wrote a 1997 book about the psychiatric treatment of Soviet dissidents called “Mad Psychiatry” (Bezumnaya Psikhiatriya) and also attended the opening, was emphatic in his praise of CCHR. “I think it’s the only organization in the world that really fights for the rights of people who have suffered from psychiatry,” he said.
“No one has ever been cured in the whole 300 years [of practicing psychiatry]. There are just mountains of dead bodies.”
Prokopenko invited Russian psychiatrists to come up with a similar display of information to support their case.
“Let the health ministry put on its own exhibition and say that psychiatry is great. Then you can compare opinions, and people will see that those are lies. But they don’t do that, and never will.”
“Psychiatry Unmasked” (Psikhiatriya: Razoblacheniye) runs to Aug. 17 at the Georgian Cultural Center, located at 42 Arbat. Metro Smolenskaya. Tel. 518-1100.