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10 of the Worst Abuses of the Psychiatric and Psychological Professions in American History

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Psychiatrists and psychologists have been used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to facilitate mind control and torture in Project MKUltra and in the American Psychological Association-bolstered CIA torture program [3]. Psychiatric political abuses in nations that are U.S. enemies have been routinely denounced by U.S. establishment psychiatry [4] and the U.S. government [5], especially during the Cold War within the Soviet Union (where political dissidents were diagnosed with "sluggish schizophrenia" and psychiatrically hospitalized and drugged). However, the abuse of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment to subvert human rights has occurred not only in the totalitarian governments of U.S. enemies but in the United States as well.

While the following list of political abuses of U.S. psychiatry and psychology begins with the infamous Project MKUltra and recent American Psychological Association torture scandal, this should not be taken to imply that these more sensational abuses are the most important ones. For gay Americans, Native Americans, and African Americans, the political abuse of psychiatry and psychology is a significant part of their traumatizing American history, and while MKUltra resulted in severe trauma and even death, mental health professionals' current enabling of dehumanizing American institutions continues to create, quite possibly, even greater damage.

1. Project MKUltra

This CIA program of experiments on human subjects, which began in the early 1950s, used drugs (including LSD) and other procedures (including sensory deprivation and electroshock) to weaken and break an individual and force confessions. MKUltra has been documented by the U.S. Congress' Church Committee investigations, acknowledged by the U.S. Supreme Court [6], and detailed in The Search for the "Manchurian Candidate": The CIA and Mind Control: The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences [7] by former State Department officer John Marks.

In MKUltra, there was widespread involvement by at least 80 institutions (including universities, pharmaceutical corporations, and prisons) and 185 researchers, including some of America's leading psychiatrists such as Louis Jolyon "Jolly" West and leading psychologists such as Henry Murray. Among the subjects in one of Murray's MKUltra experiments at Harvard was 17-year-old undergraduate Ted Kaczynski, and serving as a subject in another MKUltra experiment was a young prison inmate named Whitey Bulger.

2. American Psychological Association Assistance in Interrogation/Torture

The American Psychological Association, in the days after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, nurtured relationships with the CIA and Department of Defense "to position psychology and behavioral scientists as key players in U.S. counterterrorism and counterintelligence activities," according to a 2014 Truthout [8] report.

The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the George W. Bush administration to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners. This was highly useful for the government officials involved in torture, as the New York Times [9] in 2015 reported, "The involvement of health professionals in the Bush-era interrogation program was significant because it enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret opinions that the program was legal and did not constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by health professionals to make sure they were safe."

The degree of American Psychological Association complicity was detailed in a damning independent review [10] (commissioned, under political pressure, by the American Psychological Association) which revealed that ties between the American Psychological Association and the CIA/DOD were deeper than previously recognized, as the associations' ethics director collaborated with the DOD to align the associations' ethics policies with the needs of DOD.

3. Pathologizing Homosexuality and Disempowering Gay Americans

In recent times, the most well-known political abuse of psychiatry with regard to stigmatizing and disempowering a particular group is its psychopathologizing of homosexuality. The American Psychiatric Association in 1973--due to the political efforts of gay activists--finally relented and declassified homosexuality as a pathology in its diagnostic bible, the DSM.

Even after declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness, much of establishment psychiatry continued to maintain that homosexuality was not as normal as heterosexuality, according to dissident psychiatrist Vivek Datta, who points out [11] that even in the declassification year 1973, "a number of publications discuss diagnostic and treatment aspects of homosexuality, including aversive conditioning, use of electric shocks and even lobotomy." Datta details how the diagnosis of "sexual orientation disturbance" (later to become "ego-dystonic sexual orientation")--defined by a discomfort with one's sexual preference--was only applied by psychiatry to same-sex attraction, and that "it was not until 1987 that homosexuality completely disappeared from the DSM."

4. Enabling Genocide of Indigenous Americans

Historically, the United States policy towards its indigenous peoples has been one of genocide through military invasion, starvation, induced disease, and cultural destruction, which has included the use of educational and mental health professionals. The political goals of this policy include land theft and enabling a standardized monoculture.

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http://www.brucelevine.net
Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite

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