Does Psychiatry Promote Conformity?

Some people dislike dissension and approve of conformity. And the psychiatric profession has been known to get into the act. A few examples:

In his 2010 book The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease, psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl explored the 1960 history of the Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (Michigan), which is now a state prison. The hospital was notorious for diagnosing blacks who advocated civil rights with schizophrenia and confining them for treatment. Treatments could become de facto lifelong sentences without legal recourse.

In 2003, researchers at UC/Berkeley released an analysis of political conservatism (including support of former President Ronald Reagan) as instances suggesting pathological mental illness, such as resistance to change or desire for inequality. (Reagan advocated lower income taxes and a defense buildup in hopes of defeating Soviet Communism; he did not come out against change or in favor of inequality.)

The term “psychopathological mechanisms” of dissent describes the political abuse of psychiatry in the former Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes. Non-approved beliefs, attitudes or behavior are classified as mental problems, which converts them into a medical diagnosis that can be handled in an extra-legal manner. Dissenters or “the different” can be detained indefinitely in mental hospitals where they are drugged or otherwise “cured” into conformity. [Sources: 7/22/03 and Wendy McElroy, writing at]

And, of course, there are those who yearn for the American Psychiatric Association to reclassify homosexuality as a mental disorder so that (a) they could gain reimbursement (including from the government) for sexual orientation change “therapy,” and (b) so that they would enjoy the validation of the psychiatric establishment, as if that could somehow alter the objective reality that sexuality is what it is.

As you can see, the attempt to utilize psychiatry and psychology as a means to label one’s political or ideological opponents as “crazy” is not limited to any one political movement. Leftist progressives at Berekeley, racist opponents of equal rights for blacks, right-wing social conservatives and the Communist Party all get into the act, at one time or another.

Everybody wants a piece of the psychiatric action when they seek to induce conformity or restrain dissension.

Yet it goes on in daily life, just as much if not more. As a practicing mental health professional, I receive regular requests from spouses, family members or co-workers/employers to “please diagnose” a particular person with whom there is some kind of personal disagreement or conflict.

I’m not suggesting that there’s no such thing as delusional psychosis. I know full well there’s an objective reality, and reality can be ascertained for what it is, by a thinking mind using methods of logic and reason. I know that people can be right or wrong, contradictory or consistent, emotionally healthy or emotionally troubled. And I know that standards exist, and can be objectively defined, for any of these.

And I have no doubt that there have been, and still are, psychologically unhealthy people in all political movements.

However, it doesn’t automatically follow that just because you dislike or disagree with someone, for any reason, that they’re mentally disordered or disturbed in some way.

And if you feel the need for that external validation from a mental health professional — who might or might not be operating on sound, rational and objective methods him- or herself — then you have to look at what you’re doing.

If you’re confident that you’re truly right about something, and if you reached that confidence through an accumulation of facts, evidence and objective reasoning to prove your conclusions, then you don’t need a mental health professional — or anyone else you deem an acceptable or convenient authority — to back up this reasoning for you. You might enjoy or appreciate the affirmation, but you don’t need it and you don’t compulsively seek it out as a means to control or destroy others.

If you reached your conclusions rationally, then the desire to get external validation is unnecessary. If you didn’t reach your conclusions rationally, then no authority — even if it has the force of law, as in some societies the psychiatric profession does — will make the untrue true, or the unreal real.

The same goes for family members and loved ones who fantasize, “If I can get this therapist / psychiatrist to agree with me about my husband [wife/son/daughter/friend], then that will make me right.”


This is a completely wrong-headed and dishonest motive for seeking out professional help. It’s not help you’re seeking, either, not if that’s your true motive. If this is what you’re honestly looking for, your desire isn’t to know what’s true; your desire is to gang up on someone you claim to love. Your desire isn’t to love or bestow enlightenment on yourself or others; it’s about control. And although people continue to claim that control is equivalent to love, nothing could be further from the truth.

Psychology and psychiatry are supposed to be sciences in support of objective truth, for the benefit of alleviating emotional pain and conflict within individual human beings. Psychology is supposed to help us understand ourselves and better function — not to control each other.

Instead, some will attempt to use these fields for the sake of imposing conformity, either through political force (governments) or mental intimidation (families and controlling loved ones). I see it every day, and, like I said, it’s ordinary people just as much as anyone else.

Conformity for its own sake is an irrational goal. Minds cannot be made to think, not even at gunpoint. At most, people who feel legally or emotionally intimidated into altering a way of thinking, or some course of action, will pretend to do so in order to “keep the peace.” But nothing in their minds or desires or views has changed one bit. Lots of people go to a therapist to appease their spouses or loved ones, more for appearances than for actual change. Anyone who falls for this ploy isn’t watching carefully or thinking clearly, not at all.

Interestingly, none of it works on its own terms. Control or intimidation fail to succeed in bringing about the conformity/elimination of dissension that some irrationally seek out in others.

Those who seek to control the minds and actions of others will never succeed at attaining what they’re really after. That’s because what they’re really after — the will, mind and psyche of another — isn’t theirs to have. The psychiatric field will (for a fee) sometimes go along with the pretense; but nothing will alter what’s true, not even the authority of a profession sometimes held to be the twenty-first century equivalent of the clergy.

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