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My interview with Robert Whitaker

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cinephile

Hey everyone!

 

Well, I just got off the phone with Bob after an hour long interview! We covered a lot of ground (plans for the foundation, the hidden history of antihistamines in psychiatry, why the media has been so slow to cover psychiatry's toxic secrets, PSSD) and I tried to focus on the issue of protracted withdrawal. I of course mentioned this forum and its future role in research and in the foundation and Bob was very happy with that idea. There is of course so much more, so just listen to it already :rolleyes: And once again I must thank Bob for his generosity. He really has gone above and beyond. And I love his righteous anger, especially at 30:21 and 30:39.

 

Speaking of listening, here are some tips: the recording is pretty thin mono and Bob has a sotto voce voice, so headphones are recommended.

 

Link to the file: Whitaker interview

 

Also, below is my email to Mark Foster that Bob refers to in the beginning, and Mark's response. I think Mark's response will be very encouraging for all of us.

 

My email: You want a job that sucks? Try Pioneer!

 

Ha! I bet THAT title got your attention!

 

But I'm sure you now know how true that quote is, especially after your job situation.

 

But it's a pioneer that you are. For whatever reason, you were chosen to lead a revolution of psychiatric care in this country. And, judging by your posts on Bob's blog, I don't think us psych patients could have asked for a better pioneer.

 

I love how you don't just have the courage of your convictions, but, in the words of Nietzsche, you had "the courage to CHALLENGE your convictions"! That is, you read ANATOMY OF AN EPIDEMIC and you put your ego aside and realized your old prescribing and diagnostic habits were wrong. Your will to do no harm overrode your ego. That is extraordinary in the medical field. You suddenly realized your limitations and I guarantee you, your patients were all the better for it. Unfortunately, I am of the belief that many in the medical industry think like 10-year-olds: stubbornly dichotomous and terminally idealistic about the wonders of technology (i.e. pills). They do not have a philosophical, historical, or artistic background that could help them realize their bias and the simple fact that because a certain therapeutic modality is NEW, that doesn't necessarily mean it's any good. They would realize that medicine is riddled with toxic fads (everything from bloodletting to hormone replacement therapy), and psychiatric meds are just the newest. And they would realize that something isn't necessarily true just because it makes them feel good (i.e. it makes a doctor feel powerful to "Cure" anxiety/depression/schizophrenia with a swift swipe of the pen across a prescription pad, so they believe the "research" MUST be true, right?).

 

Basically, you had the strength to, for at least a fleeting moment, entertain the possibility of going down an existentialist rabbit hole so endemic to our times by asking, "Just what DO we know?"

 

And indeed, it's high time psychiatry began answering that painful, yet vitally important, question. Perhaps this quote from a psychologist's blog sums it up:

 

"I miss the days when we didn't act like we knew things we didn't know. We talked, and argued, and changed our minds. We wondered what Shizophrenia is, why it happens. We worried about the lives of the chronic schizophrenic patients and where they lived, what their lives were like. We worried a ton about Tardive Dyskinesia. We tried to get our minds around the loose genetic factors in Manic Depressive illness and Schizophrenia. Analysts were excited about the possibility of Biological Markers and Biologists knew what Narcissism was. We figured out how wrong our predecessors had been about homosexuality. We argued with the Psychologists and then went out for drinks together. We thought about a lot of mental illness as "hurting in your mental" rather than as things with initials. We knew what we didn't know and wrestled with what we did know. New things like obsessive people getting better on SSRIs poked holes in what we thought about obsessional people and we had to rethink the whole story. And then there were some people who were depressed because they were angry, just like we'd always thought. The dialog was alive, relevant, collegial, open-ended instead of key opinion leaders talking about the same things over and over. And most of us knew the names and doses of the drugs, but not which company manufactured them. We sure didn't need a public database to see which drug company paid which Psychiatrist to give what traveling dog and pony show with company slides [because it would've been empty]. And we'd never even heard of ghostwriting. I miss those days a lot. They really were my 'good old days.'"

 

Perhaps your new clinic, and Bob's foundation, will be a simultaneous return to both the "good old days" and a fresh start. We certainly can't wait around for mainstream psychiatry to get its act together, as you are no doubt abundantly aware.

 

One of the first things I learned in school was that raw intelligence is vastly overrated. I had a blue-chip education in a New England private high school and had classmates who mostly went to Ivy League Colleges. They were whizzes with differential equations, and some of them were taking advanced chaos theory mathematics in their junior year. But they were some of the most immature spirits I had ever met, with no imagination to their names. They were interested in math and science as a child would be interested in a new bike -- rarely were deeper questions about the mind-blowing potential of math or science asked. And they were certainly lacking in their appreciation of the arts and history.

 

When I was attending nursing school, I noticed the same qualities in my classmates. I suddenly realized it didn't even take a tremendous amount of intelligence (certainly not a lot of depth of character) to be a nurse, just a cast-iron perseverance to get their ticket punched. What TRULY makes an extraordinary nurse (and doctor) is leading an adventurous lifestyle, taking risks, and occasionally stepping outside one's comfort zone, which leads to a wide variety of experiences and understanding a wide variety of people from all walks of life. If one has not struggled mightily against adversity and has had their belief system strongly challenged (if not entirely shattered), it is impossible to empathize with people from different walks of life. Thus, it takes an extraordinary person to be an extraordinary health professional.

 

You are that extraordinary health professional. And above that, you are an artist. I read with fervid interest your descriptions of your patients and your treatments of them. Until I read those posts, I honestly didn't think it was possible for a physician to exhibit that level of nuanced, compassionate thinking, entirely outside the ether of professional arrogance. Medicine is an art. It is no mere skill. You are an artist.

 

And, in light of your recent termination, you are poised to be a stylish artist. I honestly believe that your clinic will be your work of art as it molds a personal setback (your firing) into an ultimate triumph. You are doing what so few people can do: seeing the hidden benefit of a painful setback and using it to your advantage to mold yourself (and your clinic) into something profound. Seeing the hidden good in the bad (and thus realizing few things are truly "bad" in this life) takes courage and STYLE, and you have it. Believe me, your patients will be grateful for your style.

 

A quick note about myself: I am currently half-way done with tapering off my SSRI (Lexapro), after being put on SSRIs at age 14 (I'm old school -- this was before the black box suicide warning for teenagers) for what was, in hindsight, perfectly normal situational anxiety. I'm 27 now, and I now have reasonable hope I can get off this absurd medication thanks to a tapering regimen I found online.

 

Yes, I said "tapering regime I found online." I find it worse than shameful that us psych med users have to resort to the INTERNET to find information about how to withdraw safely from these drugs. You see, I tried to taper off Paxil (the first SSRI I was prescribed) over ten years ago and my psychiatrist (who knew nothing of withdrawal syndrome) knew nothing of the atrocious withdrawal symptoms I was having (basically, I was bedridden and my brain felt like it was in a frying pan). I'll never forget that sense of betrayal I felt by the medical field that day when I left his office.

 

But I'll also never forget the sense of joy I felt when I read on Bob's blog that you are founding a withdrawal clinic. I cannot tell you what it means to me to hear of this. I am not exaggerating when I say the world feels just a little less hostile knowing such a clinic will be in place in the near future. It makes me feel SAFE, at long last, within the medical architecture in this country, because I know there will be knowledgeable, compassionate clinicians to assist me if I need help with my taper. I honestly never thought I'd see this day, but damn it feels good to see it now.

 

Below, I've included a few preliminary ideas for your clinic. Obviously this is just brainstorming, but I'd love to hear your feedback about these ideas:

 

-Have a nutritionist on staff to assess any nutritional deficiencies the psych meds cause (such as Zinc), and to address those deficiencies. Nutritionists could provide easy, nutritious recipes for those with sensitive nervous systems: gluten-free, vegetarian, etc. *I'd also like to draw to your attention that psych meds sensitize the nervous system so severely in some patients that they can develop food allergies or even allergies to otherwise benign and beneficial supplements such as fish oil and b vitamins which can exacerbate their withdrawal symptoms. It will be essential for all staff nutritionists and physicians to keep a detailed case file for each patient's sensitivities to such foods and supplements.

 

-Have a massage therapist on staff

 

-Have integrative physicians on staff.

 

-Have an acupuncturist on staff

 

-Have a meditation clinic, similar to the one at Umass Boston. Have you heard of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at Umass Boston? It was started decades ago by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has many decades of experience teaching and practicing mindful meditation. The program is highly respected and has many years of research backing it as a very effective way to cope with chronic pain and stress. So respected, in fact, that many patients who don't respond well to traditional medication are routinely referred there. Kabat-Zinn actually has a handful of books out, and his book, "Full Catastrophe Living," outlines the 8-week program so patients can use it at home. He also sells an inexpensive set of meditation exercises on CD (I have them and they are excellent). Finally, a recent study has scanned the brains of those on the program and found some very exciting results. Link to an article on this study: http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-mindfulness-meditation-brain-weeks.html Link to the mindfulness program: Mindfulness Program Finally, a link to a great youtube video of Jon's talk at Google (!): This is a marvelously wise and profound talk and as good an introduction to meditation/mindfulness you'll see:

 

-Work closely with neurologists for PET/MRI/fMRI scans to track progress of interventions (nutritional therapy, acupuncturists, meditation, massage, etc)

 

-Obviously, have talk therapists (CBT, ACT, EMDR, etc) and collaborate with Dr. William Prey. A quick introduction to Dr. Prey: He is a San-Francisco based psychiatrist who is one of the few physicians in the country who researches and treats iatrogenic damage (do you see where I'm going with this?). He also specializes in sleep disorders, and has single-handedly helped one of the worst cases of protracted SSRI withdrawal I know of (going on for over six years!) recover substantially, and to finally get good (or good enough) sleep most nights of the week. Below is his contact information. I've also mentioned him to Bob as I want him to speak at the foundation as his expertise is unique and extraordinary. *Another note about therapy: I think it is essential to have psychologists on staff who have trauma counselling experience. As the brilliant trauma therapist Charles Whitfield said in his shattering journal article, "Psychiatric Drugs as Agents of Trauma," (published in the The International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine, no less), these psych meds can be tremendously traumatizing to patients. Their "side effects" are no mere side effects, but outright trauma to the brain (such as loss of sexual function, anhedonia, memory loss) that can be immensely traumatic to the patient's psychological well-being, especially if the side effects continue long after discontinuation. I have included the article as a PDF in this email. I highly recommend you read it. EVERY physician should read it. I've found it to be startlingly accurate to my experience and that of many other psych patients.

 

 

 

Dr. Prey Contact:

 

(blocked for message board)

 

 

**All of the above could work, perhaps, on a concierge model. That is, patients could pay up to 2-4K a year to help pay for any services insurance doesn't cover, as, unfortunately, nickel-and-diming insurance companies simply won't give a damn about going to the appropriate lengths to get psych patients well as they withdraw from meds.

 

 

With admiration,

 

Steve

 

Mark's Reply

 

Steve--

 

I can't thank you enough for your email, your support, and your fantastic ideas. I'm heading off to my kid's soccer games, but I wanted to give you a quick reply, and I'll try to write more later.

 

You are really grasping how we envision the clinic, multiple different avenues for patients to find their way to withdrawal and recovery. There is not going to be one right answer for everybody. We hadn't talked about a nutritionist, but I agree, that would be a great addition. We are in the early stages of developing things, and so the more ideas, the better.

 

One aspect of the clinic that I think is essential is that we want it to be peer-run. In other words, decentralize the doctor's involvement. We never should have been in the middle of it anyway. Doctors will be important in helping prescribe withdrawal regimens, supervise side effects, etc. But really, equal to withdrawing from the drugs is enabling consumers to withdraw from their dehumanizing psychiatric labeling, and their dependence on a physician/pharmaceutical-centric paradigm of mental health care. I see this as a way of rediscovering what Bob Whitaker described in Mad in America as the Quaker moral therapy, minus the Quakers, but with heaping doses of humanism, empathy, and peer empowerment, no doctor's required.

 

You have a great way of expressing yourself. I'm gathering that you are a nurse, working in San Francisco? We will have to stay in touch. We are trying to organize a conference in Denver on the Fri/Sat before memorial day, and part of that will be a workshop where we try to really flesh out what such a clinic would look like. We are in the early stages, but perhaps you will be interested in coming to participate. More details to follow. Bob Whitaker will be coming.

 

Thanks again for the kind email. Days have been roller coasters recently, and so it's good to have some encouragement to keep up the good fight.

 

Best,

 

Mark

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compsports

Hey everyone!

 

Well, I just got off the phone with Bob after an hour long interview!....

 

I just listened to the interview and it was fantastic. You did a great job.

 

Thank you for asking my question about psych meds worsening LD issues. I am going to assume by Bob's response that my recovery is just a matter of time since I fortunately never took any antipsychotics which Bob mentioned can cause a decrease in IQ. Just what folks with LD need. NOT!

 

But sadly, many kids with LD, autism, and related issues are on antipsychotics.

 

Great letter to Mark Foster by the way and I love your idea about adding a nutritionist. Glad he liked it.

 

Thanks again for what you have done.

 

CS

Edited by surviving
removed accidental quote

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Healing

Well, cinephile! My goodness, you have accomplished a lot in a few days!

 

Great ideas for Mark Foster's clinic. Sounds like he was very receptive. Congrats on being invited to the Denver conference. I really hope you go.

 

I started listening to the Whitaker interview. So sweet of you to give your SA buddies a shout out! It's so nice to hear your voice. You and he both come across as very compassionate. Even though I already know the facts, it was chilling to hear them from the two of you on the radio.

 

I didn't know you had been on these meds since so young. You're part of the generation that has an especially powerful contribution to make to this world. You're on the right path. Keep going!

 

Will listen to the rest of it tomorrow.

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Altostrata

Thanks, cine. Brilliant job all around.

 

I also have to find the time to listen to the entire interview.

 

If anyone has the skills to transcribe it, please post the text version here. Volunteers? Maybe each can take a 20-minute section?

 

(compsports, you don't have to requote an entire post. You can delete a lot of that stuff between

, or use the big blue Reply button at the very bottom of the page to post a simple reply without quote.)

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alexjuice

Hey everyone!

 

Well, I just got off the phone with Bob after an hour long interview! We covered a lot of ground (plans for the foundation, the hidden history of antihistamines in psychiatry, why the media has been so slow to cover psychiatry's toxic secrets, PSSD) and I tried to focus on the issue of protracted withdrawal. I of course mentioned this forum and its future role in research and in the foundation and Bob was very happy with that idea.

 

Thank you, cinephile. Awesome work.

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alexjuice

cinephile,

 

I just finished listening to the interview. I think you did a tremendous job engaging with Whitaker and creating a dialog. Maybe there's a future for you in it - Charlie Rose can't do it forever, ya know.

 

Thank you, really deep thanks, for raising the issue of protracted w/d. I have been off (Effexor & Risperdal) for 12 months, and am still struggling with daily living. Last spring, in the worst of my w/d, I restarted benzos which actually provided relief for some issues such as sleep and anxiety, but many other w/d symptoms remained. I am hypersensitive, perhaps to benzos as well. Recently I made a minor modification to my benzo mix that I thought would be essentially neutral. However, I had a strong reaction that resulted in acid reflux and other digestive issues. These issues, I bet, are more likely derived from Effexor w/d but were "hidden" by the inhibition of the benzos. This is my current speculation anyway. In my situation, I am hesitant to start a benzo taper, so everyday is another day on Drugs. I know from eval that certain areas of my cog functioning have deteriorated and will likely continue to do so as long as I use (and then have to withdraw from) benzos. But there doesn't seem another good option. So that's the price for now.

 

My situation aside, I am very happy about your work. Please keep it up.

 

Alex.i

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Healing

I just finished listening to the interview. I think you did a tremendous job engaging with Whitaker and creating a dialog. Maybe there's a future for you in it - Charlie Rose can't do it forever, ya know.

 

I think Alex is on to something here.... :)

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Healing

OK, I finished the interview!

 

You did a great job of educating RW about protracted w/d from SSRIs. I felt like he was really listening and thinking, and then he seemed to get it that it would be a good idea to include the study of w/d syndrome in his foundation!

 

Now that there is going to be a sympathetic foundation, it will be easier to attract funding for research into protracted SSRI w/d, using that foundation as the attractor.

 

Wow -- only one mainstream newspaper ran a review of Anatomy of an Epidemic! (Boston Globe -- negative.) Otherwise the book got shut out for telling unpopular truth.

 

You are well-prepared, cine. You've done your homework and could really keep up with this expert. Great point about Watergate being the coming-of-age for political reporting, and how we are only now on the verge of a parallel coming-of-age for medical reporting. Frustrating that critical thinking and journalism don't necessarily go hand-in-hand!

 

Gosh, he's making himself so available. I really appreciate that.

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cinephile

Just a heads up: Mediafire has seemingly deleted the file for the interview! Geez, do they have big pharma working for them? :blink:

 

Anyways, I just re-uploaded it and below is the new link.

 

Also, does anyone know of any good (free!) audio transcription software for the PC? I'd like to have this interview transcribed. Thanks!

 

Link: My interview with Robert Whitaker

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turtleboots

I'm new to this site and so encouraged to find it! How reassuring it is to hear others speak of the scourge of antidepressant damage with such intelligence, knowledge, and compassion. I've been suffering from a protracted withdrawal from Effexor for eight years that has all but destroyed my health and my life. I have been to numerous doctors seeking help to no avail. A very few have been caring but without answers. Most have been arrogant and dismissive, denying that this horrible antidepressant withdrawal syndrome is even real. Some have done me significant further harm with their ignorant and uninformed "diagnoses" and "treatments." I have spent COUNTLESS hours in doctor's offices and scouring the Internet and medical journals seeking answers. How wonderful it was to hear Steve refer to this as a traumatizing experience, as it has been severely so for me. That sense of ongoing physical and psychological trauma, helplessness, betrayal, and abandonment has been the worst part of this.

 

I am particularly encouraged by Steve and Mark's talk of establishing a clinic to help those of us damaged by psychiatric medications. Where can I find more information about that on this site?

 

THANK YOU for your reply and for the wonderful effort by those of you reaching out to help the rest of us! If I can ever recover enough, I would very much like to join that effort.

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Altostrata

Hello, turtleboots!

 

We all share that experience of medical error and trauma. Please tell us more about yourself in the Introductions forum.

 

There's more information about Mark Foster here and here and here.

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