February 2022: How much evidence do we need to recognize a “big lie”?

In the early 1970’s, a Stanford University psychologist named David Rosenhan was introduced to the “anti-psychiatry” movement and was inspired to devise a study.  He got together a group of 8 “pseudo-patients”, including three psychologists, a psychiatrist and a pediatrician, to present themselves at a total of 12 psychiatric hospitals complaining of auditory hallucinations. They were told to say they heard words associated with existential dread, such as “thud” , “empty” and “hollow”.  All 12 hospitals admitted the pseudo-patients and gave them diagnoses of major psychiatric disorders (11 categorized them as “schizophrenic”).  Although they all acted normally once admitted and told the staff the voices had stopped, all 12 were discharged with diagnoses. Rosenhan contended that this was evidence that psychiatry is not scientific or objective.

Not surprisingly, there was some pushback from the psychiatric establishment and efforts as recently as 2019 to discredit him (long after Rosenhan’s death in 2012).  This happens to most professionals who dare to question the “big lie” of psychiatry.

For me, the most shocking part of this is that almost 50 years later mainstream society still accepts psychiatry as “real”. Obviously, there are huge corporate and political entities who are propped up by psychiatry. It allows drug companies to make billions of dollars of profit, and it allows the mainstream to marginalize people who are different or are perceived as a threat. But where is common sense, and how many other things do we accept without question that would not stand up to objective scrutiny?

This strange era of human history is a great time for us to recognize that things often are not as they seem, and we don’t “have” to believe what we are being told unless we independently decide it resonates with us.