Out, pesky engram!

Over at Neurotopia, Scicurious has been doing some terrific writing about depression.  Mental illness is a topic I've written about many times, so I was inspired to look into the vault and see what kind of goodies I had back there.  Well, since I truly loathe people who dole out dangerous medical lies, I figured it was time to dust off this little bit on Scientology and mental illness, rework them a bit, and share them with you again. 

The problem

Depression, in the medical sense, is not a mood...it is a severe
disorder originating in the brain, and affecting the entire body. Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44,
but can begin at almost any age. Depression affects health in many
non-obvious ways. People with depression have a higher risk of suicide,
but the disease may also lead them to take poor care of their health.
Depressed patients may forget or chose not to take medications, see
doctors, and eat well.

There are plenty of online resources for depression, especially at the NIMH,
so I won't go into details of diagnosis and treatment. What I find
disturbing is that there is a small but significant movement that
denies that mental illness is "real", whatever that means. There seem
to be many flavors of this denial.

Bringing the stupid

Perhaps most influential of the denialists are the Scientologists, who have utterly insane unusual beliefs about mental illness. For those of you who don't yet know, mental illness, according to Scientology, is caused by "the reactive mind and its engrams."
That is, unconscious, unpleasant memories, that must be purged via the
expensive system of "auditing". Sounds a little like traditional
Freudian psychology, right? Um...not so fast.

What is the great theory behind this? Neuroscience? Well, no. It has
been discussed so thoroughly elsewhere, so I won't belabor it, but
Scientology's beliefs are based on the idea that extraterrestrial
tortured souls possess us and cause mental illness. Really. Just google "Xenu".

Of course, this process is not only good for mental illness:

I had asthma, and it was actually pretty traumatic.
I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't breathe at all. Then
I learned about
Dianetics and I read the book. My friend and
I did it on each other and it wasn't too long before I realized I
wasn't having any attacks. It was GONE. It's now been fifteen years and
I haven't even wheezed. It's a miracle.

Woo! A testimonial!
So, if you buy their books, follow their program, you can be, well,
pretty much perfect. I'm sure everyone is lining up at the Church of
Scientology to be cured of their maladies, mental and physical, right?

Umm..well, no. Why not? It turns out that Scientologists are persecuted world-wide, by governments and the "psychiatric community".

But in a bizarre turnabout, these poor, persecuted (and asploded) souls will sue you. Really.
Scientology has a long history of suing people for revealing their
"secrets" and mocking them. 

Those sneaky Scientologists!

OK, so Scientology seems like an easy target, and with all the publicity you'd think their views on mental illness would have been laughed off the planet (on a DC-8?) for good.  But those Scientologists are crazy, not stupid, so they created a front organization.

It's called the "Citizens Commission on Human Rights". It's motto is "investigating and exposing psychiatric human rights abuse". Who is this "commission" and what is their beef?

A good place to start is on their info page. Hardly a paragraph goes by without a falsehood or logical fallacy. 

First of all, I'll skip the cute SciFi-ish adds on the margins of
the page with headlines like "Psychiatry: Industry of Death." Hyperbole
of that degree should be, well, discouraged.

The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is a
non-profit, public benefit organization dedicated to investigating and
exposing psychiatric violations of human rights. It also ensures that
criminal acts within the psychiatric industry are reported to the
proper authorities and acted upon.

It starts out as a simple statement of fact (non-profit, etc.),
then, makes a subjective statement about their purpose which suffers
from the logical fallacy of "begging the question":
it assumes that there exists significant psychiatric abuses and crimes.
Nowhere on their site can I find actual evidence of widespread crimes
by psychiatrists, nor do they link to any specific "report[s] to...proper
authorities". This paragraph may be a lie, or it may be making truthful
claims, but failing to support them.

CCHR was founded in 1969 by the Church of Scientology
and the internationally acclaimed author, Dr. Thomas Szasz, Professor
Emeritus of Psychiatry at the State University of New York, Syracuse.

The Church of Scientology, as we've seen, is a bizarre cult that believes human
suffering originates in "engrams" implanted on Earth by an evil
galactic overlord named Xenu, so that pretty much eliminates any
credibility this organization might have. Then they use the inevitable "appeal to authority".
Dr. Szasz is known not for his positive contributions to the field of
psychiatry, but for his incoherent rants that fail to propose a viable
alternative to current practice.

The entire premise of the organization is bizarre, and it is a poorly masked front for the morally indefensible anti-mental health activities of the Church of Scientology. Most of us have seen the bizarre behavior of Scientology's most public adherents, and I can't help wondering if this whole mental illness denial is a convenient position for these meshuggeners to take.  I'll leave further speculation to you. 

According to Operation Clambake, it's not a bad idea to say the following: All
quotations of copyrighted material herein fall within Fair Use
guidelines.  Note: The Scientology organization is commonly referred to
as the Church of Scientology.  The reader should be aware that, in
reality, global Scientology is a complex international legal structure
of multiple corporations, some of which are nonprofit and some of which
are not.

terms "Scientology" and "Dianetics" are trademarks and service marks
owned by Religious Technology Center (RTC), Los Angeles, California,
USA. For a detailed explanation of Scientology's copyrights,
trademarks, and other legal issues involving the names and symbols used
by the organizations collectively known as "Scientology" and
"Dianetics," see the Trademark Section of the Official Scientology Web Site.


More like this

James(The Amazing)Randi was once at a forum. A Scientology Apologist was going on and on about Scientology and Elron Hubbard.

Annoyed, Randi spoke up. "Madam, I met Elron Hubbard twice. Each time he was drunk!"

The drunk man they were referring to once was overheard to say (so the lore goes), "If you really want to make money, start a religion". His sci-fi books didn't sell so well. Boy, he sure figured out how to make money!

By The Blind Watchmaker (not verified) on 17 Mar 2009 #permalink

Now that comments appear fixed, I'll try reposting my comment from yesterday:

You may enjoy this story where a CA reporter interviews Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis.

The money quote, from Davis:

For you to talk to me, you as somebody who is not a Scientologist to talk to me about what my beliefs are or to ask me to explain any core religious belief, that's an offensive concept. Nobody should ever be asked to do that.

In the words of the immortal Bugs Bunny, what a maroon!

P.S. It was a bit unnerving when I tried to post this comment last night and had it rejected with a warning saying Text entered is wrong! I almost wondered if the Scientologists had hacked your blog! ;-)

I hate Scientology.

Whenever they're giving their free "stress tests" at 69th Street Terminal, I really have to constrain the urge to get in their faces and argue with them. I suffer from Depression (and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and a mild OCD, which is just a great combination...), and I would probably be dead (or an absolute wreck) without the medication and therapy I've received from psychiatry and psychology. These bastards are putting lives at risk with their insanity, people who are like me, and that is absolutely infuriating.

It is a shame that these people have co-opted the very real problem of the ineffectiveness and bad medicine that is a real problem in psychiatry/psychology today. The scientologists are capitalizing on these very real problems that millions of patients have when they have tried and failed to find relief from their psychiatric symptoms with medications and therapy. Abuse by psychiatrists and psychologists, bad training and supervision, and suspect drug research are very real problems that are seemingly ignored by the profession.

I am upset by this type of "capitalization" by scientology; I think it is an abomination-- however, there would be no need for such if the "science" of psychiatry was a bit better at doing its job. No patient would put up with this kind of trial and error methods for prescribing antibiotics, and yet this methodology is routinely employed by psychiatrists. The subsequent weeks of "trial and error" needed to find the right "cocktail" are frustrating for patients, to say the least. The 15 minute appointment times don't help this problem and neither do the lack of coverage by insurers for psychiatric conditions. I am afraid that unless people begin to see and treat psychiatric illness just like any other medical illness, there will always be room for the scientology brand of "cure" to be given tacit approval and acceptance.

By Autodidactyl (not verified) on 17 Mar 2009 #permalink

Scientology is forever "casting out its nets" for the vulnerable:in the mid-'80's, they used to rent a space on lower 5th Ave.,NYC(expensive, even then), asking young adults walking by if they would like to be in a psychology experiment(coincidentally, they were located *exactly* half-way between NYU and the graduate part of the New School,both places where actual studies took place and students could earn a little money).Similarly, they set up tables (post-9/11 and since)in a *subway passage* near Times Square,offering free "stress tests" to unsuspecting passers-by.When I see them,I usually make some kind of disparaging remark to on-lookers.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 17 Mar 2009 #permalink

I was at the fourth of July festivities in Boston, oh, about a decade ago and some of Scientology's Citizen's Commission on Human Rights (a not-at-all disguised anti-psychiatry front group) were leafleting all over the place. I grabbed one of their leaflets on a footbridge over Storrow Drive (near the Esplanade where the big concert happens), crumpled it, flung it over my shoulder, and made a snarky comment about "Tom Cruise missiles", whereupon the Co$ flak tried to threaten me with legal action. My friend that I was with and I laughed and walked off into the crowd. (To this day he still brings it up from time to time for a quick laugh.)

Civil society is starting to catch up with these people...

From the Telegraph (UK) Sept 2008

The Church of Scientology in France and seven of its leaders is to be tried for alleged organised fraud.

The charges, which also include claims of illegally prescribing drugs, were filed by a woman who complained that the Scientologists had allegedly brought about her financial ruin.

Franceâs professional pharmaceutical association and another plaintiff have also filed for charges.

This latest court order refers the churchâs main structure in France, the ASES-Celebrity Centre, and its bookshop for alleged âorganised fraudâ.

Both could be shut down if convicted, according to judicial sources.

The trial - for which no date has been set - is rare, as most previous cases targeted individuals but not the church itself.

The woman who complained was allegedly approached by Scientologists in a Paris street in 1998. At first she was offered a personality test, then invited to hear the results.

In his order, the judge found that the church had used âpersonality tests void of scientific value...with the sole aim of selling services or divers products.â

The 33-year old was allegedly gradually persuaded to hand over around £25,000 on books, communication and âlife healingâ lessons, as well as âpurification packsâ.

ref: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/2706707/French-…


Thanks very much for your article.

The CCHR exhibit, "Psychiatry: Industry of Death" travels around the country spewing negative propaganda about psychiatry and is frequently scheduled by Scientology to coincide with a psychiatric conference held in the same city. Only briefly, towards the end of this exhibit, is a connection to Scientology mentioned.

It is Scientologyâs denial of the existence of mental and neurological illnesses and absolute phobia regarding psychiatry, which is at the root of why many of its own members have not received appropriate psychiatric care. I am in complete agreement with you on the convenience of the position.

Particularly sad, are the stories of those who have suffered from depression or schizophrenia and have been advised to discontinue medications or eschew appropriate psychiatric treatment. In some cases, psychiatric and medical care was denied to members until it was too late.

Lisa McPherson is one example that comes to mind: http://www.lisamcpherson.org/

It is my hope that others like you in the medical community will continue to speak out.

I think Scientology can best be described as an international organised criminal group. Extortion, blackmail, fraud, conspiracy, manslaughter - there isn't much they haven't been convicted of. Slavery is one I think, but that's only because of a lack of will to prosecute.

However, like Autodidactyl, I could wish that therapists had more evidence based science available and made better use of it in their work. Progress is slow. Meanwhile, the parasites take advantage.

Then there were the hapless trend following fools who induced false memories in children and women because they had heard and believed that other therapists had succeeded in 'uncovering' satanists and sex abusers. Talk about self fulfilling expectations.

By JohnnieCanuck (not verified) on 21 Mar 2009 #permalink

Oh darn, no anti-Homeopathy stuff this week, eh?

Perhaps something on shutting down the CAM section of the NIH then? I'll look forward to it.

Always some outrage to keep "Pal" busy.

Have you tried looking at STANDARD MEDICINE for a few topics?

Try it sometime - you'll find a field rich with outrages just ripe for the blogging.

By James Pannozzi (not verified) on 22 Mar 2009 #permalink

WARNING: the link for the Trademark Section of the Official Scientology Web Site is rated RED or HIGH RISK by WOT (the web of trust)

I am a board certified psychiatrist and although I do not have any love for a dangerous cult like the Scientology group, I do have to acknowledge that psychiatry is often an "Industry of Death". Patients are routinely denied a true, fact based assessment and valid clinical assessment, resulting in the propagation of misinformation and failure to treat real psychiatric conditions. This can have devastating effects as we are all dependent on a normal mental status to negotiate the world.

I am also struck with the similarity of "engrams" to "memes" which are taken up by all of us and do affect actions in the real world. Memes matter. This is an important area for discussion for those who value rational thought.

Enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work! Stop the STUPID in society and mainstream medicine as well.

By Dr.ShawnaMurrayMD (not verified) on 06 May 2009 #permalink