31 Aug 2018
Scientology’s War With Psychiatry Part 2
Though L.Ron Hubbard and Sigmund Freud were very different people, they agreed on one thing: that people, except in very rare cases, aren’t born mentally ill, but are made that way by traumatic events that happen during their lives. Both believed that the way a person could be ‘healed’ was by bringing these traumatic memories out from the subconscious, or ‘reactive’ mind, and reintegrating them into conscious awareness, so they would lose their harmful effects. It is true that Hubbard made some rather extravagant claims for his methods that haven’t been completely verified, but then, so did Freud.
Hubbard, despite his claims of years of research, based his theories on only a limited number of patients, but then, so did Freud, yet it is only Hubbard who is criticized for this. Today, both are no longer considered very relevant in psychiatry.
Most, though not all, psychologists and psychiatrists believe that it is no longer necessary to sift through someone’s past to find out what is affecting them in the present. They believe that nearly all ‘mental illness’ and emotional problems are due to a chemical imbalance in the brain and, by taking the proper drug, this imbalance can be corrected.
So far, no one has been able to determine what the correct chemical balance would be, or even if such a thing exists. Psychiatric diagnoses are in a constant state of flux, determined as much, if not more so, by politics and fashion as by science.
A Rose by Any Other Name: How Diagnoses Change Over Time
For example, in the 1970s being gay or homosexual was considered a mental illness; in the 1980s that was no longer true because a small group of analysts concluded it was not. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) 4 listed Asperger’s syndrome as a specific condition; by DSM 5 it had become subsumed under autistic spectrum disorder, partly because the APA felt there were too many people being diagnosed with Asperger’s. Yet, in Scientology that is considered ‘unscientific.’
While I am not a Scientologist myself, I did recently spend about six months working for a Scientology organization, so I do have some first-hand knowledge of their beliefs.
Hubbard is said to have remarked to one of his fellow writers back in the 1930s that he was tired of writing for a penny a word; that the best way to become rich was to start a religion, which he did. (Another version of this story has Robert Heinlein suggesting that Hubbard start his own religion.)
This emphasis on money continues to the present day. Staff members are constantly told how much money they need to raise each week, and how many ‘bodies in the shop’ (which is Scientology’s term for customers) they need to bring in. This attitude extends to the staff themselves, they are constantly being ‘encouraged’ to take expensive courses costing thousands of dollars, which they have to pay for in advance in the event they leave later.
Shortly after I began working there, I was encouraged to takes such a course. When I replied that I had no money, the reply was, “That’s no problem, just give me your social security number and we’ll get you a credit card so you can pay for it.” After I foolishly did so, the Scientologist I was speaking to got extremely frustrated when the only card any bank would give me was a secured one with a limit of only $300. Such are the advantages of having a low credit score.
There has been considerable negative publicity about Scientology in recent times, both for their supposedly extreme beliefs and the way they treat their ‘parishoners.’ (They are officially a church, but everyone knows that’s primarily for tax purposes.) One thing that is very important to understand about scientologists is that they essentially live inside a time bubble. Their entire culture is based on what Hubbard said and wrote, and they have to do exactly what he said. If Hubbard misspelled a particular word, that word has to be spelled the exact same way he did. Hubbard had an extreme hatred of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, which can partly be explained by the fact that they rejected his theories, potentially standing in the way of him getting rich.
The Very Shady Side of Psychiatry
However, it is important to remember that at the time Hubbard wrote most of his books, which was in the late 40s and early 50s, psychiatrists were doing some rather shady things. One of the most popular ways of dealing with people who were mentally ill, particularly those who were considered troublesome, was to perform a prefrontal lobotomy, an operation where part of the patient’s cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for higher thought and logical reasoning, was cut away and removed.
This had the effect of making the patient more tractable, but also far less capable of dealing with the necessities of everyday life. This operation was performed in large numbers during this period, mostly on the poor, but also on those of all levels of society, including the sister of the future president, John F. Kennedy.
The case of Frances Farmer is especially striking. Frances Farmer was one of the most highly regarded actresses in Hollywood during this time. However, she was considered troublesome because of her left-wing political views and the fact that she wouldn’t accept just any role that was offered to her. So, the studio bosses conspired with her mother, who had gotten used to her daughter’s income from films, to have her lobotomized. Farmer became more tractable. She also ended up as the hostess of a children’s television show in Milwaukee, because she could no longer perform her former role. (Her story was made into a movie called Frances, starring Jessica Lange.)
There were also procedures used, such as electroshock therapy, which, while not as destructive as lobotomies, resulted in permanent memory loss and even physical injuries in some cases. The foregoing is intended to show that these things actually happened, and were not just the products of Hubbard’s paranoid imagination.
Scientology’s Opposition to Prozac and Paxil
This is also relevant to Scientology’s campaign to bring out the dangers of psychiatric drugs, like Prozac and Paxil, to the public, which has resulted in changes in public policy designed to reduce the use of such drugs.
These drugs do not cause damage to the extent that procedures like lobotomies and electroshock did, but studies have shown that even relatively brief use results in permanent physical changes to the brain, and they have been linked to depression and even suicide in some cases, the very conditions they were intended to treat. Even the American Psychiatric Association has recently stated that drugs should not be the first choice of treatment in cases of depression, but should only be used in conjunction with talk therapy.
(The question of the effects of psychoactive drugs on society has been a mainstay of science fiction for more than 5o years. Apparently there is a connection between science fiction and a distaste for psychiatry.)
I was only employed as a low-level staff member in my six months in Scientology, so I’m not really qualified to speak on what goes on at the higher levels of Scientology. However, I did want to mention at least a few more things, to illustrate how perhaps there have been times when Hubbard has been unfairly maligned.
One of the basic things Scientology believes is that a person can be affected by what happens to him or her, even while they are still in the womb. These can be things that happen to the mother, and thus, indirectly to them, such as arguments or physical abuse. One of the worst of these is an ‘AA’, or attempted abortion, and Hubbard has been criticized for putting undue emphasis on this.
There are times, it is true, when it does seem that Hubbard thought nearly every expectant mother in the world had had at least one attempted abortion. However, you have to remember the times he was living in. These were the early 1950s, abortion was illegal in every state, so a woman who didn’t want to go through a pregnancy had to resort to an illegal abortion. This is no longer the case.
Scientology is Not the Answer but They Aren’t Always Wrong
I certainly am not trying to say that if someone feels they have serious emotional problems they should head for the nearest Scientology organization rather than go see a qualified mental health professional. However, our current mental health system, which relies primarily on drugs to correct a supposed chemical imbalance in the brain, instead of finding out what is truly bothering an individual, is obviously not working as evidenced by the over 45,000 people who commit suicide each year, and the millions more who are desperately unhappy and resort to illegal drugs or alcohol to dull their pain.
The rising suicide rate, particularly among young people, parallels the increasing use of psychotropic medication. Millions of schoolchildren are given powerful drugs, such as Ritalin, simply because they cannot sit quietly in their seats in a classroom, and nearly all of those who have been involved in school shootings, such as the one at Columbine High School, were on some type of psychotropic medication. These are not assertions presented by some fringe organization; these are just the facts. Hopefully it will be possible to devise a more humane and effective solution, whether that is called Scientology or something else, to help people find peace with the challenges in their reactive mind.