Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2007

 

WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS BELIEVE ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH - AND WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Mary Ann van Hartesveldt

My husband studies European history, and he says that before you read a book on the Protestant Reformation, you should find out whether the author is Protestant or Catholic. Neither is bad, but it helps you evaluate what he says if you know where he is coming from. Scientology is a controversial topic. So here is where I am coming from: I am the mother of a seriously depressed daughter, who has benefited greatly from psychiatric care, including medications and electroconvulsive therapy. I believe in science, in medicine, and in psychiatry.

Depending on whom you ask, Scientology is a religion or a profit making business or a very dangerous cult. Time Magazine called it "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power." It claims 7 million members but the true figure is probably about 100,000 world-wide. It's very hard to be sure--Scientologists are extremely secretive about their organization. There are active groups in the US, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada. There is a church near Atlanta.

Scientology was created in the 1950's by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard claimed to have visited Heaven and the planet Venus. By the way, in reality Venus is so hot that lead runs liquid there, but Hubbard didn't comment on the heat. He wrote dozens of science fiction books, probably the most famous of which is Battlefield: Earth, a good space opera which was made into a truly awful movie in 2000.

There are several celebrity Scientologists: Tom Cruise. John Travolta. Kirstie Alley. Isaac Hayes.

Hubbard's view of the mind is that it is divided into the rational mind (similar to the conscious mind of Freud) and the reactive mind (similar to Freud's unconscious.) The rational mind figures things out and acts logically, until the reactive mind, in response to some stimulus, takes over and acts irrationally. The goal is to get control of the reactive mind. Scientologists believe that mental illness is caused by trauma in one's past life or past lives, many of which were lived on other planets over the last few quadrillion years. Scientists who study how the universe began tell us that our universe is 13 to 20 billion years old. To speak of something happening a trillion or quadrillion years ago is nonsense. No evidence for Hubbard's teachings is offered. They are simply taken on faith, and in that sense at least, it is appropriate to call Scientology a religion. Hubbard never employed the scientific method in developing any of his ideas. Scientologists believe the cure for mental illness is "auditing" -- talking to a Scientologist counselor while holding an E-meter, a machine that looks like two tin cans connected to a dial by wires. An E-meter is actually a device called a Wheatstone bridge, which measures tiny changes in the electrical conductivity of the skin. It is similar to a galvanometer, one of the parts of a lie detector. In the 1950's Hubbard used to claim that E-meters could not only diagnose but also treat everything from colds to cancer, but the Church is more careful about its claims now, at least in print.

Using the E-meter the counselor makes the subject talk about a painful experience over and over until he doesn't seem upset by it any more. This is called "clearing." It is expensive. Many people have spent tens of thousands of dollars on Scientology counseling. In these sessions the person is encouraged to talk about everything bad that has happened to him -- especially his most shameful and secret moments. The Church claims that this information is kept confidential, but scores of ex-Scientologists have discovered that their most sensitive information was made public to embarrass and discredit them when they left the Church and criticized Scientology.

Hubbard used to claim that a "clear," a person whose traumas were all neutralized, would have all sorts of amazing abilities, including a perfect memory. Ever since some public embarrassments when people he said were "clears" could not demonstrate any such abilities, that claim has been downplayed.

Scientologists deny what thousands of scientific research studies in reputable, peer-reviewed journals have shown: that most if not all brain disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.

Scientologists are amused at the idea that it takes long and careful preparation to deal with brain disorders. "A psychiatrist spends 16 years in school but we train an auditor in 30 days." They also laugh at the idea that different diagnoses need different treatments. All people seeking auditing get treated the same.

They believe that the mind and the brain are completely separate. Quote, "The brain does not make decisions." This is called a Descartesian view of human nature, and it's hard to defend. We all know that what we think, feel, and decide can be affected by physical things like hormones, drugs, alcohol, or head injuries.

Scientologists believe that all anti-depressants and other psychiatric medications are dangerous and addictive. Some psychotropic medications have unpleasant side effects and a few are indeed addictive, but all over the world tens of millions of people benefit from anti-depressants and other psychiatric medications every day. Scientologists say people wouldn't need those medications if they would eat better and exercise. Scientologists offer no evidence for their claims -- again, they must be taken on faith.

One of Scientology's beliefs is that Electro-Convulsive Therapy is brutally cruel and should be outlawed. Today ECT is done under general anesthesia, and the amount of electricity used is much reduced from what was used 50 years ago. The patient's toes may curl up a little but she does not go into convulsions like in the movies. There is no pain. There may be some temporary memory loss, but to severely depressed patients this is a small price to pay for relief from their symptoms. The permanent brain damage claimed by Scientologists has not been documented. Scientologists claim a death in every 198 ECT patients: the real figure is one in every 10,000. And remember: ECT is given only to severely ill patients, many of them elderly.

Scientologists like to go on and on about Psychosurgery. They talk as though this were commonplace today. The truth is that in the the last century, quite a few prefrontal lobotomies were done., to make violent patients calm. All physicians now see that was wrong, and regret it. Today a much refined version of this surgery is extremely rare, used as a last resort to do something, like stop a terminal cancer patient from feeling pain. Scientologist websites and leaflets will have you believe that psychosurgery is now a common way to control patients, especially minorities. This is simply not true. And by the way, L. Ron Hubbard was a racist, and offered advice to the apartheid government of Rhodesia on techniques for questioning black prisoners. He wanted to move to Rhodesia and live under apartheid but they wouldn't have him.

The Church teaches that mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia do not exist and therefore insurance companies should not have to pay for their treatment, nor should they be grounds for any disability claim. Picture the impact on our families if these ideas gain credence.

They believe there are no such things as Attention Deficit Disorder, Hyperactivity Disorder or learning disabilities. Children with these diagnoses simply need a sugar free diet, more exercise, and more consistent discipline. Most mainstream authorities agree that these conditions are over-diagnosed, but denying that they exist at all flies in the face of mountains of clinical data and the lived experience of millions of parents. And sugar consumption has nothing to do with hyperactivity -- that has been conclusively demonstrated.

Church literature keeps repeating the claim that all psychiatrists are evil. Hubbard wrote, "Pain and sex are the invented tools of degradation," having been invented by psychiatrists aeons ago. He said psychiatrists are, "the sole cause of decline in this universe," and accused them of helping commit genocide against some alien species 75 million years ago. For all that to make any sense at all you have to remember that Scientologists believe in reincarnation. Every psychiatrist has been evil beings in previous lives. The Church currently teaches that psychiatrists conspire to dominate the world, and to that end work to undermine religions and patriotism. Scientologist literature blames psychiatrists for racism, World War I, the Holocaust, the rise of Stalin, illiteracy, drug abuse and violent crime. One pamphlet says, "Remember, when you battle psychiatry you are fighting against the ultimate evil." Scientologists would like to ban the study of psychiatry from all medical schools, and the study of psychology from all high schools, colleges, and universities.

OK. We all believe in freedom of religion. So Scientologists have the right to believe anything they want. In fact I would give my life to defend their right to believe this foolishness. So why should we care what they believe? Here are some reasons:

Scientology offers itself as an alternative to scientifically proven, effective treatment for brain disorders. Vulnerable people are recruited and spend thousands of dollars on useless counseling. Many give years of their lives working at slave wages for the Church. The Church has been known to establish and advertise hot lines offering help to people with problems related to mental health. Callers are given recruiting pitches for Scientology and discouraged from seeking medical care. In 2001 a message giving one of these numbers crawled across the screen on Fox News, until callers complained.

The Citizens' Commission on Human Rights, a Scientologist front organization, regularly testifies before Congress and state legislatures against laws to provide better mental health services. They claim to have 130 chapters in 30 countries. They also promote legislation that makes it harder for people, especially for children, to get access to mental health care. For instance, on Sept. 29, 2000, members of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights testified before a U. S. House of Representatives committee that both AD/HD and mental illness are "neuro-biological lies," and that psychiatry as a profession is a fraud. All kids need is discipline and better instruction. They said the drugs used to treat AD/HD are "the most addictive drugs in medicine today." Representatives of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry rebutted the Scientologists, but at the end of the hearing Chairman Peter Hoekstra concluded that "there is no professional consensus between professionals as to the origin and nature of AD/HD." Politicians are sometimes unable to tell the difference between an expert and a kook, and as in this case, give their statements equal weight.

The Church lobbies state legislatures and Congress to have ECT outlawed. For some people with treatment-resistant depression, ECT is the only effective therapy we have.

It lobbies to have all involuntary treatment and commitment abolished. Scientologists say people who are a danger to others belong in prison, not a hospital. People who hurt themselves have a right to do so and should be left alone.

They push to make it harder for children with attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity disorder to get diagnosed and treated. For instance, The Parental Consent Act of 2005 (HR 181) would have prohibited the use of federal funds for any universal mental health screening. It failed, but many well-meaning Congressional Representatives voted for it.

They run front organizations like The National Foundation of Women Legislators, which pushes for their anti-psychiatry agenda.

After the World Trade Center disaster mental health care professionals were interfered with by Scientologists when they tried to aid victims. Scientologists were there distributing a bizarre pamphlet on "morals" and getting in the way of professional counselors.

They offer school boards a free anti-drug course that teaches false information about recreational drugs. They teach that drugs remain in the body for months or years and must be "sweated" out, and drug users must be treated with massive doses of vitamins and vigorous exercise and long periods in a sauna. While most of us could use more exercise, there is no scientific backing for the claims of the Scientology course. But cash-strapped school boards in many states take advantage of the course because it is free. I believe that giving kids false information about drugs is very dangerous. Sooner or later they learn that you were wrong about some things, and doubt the rest that you told them.

Scientologists would like to forbid anyone from making an insanity defense in a criminal trial. They say anyone who breaks a law should be punished, without consideration of any delusions or hallucinations or impaired thought processes he or she was experiencing. Having not been able to achieve that goal, the Church of Scientology has filed amicus curiae briefs saying psychiatric testimony should not be allowed in cases where an insanity defense is offered. Their idea is that a psychiatrist's opinion is no better on this question than a mechanic's or a hairdresser's. There have been cases where judges accepted these arguments, notably in Arizona. Only about 2% of insanity pleas are successful as it is. Juries are very suspicious of them, with the result that a lot of mentally ill defendants get prison time instead of the treatment they need. Scientologists also try to get psychiatric testimony excluded from child custody disputes and commitment hearings.

The Church of Scientology harasses drug companies that make anti-depressants. Its members have generated hundreds of lawsuits against Eli Lily Co., the company that makes Prozac. L. Ron Hubbard said that the purpose of a lawsuit is to harass, not to win. There is a great need for more research into treatments for depression. Pharmaceutical companies that tackle this issue should be encouraged, not forced to spend millions defending themselves from hundreds of bogus lawsuits.

OK, you may say, but this stuff happens in California and New York. It has nothing to do with us in Georgia. Not so.

Here is a quote from a speech by Georgia State Senator Nancy Shaefer on the floor of the Senate Chamber in Atlanta: "Psychologists and psychiatrists have always targeted the education of children to destroy liberty, faith, and free will."

There was an exhibit at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta last month called "Psychiatry: An Industry of Death" on the theme that psychiatrists want to destroy our freedoms.

In 2002 the Church tried to set up a Narcanon facility in Bowdon, Georgia. Narcanon is a substance abuse treatment organization based on Scientology's beliefs about drugs.

They spread misinformation about mental illness, which is already poorly understood by the public. In Florida they got legislation to prevent mental health screening in schools. It was proposed in Georgia (SR128 in the 2005 General Assembly.) It failed, but it got the support of Republican Casey Cagle, current candidate for Lieutenant Governor.

What you can do about it:

Question candidates for government office -- like Casey Cagle -- about mental health. Oppose people like State Senator Nancy Shaefer. She is currently up for re-election and I have the address of her opponent here for anyone who wants to send a donation. Dispel misunderstandings about mental health. Spread the word that science has discovered a lot about brain disorders. We don't need creatures from outer space to explain them. We have treatments that work well for most people. Those whose needs are not being met by the drugs and other therapies available now need scientific investigation into their problems, and effective medical treatments developed, not superstition.

Questions?

 

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