When psychiatry aggravates psychosis by focusing on childhood traumata and ignoring key current problems

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Length: 45 minutes


Nathaniel S. Lehrman, MD

Current or recent traumatic experiences have long been recognized as major causes of psychosis, but it is widely maintained that one cannot  understand psychosis without exploring childhood traumata.  When that exploration diverts attention from important current situations, tragedy can follow.

The case of Arnold Parker
Arnold Parker, a Jewish, Harvard-trained attorney, and a close college friend, was an active left-winger both before and after World War II, and a much decorated European theater infantryman during it.  By 1952, he had married, fathered three children, and started his own practice.  But those times were turbulent - communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had been sentenced to death for “conspiracy to commit espionage” and each week,  ex-communist Herbert Philbrick unveiled in the Boston Globe new horror stories, with new names, of his Three Lives  on the left.  When Parker became increasingly frightened,  and then disabled, he was referred to a distinguished Boston psychoanalyst.   His treatment focused on his relationship with his father, as he told me then.  But his current fears worsened. After months of mounting agony, and a  week before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s scheduled hearings in Boston, he hanged himself .  (157)

McCarthy in America/ Hitler in Germany
The terrorism of the McCarthy period, both governmental and unofficial, produced an immense amount of mental illness among leftists and liberals.  That era’s psychological destruction of individuals thru harassment repeated events in Germany 20 years earlier.  Hitler’s Mein Kampf  described “spiritual terror”; how, “at a given sign, a veritable barrage of lies and slanders (is unleashed) against whatever adversary seems most dangerous, until the nerves of the attacked persons break down.”   Then, “just to have peace again, (his friends) sacrifice the (now-) hated ndividual.”  The “game” is then repeated “until... fear of the mad dog results in ... (the victim’s) paralysis.”   Psychiatric opinion that the victim was mentally ill from unknown causes, probably dating from childhood, was a major aid to the creation of such “sacrifices.”

The harassment at Harvard of Dr. Perri Klass
Harassment/terrorism against individuals is still part of our political world.   During the 1980’s,  considerable unrecognized harassment occurred within the Harvard Medical School community.  In  1984, several residents at two of its hospitals were targets of anonymous hate letters and recipients of neat packages of feces.  The return address on one of those letters was that of Perri Klass, a medical student who was already a published journalist.

She was the prime target of a similar attack two years later, which she described April 5, 1987 in the New York Times Book Review.  Although she and the hospital authorities maintained that one disturbed individual was behind the attacks, examination of the details - as presented in the appendix to this submission - reveals  a well-organized, evil group,  which was apparently never identified or investigated.  

A more personal note
In December, 1963, I was hospitalized for three months at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital for paranoid schizophrenia. That hospitalization saved my life; had I remained home, an explosion would probably have occurred.  The essence of my illness was hypervigilance, the consequence of a series of increasing political attacks to which I did not respond properly. Although I was fully aware of the reasons for my breakdown, my therapists - psychiatric residents - carefully avoided my recent experiences while diligently exploring my happy and irrelevant childhood. My recovery, to which my psychotherapy contributed nothing, was due to my running a mile each day in the hospital gym, resuming playing the violin, and starting a historical research study in a nearby medical library, which I later presented formally.

Overconcern with childhood experiences can blind psychiatry to subtle but potent attacks on patients in the present and recent past.  Psychiatrists  who ignore or deny such attacks do their patients no service.

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