Forced Incarceration Is A Myth. Says Who?

**I yanked the first version of this post because I tried to cover a lot of ground, and it just felt overweighted. So, here is the  edited version which I hope will be more easily digestible. More to come in the next post.**

For my birthday, the friends who suggested the photo for the cover of my blog gave me a book called, Forced Into Treatment.  The title made think the book was an argument against forced incarceration,  or people held against their wills in psychiatric hospitals. Great, I thought. Someone has documented this. There’s another voice out in the wilderness!  I didn’t focus on the sub-title, “The Role of Coercion in Clinical Practice”, hopeful, perhaps, I would find some research, no matter how dated, that would back up the devastating impact resulting from forced treatment in general, and the trauma I experienced first-hand in 1989 when I was held against my will at Timberlawn Hospital in Dallas, Texas.

I was wrong. The book, the brain child of the Committee on Government Policy for the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, or GAP, published in 1994 by the American Psychiatric Press, is essentially, a tool to impact public policy, speaking to the psychiatric community, legislators and lobbyists. There is no bibliography or any detailed footnotes in the book except for broad citations. So, how representative of reality can it be? The back of the book lists only the other GAP publications and Symposia Reports, along with a section called GAP Committees (25) and Membership.  But it was the Committee on Government Policy that produced this book.  Its stated mission is The Advancement of Psychiatry. Not the Advancement of Mental Health, not the Advancement of Humane Psychiatric Care, and so on. The book covers a number of topics including, “Coercion in Child Psychiatric Treatment,” and “Mandated Therapy in Military Settings.”  But the one that caught my attention was “Coercive Treatment is Reportedly Not Abused.” The paragraph reads in full:

“One factor that is not much addressed in the debate over the need for judicial safeguards is the empirical data on the prevalence of abuse within the system. It is noteworthy that a congressional hearing by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, produced no cases of successful railroading (e.g.: forcing an individual into a psychiatric hospital not for his or her best interests but the for the gain of the petitioner).  A field investigation of mental hospitals in six states conducted by the American Bar Association concluded that railroading is a myth (Slovenka 1977). Although clinical and legal safeguards do prevent railroading, as defined above, the involved parties may become so frustrated with the restrictiveness of the system that they ‘finesse the law’ to obtain care that is in the best interest of the patient.”

From my own experience of being held against my will at Timberlawn 25 years ago, the notion that forced incarceration is “a myth” is a lie.  I was a casualty of finessing the law. I wonder how many other people were victims of “the myth?”






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