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Review of "Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety"

By Peter R. Breggin
Prometheus Books, 2014
Review by Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D. on Feb 3rd 2015
Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety

The modest title of Peter Breggin's new book, Guilt, Shame and Anxiety, barely captures the critical message of this work, which is the utter failure of the medical industry, teachers, parents, politicians, university researchers, and counselors to responsibly respond to emotional distress in American society today. Breggin documents fully the contours of a "toxic psychiatry," an irresponsible medical industry, destructive, careless parents, and unethical research communities, whose interests are dangerously entwined with those of a powerful pharmaceutical industry. The "unethical partnership" among drug companies, organized medicine and psychiatry, and university researchers dictates the perilous result that fabricated theories and unfounded genetic speculations about people's emotional health and illness are heralded as scientific truths, both in the popular consciousness and across medical and academic communities. The sad result of a wealth of medical myth is wide-ranging maltreatment: people, from the sad and depressed to the schizophrenic, from children to the aged, from active military personnel across the veteran population in the VA, are almost exclusively treated with cocktails of harmful psychoactive drugs, rather than receiving any genuine, meaningful treatment or caring and effective therapies.

Primary care physicians to psychiatrists, tells this pioneering psychiatrist, a former teaching fellow from Harvard Medical School and former consultant at the National Institute of Mental Health, with over six decades of clinical experience, generally spend a very few minutes with their patients and then scribble out prescriptions for psychiatric meds to anyone who feels a bit nervous, tired, stressed or sad. Family doctors and pediatricians inundate children with drugs when what they really need, counsels Breggin, is structure and common sense discipline at home and more inspired teaching approaches at school.

The money net is flung wide, explains Brennin. Billions of dollars from drug companies promote the myth that psychiatric drugs are the only responsible treatment option for the emotional problems of the modern era. The enormous marketing budgets of pharmaceutical companies, which produce commercials to convince people to actively seek out medical attention for the disorders being sold to them on their television screens, compose only the tiny tip of a massive iceberg of payoffs. Pharmaceutical companies effectively own the teams of doctors who write the guidebooks governing medical practices. They support university research, medical centers, medical societies, and their conferences, research facilities, medical journals, individual researchers, and medical industry "thought leaders." They pay experts to endorse the treatment myths and their products and to put their reputed names on research papers ghost-written by the drug companies. Federal and state agencies pay families for every child diagnosed with an "emotional disability" (ADHD or "Oppositional Defiance Disorder", for examples), and almost the sole treatment plan for these children revolves around psychiatric drugs, which the doctors are paid to prescribe and parents are required to administer in order to keep the disability payments flowing. What this means is that children from low income families are highly vulnerable to what Breggin names this "medical abuse."

Breggin makes a compelling case against current medical practices. In a beautifully crafted tale of human psychological evolution, uncharacteristic of the scientist-writer, he unfolds a history of powerful "legacy" inhibitor emotions (guilt, shame and anxiety), which have come to be embedded in our human genetic make-up over tens--and perhaps hundreds--of thousands of years, originally adaptive mechanisms to suppress the natural willfulness and violence that would have caused families and clans to turn on each other and wipe out the species. Parents and religious leaders can inadvertently (and sometimes consciously, believing these negative emotions to be morally valuable) trigger, and amplify the purchase of, these painful emotions over the emotional well-being of children and adolescents. Thus begins the downward spiral toward emotional ill-being and psychological collapse. Breggin then unfolds a comprehensive self-care regimen for understanding and treating the emotional ailments that, he tells, plague all of us across the entire human community. Guilt, shame and anxiety each have their unique tell-tale signs and if we watch for them and become aware when they arise, we can choose not to escalate them, or take them as serious indicators of our self-worth. Following his regimen grounded in reason and love, one can chart a path toward increased personality responsibility and freedom from painful inhibitor emotions that are the legacy of our evolutionary past, promises Breggin.

This book is not only beautifully written, but its content is critical and compelling and its charges well documented. It should be required reading in every medical school and every doctor's office, and every responsible adult reader would do well to have a copy on the coffee table to promote responsible conversation about parenting, funding, emotional health and the medical industry today.


© 2015 Wendy C. Hamblet


Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D., Professor, North Carolina A&T State University.

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