Frequently Asked Questions - Mental Health Liberation

These answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about “mental health” issues are based on the theory of Re­evaluation Counseling (RC). A brief introduction to that theory follows. You can find a thorough presentation at http://www.rc.org/.

These FAQs put quotes around “mental health,” “mental illness,” and similar terms. This is because we are trying to differentiate between our theory and other theories. The concepts of “mental health” and “mental illness” were developed to explain people’s irrational behavior and related phenomena, that are not generally well understood. In our experience of using RC theory and practice, we have discovered that people diagnosed as “mentally ill” can heal emotionally and function in ways that would not be possible if they had the genetic or biological conditions that the term “mental illness” implies. This has led us to believe that neither “mental  llness” nor “mental health” exist as they are commonly understood. We continue to use the terms because they are in common use, but put them in quotes as a reminder that we consider them to misrepresent the nature of reality.

People come into the world inherently good, intelligent, thoughtful, cooperative, zestful, and with all other positive human qualities intact. Exceptions are the few people with damage to the forebrain, and these people, too, have many inherently human qualities intact. We are vulnerable to emotional hurt, which can mask and distort our inherent qualities, but we also have an innate ability to heal from such hurts. Crying, laughing, raging, non­repetitive talking, trembling, perspiring, and yawning, especially with the warm, loving attention of someone else, are crucial to this healing ability. These emotional releases, known collectively in RC theory as discharge, are reliable indications that an internal process is taking place that eventually, with enough discharge, allows us to heal the hurt completely and re­evaluate the original hurtful situation or event. We are then able to function with relaxed, flexible intelligence in that area, as though we had never been hurt.

When someone gets hurt, emotionally or physically, they often don’t get the opportunity to discharge thoroughly. Undischarged incidents pile up, eventually forming a distress pattern that causes the person to be unable to think or act clearly in that area. What we call recordings develop as part of these distress patterns, containing all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and so on that accompanied the hurt experiences that formed the distress pattern. These recordings can play awarely or semi­awarely in the person’s mind as if they were tape recordings of the original incident. The person is then vulnerable to becoming confused by the recordings and thinking or acting as if the recorded events were actually part of the present reality. In the first few years of life, people develop many distress patterns that affect them throughout their lives, unless they are able to discharge the underlying hurts. 

Later, when something reminds a person of the early hurts recorded as part of the patterns, the person may feel all the original hurt, along with a compulsion to act in a way that is dictated by the old hurt, rather than responding to the present situation. To an observer, the feelings may seem much more intense than the situation warrants (and in a way they are, since they are the feelings resulting from the old situation) and the behavior will probably seem inappropriate (again, because it is behavior influenced by the past, not logically related to the present situation).

When circumstances (someone’s caring attention, or even a chance occurrence) allow a person to begin to discharge the early hurt, the hurts are being healed and the pattern re­evaluated (the confused thinking from the hurtful situation begins to clear). But the person (or others around the person), not understanding the discharge process and not having help with it, may be concerned about the discharge and try to stop it. Once opened up, however, the long awaited opportunity to discharge the hurt can overpower worries about the discharge process, and a lengthy period of crying or laughing or shaking may ensue. Because the discharge process is misunderstood, “mental health” intervention may mistakenly be sought. What is actually taking place is an inherent healing process.

We do not think that some people are “mentally ill” and others are not. Our understanding is that all people in our society accumulate hurts that affect how we live our lives and interact with others. Some people are diagnosed as “mentally ill” because their hurts cause them to exhibit behaviors that their society deems to be unacceptable. In our experience, anyone who is listened to well and supported to discharge the hurtful experiences from their past will be able to change any behaviors they decide to change. This includes people with diagnoses of “mental illness.” They can, with listening and support to discharge, change behaviors that have led to a diagnosis, recover from any difficult experiences in the “mental health” system, and again determine the course of their lives.

When we refer to the “mental health” system, we refer to the system of services intended to help people who have been diagnosed with “mental illness.” From our perspective, the people running this system, though fundamentally well-intentioned and helpful to some individuals, are limited by four main factors:

  • the system’s failure to understand how distress recordings, resulting from hurtful experiences, affect people’s functioning, and people’s inherent ability to heal from these hurts through discharge and re-evaluation
  • corruption of the “mental health” system by profit-seeking entities such as psychiatric drug corporations and residential facilities
  • discouragement of generations of “mental health” practitioners, which has led them to rely on drugs to address symptoms instead of working to free their clients from the hurts that limit their lives (in large part because they are unfamiliar with the role of discharge and re-evaluation)
  • that “mental health” professionals do not have opportunities to discharge so that their own hurts do not interfere with their ongoing ability to be counselors.

“Mental illness” diagnoses are usually made when someone is so preoccupied with something upsetting from their past that they don’t function in ways required by society. Sometimes, too, there are political or societal confusions about people’s behavior that lead to such a diagnosis – for example, a behavior might be acceptable in the person’s culture, but not accepted by the dominant society. There is no objective way to predict who will be diagnosed “mentally ill.” There is an imaginary line between those diagnosed “mentally ill” and those not. Supposedly some people are “crazy” and others are completely fine. By contrast, RC theory sees that everyone has hurts they need to heal from. Some people who are diagnosed “mentally ill” have more hurts than some who are not so diagnosed. Other people, who are not diagnosed, have a similar amount of hurts, but are able, for whatever reason, to put them aside and not become preoccupied with them. In any case, any person can recover from any past hurt, no matter how deeply affected they seem.

Here is a list of five broad reasons people are diagnosed as “mentally ill.” It is simplified for the sake of clarity, but may help demystify “mental health” diagnoses:

  • Displays of grief, or other types of emotions, that seem “out of control”.

The term “nervous breakdown” is an attempt to explain this situation. Nerves do not “break down.” Uninhibited displays of emotion are often a pattern “breaking down” and beginning to discharge. It may seem to observers, and to the person himself or herself, that the person cannot stop crying, but that isn’t the case. (The person always has the power to stop crying but the feelings, having been held in so long, make it feel overwhelmingly compelling to continue crying.) Until people have experienced a lot of discharge, they tend to feel uncomfortable with it. However, if you can remember a time when crying helped heal something, such as after the death of a close relative or friend, you will understand how the process of discharge works. Painful emotions will discharge through observable emotional release, such as crying, sobbing, tantrums, raging, perspiring, and shaking. Such emotional release is a natural, healing phenomenon and, if allowed to continue, it will serve to drain the past painful hurt.

  • People dramatizing (showing) their distress in ways that are not understood or accepted by those around them.

We use the term dramatizing distress to mean showing, or acting out, early hurts without being in a counseling session where there is help to discharge. For example, when adults yell at children they are dramatizing the way they were hurt when they were children, when their parents yelled at them. That type of dramatization is common and accepted in society. However, if someone believes they are the reincarnation of Jesus and acts on that belief, that type of dramatization is not accepted. If such a person is awarely listened to, long enough, he or she will eventually reveal the early hurts that have led to the dramatization. The person dramatizing is always, either awarely or unawarely, seeking help to release emotion from their early hurts, i.e. to discharge, in order to heal the hurt. Most people think nothing of the common, acceptable dramatizations and they don’t understand the other ones because they, themselves, have been cut off from the natural discharge and re-evaluation process. When one is cut off from discharge and re-evaluation, one doesn’t notice one’s own hurts very much nor the hurts of other people. The way people act seems unchangeable, especially when they act in ways that seem inexplicable. Not many people, seeing someone dramatizing unacceptably, think, “Oh, they must have had an early hurt.”

There are two ways of dramatizing distress that are virtually always seen as unacceptable, and are commonly diagnosed as “mental illness”:

  1. “Delusions”: “Delusions” are patterned recordings that a person has gotten preoccupied with. They may or may not be acted on; they may just be talked or thought about. (See basic RC theory explanation above.) When someone talks about their “delusions,” others may assume that the person believes that the “delusion” is real, and in fact some part of the person may believe it. When a person believes a “delusion” is real, a pattern has temporarily obscured the rational thinking of the person. However, if the person can get their attention disengaged from the “delusion” and decide to take their focus off it and/or discharge about it, it would no longer be obscuring their thinking.
  2. Acting, or being, completely unaware of their present surroundings for long periods of time: The person has not “lost her/his mind,” but their thoughts or awareness are focused in some distress of the past.
  • Hallucinations

When people are in hurtful situations, all the sights and sounds from the experience are recorded as part of the hurtful memory. When people later seek to release the painful emotion from that hurt in order to recover from it, they do not ordinarily hallucinate. However, if patterns have severely suppressed discharge, and one is in a life threatening situation or other crisis, one’s mind may bring up sights or sounds from the hurtful memory as things that one can actually hear or see as if they were real, instead of just remembered, in order to get discharge started. The isolated bits of memory usually have no obvious connection to anything in the present, because they are related only to the early hurt one is trying to heal, and so they often scare people who do not understand what is going on. These phenomena are called “hallucinations” and become part of diagnoses. (See basic RC theory explanation above.)

  • Circumstances

Diagnosing one person rather than another as “mentally ill” is often arbitrary. For example, doing certain activities in private rather than public view will avoid hospitalization. A person might scream angrily when alone in their house, and not be diagnosed, since no one would know. Another person might be locked up in a “mental hospital” because they happened to be in a public lobby when upset and screaming.

  • Oppression

Some people experience so much oppression that their lives are ruined by it, their actions blatantly show how they’ve been hurt by the oppression, and then they get blamed for it. Examples include women overwhelmed by sexist mistreatment and then, after childbirth, suddenly facing sexist expectations of them as mothers and becoming “depressed”; or African heritage teens having experienced racist violence and mistreatment in their neighborhood, unable to find work, and exploding in rage. Virtually everyone who is diagnosed “mentally ill” is a member of several oppressed groups, and what is labeled “mental illness” is actually their showing the hurts caused by oppression

We accept no limits to human functioning, no definition of “normal” or “good mental health.” We have reason to think that humanity’s best functioning adults have achieved only a part of the potential inherent in every newly conceived human. We assume that people do malfunction in various ways, and that some people function better overall than others, but the overall functioning of even those who function best would improve if their distresses were eliminated. People who are unable or unwilling to function within the rigid boundaries of what society prescribes as “acceptable” may be functioning beautifully in other ways. Those who are not presently functioning well in such areas as eating, sleeping, working for a living, or communicating, may be functioning brilliantly at discharging, re-evaluating, caring for other people, understanding oppressive patterns, or creating art works. All people can, eventually, with the complete elimination of their distresses, function well in every respect.

Within the “mental health” system, “functioning well” tends to be defined as conforming to cultural conditioning imposed by our oppressive societies. This artificially divides those who supposedly “function well” from those who supposedly don’t.

“Mental health” liberation means freeing our minds from believing in the concepts of “mental illness” and “mental health.” It means knowing that any struggles that we have are rooted not in an “illness” or “genetic disorder,” but in distress patterns that result from hurts we have experienced but have not yet had the opportunity to discharge. “Mental health” liberation means understanding that all human beings are inherently fine and that any limitations on their ability to function in a fully human way (caring, intelligent, cooperative, pleased to be alive) do not arise from personal failing but from hurtful experiences that have been stored as distress patterns. It means ending “mental health” oppression throughout society, which keeps people feeling like they need to conform rather than be themselves, stay silent rather than speak up against injustice, and so on. It means working to change our society so that people are no longer mistreated either within the “mental health” system or once they get out of it. “Mental health” liberation means changing the “mental health” system to be a place that works for and is beneficial to everyone

In the “mental health” system, “mental health” professionals diagnose their “patients” as having one or more of a list of recognized “mental illnesses.” We believe, by contrast, that each individual’s struggles are defined by their life experiences and cannot be categorized without devaluing the uniqueness of that individual’s situation. Using a diagnosis keeps the “mental health” worker from considering information unique to that individual that does not fit with the diagnosis and therefore limits their ability to understand and assist a client. Our approach instead is to understand how each person’s unique hurts have held them back, and provide resource to allow for discharge. Being thought about and counseled as a unique individual lets people access deep and early hurts and discharge distresses fully.

Historically, when all humans lived in tribes, people got help to heal severe emotional and physical difficulties from wise tribal members. Later, as medical science developed, doctors were venerated because they cured physical illnesses. Emotional difficulties were not handled by doctors. When psychiatry developed, psychiatrists had to fight to become legitimized as doctors. Creating a list of conditions that could be diagnosed helped bring that about. However, we think that medicalizing human problems doesn’t work, because people are unique individuals that don’t fit into categories. The US health insurance system requires “mental health” workers to assign a code number to someone’s emotional difficulty in order for the workers to be paid. Thus, assigning a label to a person becomes not only the way that insurance works, but the way that the whole system works. Labeling in this way may seem to make it possible to have people’s problems be quantifiable, but it defies human nature, which does not function like a biological disease that can be generally predicted. Labeling also provides pat answers. A much more thoughtful exploration is necessary to lead the person to the discharge that will resolve the problem.

Psychiatric diagnoses are harmful to individuals in that they tend to focus a person on “what’s wrong” rather than on what positive steps can be taken. Also dangerous is the “self-fulfilling prophecy” phenomenon. Once labeled, a person may accept the label as describing who they are, rather than work to heal completely from his or her hurts.

While people do tend to repeat distressed behavior (because of what we have called patterns), a person’s future behavior can never be predicted with certainty. The human mind is capable of functioning in intelligent ways in spite of irrational pulls. As people discharge, the effects of patterns are weakened. If people use Re-evaluation Counseling well, the process assists them to gain more and more ability to base their lives on fresh thinking appropriate to the current situation rather than reacting according to how we have been hurt in the past.

Psychiatric drugs don’t cure anything, and they can create lots of damage, physical and emotional. For example, various psychiatric drugs can cause lethargy, weight gain, brain damage, and tardive dyskinesia (an irreversible disease affecting control of movement), to name a few things. Additionally, these drugs inhibit discharge and re-evaluation.

Drugs may appear to cure “mental illness” because they mask feelings and make people look calm. The problem is still there, even though the person may be numb to it. In order to “function well” in the society, people are expected to behave in particular ways. A person who is having a lot of emotional difficulty will often be focused on the difficulty and therefore not be behaving in the ways required by the society. For example, they might not be able to go to work and focus on the job at hand; they might cry much of the time; they might not be able to get up in the morning . When they take a psychiatric drug, it numbs them enough that they can stop feeling the feelings that were overwhelming them and they may start behaving in the expected ways. It then appears to other people that the person is “better,” or “cured.” However, we assume that in order to heal from the still unresolved emotional difficulties, the person will eventually have to face and work through the feelings. We have found that releasing emotions is a necessary part of the healing process, in order to be able to think clearly and solve problems well.

Additionally, the drugs that appear to be effective lose their “effectiveness” after an initial period and doses have to be increased. They also create “side effects”, and additional drugs may be required to mask these. Some “side effects” can become serious physical illnesses. Many “mental patients” die younger than the general population through heart disease, diabetes, etc., caused by longterm psychiatric drug use.

Drugs also confuse people about their ability to recover. While they are on the drugs, they often believe that that kind of functioning is the best they can have and there is nothing they can do on their own behalf, that they will always need guidance and “medication” from the “mental health” system. The drugs may also numb people enough that they begin to believe that drugs are good for them and that they can’t stop using them.

We believe it is not. All our experience using Re-evaluation Counseling with former and current “mental patients” has shown that they discharge and re-evaluate like everyone else. Further, the phenomena that lead to diagnoses of “mental illness” can’t be seen under a microscope or identified by a blood test. The genetic theory of “mental illness” is scientifically unproven, even though it is a main justification for the use of psychiatric drugs.

Members of the same family get labeled with “mental illness” often because they have not had the chance to heal from old hurts that get passed down inadvertently from parent to child. People raise their children in ways similar to how they were raised. When people are treated/mistreated similarly they often show similar struggles, leading some observers to hypothesize a genetic cause.

Some studies have attempted to prove genetic causes of “mental illness,” but none have been conclusive. It is impossible to study “mental illness” scientifically when there is no proof that it even exists, and when there is no agreement on what “mental illness” is. Hypotheses put forward by psychiatrists are often believed by the general public though they have little basis in fact.

Additionally, we don’t have much information about prenatal environments and how they affect fetuses. RC theory assumes that babies can be hurt by what happens to them while in the womb – for example, if the mother smokes. Twins who are separated at birth have probably had similar experiences in the womb, and studies finding that such twins behave similarly in later life can be as easily explained by these experiences as by hypotheses about genetics.

Growing up in the stress of a home with parents who are “mental patients” could create many struggles, some of which might lead a child to identify him or herself as a potential “mental patient”. Most “mental patients” are having a very difficult time. If they are parents, this makes it hard for their children to get the care that they need. This means that later those same young people may have difficulties similar to those of their parents.

Yes. Using the natural tools of Re-evaluation Counseling, permanent recovery is possible. Although it may take years to recover completely from some hurts, people can fairly quickly recover enough to regain control of their lives, have closer connections with people, and experience fewer difficulties in daily activities while they are on the road to full recovery.

Those of us who have been using the RC process systematically for a long time have been able to recover completely from all kinds of difficulties – being uncomfortable speaking in public, not being able to get a good job, etc. We use the process when taking on challenges, such as deciding whether or not to have children. Difficulties taking on such challenges are often related to early hurts that need to be healed. Once the hurts have been completely discharged, we find ways to become successful. Some people whose hurts were once labeled “mental illness” have also completely healed those hurts. For example, some have triumphed over feeling depressed all the time. Others are no longer suicidal and enjoy their lives. Others have stopped overeating, and are no longer tempted in that direction. There are many powerful recovery stories to be told. You will soon be able to read some of them on our web site.

People who are involved in RC have Co-Counseling partners with whom they have regular Co-Counseling sessions. Co-Counselors use these sessions both to address difficult issues in their current lives and to heal from past hurts that otherwise would continue to surface and distort their lives. When someone in RC has a crisis, they already have a personal support network of Co-Counselors to draw upon to schedule extra sessions to address the emergency.

However, the RC community is not set up to be a crisis intervention service, and only functions in the above way for those people who are already participating in it. The best way to learn RC is to take an RC class. (See the RC website, <www.rc.org>.) You are welcome to use the RC theory on this website or on the RC website without taking a class. However, the terms “Re-evaluation Counseling,” “RC,” and “Co-Counseling” are registered service marks, and no one may teach this process and call it RC without taking classes and becoming certified to teach it within the RC Community.*

*If you are interested in practical steps to prevent crises or to possibly help deal with crises, go to “Staying Focused on Good Things in Life” on the Homepage of this website or click here

If everyone, including people in the “mental health” system, used the RC process, people would be much less likely to become dangerous, because there would be places to work on feelings in an ongoing way and in a way that steadily reduced the intensity of the feelings, instead of allowing them to build up and then be acted out. When people act in dangerous ways, they do need to be removed from situations where they can do harm until they are no longer tempted to do harm. We propose that they be removed to some place where they can be counseled, and have the chance to discharge on the distresses that make them dangerous.

Another form of violence is self-harm, and ultimately suicide. Suicidal feelings result from the ways people have been hurt. They can be discharged fully, just as any other distress recording can be. Attempts at suicide are almost always either the result of a person becoming preoccupied with a distress recording of suicide or an unaware search for help to heal. If all people attempting suicide received aware assistance to heal emotionally, they would lose interest in suicide and become pleased to be alive.

Our center will carefully screen out people who are prone to violence, as we are focusing on people who are able to function well in a cooperative environment. Each person at the center, including both staff people and residents, will contribute to the cooperative working of the center.

The “mental health” system has a theory that there is such a thing as “chemical imbalance” in the brain, necessitating drug therapy. But this has never been validated scientifically, even though many studies have tried to. Historically, the “biochemical imbalance” theory is rooted in the mechanistic view of the mind that came out of the industrial revolution and became prevalent in the mid-1800s, and developed as part of the push for psychiatry to be legitimized as a medical profession. More recently, the drive for profit from the drug companies has led to heavy promotion of the theory. Today, it is widely accepted even though it has no basis in science.

Two of the reasons that the theory is so accepted are:

  • Drug companies have a huge financial incentive to promote this theory as it creates profitable markets for psychiatric drugs. They do a great deal of advertising on this subject, presenting unproven hypotheses as if they were facts. If people can be convinced that they have chemicals missing from their brains, it’s a small step to convince them to take a drug to supply the missing chemicals.
  • All research on this issue has been done on people labeled “mentally ill” who have been taking psychiatric drugs. Recent independent research has shown that these drugs can cause brain damage. When one is studying people who are on drugs, there is no way to tell whether any damage one observes is caused by the drug, or by supposed “mental illness.” The damage caused by the drugs may be called “chemical imbalance.” The failure to study people who have never taken psychiatric drugs makes the results of studies funded by drug companies meaningless

Yes, they can be allies, just as anyone else can. Using the RC process can make them better allies. “Mental health” workers’ interests are inherently the same as those of “mental health” patients. It’s in everyone’s interest to work towards all human beings recovering their connection to their full intelligence, full humanness. This can be attained by us all using the natural recovery process. As allies, they are in a position to make a big difference.

The “mental health” system has a concept of “normality” that permeates our society. Their concept of what is “normal” is based on the status quo. The status quo is based on what is acceptable to the cultural standards set by the groups that are in power, which often are a minority of the people in any society (for example, white men). The cultural standards of groups that don’t have economic or political power are seen as “less than,” “weird,” or “strange.” People from those groups are treated as not “normal.”

The status quo is “normal,” but this does not accurately describe humans in any group. Humans are constantly changing and evolving. Judging people based on the concept of “normality” sets up artificial standards that are different from how the majority of people in the world were raised. This leads to oppressive attitudes. “Normality” is a concept that promotes conformity to the dominant standard instead of valuing people’s own cultural strengths. Conformity is one of the things that fosters the inequalities in our social-economic system.

The resources needed to solve the problems people face are caring, undistracted attention, listening, encouragement of discharge, speaking out against mistreatment, and thinking put into action. While the RC Community is limited in what it can provide (although it is growing and committed to spreading the understanding of these valuable tools), friends and families can learn the tools of RC well in order to listen to and support people, and help them set up lives that work better. Supportive networks can eventually be set up so that everyone will have enough resource.

“Mental health” workers can use the tools of RC in their work. Teaching RC can become part of all aspects of “mental health” work, so that both “mental health” workers and their clients are discharging and re-evaluating. As they use this process, people will reclaim their own natural power to better solve their own problems.

The current widespread use of psychiatric drugs in and out of the “mental health” system has greatly exacerbated the difficulty of finding and creating resource. Psychiatric drugs deplete resources by interfering, either completely or to a large extent, with people’s abilities to discharge and re-evaluate. Emotional difficulties can be completely cleared up through discharge and re-evaluation. These processes will enable people to think more clearly and therefore solve any remaining difficulties. Additionally, help provided can be more readily used if one can think clearly. Therefore, eliminating the use of psychiatric drugs will greatly increase the amount of resource available. In these and other ways, eventually there can be enough resource to handle everyone’s problems.

We believe people want a society where oppression and mistreatment are ended, where people cooperate in mutually beneficial projects, and where all resources are used in sustainable ways. In such a society a “mental health” system would be unnecessary. Everyone would be a part of a caring, supportive network. Children would be allowed to discharge hurts as they occurred so that deep hurts did not accumulate to ruin people’s lives.

Before we get to that cooperative society, the “mental health” system can change to a more supportive one, where psychiatric drugs, electroshock, seclusion, restraint, and other harsh mistreatments are eliminated. Listening and discharge can become the basic treatment provided by the system. Clients and “mental health” workers can collaborate to run the system, which can include social change networks to help people solve individual and group problems. “Mental health” workers can be well treated, receive counseling themselves, and no longer be overworked, so they can have more attention for their clients. Instead of the “mental health” institutions as we know them, the system can provide places for people to relax and be cared for thoughtfully while they reclaim their power and intelligence. Many people can be trained to assist with that process.