The behavioral health field has made many advancements in educating the public about mental health and substance abuse disorders and reducing their stigma. But opposition to psychiatric treatments, organized by Scientologists, is getting national attention, and the behavioral health field needs to take notice—and fight back.
The Citizens Commission of Human Rights (CCHR), a Church of Scientology outfit, opened in December a Hollywood “museum” called “Psychiatry: an Industry of Death.” A press release announcing the new museum cites alleged abuses committed in the name of psychiatry, including the outlandish claim (unreferenced, mind you) that “Studies show that 10 to 25 percent of psychiatrists sexually assault their patients.”
This museum comes on top of Tom Cruise's now infamous rantings about psychiatric treatments and Scientologists’ organized opposition in 2004 to Proposition 63 in California (which passed, and created a new tax to fund mental health services).
It would be easy to dismiss these efforts as simply the actions of a fringe group. But big names—and big bucks—back Scientology. Besides Cruise, other prominent Scientologists include Lisa Marie Presley, Jenna Elfman (of Dharma and Greg fame), John Travolta, and Catherine Bell (JAG).
It also would be easy to just ignore any publicity these stunts achieve, dismissing them as unworthy of comment. But remember what happened to Sen. John Kerry when he failed to respond to the “Swift Boat Veterans’” accusations? And more attacks on the field could come. The press release says, “The opening of the new museum, Psychiatry: an Industry of Death and the expanded facilities of CCHR mark the beginning of a new era of enlightenment on the motivation, history and crimes of psychiatry.”
Psychiatry—and all of its behavioral health cousins—need to be ready to act whenever such groups make ludicrous accusations. Providers and payers alike should flood the media with releases denouncing attacks on the field. Ironically, it's also an opportune time to highlight all of the good accomplished by your work. Invite your local TV station or newspaper to profile your latest program, announce your latest accreditation renewal, or share a recovery story.
And try not to support celebrities who back such nonsense. Elfman has a new sitcom on CBS this winter. I won't be watching. But I am going to keep an eye out for the latest move by Scientologists to denounce your dedication to serving those with mental health and substance use disorders.
Douglas J. Edwards, Managing Editor