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Attorney Jim Gottstein to join author Robert Whitaker on Sunday August 10 FRSC Interview

by Robert Norse
Jim Gottstein, attorney in Anchorage, a survivor of Harvard Law School as well as psychiatric incarceration has practiced law since 1978 and represented Alaskans with mental illness in the Mental Health Trust Land Litigation from 1986 through its conclusion in 1997, resulting in a settlement valued at approximately $1 Billion. Most recently, Jim co-founded the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights whose mission is to bring fairness into the egal aspects of the mental health system, particularly forced medication.
As mentioned in the Santa Cruz IMC Calendar at, pioneer pharmaceutical debunker Robert Whitaker will be phoning in Sunday morning on Free Radio Santa Cruz at 101.1 FM and http://www.freakradio. org

Also phoning in from Alaska to join the discussion with Robert Whitaker will be Jim Gottstein, an attorney with PsychRights Law Project, who has written "How the Legal System Can Help Create a Recovery Culture in Mental Health Systems" detailing how we can challenge forced drugging and incarceration with new legal strategies.

Gottstein's 2005 paper begins:

"The purpose of this paper is to show how strategic litigation can and should be a part of efforts to transform mental health systems to culture of recovery. Currently, involuntary commitment and forced drugging are by far the "path of least resistance" when society is faced with someone who is disturbing and their thinking does not conform to society's norms.1

In other words, it is far easier for the system to lock people up and drug them into submission, then it is to spend the time with them to develop a therapeutic relationship and thus able to engage the person with voluntary humane alternatives leading to recovery.2 I estimate that 10% of involuntary commitments in the United states and none of the forced drugging under the parens patriae doctrine3 are legally justified.

This presents a tremendous opportunity to use litigation to "encourage" the creation of voluntary, recovery oriented services.4

In my view, though, in order to be successful various myths of mental illness need
to be debunked among the general public and humane, effective recovery oriented, non-coercive alternatives must be made available. This conference, Alternatives, is focused
on the creation of such alternatives and the thesis of this paper is that strategic litigation
(and public education) are likely essential to transforming the mental health system to
one of a recovery culture.

These three elements, (1) Creation of Alternatives, (2) Public Education, and (3)
Strategic Litigation (Honoring Rights), each reinforce the others in ways that can lead to
meaningful system change in a way that might be depicted as follows:

For example, debunking the myth among the general public that people do not recover
from a diagnosis of serious mental health illness can encourage the willingness to invest
in recovery oriented alternatives. Similarly, having successful, recovery oriented
alternatives will help in debunking the myth that people don't recover from serious
mental illness. In like fashion, judges and even counsel appointed to represent
psychiatric defendants, believe the myth "if this person wasn't crazy, she would know
these drugs are good for her" and therefore don't let her pesky rights get in the way of
doing the "right thing," ie., forced drugging.

The myth of dangerousness results in people being locked up. In other words, the judges and lawyers reflect society's views and to the extent that society's views change, the judges and lawyers' responses will change to suit.


1 By phrasing it this way, I am not disputing that people become psychotic. I have been
there. See, However, there are lots of degrees -
- a continuum, if you will -- and there are different ways of looking at these unaccepted
ways of thinking, or altered states of consciousness. So, what I mean by this terminology
is that people are faced with involuntary commitment and forced drugging when two
conditions exist: One, they are bothering another person(s), including concern about the
risk of suicide or other self-harm, and Two, they are expressing thoughts that do not
conform to those accepted "normal" by society. Of course, this ignores the reality that a
lot of both are often trumped up, especially against people who have previously been
subjected to the system.

2 The system believes it is also less expensive, but the opposite is actually true. The overrelianceon neuroleptics and, increasingly, polypharmacy, has at least doubled the number
of people who become permanently reliant on government transfer payments. In
Anatomy of an Epidemic: Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness
in America, which is available at, Robert
Whitaker demonstrates the rate of disability has increased six fold since the introduction
of Thorazine in the mid '50s. The Michigan State Psychotherapy Project demonstrated
extremely more favorable long-term outcomes for those receiving psychotherapy alone
from psychotherapists with relevant training and experience. The short term costs were
comparable to the standard treatment and the long term savings were tremendous. This
study can be found at

3 "Parens Patriae" is legal Latin, literally meaning "parent of his or her country". Black's
Law Dictionary, Seventh Edition defines it as "the state in its capacity as provider of
protection to those unable to care for themselves." It is invoked with respect to minors
and adults who are deemed incompetent to make their own decisions. In the context of
forced drugging under the parens patriae doctrine, it basically is based on the notion, "If
you weren't crazy, you'd know this was good for you."

4 At the same time there are impediments to doing so, primarily the lack of legal"

Gottstein's own account of his struggle with psychiatric confinement is detailed at .

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Robert Norse
Mon, Aug 18, 2008 10:36PM
Tomorrow's Old News
Sat, Aug 9, 2008 10:48AM
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