Coalition for Informed Patients and Doctors

Here is an call to action.  Paula Caplan is a personal hero of mine.  Dr. Caplan is calling for congressional hearings to draw attention to the minimally-investigated enterprise of psychiatric diagnosis and to find ways to protect people from the harm that can result.

Her campaign started in September, but this is the first I've been aware of it.

Paula is an expert.  She was involved in two workgroups that updated the DSM-III-R.

She documented the outrageous shenigans involved, resigned from the project, and at a significant professional risk, wrote a great book about it.

Her book, "They Say You're Crazy: How the World's Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who's Normal"  is a must-read for those of us who really must know exactly how things get into the DSM.

A word of caution; you will probably sleep better if you do not know. Hint, there's a lot more politics, and hardboiled Yankee entrepreneurialism involved than science.

To me, reading Paula's book was an epiphany.  When I put this book down, I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or what (???).  Instead I got very angry.

Many of you receiving this email are leaders of professional, consumer, and parents groups concerned with mental health policy.  I urge each of you to take personal action to see that your group signs onto this very worthwhile campaign.

Vince Boehm

Coalition for Informed Patients and Doctors
September 24, 2004

Dear Colleagues:


We are writing to ask you not for any time or money but simply to co-endorse our call for Congressional Hearings about psychiatric diagnosis in an attempt to explore the nature and extent of harm that many Americans have suffered solely because of being given a psychiatric label. The aim of the hearings would be to find ways to prevent this harm, beginning with a clear-sighted examination of the totally unregulated nature of psychiatric diagnosis. Many people have the mistaken impression that the Food and Drug Administration oversees psychiatric diagnosis, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In 2002 and 2003, two Congressional Briefings were held on this subject, co-sponsored by a dozen groups concerned with health matters and by New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter.

The Need

This Call is not an attack on or a questioning of psychotherapy or even diagnosis across the board but simply an attempt to draw attention to this minimally-investigated enterprise of psychiatric diagnosis and to find ways to protect people from the harm that can result. The kinds of harm have included loss of the right to make decisions about one's legal and medical affairs, loss of health insurance or skyhigh premiums, loss of child custody, and plummeting of self-confidence.

This issue affects people across the spectrum, regardless of social class, education, sex, race, and age.

The Problem

Few laypeople or even therapists realize that psychiatric diagnosis is not a scientific endeavor, although some of the most powerful people and organizations in the mental health field assert that it is. As a result, millions of people who seek help because they are suffering have no idea that they are not being diagnosed in scientific ways and thus that their treatment largely lacks a scientific basis; nor do they know that in important ways their treatment may be experimental because they are given labels that may not stand for anything that has been proven to exist.

Furthermore, although drugs can be helpful for some people, it is important for the public and their therapists to know that they are often prescribed to treat diagnostic "entities" that may not even exist. Patients have a right to try anything that might help them, including medication, but it is essential that they do so after being fully informed of the limitations of the diagnostic labels that are usually the rationale for therapists' treatment recommendations.

The absence of science creates a vacuum, and biases and distortions rush in. This happens in three ways:

Such biases as racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and homophobia powerfully affect psychiatric diagnosis, becoming partial determinants of who gets a psychiatric label and the seriousness of the label that is chosen.

Serious problems such as depression are overlooked as people are diagnosed with unproven "mental illnesses" such as Compulsive Shopping Disorder or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.

Many people who are suffering because of social problems like poverty or because they are victims of hate speech or violence are wrongly treated as though the problems come from within themselves.

Why Congressional Hearings?

First and foremost, the purpose of a Call for Congressional Hearings is to put psychiatric diagnosis, with its problems and possible solutions, on the national, public agenda.

There are many reasons for choosing the Congressional Hearings route, related to why in numerous respects this is a federal issue. In the interests of keeping this letter from being unduly long, we do not provide those details here but would be more than happy to send information upon request.

What You Can Do

All we ask of you is that you grant permission to have your name or that of your organization listed as a co-endorser of this Call for Congressional Hearings, which we want to issue in October in the form of a press release and possibly at a live press conference.

If you know of other groups or people who might be interested, please let us know so that we can contact them. You can send information to me by fax at 617 491-0960 or via email at

We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours,

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., Director

Coalition for Informed Patients and Doctors

26 Alpine St. Cambridge, MA 02138 (617) 491-0962