Chapter 4. Institutions, Part 2
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77 4 Institutions, Part 2 Not all of the people who were institutionalized entered the institutions as children. Nor were they all institutionalized against their will. And though the worst of the massive state institutions offered only “custodial care,” or in the case of the larger mental institutions “milieu therapy ” (just being confined in such a place was alleged to be therapeutic), other facilities did indeed offer needed services—rehabilitation from spinal cord injury or polio, education, even peer support. Nevertheless, the potential for abuse was always there, along with separation from family and segregation from the community. Before the disability rights and independent living movements the approach of even the most enlightened rehab facilities was to treat people with disabilities not as consumers who knew what was best for themselves and could therefore make informed decisions but as essentially flawed people who needed “structure” and “direction ” and “therapy”—even if, sometimes especially if, the individual thought differently. Leonard Roy Frank “If ever I had the chance to stop the use of shock ‘treatment’ I would do so—whatever it took.” There are few disability documents as disturbingly comical as “The Frank Papers.” These are the collected psychiatric records of Leonard Roy Frank, who, beginning in the fall of 1962, was diagnosed as “paranoid schizophrenic,” institutionalized for eight months, and subjected against his will to fifty rounds of “insulin coma therapy,” with powerful electric shocks administered to his brain during thirty-five of those sessions. The papers, which Frank obtained twelve years later, were published in 1976 in neurologist John Friedberg’s Shock 78 chapter 4 Treatment Is Not Good for Your Brain, by which time Frank had become an outspoken critic of the psychiatric system, most especially of electroshock and forced drugging. Part of what makes the documents both comical and disturbing is the fact that the “symptoms” on which the diagnosis was based included such “crazy” behaviors as Frank’s becoming a vegetarian, growing a beard, and immersing himself in the works of Mohandas Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, and Arnold Toynbee, not to mention the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Frank’s “experiments in truth”—as Gandhi might have described them—would become familiar to mainstream America as part of the counterculture that emerged during the middle and late 1960s. But in October 1962, while the “sane” world came close to nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban missile crisis, Frank’s interests and alternative lifestyle were seen by mental health professionals as symptoms of a psychotic condition. Who else but a lunatic would give up his occupation as a real estate broker and undergo a period of study and reflection with the aim of becoming a better human being? As for his claims that eating meat not only undermined a person’s health but also harmed the environment, well, that, the doctors concluded, was just plain nuts. Leonard Frank was born on July 15, 1932, in Brooklyn. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he has lived since 1959 in San Francisco, where he continues his activism in the psychiatric survivor movement . In recent years he has edited books of quotations, eight of which have been published by Random House, most notably the Random House Webster’s Quotationary (1998). I lost my job in real estate in 1959, after which I lived off my savings. Eventually, however, I had to sell my car to make ends meet. It was during this time that my parents became concerned about the changes in my lifestyle. Soon they were urging me to see a psychiatrist because they believed there had to be something seriously wrong with me. The psychiatrist they consulted agreed. It was a “personality change.” To call it a negative personality change would have been redundant, because to psychiatrists all such changes are negative. The “treatment” goal was to get me back to the person I had been before. I was not interested in that. I liked the person I was becoming. I had done some reading in psychology—Freud and Jung mostly, and Erich institutions, part 2 79 Fromm as well—and had decided that overall their approach was not for me. I came to believe that psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and psychoanalysts were filling the role of priests in a secular society, and I didn’t feel the need for any priests or teachers. What guidance I needed was supplied by the books I was reading and from within myself during my journey of transformation. Toward the end...


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Subject Headings

  • United States. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • People with disabilities -- Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • People with disabilities -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History.
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