The Necessity of Madness and Unproductivity:
Psychiatric Oppression or Human Transformation
by John Breeding, Ph.D.


This book is about psychiatric oppression: what it is, how it works, and how it came to be. John Breeding shows how psychiatry suppresses and punishes experiences which are completely natural and, in fact, necessary to achieve spiritual maturity. He argues that experiences of temporary "madness" and unproductivity, while violating society's demand for continuous productivity, are essential if individuals are to grow and mature. Readers will find information to help themselves and their families; psychiatric survivors will better understand their experiences and find guidance for the process of renewal; professionals will be stimulated to think in new ways about their work and about the system in which they play so vital a role.

Author's Purpose

My purpose in writing this is to educate people on psychiatric oppression: what it is, how it works, and how it came to be. I want to reveal the harm done by the practice of biopsychiatry, and to show that psychiatry suppresses and punishes experiences which are completely natural and, in fact, necessary to achieve spiritual maturity. Experiences of temporary "madness" and unproductivity, while violating society's demand for continuous productivity, are essential if individuals are to grow and mature. Psychiatry enforces society's demand to keep working and be happy, no matter what. I suggest a clear alternative, a view of human nature and personal transformation that offers real hope to individuals in need. My intention is to provide a model which resonates with the truth of human transformation and has reverence for our spiritual nature. I also take a deep dive into the question of why "good people" (mental health professionals) can do so much harm while being so convinced they are doing good. My hope is that readers will find information to help themselves and their families, that psychiatric survivors will be helped to understand their experiences and find guidance for the process of renewal, and that professionals will be stimulated to think in new ways about their work and about the system in which they play so vital a role.

Table of Contents

An Anima Curse For a ProfessionA Vision
Chapter 1: Cindy & Me
Chapter 2: A Primer in Psychiatric Oppression
Chapter 3: Looking Back
Chapter 4: On Language
Chapter 5: Conditioning: The Basics
Chapter 6: Conditioning: Advanced Class
Chapter 7: Spiritual Emergence or Suppression of Psychosis
Chapter 8: The Necessity of Madness and Unproductivity
Chapter 9: Electroshock
Chapter 10: Silence
Chapter 11: On Psychiatric Drugs and Drug Withdrawal
Chapter 12: On The Process of Emotional Recovery
Chapter 13: Nursing Home Blues
Chapter 14: Perspective on Human Nature and Transformation
Chapter 15: A Legend in the Making
Chapter 16: The Reality of Alternatives
Appendix A: Part I: Electroshock References and Resources; Part II: Annotated Bibliography
Appendix B: Working Axioms For Understanding Psychiatric Oppression And Implementing A Program Of Personal and Social Transformation

Book Review by Jim Moore, LPC

John Breeding, Ph.D. has woven his own thoughts into a wide array of sources to expose the shadow of modern psychiatry. More importantly he provides clear information and guidance for positive perspectives that support human transformation.

The book begins with a story of a woman he helped in his role as counselor. She begins experiencing a potentially transforming altered state, but gets pulled into the psychiatric system by the phone call of a neighbor. John experiences his own transformational crises through his attempts to spare Cindy the brain numbing effects of psychiatric medications, and legally sanctioned social control. From these experiences John was inspired to write The Necessity of Unproductivity and Madness: Psychiatric Oppression or Human Transformation.

Several chapters are devoted to developing an understanding of oppression. The story begins with historical roots, and John then draws a line to the psychiatric practices in Nazi Germany and the United States. There is an important chapter on language and the way it gets used with oppressive practices. He also dispels the basic assumptions that modern psychiatric thought rests upon. Psychiatry emerges as a method of social control that involves big money and the expression of power over vulnerable individuals.

My own work is as a counselor. I was inspired to do this work from an experience of madness and psychiatric practices. The psychiatric system treated me rather mildly, compared to many I know of. When I think of how disruptive it was to be hospitalized, drugged, and diagnosed, as well as the tremendous affects it has had on my life, I feel for those that have experienced electroshock, long term medication, hospital commitments and worse. Many have been cast into the role of chronically disordered. They have lost personal freedom and cognitive power, capabilities that many have lost awareness of even possessing. Interestingly, the depth of their human light can still shine, even with the psychiatric /mental health system as parent. I am very grateful that I was able to slowly find persons and resources that saw my experience of madness as having a wisdom that was understood in the context of a spiritual, religious, or psychic transformation. JohnÕs book has given me greater clarity as to how I came to be a counselor and it also provides a framework upon which I can reflect and be guided on my journey of personal transformation. Most importantly, John confirms my own experiential truth. The more I do personally transforming work, the better I am for the people I relate with.

Inspired by this book, my current awareness is of the exhaustive treadmill of contemporary society. On the one hand I have hope this will generate a transformational crisis, but I am also aware that society as a whole is ignoring a large realm of human experience that is potentially very enriching. John's book gives hope to those of us that see the great potential in embracing the whole of human experience. Madness can be seen for what it is. There is nothing to fear or suppress. It is something to be supported and integrated. Unproductivity is just as necessary as productivity in a world seen for what it is, whole and inclusive. Nothing has been cast out of the garden in John's world view. We are full and whole spiritual beings in a potentiated and/or happening process of dynamic evolution. Naturally, peeling off the worn aspects of the Self can be a very dynamic and non-ordinary experience. It is who we are and we need to support experiences out of the narrow and seemingly getting narrower corridor of acceptability.

John offers a powerful story from the Iroquois to paint a picture of the forces involved in transforming oppressive energy. It left me with an important piece of the puzzle as I struggle with my own fears and limitations, and desire for others to experience a supportive context for their extreme state of mind. Most significantly, John uses the story to honor those that have experienced psychiatric oppression and continue to fight for change.

The final chapter offers alternatives to current practices. I resonated most with the discussion of Re-Evaluation Counseling. It is peer based and it helps me with the felt limitations of the helpee -expert model that I work in. Re-Evaluation is also very positive in the way it conceptualizes what we now see as human distress. John offers several other possibilities that can support individuals during a transforming experience rather than making them pawns in the dehumanizing psychiatric model. John discusses Birch House and similar places. I had occasion to call the Birch House one time and spoke with a staff member. He told me he was there to learn from the residents. Can you imagine the level of empowerment residents feel when they are treated this way? I made a personal visit to a similar place in San Diego. I recall the supervisor telling me he had gotten interested in the job when he saw an ad in the paper looking for someone with the capacity to be loving. These strike me as very different approaches and attitudes from so much of what I have seen and heard of in the mental health field.

Overall, I see The Necessity of Madness and Unproductivity as an important document not only for psychiatric survivors and mental health professionals, but also for those interested in the process of human oppression and transformation. Personally it will be a continual source of rediscovery on the journey.

Jim Moore is a counselor with the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, who lives and works in Waco, Texas.

Reader's Comments

The Necessity of Madness by John Breeding is an unusual work of persuasion written by a man of commitment, more specifically a commitment to do what he can to stop what he calls psychiatric oppression.

There are two sides to this fascinating book: a negative condemnation of actual psychiatric procedures and methods, and a positive recommendation of the need to work through madness, now understood as a symptom of the need for spiritual growth. It is this spiritual growth, evidenced in madness, which should be the task of psychiatry to stimulate and assist -- instead of which it habitually does the reverse.

In his latest provocative book, psychologist and author John Breeding has cogently constructed a holistic critique of what he calls biopsychiatry, or the use of drugs and electroshock to treat "mental illness," based on his synthesis of research and professional experience. As a lay person who has confronted periodic depressions without the use of drugs over the years, I appreciate Breeding's position that much of what is diagnosed as illness needing drugs for remediation may be an individual's "dark night of the soul" which must be traversed to reach the light at the end of the tunnel: that is, a deepened self-awareness and spiritual connection. I also found his summaries of other writings on the topic to be well-integrated and useful for a reader who isn't obsessed with the topic enough to race out to find other opinions.
--Susan Lee Solar, free-lance writer, artist and activist



The core of oppression is economic; oppression theory always begins and ends in economic terms. The relevant term today is classism. It was once slavery, later it was feudalism. It is now separation of people by class, the fundamental division being between those who make their living by their own work (working class) and those who make money off other peoples' work (owning class). Other divisions (poor, low, middle-class, professional, etc.) are sub-categories of working class, reflecting varying degrees of privilege or advantage in our society. It is absolutely necessary in thinking about psychiatric oppression to be very aware of economics and money. For a full and powerful exposition, I refer the reader to Thomas Szasz' book, 'Cruel Compassion', in which he shows how psychiatry serves a societal function in modern times, analogous to prisons and poorhouses of the recent past. Large numbers of people are drugged, confined and supported by the state, not because they are sick, but because they are unproductive and unwanted. "From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century adult dependents were coerced primarily on economic grounds, because they were a financial burden on the productive members of society. Since then, they have increasingly been coerced on therapeutic grounds, because they are mentally ill and hence are a danger to themselves and others. Both remedies aggravate the problem." (1)

The bottom line is that economics is the linchpin of all oppression, including psychiatry. Psychiatry serves a major societal control function by dealing with unproductive and unwanted citizens. A related point is that oppression thrives on separation, division and fear. Fear of "mental illness" is huge. Diagnosing, labeling and treating a class of "mentally ill patients" is a powerful way of maintaining separation and division among members and segments of our society. The cloak of benevolence may protect the consciences of psychiatry's agents and their supporters, but it in no way protects the bodies and psyches of its victims.


Psychiatry is coercive. This must be acknowledged in order to have any hope of seeing clearly what's going on. In every one of our 50 states, psychiatrists use involuntary commitment and threat of commitment. State laws protect and guarantee this practice, under the guise and rationale of "public safety" and "concern for troubled individuals."

It may not be obvious to you that coercive psychiatry is necessarily a bad thing. What may be even less obvious, yet fundamental to understand, is that where there is coercive psychiatry and involuntary treatment there is no such thing as truly voluntary psychiatry and treatment. The threat is always there. Countless individuals end up in psychiatric treatment labeled as "voluntary," coerced by overt and/or covert threat of forced treatment. All of us on some level and to some degree have to struggle with fear and confusion stemming from the way this process has filtered into the ubiquitous language of our everyday lives: "you're losing your mind," "you're nuts" (loony, crazy, wacko, sick, etc.), "they're gonna lock you up," "the men in the white coats are going to come and get you." Psychiatry is, at its root, coercive and absolutely could not function as it does without being so.

The Worldview of Biological Psychiatry

The mindset of psychiatry is guided by a very specific set of assumptions which flow from the pseudomedical model of biopsychiatry. It has all the trappings of language that we associate with the scientific practice of medicine. In fact, the theory and practice of biopsychiatry, though modeled after the practice of medicine, is really about social control. The basic assumptions of biopsychiatry are as follows:

1) Adjustment to society is good.
2) Failure to adjust is the result of "mental illness."
3) "Mental illness" is a medical disease.
4) "Mental illness" is the result of biological and/or genetic defects.
5) "Mental illness" is chronic, progressive, basically incurable.
6) "Mental illness" can (and must) be controlled primarily by drugs; secondarily, for really serious "mental illness," by electroshock.
7) People with "mental illness" are irrational, often unable to make responsible decisions for themselves; therefore, coercion is necessary and justified.


Whether you agree with it or not, this is crucial because psychiatry serves the dominant culture of mainstream society. Our education system is a principal agent of social control or conformity. We give psychiatry, by economic reward and legal power, a mandate to function on behalf of the social order where education fails to do the job, and where police action is either unwarranted or undesired. Religion often serves a similar function in our society; however, as science has usurped theology, so has involuntary psychiatry replaced involuntary religion (Inquisition) as primary agent to enforce social norms (see Chapter 3). No matter how one attributes the cause or etiology, the bottom line is that people react to Cindy not because she is ill (compare a reaction to cancer, for example), but because she challenges their external and internal social order. When this challenge is insufficient to justify criminal proceedings, or when aggrieved parties feel too much guilt in pressing criminal charges, psychiatry is readily available. In a free society, involvement in psychiatry and/or religion would be voluntary.


According to biopsychiatry, failure to adjust says nothing about social issues, community issues, physical or emotional issues. The assumption is very simple. Problems are due to "mental illness," and all are absolved of responsibility to think any further. The next assumption provides the rationale.


This is based on the premise that there is this condition we call "mental illness," and that it is a disease much like cancer or diabetes or some other physical, biologically-based medical condition. This is understandable because the concept of mental illness was created by medical doctors who are steeped in the burgeoning applications of the scientific method to the practice of medicine. They created the concept of mental illness as a metaphor for physical illness. Now psychiatry says that "mental illness" is physical illness; it is not.

On Productivity and the Necessity of Madness

We may have instituted child labor laws, but look at the modern alternative. Ritalin, a drug known to produce repetitive, stereotypical behavior in animals, is being foisted on millions of our school-age children with the hope of enforcing classroom docility, compliance and productivity. (8)

An overwhelming value placed on productivity stems from a reduction of human nature to a soulless, mechanistic, materialistic existence. The activities which appeal to our deepest nature and which inspire and enrich us are, for the most part, unproductive in a capitalist or industrialist sense. They have to do with physical closeness and affection, with emotional energy, with unmarketable creative expression, with relationships, with curiosity, with play and with inner and outer rituals by way of which we approach the numinous and the divine.

One major effect of compulsive productivity is to powerfully inhibit our ability to live in the spiritual truth of our complete interconnectedness with all of life, and particularly with our fellow human beings. Forgiveness is taught in all of our great spiritual traditions as a key to spiritual well-being. In the Christian tradition, for example, the esoteric Christ is virtually synonymous with forgiveness. It seems that a focus on productivity, however, is a direct impediment to the quality of forgiveness. I think it is because productivity, especially as defined within the parameters of our competitive, capitalist, pseudo-free enterprise system, is based on endless striving for perfection. Perfection is based in judgment. Our productivity system requires constant comparison: judgment, judgment, judgment. It is absolutely necessary to step out of perfectionism and productivity to let go of judgment and to forgive. Forgiveness is for giving. It is a letting go. It is entirely unproductive. Love is a gift of the spirit. No judgment or effort required. Freely given. No production necessary.

Unproductivity is necessary to step out of the rules of productivity and move into forgiveness. This reflects a more general principle about the nature of beliefs and human development. Carolyn Myss, medical intuitive and best-selling author, begins her tape series, 'Energy Anatomy', with the provocative assertion that madness is an absolutely essential stage in the attainment of spiritual maturity. (9) The reason for this has to do with the fact that we are all necessarily, inevitably and thoroughly initiated into the beliefs of our tribe, or culture, from the time of our conception onwards. These beliefs thoroughly impregnate our body and our psyche, largely at a non-verbal level. We are all tribal members, loyal to tribal law, way before we even begin to approach the idea, much less the experience, of becoming an individual.

Forgiveness is a violation of our current tribal rules of productivity and legal contracts. "Mental illness" is the label we give to a citizen who is disloyal to these laws. It is the modern heresy, the mark of a defective, inferior human being. Such heresy implies tremendous, outright disloyalty to our tribe, in particular to the zealous tribal worship of the great god of materialistic productivity. Forgiveness is a perspective which allows for mystery, which places relationship above profit, a rich inner life above material possessions, the search for meaning and purpose above the search for money. Above all, it involves placing your own truth above the truth of the tribe, and this is the greatest and most unacceptable heresy of all. Jesus was crucified because of it; today, we incarcerate these heretical souls, drug and electroshock their brains and bodies.

The teaching is essentially this. First, we are members of a tribe; later, we are presented with the opportunity and the challenge to become individuals. Somehow, some way we betray and we are betrayed. A man does everything he was ever taught that a good man should do. He is loyal to his country and fights in a war. He gets married and has children, works hard and succeeds financially. He feels empty and melancholy. He feels betrayed by all the promises of fulfillment that would come with righteous discharge of his duties. The tribe is let down by his irrational dissatisfaction and unproductivity in the face of his picture book life. He is diagnosed with depression and goes on Prozac. A woman finds a good man, has children, is financially supported by her husband, and still isn't happy. Or she has fulfilled her role and her husband leaves her. Either way, she feels melancholy about the felt betrayal. Either way, she is a candidate for psychiatric treatment.

Betrayal can happen in many ways, often by way of health or finances. But it will happen. We are betrayed by the failures of our childish adherence to tribal beliefs to fulfill the needs of our next stage of spiritual development. Being loyal to family rules of politeness, for example, may interfere with your responding to spirit's demand that you tell the truth. We betray when we take up the challenge to become individuals, begin to question tribal authority and to look inwardly for guidance. Members of your tribe may consider you disloyal when you tell the truth. One result of this decision to embrace yourself as a spiritual being and to reorder the placing of your loyalties is that you require not only significant amounts of unproductive time, but you inevitably undergo some form of madness. By definition, tribal politics consider such betrayal as madness. By experience, the anxiety and discomfort of uncertain personal transformation is at times confusing, disorienting, depressing, and frightening -- call it madness. The psychiatric tribe calls it a breakdown and a malignant condition. It is infinitely more helpful to embrace the truth that madness is a dynamic process which can result in breakthroughs to deeper levels of spiritual maturity and a richer, fuller life. The spiritual journey requires tremendous courage and honesty. A result which I am honored to facilitate is liberation from slavish devotion to our wrathful deity of (mental) health which enforces the supreme tribal value of productivity through our cultural system of psychiatry.

Simply put, it becomes easier to let go of the pressure to measure up to an ideal standard, and to love and accept our bodies and ourselves as we are. We find the strength and courage to resist the incessant demands of economic productivity, to follow our own hearts and the dictates of our souls.

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