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The Politics of Psychiatric Experience

This paper examines the correspondence, manuscripts, and speeches of ex-mental patient activists. I chronicle the activities of the emergent psychiatric survivors movement from its beginnings in the early 1970’s focusing on the work of the Boston based activist, Judi Chamberlin (1944-2010). This paper examines how mental patients in post-war America began to organize in order to have their voices included in the process of their own recovery. I present Chamberlin’s experience as a mental patient as being representative of the “rootlessness” that many post-war women experienced. Chamberlin’s work as an ex-patient activist presented one aspect of the overall struggle on the part of mental patients to claim their place in a wider society. I also pay attention to interdisciplinary scholarly analyses of madness to investigate how discussion of the subject influenced ex-patient activists, as well as whether or not the ex-patients’ narrative reciprocally influenced the scholarly discussion about madness. In the final chapters, I also look at how the successes of this social movement ironically led to the prevalence of today’s diagnostic models of treatment that rely heavily on pharmacological methods and highly regimented evidence-based psychotherapies while still excluding patients’ voices. The voices of mental patients both in the asylum era and today have been excluded from the treatment process.