With advice and guidance from 20 advisory council members of the Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living, I have formulated 15 guidelines for empathic therapy. Advisory council members include psychiatrists, neurologists, addiction specialists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, educators and advocates.
These guidelines apply to every human relationship. In therapy they are codified and then applied with care by the therapist under the special conditions of therapy. They have emerged from several decades of consideration, starting as early as 1971 to the present.
Therapy is as complex and subtle as life itself. You don't have to accept every one of the guidelines for empathic therapy to become a general member or an advisory council member. Each of us must find our own particular understanding of these principles, emphasize one or another and perhaps modify some. The guidelines will evolve with continuing input from center participants.
Guidelines for Empathic Therapy
As empathic therapists:
(1) We treasure those who seek our help and we view therapy as a sacred and inviolable trust. With humility and gratitude, we honor the privilege of being therapists.
(2) We rely upon relationships built on trust, honesty, caring, genuine engagement and mutual respect.
(3) We bring out the best in ourselves in order to bring out the best in others.
(4) We create a safe space for self-exploration and honest communication by holding ourselves to the highest ethical standards, including honesty, informed consent, confidentiality, professional boundaries and respect for personal freedom, autonomy and individuality.
(5) We encourage overcoming psychological helplessness and taking responsibility for emotions, thoughts and actions -- and ultimately, for living a self-determined life.
(6) We offer empathic understanding and, when useful, we build on that understanding to offer new perspectives and guidance for the further fulfillment of personal goals and freely chosen values.
(7) When useful, we help to identify self-defeating patterns learned in childhood and adulthood in order to promote the development of more effective choice-making and conduct.
(8) We do not treat people against their will or in any way use coercion, threats, manipulation or authoritarianism.
(9) We do not reduce others to diagnostic categories or labels -- a process that diminishes personal identity, over-simplifies life, instills dependency on authority and impedes post-traumatic growth. Instead, we encourage people to understand and to embrace the depth, richness and complexity of their unique emotional and intellectual lives.
(10) We do not falsely attribute emotional suffering and personal difficulties to biochemistry and genetics. Instead, we focus on each person's capacity to take responsibility and to determine the course of his or her own life.
(11) We recognize that a drug-free mind is best suited to personal growth and to facing critical life issues. Psychiatric drugs cloud the mind, impair judgment and insight, suppress emotions and spirituality, inhibit relationships and love and reduce willpower and autonomy. They are anti-therapeutic.
(12) We apply the guidelines for empathic therapy to all therapeutic relationships, including persons who suffer from brain injuries or from the most profound emotional disturbances. Individuals who are mentally, emotionally and physically fragile are especially vulnerable to injury from psychiatric drugs and authoritarian therapies, and are in need of the best we have to offer as empathic therapists.
(13) Because children are among our most vulnerable and treasured citizens, we especially need to protect them from psychiatric diagnoses and drugs. We need to offer them the family life, education and moral and spiritual guidance that will help them to fulfill their potential as children and adults.
(14) Because personal failure and suffering cannot be separated from the ethics and values that guide our conduct, we promote basic human values including personal responsibility, freedom, gratitude, love and the courage to honestly self-evaluate and to grow.
(15) Because human beings thrive when living by their highest ideals, individuals may wish to explore their most important personal values, including spiritual beliefs or religious faith, and to integrate them into their therapy and their personal growth.
For additional reading about the science behind these views on involuntary treatment, psychiatric medication and genetic and biochemical theories, please see my book, "Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex" (2008).
Peter R. Breggin, M.D. and his wife Ginger Breggin have formed the nonprofit Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living (www.empathictherapy.org). The first annual International Empathic Therapy Conference will be held soon in Syracuse, New York, April 8-10, 2011. It is open to the public. In addition to many from the U.S., the conference includes 40 presenters and attendees from outside America and will address cross-cultural issues. Speakers and workshops will discuss frontier concepts in empathic therapy for children, adults, military and their families and individuals suffering from emotional trauma, psychosis, head injury and dementia. It will present how to set up an ideal private practice and how to network with others interested in psychiatric reform. Other issues include critiques of biological psychiatry and the important role of values, spirituality and faith in therapy. A remarkable panel will look at antidepressant-induced suicide and violence from the perspective of survivors, family, plaintiffs's lawyers and medical experts. No other conference so directly addresses cutting- edge issues in modern therapeutic approaches. Information and registration forms can be found on the Center's website.