Some Background on Peter Breggin

Should we believe Peter Breggin when he says that "my profession of psychiatry is a materialistic religion"? He certainly sounds authoritative, and he is a doctor, after all.

Readers of Peter Breggin's lengthy defense of Tom Cruise's attack on psychiatry may or may not find it convincing. They will certainly learn the names of several of Breggin's books and see a link to his website, where visitors can buy autographed copies of those books.

What they won't learn, however, from either his post or his HuffPo biography, is that Breggin is a hugely controversial figure in his field. While his books have blurbed him as "the Ralph Nader of psychiatry," and he certainly has many fans who believe that he raises important questions, not everyone finds Breggin's credentials—or arguments—convincing.

To help them evaluate Breggin's damning assertions about psychiatry, drug companies, or prescription drugs, interested readers might take a look at this skeptical review of Breggin's Ritalin book, this Wikipedia entry, or this Frontline interview with a Breggin critic (search for "Breggin" when the page opens).

After Breggin's participation in one trial regarding the use of Ritalin, the judge had this to say about Breggin:

"Dr. Breggin's observations are totally without credibility. I can almost declare him, I guess from statements that floor me, to say the he's a fraud or at least approaching that. He has made some outrageous statements and written outrageous books and which he says he has now withdrawn and his thinking is different. He's untrained. He's a member of no hospital staff. He has not since medical school participated in any studies to support his conclusions except maybe one. . . . I can't place any credence or credibility in what he has to recommend in this case." -- Judge James W. Rice in Schellinger v. Schellinger, No. 93-FA-939-763 (Milwaukee County Circuit Court, 1997)

The website QuackWatch has this to say about Breggin and his CV:

"A Bit of Puffery?

Breggin's resumé and other biographical reports describe him as a Diplomate of the National Board of Medical Examiners; a "Specialist in Psychiatry" recognized by the State of Maryland, Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, Board of Physician Quality Assurance; a Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Medicine; and a Fellow of the American College of Forensic Examiners. He also states that he is (or has been) on the editorial board of six peer-reviewed journals and has published more than 25 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Although these accomplishments might sound impressive, they actually are much less than they might seem.

* Breggin is not certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, which is the recognized agency for certifying psychiatrists.
* Having completed three years of psychiatric training, Breggin is entitled to call himself a psychiatrist or a "specialist in psychiatry." Until 1996, the Maryland Board of Quality Assurance maintained a list of "identified" specialists. Anyone who completed an approved training program was eligible for listing. No special examination or additional qualifications were required.
* To become licensed in the United States, every physician must pass an examination given by the National Board of Medical Examiners or an equivalent examination by a state licensing board. Thus being a "diplomate" of the National Board of Medical Examiners means nothing more than the fact that the doctor has passed a standard licensing exam. Most resumés I have seen do not list this credential.
* The American Board of Forensic Examiners is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), which is the recognized standard-setting organization. ABMS offers subspecialty certification in forensic psychiatry and forensic pathology, neither of which Breggin has achieved.
* Only one of the six journals with which Breggin has been affiliated is significant enough to be listed in MEDLINE, the National Library of Medicine's principal online database.
* On September 5, 2002, I found that Breggin had 33 citations listed in MEDLINE. None of these publications appears to be a research report. Eight were letters to the editor, two were books, and most of the rest were expressions of his opinion on various psychiatric topics."

Before posters start accusing me of making an unfair ad hominenm attack, let me just say that I'm sure that Dr. Breggin has responses for all these matters. I'd be happy to read them. But people who are deciding whether to seek psychiatric treatment should consider the above information before being swayed by Breggin.