The Dark Underbelly of Psychiatry

the dark underbelly of psychiatry

I conceptualize psychotherapy as a contemporary spiritual path designed to address the vicissitudes of human suffering through an elaborate understanding of the human condition.

By holding a sacred space with humanity and insight, illusions can be stripped away and truths unlocked. Suffering can be assimilated, so that healing can occur and actualization can unfold. As Jean Vanier wrote in Becoming Human:

“I have discovered the value of psychology and psychiatry, that their teachings can undo knots in us and permit life to flow again and aid us in becoming more truly human.”

Indeed, in its purest form, the principles of psychology embrace the merits of discerning one’s inner self and the transpersonal meaning of life.

Nonetheless, life and history reveals to us that more often than no,t idealism succumbs to moral depravity and ideologies become corrupted. One of our greatest challenges as a species is to defy power’s temptation.

“None of us stands outside humanity’s black collective shadow” (C.G. Jung)

C.G. Jung’s contention that noble aspirations and virtuous ideals conflict with the unconscious shadow aspects of the psyche supports the notion that on a collective level, the human species embodies a universal primordial proclivity for evil.

Proclivity for Evil

Regrettably, this proclivity for evil is starkly evident in historical trends of stigmatizing mental disorders, and asserting malevolent social control over those who require compassionate treatment. Further confirmation of this egregious propensity is evident In Clockwork Orange-like inquisitions directed at vulnerable disenfranchised populations.

Founder of Bioenergetic Analysis Alexander Lowen said:

“Beneath the seemingly rational exterior of our lives is a fear of insanity.”

According to Jung, what we fear becomes a shadow projection, whereby we vilify those who embody the traits we despise within ourselves.

Those qualities we find intolerable within ourselves can unconsciously be righteously projected onto select others, who become defined as inferior, scapegoated as deviant and even designated as evil. Ergo, those who personify our feared madness are dehumanized and stigmatized.

Sociologist Erving Goffman defined stigma as “a phenomenon whereby an individual which is deeply discredited by his/her society is rejected as a result of the attribute.”

Goffman emphasized the role stigma plays in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment by expounding on its insidious barrier to recovery and the dehumanization and de-personalization that stimulates further damage and marginalizes victims.

The characterizing of women as naturally masochistic, prone to victimization and morally undeveloped (Freud) is a grim example of psychiatry’s role in promulgating shadow projections and stigmatization.

Early in his career, many of Freud’s female patients frequently reported sexual abuse, most often naming their fathers as the abusers.

Initially Freud attributed his female patients symptoms to repressed memories of sexual abuse trauma.

That these symptoms were so prevalent throughout Viennese society meant that child abuse was rampant.

According to Freudian scholar Dr. Jeffrey Masson, Freud dodged the prospect of scandal and political suicide by discrediting his findings of sexual abuse. Rather, he revised that these traumatic memories were in fact unconscious fantasies.

One of the tragic repercussions of Freud’s decision is documented in Louise DeSalvo’s book “Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her Life and Work” (1989). DeSalvo postulates that Virginia Woolf’s confusion about Freud’s Oepidal theory, which states that children fantasize their sexual abuse, contributed to Virginia’s decision to commit suicide.

The Dark Underbelly of Psychiatry

Rev Sheri Heller, LCSW

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, is a seasoned NYC psychotherapist with 25+ years experience in the addiction and mental health fields. Sheri is also an interfaith minister and playwright, and the founder of The Sistah Tribe - Phoenix Project, a therapeutic theater event for at-risk women and girls in the public sector of NYC. For more information, visit


APA Reference
Heller, R. (2016). The Dark Underbelly of Psychiatry. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jan 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2016
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