Category Archives: restorative justice

Guiderails and reparation

Forced psychiatry functioned as a kind of guiderail in my life even though it was unbelievably destructive.  I mean that I was digging myself into a whole/hole, but losing my way.  I’d like to think that if I’d been born into a family and community where I was seen and encountered, where love meant taking emotional risks of truth and vulnerability, any such situation would have been seen and I would have been caught up in the arms of love and set on the path again.  Or to put it another way, that I would have had access to wisdom of elders, to my own inner knowing, to the teachings of the Earth and all beings that are given freely to us but non-indigenous societies have alienated ourselves from.

That even if I was lost, there would have been someone else or a whole body of community and wisdom that was there for me and that would reach out to me, that if they failed and I failed it was all of us together.  Not just the frightening lonely path and anxiety of being responsible for myself alone since no one was witnessing my struggle, even when I did reach out.  Or rather the only witnessing and response was to feed me to the psychiatric machine.

That machine destroyed everything I knew, almost everything of me.  It destroyed my illusions and it also destroyed what I had created in myself of value up to that point.  It would be nice if there could be guiderails, to turn my life around without violence, to destroy the illusions without destroying what was good.  And I don’t know whether what I mean is just elders and wisdom, or something more like a social custom or practice.  I don’t know if the instantaneous destruction of illusion had to go along with the greater destruction.  Or whether some other kind of guiderail would be kinder but also slower, and maybe of less power to create something different and new.  Whether I am who I am today, liking myself, because of the encounter with a violent, destructive force, and whether, when a person is struggling with her life path, with illusion and transformation, there is any way that some form of violence is not inevitable.  I wonder.  And whether there is a social responsibility to manage the violence, to create some outlet for it, to really manage the emergence of something new in its conflict with the old in and through one person’s life (which is a meta-social institution as it would be addressing something that relates to existing ones and a person’s relationship to them).  And I think that is more correct to say that society is responsible for meeting each such situation with the best kindness and wisdom it can offer, with risk of truth and vulnerability towards the person who is struggling.

What I experienced in psychiatry, the transformative power, is what was needed (from a teleological point of view or hindsight) to shift my reality and make me an activist who could shift the legal paradigm within international law, with respect to that destructive machine itself and the social forces and needs it has been serving.  I can say that and it doesn’t need to be a truth for anyone else, in the sense that I don’t need others to validate my teleological point of view which may as well be rationalization and my own creative imagination as anything else.  It also doesn’t speak to anybody else’s experience in particular so I cannot know how it seems to others, whether you also felt that the violence of psychiatry in your life was transformative in a positive way or allowed you to let go illusions and relationships that didn’t serve you.

It wasn’t as if this was all roses, it was years and decades of anguish, etc., deadening, weaving and knitting myself, growing and nurturing, etc.  But with hindsight and eventually, increasingly, moving more into my grounded body, I feel the parts of myself that know the path I’m on has been a good one, that I value who I am more than I value the self I lost.

Psychiatry is a particular thing, unlike other violent situations because it comes with an ideology of being what you need.  So there is the gaslighting that addressing the transformative nature of trauma in some of our lives, in this particular instance, feels like it is accepting the violence and the oppressor’s judgment of me.  Actually it is similar to when rapists and batterers say it’s just what you needed, but I suppose in the case of psychiatry society as a whole and law still believe this lie.  And this is where the nature of psychiatry, like rape and battering, as violence, makes it never acceptable as a guiderail.  Psychiatry is different not only because it claims to be good for us but because it specifically offers itself as a guiderail for troubled people.  So if its violence serves that function in some of our lives, how is that different from being grateful for abuse?

The difference is that we are not grateful for having been abused, we are grateful for the destruction of illusion and the opportunity to create new value.  Maybe this is making lemons out of lemonade, it is a creative act that knits past to present and future, at least I cannot separate the act that changed my life from the changed life I have, and I honor its presence in my life, I honor my experience of what took place without honoring the moral quality of the act or desiring it to take place against me or anyone else ever again.

The moral wrong of violating another’s personal boundaries, of playing god with their mind and body, of using violence to accomplish any purpose of good towards the victim, is what for me is key to understanding the harm of forced psychiatry as a guiderail.  And that seems pitifully inadequate to capture all the rest of what I have said and advocated for, the destructiveness, the intolerable harm that I am contemplating at a distance of almost forty years from my own experience and that current victims do not have the luxury of reflecting on but simply need it to stop.  It is likely that my reflection is about what I brought to the experience as much as anything else, that I was emotionally numb and psychiatry cut through the numbness and increased it at the same time, similar maybe to cutting as described by those who use it to deal with terrible emotional pain that can’t be let out any other way.

What I mean about moral wrong: I played with the idea of violence as being somehow necessary for transformation, until I figured out that kindness and risk of truth and vulnerability not only works better but creates the kinds of relationships I want to have with people.  I mean violence in a sense of deliberately “intervening” with another person or allowing someone to “intervene” with me to change the person’s mental landscape.  It’s harder and riskier or just more honest and vulnerable but in the end not really riskier, to be real and kind at the same time, to take a step back and take it slower, not to have to say everything I’m thinking, making space to hear what I’m not hearing and at the same time to allow and speak to the presence of disconnection or dissonance where I know we are separate and the separateness causes us pain, because there is a desire to be at one, a disjunction between my needs and yours or between our separate realities.  To feel the pain of separateness and be together in that pain sometimes.  Yeah not with everyone to the same degree, but the principle is the same I think.  And yeah I cut people off who are actively harming me or who institutionally or structurally are set up to harm me.  I do believe in and support and practice self-defense.

Psychiatry is this moral wrong a thousandfold or a millionfold.  Not just individuals playing with risk in ways that are harmful because they disrespect the other’s moral autonomy.  Though that bears repeating, it is especially disrespect for moral autonomy, as well as bodily and mental autonomy that characterizes psychiatry and again is probably similar to other forms of violence in this way but may not be as entrenched in law and societal thinking.  Moral autonomy as the choice to undergo certain experiences and to position oneself and relate oneself to a particular way of thinking or experiencing the world, and especially with regard to experiences that are transformative and that have destructive power.

I want to look at the transformative and destructive power inherent in psychiatry to link the coercive and legalized violence of psychiatry with the methods themselves.  If we look at what electroshock does and can do, what neuroleptic drugs and other psychiatric drugs do and can do, not from a clinical perspective that asks whether they are safe and effective treatments but purely from a scientific and experience inquiry that wants to know, what is this thing?  Those who have an interest in figuring out whether and under what circumstances any of these methods can be used positively, guided by respect for moral autonomy, by kindness, and by risk of truth and vulnerability, can possibly come to conclusions guided by “reason and conscience” (UDHR Article 1, recognizing reason and conscience as attributes of all human beings).

Coercive and legalized violence in psychiatry is unequivocally a moral wrong and I have addressed this before in ways that I hope are implicit, and explicit, here and do not have to be reiterated.  (Briefly: everything I have said about moral autonomy is by definition violated by forced psychiatry, by each act of forced psychiatry and by its existence as a social institution, custom and practice.)  And of course the legal response to this moral wrong has been addressed in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its interpretation and application, see CHRUSP Resources page for links.

I return to the concept of guiderails in thinking about what I would wish for myself or another person navigating troubled times or troubled self.  It can be like the bouncing walls of a pinball machine, keeping you in the game, or it can be like ropes for climbing or staying on a narrow path, or something you feel and create at the same time.  I don’t know if there is a need for the walls of the pinball machine, to contain us in our lostness, or what that would look like and what it could be that is not violent, not a violation of our moral autonomy, not destructive of what is good in us.  I want the availability of something to reach out for, to hold on to, and I want the opportunity and nurturing forbearance as well as eager and warm embrace, to tentatively and then more strongly create my own guiderails, my own lights on the path that opens up in front of me.

I’m going to close with something related that spun off from my thinking about guiderails, on criteria for a restorative/transformative justice process.

It assumes a community in which individual and collective autonomy and separatism is respected and taken for granted, including female autonomy and separatism, and the separatism and autonomy of people of color, and is not treated by those excluded as a threat to group cohesion or solidarity.  I am thinking about potential ways to address conflicts in organizations and movements, as well as allegations of harmful conduct per se.  I am drawing on my readings and brief training in restorative/transformative justice and my thinking about gaps in what is described there.  I don’t claim particular originality for any of the concepts, but rather am putting together what makes sense to me as a whole process.  Each of the pieces, and how they fit together, could surely be the subject of more writing, but that will be another time.


1. Prevent physical violence and harm, including physical and sexual aggression and deprivation of means of subsistence (food, water, clothing, shelter), and provide needed care and support, including assistance to end destructive relationships.

2. Ascertain claims, justifications, and counter-claims.

3. Affirm community for victims and also for alleged offenders.

4. Ascertain position of alleged offenders – acknowledgment, denial, justification, excuse, counter-claims.

5. Ascertain facts ensuring victims and alleged offenders and witnesses opportunity to be fully heard.

6. Address competing human rights claims on overall policy issues.

7. Address unfair rules, unfair process, and contextual discrimination.

8. Offer offenders guiderails for navigating path back to honor in the community.

9. Offer victims guiderails for navigating path back to wholeness.

10. Ensure that direct reparations are carried out by offenders and by community.

11. Ensure that community addresses its own responsibilities for harm, carries out needed actions on policy, and restores fair and non-discriminatory rules and processes.

12. End wider community relationships that are beyond repair or reconciliation.


Comment for Peerly Human #6

This comment was written for Sarah Knutson’s Peerly Human blog, see quote below:

#6. Quackery and Torture Masquerading as Medicine

This is Day 6 of our 30-day blog on the Declaration of Principles adopted by the 10th Annual Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression held in Toronto, May 14-18, 1982.  (More info here.)  Today we are talking about Principle 6.

Principle 6 reads in full as follows:

We oppose forced psychiatric procedures because they are at best quackery and at worst tortures, which can and do cause severe and permanent harm lo the total being of people subjected to them.


Today stepping into international human rights lawyer role to share technical information and resources.

The Special Rapporteur on Torture is a “Special Procedure” of the UN Human Rights Council. Different individuals have held that post over time.

The first SR, P. Kooijmans (in 1986) ( listed administration of neuroleptics and other drugs as one of the forms of physical torture done in psychiatric institutions and detention. (The UN, motivated by reports of psychiatric abuse of “sane” political prisoners, started work on a declaration that in earliest forms was quite good and general in condemning forced drugging and similar practices. Then psychiatrists persuaded them that some force was necessary against ordinary mental patients, with the resulting horror show of the 1991 Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care. I won’t link to it, look it up.)

In 2002 drafting and negotiations started for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Having been in the right place at the time, I had just finished law school where I researched human rights issues related to psychiatric oppression and found the 1991 MI Principles, in a human rights law class, and also put together disability non-discrimination law with core human rights including torture to apply to psychiatric oppression. This was inspired a similar approach taken to making visible rape and other misogynist violence against women as torture and other hr violations, by feminist law professor Rhonda Copelon and others. I had ideas about how to anchor the abolition of forced psychiatric interventions to prohibition of torture, prohibition of arbitrary detention (which includes any detention that is discriminatory, as psychiatric commitment always is), and eventually the right to equality before and under the law as including legal capacity to make one’s own decisions. You can read more about details of development in this paper, prepared for publication in a book on CRPD but withdrawn by me due to editors’ attempted censorship: The prohibition of forced psychiatry as torture didn’t make it into treaty text, but legal capacity + free and informed consent on an equal basis with others in health care took care of it. The arguments about torture per se persuaded human rights experts at the UN enough to convene an expert seminar at which I presented along with others, which led to the first post-CRPD report by a SR on Torture, Manfred Nowak, in 2008 ( see also (

Nowak’s report was a real breakthrough in that he adopted the language and concepts that I had proposed, centering the fact of discrimination as why forced psychiatric interventions were being legitimized against people labeled as “mentally ill”. He also was one of the first UN officials to recognize that CRPD prohibited involuntary commitment and involuntary treatment, contrary to the MI principles which accepted it. His report didn’t say that forced psychiatry was torture per se, but that it “may constitute” torture or ill-treatment. Much good in the report, worth reading in full. Note some standards have been improved by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but some issues Nowak dealt with in greater detail.

In 2013, after somewhat reluctantly being persuaded to advocate for the new SR to go further than Nowak, another expert meeting and report by SR Juan E. Méndez, which both advanced the positions and also was messier, getting a few points simply wrong (e.g. misstating what Nowak had said) and contradicting himself in succeeding paragraphs on psychiatric detention. He advanced the positions primarily by calling for an absolute ban on forced or non-consensual administration of psychosurgery, electroshock and mind-altering drugs such as neuroleptic, and implicitly including this in a general statement that all the practices discussed in the report were instances of torture or other ill-treatment, in respect of which states (countries) are obligated to make reparation. Here is the report ( and you can also see here ( links to his statement to the Human Rights Council (which removes offending contradictions and calls for an end to disability-based detention as well as forced interventions), and in contrast his dialogue with the World and American Psychiatric Associations in which he backtracks and maintains that even the absolute ban is qualified by language that to me is frankly incomprehensible. (My desired interpretation of his report, which Méndez himself apparently rejects, is included in a compilation published by Méndez and his colleagues at American University, also linked on that page).

Méndez’s call for an absolute ban provoked the outrage of psychiatrists and despite his disclaimers the plain language was circulated and understood well enough to inspire survivors everywhere and increase support for our human rights by well-intentioned allies and experts.

Meanwhile the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had started their work in 2009, and developed a body of interpretive practice (jurisprudence) in Concluding Observations on the reports of states parties (countries that ratified the treaty, now up to around 160). They made it clear quickly that psychiatric commitment and forced treatment were prohibited, and two general documents issued in 2014 and 2015 cemented that jurisprudence firmly in international law. The CRPD is binding on all 160+ states parties, and the CRPD Committee is generally accepted as the ultimate authority on the interpretation of the treaty, as a universal instrument that should have the same meaning in all countries. These documents are the General Comment on Article 12, Equal recognition before the law ( (dealing with legal capacity – see especially paragraph 42 dealing with prohibition of forced psychiatric interventions as torture/ill-treatment/violence, but worth reading the entire thing, also see paragraphs 13-15 saying that actual or perceived decision-making skills cannot be used to limit a person’s right to make decisions). The second is the Guidelines on Article 14, liberty and security of the person ( reaffirming absolute prohibition of disability-based detention including mental health commitment regimes based on “danger to self or others”, and for the first time acknowledging without qualification that forced treatment, as well as restraint practices, constitute acts of torture or other ill-treatment in violation of Article 15 of the CRPD which says that states must protect persons with disabilities from torture and other ill-treatment on an equal basis with others. (See paragraph 12 for this.)

Survivors should be aware that the CRPD Committee’s jurisprudence is now the most authoritative statement as to the illegality of forced psychiatric interventions as a form of torture or other ill-treatment under international law. The CRPD is binding on the vast majority of countries in the world (see A number of countries have also ratified CRPD’s Optional Protocol ( that allows individual to bring complaints of violations to the CRPD Committee – provided the violations happened after the CRPD and OP entered into force for that country and that you have used all available domestic procedures that reasonably might give effective relief. You do not need a lawyer but it is a good idea to get advice from someone who knows and understands well this aspect of the CRPD and is in sympathy with the absolute prohibition. CHRUSP (in which I am the principal individual carrying out pro bono work, as well as President) is interested in supporting this work and preparing amicus briefs to bring out complementary legal points in appropriate cases.

For people in the United States and other countries that have not ratified CRPD, or in countries that haven’t ratified the Optional Protocol, there are other UN mechanisms that can bring attention to individual cases and systemic violations, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The WGAD issued a set of Basic Principles and Guidelines also in 2015, see ( but be aware of this version with footnotes some problematic ( It is Principle 20 and Guideline 20 specifically. The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities issued a joint statement with the SR on the Right to Health, calling for an to forced psychiatric treatment (see

There are other UN bodies dealing with torture and ill-treatment that are still in the grip of psychiatric hegemony, in particular the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, which recently issued a position statement calling for forced psychiatric interventions as a positive measure to implement both the right to health and the right to freedom from torture (again I will not link to it but you can find it if you search). The Committee Against Torture, which monitors the Convention Against Torture, and the Human Rights Committee, which despite its arrogant-sounding name only monitors one treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, have grappled with CRPD standards but still maintain only a “general” prohibition of forced treatment subject to exceptions (which is no prohibition at all). There is hope for those two treaty bodies as our sisters and brothers in several countries keep bringing them reports (US has ratified those two treaties, and folks in US can participate too, personally I am burned out on that part of the advocacy). (Talking here about general reports on the country situation, shadow reports as part of the regular review process also available in CRPD Committee for countries that have ratified that treaty. Too long to explain further now, but look at the Committees’ websites for information if interested.)

Other treaty bodies have been more promising – Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). CERD is one that some of us in the US were first to approach from survivor movement, they did not make specific recommendation on our issue (forced and coercive mh interventions on people of color in the US) but asked for more information in next country report; survivors in the US will need to be ready to get involved in the next reporting cycle.

Bottom line: know your rights and know enough to counter arguments that try to discredit what you say. CRPD Committee’s GC1 para 42 and Guidelines on Article 14 para 12 are the highest authority to point to at the present time for the point that international community recognizes forced psychiatric interventions as torture. The SRT reports are good as background, but we now await the next SRT (to be appointed this year) and hope this individual will renew the mandate’s commitment to not only upholding CRPD as a standard legally binding on 160+ states parties but enthusiastically promoting it and taking it as the basis of the SRT’s own work in relation to prohibition of forced psychiatric interventions, which Méndez had questioned and diluted.

We as civil society, as survivors with the moral authority to name injustice and promote enforcement of human rights against violations, and to propose remedies, still have the primary role to play and there are many ways to get involved directly with human rights mechanisms. Being involved by telling your stories and giving perspectives through this blog (and see also also builds the momentum and public awareness for abolition of all forced and coercive psychiatric interventions everywhere.

Bodily Autonomy and Embodied Personhood


This is an attempt at a more theoretical discussion of the relationship between legal capacity and the characterization of forced psychiatric interventions as torture, which also describes the intersectionality between feminism and survivor knowledge as a critical disability perspective and states a view of the essential categories of both.

Legal capacity

Legal capacity is constructed based on a concept of personhood that is disembodied, abstracted as mind in a mind-body duality that reflects the male self-concept and the denigration and subordination   of female bodies in particular.  Alternatively and in keeping with the feminist principle of using language that accurately reflects agency (who does what to whom), this is a concept of personhood that is based on men’s bodies and experiences, men’s taking of themselves as a paradigm of humanity, so that women are only admitted to personhood insofar as we are similar to men.  Our female bodies are outside this experience, female sexuality is conceived as being penetrated and the female body as having no definite boundaries, rather as always being permeable.  This was brought home to me clearly in considering restrictions on women’s right to terminate a pregnancy, which implicitly or explicitly invoke a separate personhood for the fetus within the woman’s body.  Women’s mysteries may well have a complex relationship to pregnancy and the creation of new life, to the intimacy of sexuality in which the body changes in how it relates to others – but that does not mean that our sovereignty over ourselves is questionable.  The concept of personhood in law and social custom needs to be based on women, in order to institute a regime of equality of the sexes and to stop rape.

Bodily autonomy

The construction of personhood as ideally disembodied and actually based on the hierarchy of gender that privileges male embodiment and necessarily diminishes female embodiment to rationalize and facilitate men’s extraction of resources from women, also discriminates against disabled people as such, so that disabled women are doubly discriminated.  This is what I was trying to convey with my work conceptualizing a prohibition on forced interventions aimed at correcting or alleviating an actual or perceived impairment.  This formulation draws on the right to bodily autonomy and the right to be different – i.e. to have a specifically embodied personhood and for that embodiment to be recognized as having its own integrity and claim to be worthy of respect and legal protection.  The right to be different resonates for disabled people beyond survivors of forced psychiatry, and this is an instance where our theory and practice develops an area that is relevant to disability rights as a whole.  I submit that it is also relevant to feminism, by bringing out, albeit implicitly when first introduced, the relationship between bodily autonomy and embodied personhood.

What is psychosocial disability?

Where does psychosocial disability, or madness, fit in this discussion?  Negations of negations, since it is and is not a thing of the body; in a sense our psyche is the analog to the body within personhood itself, that is a conditionality that is constantly changing and that we inhabit or embody as consciousness.  Breathing into the entirety of who we are, self-knowledge or self-knowing as an ongoing life project, occurs on the physical and psychic planes both, and they are often inseparable.  It is also the autonomous aspect of the body; the aspect of the body that wills, thinks, feels, chooses.  These complexities can illuminate the shift from the old paradigm to the new paradigm in legal capacity more accurately than the notion of different decision-making styles and the devaluation of those styles that are more emotional or intuitive.  The latter notion flattens and essentializes the sexist and disabling construction of legal capacity and reinforces rather than dismantles gender stereotypes and stereotypes about madness.


The concept of embodied personhood also helps to theoretically support the premise of equal criminal and civil responsibility.  There is nowhere to escape to outside the confines of oneself to separate consciousness from psyche or will from action; embodied personhood also states a relational premise about who we are, inevitably as all law concerns relations between human beings.  As embodied persons we have obligations to others, and we have further obligations when we harm them by acts or omissions.  It’s interesting to consider as a potential model for radical reformulation the approach to state responsibility under international law, which does not distinguish civil from criminal and while it acknowledges certain “circumstances precluding wrongfulness” does not invoke a concept of mens rea.  Maybe mens rea is not sacred, maybe it’s possible to negotiate repair or separation within a relational context rather than continue to use imprisonment as punishment, which reinforces the paradigm of authoritarianism which is gendered and racialized and disabling, among other inequalities.

(If we are continuing a punishment system I still maintain equal responsibility is necessary, ensuring mens rea and all other doctrines mitigating responsibility are inclusively designed, and that each person’s social circumstances are taken into account including issues of oppression and discrimination, in making a determination of liability.  In a restorative justice context, the community as a whole and individuals depending on their relationship to the circumstances may be asked to take responsibility; this would seem to be appropriate to a non-punishment system rather than an authoritarian imposition of punishment which then demands safeguards including the prohibition of collective punishment.)


The last piece of the CRPD framework from a survivor perspective, liberty, where does that fit?  I don’t think it has the same conceptual resonance as the others; rather it is more instrumental.  Watching a video from 2004, I recalled that the initial idea of why liberty is crucial is that it is about control over the body, of the embodied person.  When they can confine you they can also torture you; they can scrutinize and mock and defame and all the rest.  We might resist the incursion or infiltration of the subjected vision of ourselves into our own consciousness and self-concept, but our actions take place within that frame; it distorts our relations and places us in enforced relationship to others in a hierarchy that is meant to dominate and control us.  There is a restriction not just of the freedom of the body and the will, but of bodily autonomy as an expression of embodied personhood.  Forced relationships having the purpose of restricting our autonomy create an impossible conundrum affecting the ability to experience oneself as an embodied person with bodily autonomy, as a sovereign being in relation to sovereign others.  Although international law has not made the right to liberty as such absolute (e.g. criminal justice detention can be lawful), it is a significant step forward to recognize an absolute prohibition on detention based on actual or perceived psychosocial impairment or disability, as the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has now done under CRPD Article 14.


I have tried in a very condensed way to unify the concepts of legal capacity, forced interventions as torture, and prohibition of disability-detention, that are key elements of survivor knowledge that are now enshrined in international law through the CRPD, through reference to a feminist analysis of embodied personhood and bodily autonomy.  There is more to be said on legal capacity and embodied personhood; e.g. the positionality of any person with respect to legal capacity and their experience of themselves as taking for granted their bodily autonomy and personhood or as a non-person or as having their personhood and autonomy repeatedly challenged, the ways in which this happens relationally and how the law currently enforces these differences and could potentially undermine and redress them.  I hope this short conceptual piece will deepen the community’s understanding of the underlying premises that are implicit in key elements of the CRPD and will also stimulate further development of the law of women’s human rights in a similar vein.