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Today, it is just a relic, a holdover, no doubt a living anachronism of the sadism of so-called modern psychiatry…

Back then, before the last discharge at New York State Psychiatric Center on Wards Island was when I first agreed to this calling….

On Wards Island, where the last great psychiatric cathedral stood, is now a carefully laid out and organized hospital and symbol of the medical discourse to exercise its prowess at various power levels. The abandoned building is now a symbol of the same sinful power that housed an entire population in the living-damned hallways. In each room, ‘doctors’ and ‘nurses’ would force treatment upon its victims, calling it a service. Millions of dollars spent by the state government as lobotomies set the stage for shock treatment, just to be supplanted by big pharmacy, the final abuser in a canon of the 21st century’s psychiatric atrocities.

Today the legacy of the psychiatrists of New York Psychiatric Center is overshadowed by the rise of the specter of its ex-patients, psychiatric survivors, and peers that liberated medicine from psychiatry. It was the end of a movement that began in the 1970s, almost forty years of struggle until that one day when the last discharged patient was freed from those very passages by the peers that lived through Operation-Psych-Out.

Back then, it was a day that began like any other, patients were waking up for their morning medication, getting ready for their programs, and the nurses were taking the report. All the while, on the island’s shores, beyond the gates of the grand facility. The staging point of the most massive civilian army in the history of the United States. By the time psychiatric nursing was done administering medication. Jacques gave the order to green-light Operation-Psych-Out, the liberation of New York Psychiatric Center.

Back then, nobody knew if it would work. It all began as chatter, talk amongst the peers in community mental health centers. Nobody knew, least of all me, that that talk about disseminating so quickly, move amongst the ranks of the peer movement, and rise to its czar level. That was when I first read about it on mentalhealthaffairs.blog. 

Jacques Peters had issued the order. Like the Nazi decree that ‘all Jews must enter the ghetto,’ so too, Mr. Peters had given the demand for the final deadline for New York Psychiatric Center, its staff, to comply with ward-closure teams, and sign-off on the discharge of every patient in the facility.

When the day of Operation Psych-Out began, fate had already chosen its hero and so anointed its czar in history. About the time patients were eating breakfast, they too could see the specter of the czar, and its grand consortium of peers began their charge on the facilities gates. When the first shots were fired, and the early patriots fell, staff had already sounded the unit alarms. The staff had mobilized.

Nobody knew then what would happen next. As with all things absolute, there was an exception to that rule. With all that rule, the peer czar answered only to calls from justice. 

At that very moment, the entire asylum could hear Mr. Peters, clear as day. His voices now captured the hearts of the patients with the same euphonious chatter from the community centers, Mr. Peters commensurate with his peers years ago.

That was when everything changed, and patients could see the specter rise in the psychiatrists’ very gaze. 

The czar had already won. Jacques liberated his people. Autonomy was given back to ‘patient,’ a gift by their sovereign czar Mr. Peters. 

At that moment, Mr. Peters laid down his powers as czar, took off his coat, and rejoined the peer movement ranks as a peer. 

Jacques had restored the balance of power and a people freed. The Mental health movement liberated from psychiatry. 

About the Author

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association.

Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia.

"I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others."

"In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."

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