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News & Views - Feb, 1999 Issue #56 

The Saga of a Gifted, Self-destructive, 
Angry adolescent

By: Tom Bratter, President
The John Dewey Academy
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Stacey smoked marijuana five times daily for five years, was a binge drinker, and self-mutilated herself 50 times. She has been institutionalized 13 times. The trend in psychiatry is to provide a dual diagnosis. Stacey had 10: ADD, alcohol abuse, bi-polar, borderline personality, a typical (major affective) depression with suicidal ideation, dysthymic, oppositional defiant, poly substance dependence, and social disorder. Ignoring alcohol and drug abuse problems which confirm an inability to control consumption over the years, psychiatrists prescribed 20 different medications for Stacey: Celapa (20 mgs), Celexa (20 mgs), Depakote (750 mgs), Deseryl (150 mgs), Effexor (200 mgs), Klonopin (.75 mgs), Lithium (1200 mgs), Mellaril (940 mgs), Paxil, Proventil, Prozac (200 mgs), Ritalin (10 mgs), Rivia (50 mgs), Tagamet, Skelaxin, Xanax (0.25 mgs), Xyprexa (2.5 mgs), Zantac (150 mgs), Zoloft (100 mgs) and Zlyprexa (2.5 mgs). 

In my view, Stacey had been raped by the mental health system which had, in effect, conspired to keep her imprisoned in a lose- lose labyrinth where the noxious prophesy “you are a failure, a reject, and a retard” was pounded into her psyche by a system that colluded to convince her she suffered from an insidious, incurable disease. With each hospitalization the message became increasingly toxic, “you are emotionally sick. You need medication!” Entrapped in this no win-no exit system where some medication only begets more medication, and is considered the only cure, she was reduced to a chemical creature. 

In the system she found herself, it appeared no one thought her self-destructive behavior might be caused by feelings of self- hatred, shame and guilt. Nor did anyone apparently consider that these feelings could possibly be resolved by psychotherapy. Instead, reinforcing this terrifying trend, electroshock treatment recently had been recommended because all pharmacological approaches failed. 

During Stacey’s four-hour intake interview at John Dewey Academy, my contempt for hospitals intensified when she discussed what had been done to her to quell her passion. She had committed no crime. I wondered “from where did she find the strength to live while bombarded by such heinous, egregious, painful, and unsubstantiated assumptions?”

I hate self-righteous, supercilious, ‘shrinks’ who diagnose on the basis of a ten-minute interview or hastily scanned reports but remain impervious to potential profound psychological damage done to the patient and family by rendering such a pessimistic prognosis. One psychiatrist had the audacity to warn her family that if removed from medication, she would kill herself and/or them. She had been betrayed by psychiatrists and pharmacologists that she desperately trusted to help her. Stacey stumbled into the John Dewey Academy confused, disillusioned, and angry. Reading her essay about the “reasons to change,” I cursed the psychiatric fools who misdiagnosed her to be depressed. She was not depressed, but enraged! 

She wrote, “I want to change because I am sick of being sick. I am tired of medicine controlling me. I hate waking up crying because the night before, I prayed to die. I stopped dreaming I could succeed because stupid doctors told me I was helpless and hopeless. I am angry I believed these fools. Hospitals confirmed my worst fears I was sick and could not change. I failed because I thought success was impossible, so I stopped trying.”

According to the medication culture, John Dewey Academy does everything wrong. John Dewey Academy is a two-year, college preparatory, therapeutic school, providing individualized instruction and treatment for 35 gifted, self-destructive, angry adolescents aged 15 to 21, many of whom are ADHD and drug dependent. We have a structured and supportive environment that demands not only moral integrity but also respects the needs and rights of others, helping students to help themselves. Students participate in learning-based confrontation groups a minimum of 10 hours a week. Expectations escalate demanding more academic achievement. The curriculum has been expanded from the three “Rs” of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic to eight: respect, responsibility, reality, responsiveness, reasoning, renewal, relevance and reverence. 

The Academy’s mission is to create the conditions conducive to help the Stacey’s of the world begin to use, rather than abuse, superior intellectual and intuitive abilities and to achieve the greatness of which they were capable of before engaging in self- destructive behavior. Often the brightest and the best adolescents become troubled and and troublesome because they feel frustrated, not knowing how to satisfy cognitive, affective and artistic needs. 

At John Dewey Academy, Stacey stopped taking medication. She is held accountable for her behavior. It’s traumatic of course because medication no longer numbs her feelings. But, each day gets a bit easier for her whose only goal is to stop feeling like a “worthless piece of crap.” Our mission will be to convert Stacey’s fury into positive activities. We need to deprogram her from the cult-like brain washing she received in hospitals by neutralizing the iatrogenic damage so she can regain the faith she possesses the power to make the world a better place in which to live. 

Stacey’s saga is the story of two contradictory residential cultures: Psychiatric programs that search for the biochemical aberrations which communicate, “you can’t without medication.” In contrast, John Dewey Academy contends “you can when taking control of your life by making conscious, constructive and creative choices!”

My motivation for writing this is to hope that seeing this in print will help convince Stacey to stay at John Dewey Academy when she feels overwhelmed and wants to quit. I am confident she will succeed when she resolves her psycho-spiritual problems. I expect her to continue the John Dewey Academy tradition of all graduates attending colleges of quality. In my view, attending a college of quality seals the painful past while maximizing future educational, personal, professional, and social options. We want to be judged by the reputations of the colleges that our students graduate from, many of whom have stories similar to Stacey’s. 

This article is the first installment of Stacey’s college recommendation which describes the magnitude of the challenges confronting Stacey. This might be premature since she arrived here only six weeks ago, but despite her psychiatric ordeal, I predict Stacey will attend a college listed in the top 50 by U.S. News & World Reports. 

Copyright © 1999, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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