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Tom Cruise, Scientology Bash Psychiatry; APA Fires Back

News & Comment

Amanda Chesworth

Volume 29.5, September / October 2005

“It is irresponsible for Mr. Cruise to use his movie publicity tour to promote his own ideological views and deter people with mental illness from getting the care they need.”

So states Dr. Steven Sharfstein, president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), in response to recent talk show activities of actor Tom Cruise. Weeks earlier, Cruise had criticized actress Brooke Shields for taking anti-depressants for postpartum depression. Cruise believes all psychiatry to be pseudoscience, chemical imbalances to be imaginary, and all psycho-tropic medication and therapy to be unnecessary and dangerous. His solution to the roller coaster of life? The Church of Scientology.

The topic arose while Tom Cruise was promoting the alien-invasion film War of the Worlds. Because celebrity opinions can carry great weight with fans, Cruise’s comments worried many in the mental health field. In an appearance on the Today Show, Cruise proclaimed a profound understanding of psychiatry that reinforced his belief that the field was bogus. The gist of Cruise’s message was that mental illness was not real and that people should not look to psychology for help. The APA responded with the following statement:

Science has proven that mental illnesses are real medical conditions that affect millions of Americans. . . . Over the past five years, the nation has more than doubled its investment in the study of the human brain and behavior, leading to a vastly expanded understanding of postpartum depression, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder. Much of this research has been conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the nation’s leading academic institutions. Safe and effective treatments are available and may include talk therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Rigorous, publish- ed, peer-reviewed research clearly demonstrates that treatment works. Medications can be an important and even life-saving part of a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan. As in other areas of medicine, medications are a safe and effective way to improve the quality of life for millions of Americans who have mental health concerns. Mental health is a critical ingredient of overall health. It is unfortunate that in the face of this remarkable scientific and clinical progress that a small number of individuals and groups persist in questioning its legitimacy. . .

Brooke Shields also responded: “To suggest that I was wrong to take drugs to deal with my depression, and that instead I should have taken vitamins and exercised shows an utter lack of understanding about postpartum depression and childbirth in general. If any good can come of Mr. Cruise’s ridiculous rant, let’s hope that it gives much-needed attention to a serious disease.”

Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression by Brooke Shields

Shields wrote a book on her experiences, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, in which she states: “I wasn’t thrilled to be taking drugs. In fact, I prematurely stopped taking them and had a relapse that almost led me to drive my car into a wall with Rowan [her newborn] in the backseat. But the drugs, along with weekly therapy sessions, are what saved me—and my family.”

Scientology, a movement based on the science fiction novels of L. Ron Hubbard, claims the notion of mental illness is a fraud and a scam. Hubbard himself equated psychiatrists with terrorists. Since the publication of Hubbard’s self-help treatise Dianetics in 1950, the American Psychological Association has warned people of the potential danger of scientology’s professed “cure.” In 1969 the Church of Scientology founded the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, an organization designed to “investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights.” In an informative article entitled “Scientology’s war on psychiatry” (available at salon.com), Katharine Mieszkowski reports:

Recently, Scientologists have promoted legislation in Florida, Utah and New Hampshire that seeks to discredit psychiatry and drug therapies, especially for kids. The laws would penalize, even criminalize, schoolteachers who recommended mental health treatments to students or parents.

Those speaking on behalf of Scientology in the Florida courts included actors Kelly Preston and Kirstie Alley. Those speaking against were trained scientists and mental health practitioners. A Scientology-backed program, Narcanon, has been touring public schools lecturing to children about the danger of recreational drugs. According to the Scientology handbook, “Answers to Drugs,” the core treatment for those who abuse drugs like marijuana, Ecstasy, or cocaine is sweating out drug residuals and other toxins by taking saunas and jogging. Remedies also include the B-complex vitamin niacin, oils and other minerals, a detoxification service which “is available under expert supervision in Scientology organizations and missions around the world.”

While there is an ongoing debate within society about the use of medication, especially by children, scientific organizations are an integral part of this discussion. Contrary to what the Scientologists claim, medication is not always diagnosed as the most effective treatment. Psychiatrists and psychologists work with an individual to tailor a mental health program to fit his or her needs; in many cases medication has been found to be very effective.

Mark Plummer, a former Scientology member for fourteen years, states:

“Their goal is to take over entirely the field of mental health. Their beliefs stem from Hubbard’s dogma that psychiatry is evil. Scientology teaches that psychiatry views people as ‘meat bodies’ without a spiritual aspect, and that Scientologists alone should be allowed to treat mental illnesses.” Church leader David Miscavige agreed, stating quite clearly at the International Association of Scientologists in Copenhagen: “Objective one—place Scientology at the absolute center of society. Objective two—eliminate psychiatry in all its forms.”

Amanda Chesworth

Amanda Chesworth is the former educational director for CSICOP