A well-known and controversial psychiatrist who says ADHD is not a disorder will speak in Tucson this month at a fundraising gala for a not-for-profit organization.
The latest federal data shows nearly 6 percent of Arizona children ages 4 through 17 are being medicated for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) — a percentage that psychiatrist Dr. Peter R. Breggin says should be zero.
Breggin, who maintains a practice in Ithaca, New York, is against psychiatric drugs. Not only that, he says there’s no such thing as ADHD. No one should be diagnosed with ADHD, ever, he said in a recent interview.
Breggin’s outlier opinions and efforts at reform in the field of psychiatry and mental health have earned him attention from “60 Minutes,” Oprah Winfrey and the New York Times, among others.
He will speak at the Tucson-based not-for-profit Children’s Success Foundation’s fundraising Greatness Gala on Jan. 23, and also at an accompanying conference the next day. The title of his talk is “Putting the Heart Back Into Psychiatry.”
The foundation aims to advance the work of the Nurtured Heart Approach, which is a behavior management program created by local family therapist Howard Glasser.
The Nurtured Heart Approach has a goal of transforming children diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, reactive attachment disorder and other behavioral, emotional and anxiety-related symptoms.
Giving children attention and energy when they are acting out is like rewarding them, Glasser says. But by positively reinforcing good behavior, kids with issues such as difficulty staying focused can transform their energy into doing wonderful things, he said.
“Kids who were off the charts become incredibly good. Not just like kind of normal — beyond normal. They have more intensity, more life force, and more to offer than other kids once you turn them around,” he said.
Breggin was a natural choice for a speaker at the event, said Glasser, who authored the popular book “Transforming the Difficult Child.”
“He is exactly the poster boy for putting the heart back into psychiatry,” Glasser said.
Breggin not surprisingly is accustomed to criticism. But he says a growing number of people are listening. He created the nonprofit Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living, and its advisory council includes several psychiatrists.
The center is “devoted to examining the false theories and dangerous practices of biological psychiatry and to replacing them with more humane and caring approaches,” he says.
ADHD is not a disease and it’s not a disorder, Breggin said.
“It is actually a list of everything that annoys teachers in classrooms,” he said. “Howard has influenced my practice in a positive way. I think his approach is very helpful to parents. I recommend his book to patients.”
Breggin currently acts as a medical expert in criminal, malpractice and product liability suits that often involve adverse drug effects such as suicide, violence, brain injury and death.
His latest book, “Guilt, Shame and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions,” was released in December and is already in its third printing. He’ll be talking about the book during his Tucson visit, he said.
People who have been most abused are the ones with the most guilt, shame and anxiety, Breggin said.
“It’s a paralyzing, self-defeating emotion. It’s emotion that says don’t do what you want to do, regardless of your judgment. Regardless of reason,” he said. “It inhibits creativity, love and caring. Guilty people are not loving people. Anxious people and shameful people aren’t loving.”
And the answer to anxiety is not a drug, he said.
“The answer is not to suppress your emotions with drugs. That suppresses all of you,” he said. “Drugs work by disabling the brain and putting you out of touch with your emotions.”
A 2014 analysis by the prescription management company Express Scripts found that teenage boys, 12 to 18 years old, are by far the most prevalent users of ADHD medication, primarily Ritalin. In 2012, 9.3 percent of that population took an ADHD medication, up from 7.9 percent in 2008.
“You need to understand the child in the context of their own family and community and if you can’t do that and you just drug people, it’s a crime against the child,” Breggin said.
“These drugs don’t stop any specific behavior. They crush spontaneity.”