Coming Off Psychiatric Medication

Saying no to psychiatric drugs with help of Re-evaluation Counselling

Eileen's story

I had indirect contact with the mental health system from early childhood. My father was first hospitalised and drugged when I was about 6 years old. He had two more spells in hospital while I was growing up and besides being given various labels and a wide range of psychiatric drugs over many years he was also given ECT . One of the hardest things for me in all this was the fact that, due to the stigma he felt about being deemed 'mentally ill', he could not face people afterwards and would look for a job in another part of the country. So we moved house frequently, and the family became increasingly isolated. My parents were young, poor, Irish in England and from different religious and class backgrounds and they were very much alone. I learned very young not only to not show my feelings, but also to not feel very much. I became the child my parents did not have to worry about, and was counsellor for my mother.

When I was 18 my brother, then aged 15, nearly died overdosing on alcohol and the prescription drugs he found in a bathroom cabinet when at a party. When he was 22 he had a 'breakdown' and spent some time, heavily drugged, in psychiatric hospital.

My turn came the following year. There were several difficult things going on in my life, including my father's terminal illness. I stopped sleeping, and got to feel incredibly bad ' with really frightening thoughts about death and destruction which I was utterly convinced were really happening. I was admitted to hospital where I took largactil and haloperidol. The use of ECT was threatened, but fortunately a great ally and friend said 'over my dead body'. I left hospital after two weeks and reduced and came off the drugs as quickly as the doctor would allow me to, finishing after about two months and getting back to work within three.

I took major tranquillisers again when, three years later, following a very stressful time at work, I stopped sleeping and could not slow down my racing mind. I had married and was heavily pregnant at this point and it was very hard to take these drugs when I felt sure they would affect my baby, but was told that it would be more harmful to her if I did not take them. When she was born she yawned non-stop for several days. I now realise this was her body's natural way of ridding itself of the effects of the drugs.

Soon after this I took a class in Re-evaluation Counselling for more information. I really liked RC theory, which states clearly that every human being is good, whole and can completely recover from the effects of any hurts they have experienced. We recover spontaneously from hurts by the natural process of emotional discharge ( crying, trembling, raging, laughing, yawning ) but this process is usually interrupted as it is misunderstood. I liked the egalitarian nature of the process, with each person taking a turn as both client and counsellor. I have continued to use RC ever since, and have found the practice to be helpful in every area of my life. The work which has been done within RC on mental health liberation is, I think, very inspiring.

I began to lead a support group for people within RC who identified as mental health system survivors (MHSS). In 1992 I was working as a neighbourhood community worker and organised a 3 day event raising awareness and challenging discrimination around mental health. The fact that I did this on top of a huge amount of fear, not having enough counselling sessions as I had recently had another child and moved house, led me once again to that point of not sleeping for a long period, mind racing and unable to deal with my very busy daily life. As an alternative to hospital I went to stay with a member of my support group for a week, and we organised a rota of co-counsellors to be with me round the clock. I took the major tranquilisers again, but felt more in control than on previous occasions. I did experience a lot of shame, though, as I had certainly thought that I would not get caught again by the mental health system.

For the following 6 years I would again suffer sleeplessness and a very active mind a few times a year. I was frightened of the consequences if I let this go on and so I would self medicate ' taking a very small dose for a couple of nights of the same drug which I had taken in much larger doses before. This enabled me to re-establish my sleep pattern and seemed like the best option available to me. Even at such a small dose the drug felt like a sledge hammer.

In 1998 I attended the RC world conference for MHSS liberation leaders in London, a hugely inspiring event. I worked on having taken psychiatric drugs and when clienting it felt as though I was actually slipping into unconsciousness. I went home from the conference really buzzing, knowing I would not sleep and knowing I would not take the drugs. For the next week or so I released huge amounts of fear, day and night! I was shaking most of the time, and it was an entirely enjoyable process. After a long period of discharging I would sleep for an hour or two, eat, then start discharging again. I had some sessions and phone time and was often alone, but feeling deeply connected to and encouraged by my fellow MHSS liberation leaders around the world. Because I was completely confident in the process at last, my husband and others close to me who would have been very anxious about me in the past, were relaxed too.

After 10 days a more normal sleep pattern returned and I went back to work. Things had changed for me though. I felt so delighted to be alive, was aware that I could do all the things I wanted to, made relaxed, fun connections with everyone I met, lightly and effortlessly contradicting any distress they carried and showing myself in a way I had not been able to do before. This wonderful state of affairs continued for about 6 weeks, before gradually my attention began to shift away from present time reality again. I felt some disappointment afterwards that I had not been able to keep to my decision to not put attention on distress, but I retain really strong memories of what that time was like, and often recall that period in counselling sessions as the reality about me. I have had no problems sleeping since then and no intention of taking the drugs ever again.

I am committed to working with others to challenge any notion that those of us who end up in the mental health system are in any way less than anyone else. A residential centre is being planned in the United States where, through the intensive use of Re-evaluation Counselling, people will be helped to free themselves from psychiatric drugs. You can find out more at