Peter Breggin

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Peter Breggin
Born (1936-05-11) May 11, 1936 (age 83)
Known forCriticism of biopsychiatry and psychiatric drugs
Scientific career
FieldsPsychiatry, psychotherapy

Peter Roger Breggin (born May 11, 1936)[1] is an American psychiatrist and critic of shock treatment and psychiatric medication. In his books, he advocates replacing psychiatry's use of drugs and electroconvulsive therapy with psychotherapy, education, empathy, love, and broader human services.[2]

Breggin is the author of many books critical of psychiatric medication, including Toxic Psychiatry, Talking Back to Prozac and Talking Back to Ritalin. His most recent book, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, discusses his theory of medication spellbinding (in which patients are said to do worse after treatment but fail to see this or recognize why),[3] the adverse effects of drugs and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), the hazards of diagnosing and medicating children, Breggin's theory of a "psychopharmaceutical complex", and guidelines for psychotherapy and counseling.

Breggin now lives in the Finger Lakes, Central New York and practices psychiatry in Ithaca, New York.

Education and early career[edit]

He graduated from George W. Hewlett High School in 1954 and was inducted to their Hall of Fame in 2001.[4] Breggin graduated from Harvard College in 1958 then attended Case Western Reserve Medical School.[5] His postgraduate training in psychiatry began with an internship year of mixed medicine and psychiatry at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. Breggin completed a first year of psychiatric residency at Harvard's Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston, where he was a teaching fellow at Harvard Medical School, and finished his final two years of psychiatric residency at SUNY. This was followed by a two-year staff appointment to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), where he worked to build and staff mental health centers and education. Breggin has taught at several universities, obtaining faculty appointments to the Washington School of Psychiatry, the Johns Hopkins University Department of Counseling, and the George Mason University Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Breggin has worked in a private practice since 1968.

As an undergraduate Breggin had volunteered at the state mental hospital, leading the volunteer program and co-authoring a book "College students in a mental hospital". He recalls at the age of 18 witnessing electroconvulsive therapy being practiced then in the 'shock room' and finding it barbaric. After becoming a psychiatrist in the early 70s, he also campaigned against any return of the crude brain procedure known as lobotomy. Breggin reports that he was threatened and insulted with psychiatric terms at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in 1972, by leading ECT advocate Leo Alexander, and won damages for libel and slander.[6]

Career and distinctions[edit]

In the 1970s Breggin started campaigning against lobotomy and psychosurgery in the western world. Over two decades he worked against what he called a "eugenic federal project at the nation’s inner city children". He practiced psychiatry in Washington, DC and Bethesda, Maryland for nearly thirty-five years.[7]

In 1972, he founded the Center for the Study of Psychiatry, which is known now as the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology. In 1979 "Electroshock: Its Brain-Disabling Effects" was published. This was the first medical book that dealt with a critical analysis of this method of treatment as inhuman.[8]

Breggin is a life member of the American Psychiatric Association and an editor for several scientific journals. His opinions have been portrayed both favorably and unfavorably in the media, including Time magazine[9] and The New York Times.[10][11] He has appeared as a guest on shows including Oprah, 60 Minutes, 20/20, and Good Morning America.[12]

Breggin was invited many times "to testify before federal agencies and the U.S. Congress, and he has been an expert on psychiatry drug adverse effects for the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA). He has also testified many times at FDA hearings".[12]

He later ran The Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living, a 501(c) organization.[13]

In 2002 he moved to Ithaca. In 2010, he and his wife Ginger formed a new organization devoted to speaking out against "the hazards of contemporary biological psychiatry" and promoting more "caring and empathic approaches to personal conflict and suffering". A documentary about his life, "The Conscience of Psychiatry", was released in 2009.[12]


Breggin studied mainly clinical psychopharmacology. He wrote dozens of other articles, several book chapters, and more than twenty books. He also co-founded a journal with David Cohen and Steven Baldwin, Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, where he published many of his own papers. Many of his articles discuss psychiatric medication, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug approval process, the evaluation of clinical trials, and the ethics of psychiatric practice. As of 2010, his work has been cited by more than 700 publications, with an h-index of 20.[14]

Breggin published one science fiction novel, After The Good War: A Love Story, in 1972.[15] It has a strong proportion of psychiatric subject matter.

Conventional psychiatry[edit]

His work focused on the negative side effects of psychiatric medications, arguing that the harmful side effects typically outweigh any benefit. Breggin also argues that psychosocial interventions are almost always superior in treating mental illness. He has argued against psychoactive drugs, electroshock (ECT), psychosurgery, coercive involuntary treatment, and biological theories of psychiatry.

According to Breggin, the pharmaceutical industry propagates disinformation that is accepted by unsuspecting doctors, saying "the psychiatrist accepts the bad science that establishes the existence of all these mental diseases in the first place. From there it's just a walk down the street to all the drugs as remedies." He points out problems with conflicts-of-interest (such as the financial relationships between drug companies, researchers, and the American Psychiatric Association). Breggin states psychiatric drugs, "... are all, every class of them, highly dangerous". He asserts: "If neuroleptics were used to treat anyone other than mental patients, they would have been banned a long time ago. If their use wasn't supported by powerful interest groups, such as the pharmaceutical industry and organized psychiatry, they would be rarely used at all. Meanwhile, the neuroleptics have produced the worst epidemic of neurological disease in history. At the least, their use should be severely curtailed."[16]

In his book, Reclaiming Our Children, he calls for the ethical treatment of children. Breggin argues that the mistreatment of children is a national (U.S.) tragedy, including psychiatric diagnoses and prescription of drugs for children whose needs were not otherwise met. He especially objects to prescribing psychiatric medications to children, arguing that it distracts from their real needs in the family and schools, and is potentially harmful to their developing brains and nervous systems.[17]

ADHD and Ritalin[edit]

The New York Times has labeled Breggin as the nation's best-known Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) critic. As early as 1991 he sardonically coined the acronym DADD, stating, "... most so-called ADHD children are not receiving sufficient attention from their fathers who are separated from the family, too preoccupied with work and other things, or otherwise impaired in their ability to parent. In many cases the appropriate diagnosis is Dad Attention Deficit Disorder (DADD)". Breggin has written two books specifically on the topic entitled, Talking Back to Ritalin and The Ritalin Factbook. In these books he has made controversial claims, such as "Ritalin 'works' by producing malfunctions in the brain rather than by improving brain function. This is the only way it works".[18]

Together with Fred Baughman, Breggin testified about ADHD to the United States Congress. In Congress Breggin claimed "that there were no scientific studies validating ADHD", that children diagnosed with ADHD needed "discipline and better instruction" rather than psychiatric drugs, and that therapeutic stimulants "are the most addictive drugs known in medicine today."[19] Baughman and Breggin were also the major critics in a PBS Frontline TV series about ADHD entitled 'Medicating Kids'.[20]

Breggin has been very critical of psychologist Russell Barkley's work on ADHD, claiming that he exaggerates the benefits of stimulants and minimizes their hazards.[21]

SSRI antidepressants[edit]

In the early 1990s Breggin suggested there were problems with the methodology in the research of SSRI antidepressants. As early as 1991 in Talking Back to Prozac, he warned that Prozac was causing violence, suicide and mania. Breggin elaborated on this theme in many subsequent books and articles about newer antidepressants. In 2005, the FDA began requiring black box warnings on SSRIs, warning of an association between SSRI use and suicidal behavior in children,[22] and later extended it to young adults. New general warnings were added along with the aforementioned black box warnings. These warnings confirmed many of the adverse effects first emphasized by Breggin in Toxic Psychiatry with specific mentions by the FDA of drug-induced "hostility", "irritability", and "mania". In 2006, the FDA expanded the warnings to include adults taking Paxil, which is associated with a higher risk of suicidal behavior as compared to a placebo.[23]

In 1994, Breggin said that Eli Lilly and Company (maker of the antidepressant Prozac) attempted to discredit him and his book Talking Back to Prozac by linking him to the Church of Scientology and labeling his views as "Neo-Scientology".[24] Breggin denied any connection to Scientology.[24] Breggin later clarified that he was still in agreement with some of CCHR's anti-psychiatric views, supporting Tom Cruise's public stance against psychiatry.[25]

Electroconvulsive therapy[edit]

Breggin has written several books and scientific articles critical of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). He claims "... the damage produces delirium so severe that patients can't fully experience depression or other higher mental functions during the several weeks after electroshock." He was one of nineteen speakers at the 1985 NIH Consensus Development Conference on ECT. The Consensus panel (of which Breggin was not a member) found that ECT could be a useful therapy in some carefully defined cases.[26]

Expert witness[edit]

Breggin testified as an expert witness in the Wesbecker case (Fentress et al., 1994), a lawsuit against Eli Lilly, makers of Prozac. Ultimately, the jury found for Eli Lilly. According to Breggin, this was because the plaintiffs and defendants had secretly settled behind closed doors.[27] The Supreme Court of Kentucky concluded that the Wesbecker trial had been secretly settled by Eli Lilly before going to the jury in return for plaintiffs presenting a weakened case that was bound to lose. Trial Judge Potter was empowered by the Kentucky Supreme Court to change the verdict from a jury verdict in favor of Eli Lilly to "settled with prejudice" by Eli Lilly.[28][29][30]

In South Carolina, Breggin testified on behalf of Peggy S. Salters, a psychiatric nurse who sued her doctors and Palmetto Baptist Hospital in Columbia after ECT left her incapacitated in 2000. A jury found in favor of her and awarded her $635,177 in actual damages.[31]

In 2002, Breggin was hired as an expert witness by a survivor of the Columbine High School massacre in a case against the makers of an anti-depressant drug. In his report, Breggin noted that "... Eric Harris was suffering from a substance induced (Luvox-induced) mood disorder with depressive and manic features that had reached a psychotic level of violence and suicide. Absent persistent exposure to Luvox, Eric Harris probably would not have committed violence and suicide."[32] However, the argument was rejected by the judge, and the lawsuit was eventually dropped with the stipulation that the makers of Luvox donate $10,000 to the American Cancer Society.[32] In 2005, he testified as the medical expert in a trial in which a jury "returned a malpractice verdict against a shock doctor in favor of the injured patient". His testimony as a witness helped to win against the adherents of shock treatment and psychosurgery and it was announced as harmful.[33]

On September 16, 2011, in Winnipeg, Canada, a provincial judge cited Breggin's testimony in concluding that Prozac caused a sixteen-year-old boy to knife a friend to death, noting that, "Dr. Breggin's explanation of the effect Prozac was having on C.J.P.'s behavior both before that day and in committing an impulsive, inexplicable violent act that day corresponds with the evidence."[34] About the boy, Judge Robert Heinrichs determined, "His basic normalcy now further confirms he no longer poses a risk of violence to anyone and that his mental deterioration and resulting violence would not have taken place without exposure to Prozac."[35]

On November 20, 2012, a New York State Supreme Court jury awarded $1.5 million malpractice verdict to the family of a man who committed suicide while taking psychiatric drugs, including antidepressants.[36] Dr. Breggin was the expert witness for the family.[37]


In 1987, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) brought a complaint against Breggin with the board of the State of Maryland. NAMI was upset about remarks he made on The Oprah Winfrey Show on April 2, 1987. On the TV show, Breggin stated that mental health clients should judge their clinicians in terms of their empathy and support; if they failed to show interest in them and tried to prescribe drugs during the first session, he advised such clients to seek assistance elsewhere. He also pointed out the iatrogenic effects of neuroleptic drugs. He was defended by a diverse group of psychiatrists and others who defended his right to publicly state his critical opinion.[10] Breggin was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Maryland medical board.[11] Time has noted that other mental health professionals worry that "Breggin reinforces the myth that mental illness is not real, that you wouldn't be ill if you'd pull yourself up by the bootstraps...his views stop people from getting treatment. They could cost a life."[38]



List of books
Year Title Publisher Notes
2015 Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions Prometheus Books (5 Jan. 2015) ISBN 978-1616141493
2012 Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal: A Guide for Prescribers, Therapists, Patients and their Families New York: Springer Publishing Company ISBN 978-0826108432
2011 Empathic Therapy by Peter R. Breggin MD, film on DVD Studio: Lake Edge Press ASIN B00KWLKBLA
2009 Wow, I'm an American! How to Live Like Our Nation's Heroic Founders Lake Edge Press ISBN 978-0-9824560-1-9
2009 The Conscience of Psychiatry: The Reform Work of Peter R. Lake Edge Press (August 25, 2009) ISBN 978-0982456002
2008 Medication Madness: A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mood-Altering Medications New York: St. Martin's Press ISBN 978-0312363383
2008 Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex, Second Edition New York: Springer Publishing Company ISBN 978-0826129345
2007 Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications, Second Edition Cambridge MA: Perseus Books ISBN 978-0738210988
2002 The Ritalin Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You Cambridge: Perseus Books ISBN 978-0738204505
2001 The Anti-Depressant Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and Luvox Cambridge: Perseus Books ISBN 978-0738204512
2001 Talking Back to Ritalin: What Doctors Aren't Telling You About Stimulants and ADHD. Revised Cambridge: Perseus Books ISBN 978-0738205441
2000 Reclaiming Our Children: A Healing Solution for a Nation in Crisis Cambridge MA: Perseus Books ISBN 978-0738204260
1997 Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Role of the FDA New York: Springer Publishing Company ISBN 978-0826194916
1997; new paperback edition 2006 The Heart of Being Helpful: Empathy and the Creation of a Healing Presence New York: Springer Publishing Company ISBN 978-0826102744
1994 Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of the "New Psychiatry" Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1 edition (August 15, 1994) ASIN B0044KN0RM
1992 Beyond Conflict: From Self-Help and Psychotherapy to Peacemaking New York: St. Martin's Press ASIN B01FEOK6LY
1991 Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of the "New Psychiatry" New York: St. Martin's Press ASIN B017RC8FZA
1983 Psychiatric Drugs: Hazards to the Brain New York: Springer Publishing Company ASIN B01FIXS0ZK
1979 Electroshock: Its Brain-Disabling Effects New York: Springer Publishing Company ISBN 978-0826127105
1972 After The Good War: A Love Story New York: Popular Library ISBN 978-0812814927

Books with co-authors[edit]

  • Breggin, P. R. Breggin, G. R., and Bemak, F. (Editors) (2002). Dimensions of Empathic Therapy. New York: Springer Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0826115133.
  • Breggin, P. R. and Cohen, D. (1999) Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why To Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.
  • Breggin, P. R. and Breggin, G. R. (1998). The war against children of color. Psychiatry Targets Inner City Youth. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press.
  • Breggin, P. R. (senior editor) Psychosocial Approaches to Deeply Disturbed Persons. (1996) New York: Haworth Press.
  • Breggin, P. R. and Breggin, G. R. (1994). The War Against Children: How the Drugs, Programs, and Theories of the Psychiatric Establishment Are Threatening America's Children with a Medical 'Cure' for Violence. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Breggin, P. R. and Breggin, G. R. (1994). Talking Back To Prozac: What Doctors Aren't Telling You About Today's Most Controversial Drug. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Breggin, Peter R., with co-authors Carter Umbarger, James Dalsimer, Andrew Morrison (1962). College Students in a Mental Hospital: Contribution to the Social Rehabilitation of the Mentally Ill New York: Grune & Stratton.


Scientific Papers[39]

  • Breggin, PR. (2016). Rational Principles of Psychopharmacology for Therapists, Healthcare Providers and Clients. J Contemp Psychother 46:1–13.
  • Understanding and Overcoming Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety: Based on Theory of Negative Legacy Emotions (2015)

Chapter 5 of Promoting Psychological Well-Being in Children and Families. Edited by Bruce Kirkcaldy. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

  • Breggin, PR. (2015). The biological evolution of guilt, shame and anxiety: A new theory of negative legacy emotions. Medical Hypotheses 85, 17–24
  • Breggin, PR. (2015). Understanding and Helping People with Hallucinations Based on the Theory of Negative Legacy Emotions. The Humanistic Psychologist, 43: 70-87
  • Breggin, PR. TBI, PTSD, and psychiatric drugs. A perfect storm for causing abnormal mental states and aberrant behavior. In Brock, H. and Else, R.C. (Eds). The Attorney's Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court. Minneapolis, MN: Veterans Defense Project. Chapter 10, pp. 251–264, 2014.

Psychology, Life, and Overcoming Negative Emotions[39]

  • Breggin (2016).Rational Principles of Psychopharmacology for Therapists, Healthcare Providers and Clients. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy
  • Breggin, PR. Chapter 5 of Promoting Psychological Well-Being in Children and Families. Edited by Bruce Kirkcaldy. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
  • Breggin, PR. (2015). The biological evolution of guilt, shame and anxiety: A new theory of negative legacy emotions. Medical Hypotheses 85, 17–24
  • Breggin, PR. (2015). Understanding and Helping People with Hallucinations Based on the Theory of Negative Legacy Emotions. The Humanistic Psychologist, 43: 70-87.
  • Breggin, PR (2008). Practical Applications: 22 Guidelines for Counseling and Psychotherapy. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 10, 43-57, 2008.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Contemporary Authors Online, s.v. "Peter R(oger) Breggin" (accessed March 24, 2008).
  2. ^ Breggin, P. R. (2007). Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry. New York: Springer Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0826129345.
  3. ^ Breggin (2007-12-17). Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry. p. 15. ISBN 9780826129352.
  4. ^ Alumni Association Hall of Fame
  5. ^ Publications, Europa (2003). The International Who's Who 2004. Psychology Press. p. 218. ISBN 9781857432176.
  6. ^ Breggin, Dr Peter (2012-02-16). "The Stealth ECT Psychiatrist in Psychiatric Reform". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-08-12.
  7. ^ Treatments in Psychiatry by Peter Breggin MD Retrieved on 8 Mar 2018
  8. ^ Advocating Against Shock Treatment Retrieved on 7 Mar 2018
  9. ^ Gorman, Christine; Park, Alice; Thompson, Dick (October 10, 1994). "Prozac's Worst Enemy". Time. 144 (15). Archived from the original on January 22, 2011. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  10. ^ a b Daniel Goleman (1987-09-22). "Free Expression or Irresponsibility? Psychiatrist Faces a Hearing Today". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-07-07.
  11. ^ a b "Psychiatrist says Panel Cleared Him". The New York Times. Associated Press. 1987-09-24. Retrieved 2013-07-07.
  12. ^ a b c About Peter R. Breggin, MD Retrieved on 7 Mar 2018
  13. ^
  14. ^ Google Scholar Search for "PR Breggin", accessed October 30, 2010
  15. ^
  16. ^ Peter Breggin. "Should the use of neuroleptics be severely limited?". Archived from the original on March 29, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  17. ^ "The Psychiatric Drugging of Toddlers" (PDF). Editorial by Peter R. Breggin. Retrieved 2006-09-08.
  18. ^ "Talking Back to Ritalin—New Breggin Book Excerpts". Archived from the original on 2012-02-05. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  19. ^ Peter Breggin. "Ritalin Class Action Suits". Archived from the original on 2012-02-05. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  20. ^ "Frontline: medicating kids". PBS. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  21. ^ Breggin, P. R. (2007-12-17). Brain Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry. p. 264. ISBN 9780826129352.
  22. ^ "Black Box Warning for Children and Suicidality" (PDF). FDA. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 29, 2007. Retrieved 2006-07-08.
  23. ^ "Paxil Black Black Box Warning". FDA. Retrieved 2006-07-08.
  24. ^ a b Peter R. Breggin, M.D. "Joe McCarthy Lives! Prozac Manufacturer Uses Smear Tactics to Try and Silence Critic". Archived from the original on October 16, 2006. Retrieved 2007-03-07.
  25. ^ Peter R. Breggin, M.D. (July 17, 2005). "Thanks Tom Cruise". Psychiatric Drug Facts.
  26. ^ Electroconvulsive Therapy. NIH Consensus Statement Online 1985 Jun 10–12, 5(11):1–23, accessed July 28, 2008
  27. ^ "Eli Lilly, Missing Documents, Fentress Verdict" (PDF). A Report by Peter Breggin. Retrieved 2006-09-08.
  28. ^ "Potter v. Eli Lilly and Co. 926 S.W.2d 449 (1996)". Supreme Court of Kentucky. May 23, 1996. Retrieved Nov 18, 2011.
  29. ^ Zitrin, R.; Langford, M. C. (April 21, 1999). "Throwing a Head Case: The depressing tale of a clandestine Prozac settlement" (PDF). The Recorder. Retrieved Oct 26, 2011.
  30. ^ Zitrin, R.; Langford, M. C. (1999). "The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer". Ballantine Books. Retrieved Oct 26, 2011.
  31. ^ [1] Unpublished Judicial Opinions, South Carolina
  32. ^ a b "Legal News". Archived from the original on 2007-11-20. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
  33. ^ Advocating Against Shock Treatment Retrieved on 8 Mar 2018
  34. ^ "The Provincial Court of Manitoba, Brian R. Bell and Daniei T. Angus, For the Crown vs G. Gregory Brodsky, Q.C., for the Accused. Judgment delivered: September 16, 2011" (PDF). p. 18. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
  35. ^ McIntyre, Mike (Oct 23, 2011). "Judge agrees Prozac made teen a killer; Declines to move case to adult court". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
  36. ^ O'Brien, J. (November 21, 2012). "Widow of former Henninger High coach Joe Mazella wins $1.5M in lawsuit over his suicide". The Post-Standard. Retrieved December 17, 2012.
  37. ^ Breggin, P. R. (November 27, 2012). "Jury Awards $1.5 Million in Suicide Malpractice Suit". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 17, 2012.
  38. ^ "Prozac's Worst Enemy". Time. 1994-10-10. Retrieved 2008-04-06. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |work= (help)
  39. ^ a b Dr. Peter Breggin’s Scientific Papers Retrieved on 12 Mar 2018

External links[edit]