Peter Breggin

Peter Breggin

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

Breggin is the author of several books which are critical of modern psychiatry, including Toxic Psychiatry, Talking Back to Prozac and Talking Back to Ritalin. His most recent book, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, discusses medication spellbinding (in which patients who are doing worse after treatment fail to see that they are doing worse or recognize why),[3] the adverse effects of drugs and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), the hazards of diagnosing and medicating children, the psychopharmaceutical complex, and guidelines for psychotherapy and counseling.

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


Education and early career

Breggin graduated from Harvard College with honors,[4] and attended Case Western Reserve Medical School. His postgraduate training in psychiatry began with an internship year of mixed medicine and psychiatry at the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical Center 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.

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[5] and the New York Times.[6][7] He has appeared as a guest on many radio and television shows, including 60 Minutes, 20/20, Nightline, and numerous network news reports.[citation needed]

Research and publications

Since 1964, Breggin has published on his major topic of interest, clinical psychopharmacology. He wrote dozens of other articles, several book chapters, and more than twenty books. Many of Breggin's more recent articles are published in the peer-reviewed journal he co-founded with David Cohen and Steven Baldwin, Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, and in the International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine as well as in other scientific journals such as Primary Psychiatry (2006),[8] and the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (2000).[9] Breggin wrote his first peer-reviewed articles in the arena of psychopharmacology in 1964 and 1965.[10][11] Many of his published 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. According to the Web of Science, Breggin's work has been cited by more than 700 publications, with an h-index of 20.[12]

In 1971, Breggin founded the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP), a nonprofit research and educational network. The center is concerned with the impact of mental health theory and practices upon individual well-being, personal freedom, and family and community values. As of July 2008, the center has a board of directors composed of 27 psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors and other professionals in the mental health field.[13] The center holds annual scientific conferences that are open to the public. In 1999, the Center began to publish Ethical Human Sciences and Services (EHSS), which was later renamed Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry. The peer-reviewed journal is published by Springer Publishing Company (no affiliation with Springer Verlag[14]), and "is the official journal of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry".[15] The stated goal of EHSS is to, "raise the level of scientific knowledge and ethical discourse, while empowering professionals who are devoted to principled human sciences and services unsullied by professional and economic interests."[16] According to the Scopus database, since its inception the most citations it has received in a year is 13.[17] In 2002, Breggin encouraged younger professionals to take over the leadership of ICSPP and Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry.[citation needed] Peter Breggin is not currently on the Board of Directors of ICSPP, does not participate in board meetings, and has no role within the organization.

While he's not conducted clinical drug trials, Breggin's critiques[18] and reviews[2] of the scientific literature are published in peer-reviewed journals such as Primary Psychiatry,[19] Brain and Cognition,[20] Mind and Behavior,[21] and the Archives of General Psychiatry.[22][23][24][25]

Criticism of conventional psychiatry

A large portion of Breggin's work concentrates on the iatrogenic effects (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 which 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."[26]

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.[27]

Criticism of ADHD and Ritalin

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".[28]

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."[29] Baughman and Breggin were also the major critics in a PBS Frontline TV series about ADHD entitled 'Medicating Kids'.[30] In an interview during this time period he referred to ADHD as a fiction. This increased critical attention to Ritalin resulted in the Ritalin class action lawsuits against Novartis, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and CHADD in which the plaintiffs sued for fraud. Specifically, they charged that the defendants had conspired to invent and promote the disorder ADHD to create a highly profitable market for the drug Ritalin. All five lawsuits were dismissed or withdrawn before they went to trial.

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.[31]

Criticism of SSRI antidepressants

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,[32] and later extended it to young adults. New general warnings were added along with the aforementioned black box warnings.[citation needed] 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".[citation needed][improper synthesis?] 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.[33]

In contrast to Breggin's Talking Back to Prozac, which was largely ignored by the press on its release,[citation needed] Prozac Backlash, a critique of SSRIs by Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Glenmullen was widely praised by high-profile media sources.[34] Breggin complained about this in a subsequent book, The Antidepressant Fact Book:

"Glenmullen's (2000) scientific analysis of how SSRIs can cause suicide, violence, and other behavioral aberrations is essentially the same as my earlier detailed analyses... my hundreds of media appearances, and my testimony in court cases that Glenmullen also had available. Glenmullen also interviewed my wife and coauthor Ginger Breggin for his book and was sent research documents from our files that he was otherwise unable to obtain. Disappointingly, in his book, Glenmullen literally expurgates our contribution, never mentioning my origination of the ideas he was espousing and never acknowledging my efforts.... Nonetheless, his book provides a service...."[35]

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."[36] Breggin denied any connection to Scientology.[36] 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.[37]

Criticism of ECT

Breggin has written several books and scientific articles critical of electroconvulsive therapy. He claims that "...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.[38]

Expert witness

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."[39] 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."[40]

In South Carolina, Breggin testified on behalf of Peggy S. Salters, a psychiatric nurse who sued her doctors and Palmetto Baptist Hospital after ECT left her incapacitated in 2000. A jury found in favor of her and awarded her $635,177 in actual damages.[41]

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. Breggin later claimed that this was because the plaintiffs and defendants had secretly settled behind closed doors.[42] 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 defendants 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. [43][44][45]

Breggin alleges that pharmaceutical manufacturers, particularly Eli Lilly, have committed ad hominem attacks upon him in the form of linking him to Scientology campaigns against psychiatric drugs. Breggin acknowledges that he did work with Scientology starting in 1972, but states that by 1974 he "found [himself] opposed to Scientology's values, agenda, and tactics", and in consequence "stopped all cooperative efforts in 1974 and publicly declared [his] criticism of the group in a letter published in Reason."[46] Breggin has also stated that he has a personal reason to dislike Scientology: His wife, Ginger, was once a Scientologist,[46][47] and when they first met she was urged by other Scientologists to have no association with him because he was not also.

Several judges have questioned Breggin's credibility as an expert witness. For example, a Maryland judge in a medical malpractice case in 1995 said, "I believe that his bias in this case is blinding... he was mistaken in a lot of the factual basis for which he expressed his opinion."[48] In that same year a Virginia judge excluded Breggin's testimony stating, "This court finds that the evidence of Peter Breggin, as a purported expert, fails nearly all particulars under the standard set forth in Daubert and its progeny.... Simply put, the Court believes that Dr. Breggin's opinions do not rise to the level of an opinion based on 'good science.'"[49][50] [51]

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 failed to mention the Columbine incident or one of the killers, instead focusing on the medication taken by the other, "...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."[52] However, according to The Denver Post, the judge of the case "...was visibly angry that the experts failed to view evidence prior to their depositions" even though they had months to do so. The evidence would have included hundreds of documents including a significant amount of video and audio tape that the killers had recorded. The judge stated, "...lawyers will be free to attack them on the basis of the evidence they haven't seen and haven't factored into their opinions."[53] The lawsuit was eventually dropped with the stipulation that the makers of Luvox donate $10,000 to the American Cancer Society.[52]

In 2005, the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas disqualified the testimony of Breggin because it did not meet the scientific rigor established by the Frye standard. The judge stated "...Breggin spends 14 pages critiquing the treatment provided not because it ran counter to the acceptable standards of care, but because it ran counter to Breggin's personal ideas and ideologies of what the standards ought to be.”[54]

Criticism of Breggin

Due to his outspoken criticisms of many aspects of psychiatry, Breggin has become a controversial figure who is regularly at odds with the mental health establishment.[55] He uses terms like "fraud" to describe the biological and genetic theories of mental disorders. He is critical of the medications used to treat these disorders, and the political process that determines the labels used for diagnosing mental disorders. He has also consistently warned about conflict of interest problems.[47] These claims often challenge accepted standards of care within the mental health field and have led to highly critical rebuttals.[56] In 1994, the president of the American Psychiatric Association called Breggin a "flat-earther" (suggesting he embraced outdated theories); the head of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) called Breggin "ignorant"; and the former head of the National Institute of Mental Health called him an "outlaw."[5]

In 1987, NAMI brought a complaint against Breggin with licensure 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.[6] Breggin was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Maryland medical board, which thanked him for his contribution to mental health in Maryland.[7] Time magazine 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."[5] However, an emphasis on a purely biological explanation of mental illness has been associated with an increase in stigma of by various studies.[57]



  • Breggin, P.R. (2009). Wow, I’m an American! How to Live Like Our Nation’s Heroic Founders. Lake Edge Press. ISBN 9780982456019.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2008). Medication Madness: A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mood-Altering Medications. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2008). Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex, Second Edition. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
  • Breggin, P.R. and Cohen, D. (2007). Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications, Second Edition. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
  • Breggin, P.R. Breggin, G.R., and Bemak, F. (Editors) (2002). Dimensions of Empathic Therapy. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2002). The Ritalin Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2001). The Anti-Depressant Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and Luvox. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2001). Talking Back to Ritalin: What Doctors Aren't Telling You About Stimulants and ADHD. Revised. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2000). Reclaiming Our Children: A Healing Solution for a Nation in Crisis. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
  • Breggin, P.R. and Ginger, G.R. (1998). The war against children of color. Psychiatry Targets Inner City Youth. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1997). The Heart of Being Helpful: Empathy and the Creation of a Healing Presence. New York: Spinger Publishing Company.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1992). Beyond Conflict: From Self-Help and Psychotherapy to Peacemaking. 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, P.R. (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.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1972). After the Good War New York: Stein And Day.

Selected articles

  • Breggin, P.R. (2006). Court filing makes public my previously suppressed analysis of Paxil's effects. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 77-84. PMID 16862720
  • Breggin, P.R. (2006). How GlaxoSmithKline suppressed data on Paxil-induced akathisia: Implications for suicide and violence. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 91-100, 2006.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2006). Drug company suppressed data on paroxetine-induced stimulation: Implications for violence and suicide.” Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 255-263.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2006). Intoxication anosognosia: The spellbinding effect of psychiatric drugs. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 201-215. Simultaneously published in the International Journal of Risk and Safety and Medicine, 19, 3-15, 2007.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2004). Recent U.S., Canadian and British regulatory agency actions concerning antidepressant-induced harm to self and others: A review and analysis. International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine,16, 247-259.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2003). Suicidality, violence and mania caused by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): A review and analysis. International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine, 16, 31-49.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2000). The NIMH multimodal study of treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A critical analysis. International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine, 13,15-22.
  • Breggin, P.R. (2000). What psychologists and psychotherapists need to know about ADHD and stimulants. Changes: An International Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy,18,13-23.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1999). Psychostimulants in the treatment of children diagnosed with ADHD: Risks and mechanism of action. International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine, 12, 3-35.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1999). Psychiatry's reliance on coercion. Ethical Human Sciences and Services, 1(2), 115-8. PMID 15586456
  • Breggin, P.R. (1998). Psychotherapy in emotional crises without resort to psychiatric medication. The Humanistic Psychologist, 25, 2-14.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1998). Analysis of adverse behavioral effects of benzodiazepines with a discussion on drawing scientific conclusions from the FDA's spontaneous reporting system. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 19(1), 21-50.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1998). Electroshock: Scientific, ethical, and political issues. International Journal of Risk & Safety In Medicine 11:5-40, 1998.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1994). Should the use of neuroleptics be severely limited? Controversial Issues in Mental Health, edited by S.A. Kirk and S.D. Einbinder, pp. 146–152.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1993). Parallels Between Neuroleptic Effects and Lethargic Encephalitis: The Production of Dyskinesias and Cognitive disorders. Brain and Cognition 23:8-27, 1993. PMID 8105824
  • Breggin, P.R. (1992). A Case of Fluoxetine-induced Stimulant Side Effects with Suicidal Ideation Associated with a Possible Withdrawal Syndrome (‘Crashing’). International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine 3:325-328, 1992
  • Breggin, P.R. (1990). Brain damage, dementia and persistent cognitive dysfunction associated with neuroleptic drugs: Evidence, etiology, implications. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 11(4), 425-464.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1986). Neuropathology and cognitive dysfunction From ECT (Electroconvulsive/"shock" therapy). Psychopharmacology Bulletin , 22, 476-479.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1982). The return of lobotomy and psychosurgery. Reprinted in R.B. Edwards (ed.): Psychiatry and Ethics. Buffalo, Prometheus Books, 1982. Published earlier in Quality of Health Care-Human Experimentation: Hearings Before Senator Edward Kennedy's Subcommittee on Health, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., US Government Printing Office, 1973.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1982). Coercion of voluntary patients in an open hospital. In R.B. Edwards(ed): Psychiatry and Ethics. Prometheus Books, 1982. Reprinted from Breggin, P.R. (1964). Archives of General Psychiatry, 10, 173-181. PMID 14081584
  • Breggin, P.R. (1981). Madness is a surrender of free will; therapy too often encourages it. A libertarian view of psychology and psychiatry. The Psychiatric Quarterly, 53(1):60-8. PMID 7255624
  • Breggin, P.R. (1980). Brain-disabling therapies. In E. Valenstein (ed.), The Psychosurgery Debate, W.H. Freeman, San Francisco, CA, 1980.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1975). Psychosurgery for the Control of violence: A critical review. In W. Fields and W. Sweet (eds.), Neural Bases of Violence and Aggression, Warren H. Green, Inc., St. Louis, MO, 350-378.
  • Breggin, P.R. (1975). Psychosurgery for political purposes. Duquesne Law Review, 13(4), 841-62. PMID 11661268
  • Breggin, P.R. (1975). Psychiatry and psychotherapy as political processes. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 29(3), 369-82. PMID 1163692
  • Breggin, P.R. (1974). Underlying a method: is psychosurgery an acceptable treatment for "hyperactivity" in children? Mental Hygiene, 58(1), 19-21. PMID 11662144
  • Breggin, P.R. (1974). Therapy as applied utopian politics. Mental Health and Society, 1(3-4), 129-46. PMID 4619904
  • Breggin, P.R. (1973). The second wave. Mental Hygiene, 57(1), 10-3. PMID 11664197
  • Breggin, P.R. (1972). The politics of therapy. Mental Hygiene, 56(3), 9-12. PMID 5070420
  • Breggin, P.R. (1971). Psychotherapy as applied ethics. Psychiatry, 34, 59-75. PMID 5541631
  • Breggin, P.R. (1965). The sedative-like effect of epinephrine. Archives of General Psychiatry 12:255-259. PMID 14246173
  • Breggin, P.R. (1964). The psychophysiology of anxiety; with a review of the literature concerning adrenaline. Journal of Nervous Mental Diseases 139:558-568. PMID 14243200


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  23. ^ Breggin, PR (1998). "Does clozapine treatment cause brain disease?". Archives of General Psychiatry 55 (9): 845. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.55.9.845. PMID 9736013. 
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