Posts tagged “brain drugs

Generation Adderall

The first time I saw William Glasser in person was at a school improvement conference in Vancouver, Washington, in, as I recall, the fall of 1994. The Evergreen School District, just up the road from where I was school principal in Salem, Oregon, had sponsored the event and invited area-wide teachers to attend. I felt the $100 fee for the two-day event was a bargain and paid for all of my teachers to join me in checking Glasser out in person.

It turned out to be an important event for us as a staff, since the conference contributed to our understanding of control theory (it didn’t become choice theory until two years later) and ultimately toward our taking tangible steps toward becoming a quality school. Besides attending Glasser’s keynote lectures I was also able to attend Diane Gossen’s two-day workshop on Restitution, which became a life-changing set of beliefs for me as a school administrator. I wouldn’t learn until mid-1999 that Glasser would eventually have a problem with Restitution, nor could I have imagined that I would soon become involved with doing research on the formation of Glasser’s beliefs and with becoming his biographer. But I digresss . . .

Glasser on a stool, his water beside him, giving a talk in Ventura (c. 2006)

Glasser on a stool, his water beside him, giving a talk in Ventura (c. 2006)

As I read a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, I was reminded of one of those keynote lectures that Glasser gave over 20 years ago in Vancouver. Sticking to his classic presentation format – a chair or stool, a microphone, and a table with a pitcher of water and a glass on it – Glasser had the audience fully attending to what he was saying. Always able to connect with educators in a special way, he was speaking their language and touching on themes they wanted to know more about. At one point he began talking about the need for school campuses to be drug-free, a belief that his audience seemed to share. As he continued talking on this topic, though, it became clear that he wasn’t just talking about illegal drugs like marijuana, but was in fact also talking about prescription drugs like Ritalin and Adderall. I can still see in my memory banks the row of eight or nine Special Education specialists that took him to task for the position he was taking on brain drugs. They felt such drugs were essential to the successful life of the children with whom they worked. I can also recall the way in which he gently, but firmly, didn’t back down.


The article in the New York Times Magazine is titled Generation Adderall and is an important read that has been written from a personal perspective. Although brutally honest, the article isn’t preachy. That not being preachy part is an important element that needs to be present for me to be able to recommend it to you. Click on the picture below to access the article.

Click on picture to access the Generation Adderall article.

Click on picture to access the Generation Adderall article. You can also click on the link below.

Generation Adderall

Stories have a special appeal, and the article’s author, Casey Schwartz, is simply telling her story. It is true that with her addiction to Adderall she became a data point in what has become a sea of them in this country. Whether having to do with the percentage of children on brain drugs (I’ve read that something over 20% of 4th and 5th grade boys are now on a brain drug in the US) or the percentage of adults now addicted to pain medications, the numbers are staggering. Casey’s story, though, plus many other articles I am now seeing on a regular basis, calls into question society’s headlong rush toward pills as a solution.

Looking back on my time in the Evergreen School District amphitheater as Glasser patiently called into question a school’s support for brain drugs, I see now that he wanted to prevent the Casey’s of the world from having a difficult Adderall story to share in the first place. Addiction traps us, and even enslaves us. Choice theory is about freedom – freedom from dependence on things like drugs, whether licit or illicit, in our search to be happy and at peace.

addiction is about the spirit’s imprisonment in the flesh


Glasser said a lot that is easy to understand and readily accept. We sometimes forget, though, that he said a number of powerful statements that clearly swim against public opinion. He believed and wrote, for instance, that mental illness, as defined by his field, does not exist. He believed that although desperate to do so, neither psychiatry nor the drug companies had proven a biological connection to symptomatic psychological behavior. And he believed that brain drugs, while capable of affecting the creativity of the brain, did not address such symptoms in a helpful way.

Taking on psychiatry and the drug companies was not his key goal, although he wouldn’t back down when challenged in these areas. I viewed him as much more focused on the good fight of mental health, rather than on the bad fight of mental illness. He wrote more strongly about brain drugs and the drug companies in his 2003 book, Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health. I dedicated a chapter of his biography to the themes he covered in Warning and I would encourage you to re-read the chapter for a good re-fresher.


It isn’t often that I write about brain drugs (I’m not an expert), but when I do I want to capture the spirit in which Glasser spoke about them. That being there was no part of him that wanted to criticize someone for taking a brain drug; instead, he wanted to encourage a person with the possibility that they were not biologically diseased, and that they didn’t require help from a drug. He wanted them to consider that their symptoms just might be the result of months or years of deep unhappiness, and that choice theory could teach them how to be happier and more satisfied with their lives.

I ended the Warning chapter in the biography with the following –

During our interviews a couple of years after the Warning book was published, when he was already on to the next project, the idea that mental health was a public health issue rather than a medical problem, I asked him about his “moving on” from the emphasis in the book. The Warning title seemed to sound the battle cry for a full-on, prolonged assault on the psychopharmacology system, yet apparently he had discovered significance in another approach. Thinking out loud to me, almost in a tone that suggested let’s move on, he explained, “I’m damning psychiatry as much as I’m gonna damn it. I’m saying they diagnose diseases that don’t exist, they give drugs that can harm you, and they tell you that you can’t help yourself. That’s about as good as I can do.”

Ultimately, Casey Schwartz discovered she could help herself. This is the preventive foundation I want teachers and schools to be a part of sharing with students. For me, the idea that people can learn to psychologically help themselves is one of Glasser’s most important contributions.




The World According to Wilson

Lessons on mental health from Wilson, one of the stars of the movie, Castaway. The William Glasser Institute recently shared this article with members and I thought many of you would find it interesting, thought provoking, and maybe even helpful. Check it out.



by Mike Rice

So much of the world appears to be caught up in the belief that any behavior that is not considered usual or normal is the result of a mental illness . . . that there is some sort of chemical imbalance in some people’s brains. I am often challenged in my group sessions about the behavior of those who have been labeled schizophrenics, when I state that most of what we are calling mental illness is no more than the behavior of unhappy people. Even those who have received this diagnosis have challenged me on this statement. They seem to want to wear their badge of mental illness to let others know they are helpless and that there is nothing they can do to improve their happiness. I often hear, “Normal people don’t talk to themselves or see things that aren’t there. So there HAS to be something wrong with their brain.”

Those who have received mental illness diagnoses have been told that they have some abnormality within their brain and that there is nothing they can do about it . . . that they will have to learn to live with it for the rest of their lives while taking medications that drug their brains to cause them to not hear voices and stop seeing invisible people. These drugs also stop the person from functioning normally by shutting down all of their emotions; having a flat affect; losing interest in the things that they used to enjoy, and losing their ability to be creative. Ironically, many of these medications prevent the person from overcoming their unhappiness or to discover other creative ways to deal with their unhappiness.

It is their creative ability that led them to choose the behaviors they discovered to deal with their unhappiness and frustration in the first place.

I saw the movie, “Cast Away,” starring Tom Hanks, when it first came out in 2000. Since then, I recently saw it again on my local cable network and was able to make the connection of how some behaviors would be considered mental illness by some in certain circumstances, but not mental illness in other circumstances. Allow me to explain:

In the movie, after being marooned on a small island in the South Pacific, Chuck (Tom Hanks) found himself without his basic genetic needs. He had to be creative to survive and began to improvise ways to find shelter, food, thirst and dehydration quenchers. He soon found himself without the power to do much about his situation, but maintained enough power from within to continue to survive. Even when he considered suicide, his tested method failed and renewed his internal power for survival.


His freedom was now very limited. He had only a small portion of the island in which he could navigate as most of it was mountainous and surrounded by pounding waves. He was held in solitary confinement. He certainly was not having any fun. All of his basic needs for happiness were not being met to the degree that he wanted.

The first thing he did when he reached the island after his plane crash was to yell out to connect to someone . . . anyone. Even the sound of dropping coconuts led him to think that someone might be near and he would yell out towards the area where he heard the sounds. He was missing the genetic need for connecting with others and belonging to the social world he had recently lost. He still had the image of Love in his Quality World from his deeply satisfying relationship with his girlfriend, Kelly (Helen Hunt), back in Memphis.

From what I have described so far, and for you who have seen the movie, you would not think any of Chuck’s behaviors were the result of a mental illness. In fact, you would probably think that it was his creativity and improvisation that was able to allow him the ability to meet his needs of survival: shelter, food, and drink.

But it wasn’t long after his initial awareness that he was, indeed, stranded in the middle of nowhere and the odds of being rescued were minimal. He still had the strong genetic need for love and belonging and after injuring his hand while attempting to make fire, his frustration led to him choosing to throw objects that had washed up from the plane crash, kick the sand, swear, and destroy whatever was near him. His bloody hand from the injury he incurred left a palm print on a soccer ball that had been part of the cargo in the plane. After he had calmed down and successfully created a fire, he began staring at the soccer ball and saw the potential for something in the bloody hand print . . . a human face. Since no one was around to offer a need-satisfying relationship in the form of connecting with others, he would create his own person to meet this need.

He made the air hole the nose and erased some of the blood to make the eyes and mouth. The company who made the soccer ball was Wilson and their name was boldly printed on the ball. This became Chuck’s compensation for connecting with someone whom he named, “Wilson.” So far, you may be saying to yourself, “So . . . . ? What’s your point?”

Chuck then began talking to Wilson and even answering on Wilson’s behalf to satisfy his need for love and belonging and connecting. And I would be willing to wager that you would still be thinking, “Well, sure. There’s nothing wrong with that. He did it to keep his sanity . . . to keep himself from going crazy on a deserted island.”

AHA! If he did that back in Memphis where he lived, would you still say his behavior was an acceptable way to behave? One might be inclined to get as far away from him as possible because, “who knows what a crazy person who talks to himself or to inanimate objects might do?” One might also believe he is seriously mentally ill and should be placed on brain meds and is in dire need of a psychiatrist.

In an isolating experience, you are more likely to accept Chuck’s unusual or unnatural behavior as typical, rational, and understandable. But if not deserted on a lonely island, the same behaviors are seen as symptoms of mental illness and chemical imbalances. The unusual behavior one may create and perform serves the purpose of easing their unhappiness and frustration, at the time . . . just like Chuck on the island. If he didn’t have Wilson to talk to, and imagine that Wilson was talking to him, he would have felt much more unhappy and frustrated than if he hadn’t created Wilson.

The person who sees things, hears things, and talks to people who are not present, or to inanimate objects, is no different than Chuck. While they are not physically on a deserted island, they are in a deserted world based upon their choice to isolate or detach from others because of unsatisfying relationships with the important people in their life. They have detached from others and can be alone while around others. Their creativity to deal with their frustration and unhappiness is no different than Chuck’s creativity in producing and talking to Wilson, a soccer ball.

The only difference is the circumstances. You could see Chuck’s dilemma and rationalize Chuck’s behavior because you could relate to being in his situation. And since you could relate, you deem it normal, acceptable, and not a mental illness at all. You were living in his world on the screen and silently thinking, “I’d probably do the same thing.”

If Chuck behaved in this manner back in Memphis, you would not see the situation he would be experiencing in his world. His unsatisfying situation and internal frustration would be very real to him, but invisible to you. And since you have most of your needs met, on a somewhat regular basis, in a world where they are more easily attainable than a desert island, you might be inclined to think and believe his behavior is a mental illness.

When Chuck was rescued and came back home, he didn’t talk to things or people who weren’t there anymore. First of all, Wilson was lost at sea before he was rescued. But when Chuck got home, he was back in a world with people with whom he could connect. And it didn’t take brain meds to get him to stop talking to imaginary things or hearing imaginary voices. He only had to connect with others and those who are important to him. After five years of living in isolation, his rescue not only saved his life, it restored most of his basic genetic needs for happiness: Survival, Love and Belonging, Freedom, Power, and Fun. The love of his life had given up hope for his return and had married someone else.  There would obviously be some emotional pain from that loss.  But even that didn’t cause Chuck to return to his island-surviving behaviors.

Would you say a child who has an imaginary playmate is mentally ill? Or would you say they are being really creative? When you dream at night . . . are some of your dreams really “out there”? Does that mean that you are crazy when you are dreaming or is your mind simply being creative? If your brain can do that when you are asleep, it is also capable of doing it when you are awake?

In our world, it appears it is much easier to convince others that a person is mentally ill than to convince them that they are sane and only frustrated and unhappy.

Learn more about The Glasser Institute at

Contact The Glasser Institute at


I’m headed to southern Oregon next week to conduct a Soul Shaper workshop at Milo Academy. Looking forward to it!

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