Readers criticize Scientology, question psychiatry and come to the defense of Kirstie Alley.

Published July 2, 2005 10:44PM (EDT)

[Read "Scientology's War on Psychiatry," by Katharine Mieszkowski.]

Thank you so much for this informative four-part series. The best in my opinion since Richard Behar's Time article. I have been a critic since 1976 (the year my son left his wife and children to enter the organization ASHO in L.A.). Of course my critic work has made me one of the "disconnected."

Other than separating families my main concern is the use of their religious license to practice medicine. This past 10-day fiasco with Tom Cruise acting out his "M.D." has been most revealing.

Are you aware that OT-VIII Bruce Wiseman (head of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights) has worked his way into a chair (treasurer) of the National Foundation for Women Legislators? These women are elected to represent the public --not Scientology. Bruce Wiseman's influence is very obvious to me when I see the bills that are introduced with regard to "mental health."

When a person such as my "true believer" son would use L. Ron Hubbard's method to treat bladder cancer until he nearly bled to death, when good doctors were available, tells me this organization needs far more investigation than it received following the raids in 1977. What methods do they use to bring an intelligent person to this state?

Thank you again -- I am mailing the URLs to many of those I know here in Hemet, Calif. Hemet is the home of the international headquarters of Scientology -- the front used is Golden Era Productions.

-- Ida J. Camburn

I have been following this terrifying cult since Kelly Preston boycotted the American Psychological Association meetings in San Francisco two years ago, wearing a shirt reading "Psychiatry kills kids." I sit on the board of the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation and on the advisory council to the Department of Pediatric Psychopharmacology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. (Were he still alive, I'm sure Kelly Preston, Tom Cruise and Mr. Hubbard would refer to Dr. Joseph Biederman -- my hero and the savior of thousands of children -- as Hitler reincarnated!)

This growing cult mission is terrifying and their increasing strength from celebrity members is devastating to the work being done by advocacy agencies; our children and all adults suffering from brain illnesses that desperately need targeted treatments and therapies also need to be sheltered and protected from the real Hitler and his mindless followers: those who are intolerant, disrespectful, unkind and uninformed -- the members of Scientology.

-- Marcie Lipsitt

While I have enjoyed most of your series on the Church of Scientology, I take issue with how you referred to "Kirstie 'Fat Actress' Alley." Her weight had no bearing at all on the article, and it cheapened Salon.com to make such a vicious statement.

-- William Cross

[Editor's note: Kirstie Alley stars as herself in the Showtime comedy "Fat Actress."]

I'll start my comments by noting that Scientology is one more ridiculous belief system -- but no more ridiculous in its goals or beliefs than the myriad mainstream religions. Why is it more rational to believe that God was born through a virgin birth than to think our minds are inhabited by the spirits of dead aliens? As for its goal of putting "Scientology at the absolute center of society" -- go to any evangelical Christian Web site and you will see identical language.

Scientology is a crackpot faith system and Tom Cruise is a jerk. But even crackpots and jerks can sometimes speak something that is true. The reason Scientology's message about psychiatry is resonating in the broader public has nothing to do with some sinister plot to take over the world. It's because children are being vastly overmedicated in our schools, where every minor classroom disturbance is being labeled the result of some "personality disorder" or "learning disability" (talk about Orwellian language). In fact, the psychiatric establishment doctors are the biggest drug pushers in this country, using our children in some vast chemical experiment fueled by billions of dollars of marketing money by the Big Pharma drug cartel.

Moreover, the psychiatric establishment is more fad driven than science driven. Read the recent article in the New Yorker (hardly a rabid center of Scientologists) about the so-called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy and how innocent mothers are losing their children to psychiatric quackery of the worst sort, and one can only conclude that to call psychiatrists terrorists is not far off the mark.

In short, don't blame scientology or Tom Cruise for people's disillusionment with the psychiatric profession. Instead, physician, heal thyself.

-- Aron Trauring

I am writing the word "scientology" with a small "s" because I do not wish to give them the honor of capitalization.

I have practiced psychiatry for about 40 years, which was preceded by an internal medicine residency. The department chiefs requested this background to enable a deeper diagnostic insight into the pathology of patient complaints. My medical school training, a requirement for psychiatric residency or other specialties, is essential to provide global medical insight, no matter what specialty one is seeking. Thus the aim is to seek objectivity and correctness when treating any patient.

Thus to lay claim that psychiatrists are falsely diagnosing and treating patients is a ridiculous assertion. When any patient has been diagnosed with a mental illness, much has gone into this decision-making process, as well as the decision about the type of treatment. At times a consultation may be requested from a psychiatrist or a physician from another field with specification as to what issue is to be looked for.

Treatment will vary based on need and vary from nonmedicinal treatment to the use of medicine, use of both communication and medicine, and perhaps electroshock therapy. All is done with patient approval and/or with next-of-kin approval. The aim is to bring the patient to the best state of mental functioning considered possible.

Psychiatry is a fine field of medicine with more and more central nervous system pathological findings.

-- Stanley Wiener

My immediate reaction to reading this article was amazement at how distorted it was compared to the actuality of what Scientology is, based on my over 35 years with it.

That morphed into a sort of forehead-slapping laughter as I rejected the various inconsistencies and altered facts (most of which were pointed out in earlier letters).

Then I saw that you included an accurate link under "Church of Scientology" (http://www.scientology.com), which leads to factual data about the subject. This was a relief and I thought, "Hey, this guy did a good thing there." Thanks for giving a pipeline to those that care to look for themselves and see what is really up with Scientology. (I heard the number of hits on the Scientology Web site has rocketed.)

I just saw an e-mail that Paramount and Cruise both had highest- ever openings with "War of the Worlds," and suspect that Tom should thank all the controversy manufacturers for putting his name out there -- and for spelling his name correctly!

-- Eric Krackow

I'm not a Scientologist (I give my money to the Democratic Party!), but I worked hard and successfully to stop a "pilot research program" by one of the biggest medical companies in the United States (Carolinas Medical Center), because to me it appeared to be making a blatant move to target the Medicaid market under the guise of "research." This "research" program involved about a dozen low-income elementary schools in Charlotte, N.C.

When the questionnaire they used to I.D. kids with ADHD came home in my child's backpack one day, I headed straight for the principal's office for details. The pilot "research" program in no way met compliance standards required of "research." And here's the real kicker -- the returned questionnaires were to be sent by the school directly to the medical facility where staff would identify kids for follow-up! This pilot program was easily aborted; both school officials and Carolinas Medical were quick to pull back when a few well-informed parents presented the gaping problems.

So while I do not agree with Scientology's extreme position on psychiatric drugs, I'm glad someone besides vigilant parents is questioning the motives (dare I say, profit motives) of the medical/pharmaceutical community when they start targeting our kids through the public schools -- in this case, not even with a teacher as a gatekeeper.

-- Pat Bresina

My 9-year-old son is brilliant, gifted, a natural learner who takes joy in reading, science and math and excels at them all. He's a popular kid with plenty of friends even though he's a little on the shy side. He also takes Concerta for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The first two facts would not be possible without the last.

As early as age 3 he was not like other kids. At circle time in preschool, while the other children sat cross-legged dutifully listening to the teacher read a story, he was off in a corner lying on his back, rolling around on the floor or waving his legs in the air and appearing to be utterly inattentive. He wasn't -- he could tell you the entire plot of every story -- but he just couldn't sit still. In kindergarten he brought home unfinished phonics workbooks, even though he was already reading the "Narnia" books. Sure, maybe he was bored, but he couldn't finish tasks he liked, either. In second grade, his teacher reported bizarre behavior like standing up in the middle of a lesson and twirling in circles with his arms outstretched. We tried daily teacher reports, reward systems, changes in diet, but nothing helped. Though my husband and I had long fought the idea of psychiatry and drugs because we thought too many kids were on Ritalin, we finally broke down and gave it a try when he was 7.

The change was almost miraculous. The very first day on Concerta, we were on a camping trip and he spent a whole hour helping clean kitchen shelves and coolers, and actually finished the task. He turned into a normal kid -- not a zombie, not a drug-addled, apathetic "well-behaved" child, but a normal kid. I even bought him the archery equipment he'd been wanting for ages, because I could finally trust him to aim at the target instead of pointing the damned arrow wherever he happened to be looking. In school, he became the cool kid who could play a great game of "Duelmasters," tell you everything you wanted to know about Bionicles, and create and present a science report on astronomy with authority.

There have been plenty of bumps along the way -- minor emotional issues, physical tics, appetite and sleep problems, all of which have been dealt with by changes in dosage or behavior modification techniques -- and we still have to nag him to finish his homework or practice piano, like any other kid. But without the medication he would have been a social pariah who, despite his prodigious intellect, failed in school because he couldn't sit still long enough to complete the work.

How do I know what my son would be like without medication? I see it every weekend. We don't give him Concerta on Saturdays and Sundays in an effort to help him grow better. He was thin to start with and the medication has exacerbated the problem by suppressing his appetite. Without his medication, periodically he will literally run in circles screaming, gyrating his arms wildly in an attempt to stimulate himself enough to be able to make it through the day. I can only imagine what his life would be like if he had to live that way every day.

I know very little about Scientology. If its members wish to practice its tenets, more power to them. But they can keep their mitts off our laws or they will have a fight on their hands.

-- Karen Kasper

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------