When 200 people, mainly psychiatric survivors, protested in front of the American Psychiatric Association… there was something missing. A surprising footnote to the 5 May 2012 protest in Philadelphia reveals that Dr. Allen Frances “vocally opposed” support for the event, behind the scenes.

MindFreedom International News Investigation


Behind-The-Scenes “Vocal Opposition” by Psychiatrist Against MindFreedom International Protest in Philadelphia of American Psychiatric Association’s Labeling

Dr. Allen Frances: "Vocal Opposition" to MindFreedom ProtestMindFreedom’s historic national protest of the harm done by psychiatric labeling revealed some surprisingly “vocal opposition” to us psychiatric survivors, behind the scenes: 

Dr. Allen Frances (photo on right), supposedly a key critic of the psychiatry’s proposed newest label bible, acted to squash support from key allies for the protest.

Dr. Allen Frances vs. Psychiatric Survivor Activism

There we were, enthusiastically preparing to protest peacefully directly in front of the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in Philadelphia on 5 May 2012.

Two hundred of us, mainly psychiatric survivors, came from all over the USA and Canada, listened to speeches, marched in the streets and even tore up our labels directly in front of this gathering of thousands of psychiatrists, to protest their planned new “label bible,” their upcoming revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – DSM 5.

You can see videos, photos, audio of the successful event here.

But something surprising was revealed by the protest. Or more accurately, something surprising was missing at the protest. Looking back, it seemed we were mainly psychiatric survivors and family members, with only a few psychologists and psychiatrists allies (thank you!).

It turns out a committee of psychologists opposing psychiatry’s new label bible – behind the scenes – pulled announced support for our protest, due to private pressure by that psychiatrist who claims to be a lead critic, Dr. Allen Frances.

A Story of Behind-the-Scenes Opposition

In preparing for the protest at the beginning of this year, in January, we got some exciting news from psychologist and author Brent Robbins of Pennsylvania about powerful support. Brent is a member of something called the “Open Letter Committee” which created an online petition critical DSM 5. Thousands of mental health professionals have signed it, and you can read it here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/dsm5/

Brent told us that he would be willing to speak at the protest on behalf of the Open Letter Committee, that they had been looking for a way to express their concerns in the streets, and not just on just paper. Brent even appeared in our January 2012 web radio show about their support, and you can listen to that interview here.

It turned out Brent said he had a graduation to attend as part of his faculty duties at the time of the protest, but he quickly found an enthusiastic replacement, Kyle Arnold. Kyle is a psychologist who is not on the Open Letter Committee, but was a signatory who would serve as an informational liaison. Dr. Arnold was absolutely confirmed.

But during the speeches before we marched, the speakers were called in alphabetical order. Dr. Arnold was called first, but didn’t respond.

This no-show was a speed bump at the time and we moved on.

Our media coverage even included an internationally-broadcast dialogue on the BBC about the protest, between me and Dr. Frances, who we are often told is widely considered one of the leading critics of the DSM.

You can hear our six-minutes  on the BBC about 14 minutes into the program:


So all pretty much went well…

The day after the protest I inquired with Brent and Kyle about the ‘no show.’

What happened?

Kyle apologetically emailed me:

“The basic issue was that I was instructed to provide a disclaimer in my speech saying explicitly that I am not representing the Open Letter Committee but am a ‘concerned psychologist.'”

In a way this nervousness made commonsense. After all, signing a petition didn’t necessarily mean you or your group were endorsing a whole protest. But couldn’t a simple disclaimer have taken care of this? What’s the big deal?

Kyle continued, “My response was that I was not comfortable with this disclaimer, in that it seemed to be a case of the Coalition wanting some kind of plausible deniability for involvement with the rally. My reply was that I thought that the Committee ought to jump in with both feet and take full responsibility for being represented at the rally, or, if they are choosing to pull out of the rally, to clearly communicate that decision to you and take ownership for it. I was told that the Committee would make the latter choice, so I expected you would be informed.”

Clearly something bigger was happening.

After all, why offer such enthusiastic support at the beginning, but then quietly and timidly withdraw support without any transparency or notification?

So I turned to Brent, a member of the committee, to ask why we were not even told of this change of heart.

Brent was impressively candid in his response. He was clearly embarrassed that the opposition to our event went deeper and was quite “vocal”.

Brent wrote about their initial strong support:

“The DSM-5 Committee [also] consists of David Elkins, Donna Rockwell, Frank Farley, and Jonathan Raskin. My impression is that all of the committee members were in support of the cause of the rally. [T]he Committee in general is favorable to MindFreedom. In fact, several committee members were involved in plans to send information about the rally to members, and encouraging students and colleagues to attend.”

So far so good, that was my experience. At the beginning.

Brent continued:

“But, late in the game, they became skittish about the representation of signatories. The biggest problem was pressure from Allen Frances — who is not on our committee, but has been a huge supporter of the petition. His vocal opposition to the rally is precisely what made the Committee nervous, to tell you the truth. We have had a very ambivalent relationship with Frances; while we have enjoyed his support, it has had some strings attached. The petition likely would not have had as much success without Frances’ support, as I am sure you can appreciate, but he is pushy about his own agenda.”

Brent said he fought to maintain support for the protest, but he was out-voted by the rest of the committee, who caved to Dr. Frances.

Where Does Dr. Allen Frances Find Time to Oppose Us?

Why would a psychiatrist who claims to be a strong critic of the DSM, act behind the scenes to squelch important support of a peaceful street march for that very same goal?

I emailed Dr. Frances about this, and this resulted in an email back-and-forth over three weeks. Despite repeatedly asking him to deny several concerns; he did not.

One thing I was concerned about is that I heard that behind-the-scenes, Dr. Frances was labeling us at MindFreedom as “anti-psychiatrists.”

Obviously, MindFreedom has individuals and groups who are active with us who passionately describe themselves as “anti-psychiatry.” But we are a coalition. We are diverse. We also have many members, including protesters, who utilize psychiatrists. In fact we have many psychiatrists on our side. Trying to marginalize us as extremist “anti-‘s” is the tactic of an opponent.

To this day bizarre attacks are coming from extremists like D.J. Jaffe that maybe we are under the spell Scientology, when of course we’re not.

But why would someone who cares about psychiatric labeling, oppose efforts by survivors of psychiatric abuse, using misleading labeling himself?

I decided to ask Dr. Frances, and he did respond. But, in the end, he told me that he lacked the time to continue dialogue.

Ironically enough, a couple of weeks after our last email exchange, he found time to blog again with Psychology Today about how the American Psychiatric Association was ignoring critics like him, and the Open Letter effort.

Really, Dr. Frances?

APA is ignoring you?

What major social change has been accomplished just by a few elites sending letters and petitions?

Have you heard of peaceful people power?

Maybe you will now, after reading this blog.

You found time for secret opposition to psychiatric survivor activism, and that is exactly the kind of foot dragging that Martin Luther King denounced in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which MLK wrote to those leaders in the civil rights movement cautioning against protest:

“You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

Bottom line… Dr. Frances opposed protesting out in the streets about psychiatric labeling… but he found time behind closed doors to to protest us. I guess we appear to be easier targets?

Well, at least with the Internet we can make this a matter of public record.

BELOW is my email dialogue with Dr. Allen Frances, of course starting from the top with the last email from me on 18 June 2012, to which he did not respond, and ending at the bottom with my initial email inquiry to him on 24 May 2012.

Email Dialogue Between David Oaks and Dr. Allen Frances

Begin forwarded message:

From: “David W. Oaks” <oaks@mindfreedom.org>

Date: 18 June 2012 4:38:15 PM PDT

To: allenfrances@vzw.blackberry.net

Subject: Re: both on BBC; rumor check

Thanks, Dr. Frances, for the dialogue we’ve had so far, and bon voyage.

However, for your record and archive:

According to a report from leaders in the Coalition for DSM-5 Reform, you apparently did find the leisure time to successfully lobby against their planned support for and involvement in our 5 May 2012 peaceful protest in Philadelphia.

I understand you did this by incorrectly labeling us as “anti-psychiatry,” a term I and MindFreedom have never used to describe ourselves.

You have never denied the above leisure activities during our recent email back-and-forths, so I’m taking these reports as true.

 I hope you understand, we’re going to need to go public on this? Really, one of the main things we 99 percenters have is that still small voice of truth. For our people, dialogue is not about leisure, it’s about our constituency’s survival and basic human rights.

In conclusion, I believe when it comes to significant and overwhelming mental and emotional challenges, our’s is truly a “100 percent” movement, wouldn’t you agree? That is, 100 percent of humanity are all in that same boat, correct?

When you do have a chance, I look forward to your reply to that question.




On 17 Jun 2012, at 11:42 PM, allenfrances@vzw.blackberry.net wrote:

Dear David- traveling in australia with grandkids, writing a book, and trying to delay DSM 5. Have my hands full. Sorry no leisure time for dialogues.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


—–Original Message—–

From: “David W. Oaks” <oaks@mindfreedom.org>

Date: Sun, 17 Jun 2012 22:29:22

To: Allen Frances<allenfrances@vzw.blackberry.net>

Subject: Re: both on BBC; rumor check

Hi Dr. Frances,

It’s been more than two weeks, and I have not heard back?

Are you open to continuing dialogue, or are you ending it?


On 1 Jun 2012, at 12:34 PM, David W. Oaks wrote:

I think you’ve summed up a difference.

You criticize a book.

We seek to change more.

There have been plenty of books on phrenology over the centuries — the study of ‘bumps on the head.’ Phrenology happened to be the reigning approach when the medical model “won” as the dominant ideology in the field of mental health. \

(See the superb history book “Masters of Bedlam” by Scull et al.)

Do we care about editing contents of a phrenology book?

The problem is the context — the human rights violations inherent in a small, closed group dominating the important field of our society’s mental and emotional wellness, partly by the authoritarian way they created and applied those guidelines. That was true centuries ago, and it is true today.

My point in our dialogue is that you did NOT “stay focused” on DSM 5 criticism on the Fifth of May.

You also actively opposed, behind closed doors, support by others for peaceful activism of, by and for those who have been harmed by your own profession and its use of the DSM.

You even used labeling in your opposition — by calling us “anti-psychiatry” when for 26 years our nonprofit has not used that term to describe ourselves, and we’ve even spoken out publicly when your industry publication tried to pigeon-hole us that way.

We agree on one thing:

That you should have focused your criticism on DSM.

Instead, you protested us.

You refuse to apologize.

We will peacefully speak out. And we will remember.


 David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International


On 30 May 2012, at 2:55 PM, allenfrances@vzw.blackberry.net wrote:

Please take my words at face value- I meant nothing more and nothing less than what i said. In my view, it is important that criticism of DSM 5 stay focused on criticism of DSM 5.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


—–Original Message—–

From: David W. Oaks <oaks@mindfreedom.org>

Date: Wed, 30 May 2012 14:49:33

To: <allenfrances@vzw.blackberry.net>

Subject: Re: both on BBC; rumor check

Thanks, Al, again for your dialogue, I hope we keep this up.

I take your reply below as “yes,” since you did not correct me.

That is:

you have described our community that sponsored the peaceful protest on 5 May in front of the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in Philadelphia as “anti-psychiatry,” and … you actively opposed support for our protest.

So, I feel you yourself pursued an “other agenda.” Why?

You say you personally are focused only on reforming DSM.

But you actively opposed — from behind closed doors — support by others for our peaceful protest.

Your “protest” of us worked.

We announced for months — including on our web radio show — that we would have a participant from the Coalition for DSM-5 Reform and its petition.

But when our moderator announced that participant would speak, it was a “no show.” Silence. No one had even told us about the cancellation.

I tracked down the reason for the “no show,” and was told that, essentially, your own “protest” of our activism was one of the reasons.

Later that day, the BBC aired a piece where we both spoke. Your rebuttal of me is that we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.

Your wording was revealing, in the sense that DSM IV was, to some extent, “your baby.”

So it feels like now in 2012, you are seeking to be “in charge” again, but of the criticism of the DSM. You are seeking to determine which DSM protests are okay.

You are even “labeling” us to accomplish this goal, such as using the term “anti-psychiatry.”

That’s our problem with the DSM. It’s not the words. It’s the context. It’s the “power over” dynamic, the name calling, the human rights violations based on the DSM, the authoritarianism — what could really be called bullying — all done behind closed doors.

To sum up, you and I both protested on 5 May.

I joined other psychiatric survivors and allies — though many are low income and traveled long distances — to speak out publicly and directly in front of a meeting of one of the richest and most influential groups in the mental health industry.

Al, you may not recognize it — but I feel you also protested. But you chose to protest from behind closed doors, and the target of your protest was activism by some of the most marginalized and disempowered people.

That’s your right, all covered by the First Amendment.

But please witness that you yourself went off your own “agenda.”

If you protest the DSM 5, then focus on that. We didn’t write the DSM.

The APA did.

Our community is peaceful and may appear powerless. But we are on the right side of history. We have that small still voice of conscience.

Al, I really feel you owe our community an apology?



On 25 May 2012, at 6:23 PM, allenfrances@vzw.blackberry.net wrote:

I think the effort to reform DSM 5 should focus completely on reforming DSM 5 and not be caught up with any other agenda.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

—–Original Message—–

From: David W. Oaks <oaks@mindfreedom.org>

Date: Fri, 25 May 2012 18:20:34

To: Allen Frances<allenfrances@vzw.blackberry.net>

Subject: Re: both on BBC; rumor check

Thanks for quick response.

Just for clear communication I’ll repeat back the answer I think I am hearing:

You have communicated to others you work with on DSM reform, that you opposed their supporting our protest.

If I didn’t get that right let me know?

Best, David


On 24 May 2012, at 2:53 PM, allenfrances@vzw.blackberry.net wrote:

Thanks David. I see myself as protecting mainstream psychiatry from the dangers of DSM 5- I am not at all a critic of psychiatry done well and within its competence. I don’t  want to be identified with any group that has a broader agenda of criticism. I respect your right and responsibility to pursue your agenda as you think best, but want my very different critique to be separate and DSM 5 focused.

All best al

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


—–Original Message—–

From: “David W. Oaks” <oaks@mindfreedom.org>

Date: Thu, 24 May 2012 14:38:31

To: Allen Frances<allenfrances@vzw.blackberry.net>

Subject: both on BBC; rumor check

Dear Dr. Frances,

First, I hope by now you know we were both featured on the 5 May 2012 BBC broadcast, discussing BBC? I first found out when I was doing a

presentation in the Ukraine, and someone in the audience had heard it.

Second, I need to check out a rumor. When I hear something like this, I always like to go back to the source to try to get the full story.

Specifically the rumor is that you have described our community that sponsored the peaceful protest on 5 May in front of the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in Philadelphia as “anti-psychiatry,” and that you actively opposed support for our protest.

The rumor further says that you specifically asked some psychologists

who had gathered signatures critical of the DSM, to call off plans to send a representative to speak at and support our protest.

Is any of this accurate in any way? Is there even a grain of truth here to the rumor?

I’d appreciate hearing back about this as soon as possible.

By the way, whether accurate or not, just as a point of information:

If anyone does describe MindFreedom International as ‘anti-psychiatry,’ I hope you point out that in my 36 years of activism, and 26 years leading MindFreedom, we’ve never used that description. In fact, throughout this time we’ve had some courageous psychiatrists who are willing to speak out about abuse within the mental health industry stand with us — such as my good friend the late Loren Mosher.

And of course, we have members who use psychiatrists, and brave psychiatrists attend our events, including our 5 May protest.

We’ve made our position on the use of that ‘pigeon holing’ label of ‘anti-psychiatry’ clear in a public debate held within a publication of the American Psychiatric Association here:

American Psychiatric Association vs. MindFreedom International

One of our main campaigns has been to surface instances of involuntary electroshock over and against the expressed wishes of the subject.

Once we prove this is happening, we’ve found almost 99 percent of the public is concerned. It’s only been a few folks in the mental health industry who have supported forced electroshock over the expressed wishes of the subject. I’d argue that it is these folks who are “anti-psychiatry,” because psychiatry — which is supposed to mean soul healing — should never be involved with such abuse. If anything, bringing up abuse like this would be a way of possibly saving the psychiatric profession from its own inherent abuse.

In any case, I’d like to hear back from you as soon as possible about the rumor.



David W. Oaks, Executive Director

MindFreedom International

454 Willamette, Suite 216 – POB 11284

Eugene, OR 97440-3484 USA

web: https://mindfreedom.org

email: oaks@mindfreedom.org

office phone: 541-345-9106 fax: 480-287-8833

Unite for a Nonviolent Revolution in Mental Health.

“The salvation of our world lies in the hands of the maladjusted.”

– Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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