It’s Not Too Late to Apologize to Mothers


Should we apologize to mothers for the blame psychiatry put on them?




Most mothers know how easy it is to be blamed for any problem in the family. Once upon a time, psychiatry did a lot of that blaming too. When I was beginning my training in the late 60s and early 70s, we were taught about schizophrenogenic mothers, whose double-binding communication presumably caused the confused thinking in their children who developed schizophrenia. Then there were the cold “ice-box” mothers who presumably caused autism in their children by their emotional distance.

Then along came Ruth Sullivan, who died at the age of 97 on September 16th. At Psychiatric TimesTM, we do many eulogies about psychiatrists. Let’s start doing some for others who helped our field so much, like Ruth Sullivan. With only 1 of her 7 children seeming to be autistic, and experience as an Army nurse with a master’s degree in public health, she cofounded the Autism Society of America in 1965. Later, she worked with Dustin Hoffman on the 1984 movie “Rain Man,” where an autistic man was partially modeled after her son Joseph. She also led the way to equal access for children with such disabilities to public schools.

Now the autism spectrum is looked upon more and more as a spectrum of neurodiversity and the outcomes much improved. The understanding of schizophrenia is also improved, in part due to the family advocacy group, The National Alliance on Mentally Illness (NAMI). It is such groups that provide important bridges between society and psychiatry.

The American Psychiatric Association apologized to those subjected to racism. Perhaps it is time to apologize to some mothers.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

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