by Megan Davies with Tracey Mitchell

The 1988 publication of Shrink Resistant was a milestone in English Canadian survivor culture, the first collective representation of the experiences of women and men who had been patients in psychiatric institutions. Produced by the Vancouver alternative publisher, New Star Press, Shrink Resistant was deeply and deliberately political. It was about giving voice to the silenced, about speaking out, and speaking back to oppression, to forced treatment, and to professional power.

distinctive black, pink, yellow, green and wine coloured Shrink Resistant book cover

As editors Bonnie Burstow and Don Weitz pointed out when we interviewed them, the book was very much a product of a particular historical moment, a time when there was a zeitgeist to make public that which had been hidden, and for the disempowered to come together and take political action. This may mean that the publication of Shrink Resistant was connected to patient activism and new openness about stigmatized medical conditions among AIDS and breast cancer patients in the otherwise conservative period of the late 1980s.

The overarching theme of the Survivor Culture exhibits on this site is a justifiably laudatory tale of marginalized survivor voices finding a public forum. This exhibit includes this theme, but also illuminates a backstory of high hopes and unmet expectations. No mainstream publisher would take on the book, and no other alternative press had expressed interest when New Star came forward with an offer. Yet, the editors wanted a bigger public canvas for the collection than they got, and they remain ambivalent at best about the role of their publisher in marketing and promoting the book that was so important to them. Others involved in Shrink Resistant, like politician and activist David Reville, see New Star as the heroine of the moment, the only midwife willing to deliver such a book.

This exhibit maps out the process by which Shrink Resistant was envisioned, created, and launched to the world. As Bonnie Burstow stated at the outset of her interview, this is not intended to be a sanitized version of the past, so this exhibit is also a meditation on the different aims that lie behind a political project (the book) and a political / commercial enterprise (the press) - one is a singular effort, and the other is an engine that needs to keep running in order that other books can be produced. Excerpts from an extensive interview with the editors, some shorter recollections from contributors David Reville and Susan Musgrave, and key historical documents from both Don Weitz’s personal papers and the New Star collection are presented thematically to tell the story of this seminal publication. Practicing the craft of history involves dealing with multiple stories, so sometimes these pieces tell different tales. A link to the book in its entirety can be found at the end of this text.

The Editors

The two editors who brought Shrink Resistant to life share a particular brand of political engagement. Both are deeply opposed to psychiatry and its practices, a position they have held fast from the 1980s onward. Bonnie Burstow is an academic at OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), a therapist, and an activist. Don Weitz is a psychiatric survivor and a longtime activist in the Toronto survivor community. Meeting in 1982, they became immediate allies, and soon after began working together on the project that became Shrink Resistant.

balding bearded man on left and dark haired woman with glasses on right

Don & Bonnie in 1988: from the inside jacket of Shrink Resistant.

older white haired man on left and grey haired woman with glasses on right

Don & Bonnie in December 2013, at the time of their oral history interview.

Bonnie on Bonnie

Don on Don

Bonnie and Don Meet

Conceiving the Shrink Resistant Project

A Collage of Voices

If you have been incarcerated and “treated” in a psychiatric institution or ward in any province or territory in Canada and wish to contribute to this important book, please submit your material as quickly as possible.

From the beginning, the book was conceived of as a collage of self-expression, voices from the place where the personal met the political. Don had been amassing possible material since the mid-1970s, and now the two editors worked collaboratively, Bonnie taking the lead on editing submissions while Don reached out to survivors across the country, emphasizing the importance of the project and the opportunity for their voices to be heard. Advertisements were placed in publications ranging from mainstream newspapers to movement bulletins. More than 100 individuals responded to the call.

A good working team

Everyone – except for a lone psychiatrist who submitted – was accepted, though longer pieces were edited down. The result was a powerful mélange of poetry, art and memoir. Although mental health was deeply stigmatized in the 1980s, as it remains today, only two participants chose to use a pseudonym.

A beautiful, powerful collage

We did say no to one submission

No "anonymous" here

We have pulled some specific voices out from the collective volume, speaking from the public stage, from the worlds of art and literature, and to specific injustices that intersected with anti-psychiatry.

In 1964, at the age of 21, David Reville had what was then called a nervous-breakdown. He was hospitalized twice in 1965, the second time in Kingston for over two years. After leaving the hospital, Reville became involved in the mad movement and other activism. He sat on Toronto City Council from 1980 to 1985 and was a New Democratic Party Member of Provincial Parliament from 1985 to 1990, after which he was an advisor to Premier Bob Rae, and then chair of the Ontario Advocacy Commission. From 2004 to 2014, Reville taught courses on mad people's history, history of madness and other subjects in the Ryerson School of Disability Studies. He continues to operate David Reville & Associates, specializing in community development and social research, and much of his work relates to improving mental health and peer support programming.

While in the Kingston psychiatric hospital, David began to chronicle his experience, feeling sure that the public was waiting for such an exposé of conditions in mental hospitals. But he was to find that no one was really interested in what he had to say, which led him to turn first to political activism and later to elected politics, where he found he was most able to effect social change. While initially David was disappointed to find there was little interest in his hospital journal, in 1981, after he was first elected to Toronto City Council, the Kingston Whig-Standard purchased the piece to print. Seven years later, the same piece appeared in Shrink Resistant, and soon after, an excerpt ran in NOW Magazine.

A journal I kept in hospital

David recalled that Don and a few others began the project that was to become Shrink Resistant in the mid-1970s, but there was not enough material for a book at that point. By the mid-1980s, however, the voices were there, and as an elected official David was well-positioned to support the initiative. Finding a press willing to take on the book was another piece of good fortune.

We found Lanny Beckman, another little miracle

Susan Musgrave is the Governor General Award-nominated poet and author of 19 volumes of poetry, four novels, three non-fiction books and five children's books. She has also compiled and edited several other books. After being committed to a psychiatric ward at age 14, Musgrave published her first book in 1970, at age 19. In 1986, Susan married convicted bank robber Stephen Reid after reading a manuscript of his book Jackrabbit Parole, which was released the same year. Susan has two daughters and she and Stephen spend at least half their time at their home on Haida Gwaii.

While seeing their work published in Shrink Resistant may have been an exciting moment for many contributors, who look back on it with fond memories, Susan Musgrave barely remembers the book. When Shrink Resistant was published, Musgrave was already the author of 12 books of poetry and two novels of her own, including the novel 1980 novel The Charcoal Burners and the 1979 poetry collection A Man to Marry, A Man to Bury, both of which were nominated for Governor General's Awards.

Thank you note from Susan Musgrave to Don acknowleging her cheque, May 30, 1990.

Postcard from Susan Musgrave

I never met her

While institutionalized, Musgrave was encouraged by an English professor to keep poetry.

"You're not mad, you're a poet"

Musgrave's poetry and the artwork included in Shrink Resistant complement the many essays in the volume, providing more imagery and colour in between the powerful stories.

"Throw a stone at any mental hospital and you'll hit a poet"

Linda MacDonald was one of the highest-profile patient victims of Dr. Ewan Cameron’s infamous CIA-funded mind control experiments of the late 1950s and early 1960s. A 26-year-old mother likely suffering from post-partum depression, MacDonald entered Montreal’s Allan Memorial Hospital in 1963, where she was subjected to psychic depatterning, a combination of 102 multi-dose ECT treatments, sleep and drug treatment, and psychological isolation. Returning home, she was unable to recognize her family, recall life before she became a patient, or undertake such simple tasks as cooking an egg or going to the toilet. In 1992, after a long legal battle, MacDonald received $100,000 in compensation from the federal government.

The Allen Memorial

Kathy (Portland) Frank was born in 1943 and raised by a working class single mom who took her daughter and ran from an abusive marriage. She spent her teenage years in Vancouver, attending the enriched program at Lord Byng Junior High School. She loved to draw pictures of the ten-metre diving board at UBC and was one of the few teenage girls of that time with the courage to dive off that board. After several years in nursing training in central Canada, she dropped out and returned to Vancouver with then-partner Kathy LaChaise. Several breakdowns and a break up later, Kathy Frank moved to the MPA (Mental Patients Association) house on East 4th Avenue. Frank was an active MPA member for many years. Always a gifted artist, her drawings and prints were featured in many issues of the MPA’s tabloid, In a Nutshell. Frank’s artwork for MPA is an expression of her belief that a critical position on psychiatry should be matched by a push to find new ways to heal people’s mental pain.

 Mind Control Technology: images of needle in hand, electrodes being placed on head, person receiving ECT

A Kathy Frank woodcut from The Anti-Psychiatry Bibliography, reproduced in Shrink Resistant

Working with fellow MPA members Frank produced a bibliography of anti-psychiatry publications for MPA in 1974. Then in the late 1970s she worked with the feminist group Press Gang Publishers to produce an expanded version called The Anti-Psychiatry Bibliography and Resource Guide. This was an important resource, notable also for complex, beautiful woodblock prints at every chapter head – four of which appear in Shrink Resistant. Frank attended Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr College of Art) where she graduated in 1978, specializing in painting and printmaking. While in art school she met Persimmon Blackbridge with whom she lived for 9 years, leaving the MPA residence, but remaining active and connected to MPA as a whole. She was also involved in the early feminist movement in Vancouver throughout the 1970s, but faced the unconscious classism and sanism that plagued that movement (as it did/does every sector of society). After breaking up with Blackbridge, Frank moved to Quebec City. Bilingual for all of her adult life, she quickly found work as a tour guide in the Old City.

While singling out specific Shrink Resistant contributors goes against the collective ethos of the volume, it is critical to reclaim psychiatric survivors from the dark back corridors of mental health history. This is particularly the case with former patients who lived on the economic and social margins and female survivors whose family names have changed over time. We honour those Shrink Resistant authors and artists who have died or disappeared since the book’s publication.

Finding Funding

logo with tree in circle

The Old Canada Council Logo

As part of a policy of democratizing and decentralizing the production and dissemination of Canadian culture, the Canada Council for the Arts initiated the Explorations program in 1972. With support from Toronto lawyers Carla McKague and David Baker, and M.P.P. David Reville, Bonnie and Don made a successful Explorations application in 1986, receiving $7,000 in total. Their project fit within the Council’s interest in encouraging new writers and presenting the perspectives of women and marginalized peoples.

An Explorations Grant

The Press

brighly coloured New Star books catalogue, circa 1980s

New Star Books Catalogue - Fall 1989

Created in the early 1970s by a group of left-leaning Vancouver writers, New Star Press coalesced in the mid-1970s under the direction of editor and publisher Lanny Beckman. By 1987, when New Star took on the manuscript that would become Shrink Resistant, Rolf Maurer, Catherine Ludgate and Barbara Pulling were also working at the press. Audrey McClellan, who joined New Star the following year, took the lead on publicizing the book when it came out. The Shrink Resistant project, while the first volume New Star had published on anti-psychiatry, fit well with press’ focus on current events, politics, and social issues.

Bonnie and Don recall that Lanny Beckman heard about their successful Explorations grant in 1985 and sent out the first feeler to Don and Bonnie about the possibility of New Star publishing their book. As the interviews and documents gathered for this exhibit demonstrate, interpretations of the past are refracted and reshaped by multiple narratives and many silences. Documentary evidence of this first communication has not survived, Lanny has no memory of approaching the editors, and David Reville suggests that the editors located Lanny.

Bonnie on Hearing from Lanny

Lanny’s involvement in the project poses several interesting questions about New Star’s publication of Shrink Resistant. In the early 1970s Lanny had been a leading figure in forming the highly successful MPA (Mental Patients Association), Canada’s first peer-support organization, and a very public spokesperson for the survivor movement. Don himself had visited MPA and met Lanny in 1973. Both Bonnie and David Reville suggest that Lanny’s support for the collection was critical to New Star’s decision to publish. Certainly, the publication of Shrink Resistant served to reengage Lanny with the topic of mental health after more than a decade away from the movement. In a September 1988 letter to Don and Bonnie about promotion plans, Lanny put out two ideas for related publications on mental health – one a political economy of psychiatry and the other a study of the social contract between psychiatry and the Canadian state. The following month he wrote to David Reville inquiring about the possibility of New Star publishing the incarceration journal excerpted in the collection as a separate volume. Lanny also published a number of articles on mental health and psychiatry in the late 1980s, including an article about Allan Memorial psychiatrist Ewen Cameron in Canadian Dimension (1988), two pieces in the progressive BC Jewish publication New Directions and “Mental Illness for Beginners,” (1989), and “A Brief History of Trouble in Mind,” (1991), both published in This Magazine.

Setting the press’ initial assessments of the manuscript sections submitted by Don and Bonnie alongside one another, Lanny’s enthusiasm for the project is evident. While he acknowledged the variable quality of the selections, Lanny argued that, “together they produce a powerful account of the lives and worlds of mental patients,” noting that his expertise in the field made him appreciate the value of the work. Looking at the manuscript through a feminist lens, New Star’s Barbara Pulling was concerned that the impressionistic poetic and journal submissions of the female contributors gave the factual accounts of male authors more authority, adding that a concluding section of activist accounts would bring the book into the present. But New Star agreed to go ahead with the book and by mid-July 1987 a contract had been signed by both parties.

Lanny had noted the need for a better title in his first assessment of the manuscript, but this proved elusive until shortly before publication. The cover image was also a problem, with Bonnie and Don rejecting New Star’s design as lacking a human element and reference to the key theme of struggle and resistance. The distinctive black cover, with green and purple figures drawn by an unknown American artist moving from solitary confinement to collective solidarity, was a happy compromise for the editors. The book went to the printers on July 7, 1988.

Really bad provisional titles

We got the cover we asked for

Publication and Promotion

An important piece of work that will standing as a lasting contribution in the struggle against psychiatric tyranny and violence.

- Thomas S., psychiatrist and author

Shrink Resistant is a landmark expose of psychiatric dehumanization and cruelty… This book should be must-reading everywhere, for what it describes typifies current psychiatric abuse throughout the world. The editors’ account of the emerging psychiatric inmates liberation movement together with their superb analysis put in perspective the materials they’ve assembled.

- Leonard Roy Frank, psychiatric survivor, writer, movement activist

Shrink Resistant is a powerful indictment of psychiatric practices by those in the best position to know: people who have been at the receiving end of psychiatric treatment.

- Judi Chamberlin, psychiatric survivor, author, movement activist

Lanny sent the first copies of Shrink Resistant to Don and Bonnie on September 2,1988, his accompanying note conveying pride in a job well done. In the next set of documents one can witness the press moving from making the book real, to finding it an audience in the public world – a process in which Don remained constantly engaged. A short 15th September New Star press release, titled “The Other Side of the Story,” was a carefully crafted 1-page essay, almost certainly composed by Lanny, positioning the book as a unique Canadian window into the unjust and often harmful medical treatment of a group of citizens that the rest of country would rather ignore. New Star promotional statements for the book highlighted the “insider” views of injustice presented in the volume, the range of material the book contained, and its relevance, not just to those who had been incarcerated in psychiatric institutions, but to anyone concerned with human rights issues.

Lanny had begun soliciting statements supporting the book from prominent movement activists in June, and was busy in early September sending out 1000 books and flyers, or flyers alone, to individuals and groups suggested by Don and Bonnie or already on New Star’s own distribution lists. Ads were placed in national publications including This Magazine, Canadian Dimension, Quill & Quire, and similar American and BC periodicals. Don recruited Toronto publicist Celia Stroh to assist in getting press coverage and possibly a national media spot. Lanny sent copies of the book, flyers and order forms to David Reville for distribution at Britain’s first psych survivor conference.

In the fall of 1988, David attended “Common Concerns,” an international mad movement conference held at Brighton, England, bringing with him a stack of books from New Star. The copies went like hot cakes, gone in 30 minutes.

Sold out in less than half an hour

Don and Bonnie’s wish for a Canadian tour with interviews and press conferences in major cities was stymied by Bonnie’s teaching commitments and the limits of New Star’s funding. However, by October 1988 Audrey McClellan was taking over publicity for the press and moving forward with Toronto plans for a January book-signing and reception at left-wing SCM bookstore and a November press conference at Queen’s Park, the latter set up by David Reville. The November 1st news release for the Queen’s Park event featured strong endorsements by physicians Thomas Szasz and Peter Breggin, two prominent American critics of the psychiatric system. But it was likely Bonnie and Don who initiated December's “An Antipsychiatry Evening,” and a July “Alternative to Psychiatry” event, both of which teamed author readings with a related film.

A poster which shows the graphic from the Shrink Resistant cover. Text reads. "SCM Book Room, Friday, January 27 at 7:30pm. Don Weitz and Bonnie Burstow will read from Shrink Resistant, an anthology of writings by critics of psychiatric institutions.

SCM Book Room Poster advertising readings from Shrink Resistant.

These Shrink Resistant post-publication publicity documents need to be set against Bonnie and Don’s memories of New Star’s work promoting the collection. The two editors were deeply dissatisfied with New Star in this regard, feelings that are still part of their historical perspective today:

For a while I was very upset

The dream that Shrink Resistant would serve to insert the plight of psychiatric patients into Canadian public consciousness is evident in correspondence between the two longtime activists and New Star. The book’s editors were concerned that New Star was doing a poor job of publicizing and distributing the book, worries reflected in voluminous exchanges between Don and the press contained in the PSAT and New Star document collections. A set of correspondence written six months after publication encapsulates the content and spirit of these exchanges. Writing to Audrey, Lanny and Rolf in March 1989, Don expressed alarm about poor distribution and low book sales, noting that he and Bonnie had done the lion’s share of arranging events like the Queen’s Park press conference and radio and TV interview. In April Bonnie sent a letter to New Star, arguing that the press had failed to take an appropriate lead in publicizing the book, warning that this might lead to an important book being, “buried due to publisher neglect,” and inquiring what New Star intended to do to rectify the situation. Audrey’s responses reflect the perspective of the alternative book publisher: New Star had done what it could with the limited financial capacity of a small press, and the rest was up to Shrink Resistant, a significant book which would likely continue to sell slowly but well over the long term rather than “take off” with large initial sales.

“Enclosing copy of NOW’s profile/focus…Bonne & I and some others don’t like the exclusive focus on Reville – it’s frankly elitist and unfair to the other contributors in the book… Bonnie and I plan to write a critical letter to NOW.”

Another contentious aspect of New Star’s work promoting Shrink Resistant lay with the press’ publishing tactic of using well-known public figures to bring it to the attention of the media and the broader public. To an extent, Don went along with this, suggesting that a copy be mailed to Oprah Winfrey and offering no criticism of Lanny’s moves to bring Shrink Resistant author Susan Musgrave on board for publicity gigs on local Victoria radio stations. The collective spirit of the book and the editors’ judgment of New Star were tested, however, by the Now profile of Shrink Resistant in January 1989. The editors and apparently some of the authors objected when Toronto’s NOW Magazine’s coverage of the booked focused on author David Reville, at the time a member of the provincial legislative assembly.

The NOW controversy

Looking Backward

It's a powerful book. Any politics, however it deals with people who identify as having experienced professional psychiatric interventions of various sorts in positive ways -- and I am just starting to wrap my head around such things -- must also deal with the vicious oppression catalogued here. I'm not aware of any similar volume having been published in the twenty years since this came out, but I'd be very interested to hear how things have changed over that period. And how they haven't.

- Scott Neigh, September 2008

Some dreams that the editors had for Shrink Resistant were not realized. A French edition never came out, New Star decided against a second printing, and no other press picked up the manuscript. But as Canadian activist and writer Scott Neigh’s 2008 review demonstrates, the collage of voices contained within the book continues to convey a strong political statement about the abuses of psychiatry and its institutions. In their interview Don and Bonnie looked back, locating their pioneering publication on the historical path of the psych-survivor movement in Canada.

You have a stone that you roll

The whole issue of the survivor voice

A Process Postscript

Bonnie and Don decided that sharing royalties equitably among the book’s contributors was correct political process and they set up a bank account for this process. Don did this work for three years. Each spring after the royalty payment arrived from New Star, he would track down missing contributors, write cheques and send them out. In his May 1991 covering letter Don tells contributors that this will likely be their final royalty payment and thanks them for their commitment to the book. Shrink Resistant, he states, has done important work by educating Canadians about psychiatric oppression and the anti-psychiatric movement and by “helping to empower many of our brothers and sisters.”

Collective in every sense