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Lurid expo in Union Square by Scientology affiliate demonizes psychiatry

BY MARY REINHOLZ | A lurid exhibit in Union Square, site of the city’s largest Greenmarket, ended Sunday, after a weeklong presentation attacking psychiatry as an evil industry with a history mired in racism and “dangerous” practices, including excessive use of antipsychotic drugs and electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT).

There was even a picture of Adolf Hitler and commentary from a speaker linking psychiatry to Nazi atrocities in medicine, all during the Mental Health Awareness Month of May. It was all likely to give attending New York neurotics in the early Woody Allen mode cascading anxiety attacks.

Titled “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death,” the free expo was hosted by the Los Angeles-based Citizens Commission on Human Rights. The nonprofit group was founded in 1969 by late Hungarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, an author and former psychiatry professor in New York, and members of the controversial Church of Scientology. The pop-up had a grand opening May 5 at 37 Union Square West on the first floor below a HYPE gym. Managers at The Union Square Partnership business improvement district and Community Board 5 could not provide any information on how the exhibit obtained a lease.

Black-clad volunteers for CCHR handed out free tickets to the expo this past week in Union Square. One of the volunteers, who went by Chris, said he got involved with the group after his “grandfather was lobotomized” in a Chicago hospital.

Scientology is highly critical of psychiatry.

Chris noted that CCHR, which regards itself as a watchdog of the mental health industry, opened the exhibit to coincide with the group’s protest against the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) at the Javits Center from May 4 to May 8. The protest included an airplane banner with the ominous words: “Psychiatry Kills. Ban Electroshock.”

Tony Ortega, a New York journalist who covers Scientology, said no demonstrators showed up, a claim denied by a young organizer on Sunday: “I can’t talk to you anymore,” she said.

The APA did not respond to repeated requests for their views on Scientology and CCHR.

Asked why the exhibit in Union Square seemed to stereotype psychiatrists as engaged in abhorrent practices and prejudices out of Nazi Germany — many of them New York Jews — Beth Akiyama, executive director of the national affairs office at the Church of Scientology in Washington, D.C., replied: “Not all of them, just some of them.” She claimed the Church of Scientology has “millions” of adherents and compared it to Buddhism.

Anne Goedeke, who heads CCHR’s national affairs office, spoke during a midweek presentation attended by this reporter, noting that some of her comments had been drawn from a 2021 “apology” in The New York Times for psychiatry’s racist history by the American Psychiatric Association. (“Psychiatry Confronts Its Racist Past, and Tries to Make Amends,” published in 2021.)

A similarly themed CCHR Museum is in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard. The Daily Beast derided it as Scientology’s “secret propaganda museum.”

Scientology, whose members include prominent actors like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, was founded around 1954 by the now-deceased L. Ron Hubbard, a prolific science fiction writer, not long after the publication of his bestselling book “Dianetics,” about a system of mental health.

Scientology has been variously described as a cult, a business, a religion and a scam.

Its critics claim Scientology became a church to avoid prosecution for practicing medicine without a license. It has churches in New York, including one in the Theater District, at 227 W. 46th St., and a Harlem edifice, at 225 E. 125th St.


  1. Jennifer morris Jennifer morris May 14, 2024

    Great story!

  2. Sandy Sandy May 14, 2024

    This article left me wanting more information. So I dug. Like, why would you quote Tony Ortega? One who worked for Backpage as a writer, and makes all of his money in a questionable way, attacking one religion, wheres the money coming from?
    I toured the Museum in Los Angeles and they didn’t bring up Scientology, only gave the facts of the psychiatric industry, not a front group at all. This article is incorrect at the very least. CCHR is an International non-profit organization, that’s world wide, not Los Angeles, and CCHR has saved my family members life.

    • Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz May 15, 2024

      I suggest you check further about the origins and bizarre claims of the radical Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which accuses medically trained psychiatrists of criminal practices, including murder. Start with Wikipedia on “Citizens Commission on Human Rights, below:

      The Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (CCHR) is an anti-psychiatry lobbying organization established in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz.

      Formation: 1969
      Purpose: Anti-psychiatry

  3. Janet Wolfe Janet Wolfe May 14, 2024

    This was a truly outstanding article on a very complicated issue. Thank you!
    Dr Janet Wolfe, Clinical Psychologist, NYC

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