The Church of Scientology and controversy go hand in hand. Whether it's the out-there teachings of L. Ron Hubbard or the escape stories of former Scientologists, the group is a lightning rod for debate - and seems to welcome discord through Scientology-run programs. The Church of Scientology oversees a host of museums, including Psychiatry: An Industry of Death. This museum condemns contemporary psychiatric practices and pharmaceuticals.
The museum brings the mental health industry into question as it asks, "Is psychiatry real?" Scientologists say no, and with this museum, they hope to persuade others to think the same.
At first glance, the organization that runs the museum - the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) - sounds like a legitimate association. The group's website says it is "responsible for helping to enact more than 150 laws protecting individuals from abusive or coercive practices."
Dr. Thomas Szasz and the Church of Scientology co-founded the organization in 1969. The group uses the philosophy of logical positivism to discredit mental health professionals and drugs commonly prescribed for psychological issues. The group says if there is non-empirical proof of problems, then these treatments are just a money grab that can lead to deaths.
One exhibit insinuates that psychiatry was the root cause of the Holocaust. The 19th-century German professor Wilhelm Wundt claimed the eternal soul isn't real, and that humans aren't much different from animals in that sense. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights sees a direct link between Wundt and Adolf Hitler, claiming Wundt's psychological work "laid the foundation for one of the most destructive eras in man's history."
The museum argues that since Wundt declared humans to be mere animals, Hitler felt justified in treating entire groups of humans as disposable. The exhibit also notes that a proliferation of German psychiatrists joined Hitler's cause, failing to point out that Germans of nearly every profession did the same.
Moreover, the exhibit claims psychiatrists demanded billions in funding to assist with an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder following the September 11 attacks. Scientology does not believe such a disorder exists, but they think psychiatrists benefited financially from the events of 9/11.
According to a Vice author who visited the museum, one of the first exhibits guests walk through suggests that a psychiatrist, Benjamin Rush, was responsible for George Washington's death. Rush was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and his studies in mental disorders earned him the moniker "the Father of American Psychiatry," as well.
Rush advocated bloodletting as a medical treatment, and other doctors followed suit. He did not personally treat Washington. Mount Vernon overseer George Rawlins and family physician Dr. James Craik used bloodletting at the president's request for his "inflammatory quinsy."
Washington died at the age of 67, but experts don't believe the actual bloodletting killed him. Many hypothesize he died of diphtheria or bacterial epiglottitis. Still, the museum uses Rush and his advocacy of bloodletting to condemn the practice of psychiatry as a whole. "The father of American psychology killed the father of the United States of America," reads a plaque in the establishment.