Denial of existence of mental illnesses is one of the key assertions among proponents of anti-psychiatry. STEPHANIE XU/THE VARSITY

The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) is offering a scholarship in antipsychiatry, a controversial discipline notably pushed by the Church of Scientology that denies the existence of mental illnesses and sees psychiatry as dangerous and ineffective.

The scholarship, known as the Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Anti-Psychiatry, will be offered through the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) for a thesis student studying antipsychiatry.

The scholarship’s namesake is matching each donation up to $50,000. Burstow, an Associate Professor at OISE in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education has been studying antipsychiatry for four decades.

“It has been proven conclusively that there are no biological indicators for what’s called mental illness,” Burstow claimed, in an interview with The Varsity. Burstow blames what she characterizes as capitalist intentions behind the pharmaceutical psychiatric approach and stated, “We are looking at massive human rights violations. People who have in fact committed no crime are being hauled off to psychiatric institutions and forced onto brain-damaging drugs.”

The Canadian branch of Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a non-profit anti-psychiatry organization founded by the Church of Scientology in 1969, praised the scholarship on its Facebook page, calling it “very, very good news” and Burstow “a rock star.”

When asked about its endorsement of the scholarship, the CCHR echoed many of Burstow’s sentiments on a supposed lack of medical validity for psychiatry.

Burstow emphasized that she has no affiliation with the CCHR: “I’m an activist and there are no Scientology organizations that I belong to.” Dr. Burstow advocates for a future in the psychiatric industry that provides “non-medical, non-coercive help for people who want it.”

When asked to comment on the scholarship, U of T Media Relations Director Althea Blackboard-Evans told The Varsity, “The whole reason for being a university is to create a forum where issues can be openly discussed and debated. Sometimes that debate can be uncomfortable and challenging. People will absolutely disagree with one another and sometimes people will disagree with the validity of that area of study as well; ultimately, it is not up to the university to cut down on one side or the other, but to support that academic freedom.”

Dr. Benoit H. Mulsant, who is the Department Chair for the Department of Psychiatry, made similar remarks: “Universities are places where free inquiry is supported. The Department of Psychiatry will continue to prepare the next generation of psychiatrists. Doing so, we strive to uphold the highest standards of the profession, consistent with the latest research that ensures the well-being of individuals with mental disorders.”

Dr. Charles Pascal, a Professor of Applied Pyschology and Human Development added, “When people are upset about these kind of things, it’s usually because they’re insecure about what they’re doing. And the best instrument for them to pick up is a mirror.”

He continued, “This discourse is what the University of Toronto is all about. It gets us to live in the grey area and avoid the black and white.”

Editor’s note: The sub-headline of this article has been altered in order to clarify Dr. Burstow’s position.

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