The Definition of Antipsychiatry Updated


Although the Wikipedia page on the subject of antipsychiatry goes a good bit farther, the only dictionary definition of antipsychiatry on the internet readily available that I found was that supplied by Collins English Dictionary at

an approach to mental disorders that makes use of concepts derived from existentialism, psychoanalysis, and sociological theory.

Given that the term is used to refer to the views of dissident mental health professionals, psychiatric survivors, Scientologists, conspiracy theorists, conservative political commentators, academics of all persuasions, random citizens, etc., etc., etc. I find it, as far as definitions go, thoroughly inadequate.

A preferable approach, not to anything called “mental disorders”, but rather to defining the word antipsychiatry, would be to look at the component parts of the word itself. You take the prefix anti, meaning against or in opposition to, and add it to the word psychiatry, meaning the study and treatment of “mental disorders”, and then you can envision better what you’ve got en toto. In other words, a more embracive definition might be as follows.

opposition to the practice and profession of psychiatry.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because of a dialogue I’d been having with a person who, under the intellectual influence of Thomas Szasz biting criticism of what was referred to as antipsychiatry on the European continent, was saying that the antipsychiatry of R.D. Laing and David Cooper, and here we mean the antipsychiatry of David Cooper as R. D. Laing came to disavow the term, was actually a school of psychiatry to be opposed by people who are part of an antipsychiatry movement, real or imagined.

A primary criticism Szasz leveled at Cooper, by the way, which hopefully we have hereby surmounted, is that he never defined the term. Again, simply look at the definition of the prefix, and the definition of the word it is attached to, and I think we have that territory, more or less, covered.

On another level, we have to look at the term as it has been used historically, and I think to do so, we should be speaking in the plural, rather than of antipsychiatry, of antipsychiatrys, that is to say, I don’t think there is one homogeneous grouping of people that can be called antipsychiatry, but that rather it is a heterogeneous grouping of people that might conceivably come under a blanket description covered by this appellation.

  • Anti-bio-medical psychiatry (R. D. Laing, David Cooper, Critical Psychiatry Network, etc.)
  • Anti-non-consensual coercive psychiatry (Thomas Szasz)
  • Anti-bio-medical psychiatry + anti-non-consensual coercive psychiatry (early psychiatric survivor movement 1969-1985[?])
  • Anti-the-profession-and-practice-of-psychiatry (grassroots anti-psychiatry activism today)

Also, some of these people would definitely not refer to themselves as antipsychiatry while others of them would be emphatic in their identification with the term. Many of the leading authorities of the reigning biological medical model of psychiatry are prone to refer to all critics of their approach to the treatment of mental disorders by the term antipsychiatry. This leaves us with another set of antipsychiatrys, plural, when it comes to use of the term.

  • People who don’t identify themselves as antipsychiatry but who are identified as antipsychiatry by others—the slandered.
  • People associated with antipsychiatry (or the antipsychiatry movement) who don’t themselves identify with the term, or who would not personally be identified with it, but who yet remain an influence—philosophic or theoretical association.
  • People who identify themselves as antipsychiatry—the partisan resistance.
  • People who identify themselves as antipsychiatry, and say that others who also identify themselves as antipsychiatry are not really antipsychiatry, or true versus false antipsychiatry–factionalism.

Another reason for writing this piece is to dismiss the idea, so often circulated, that antipsychiatry is a thing of the past, a movement, or an approach to problematic persons, that belongs to the 1960s and 1970s, and that is no longer relevant to current concerns, and to contemporary times. Antipsychiatry was around before the word was coined, it is still with us today, and it will  be with us in the future. Antipsychiatry, in fact, will be around so long as people are having their human rights violated by  oppression within the psychiatric system. Antipsychiatry is still very much alive and kicking, and if it ever remits, that remission is only a surface matter, as it is always under the skin, and threatening to bubble over into the body-politic of day to day life and living. Psychiatry, on the other hand, at present is often said to be undergoing a crisis. Antipsychiatry, however, is confident that this crisis will resolve itself somehow in a manner that will not prove favorable to psychiatry.


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