Anti-Psychiatry In The 21st Century

I just finished reading David Cooper’s The Language of Madness (1978), his last book. I’d been been talking to some folks about the views of various psychiatrists who had some issues with their own profession. I don’t think Anti-psychiatry: Quackery Squared (2009) was a very wise maneuver on the part of Thomas Szasz. Szasz, in his book, attacks the psychiatric left wing, anti-psychiatry. This puts Szasz in the very uncomfortable position of providing a defense to the very people he opposes, proponents of forced psychiatry. It also alienates him from potential allies, regarding psychiatry and force, because of political differences. The result of this publication was to provide even more fodder for opponents of abolition of forced treatment, and to weaken the position of proponents of abolition, that is to say, now you’ve got establishment psychiatrists claiming Szasz as one of their own at the very moment they are bashing him.

R.D. Laing and David Cooper I would call anti-establishment psychiatrists. Thomas Szasz was an anti-psychiatric-establishment, considering that the psychiatric establishment is all about force, psychiatrist. Thomas Szasz was not otherwise anti-establishment. He was no friend of the new left, nor of what was then known as the counter-culture, both of which both Laing and Cooper could claim to have a stake in. Laing eventually saw in madness religious experiences. For Cooper madness embodied political action. I would fault Laing, Cooper, and associates (especially Laing) for not going all the way, and clearly opposing coercive psychiatry. I don’t think everybody was necessarily on the same page about this matter. I would have thought that the guru of Kingsley Hall would have “got it”, to a greater degree anyway, but apparently he stopped short. Laing, to a certain extent, is being “rehabilitated”, “resuscitated” perhaps, by the media. David Cooper, unfortunately, in the process becomes more or less a footnote on stories regarding Laing.

I love the clarity found in the thought of Thomas Szasz. David Cooper’s thought is more fuzzy, but there is some, perhaps much, good to be found in it as well. The problem is how do you separate the sense from, if you will pardon the pun, the anti-sense in Cooper. One thing he does is quote Karl Marx, in relation to his followers, saying he was not a Marxist. He then makes a similar claim about anti-psychiatry, that nobody can be one. I might have agreed if he’d said he wasn’t Cooperian or a Cooperist, and especially as that means little more than a footnote anymore. Cooper eventually talks about a non-psychiatry movement as if it were the successor to his anti-psychiatry movement. My conception though of anti-psychiatry is as a promoter of non-psychiatry. He titled the final chapter, The Invention of Non-Psychiatry.

Non-psychiatry is coming into being. Its birth has been a difficult affair. Modern psychiatry, as the pseudo-medical action of detecting faulty ways of living lives and the technique of their categorization and their correction, began in the eighteenth century and developed through the nineteenth to its consummation in the twentieth century.

Etc., etc., etc.

The thing is, you don’t have to invent non-psychiatry as it existed long before psychiatry was ever ‘invented’. It exists, even with what Cooper calls psycho-technology, in the same world that psychiatry exists in. The government control and surveillance aspect of psychiatry may be a big thing, but it certainly isn’t everything. There is also the matter of what we mean when we say psychiatry. Psychiatry wasn’t even a word until the nineteenth century.

I see a lot of good in Cooper. He and Szasz might have even agreed about force. We will never know. Szasz thought of anti-communist as a “good” word. Cooper was laying his cards on world revolution. Cooper was a supporter of worker co-operatives and social experimentation. Szasz thought the only way to go with counseling/therapy was as a contractual matter between professional and client. The issue I have with David Cooper is that if he had looked maybe he could have seen that anti-psychiatry doesn’t have to exist within psychiatry (or the mental health system). I see him talking about anti-psychiatry changing psychiatry from within. I don’t think there is a big likelihood of its doing so. I think there is a much greater potential for anti-psychiatry to overtake psychiatry from outside of psychiatry. When the taxpayer becomes anti-psychiatry, well, there you go. Why would anybody be paying for something they don’t have to pay for, and especially when that something is torture, slavery, physical harm, and imprisonment?

Enough is enough when it comes to the anti-psychiatry of psychiatrists. If we’re going to have an anti-psychiatry movement, let it be dominated by people who aren’t psychiatrists. In other words, a few more survivors, a few more blacks, a few more women, etc. We will even consider a psychologist here or there. As people never tire of saying in the disability rights movement, “Nothing about us without us!” The monopoly by psychiatrists on the development of the theory and practice of anti-psychiatry is something pretty easy to remedy. I think, in fact, we are getting there, if we are not already there. Nobody needs a degree in psychiatry to oppose psychiatry. There is something to be said for non-psychiatrists, in fact, there is something to be said for non-Ivy League professionals, or even non-Wall Street speculators, opposing psychiatry. There is something to be said for people taking charge of their own lives, and with those lives, their bodies, and the health of those bodies.


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