R. D. Laing, Thomas S. Szasz, and Mental Patients’ Liberation

Maverick psychiatrist Ronald David Laing once defined madness as follows: “Insanity — a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.” This speaks to the theoretical divide between R.D. Laing and his contemporary, fellow psychiatrist Thomas Stephen Szasz. His attitude towards Laing, from the beginning, was that of almost a visceral rejection, but on the grounds that Laing was, in his eyes, dissolute or lacking in moral fiber. This sort of symbolizes the distance between these two figures often falsely associated in the public mind.

Laing was a seminal thinker for the decade that came to be known as “the turbulent sixties”. Thoms Szasz was an emigre from a Hungary that fell under the soviet orbit following WWII, and thus reflected an older and more established world view, although similar claims could be made there, too. Szasz disputed the idea of mental illness, and approved, when it came to treatment, only of a therapist client sort of arrangement, an arrangement that jived with free trade. Laing wanted to throw off the divisions between patient and therapist in his unstructured and freer environment, the experimental therapeutic community, or residence.

What Szasz saw in Laing’s therapeutic setting, in his social experiment, was collectivism, of which, regardless of whether you are looking at communism or monasticism, he violently disapproved. Laing, on the other hand, recognized some of his clients “issues” as situational and social rather than imaginary and isolated. The theory is simple, you put some plants in one environment, and they are going to shrivel and die, however, if you transfer the same plants to another environment, they thrive. Animals, specifically the human animal, must be pretty much the same way.

There were other differences between the two, the stance of Szasz was moral. He was against forced treatment, and being against forced psychiatric treatment, he opposed the insanity defense as well. Laing, despite his social experiment, would never go so far as to oppose psychiatric force across the board. Power was something, for him, a psychiatrist might ruminate about, melodramatically, without relinquishing. He also was not beyond using the insanity defense, of which Szasz disapproved, in testimony before a court of law. Laing was operating under a mandate to live one’s life completely, and in so being, he would not be restricted by such moral constraints.

Another issue Szasz attacked Laing over was his use of psychiatric terminology, disease language, which he rejected. If “mental illness” was a myth, we shouldn’t speak of “problems in living”, as Szasz saw them, as “diseases”. Laing thought the disease theory, merely a theory, and not one that he necessarily subscribed to, but one he was not beyond utilizing in the interests of research and treatment. Basically it boils down to this. Laing served as an inspiration to those in favor of alternatives to forced and conventionally harmful treatments while Szasz served as an inspiration to those who would abolish forced treatment. Szasz’s approach to treatment focused more on accepting personal responsibility for one’s actions rather than evading that responsibility.

Thomas Szasz’s most famous book, in which he first expounded his views, The Myth of Mental Illness, was published in 1961, a year after he had published a landmark essay by the same title. R. D. Laing’s entrance into the published world began with The Divided Self, arguably his most famous book, in 1960. Kingley Hall, the first Laingian experiment, operated in London from 1965 – 1970. The mental patients’ liberation, or psychiatric survivor, movement began in 1969/1970 with the launch of the Lunatic Liberation Front in Portland, Oregon. The mental patients’ liberation movement, in so far as it existed, before becoming almost totally co-opted by federal financing, was against force and for “alternatives”, and thus, could be said to have been influenced and inspired by both figures.

Psychiatry, Critical Psychiatry, and AntiPsychiatry


I don’t know that I had ever encountered two words critical and psychiatry coupled together until I encountered it in book form with a copy of Critical Psychiatry: The Politics of Mental Health, edited by David Ingleby. This Critical Psychiatry was published in 1980, almost two decades before the network and website of the same name were established in 1990s UK. Critical Psychiatry, curiously enough, is also referenced in Anti-psychiatry: Quackery Squared (2009) by Thomas Szasz. Critical Psychiatry, as it is delineated in the book here, sets out to distance itself from the anti-psychiatry it associates with the 1960s.

The idea that psychiatry is a political issue is, of course, one which was first brought into public view by the ‘anti-psychiatrists’ who gained prominence during the late 1960s — Laing, Cooper, Basaglia, Szasz and others. Each of these figures stood for a different approach, and all have therefore disowned the umbrella label of ‘anti-psychiatry; Laing’s work led him into a therapeutic concern with fundamental existential issues, while for Cooper ‘anti-psychiatry’ was replaced by ‘non-psychiatry’, as the questions resolved themselves into more purely political ones. Basaglia sent his staff out of the hospital into the community at large; while Szasz denounced all these varieties of ‘creeping socialism’, and insisted that psychiatrists should return to a contractual relationship with the patient, aimed simply at promoting individual liberty. Yet despite their differences, all these figures were united in seeing the scientific image of psychiatry as a smokescreen; the real questions were: whose side is the psychiatrist on? what kind of society does he serve, and do we want it?

Critical Psychiatry (1980), Introduction, Ingleby, pg. 8

Nonsense to a degree, but baring a residue of truth.

Later, in this same introduction, Ingleby channels us into the real distinction between their antipsychiatry and his critical psychiatry.

A word about the title: why ‘Critical Psychiatry’?
‘Psychiatry’ because, unlike David Cooper’s ‘non-psychiatrists’, the contributors to this volume all feel that mental illnesses — whatever their correct interpretation and their political significance may be — do exist, and furthermore call for specialized understanding and help…

Critical Psychiatry (1980), Introduction, Ingleby, pg. 18

The contributors to Ingleby’s book felt such to be true because they couldn’t know such to be true. That “mental illnesses” exist isn’t knowledge, really, so much as it is supposition. and, in the case of most people so diagnosed, presumption. Minds aren’t subject to disease, and diseased brains are the proper sphere of study for neurologists, not psychiatrists.

Critical Psychiatry versus Psychiatry

  • The predominate mode in psychiatry today is bio-medical psychiatry.
  • Bio-medical psychiatry sees mental disorder as largely biological.
  • Critical psychiatry questions, if not the biological basis for mental disorder, the extent of that basis.
  • Critical psychiatry then sees social, psychological, and environmental factors as no less important to the formation of mental disorder than biology.

The Bio In Biological Psychiatry

  • While some mainstream psychiatrists have cautioned against a bio-bio-bio approach to psychiatry,
  • Calling it extreme and claiming to be bio-psycho-social in approach.
  • The difference is in how much emphasis is placed on the biological.
  • It is much more permissible for a critical psychiatrist to envision a mental disorder without a basis in biology while it is practically considered heresy for a biological psychiatrist to do so.

Antipsychiatry versus Critical Psychiatry

  •  At the heart of the matter is the validity of psychiatric diagnosis.
  •  Critical psychiatry supports the notion of mental disorder.
  • Antipsychiatry dismisses the notion of mental disorder as a popular fiction.

Abolition versus Reform

  • Reformism = more or less forced treatment.
  • Reformism when it comes to force is a matter of degree: law and order reformers want more, socially progressive reformers want less.
  • Abolition = NO non-consensual coercive psychiatric treatment.
  • It is only through mental health law that you get non-consensual coercive treatment.
  • Repeal mental health law, and non-consensual coercive treatment is what it is everywhere else, that is, criminal assault.

The issue of abolition of forced treatment is pivotal. I find it very hard to consider anybody who doesn’t support the abolition of forced treatment antipsychiatry. Critical psychiatry, in the main, remains reformist, that is, critical psychiatry would opt for less force. More mainstream psychiatrists, also reformist, could go either way, for more or for less, on the force issue. Abolitionists would have mental health law repealed, or the UN CRPD, which could potentially outlaw forced treatment through international law, endorsed. Should psychiatry itself be abolished? First things first. Some might not think so, but as for myself, I’m not setting myself up to be the psychiatrist’s friend on this matter.

Antipsychiatry Redux

  • Antipsychiatry is not a throw-back to the sixties and seventies.
  • Antipsychiatry has not disappeared. If antipsychiatry has gone underground, due to the success of the failure of psychiatry, antipsychiatry has also managed to remain above ground. Antipsychiatry can’t entirely be forced underground until all the governments in the world have been replaced by a world psychiatric institution. Just because such hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it is outside of the realm of possibility.
  • Antipsychiatry has merely progressed beyond the antipsychiatry of psychiatrists, and even the antipsychiatry of the mental health profession.
  • Psychiatrists are hardly the only people in the world capable of promoting non-psychiatry.
  • Psychiatry being bigger than ever before, and also being a bigger failure at recovering people to non-psychiatry from its diagnoses and treatments than ever before, justifies the existence of its nemesis, that is, antipsychiatry.
  • The problem, in other words, is not that people have “mind sicknesses”, the real problem is the profession of psychiatry that identifies, and lives off of, its postulated “mind sickness”. The solution to this problem is more tolerance for human difference (i.e. an end to the profession of psychiatry).

May Is Mental Health Fraud Unawareness Month

Officially designated Mental Health Awareness Month way back in 1949, ever since the month of May might unofficially be more aptly referred to as Mental Health Fraud Unawareness Month. May is the month in which people pretend that there is such an animal, despite no evidence to speak of, as “mental illness”, and that mental health treatment, the animal’s obverse, in some fashion would help alleviate this theoretical disease and philosophical abstraction.

When mental health awareness has something to do with the acknowledging of medical conditions where there are no medical conditions, well, you should be able to see what I mean by fraud. Psychiatry has, with it’s DSM, for some time been categorizing misbehavior, that is breaking rules unwritten into law, as illness. Nobody is going to end violent crime by medicalizing it. Simply put, misbehavior is not pre-crime, and crime is not disease. To treat them as such, and to call it awareness, is similar in nature to calling a blindfold reading glasses, and vice versa.

The worst of the mental health frauds to come out Mental Health Fraud Unawareness Month concerns the fact that a large amount of energy is directed during this month towards labeling and treating children for imaginary diseases. The first of the month in fact contains a designated National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, and in some cases, Week. Generally speaking this means that the mental health treatment of children is promoted in a big way. The problem is that before you “provide” a child with mental health treatment, that child requires a “mental illness” label to justify such treatment.

What would be preventative, where mental health authorities are concerned, is rather more causative than anything else. You’ve got one statistic that dramatizes the failure of organized psychiatry more than any other, and that statistic says that fully 1/2 of all lifelong mental cases were diagnosed by the age of 14 years old. Diagnose more children “mentally ill”, and you are going, of necessity, to get more lifelong cases of “mental illness”. Cease and desist at labeling children, and the lifetime “mental illness” rate will shrink correspondingly. The word used to describe children, much more appropriately than “ill”, particularly where there is no actual physical disease, is innocent.

Another matter that is, of course, going to addressed during Mental Health Fraud Unawareness Month are anti-“stigma” campaigns. When you’ve got people incorrigibly malingering in the mental health system, their sense of entitlement gives them much good cause to campaign against “stigma”. You can’t really be maintained at tax-payer expense when there is no reason for doing so, and what is being called “disease” supplies some people with that rational. The issue that is ignored here is that prejudice and discrimination, the matters underlying the concept of “stigma”, actually stem from the law that allows for non-consensual treatment rather than from any real disease that can be pinpointed and isolated. End non-consensual psychiatry, and you’ve just erased the entire rational behind the so-called “stigma”.

Mental Health Fraud Unawareness Month makes it all the more urgent for those of us with some kind of inside knowledge on the subject to educate the general public about mental health fraud and abuse. Although there is, at the present juncture in time, no Mental Health Fraud Awareness Month, the damage done by so called Mental Health Awareness Month would seem to make such a designation all the more urgent and necessary. Lives are being destroyed by that mistreatment which goes by the name of mental health on a daily basis, and until we recognize it for what it is, even more lives are going to be lost. When we start saving lives, rather than throwing them away, you can bet that the “mental illness” rate will start to contract rather than expand as it more typically does. That’s got to tell you something. Mental health fraud is no way to treat a person you care about.

Regarding The Stigma of Mental Health

Within the mental health movement community, there is a stigma attached to mental health, as odd as that may sound. Little wonder, too. What with mental health insurance parity, social security disability payments, Medicaid, and Medicare, receiving a “mental illness” diagnosis can be a little like winning the lottery. One is thereby set for life in the sense that all one’s needs are taken care of, and there is no need to ever seek gainful employment again. Thing is, some people still have a few qualms about taking a permanent vacation from life for one reason or another.

The government itself, President Obama last June, and Michelle Obama just this month, are talking about fighting some stigma directed against the “mentally ill” which has to do with some stigma against seeking “mental health treatment”, as if that “mental health treatment” were the be all end all of existence. Why? Because they would be treating people who don’t think they are “ill” against their will and wishes. The fact is people are not rushing to receive this mental health treatment, not because of stigma, but because they don’t feel they are “sick” and they don’t want “treatment” for some “illness” that they feel they don’t have in the first place in the majority of cases.

The mental health industry has some notion that approximately 1/4 the population of the USA should be diagnosed “mentally unhealthy” or “mentally sick”. 2/3 of this population aren’t keen on the idea. The government therefore must convince this population that they are “sick”, that there is nothing wrong with being “sick”, that they should receive treatment, and that there is nothing wrong with receiving this treatment either. If they can’t convince them, maybe they can convince everybody else. If they can convince everybody else, it doesn’t matter whether they are “ill” or not, so long as they are corralled into treatment. What they can’t have is the freedom of choice that would allow one to decline such treatment and that comes of full citizenship.

You see where so-called serious so-called mental illness is concerned the mental health industry throws up its hands. Treatment has been basically a confirmation of failure across the board. Once you’ve got people convinced that they are beyond the pale of “health” so-to-speak, and you’re a quack doctor, you’ve more or less won the game. You’ve got all these people that you can spend your entire working life humoring, and for this you get paid a rather respectable salary. Recovery no longer means recovery of “sanity”, or of stability, or of “health”, recovery is now a matter of religion, in other words, this false god meaning all things to all people.

At this point, pretending to be “ill”, and receiving taxpayer money, becomes confused in jargon and reality with entitlement. Just consider, suddenly the misfortune of diagnosis would be confused with the honor of a bestowed title, and the afflicted is in a better position than the person who has only his or her wits to rely on. Benevolence and malevolence become indistinguishable. The person who has been crippled by misdirected charity would be mistook for the person who has been crippled as the result of a debilitating accident. The malinger can’t be malingering because the malinger has experts who call his or her malingering a disease, a lifelong incurable disease.

Some of us used to have a different sort of movement. We had a movement for liberating people from the mental patient role. A person who is no longer a mental patient is no longer “mentally ill”. Today you have a mental health service “consumer” or “user” movement. Need I point out that there is little liberation in that “consumption” or “utilization” until it ceases. “Consumption” can’t be eternal because death, sooner or later, is going to intervene. I’m one who still thinks it is easier to cease to consume one’s “Illness”, harm, and oppression than it is to let the system destroy oneself. What do you get out of that system? People saying that there is some kind of stigma involved in avoiding mental health treatment, that is, in NOT assuming the mental patient role. I tend to disagree with this appraisal, but then I’m no longer a mental patient, having gotten out of the system long ago.

What Virginia needs now is more mental patients. You think?

Some people in politics in the state of Virginia don’t have a lick of sense.  Case in point…

Last summer, Del. Joseph Yost, R-Pearisburg, invited educators, guidance counselors, school nurses and parents to a meeting to talk about his idea to begin screening all public school children for signs of mental illness.

The story in The Daily Progress bears the heading, Virginia to study benefits of mental health screening for school children.

I would imagine he has read the usual propaganda, and that’s why he wants to bust more school children for “mental illness”. Should a person read this propaganda, they will learn, for instance, that 1 in 4 people have a diagnosable “mental illness”. I suspect the industry is over extending itself a little here in the interests of drumming up more business. Busting 1 in 4 human beings for “mental illness” strikes me as overkill. Busting 1 in 4 children? I hold my tongue.

With too many unanswered questions, Yost said he decided to scale back his grand plan to one that could gain approval in the General Assembly. The result is that the state will study the benefits of offering voluntary mental health screenings in public elementary schools.

You’re much closer to 1 in 4 if you have mandatory screenings, ditto totalitarian governments, but voluntary screenings are going to up the “mental illness” labeling rate much more than the no screenings you have at present. Personally, I like no screenings. I don’t see why anybody in their right, or wrong mind for that matter, would want an increase the number of mental patients in the state, country, world, etc.

All the same, what “benefits of offering voluntary mental health screenings”? More people in butterfly nets?

Children with untreated mental illnesses are at risk of doing poorly in school, running afoul of the criminal justice system, abusing drugs and attempting and committing suicide.

Uh, let me remind you, children without “mental illnesses” are at risk of doing poorly in school, running afoul of the criminal justice system, abusing drugs and attempting and committing suicide. Life, as the saying goes, happens, or not, as the case may be. Labeling kids and drugging them has not been shown to be a particularly effective deterrent to any one of the behaviors he mentions.

The question that hasn’t been asked, and that should be asked is, does labeling and drugging children stop them from “doing poorly in school, running afoul of the criminal justice system, abusing drugs and attempting and committing suicide”? Or does it, in fact, contribute to this sort of destructive misbehavior.

Let me enlighten you, if you haven’t got a clue, the “mental illness” rate has been soaring for years. Somebody said something about, theoretically biologically, 1/4 of the population of the United States having actually caught the “bug”. Er, and this only means, that the experts would label and drug 1/4 of the population. Why else give the public such mental health screening tests!?

Well, there are more college graduates than ever before in this country. Oddly enough, just as in the mental health centers, 1 in 4 Americans are now expected to graduate from college. Unfortunately, in the fields of entertainment, where college was never essential, and politics, we can see the sad results of this focus on education. I’ve only scratched the surface of the problem here, by the way, all you have to do is consider all the irrelevant and useless, not to mention ridiculous, research projects undertaken at all sorts of universities, and funded by the public, to get the idea that something is off kilter.

The same can be said for federal penitentiary inmates. 1 % of the population of the USA is presently behind bars. This is a much larger percentage than exists in most other countries. Now whether psychiatric labels, and psychiatric drugs, keep people out of criminal justice establishments is another matter. One thing, for sure, is that they don’t keep people out of “mental health” clinics, and that sort of thing.

As for suicide, the suicide rate long ago surpassed that of murder, and I’m not at all sure that increasing the murder  rate proportionally would represent a proper antidote.

If anybody needs their head examined, we know where those bodies are. Perhaps a better idea would be to screen political candidates for “mental illness”. Even better, elected officials. Everybody agrees, there is a heck of a lot of “mental disorder” on Capitol Hill. Bust politicians for “mental illness”, and it would probably mean changing our perspective across the board regarding such inferred debility. Further, keep the public out of it. They don’t need any more “mental illness” than they’ve presently got.

Psychiatric Oppression Versus Human Rights

I had rather die with my “rights on” than live with my “rights off”. I think Nathaniel Hale put it best when he said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Put another way, slavery is not the sort of institution that I feel needs reestablishing.

This is why I am dismayed to find people in the mental health system so brain washed as to be opposed to their own civil liberties and human rights. It is one thing to have another person argue for your subhuman status, it is quite another thing when you are the person arguing for your own subhuman status and maltreatment.

Even given these arguments, you are not going to find me arguing for inequality under the law. I don’t have to put words into your mouth when I can use my own. I am not a person to argue for treating human beings in such a dreadful manner.

The problem is that the opportunist, the careerist, who will do anything to hold onto his or her job, and his or her status, would do anything to keep that job, including joining in chorus with the person who argues for his or her subhuman status. These two birds have much in common, not rocking the boat, and upholding the status quo, as long as it serves their purposes, monetarily or security wise.

Arguing against the human rights of human beings is always going to be a threat to liberty. Should you sway your audience, a certain percentage of them could end up being treated as if they were less than human. The question then becomes, as was the situation before the 1860s, what group of people should embody that percentage.

Although the mental patients, oops, consumer movement may have overtaken the mental patients liberation movement, I still consider myself a part of the latter movement. I don’t think employment as a mental health patient or a mental health worker is the way to go. Out of both of these roles, what do you get? You get an expanding mental health system and an epidemic of “mental illness” labeling.

You can plead for your own abduction, torture, imprisonment, impoverishment, death, ignominy, etc. as much as you please. Don’t expect me to follow suit. The mental health system, based as it is upon fraud and oppression, is ultimately a form of parasitism, and all of us could live much better (and longer I dare say) without it.

I continue to count myself among the few who are completely opposed to the kind of fraud and imposture that the mental health system represents. Provide a use for your throw away people, a use beyond working the loony bins themselves, even the community loon bins, and you have, more or less, solved a big part of the problem. The system is a blood sucker, and it is the kind of a blood sucker about which you could say, when the problem has finally been dealt with, without the slightest remorse, good riddance!