R.D. Laing & Anti-Psychopathology:
The Myth of Mental Illness Redux

Michael Guy Thompson
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(Adapted from a presentation given today at the “R.D. Laing in the 21st Century” symposium, at Wagner College in Staten Island, NY)

I would like to share with you some thoughts I have about R. D. Laing’s conception of psychopathology. This is not an easy topic to explore, in part because Laing was somewhat ambivalent about the concept and avoided even using this term. In The Politics of Experience, for example, Laing famously questioned whether schizophrenia, the form of psychopathology he is most identified with, even exists! Yet many of the people Laing saw in therapy suffered terribly and saw him in therapy in the hope that he could help them relieve their anguish. But what, precisely, was it that Laing was helping them be relieved of, if not a psychopathological condition? Surely, if there is a bona fide thing such as “therapy,” then there must be some condition or state, however we regard or label it, that the process of therapy presumes to relieve. What else is the one person, the patient, paying the other person, the therapist, for?

I will never forget when Thomas Szasz, the author of The Myth of Mental Illness, accused Laing in the 1970s of betraying the cause of anti-psychiatry by continuing to engage in treating the mentally ill, though Laing himself condemned the psychiatric community for the way they conducted this practice. Szasz built his career around the notion that mental illness is a myth, that there is no such thing as an “illness” of the mind, and that psychiatry had orchestrated a hoax by insisting that mental illness does exist and that psychiatrists are treating it. Szasz argued that Laing was merely advocating a more benign form of treatment than, say, drugs, lobotomy, or electric shock, but that it was treatment nonetheless Laing was advocating and, by it, perpetuating the same hoax as those psychiatrists whom Laing was so critical of. The gauntlet that Szasz threw down was undeniably direct: Do you believe in psychopathology or not; and if you don’t, then what is it exactly you claim you are “relieving,” if not mental illness?

Laing, in fact, did not believe in psychopathology, not in the way we have come to understand this concept, which derives from the medical term pathology, literally meaning suffering. The first psychotherapists were physicians and the term psychiatry, which was only coined in the nineteenth-century, became the medical specialty of doctors whose mandate was to treat the psyche or the soul, or as we prefer today, the mind. Laing’s first book, The Divided Self, was his most concerted effort to show why psychiatrists, and for the most part psychoanalysts, have misunderstood the kind of suffering that people labeled schizophrenic, say, are experiencing, and why psychiatric nomenclature does little to help us understand the phenomena so labeled. If what psychiatrists believe they are treating is, as Laing suggested, not schizophrenia, or any form of psychopathology, then what is it they are treating? And why are we calling the activity we are engaged in treatment, or its derivative, therapy?

In order to ponder these questions I want to focus on some of the arguments Laing put forward in The Divided Self, and then try as best I can to explain why Laing believed that what we do, while not a specifically medical activity, may nonetheless be termed “therapy.” Though some of my comments will be based on Laing’s writings, for the most part I will rely on my personal relationship with Laing, which includes being supervised by him while I was training as a psychotherapist at Laing’s school in 1970s London, and over the course of numerous informal conversations I enjoyed with him over the course of many years.

The subtitle that Laing assigned to The Divided Self was, “an existential study in sanity and madness.” It was not an existential study in “psychopathology.” Why this distinction? Are they not the same thing? To answer this, I want to take a look at what Laing set out to accomplish in this study, why he qualifies it as a study that is specifically existential in nature, and how this classic work laid the foundation for everything that Laing would write subsequently.

As Laing says in the preface to that work, this book is “a study of schizoid and schizophrenic persons,” and its basic goal “is to make madness, and the process of going mad, comprehensible.” At the outset, the diagnostic language Laing employs is readily familiar to every psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who works with this population. Terms such as psychotic, schizoid, schizophrenic, paranoid – all standard nosological entities with which therapists the world over are familiar –proliferate throughout this book. He is speaking their language, so to speak, but the meaning he is assigning to these terms is anything but ordinary. Laing explains that he has never been very skillful in recognizing the diagnostic categories that are standard in every psychiatric diagnostic manual in the world, including the DSM that is used in America. He had trouble recognizing the subtle nuances that are supposed to distinguish, for example, the various types of schizophrenia, of which there are many, or even what distinguishes them from other forms of psychotic process, such as paranoia, or bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depression.

None of these terms are written in stone. In fact, they are constantly changing and undergo revision in every new edition of the DSM. So what is Laing saying here? He is not suggesting that he is too stupid to understand the complexity of these entities. Rather, he is suggesting that because there is no agreement in the psychiatric community as to how to recognize these symptoms and the mental illness they are purported to classify, it is impossible to take them seriously. No two practitioners agree on how to diagnose a person, and given the never ending revisions to these categories, practitioners often change their own minds as to how to recognize what it is they are proposing to diagnose and treat. This is hardly the science it is purported to be.

What did Laing conclude from this disarray in categorization? That there is no such thing as mental illness, or psychopathology, so no wonder there is no agreement as to what “it” is. When a doctor sets out to diagnose a typical medical illness, he customarily looks for physical symptoms in his patient. The color or tone of the skin, dilation of the pupils, body temperature, and so on may indicate an abnormality. Additional tests may be administered that examine the blood or urine, and if that fails to provide conclusive results, perhaps x-rays, CAT scans, EKG’s, heart stress tests, mammograms or prostrate exams – all ways of examining the chemistry or interior of the body – may be utilized in order to hone in on what is malfunctioning. For so-called psychiatric symptoms, however, such tests will be of virtually no use, because no one will locate any of the symptoms of psychopathology inside or on the surface of one’s body. Even an examination of the brain, which is now the darling of neuropsychiatrists and neuropsychoanalysts, will never locate the presence of any form of mental or emotional disturbance that we can label a mental illness.

Instead, what we can examine is the behavior of the person being diagnosed, whether, for example that person is suffering from delusions or hallucinations, confusion, disorganization, incoherent speech, withdrawal, flights of fancy; or depression, anxiety, dissociation or maladaptation, or perhaps a persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood! This list is hardly inclusive, but what all these symptoms have in common is that they refer to experiences that everyone has, at one time or another. Even delusions and hallucinations, the gold standard for schizophrenia, are common in dreams, and not all that uncommon when we are awake. Yet most people who exhibit or experience these so-called symptoms are never subjected to a formal diagnosis or treated for them. So why is it that some people are and some people are not? Why are some people deemed crazy and others sane, when they exhibit the same symptoms?

These are some of the questions that Laing pondered in The Divided Self, but he never arrived at a satisfactory answer. In matters of the mind, the act of diagnosis can just as often be a political as medical ceremonial. Laing believed that we will never succeed in understanding such phenomena as long as we persist in looking at people from an alienating, and alienated, point of view. It is the way that we look at each other, the way that psychiatrists and psychoanalysts typically look at a patient, that Laing believed is the crux of the problem. The reason Laing calls The Divided Self an existential study instead of, say, a psychiatric, or psychoanalytic, or even psychological study is because the existential lens is a supremely personal way of looking at people; a person to person manner of regarding others and recognizing them, as Harry Stack Sullivan said, as more human than otherwise. This is another way of saying that the person, or patient I am treating, is not a sick person, but a person like me. And it is the fact that he is just like me that makes it possible for me to understand and empathize with him in the first place.

Laing began writing The Divided Self while still working at a mental hospital in Glasgow, when he was just in his twenties. It doesn’t sound like he had an opportunity to do much psychotherapy there, but he did have lots of time to hang out with the patients under his charge, all of them diagnosed as schizophrenic. Instead of looking for symptoms of recognizable forms of psychopathology, Laing sought instead to simply talk to his patients, as he was fond of saying, “man to man,” and to listen to what they had to tell him. What he heard, which he recounts in The Divided Self, is nothing short of amazing. They told him stories about their life, their belief systems and experiences, the things that worried them and the things they thought about, day in and day out. The thing that I remember standing out for me when I first read this book – and I have probably read it a dozen times in the past forty odd years – was that I felt he was talking about me. This, from what I have subsequently gathered from others, is not an unusual experience. It is this reaction that has made this book the classic that it is.

Instead of trying to determine what makes “us” –  the sane ones – so different from “them” – the ones that are crazy – Laing sought instead to explore what we share in common. Laing used the term schizoid – quite common in Britain but only marginally employed in the U. S. – to depict a state of affairs that lies at the heart of every person labeled schizophrenic, as well as many who are not so schizophrenic. The common thread is this: that the person so labeled, in his or her personal experience, suffers from a peculiar problem in his relationships with others: he cannot tolerate getting too intimate with other people, but at the same time cannot tolerate being alone.

This is a terrible dilemma to be faced with. Most of us, says Laing, either hate to be alone and throw ourselves into the social milieu with others – Jung would have called them extroverts – or we can’t bear social situations and opt instead to spend most of our time alone. These more introverted, private individuals may be gifted writers or scientists or deep sea divers who are well suited to their relative isolation, whereas the extroverts among us make excellent politicians or actors or any number of other callings. In other words, we tend to incline in one direction or the other, and either may be a perfectly viable way of existing and living a happy life. The person who is schizoid, however, doesn’t excel at either. He cannot tolerate isolation, nor can he get genuinely close to others. He is caught in a vise, a kind of hell, that is rife with unrelenting anxiety, what Laing calls ontological insecurity, because simply existing is a serious and unrelenting problem for him.

When I first read this I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us are really all that comfortable being alone, and how many of us are truly all that comfortable in our relationships with others, which is to say, free from anxiety. Isn’t this a problem, for example, that psychotherapists typically share with their patients? Psychotherapy is a fabricated relationship whose purpose is to achieve uncommon intimacy with another person, while placing extraordinary constraints on it, conducted by two people who, to a considerable degree, have problems in their relationships with others. Isn’t this rather like the lame leading the blind? Laing didn’t think so, but he was acutely aware of the paradox, of how wounded a person must be to even want to spend all of his professional time in the company of people who are obsessed with their problems.

Laing, however, was not the first to recognize this paradox. Nor was he the first to accuse psychiatrists of employing means of helping others that are for the most part ineffectual. For that Sigmund Freud would have to be credited, arguably the first anti-psychiatrist. Freud was a neurologist, not a psychiatrist, and he was scathing in his technical papers about the psychiatrists of his day who, Freud believed, knew nothing about why their patients suffered and how to help them. Freud believed that people develop symptoms of hysteria and neuroses because they have been traumatized by unrequited love. He was the first to recognize the powerful effect that our parents, in fact all our social relationships, have over us and how our capacity to love is also the source of our greatest sorrows. Freud was also the first to recognize that our thirst for love is unquenchable, no matter how much we get, and that we are most vulnerable when intimate with another person. Laing loved this about Freud and was writing a book on love when he died. He had also hoped to write a book about Freud.

Yet Freud was not interested in the kind of person Laing described in The Divided Self, because he didn’t believe a person who was psychotic was capable of attaching himself to the psychotherapist who was treating him. Freud was right in recognizing how vulnerable such people are, but was mistaken in his views about their treatment. It has been argued that Laing accomplished for the so-called schizophrenic what Freud accomplished for the neurotic: a way of establishing an intimate relationship with them that may, in itself, serve as a vehicle for healing. Freud was unhappy with the brutal way that the hysterics of his day – mostly women – were typically treated, and even less happy with the prevailing understanding of psychopathology. Unlike psychiatrists, Freud did not believe in an us versus them mentality. He did not believe, for example, that some people are neurotic and that some people are not. He believed that everyone is neurotic and that this is an essential aspect of our human condition. So if everyone is neurotic and curing us of neurosis is not feasible, then what is psychotherapy good for?

Freud was never able to definitively answer this question. But if one reads between the lines, one can’t help concluding that Freud viewed anxiety and the other forms of alienation, that Laing was so good at describing, as an essential aspect of our human condition, so that what we call “ill” versus “healthy,” or crazy versus sane is not black or white, but a matter of degrees. If all of us are neurotic, some more or less than others, then all of us are also healthy or sane, to varying degrees. Though he was loathe to admit it, Freud rejected the concept of psychopathology as it is commonly understood, and replaced it with an existential perspective that emphasized the management of anxiety, as an inescapable aspect of living.

After The Divided Self Laing published its companion volume, Self and Others, where he continued his critique of psychoanalysis and the problems he had raised in The Divided Self. Whereas psychiatry had depersonalized the relationship between doctor and patient by pretending that it wasn’t a person, but rather his illness, that was being treated, psychoanalysts depersonalized the treatment relationship by insisting that it wasn’t the person or his body that was to blame, but his unconscious. Though psychoanalysis made extraordinary gains in humanizing the treatment relationship over prevailing psychiatric practices, Laing believed that both seem strangely incapable of formulating a genuinely symmetrical therapy relationship between equals. There have been notable exceptions to this, and Laing stood proudly on the shoulders of Sullivan, Fromm-Reichmann, Winnicott, and many other psychiatrists and psychoanalysts who advocated an interpersonal way of regarding their patients.

But Laing’s agenda was far more radical than simply being nicer, or kinder to his patients. Instead, his concern was with being more real, or authentic, or honest. This, he believed, could only happen of we stop objectifying our patients into diagnostic categories that only serve to separate them from us. Perhaps the model that best exemplifies what Laing advocated is not a relationship between therapist and patient, or parent and child, but one between friends. After all, friends confide in each other, and confiding is an essential aspect of how Laing conceived therapy. Laing suggested that therapists might even be called prostitutes, because what patients were buying from him was not treatment, per se, but a relationship. Whether we think of ourselves as friends or prostitutes to our patients, Laing didn’t have a problem with calling the people who paid to see him his “patients” any more than he had problems with calling what they were doing “therapy,” both undeniably medical terms. But isn’t this inconsistent with what he has been saying about the myth of psychopathology?

Whatever problem Laing had with the institution of psychiatry, he never had a problem with being a doctor. He was proud of his medical training, and while such training is not essential to the practice of therapy, he thought it was as good a way as any to enter the field. Laing was fond of pointing out that the word therapy is etymologically cognate with the term attention or attendant. In ancient Egypt a religious cult called the Therapeutae were literally attendants to the divine. So the term predates the subsequent medical appropriation of it by the Greeks. If we take the term literally, a therapist is simply a person who is attentive, or pays attention to the matter that concerns him. Similarly, a patient is literally a person who patiently bears his suffering without complaint. The term doesn’t necessarily refer to someone in medical treatment because the kind of suffering is not specific. Laing concluded that if you put these two terms together you get one person, the therapist, who attends and is attentive to the other person’s, or patient’s suffering. To what end? Hopefully, such attention, with enough patience, good will, and most importantly, time will lead to something, to a point where the patient no longer requires such attention and can get on without it. This is something that Thomas Szasz never understood. He seemed more interested in the legalities of the issue than he was with helping people.

According to Michel Foucault, a close friend of Laing’s, it was purely by accident that medical doctors became responsible for treating crazy people in the first place, in eighteen-century Europe. If fact, it is very recent in history that mad people were deemed mentally ill. Historically, people who acted crazy were thought to be possessed, either by evil spirits or by the gods. In the seventeenth century Europeans began to feel unsafe with the crazy people in their midst, who wandered the streets – not unlike the homeless people who wander around our cities – and began to confine them as a means of protection. Not surprisingly, such confinement made them even crazier and their jailors began chaining them to the walls of the Lunatic Asylums they put them in. They soon developed diseases, which only escalated their problems further until the French physician, Philippe Pinel, attended to their specifically medical conditions and observed that the way they were being treated was inhuman. Pinel argued they should instead be treated as sick people, in order to humanize their treatment. It was then, according to Foucault, that mad people were first deemed mentally ill.

This was a remarkable step forward in treating such people as human beings who deserved society’s help, but it also initiated the slippery slope that occasioned the birth of psychiatry and, with it, the diagnostic universe we now live in. Laing was proud of being a physician but recognized that we now find ourselves in an historical quandary. Like the Europe that invented the Lunatic Asylum, our society feels it needs to protect itself from crazy people, some of whom are undeniably dangerous and capable of savage violence, even murder. When the violence erupts, someone needs to make the call: are you crazy enough to lose, even temporarily, your constitutional rights and be confined to treatment – which is to say, medication – against your will? For better or worse, that task has been assigned to psychiatrists, and it has given them enormous power over those it deems dangerous, whether to themselves or others. Laing had no ready or easy solution to this problem, but believed that all of us are implicated in it.

In fact, Laing never formulated an overarching theory of psychopathology to replace the edifice that psychiatry and psychoanalysis have built. For the most part, his focus was on schizoid phenomena and schizophrenia, not as specific diagnostic categories but, like Freud’s conception of neurosis, as a metaphor for varieties of mental anguish that compromise our ability to develop satisfying relationships with others. As the subtitle of The Divided Self suggests, Laing was more comfortable thinking in terms of sanity and madness than psychopathology. But what does it mean to be crazy? And what does it mean to be sane?

These terms lack precise definition when compared, say, with the plethora of diagnostic categories in the DSM, because they are used colloquially, as a manner of speaking, so it’s up to each of us, individually, to determine how to employ them. Laing thought that the essence of what it means to be crazy, in the way that term is ordinarily used, can be broken down into three components, the combination of which will tell us how crazy a person is. The first concerns how a given person exercises his or her judgment; the second concerns how agitated that person may be; and the third concerns the lengths a given person will go to mitigate his anxiety.

Our use of judgment is probably the most critical of the three, because it determines how we make sense of things, including the situation we are facing at a given moment. The judgment of a person suffering a manic episode, for example, is said to be seriously compromised, but so is that of a person who suffers from acute paranoia or hallucinations. Our judgment is where we live, and there’s no escaping it, though we can improve it if – and only if – we have the presence of mind to realize that we can’t trust it. Yet, who gets to decide whether a given person’s judgment is impaired or sound? If I judge that I need help in improving my judgment and take my plight to a therapist, can I trust the judgment of that therapist over my own judgment, or not? I’m not going to get much out of therapy if I can’t trust his judgment, but who is to say that my therapist’s judgment is more sound than mine is? How can I make such a judgment if, say, I don’t trust my judgment? This is a problem, and one that Laing thought makes therapy almost, but not quite, impossible.

A person’s judgment is for the most part a private affair. The person who is crazed is often in a state of agitation, which others can’t help but notice. This state more than usually makes my judgments public, when, for example, I am about to leap off a tall building, or assault someone for no discernable reason. This is the prototypical image that we all have of the crazy person, who is acting crazy, and often in a manner that not only gets our attention, but scares us, because we don’t know what he is going to do next. Each of us has been crazed at some time or other, but the moment usually passes before any real harm has been committed. If it persists, that is a different matter, and things can quickly spiral out of our self-control. This is when I am most likely to be taken to a hospital, whether I want to go there or not.

The third way I may feel or appear crazed concerns what psychoanalysts call defenses, the maneuvers I employ to mitigate my anxiety. This was the issue that Laing was most concerned with in The Divided Self, the so-called schizoid person. We see his defenses in the way he engages in social space. As we noted earlier, this is a person who cannot tolerate being isolated from or being intimate with others because either position makes him intolerably anxious, so he walks a tightrope in the middle where he feels the least amount of anxiety, but still too much anxiety to effectively navigate his relationships. Much of what we do to cope with our anxieties does not appear crazy and does not feel crazy, and works for us, more or less. It is the most severe states of anxiety, such as ontological insecurity, that are the most problematic and may result in the most extreme measures to mitigate, such as catatonic withdrawal.

So if these criteria offer a rough and ready means of discerning what it means for me, or you, to be in a crazy state, what does it mean to be sane? It would more or less approximate the exact opposite of feeling crazy. Our judgment would be sound, relatively speaking; our use of defensive maneuvers would be minimal because we would bear our anxieties with relative indifference; and we would not be in a state of panic or agitation, but one of serenity, of feeling at peace with ourselves and the world. From this perspective, there are no crazy people, or sane people. Every single one of us goes from one state to the other in the course of our lives and oftentimes in the course of a single day. By this definition, all of us have been crazy, no matter how sane we are most of the time. If this were not so there would be no way for a psychotherapist to connect with or empathize with a person who has been diagnosed, say, schizophrenic. We can only help people with problems we ourselves have experienced.

Laing never developed an etiological theory of what “causes” us to become neurotic, or psychotic, or just plain crazy, though he clearly favored the environmental thesis over the biological. Neither model, Laing concluded, is satisfactory and, like the good sceptic he was, Laing believed that our mental states and what accounts for them are for the most part a mystery, and may always be. We may never know why this person is crazier than the next person, or why, in fact, all of us are crazy in some contexts and not so crazy in others. It seems that some people are capable of driving others crazy, but there are those who appear to be perfectly capable of becoming crazy on their own. He thought that common deception is a problem, but difficult to recognize. The bottom line, given the inherent ambiguity of the situation we are in, is to proceed cautiously, with a degree of humility, in how we treat such people when we meet them.

Whenever Laing addressed this topic, whether in writing or in public, he often invoked the Golden Rule. How would you, if you lost your wits, fell apart with grief or consternation, want to be treated by those who have you at their mercy? When the shoe is on the other foot, shouldn’t you treat them the way you would like to be treated? It is impossible to separate Laing’s thinking about psychopathology from the work of psychotherapy. If he met a mad person on the street who was threatening him, Laing would defend himself without hesitation and, if need be, ask the police to confine him. But if you wandered into his office, no matter how crazy you might be, and wanted his help, that was another matter. And that was the matter that concerned him, for the most part, over the course of his life. How to meet another person in dire straights, and how to treat that person in such a way that, in the name of the Hippocratic oath, you commit no harm.

And what of today? Twenty-five years after Laing’s death, are we more humane and compassionate in our treatment of those at our mercy? It is difficult to say. But one thing that we cannot deny, our culture has become even more “medicalized” than at any time in history. The medical metaphor that Laing found more or less acceptable when explaining what he thought therapy is, has become increasingly literal. In California, we even have medical marijuana. Pot is not just a pleasing way of altering our consciousness, it is also “medicine.” When you smoke pot you aren’t getting high, you are medicating yourself for whatever ailment you have convinced yourself you are suffering. You are no longer a pot smoker, you are a “patient.” More and more, anything that pains us is a condition that can be treated. If you are caught having extra-marital affairs with a dozen women, you are no longer a philanderer. You have a sex addiction, which is a condition for which you can be treated, so you are not responsible.

This development in our culture is creepy, because it implies that just about anything we do that might get us into trouble is simply a condition for which we bear no responsibility. Is this a sane way of proceeding? Is this what our capacity for judgment has come to? I think we can guess what Laing would have had to say about that.

57 COMMENTS

  1. Your presentation would have had a much different slant if it had been titled R. D. Laing and Anti-coercion. Coercion is not medicine. Should coercion be permitted in cases of madness because madness is not psychopathological? If so, it would seem, that perhaps this doctor of non-medicine, such as you would have R. D. Laing presume be, might be more caught up in the illegalities of the matter than, say, Thomas Szasz was in the “legalities”, as you put it. We are, after all, talking incarcerating people who have broken no law, except perhaps “mental health law”. They are people who are not literally “sick”, or to put it another way, they are people who are literally not sick. When the “help” you would provide isn’t harm, does it have to be imprisonment, and coercion? My issue, as a psychiatric survivor, with many of you would-be progressive psychiatrists is that you rationalize the use of force on patients. Forced treatment is not a right, it is a wrong perpetuated on others and, therefore, a violation of rights. Thomas Szasz supported the abolition of coercive mental health treatment. So do I. If you want to know what is wrong with psychiatry today, it is force. Real medicine isn’t coercive, just as real law requires actual infractions. All sorts of so-called “stigma”, discrimination, and prejudice stem from the fact that you have a law to lock up people who have broken no law. Freedom and responsibility go together. Proponents of freedom are not proponents of slavery, even if the form of slavery being advocated is a psychiatric slavery.

    • Great comment Frank Blankenship.
      I would like to add
      Giving or forcing drugs for imaginary diseases is not medicine.
      A broken leg heals over time like all physical injury. A doctor would not keep a cast(psychiatric drugs) on the broken leg (is it still broken?) for the rest of the patients life.

      • Joanna, It was inevitable that Szasz was extolled. How could there have been a mental patients’ liberation movement –which started in 1970(9 yrs after The Myth of Mental Illness)–without Szasz’s paradigm shift? At that time it was comprised of the avant-garde of the ostensibly most disabled people–“schizophrenics.” (There were hardly any “manic-depressives” or bipolars then.) I was not aware of the movement until 1988 several years after I completed my PhD.

        Ironically I felt more resonance with Laing although Szasz wrote the Foreword to my first book in 1993. Actually Tom wrote the Foreword in 1991, 2 years after Laing’s death. Laing’s early death in 1989 seemed to have softened Tom’s attitude toward Laing (temporarily). My book had a strong Laingian leitmotif–the idea that “psychosis” was a spiritual crisis. That was not an idea for which Tom had any sympathy.I doubt he would have given me a foreword 10 years later.

        The competition was because of Szasz. He did not like Laing’s association with the left and the counter-culture. And he did not like people disagreeing with him. (Ask Peter Breggin.) Laing would have liked to be accepted by Szasz. (This is all chronicled in several books.) I think Laing took the position–as I did–that their work complemented each other.(Although initially Laing was disparaging.) In 2009 Szasz wrote a book that dismissed Laing as a worthless phony.

        In my latest book I argued that Szasz provided a theoretical basis for the movement in its nascent phases whereas Laing provided a basis -or a sketch for a basis-for the more mature phase– Mad Pride. If you are NOT revolted by spirituality
        (as many here are) you might find my “neo-Laingian” theory interesting.(I call it “neo-Laingian” only because that term has a connotation people know and understand.) I distilled it here, where there was a lot of resistance (this is mostly a Szaszian website) to publishing my spiritually “extremist” essay: https://www.madinamerica.com/2012/11/szasz-and-beyondthe-spiritual-promise-of-the-mad-pride-movement/

        I wrote:
        ” I called up the co-founder of TIP, Sascha DuBrul, and he agreed to meet. I was shocked when he told me neither he nor his co-founder, Ashley (now “Jacks”) McNamara had ever read anything by R D. Laing. They were both in their 20s when they wrote TIP’s Mission statement in 2004.[It had idioms that could have lifted right out of Laing–I guess they got it direct from the zeitgeist.]Neither was attracted to Mind Freedom. They both felt a new language would provide new tools for self-expression and lead to greater tolerance for the non-conformity of the mad. It was clear we are now in the second phase of the movement, the Mad Pride phase:The focus had shifted from emphasizing how the patients were similar to “normal” persons to affirming and validating the distinctiveness of the mad.

        To my mind Laing was a radical thinker–even more radical than Szasz,(just as the 60s counter-culture was radical) although more inconsistent and far less linear–which might be in part why you like him. I revolted against Freudianism, against object relations theory–formally with my first published article in 1987. Michael presents a Freudian view of Laing–what I call conservative. I was a Freudian for at least 10 years. Although I did not invent fairy tales about Freud like Michael does.(Please see Jeffrey Masson’s work.)Freud regarded schizophrenics as human “garbage”–he was a Prussian elitist, as Philip Rieff showed in his biography.

        The Divided Self makes me so sick I cannot even get through a few pages today.(I loved it when I first read it in 1970 and re-read it during my Freudian days.) I wanted to work with “schizophrenics” when I was getting my PhD in the 1980s. I was still a Freudian but I rejected the idea that they were incurable. Over and over and over I was told by clinics that schizophrenics were incapable of forming deep relationships. The best that one could do was supportive therapy. And quite a few day programs told me they were hopeless–good for nothing. This was a result of the dogma that schizophrenics could not tolerate intimacy. And this was San Francisco! You may be too young to be familiar with these Freudian categories.They dominated clinical psychology in America when I was in grad school and in the clinics (off and on in the 70s and 80s).

        Michael rejects the idea that schizophrenics can’t form relationships but it is a logical conclusion of the object-relations idea that schizophrenics were afraid of/incapable of intimacy. I rejected this Freudian dogma.
        Not that the mad did not have an awareness of the risks of intimacy but in TDS the fear of intimacy become the focal point of a tragic psychoanalytic narrative. Laing existential version in TDS was no better–except at times he saw beyond it. 4 yeares later he knew that he had given away ammunition to the enemies of the mad. That’s why he renounced the book–in the Preface!– and shifted the blame for the rift between therapists and schizophrenics, the normal and the mad, to the normal, to the professionals. Foucault had established the template: the effort of the psychiatrists to silence the mad while miming the charade of a dialogue.

        In every book after TDS he blames the shrinks for the rift. He followed in the tradition of Foucault who argued that once mental illness becomes the “root metaphor” the normal no longer tried to communicate with the mad–just to control them. The belief in mental illness reduces the mad person’s statements to the “semantic exudates”(Szasz) of her disease. The patient tries zealously to communicate to the therapist but the latter is unwilling to listen–he is convinced she makes no sense. And then irony of ironies she is said to be incapable of communicating. In his investigations of families of the mad he found the normal parents were terrified of their adult children’s autonomy. Thus they became scvapegoats.
        Every book after TDS discusses how much more aware–spiritually and interpersonally–the mad were.

        In The Politics of Experience the mad are the spiritual pioneers who will save normal society from itself. Thus he wrote,“Our society may itself have become biologically dysfunctional, and some forms of schizophrenic alienation from the alienation of our society may have a sociobiological function that we have not recognized.” If they could only escape the vise of Psychiatry they could assume their rightful role as the vanguard of the spiritual revolution initiated by the counter-culture. The story is not about therapists any more even though today there are Laingian therapists who want to make Laing’s oeuvre JUST about therapy. But as I see it’s about a movement to change the world.
        Seth
        http://www.sethHfarber.com

        • Wonderful stuff, Seth! Much of your engagement with Laing chimes with my experience of being diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic in the early 1970s. There was always a seductive grandiosity at the core of my intricately woven ‘delusional’ tapestry. I’m trying to write about my time in a large mental asylum in UK in 1971– surprisingly I can remember quite a lot of detail, at least before the largactil put my brain in a mental straight jacket– and your last comment about escaping the psychiatric control has given me hope.

          Brooke

          • Brooke,
            Thank you.
            Yes I think it’s easy for most people, with a little help, to escape the vise of Psychiatry. But not after–as Bob Whitaker has argued–they’ve been on neuroleptics for 20+ years.
            THe problem is it seems it harder for society as a whole to escape the vise of normal people–of the various centers of powers . Thus as Laing became convinced we re on a very pernicious trajectory—as a society governed by elites– that is leading to the extinction of humanity.Today it is not the threat of nuclear war which is threatening but environmental destruction, particularly from global warming. For this reason and others I am more worried about humanity’s prospect for the next hundred
            years….
            Seth

    • The idea that Szasz was the pristine fighter against coercive psychiatry and Laing was some kind of poetic phony is a myth.
      Tom Szasz did not only object to Laing because of his alleged resort to coercion.I say alleged because the Clancy Sigal cased was a singulklkar occurrence
      and hads far more to do with Laing’s complex friendship with Sigal, an accomplished journalist and writer whose approval Laing sought, than with Laing’s “softness about forced treatment.
      AS stated Laing wrote in 1967,” I do not myself believe that there is any such ‘condition’ as ‘schizophrenia’. Yet the label, as a social fact, is a political event. This political event, occurring in the civic order of society, imposes definitions and consequences on the labelled person.. .The ‘committed’ person labelled as patient, and specifically as ‘schizophrenic’, is degraded from full existential status as human agent and responsible person, no longer in possession of his own definition of himself, unable to retain his own possessions, precluded from the exercise of his discretion and whom he meets, what he does. His time is no longer his own and the space he occupies no longer of his choosing. After being subjected to a degrading cermonial know as a psychiatric examination he is bereft of his civil liberties in being imprisoned in a total institution know as a ‘mental hospital’. More completely, more radically than anywhere else in our society he is invalidated as a human being.”
      Szasz did not like the idea that Laing believed in providing non-coercive asylum to the mad at the public’s expense.Not only did he claim mental illness did not exist he denied persons experienced emotional crises (what I call spiritual crisis.)He insisted madness was malingering. Therefore the mad person
      did not need asylum.
      The idea that you could dispense with coercive psychiatry without providing alternative non coercive asylums is spurious or disingenuous. Tom managed to make himself look holier than thou, than R D Laing. But unless you adopt the ludicrous idea that persons never have break-downs Szasz was advocating only one half the solution. Not only did he attack Laing for seeking to provide the other half, he also never acknowledged Mosher or John Weir Perry. Although Soteria was quite famous Szasz never said a word in praise of it. Had he spoken out he would have opposed it for the same reason he opposed Laing’s attempt to provide alternative asylums.
      Tom’s Libertarianism often cloaked a Randian social Darwinism which in itself fostered an unfortunate lack of compassion.
      Lasing deserves credit for devoting his life to trying to get funding for alternative asylums–Szasz deserves censure for condemning Laing and ignoring Mosher. I am not trying to hold Tom to a double standard. But his attack on Laing in 2009 was sanctimonious, petty and mendacious.
      Let’s take a quick look at Laing’s ideal of an alternative asylum–in his last book, his memoir, Wisdom, Madness and Folly, written in 19856 4 years before his death.He wrote,” The principle of autorhythmia entails that each person has his own biorhythm and a right to this rhythm, and that no person has the right to interfere with the biorhythm and tempo of anyone else, if it’s not doing anyone harm…In mental hospitals where biorhythm is under surveillance and control, this power of control over the biorhythm usually takes the form of regimentation.That is patients had to be doing things at the same time ..Patients had to be drugged to sleep, drugged to keep awake….There is nothing intrinsically pathological about being wake at night and sleeping during the day. Most of my reading, thinking, writing has happened at night…Maybe some people need the night. Where in the world are lunatics allowed to bathe naked under the moonlight?..” So here is what Laing advocates. It is a profoundly anti-authoritarian vision, in the best tradition of anarchism. Without these kinds of asylums the opposition to forced treatment is not sufficient.”What would happen I began to wonder if we were to declare existential experiential anarchy, and let everyone have their own biorhythm
      (the principle of autorhythmia) but ban or restrict transgressive conduct.”

      Seth Farber, Ph.D.
      http://www.sethHfarber.com

      • Thomas S. Szasz in Coercion as Cure quotes R. D. Laing from Wisdom, Madness and Folly, a book that I have not yet read, but that I may get to in due course, as follows.

        “Mental hospitals and psychiatric units admit, routinely, every day of the week, people who are sent “in” for non-criminal conduct, but for conduct which their nearest and dearest relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors find insufferable. This is our society’s only resolution to this unlivable impasse. If they refuse to go away, or can’t or won’t fend for themselves, it is our only way to keep people out of the company that can’t stand them… To say that a locked ward functions as a prison for non-criminal transgressors is not to say that it should not be so. Our society may continue to “need” some such prison for unacceptable persons. As our society functions at present such places are indispensable. This is not the fault of psychiatrists, not necessarily the fault of anyone.”

        I emphatically disagree with R.D. Laing on this issue. I don’t think he or anybody else should be rationalizing psychiatric abuse and imprisonment, and calling it indispensable. It is morally wrong, and people need to be held accountable. I feel there are other so-called anti-psychiatry professionals who waver on this matter, too. We’re talking about locking people up who have not broken any law in the books, except the law for locking up people who have broken no law, that is, mental patients. Mental health law should be repealed, so that, as with any other practice that purports to be medical, imprisoning, poisoning, and assaulting innocent people again becomes a crime. I happen to feel that the Philadelphia Association experiments and the Soteria Project et al were very good things on the whole. On the other hand, Laing, like Freud, would transform psychotherapy into a lifestyle, and that is something I cannot stomach. There is altogether too much of it everywhere you turn. I want out of the institution, especially when I AM out of the institution. Granted, Szasz had his generational peculiarities, but he was, in no uncertain terms, for the abolition of coercive psychiatry. I follow Thomas Szasz in this matter, and I think others should do so, too. Until you can show me where R. D. Laing supported the abolition of forced treatment, and the repeal of mental health law, I’d say his position falls far short of what is needed. I’d also go so far as to say, given the philosophy behind the Philadelphia Association experiments, this kind of double standard, with regard to people and liberty, made R. D. Laing something of a hypocrite. No matter, given his profession, he was in the company of a great many hypocrites.

        • Frank,What bothers me is Tom’s unrepresentative process of selecting quotes from Laing. Anyone who read Laing with an open mind would find he was far more inconsistent than Tom claimed. Laing despised the coercive treatment of mental patients. Unfortunately after the 60s he was wary of taking any “political” positions.

          But if you read Wisdom, Madness and Folly cover to cover you get an impression antithetical to the one Szasz tried to convey. For example, Laing goes on and on discussing the need for non-coercive asylums. He contradicts the statement you quote above, Frank: “To say that a locked ward functions as a prison for non-criminal transgressors is not to say that it should not be so.” Of course it should NOT be so. One wonders is Laing being sarcastic? Laing’s style is not Szasz’s but let me give examples of a few quotes from the same book that are completely antithetical. Laing talks about the consequences of the examination of a patient by a psychiatrist in a brief period–often a 5 minute interview. This may be enough “for that person to be taken away and observed indefinitely. It may inaugurate a period of weeks, months, years during which that person is kept imprisoned–that is, in involuntary custody and there drugged regimented reconditioned, brain given electrical lavages, bits taken out by knife or laser and anything else the psychiatrist decides to try out. This autonomy given.. the psychiatrist to strip away civil rights and liberties in the name of medical necessity….has no equivalent in any legally authorized power anywhere in our society, except where the torture of prisoners is legal.” Certainly Laing did not condone torture.

          But Laing then goes on to say that the exercise of such power might be the best that can happen. Laing thinks this is a “pity” though. Laing describes in this chapter how starting as a conventional psychiatrist he evolved to the state where he “would not force on people treatment that I would not want forced upon me.” That SOUNDS LIKE a person who is convinced that a locked ward SHOULD NOT function as a prison for non-criminal transgressors. Laing at least refused to be the guard or the executioner at such a prison. And yet… It’s hard to make sense of this–one can only infer that Laing was confused.

          I quoted elsewhere Laing’s vision–expressed in this chapter– of a non-coercive asylum. Laing writes in this same chapter, “The principle of autorhythmia entails that each person has his or her own biorhythm and a right to this rhythm and no person has the right to interfere with the rhythm and tempo of anyone else, if it is not doing anyone harm.” This directly and unequivocally contradicts Laing’s statement quoted by Frank (a few pages earlier in the book)”To say that a locked ward functions as a prison for non-criminal transgressors is not to say that it should not be so.” To say , as Laing does, that no person has the right to interfere with any person’s biorhythm is INDEED to say that that locked wards should NOT function as prisons for non-criminals. One has to wonder about Laing: What the hell was he thinking, or not?

          But Szasz also must be criticized.I read the book by Szasz from which Frank quotes. He does NOT (accurately) represent Laing as a man with a divided mind who contradicts himself, but rather as an unequivocal supporter of coercive treatment. But anyone who reads that chapter fairly, or anyone who is as familiar with Laing’s work as I am, would realize that Szasz was misrepresenting Laing. Why?

          I think Szasz was “projecting” his own “shadow.” You cannot eliminate coercive psychiatry by pretending that madness does not exist, that people are never in extreme states in which they require and are entitled to non-coercive asylum at public expense. Since Tom insisted all madness was malingering, he could in good conscience argue against publicly funded asylums–like Soteria–for the mad. This was consistent with Tom’s right-wing economic policies which in Libertarian fashion left each person to fend for herself. Compassion was unnecessary because the mad were bad, i.e., malingerers. But underneath it all Szasz himself was acting in bad faith–attempting to depict all extreme states as acts performed by the mad to deceive people. Szasz projected his shadow on the mad and on Laing. But of what value was Szasz’s argument to a poor or indigent or even middle class person who was undergoing an extreme state(“schizophrenia”) and needed a safe place–one unlike Windhorse which was accessible only to the very rich? How many of us would feel comfortable allowing a relative or friend undergoing an “acute schizophrenic episode” , i.e., an extreme state or a shamanic initiatory crisis, to fend for herself? No we want and have a right to demand publicly funded alternatives to psychiatric wards.

          Tom’s work suffered from a major contradiction. His compassion for the mad was genuine, as was Laing’s, but riddled by contradictions. Tom’s compassion came to an abrupt stop at the point where he had to pay taxes to support places like Soteria. At that point Szasz said: There is no schizophrenia, no madness, no extreme states, no crises. We should not have to pay for alternative treatment. His embrace of FRiedmanite and von Mises economic policies placed him indirectly in conflict with his own argument against coercive treatment. Anyone advocating a genuine alternative to coercive Psychiatry has to be willing to support the kind of asylums Laing devoted his life to attempting to create. Anything else will strike the public (rightfully) as infeasible.

          Tom was not willing to do that. Instead he rationalized his own lack of compassion– reified in the Libertarian perspective–by claiming the mad were largely “the undeserving poor”–to use a sociological phrase. Laing’s advocacy for alternatives pressured Szasz to face his own inconsistency. Szasz was an advocate for the mad but he refused to recognize their need for help–temporarily. Instead he lashed out against Laing whom he demonized in Antipsychiatry Squared

          Szasz argued that the mad were all malingerers trying to get ahold of the public’s money–thus he avoiding facing his OWN internal contradictions. In order to abolish coercive treatment society must offer the kind of non-coercive alternatives that Laing pioneered.

          Seth Farber, Ph.D.
          http://www.sethHfarber.com

          • Taxes to support Soteria? What Soteria? It exists in very isolated pockets where it exists at all, and these pro-drug mental health agencies, aligned with the government, killed the original project. This is the reality we live with. Thankfully, the project itself was a success, and the dream lives on.

            We all pay taxes for community mental health programs, and damn if we should do so. Most community health programs are ineffective in the extreme, and just plain ridiculous in the main. That said, I consider myself an communo-anarchist and, of course, Thomas Szasz and such as myself would never see eye to eye on economic issues.

            The elephant in the room remains forced psychiatric treatment. We, in the psychiatric survivor movement, arose in response and opposition to forced psychiatry. In so far as R. D. Laing covertly supported, ignored, rationalized or excused forced psychiatric treatment, we’d have to oppose R. D. Laing, too.

          • You evaded my point. The fact that we still have involuntary treatment is not because Laing was equivocal on the topic.
            It is because of the power of the drug companies.It’s because there is not a mass movement to rival that power.

            But let’s start with getting the facts straight.You write,” In so far as R. D. Laing covertly supported, ignored, rationalized or excused forced psychiatric treatment, we’d have to oppose R. D. Laing, too.” “Insofar as..”? Let’s deal with reality, not fantasy.You are getting Laing mixed up with E Fuller Torrey. Laing was not an advocate of forced treatment.He wrote cryptic books that–after his fame in the 60s–were read by a coterie of mystics and intellectuals, psych survivors and dissident therapists. I cited several quotes from the same book that Szasz cited in which Laing said forced treatment was a violation of individual rights, and a form of torture. So you are making up a story
            based upon a selective reading of Laing that you derived from Szasz.
            \
            You have ignored the point I made– that you can not build popular opposition to forced treatment unless you also popularize the efficacy of non-coercive alternatives like Soteria,Open Dialogue, HVN, Freedom Center etc. Laing did that as did Loren Mosher and Peter Breggin and Robert Whitaker and David Oaks. Thomas Szasz did not support alternatives since he said madness did not exist, and therefore Laing should not spend money treating it.THe only group Tom belonged to was CCHR–which did not support alternatives because it was subsidized by Scientology. Judi Chamberlin always said that the two goals of the movement were to abolish forced treatment and to build up patient run alternatives–the two go together.
            \
            Like Szasz you want to demonize Laing
            but you fail to take into account that Laing spent his life writing about the superiority of the non-coercive asylum. Laing’s asylum was the model for Mosher’s Soteria which is the linchpin of Whitaker’s efforts to popularize alternatives to forced psychiatric drugging. Unless you present an alternative to forced treatment you will never get the public to oppose involuntary treatment. Laing, Mosher Chamberlin and Whitaker realized that. Thomas Szasz didn’t. How could he? He argued that the mad were part of the undeserving poor who were malingering in order to get disability, in order to avoid going to work. In Europe the Hearing Voices Network has spread all over. In the US there are now non-coercive alternatives. There are Soterias in Vermont and Alaska. These models will not replace ACT unless people continue to do the kind of work Bob Whitaker has done–demonstrated that the alternative to forced drugging is not madness in the street, but non-coercive alternatives–from HVN to Soteria– that enable people to “recover” without labeling, without neuroleptics.
            Seth
            http://www.sethHfarber.com

          • I’m not blaming the poor, Seth. I don’t disagree with the two goals as set by Judi Chamberlain either. R. D. Laing supported one of those goals, questions can be raised about whether or not he supported the other. The same can be said about Thomas S. Szasz, but the other way around. I’m just saying that to me the goal of abolished coercive psychiatry is more important than creating alternatives, although both are important. Part of the problem with the mental health system today is that it is a dependency system, and it is a system full of “chronic” patients because it is doing much to encourage, and little to facilitate, the independence of the people it claims to “treat”, and more often than not, mistreats.

          • It is not only the drug companies though who keep coercive psychiatry going. Psychiatry was coercive before the current stock of psychiatric drugs hit the market. The fact that coercion often involves psychiatric drugs doesn’t mean that it is all about drugging. A coercive system without psychiatric drugs is entirely conceivable, at least, the system was relatively so before the advent of modern psychiatric drugs. I would say that if state hospitals didn’t use harmful neuroleptic drugs that would be a vast improvement, but suspending the use of neuroleptic drugs is not the same as ending forced treatment. You could have a system that was coercive, but that refused to resort to this or that harmful practice, as the reformists would opt for, but if so, you are still going to have coercion and the harmful practices that go along with it. Scratch such piecemeal reforms, let’s have the abolition of forced psychiatric treatment, and with it, all the accompanying tortures.

          • Yes of course there was a time when the drug companies played a minor role. But now they ARE involved. There was a time when NSA was not spying on the entire population. When there was no military-industrial complex. THIS is what is here now. Actually in my book on Mad Pride (you might call it neo-Laingian), I advocate that Mad Pride take on a much broader role and that it not focus JUST on protesting abuse of mental patient but on changing the world. http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Gift-Madness-Psychiatry-Movement/dp/159477448X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1384720606&sr=1-1&keywords=farber+gift

          • I agree with you that:
            “Part of the problem with the mental health system today is that it is a dependency system, and it is a system full of “chronic” patients because it is doing much to encourage, and little to facilitate, the independence of the people it claims to “treat”, and more often than not, mistreats.”
            It’s goal is entirely to make money.It does so by harming its clients. It is a cannibalistic system as are most system in our society.
            SF

    • I would like to shed some light on Michael’s question: “Why are some people deemed crazy and others sane, when they exhibit the same symptoms?” Having received ECT for an “acute hypermanic nervous breakdown” and diagnosed a schizophrenic a year later and sectioned to a mental asylum in 1971 it seems to me that the difference between everyday bouts of aberrant behaviour consistent with those psychiatric labels and my manifestation of those “psychopathologies” was their duration and intensity. I am currently writing about my experiences from that time and would be happy to share them with any one interested.

  2. Smoking marijuana helps me to connect to a level of reality (and truth) that I can’t get to in any other way. It’s really, really good for information harvesting. I don’t know about others but for me I get very in touch with what’s real, on a level that I can’t specify or identify because I don’t have the words for it. This ground-level reality and the daily life just isn’t all there is. You’ve got to be able to see “beyond the veil”. THAT’S the level that marijuana can take me to.

    As for “treatment”, I like this woman’s way. How nice it would be if her way was the norm.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/25/jessica-eaves-grocery-store-samaritan_n_4164691.html
    She treated him SO WELL even though most people would say he “didn’t deserve it”. It took a level of HEART intelligence for her to handle the situation the way she did.

    Genuine caring is the main ingredient in the “medicinal” formula. That’s why it’s called medical “care” (but it isn’t always experienced that way).

    Genuine is made of these two things: when it is both real AND true. That is what constitutes genuine.

    Care and Treatment, soon to be solved and understood! Let’s hope!

  3. “I will never forget when Thomas Szasz, the author of The Myth of Mental Illness, accused Laing in the 1970s of betraying the cause of anti-psychiatry by continuing to engage in treating the mentally ill, though Laing himself condemned the psychiatric community for the way they conducted this practice”

    This seems a bit wrong to me, surely Thomas Szasz had no problem with anybody receiving treatment, providing it was in the context of a consenting relationship. No Thomas Szasz was critical of Ronnie Laing doing exactly what psychiatry did and does, forcing treatment on people not consenting. Just as happened when Clancy Sigal was pursued by Laing and others and forcibly injected with chlorpromazine, yeah love and peace man, love and peace.

  4. In the years between the publication of The Divided Self (1960) and The Politics of Experience (19670) R. D Laing underwent a transformation. As a result he came to the realization that he had done an injustice to the mad in The Divided Self (TDS). Like many of those ensconced in the world of psychotherapy, Michael Thompson avoids mentioning this and he presents The Divided Self as if it were Laing’s last word on the topic of madness, rather than his first fledgling book–one still influenced by the psychoanalytic and common prejudices against the mad. Thompson tells us that Laing examined the commonality between the schizoid who was not psychotic and the schizoid who was psychotic(“schizophrenic”):”The common thread is this: that the person so labeled, in his or her personal experience, suffers from a peculiar problem in his relationships with others: he cannot tolerate getting too intimate with other people, but at the same time cannot tolerate being alone.” But he fails to inform readers that a few years later Laing repudiated this analysis, based as it was on a tacit division between Us and Them. The problem with this “diagnosis” as Laing tells us in the Preface to the paperback edition of The Divided Self is that “I am still writing in this book too much about Them and too little about Us.”

    Once Laing began to examine “us” he saw that his opinion about the mad had been wrong.Laing came to doubt the psychoanalytic construct of the schizoid personality–psychotic or not.After TDS it drops out of Laing’s analyses.It had been used by modern psychoanalysts to denigrate the mad. Although Michael claims that the term schizoid does not imply pathology, that is incorrect. It is a term that denotes pathology and Thompson uses it to imply pathology. I don’t know whom he’s trying to fool.

    Thompson himself is concerned to maintain a distinction between us and them.For example he writes that Laing wondered how “wounded a person must be to even want to spend all of his professional time in the company of people who are obsessed with their problems.” This is insulting to so called patients –to imply such a division. As if therapists are NOT “obsessed with their problems.” In my experience they are–as are most people.(Thompson of course both denies a division and asserts one at the same time by implying that the therapist could be so “wounded” that her status as normal becomes questionable– it is implied that she almost crosses over the barrier and becomes pathological like the patient.) But so what? Does Thompson think an absence of “obsession” with one’s problems is the ultimate criterion of normality, of spiritual superiority? This allegation of pathology whether made by Thomas or the early Laing is a form of degrading others, a way of asserting the therapist’s superiority over the patient, and the normal person’s superiority over the “psychotic.”

    TDS is based on the spurious claim that the schizophrenic is terrified of intimacy–an idea Laing derived from Freudians, from neo-psychoanalysts such as Fairbairn and Guntrip.

    Are the mad schizoid? Are they terrified of intimacy? Laing’s books after TDS show that the mad (e.g., “schizophrenics”) have been trying very hard to become intimate with us, with so called normal people. The blame for their failure lies with Us: We refuse to listen because the mad person speaks a different language–as Foucault pointed out–and she communicate to us truths we do not want to hear.

    When we take this into account we realize that the mad do NOT have a problem with intimacy–or at least not an intra-psychic problem.They do not flee from intimacy. They do not have a pathological inability to tolerate intimacy. Rather WE flee from intimacy with the mad. THAT’s the problem. And then, Laing seems to imply in his Preface to TDS, we label them or construe them as Other, as Them. For example we diagnose them as schizoid as Laing did in The Divided Self, as if they had not been desperately trying to become intimate with us all along. There are passages in TDS where Laing is keenly aware of this but the full realization could not come until he freed himself from the Freudian-existential paradigm.

    Anyone who went to grad school or trained to be a mental health professional in Laing’s era (up until the 1980s), as Thompson did,(as I did) would have had it drilled into them that schizophrenics had a profound fear of intimacy–and ultimately they suffered from an alleged inability to form intimate relationships. This was the Freudian view, and the neo-psychoanalytic view from which Laing eventually freed himself, but Thompson is still under its thrall. Hence his enthusiasm for Laing’s most conservative most psychoanalytic book in which Laing only slightly modifies the Freudian view that “schizophrenics” are incapable of intimacy.

    Michael, for all his good intentions and his insight, does a disservice to Laing and to psychiatric survivors, the mad, who frequent this website, by not mentioning Laing’s repudiation of The Divided Self and the paradigm shift he underwent that eventually resulted in the publication of his bookThe Politics of Experience(PE). Evidently Michael has not come to terms with Laing’s change in orientation. He needs to re-familiarize himself with Laing’s 1967 book, The Politics of Experienc, as well as Sanity, Madness and the Family which preceded PE. He ought to re-consider also the thesis of Michel Foucault.

    Thompson tells us in passing that Laing was a friend
    of Foucault. Perhaps it was Foucault who influenced Laing, consciously or unconsciously, to give up the ideas that the mad were terrified of intimacy.Foucault excoriated the medical model which became dominant in psychiatry at the end of the 19th century. In an earlier era, the madman was heard, listened to– at least occasionally. But now, to quote Foucault in Madness and Civilization, “[i]n the serene world of mental illness, modern man no longer communicates with the madman…As for a common language there is no such thing; or rather, there is no such thing any longer; the constitution of madness as a mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, affords the evidence of a broken dialogue.The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue of reason about madness, has been established only on the basis of such a silence.” Foucault insisted that madness had its truth to speak, as does the mad person
    It’s hard to believe Laing was NOT influenced by Foucault’s perspective: Almost all Laing’s book after TDS show how normal people seek to silence the mad person with her inconvenient truths. The mad person continues to try to communicate, although she often switches to the language of metaphors, of dreams– but no matter how lucid she is the normal person refuses to hear.

    Laing also found common ground with Szasz. He repudiated the myth of mental illness, and he did not display the ambivalence about the construct that some of his followers display.Many times Laing reached out to Szasz, but Szasz a conservative Libertarian kept his distance from the left-wing fire brand. Now that Laing realized (this realization can first be seen in Sanity, Madness and the Family)that the mad person was trying to communicate, seeking to reveal her innermost secrets (to her family, to her analyst) Laing no longer posited that the mad person was driven by a putative illness. Rather she was a signifying being, a person who could be understood but only if one realized that she has intentions and that she is not a cluster of symptoms. This was the difference between a person who engaged in , “praxis” and one who was merely an effect of pathological or neuropathological processes. This distinction between praxis and process became central to Laing’s work, although one would never know this from reading Thompson.

    I suggest Michael re-read The Voice of Experience. Here Laing reproduces a dialogue between a schizophrenic and
    Wilfred Bion, one of the most highly respected British Freudians–respected largely for his theories of schizophrenia. Laing’s commentary upturns the received wisdom: Laing shows that the “psychotic” makes perfect sense (and quite poetically), although he speaks in metaphors, whereas Bion is so engrossed in his own psychoanalytic fantasies,which he formulates as nonsensical interpretations, that even another psychoanalyst would have trouble making sense of his twisted reasoning. Yet the schizophrenic keeps bravely trying to get through to him.

    Thompson’s statement illustrates the danger of adopting a pathological model. Although he wants to say the mad person is an equal of the normal person or the sane person, once he makes the ascription of pathology to the mad he ends up unconsciously reproducing many of the most common stereotypes of the mad person.Laing realized this danger which is why I contend he made a point of inserting a Preface into TDS repudiating most of it. He never did that with The Politics of Experience even though in the 1970s he distanced himself from some of its contentions– but he never repudiated any of it and never reverted to the position of TDS.

    Thompson writes,”Like the Europe that invented the Lunatic Asylum, our society feels it needs to protect itself from crazy people, some of whom are undeniably dangerous and capable of savage violence, even murder.” As if the “normal” person isn’t. Thompson seems to be unaware that numerous studies have refuted the canard that mad people(those labeled “psychotic)are more violent than normal people.The MacArthur study and others have shown that the mad do not commit more violent acts than normal people–unless they are on narcotics.There are far more acts of “savage violence” committed by so-called normal people in the heat of passion. What could be more revealing of Thompson’s prejudice than this evocation of the mad person as a threat to society who is capable of “savage violence, even murder”? Not just once, but a paragraph later, again Thompson
    (as if obsessed!) depicts the mad person as a threat, noting that if Laing “met a mad person on the street who was threatening him, Laing would defend himself” and, “if need be, ask the police to confine him.” Thompson would have never made comparable remarks about a black man. Just imagine, “Had Laing met a black man on the street who was threatening him…” Or imagine stating that the black person was capable of savage violence! This was a stereotype that I never saw in Laing’s writing. Thompson is of course unaware of his prejudice. It is not surprising that, as several other readers note above, Thompson ignores Psychiatry’s violence AGAINST the mad person.

    But this is precisely the point Laing makes in his Preface–about which Thompson does not inform readers– where he even describes the violence by Psychiatry against mental patients. Laing criticizes TDS in the Preface but his criticism applies as well to Thompson: It is our failure to examine OURselves that leads us to pathologize and demonize the mad.

    Had Thompson carefully re-read Laing’s most famous book The Politics of Experience he would have read Chapter 5 one of the powerful denunciations against psychiatric violence and dehumanization ever written. Space does not me to do justice to it here but I quote in part,”I do not myself believe that there is any such ‘condition’ as ‘schizophrenia’. Yet the label, as a social fact, is a political event. This political event, occurring in the civic order of society, imposes definitions and consequences on the labelled person.. .The ‘committed’ person labelled as patient, and specifically as ‘schizophrenic’, is degraded from full existential status as human agent and responsible person, no longer in possession of his own definition of himself, unable to retain his own possessions, precluded from the exercise of his discretion and whom he meets, what he does. His time is no longer his own and the space he occupies no longer of his choosing. After being subjected to a degrading cermonial know as a psychiatric examination he is bereft of his civil liberties in being imprisoned in a total institution know as a ‘mental hospital’. More completely, more radically than anywhere else in our society he is invalidated as a human being.”

    Or take for example the extraordinary violence of the institutions ostensibly intended to protect normal society.
    Laing writes in the Preface to TDS,”The statesmen of the world who boast and threaten that they have Doomsday weapons are far more dangerous and far more estranged from ‘reality’ than many of the people on whom the label ‘psychotic’ is affixed.” In Thompson’s essay he says nothing about the violence of the world–only of the “psychotic”‘ person, only of the mental patient. Thompson puts his stamp of authority upon a book that Laing views as flawed and reflective of his lack of spiritual maturity, while failing to tell the readers about Laing’s Preface, or Laing’s other books that contradict this.

    Furthermore Thompson ignores The Politics of Experience, the book that became a bestseller on college campuses and made Laing into an icon of the counter-culture, and an international celebrity. In PE Laing avoided pathologizing the mad–and in fact had reached the conclusion that many of the mad were spiritual pioneers,mystics, shamans. Laing writes “If the human race survives, future men will, I suspect, look back on our enlightened epoch as a veritable Age of Darkness. . . .The laugh’s on us. They will see that what we call ‘schizophrenia’ was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break in the cracks in our all-too-closed minds.” Once Laing had liberated himself from the Freudian theories to which Thompson still clings, his writings on madness became extraordinarily insightful courageous and profound.

    Thompson asks the question:”Yet many of the people Laing saw in therapy suffered terribly and saw him in therapy in the hope that he could help them relieve their anguish. But what, precisely, was it that Laing was helping them be relieved of, if not a psychopathological condition?” Thompson says rightly that this is the question raised by Szasz’s famous challenge to Laing. Szasz’s critique of Laing’s advocacy of Soteria-type asylums was disingenuous: Szasz also saw clients for counseling (those who could afford to pay him) although he was careful to avoid the term “therapy” due to its medical connotations.(Szasz was splitting hairs by objecting to Laing’s use of the term “therapy” since most people, including therapists who agreed with Szasz’s contention that mental illness was a myth, used the terms counseling and therapy interchangeably.) But it’s clear that Szasz did not only object to coercive therapy which Laing also condemned, although not as consistently, Szasz objected to the provision of any kind of treatment to the mad at the public’s expense.

    Laing on the other hand spent his entire life trying to obtain financial backing for alternatives to the traditional coercive psychiatric ward. Laing’s unremitting efforts in this regard almost never receives the credit it deserves among those survivors in the “anti-psychiatry” movement (a term by the way rejected by both Laing and Szasz). Szasz, on the other hand, escapes criticism by psychiatric survivors for his lack of support for Soteria-type alternatives to psychiatric hospitals. Szasz rightfully criticized Laing for the one instance in which he involuntarily injected a patient with a psychiatric drug.(The case of Clancy Sigal is too complex to discuss here.) The act is inexcusable, but there were mitigating circumstances. The victim was a long time friend and peer of Laing, not the typical “psychotics” Laing saw as clients with whom his relationships were extraordinary–he stunned audiences of therapists by talking easily with so called paranoid-schizophrenics. The famous case of “Christy” with whom Laing interacted at the Evolution of Psychotherapy conference in 1985 in Phoenix is a good example of one of the latter.

    Szasz’s staunch Libertarianism was probably a factor in his opposition to Laing’s treatment of patients at Kingsley Hall. But Szasz suggested no alternatives for patients who had “schizophrenic” episodes. Szasz not only denied the existence of mental illness, he denied the existence of madness. Thus he evidently felt that persons undergoing breakdowns should be left to fend for themselves, sinvce he denied there was anything the matter.

    One need not posit that persons were suffering from mental illnesses to justify providing them with asylum at the public’s expense. Laing’s answer to Michael’s question was spelled out in all his post-TDS books. In each case Laing redefines the problem
    and the challenge. After Laing rejected the Freudian formulation of TDS, he came to see madness as a developmental crisis, a sort of existential counterpart to the condition of pregnancy.The progeny would be a spiritually reborn self. In both instances we are dealing with developmental crises that require
    social support to be successfully brought to term. In both cases we are dealing with non-pathological conditions.A pregnant woman needs social, financial and emotional support to successfully complete childbirth, just as a mad person needs an array of services in order to successfully resolve her crisis. Thus I believe in almost all cases what is interpreted “mental illness” is a problem in living that can most lucidly be described in terms that draw upon the categories of growth. I have discussed the epistemological (and therapeutic) superiority of a developmental model over a medical model in my own writings.

    Although Thompson states that madness is not pathology, as I’ve shown he seems ambivalent and he completely ignores Laing’s rich spiritual non-pathological non medical multi-faceted view of madness.For example, Laing was not merely helping the mad to be relieved of anguish, of a burden. In The Politics of Experience Laing writes “Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be breakthrough.” What Thompson’s Freudian view obscures is that a breakdown or a “psychotic” episode is not just negative, not just anguish. Not just a meaningless product of misfortune to deposits a burden to be gotten rid of. It is a spiritually significant event. From Laing’s heretical perspective the “schizophrenic” breakdown is a valuable opportunity, a precondition for a spiritual breakthrough. The breakdown of the ego makes possible the reconstitution of the self on a higher level. If this experience were not aborted by psychiatry–as it usually is– the mad person might be spiritually reborn as a mystic or a prophet—she might transcend normality and attain a new self attuned to God, to the cosmos, a self that was “hypersane.” (See the discussion in my book, The Spiritual Gift of Madness.) As Laing eloquently wrote in PE: “True sanity entails the dissolution of the normal ego, that false self completely adjusted to our alienated social reality. . . and through this death a rebirth . . . and the eventual re-establishment of a new kind of ego-functioning, the ego now being the servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer.” This is the forerunner of the new man or woman, the person of the future.

    Laing never renounced the idea that madness has this potential.It is why I say that Laing provided one powerful rationale for Mad Pride. Maybe Thompson disagrees with Laing but at least he ought to inform readers that this is one answer to his question about what Laing was helping the mad “be relieved of, if not a psychopathological condition?” The question was reformulkated: What was Laing helping the mad to achieve? In most of his books Laing gives a more mundane answer. He would say that he is helping the schizophrenic achieve a state of autonomy in a family situation in which independence is feared. That is, by the time Laing co-authored Sanity, Madness and the Family his investigations led him to a radically different view of madness than the view of TDS. He believed that the schizophrenic comes from a family where her autonomy is feared by her parents who attempt to suppress it. It is this that causes her inner distress. From this perspective the therapist’s role is to encourage the patient’s autonomy. The two views I presented by Laing are not necessarily conflicting. One or both could be true.

    Not once does Thompson mention the theory for which Laing was most famous–the idea that the mad were spiritual pioneers. Thompson describes madness purely as suffering, purely as pathos.
    Nor does he mention his almost equally famous theory that the families of “schizophrenics” drives them crazy. Like Foucault, Laing insists throughout his books (even in TDS–in the book’s most famous passage in which Laing discusses Kraepelin’s examination of a patient) that madness had its truth to speak, and decried the psychiatric silencing of the voice of madness. Throughout Laing’s life he devoted himself to revealing the assets of the mad, and to amplifying and interpreting the voice of the mad. Even when Laing dropped the messianic vision of PE, he continued to reveal how creative and intelligent and spiritually aware the mad were.

    In my own work I have argued that Laing books AFTER TDS provided a sketch for, a basis for, the development of a theoretical rationale for Mad Pride. The Mad Pride movement developed only in the late 1990s, and went beyond the psychiatric survivors’ movement which united mental patients around their identity as victims or survivors of psychiatry: Mad Pride united many of the victims of psychiatry by affirming the existence and the value of a mad sensibility. (See The Spiritual Gift of Madness.) I argue in my book that the patients’ movement followed a trajectory similar to the African American and queer movement which started off by down-playing their distinctive traits.

    But there is a difference: Many if not most mad persons have had a vision of a new utopian-messianic order.It arises within them spontaneously during their “psychotic episodes” (along with more disturbing visions)–in the eyes of psychiatrists their visions are really pathological symptoms of severe mental illnesses. During their psychotic or manic episodes the mad also have the feeling that they have an important spiritual mission that God gave them to fulfill. I agree.

    I believe the mad have a calling to be the prophets of the new messianic order that is seeking manifestation upon the earth. An organized force of mad prophets, visionaries and messiahs can arouse the slumbering yearnings for redemption latent within the collective psyche. If organized, these mad messiahs could become the catalysts of a new Great Awakening that will rouse the messianic yearnings of humanity and impel the masses to create new institutions based upon equality and justice.

    Each soul would be a cell within the multi-cellular body of humanity. The principle of cooperation would replace that of competition, peace would replace war, love would triumph over death. Such a new order will be open to the influx of divine lov or grace from “above” that will transform the earth and make possible the realization of the ancient dream of the end of suffering, the enlightenment of all beings,the reign of the Goddess, the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth.
    .

  5. Thanks Seth, I always appreciate your analysis regarding Laing.

    There are shades of grey, it’s easy to say freedom = no force ever, kill yourself if you want, be homeless, go to prison if you commit a crime, but life isn’t always black & white like this piece shows: http://phenomenologyofmadness.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/aint-no-way-to-deny-it-if-its-in-your-soul/
    Some teenagers wouldn’t be alive if their near death anorexia hadn’t been forcibly kept alive – I’m no promoter of EDU’s, they do much damage which I’ve observed 1st hand. I don’t support decades of forced feeding and do support older women who have sought high court judgements to be allowed to die with palliative care. I also support physician assisted suicide not only for people experiencing terminal illness or degenerative conditions, I would go further than that and say that everyone should be able to access a decent death with the appropriate checks & balances. However, would I let a child starve to death of anorexia if I really couldn’t help her to stay alive – no I would not – if I really had to I would allow the minimal force to pull her away from death – but NOT continued relentless force feeding because I know how much it damages people. I’ve seen women in UK high secure hospitals (medical prisons) who have committed (often non-violent) offenses because of the appalling lives they’ve had. They do need help, but certainly not forced drugging, but nor would prison be right neither. I don’t want to see them condemned to medical prisons or normal prisons.
    Sometimes very few psychiatrists have detained without forced treatment and it is an interesting idea, what if we removed their power to forcibly treat? Or what if we only allowed them to forcibly treat for very short term and well defined circumstances i.e immediate risk of death by starvation/dehydration/sleep deprivation?
    Here’s an interesting piece:
    http://psychiatricethics.com/2013/10/28/current-problems-in-psychiatry-coercive-care-thomas-schramme/

    I don’t have the answers, I just struggle with the issues because I can’t see them as neat straight lines.

    • Joanna,
      Thanks.
      I do not know why you choose those particular thought-experiments. Perhaps there will always be these dilemmas in as long as we live in a society as problematic as this.

      But imagine the impact of a change in macro social policies. The point of social policy changes
      is to procure a net gain–in many cases considerably so.

      I am not a Szaszian, although I agree with his critique of mental illness. (He wrote the foreword to my first book.) Laing’s critique of mental illness was a critique of the Freudian argument that ”schizophrenics” have a fear of intimacy–the classic Freudian view of the so-called “schizophrenic.” Laing rejected that as early as Sanity, Madness and the Family. Unlike Szasz I believe in madness. I only reject the idea that it is a defect. I accept the Perry/Laing theory that it is potentially a healing process.

      I agree with you, Joanna: I do not believe that society has no right to prevent an unhappy confused child from committing suicide. That’s not a grey area. That’s black and white. You write
      “Would I let a child starve to death of anorexia if I really couldn’t help her to stay alive – no I would not – if I really had to I would allow the minimal force to pull her away from death – but NOT continued relentless force feeding because I know how much it damages people.”
      But why are there so many people in this situation. How does a child get to the point of starving to death of anorexia? That tells me there is something wrong with society. I don’t know why. I do know this. I studied family therapy with Savador Minuchin. Psychoanalysis did virtually nothing to help the anorexic patients. Psychiatric drugs makes the problem worse. I never had an anorexic patient
      but I saw lots of videos of Minuchin working with anorexics. Almost all got better.Why? Because Minuchin rejected the disease model. He did not buy the idea that the anorexic was afraid or intimacy. He saw her as a person struggling for autonomy.Minuchin model focuses on strengths, not “pathology.” Minuchin told us that family therapy would replace psychoanalysis in the clinic and in the schools within another generations—he was probably thinking of Thomas Kuhn. But he was wrong. He forgot Karl Marx.
      Psychiatry sold out to big drug corporations.

      I don’t understand Joanna why you see anything problematic about preventing psychiatrists from forcing psychiatric drugs (neuroleptics) on patients. I don’t see the logic of the Schramme’s reservations. Where is the crooked line? Schramme seems to think it’s a problem that psychiatrists cannot pretend to be medical specialists. Good.

      Social policies should be based on philosophical premises and designed to have macro effects. The philosophy is that
      no one is mentally ill. The British Psychological Society says that now I believe. Had the APA been banned from accepting contributions from the corporations–had they been prevented from changing their pre-1980 policies, Minuchin might have been correct. Or had we not lived in a society run by sociopathic elites, very few girls would be in that position.

      One could mandate outcome based treatments and ban the use of psychoanalysis and drugs. Salvador Minuchin and other family therapists have shown that great harm is done by treating the identified patient as if there is something wrong with her. Psychoanalysis pathologizes, and it scapegoats…

      You could save thousands of people by mandating a change in social policies…But that cannot happen as long as corporations own the political process in America.
      Both Szasz and Laing realized how destructive the diagnostic view is.

      I believe Laing adopted a Foucauldian perspective, not the psychoanalytic view Michael presents. Laing rejected the psychoanalytic view (e.g., Fairbairn’s view) that the mad were frozen in their fear of intimacy, that the rift between the sane and the mad (one of Laing’s central concepts, even after he distanced himself from The Politics of Experience) was the responsibility of the mad. No it is the responsibility of the psychiatrists, the normal people, and of those who claim the mad are afraid of intimacy. People do not understand:One’s philosophical stance has practical consequences.
      \
      It was judges of normality as Foucault called them who silenced the mad. Or claimed the mad were responsible for their own unwillingness to comprehend the communications of the mad. Those who doubt this ought to re-read Laing’s evisceration of Bion, the psychoanalytic hero, and Binswanger, the psycho-existentialist hero in The Voice of Experience. The schizophrenics assiduously attempted to communicate with the psychiatrists and the psychiatrists refused to listen, were not willing to understand. If you treat a young schizophrenic as if she has a fear of intimacy, as TDS advocates, you are increasing the chances that you are going to do great harm. There are exceptions, but the philosophical premise of TDS is pernicious. I have always conveyed to every schizophrenic I ever met that there was nothing wrong with them. They are not schizoid. There is nothing humanistic about defining them as such.

      To quote from one of my teachers, Jay Haley. Haley (1980) described the attitude of one of his own teachers. “He believed that there was nothing wrong with a person diagnosed as schizophrenic. It was inspiring to watch him work with a mad offspring who was an expert at failing. I recall one who would not speak. She would sit pulling at her hair like an idiot. Yet Jackson treated her as if she was perfectly capable of normality, given a change in her family and treatment situation. The family was forced to accept her normality, partly because of Jackson’s certainty”. This kind of intervention was also typical of Laing at his best.

  6. Michael,
    Thank you for writing this terrific article. I have often wondered about the relationship between Szasz and Laing, and what you have described helps clarify what I´ve read elsewhere. Personally, I think this is one of the best articles I´ve read on Mad In America.

    I also think you touch on a few points which are still of issue within the ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement today. First, the question from Szasz to Laing…
    “Do you believe in psychopathology or not; and if you don’t, then what is it exactly you claim you are “relieving,” if not mental illness?”
    And the second…(I’m paraphrasing)…
    “As it seems quite obvious that there is a little insanity in most sane people, and some sanity in the insane, who is to say who is crazy and who is not?”
    I don’t think there is any trouble in asking these questions. The problem, in my opinion, is that most people in the anti-psychiatry movement seem to have arrived at some very simplistic and naive answers which really lead nowhere.
    That´s why, despite the negative commentary of others, I sincerely hope you continue to post on Mad In America. The dialogue here desperately needs to become less judgmental and more constructive.

  7. What is this antipsychiatry movement? Does it really actually exist? If so who is part of it? Is antipsychiatry just an insult? Is antipsychiatry a way forward or a cul-de-sac?

    An interesting point for me regarding Michael’s article, as well as giving thought to the inconsistences and complexities of Liang, was giving thought to the antipsychiatry movement and of Szasz somehow being portrayed as being part of it by virtue of his writing the Myth of Mental Illness and of being critical of Laing.

    While Szasz never wanted the term applied to him Laing did take on this mantle, at least for a time before denouncing it. I find it fascinating that those whom reject the labeling of others and themselves, by diagnoses as an example, have no problem at all of labeling Szasz an antipsychiatrist. In fact I wonder if people may at times even label me an antipsychiatrist, the cheek of them.

    I too enjoyed Michael’s article and the comments that have flowed from it, but it does not mean I agreed with all he wrote. It has certainly generated thought and comment. There have been excellent points put forward around the aspect of forced treatment, when is it necessary, who decides, what treatments are best, is force always bad, do we need it? None of these issues are simple, all require being open and able to consider the views of others as meaningful, rather than being dismissive.

  8. Hi Sean,
    The commentary above by various readers is not negative. It is critical.(You make quite a sweeping statement there, Sean. I think probably a few of us are wondering: What are the allegedly self-defeating conclusions that most people in the movement have embraced?)

    Michael has chosen to withhold from readers very pertinent information about Laing: That in the paperback edition to The Divided Self Laing felt it necessary to insert a preface to convey that he was not in complete accord with the book (his first), that he believes he “partially” fell “into the trap” he was “seeking to avoid”:of writing about Them (the mad) before he had an adequate understanding of Us(normal man). That is quite a self-incriminating admission. But it was courageous and admirable–particularly considering the book was an enormous success. Laing made that admission because he believed he had a responsibility to the mad, to so called “schizophrenics.” To treat The Divided Self as Laing’s definitive statement on madness, is to fail (inadvertently) to do justice to the mad, to “schizophrenics”–that is to a group of persons who have been subjected to systematic emotional and physical violence.

    I felt particularly obligated to correct this misunderstanding since I have an intellectual and spiritual debt to Laing.I first read Laing when I was in high school in 1969. All of my books on the “mental health” system were influenced by Laing. My latest book is a neo-Laingian profile of the Mad Pride movement. I was the co-organizer of the Memorial Symposium for Laing in 1989 at the New School in NYC.

    Too often Laing is attacked on MIA. He is attacked because he is misunderstood by people who have not read him,or have not read enough, or do not share his spiritual perspective.It is not incidental that Laing’s Kingsley Hall was the inspiration for the founding of the Soteria Project by Laing’s friend Loren Mosher.

    Laing was a complex and often troubled man. Many of the posters on MIA do not realize that Laing made a huge contribution to the understanding and appreciation of extraordinary gifts of the mad, of “schizophrenics” and “bipolars.” His prophetic books–particularly The Politics of Experience and also The Voice of Experience(the first half)– laid the foundation for the Mad Pride movement.

    Seth Farber, Ph.D.
    http://www.sethHfarber.com

  9. I actually think this paper is a landmark in Laing studies and deserves a much wider readership than just MIA. One of the themes during the Laing conference on Staten Island this past weekend was about the lack of information about Laing’s practice– both his private practice and what went on in the therapeutic communities he started. Mike Thompson beautifully articulates the components at the heart of Laing’s sensibility about what gets people brought to the attention of psychiatry in the first place:

    “The first concerns how a given person exercises his or her judgment; the second concerns how agitated that person may be; and the third concerns the lengths a given person will go to mitigate his anxiety.”

    I find this to be an incredibly humble, humane, and penetrating way of thinking about those in distress and about how to help them.

    I also find Laing’s comments in the “Divided Self” about the schizoid dynamics at play to be still right on the money. These dynamics have helped me make sense of my own personal suffering and healing journey. Also in my role as a psychotherapist I find that the same dynamics characterize in a succinct way what I see so many of my clients trying to overcome.

    Truly a great post, thanks for sharing it Mike!

  10. Seth, I choose some of the more clear cut examples (to me) rather than the usual psychosis examples which psychiatrists would cite, and for those who subscribe to repealing detainment laws = freedom/problem solved there isn’t shade of grey, I’ve seen that enough times.We’re a long way from preventing many of societies ills and even if we went half way there, would be remove the uncomfortable ethical dilemmas I doubt it, but we could lessen the need to be faced with them yes. Of course I see the problems with allowing psychiatrists to force treatment but frequently when I raise these issues it’s assumed I must support forced drugging.

    “..You could save thousands of people by mandating a change in social policies…But that cannot happen as long as corporations own the political process in America”

    Precisely Seth, here too, and neoliberalism is spreading like an infection.

    I read the writings and listen to European activists who are struggling to live literally because of state policies because of the kind of societies we live in, it’s more than psychiatric power, that’s just one cog in the wheel albeit a bloody big one.

  11. I believe Laing was appreciated more in the UK, but he was never placed on a pedestal by us like it can appear with Szasz in the USA, nor did we ever make it a ‘competition’ between Szasz & Laing, nor have we credited him for our activism, he was A positive influence along the way with others. My personal preference is for Laing but I don’t feel need to completely demolish Szasz’s work

    • oanna, It was inevitable that Szasz was extolled. How could there have been a mental patients’ liberation movement –which started in 1970(9 yrs after The Myth of Mental Illness)–without Szasz’s paradigm shift? At that time it was comprised of the avant-garde of the ostensibly most disabled people–”schizophrenics.” (There were hardly any “manic-depressives” or bipolars then.) I was not aware of the movement until 1988 several years after I completed my PhD.

      Ironically I felt more resonance with Laing although Szasz wrote the Foreword to my first book in 1993. Actually Tom wrote the Foreword in 1991, 2 years after Laing’s death. Laing’s early death in 1989 seemed to have softened Tom’s attitude toward Laing (temporarily). My book had a strong Laingian leitmotif–the idea that “psychosis” was a spiritual crisis. That was not an idea for which Tom had any sympathy.I doubt he would have given me a foreword 10 years later.

      The competition was because of Szasz. He did not like Laing’s association with the left and the counter-culture. And he did not like people disagreeing with him. (Ask Peter Breggin.) Laing would have liked to be accepted by Szasz. (This is all chronicled in several books.) I think Laing took the position–as I did–that their work complemented each other.(Although initially Laing was disparaging.) In 2009 Szasz wrote a book that dismissed Laing as a worthless phony.

      In my latest book I argued that Szasz provided a theoretical basis for the movement in its nascent phases whereas Laing provided a basis -or a sketch for a basis-for the more mature phase– Mad Pride. If you are NOT revolted by spirituality
      (as many here are) you might find my “neo-Laingian” theory interesting.(I call it “neo-Laingian” only because that term has a connotation people know and understand.) I distilled it here, where there was a lot of resistance (this is mostly a Szaszian website) to publishing my spiritually “extremist” essay: https://www.madinamerica.com/2012/11/szasz-and-beyondthe-spiritual-promise-of-the-mad-pride-movement/

      I wrote:
      ” I called up the co-founder of TIP, Sascha DuBrul, and he agreed to meet. I was shocked when he told me neither he nor his co-founder, Ashley (now “Jacks”) McNamara had ever read anything by R D. Laing. They were both in their 20s when they wrote TIP’s Mission statement in 2004.[It had idioms that could have lifted right out of Laing–I guess they got it direct from the zeitgeist.]Neither was attracted to Mind Freedom. They both felt a new language would provide new tools for self-expression and lead to greater tolerance for the non-conformity of the mad. It was clear we are now in the second phase of the movement, the Mad Pride phase:The focus had shifted from emphasizing how the patients were similar to “normal” persons to affirming and validating the distinctiveness of the mad.”

      To my mind Laing was a radical thinker–even more radical than Szasz,(just as the 60s counter-culture was radical) although more inconsistent and far less linear–which might be in part why you like him. I revolted against Freudianism, against object relations theory–formally with my first published article in 1987. Michael presents a Freudian view of Laing–what I call conservative. I was a Freudian for at least 10 years. Although I did not invent fairy tales about Freud like Michael does.(Please see Jeffrey Masson’s work.)Freud regarded schizophrenics as human “garbage”–he was a Prussian elitist, as Philip Rieff showed in his biography.

      The Divided Self makes me so sick I cannot even get through a few pages today.(I loved it when I first read it in 1970 and re-read it during my Freudian days.) I wanted to work with “schizophrenics” when I was getting my PhD in the 1980s. I was still a Freudian but I rejected the idea that they were incurable. Over and over and over I was told by clinics that schizophrenics were incapable of forming deep relationships. The best that one could do was supportive therapy. And quite a few day programs told me they were hopeless–good for nothing. This was a result of the dogma that schizophrenics could not tolerate intimacy. And this was San Francisco! You may be too young to be familiar with these Freudian categories.They dominated clinical psychology in America when I was in grad school and in the clinics (off and on in the 70s and 80s).

      Michael rejects the idea that schizophrenics can’t form relationships but it is a logical conclusion of the object-relations idea that schizophrenics were afraid of/incapable of intimacy. I rejected this Freudian dogma.
      Not that the mad did not have an awareness of the risks of intimacy but in TDS the fear of intimacy become the focal point of a tragic psychoanalytic narrative. Laing existential version in TDS was no better–except at times he saw beyond it. 4 yeares later he knew that he had given away ammunition to the enemies of the mad. That’s why he renounced the book–in the Preface!– and shifted the blame for the rift between therapists and schizophrenics, the normal and the mad, to the normal, to the professionals. Foucault had established the template: the effort of the psychiatrists to silence the mad while miming the charade of a dialogue.

      In every book after TDS he blames the shrinks for the rift. He followed in the tradition of Foucault who argued that once mental illness becomes the “root metaphor” the normal no longer tried to communicate with the mad–just to control them. The belief in mental illness reduces the mad person’s statements to the “semantic exudates”(Szasz) of her disease. The patient tries zealously to communicate to the therapist but the latter is unwilling to listen–he is convinced she makes no sense. And then irony of ironies she is said to be incapable of communicating. In his investigations of families of the mad he found the normal parents were terrified of their adult children’s autonomy. Thus they became scvapegoats.
      Every book after TDS discusses how much more aware–spiritually and interpersonally–the mad were.

      In The Politics of Experience the mad are the spiritual pioneers who will save normal society from itself. Thus he wrote,“Our society may itself have become biologically dysfunctional, and some forms of schizophrenic alienation from the alienation of our society may have a sociobiological function that we have not recognized.” If they could only escape the vise of Psychiatry they could assume their rightful role as the vanguard of the spiritual revolution initiated by the counter-culture. The story is not about therapists any more even though today there are Laingian therapists who want to make Laing’s oeuvre JUST about therapy. But as I see it’s about a movement to change the world.
      Seth
      http://www.sethHfarber.com

    • Either nobody is interested or nobody noticed. I’ll point it out.

      The definition of the word redux appears second. Before it, in position number one, is about A DRUG.

      Re·dux (rdks)
      A trademark used for the drug dexfenfluramine hydrochloride.

      I consider this to be a dis-order (out of order, wrong order). The word’s basic definition should be first.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dexfenfluramine

      “Dexfenfluramine was for some years in the mid-1990s approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for the purposes of weight loss.”

      I think it’s important. I think it matters. And I plan to contact thefreedictionary.com and ask them to fix it.

      The word redux has been practically hijacked by a drug manufacturer. In fact, drug naming really irks me. “abilify” (as in, ability?) and “effexor” (as in, effects?). I hate it. It’s almost like street names for pot, cocaine and heroin – and it makes the pharmaceutical industry look like real thug drug dealers, doesn’t it?

      http://www.drugawarenessandprevention.org/Graphics-PDFs/dictionary.pdf

      I’d rather the WORD’S meaning be first and industry’s use of the word be in it’s rightful place – SECOND.

  12. Who DO they credit? I don’t understand. They don’t define themselves as mentally ill, do they? They see themselves as persons with problems of living? The must have read that or heard that didn’t
    they? Who was the ultimate source?Did they
    refer to themselves as psychiatry survivors?
    I know HVN was Romme, and later, voice hearers themselves.

    In the case of David Oaks the main influence was not Thomas Szasz. It was Peter Breggin, Szasz’s student. But Breggin was a more specific critic of BIO-PSYCHIATRY. Icarus founders had read none of them. But the first few decades Szasz, Breggin and to a much lesser degree Laing were influential. You can see that through reading Madness Network News.
    Seth

    • It’s not clear to me that the main ideas driving the movement(s) have a common origin. Perhaps a lot of ideas are rediscovered by many people. In biology, we would call this parallel evolution, two independent branches of evolution may ‘rediscover’ the same helpful mutation or a similar morphological structure. It is certainly NOT the case that two ideas seemly similar ideas must have a common source.

      Perhaps there are enough ‘truths’ inherent in our experience of a maladjusted society that many survivors discover their own viewpoints which turn out to be similar to their neighbor’s viewpoint or to Szasz’s or Breggin’s or Laing’s viewpoints.

      I certainly haven’t read any of these scholars. But this doesn’t stop me from thinking that ‘schizophrenia’ doesn’t exist and that forced treatment is not ideal. While my ideas may be in line with some things written by some scholars, my own experiences are the primary source of my ideas. I think you might find that most survivors feel this way.

  13. We don’t have ‘ultimate sources’ in quite the way you suggest, of course Laing, Szasz, Breggin, Moser were read. l’m well aware of Romme’s pivotal role in HV. We had many influences but mostly each other with strong links to the Dutch & your Judi. Many became active before reading the above.

  14. I did not mean ultimate in a metaphysical sense. If they don’t use the term “mental illness,” and e.g. if they speak of “problems in living,” ultimately their ways of interpreting stem back to Szasz, the original source. Szasz believed his student Breggin completely misinterpreted him. Yet Breggin would tell you, and most would agree, he rejected the medical model.
    sf

    • problems in living is one way of looking at it yes but not something I commonly heard within activism, it was a very broad movement here, Szsaz did not have the same impact here as he did in the US. Szasz was not an influence for the early groups here in the 60’s & 70’s, nor for the development of advocacy or Patient Councils. I became active in the 80’s and again I don’t ever remember us hotly debating Szasz, infact quite the opposite, the few who did come into contact with him felt little for him, and these were the most radical of activists of their time and very much anti medical model. Certain recovery promoters (especially professionals) courted Szasz and his thinking in the last few years more, and my thinking is that it’s because his thinking supported certain ‘brands’ of recovery which has no regard for social justice. Moser was far more interesting to many of us.

  15. I just criticized above Szasz’s malingering view above under Frank’s post. It seemed to me
    that it was suited to his right-Libertarian politics. A lot of people HERE don’t realize that Szasz was criticizing Laing for using public money for providing support for alternative asylums for “schizophrenics.” Szasz never gave Laing any credit for trying to set up places like Soteria(Philadelphia Assoiciation)because he opposed it. Szasz fans here think it was because Szasz was a more consistent critic of forced treatment, which he was ALSO.The attacks on Szasz by NAMI and the neo-cons bolstered his popularity.
    Szasz kept writing books. His attacks on involuntary treatment which he rightly denounced as unconstitutional hit a nerve since outpatient commitment laws were spreading throughout virtually every state. Also Szasz was a powerful writer who compared “mental health” policies to slavery. All of yhe dissident critics of the system were influenced by Szasz. Otherwise they would still be talking about reforms for the “mentally ill.”
    Mosher did not write for the public–he wrote a very dull text that I doubt many people read. He became well known here only when he resigned from the APA in 1998–calling it the American Pharmaceutical Association in a letter that made him famous. I don’t think many people here even knew his name until then. (It was Laing who wrote eloquently–I quoted him above– about non-coercive asylums, although not many people were reading him either by then either.) Laing was still a celebrity in New Age circles in the 80s, when new age was still young and had a subversive timber. By the 1990s the only large group on the radical wing of the movement was David Oak’s. David was very influenced by Peter Breggin and his attack on bio-psychiatry and was a genius for getting publicity and funding. Judi sadly was dying in a hospice. Rae Unzicker, who founded NAPS, also died at less than 70. Now Robert Whitaker is the inadvertent hero of the movement–and David’s tragic accident has taken him out of the picture altogether. It was very unfortunate for the movement (as well as for David). He was just about to launch a project based on Martin Luther King’s idea of creative maladjustment. His associates attempted to carry it on according to plan but the project fizzled without David’s participation. I was personally very hopeful about David’s attempt to take the movement in a new direction–David’s accident happened just months before this was to take place.
    The Icarus Project was formed in 2005 and has been growing–mostly on college campuses. The group was mostly known for its website which provided an online forum
    David had a split with Peter Breggin in 2005 after Breggin, formerly a left-wing sympathizer who gave talks in Maoist bookstores in NY, when Breggin mysteriously allied himself with an extreme right-wing radio talk show host–and began attacking the left for being un-American. This was a very strange interlude, and after a lawsuit
    and passage of time Breggin put the incident behind him and decided to stick to attacking psychiatry.He also accepted Gary Niull offer to appear on his “progressive” talk show network.
    I think similar things happened in the UK. I read the British Mad Pride anthology. I thought they were off to good start. I know two of their founders were Trotskyists–Ben Watson and Esther Leslie, but they were not typical Trotskyists. Watson, a composer was very interested in Frank Zappa’s work. Leslie was a professor at Birbeck. I think they also fizzled when one of their most charismatic spokespersons committed suicide. Threy are being revived.

  16. Seth have you had any contact with the UK Survivor History Group?
    http://studymore.org.uk/
    There are psych survivor scholars you might value contact with – Andrew Roberts who was active from the 60’s and put together the above resource(he knew Judi), and Mark Cresswell a SHG member who has written extensively, ditto Peter Campbell. Frank Bangay is an original member of CAPO (Campaign Against Psychiatric Oppression).

  17. Seth,
    The first three are original sources on the Survivors History website and the fourth is Mark Cresswell’s excellent use of them in his review on Helen Spandler’s Asylum to Action (2006).

    1972/1973 revisited: Fish pamphlet
    http://studymore.org.uk/mpu.htm#MPU

    Mental Patients Union formed
    http://studymore.org.uk/mpu.htm#21.3.1973Minutes

    MPU Declaration of Intent http://studymore.org.uk/mpu.htm#LoveFish

    Mark Cresswell: Survivors´ history, and the symbols of a movement http://studymore.org.uk/cresshs.pdf

  18. Joanna, Thank you. I will definitely read Cresswell. Have you read Linda Morrison’s monograph?–I noticed Cresswell mentions it.
    It’s very useful, very astute. (I met her but she did not tell about her book.) In fact she uses some of the survivor accounts in my first book. Leonard Frank in particular provides her with prototype of “radical survivors’ narrative.” It’s also a short albeit academic history of the movement in the US so it’s very
    useful. I would criticize her omission of Szasz (and Laing)–so would Leonard I’m sure. I recommend Leonard’s account here at MIA.He has written account and shorter video. (Leonard is 80 now.)Leonard is iconic (like Judi) among people old enough to remember him. He shares my utopian/messianic perspective, although oddly he never read much Laing. AS far as I’m concerned the experiment Spandler was doomed to fail since it was psychoanalytic. (I have to write a piece on Laing to rescue him from the Freudians.)I WAS a psychoanalyst so I know how pernicious it was in practice.Leonard called it the velvet glove on the iron fist. (Karon is exempted–he is a nice man, iun spite of…) I call it a secular version of the Augustinian original sin narrative. Peter Chadwick is an English survivor/psychologist whose accounts are great (even though he uses medical terminology. Although he talks of “pathology” better go to work. I don’t know those UK Survivors but Elena Williams probably does–I’m in contact with her. (I would not use Sedgwick for my model, but I was sorry to hear he’s no longer around.) Thanks, Seth

  19. Lovely article.
    Thanks for writing it.

    I lsitened this morning to a radio show where the conflation of violence with mental illness (Sandy Hook, most notably) was done repeatedly although unconsciously . ..the damage unperceived.

    It is this political alteration of interpretation of people’s state of being that I think both Szasz and Laing would condemn in concert: there is little doubt that stigmatization in an increasingly police/militia mentality culture rapidly morphs into scapegoating and justification for forcible “treatment” or punishment.
    Or, as we saw in Germany in the late 1930’s–extermination.

    People who don’t fit the prevailing paradigm of political correctness have always been the threat to those for whom that paradigm is either personally or financially sacrosanct…but now we also have, and have had the additional incentive by PHRMA and its psychiatric agents to suppress by chemical or incarcerative means, a justification of benefit only to the oppressors.

    The conflation of violent behavior with the term mentally ill is not one that can or ought go uncontested, loudly and clearly.
    We all need to raise our voices, to pick up pen or typing pad, and express openly the wrongness of that conflation.