The title of my talk was ‘On Being Sane in an Insane Place—The Rosenhan Experiment in the Laboratory of Plautus’ Epidamnus.’ I adapted it from my 2013 Current Psychology paper. My starting point is David Rosenhan’s 1973 “experiment,” in which he and a number of confederates pretended to hear voices in order to gain admission to psychiatric hospitals. Once they had been admitted they had trouble getting back out. Rosenhan’s stated aim was to prove that psychiatric diagnoses lack validity. I argue that a stage comedy written some 2200 years ago by the ancient Roman playwright T. Maccius Plautus anticipates Rosenhan’s experiment in virtually identical form. It too casts doubt on the medical model of madness, but it seems to go beyond Rosenhan’s attempt to limit the problems his actions exposed to questions of diagnosis, and more closely approaches the view of Thomas Szasz that mental illness is not a medical matter.
On Thursday, September 11, 2014, I was honored to present the Grand Rounds lecture to the Department of Psychiatry at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York. This was the department of which Dr. Thomas Szasz was formerly a member and, to celebrate his work, the department has been hosting a number of events to celebrate his prolific career. More information about the Grand Rounds celebration is available at Szasz.com, hosted by Dr. Jeffrey Schaler. Jeff himself gave the first Szasz-themed Grand Rounds lecture back in February 2014. I found my hosts—Szasz’s colleagues—a gracious and thoughtful group, eager to discuss ideas and explore their consequences with surprising candor.