Should Antipsychiatry Embrace the Disease Model?


Critical Psychiatry mentions the upcoming Sedgwick Conference, and links to a retrospective appraisal by two British academics of the central ideas in Peter Sedgwick’s 1982 book Psychopolitics. Sedgwick criticized Michel Foucault, R.D. Laing and Thomas Szasz, they write, and he argued that antipsychiatry activists could be more politically effective if they radically embraced rather than vilified the disease model of psychological distress.

PsychoPolitics in the Twenty First Century: Peter Sedgwick and radical movements in mental health (Critical Psychiatry, December 1, 2014)


  1. First, everyone, the links are all still working. And just to clarify the ‘meaning’ of this post… Sedgwick apparently used the terms disease and illness interchangeably and deliberately, according to the authors of the essay linked to from Duncan’s original post mentioned in the article above. See

    Hence, for Sedgwick, all illness ‚Äėis essentially deviancy‚Äô (1982, p. 32, original emphasis) and, therefore, equally laden with value:

    “[q]uite correctly, the anti-psychiatrists have pointed out that psychopathological categories refer to value judgements and that mental illness is deviancy. On the other hand, the anti-psychiatric critics themselves are wrong when they imagine physical medicine to be essentially different in its logic from psychiatry… mental illnesses can be conceptualized within the disease framework just as easily as physical maladies.”

    Sedgwick‚Äôs conception is subtle and needs to be carefully rendered. In stressing the value-laden-ness of medicine, it is not his intention to disregard its scientific credentials. At the same time, in subsuming a diagnosis of ‚Äėschizophrenia‚Äô within the illness framework, neither is he endorsing psychiatry‚Äôs epistemological claims. Sedgwick is pro-medicine precisely to the extent that he envisages a radically socialized medicine applicable equally to physical and mental health. Such examples of socialized medicine include, ‚Äė[t]he insertion of windows into working-class houses‚Äô (ibid., p. 39) and ‚Äėthe provision of a pure water supply and an efficient sewage disposal‚Äô (ibid.).

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  2. My feeling is that some of these divisive characters that pop up in the movement here and there are government plants. We’ve seen it in other instances. The FBI has declared war against this group or that associated with the civil rights movement. The CIA has infiltrated organizations. I’m not saying this guy, Peter Sedgewick, was a government plant, and I’m not saying he wasn’t a government plant. I am saying he could have been a government plant. You’ve got all these theories, and together with them, the latest up and coming nonsense. I think considering the circumstances you have be very jaded about some of the theories coming along. Disinformation has long been a weapon in the hands of some covert organizations. They bring up that question, was the government using it’s divide and conquer strategy again? Could be…

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    • Just glanced at the article, and I figure what’s really at work is this guy is using psychiatry in an underhanded fashion to push a socialist agenda. His target is anti-psychiatry. Sure, you can use “mental health” to destabilize the economic system. There is a lot of that going on right now.

      I have a real problem with the mental health system, not just the economic system, and this changes the equation somewhat. Do we really need so much of our lives and people tied up in the problem growth and cultivation business? You see what we’ve got going is the opposite of a problem solving trade, and using the “mental health” industry to push a political agenda just exasperates matters.

      This is the problem with many on the left who don’t understand what’s going on here. Scr*w ups in a socialist economy are no better than scr*w ups in a capitalist economy, but they are scr*w ups nonetheless. Scr*w up as a weapon, well, tends to get confused in time with scr*w up the goal. Dealing with that once you have the reins of government…LOL.

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      • Saying so, in fact, doesn’t mean that this guy isn’t a government plant. That possibility always exists. Sow confusion in the name of whatever. World revolution, classless society, robot rule, you name it! There’s always somebody trying to defuse one movement in the name of another.

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  3. The disease model of mental illness gave (and gives) lobotomy (or Bilateral cingulotomy) legitimacy.

    “Recent technological advances, however, have made bilateral cingulotomy a more precise operation.”

    Where removing the brain of the patient is viewed as curing the patient of their symptoms.

    Removing all possible behaviour, both bad and good is a cure for mental illness, and there is few to complain of the cure.

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