Wednesday, February 24, 2021

"What Is Anti-psychiatry?"

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    What is anti-psychiatry?

    To some people, “anti-psychiatry” (in some contexts, without the hyphen) is a word associated with renegade psychiatrists like R.D. Laing who believed (correctly) that the words and experiences of the the “psychotic” people with whom they worked actually had meaning and who were critical of mainstream psychiatry.

    For psychiatry, it seems that “anti-psychiatry” is an epithet. It is a label that psychiatry attempts to slap on to all of its critics, whenever “Scientologist” doesn’t stick. This label is apparently meant to signify an opposition to all of medicine (as if psychiatry is medicine), an opposition to science (as if psychiatry is based on science), and an opposition to reason (as if reason is ever used in psychiatry).

    Dr. Peter Breggin, a fierce and longtime critic of psychiatry, has recently said that even he does not describe himself as “anti-psychiatry” because of its widespread use as an epithet. (

    But “anti-psychiatry” also has another meaning. It also stands for the political view that psychiatry is a dangerous, coercive, and illegitimate institution that belongs in the dustbin of history.

    These are currently my two favorite resources for defining the anti-psychiatry position:

    “On Antipsychiatry” by Dr. Bonnie Burstow


    The Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault’s “Antipsychiatry Fact Sheet”

    The former puts the anti-psychiatry movement in context and the latter addresses common misconceptions about the anti-psychiatry position.

    • This topic was modified 6 years, 6 months ago by uprising.

    The discussion generated by this article by Dr Sandra Steingard was amazing.

    I stated my position on psychiatry in another thread. I am an abolitionist as far as forced psychiatry is concerned. That is my primary aim.

    What I am doing about that I can not discuss in these forums, suffice to say I have been as active as I can be in doing something about the situation in my community.

    What made me an anti-psychiatrist?

    Studying psychology for two years and then getting slapped in the face by reading Thomas Szasz Myth of Mental Illness.

    Being subjected to an involuntary detention for nothing more than having a disagreement with my wife’s family. This unlawful detention introduced me to some patients who, when I heard what had been done to them made me realise that I could not ignore that people were being treated in the manner that they were. What stood out to me in some of the stories that I heard over a period of 6 months was that these people were being subjected to a process of being bullied into submission. The individual stories made me realise that people are being locked up and forcefully drugged for little more than not cleaning their home etc.

    I don’t know if the situation is as bad elsewhere, but here in Western Australia mental health services are operating well outside the parameters of the Mental Health Act, and see themselves as the saviours of our community. Had a disagreement with your teenage son? No problems, we will incarcerate him and drug him until he complies with your wishes mom. That’s what were good at. Think I’m joking? I sat and listened to a mother who had done just this, and her son is now on a cocktail of drugs, is incarcerated on a regular basis, and is worse than he ever was before mental health services got involved. The mother is now what could be labelled ‘depressed’ and also requires ‘treatment’. Mom is now looking back and wondering about her decision to get them involved in the first place.

    I know we can not tell what would have happened without this ‘intervention’, but it seems to me that once the trap is sprung, you either gnaw your own leg off to get out of the trap, or stay in it and watch as your life blood spills onto the ground.

    What sealed it for me was when I asked a psychiatrist to show me some of his successes. The rage that appeared on his face told the whole story. All he had were levels of failure, nothing more.

    Anyway, bit of a rant from me uprising, but I hope that we can get some debate happening around this issue, and discuss some strategies for doing something about this atrocious situation.

    I really like the article by Dr Bonnie Burstow, and think that the other article by CAPA is a good start on the myths about anti-psychiatry.

    I know I can’t turn my back on what I observed in that locked ward. I had no idea that people were being treated in such a manner in what is supposedly a civilised society. If I must fight alone, then that’s what i’ll do.

    Oh and if any psychiatrists or mental health workers think they are going to silence me with threats and intimidation, remember, I’M the one who is a danger to self or other lol.

    Lets hope that some information can be exchanged about what to do, and get some groundwork done so that others can join us in changing this tyrannical system.


    • This reply was modified 6 years, 6 months ago by boans.
    • This reply was modified 6 years, 6 months ago by boans.

    What sealed it for me was when I asked a psychiatrist to show me some of his successes. The rage that appeared on his face told the whole story. All he had were levels of failure, nothing more.

    Ha, classic! I swear that is like a universal feature of psychiatry. (If you’re a reader who love love loves psychiatry, and doesn’t believe me, then try it out for yourself!) I had a major surgery once, and I asked the surgeon what the success rate was. He didn’t take the question personally. Without hesitation, he told me, “85%.” Try asking a psychiatrist what their success rate is. They can’t do it, because there is nothing to measure! No wonder they get angry so easily. They should not have medical licenses.



    Anti-psychiatry = fight for human rights and truth in psychiatry.

    including, but not limited to, full informed consent regarding the medical legitimacy of psychiatric diagnosis, the risks of psychiatric treatments, the right to all available medical alternatives, and the right to refuse any treatment considered harmful.

    Frank Blankenship

    I saw this category vanish recently from this forum. Not sure what happened, UpRising, but I’m glad to see it return.

    There was a time when anti-psychiatry was associated with psychiatrists. If David Cooper didn’t originate the term, he rescued it. R.D. Laing later came to distance himself from the term altogether because, in contrast to David Cooper, author of Death of the Family, Laing, being the father of some 10 children by 4 different women was a family man, if you can believe that. If anti-psychiatry was anti-family, in his view, he was having none of it. Thomas Szasz wasn’t hip to being associated with the likes of Laing, Cooper, and Michel Foucault on political grounds. Cooper and Foucault were leftists while he seemed to reject Laing straight off for being what he considered to be a man of bad character. Among these four, only Foucault wasn’t a psychiatrist. Szasz was a Hungarian emigrant in flight from what the communists (in theory anyway) had made of his country. Thankfully, anti-psychiatry is no longer the sole refuge of maverick shrinks. Other voices, and particularly those of psychiatric survivors and service users, have come to the table. It is a table psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health workers are less prone to sit at because doing so, in the present climate, puts their professional careers at risk. (How anti-psychiatry is that for you?!)

    Szasz took an abolitionist stand when it came to forced treatment. Laing, Cooper, and associates, having done their residency in total institutions, were not willing to make so total a break with coercive practices. I feel that a person can no longer be anti-psychiatry without also being anti-forced-psychiatry. It’s the credibility factor that you lose when you aren’t true to your colors. I wouldn’t recommend collaborating with fascists either. (Take that USA.) The break must be total. Reforms have a way of becoming their opposite with time, and thus renewing the need for further reform. With abolition, with the repeal of bad and unconstitutional law, such is no longer the case, reform becomes not only unnecessary, but redundant.

    Where psychiatry is brainwashing, distance from psychiatry is health and liberation. I’m all for liberation. The mental health system is about relying on others, and not on yourself. It’s also about dependency. Ditto the “sickness”. Anti-psychiatry is about a return to self-reliance. Wilderness survival and ‘mental patient gloves’ are incompatible. I see a great benefit in wilderness survival training.


    Hi Frank,

    I know that if I don’t sign in to MiA then the recent posts don’t show up in the forums.

    In some ways I feel that it is an advantage that psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health workers don’t wish to sit at the table. “Make your plans in the dark, and then strike like a thunderbolt” Sun Tzu. I am a great believer in Sun Tzu for strategy and tactics in this war against (forced) psychiatry.

    I’ve said before about the effect that Szasz had on my career, and feelings towards psychiatry, but I really don’t recall if he had anything to say about the way forward on this. Was he relying on people being rational and accepting that it needed to change, or did he have much to say about how things would be changed?

    Anyway, glad your here.


    Frank Blankenship

    Thanks, Boans. It’s good to have you here, too.

    As far as Thomas Szasz goes, he was a psychiatrist. Sure, he was pretty fed up with his profession as a whole, but he had his part to play in it. He realized forced psychiatry was all about social control. He also realized psychiatry was not always practiced in the interests of the client, and because of this reality, he proposed, perhaps mockingly, the creation of two types of psychiatrists, psychiatrists for the defense, and psychiatrists for the prosecution. In a way this is far more honest than the present situation in which the psychiatrist (and often the public defender as well) claim to be working in the clients best interest while in actuality doing everything they can to work against the clients best interests. I talking enlightened self-interest here, that is, the interest of the client as outlined by the client.

    Szasz took a stand for abolition of forced treatment. Other psychiatrists were fain to follow suit. This leaves a psychiatry full of lies and self-deception. The psychiatrist is working for the state, or the client’s family, and against the client, while claiming to be doing what’s best for the client, according to professional doublethink. Although I haven’t read Quackery Squared, I can see why he would go after Laing and company (“anti-psychiatry” past) for their pretense. Essentially, they had a more non-structured experimental system on one hand, and downright tyranny on the other. The conventional system was their defense for when things went wrong in the experimental.

    If you don’t take that leap, where does that leave you? Of course, developing your own variety of hypocrisy. I’m talking about the leap into calling for a repeal of mental law, and the abolition of forced psychiatry. I doubt ending forced psychiatry would be the end of psychiatry, all the same, the abolition of psychiatry starts with the abolition of forced psychiatry. Psychiatry’s reason, in a sense, always was force. In the beginning, in fact, there was no voluntary treatment. It may be more of a luxury in some quarters today, but talking to some hired head for 400 $ a shot is not my idea of a good time. When the gates come down from the gated communities, well, nobody is going to be paying that kind of money for a rainy day “companion”.


    There are some interesting developments occurring here in Australia at present that I believe have the potential to bring the plight of those being subjected to forced psychiatry to light.

    Our Mental Health Acts are in some ways different to those in America, and are being abused in different ways, though with what appears to be the same result.

    Our Federal Government is attempting to enact laws relating to terrorism that, when examined, are little more than an adaptation of the state Mental Health Acts. I can not tell you how similar the loopholes that are being left in the legislation are. They are so similar that I have begun referring to them as the Muslim Health Act when commenting in articles about them.

    In a nutshell they are shifting the burden of proof for detention from a requirement for evidence to one where a public officer need only “suspect on reasonable grounds” that a person is a danger to others. This ‘standard’ sounds great when one looks at the protections surrounding it. However, the loophole has allowed what were laws for subjecting a very small amount of people who were deemed to have a potential for harm to self or other to forced psychiatry, into laws that have seen tens of thousands of people detained and drugged.

    The Federal Government at this point in time is arguing that they need these laws to deal with a small group of people suspected of terrorist activities (60 – 150). It is my belief that when (note I do not say if) they get these new laws, they will begin abusing them in exactly the same manner as the Mental Health Acts. What I know from experience is that being subjected to forced psychiatry is a perfect way to ‘radicalise’ a person. Being subjected to such unjust laws merely makes people angry.

    I get the feeling that if they do start abusing these laws in the manner that the Mental Health Acts are being abused, it won’t be long before there are bombings etc. This of course will be used as a justification for the draconian laws they have passed (see we told ya so), and quite possibly expand the very laws that are the cause of the problem.

    I’m sure it’s a pattern recognised by anyone who has looked at mass shootings. The mental health system ‘radicalises’ individuals, and then when they go on a shooting spree, it is used to call for more powers and drugging.

    I will certainly be speaking to members of the Muslim community and explaining to them what to expect once these laws are passed. They can kiss their civil rights goodbye. I don’t think that the response will be as muted as those who have been subjected to the same types of laws for being suspected of having a ‘mental illness’. I’m certainly doing my best to bring it to peoples attention.

    My hope is that if the community recognises that these laws are a violation of peoples civil and human rights, it may not be too difficult to get them to understand the way that mental health laws are exactly the same. It may force some change.

    It may be possible that if the politicians claim that the laws will not be abused, that they may have their noses rubbed in the Mental Health Acts as evidence that they are not to be believed. The data is certainly there to demonstrate this.

    I’ll be watching very closely anyway.

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 6 months ago by boans.

    Hey Frank, thanks for fleshing out more of the history of anti-psychiatry.

    Hey boans, I admire how you made that connection and I hope they will listen to what you have to say.

    Frank Blankenship

    I read R. D. Laing way back when. (He was alive once you know.) I got to R. D. Laing in a round about way actually, through ex-Beatle John Lennon. I was a John Lennon fan, and John Lennon gave an interview in Rolling Stone Magazine where he talked about he and Yoko doing Primal Therapy with Arthur Janov. He saw similarities between him, in this interview, and R. D. Laing, whom he mentioned. This lead to my reading first, The Primal Scream, and then much material authored by Laing.

    This was before any experience I’d had in the mental health system, and a residence like Kingsley Hall, even then, seemed a vast improvement over what I knew of the traditional mental hospital, more honestly referred to as a ‘loony bin’. It would have been, in a word, my preference when it came to alternatives, and alternatives to civil commitment (force). Later, I had direct experience with involuntary inpatient incarceration, and that only reinforced my initial feelings about this matter.

    After institutionalization, I attended a couple of these Conferences on Psychiatric Oppression and for Human Rights. I got there somehow by reading The Radical Therapist, and taking off on what these therapists, avowedly Marxist, were saying and doing. Their writings got me in touch, more or less, with the mental patients liberation movement. I remember somebody objecting, at one of the conferences, to the term ‘anti-psychiatry’ because a psychiatrist had come up with it.

    I read Thomas Szasz, too, but I think his influence came later rather than earlier. I recently read The Manufacture of Madness, and I was conscious of the fact that it was a rereading. The difference is, Szasz made no bones about it, he was against force in psychiatry. There are a lot of issues implicit in this matter of locking up people who have broken no laws in the name “medicine” that haven’t been resolved, such as the reality of the alleged “disease” that “permits” it, and the lack of due process involved.

    Well, what I was trying to get at is that anti-psychiatry to begin with was just a another approach to problems besides that of biological medical medical model psychiatry, albeit an approach whose concerns extended beyond its own field of expertise. That is to say, you had the makings of a more encompassing social critique.

    What once might have called itself anti-psychiatry has been calling itself critical psychiatry for a few years now. This critical psychiatry constitutes a nether zone of criticism between apologists for biological reductionism and any and every thoroughgoing critique up to, but not including, cessation and elimination of the field altogether.

    Anti-psychiatry, as is, aware that psychiatry is damaging, rather than “healing” or “helpful”, as a rule, and that it has always been so, takes the next logical step, in opposing the profession in its entirety. Of course, there are exceptions, and we deal with those exceptions as they are, as exceptions to the rule.


    I saw this documentary many years ago called “Did you used to be R.D.Laing?”

    Rewatching it now to refresh my memory.

    See particularly 1:19 Politics of Psychiatry.

    Frank Blankenship

    Interesting when you think about it. This picture was filmed in Canada in 1988. Laing had lost his license to practice medicine in 1987. He would die of a heart attack in August of 1989. (Yesterday, in fact, by my calculation, was something like the 25th anniversary of his death.)

    All that talk therapy, to me, says “walk”. Boring. He should’ve stuck to his piano playing.

    What he got right though was how the DSM-III was violating peoples rights simply to be themselves. I think he articulated that sentiment pretty well. The rest of it was pretty much poppycock.


    I read R. D. Laing way back when. (He was alive once you know.)

    That’s funny.


    This critical psychiatry constitutes a nether zone of criticism between apologists for biological reductionism and any and every thoroughgoing critique up to, but not including, cessation and elimination of the field altogether.

    Yeah. What a weird dynamic — placing yourself in the middle of a scam then being “critical” of it as you participate.

    Uprising do you have an email add. that you could pass along here or elsewhere (if not it’s ok).


    Why I do not find my posts? That they are removed?

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