Saturday, September 22, 2012

Restricting the critique of psychiatry

One of Thomas Szasz's last papers (see previous post) was the write-up of an invited address, presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP), Los Angeles, California, 28 October 2011. Szasz wanted to monopolise psychiatric criticism, restricting it merely to the abolition of psychiatric coercion. In my view, to do so undermines the critique of psychiatry.

The primary problem with modern psychiatry is its reduction of mental illness to bodily dysfunction. Objectification of those identified as mentally ill, by insisting on the somatic nature of their illness, may apparently simplify matters and help protect those trying to provide care from the pain experienced by those needing support. But psychiatric assessment too often fails to appreciate personal and social precursors of mental illness by avoiding or not taking account of such psychosocial considerations (see previous post). Mainstream psychiatry acts on the somatic hypothesis of mental illness to the detriment of understanding people's problems.

Szasz was correct that he first made this argument in The myth of mental illness but its impact was undermined by his insistence on the abolition of the Mental Health Act. 

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Szasz opposed forced psychiatry. Therefore he is beloved by survivors of forced psychiatry, and therefore violent psychiatry apologists, such as anyone in favor of a law forcing someone into psychiatry, are reviled.

Beloved or reviled, your choice. Either you're for our human rights, or against.

Anonymous said...

"Szasz wanted to monopolise psychiatric criticism"

This is absolute crap, and represents a poor understanding of his work and of what a monopoly is.

If you're in favor of a LAW! existing to force people into interactions with your profession, you are the one in favor of monopolizing.

Passing a law is very essence of monopoly.

All I can say is, a law being in place, that could see me handed over to ANY psychiatrist, that enables them to own/monopolize my body/brain, is a terrifying thing, and Szasz was rightly opposed to it.

God knows why you're for it. God knows what redeeming feature you see in this quack profession, that it should have the right to force itself on every man, woman and child Mr. Double.

When I can feel safe FROM your profession, you can waste your life "critiquing" it until the cows come home. I won't look back. Task ONE is to be safe from having one's life/brain raped and assaulted by quacks, under laws that make it compulsory to believe life's problems are "illnesses".

If it were not for your terrifying legal powers, I'd pay as much attention to your profession as a I to naturopaths.

As in, NONE.

The only interest your profession hold to me, is as a THREAT to my life, liberty, and dignity.

Dirk Steele said...

So you transform Szasz's statement in his paper of "focusing on the critics’ neglect of the core problematic issue – the psychiatrist’s role in depriving innocent persons of liberty."

to "Szasz wanted to monopolise psychiatric criticism".

An absolutely disgraceful misrepresentation.

Duncan Double said...

Dirk, Szasz always did tend to demolish any other argument apart from his own!

Anonymous said...

Szasz was opposed to forced psychiatry and so am I, but he's not beloved to me and I'm a survivor. He was also very right wing, happy to see no state help whatsoever. Not everyone can afford that position.

Dirk Steele said...

Yes Duncan, Szasz was an intellectual giant able to demolish many arguments. I have mentioned in before that the critical psychiatry reading list does not contain one book by Szasz. An oversight perhaps? (Ironic statement alert!)The fact that he laughed at you in his speech (critical psychiatry is the equivalent of 'critical creationism') must have peeved you somewhat eh?

Dirk Steele said...

Anonymous, Szasz was a libertarian, not 'right wing'. He was not against any state 'help' as such but realised the consequences of such help to the individual. (ADHD has been created in order to better manage a state run educational institution for example). He simply wanted a separation of psychiatry from the state much like the separation of church and state.

Dirk Steele said...

If anyone is interested in his exact, unmisrepresented views would do well to start here.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/21254130/Szasz-Thomas-Cruel-Compassion-Psychiatric-Control-of-Society-s-Unwanted-1994

Anonymous said...

A country that puts a parade float of the NHS in its opening ceremony for the Olympics, a country that has a head of state that is hereditary, a country that has CCTV cameras on every corner, is not a country where we should expect to see grown adults who understand the concept of individual liberty.

It is therefore not surprising the British Critical Psychiatry are defenders of state enforced psychiatry.








Anonymous said...

Dirk - I want psychiatry separated from the state too but the right-inclined present no state support as being libertarian. ‘Work is the solution’ [Arbeit Macht Frei] espoused by British politicians with no regard for people dying from a lack of help and/or unable to cut it enough to fully support themselves. He was not a supporter of welfare/social housing as I understand it, nor did he have much regard for those who continued to take state psychiatric support [for all its abuses and inadequacies]. Ironically right now the few decent people working in psychiatry are working very hard to assist people from having their social support stripped away from them i.e personal assistants of a person’s choosing to assist with stuff like living.
Fellow survivors reported him shouting them down at events and a friend was called a ‘malingerer’ [that person fits the right wing ideal in that they are gainfully employed and not taking any state benefits/social housing] and minimal psychological support from services. That person also works tirelessly for the furthering of what people who use services actually want for themselves rather than what others dictate.

Anonymous – I think you’ll find many UK residents utterly detest all the political parties and don’t view them as fit for any purpose, but he wasn’t the last word on liberty, admire whoever you like, but those of us who didn’t worship at his feet are not morons for not doing so.

What amuses me is that any survivor who doesn’t fall at his feet tends to be automatically caricatured as medical model, sad or dependent and a bit dim, and any psychiatrist not worshipping him must be purveyors of torture. There a few [albeit not many] who are capable of using the MHA [minimally] without forced treatment, I have known such people. These debates can become too black and white; all X good, all Y bad or stupid.
Difference doesn’t have to mean being mortal enemies – there have sometimes been alliances between people of very different views for a common purpose if it didn’t mean compromising preferred principles.

Not all psychiatry is about torturing people – look at social psychiatrists who started the hearing voices movement.
However the so-called recovery model isn’t necessarily any less of a tyranny than psychiatry with its factions and you must do/not do XYZ in order to qualify as trying hard enough or properly recovering. I don’t like to see people being chastised for taking medication, ALL choices have costs not only that choice [where it is a real and informed choice]

Anonymous said...

"psychiatry separated from the state too but the right-inclined present no state support as being libertarian."

Don't confuse right wingers with libertarians. Libertarians want the smallest government possible because they understand the monopoly on coercion is a very dangerous mistress. If you use government to solve every problem, soon you have a situation like the UK where state spending surpasses 50pc of GDP and millions of people work the state and millions more indirectly work propped up by the state, and millions more, don't work.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1259935/Public-sector-53-economy-record-6-09million-Britons-work-state.html


"‘Work is the solution’ [Arbeit Macht Frei] espoused by British politicians"

Arbeit Macht Frei doesn't mean 'work is the solution', it means work sets you free, and bringing in Holocaust references to the simple, time immemorial problem of personal responsibility is just immature.


"He [Szasz] was not a supporter of welfare/social housing as I understand it"

He was a libertarian. He was for the principle of non-aggression. As in, if you need something, you don't take it by force from others, nor ask the government to take it by force from others, which is where the money for socialist programs comes from.

However, you obviously don't know your Szasz because he was in favor of "adult orphanages" funded by the state for a limited number of people who simply wish to wait out their lives sheltered from the world. He didn't want the people who had become institutionalized in the decades past to just be thrown out on the street, he wanted the door unlocked, and they could stay, or go, it was up to them.

"nor did he have much regard for those who continued to take state psychiatric support [for all its abuses and inadequacies]."

Szasz believed every psychiatrized person should make an earnest effort to understand their problems, work through them and move on with their lives. It is telling you use the word "continuing", he did believe, reasonably, I feel, that people who understood the myth of mental illness, would be acting in bad faith taking lifelong early retirement, as in benefits, for "psychiatric disability", when they now didn't believe in brain disease mental illness, which is the whole reason society has sanctioned this form of disability benefits. I know for a fact he wasn't opposed to someone taking a couple of years time out (on benefits) to recover from the abuses of state psychiatry, and work toward self-sufficiency.

Anonymous said...


"Fellow survivors reported him shouting them down at events"

I believe you may be referring to a late in life trip to the UK he made, where he claimed he was harassed by statist members of the audience first. Knowing Szasz's international reputation as a non-initiator of aggression, and as a remarkably polite man, I highly doubt the following was unprovoked...

"and a friend was called a ‘malingerer’"

If you don't believe in what the government says mental illness is, and you don't believe in what psychiatry says mental illness is, and you don't believe in what society believes mental is, and you still say you shouldn't have to work, and amounts of money should be forcibly transferred from strangers all around the country into your bank account, then you are a person who needs to look at the morality of that.


"[that person fits the right wing ideal in that they are gainfully employed and not taking any state benefits/social housing] and minimal psychological support from services."

It is neither a right wing, or left wing, or libertarian ideal, that people should not, where possible, live off the labor of others. Even primitive tribes in Africa feel the same way about their community members. When you're not completely unable to exchange some of your time and labor for sustenance, it is widely considered, universally worldwide and throughout all human history, to be an immoral thing to live as an economic parasite.

I'm not saying there are no people unable to work who have been psychiatrized. There are some who are completely unable to function. Unfortunately, there are also many consumer/survivors who just sit on benefits, and are clearly able to work but choose not to.

"Anonymous – I think you’ll find many UK residents utterly detest all the political parties and don’t view them as fit for any purpose, but he wasn’t the last word on liberty, admire whoever you like, but those of us who didn’t worship at his feet are not morons for not doing so."

He was a great libertarian, and nobody in recent UK history even approaches his libertarian credentials.

"What amuses me is that any survivor who doesn’t fall at his feet tends to be automatically caricatured as medical model, sad or dependent and a bit dim, and any psychiatrist not worshipping him must be purveyors of torture. "

It's nothing to do with Szasz personally. If you're in favor of forced psychiatry, you are an apologist for torture. It's not a matter of opinion, coercion is not a perception, it's an objective fact. And as for dependency, you're either dependent or independent, that's an objective fact too.

Anonymous said...


"There a few [albeit not many] who are capable of using the MHA [minimally] without forced treatment, I have known such people."

If the coercer is using the MHA not to inflict forced treatment, what are they using it for? forced detention? that's all it can do. Detain and treat. That's ALL it does.

"These debates can become too black and white; all X good, all Y bad or stupid."

Freedom and losing your freedom are black and white. They always have been. There is no grey area in slavery, murder, rape, taxation, and a forced relationship with a quack you don't want to have a relationship with.

"Not all psychiatry is about torturing people – look at social psychiatrists who started the hearing voices movement."

If people choose to be involved with social psychiatrists, good for them, I'm not for stopping them. I'm for stopping it being forced on the unwilling.


"However the so-called recovery model isn’t necessarily any less of a tyranny than psychiatry with its factions and you must do/not do XYZ in order to qualify as trying hard enough or properly recovering."

I won't tolerate any false equivalency, between a certain percieved peer pressure to go off psychiatric drug, and a government psychiatrist raping somebody's biology. The two are completely incomparable. One is a legitimate tyranny, the other is an exaggeration and misuse of the word tyranny.

"I don’t like to see people being chastised for taking medication, ALL choices have costs not only that choice [where it is a real and informed choice]"

I'm for people taking heroin, crack, cocaine, or psychiatry's brain poisons if they want to.

I don't chastise them, and I don't see much chastisement going on.

There is a clear potentiality for people to feel foolish and duped and less than for tasking psychiatric drugs, I'll admit that, in the whole alternatives to psychiatry scene. But hey, if you want to feel reinforced for your decision to take psych drugs, there is always the mainstream websites and communities and forums of the other hundred million people who swallow these poisons who you can go to to commiserate with.

If people want to "use" psychiatry, good for them. It's like using chiropractors, or naturopaths, I have no right to get involved, and whatever people "swear by", that's good for them. The second they want a law to exist that forces what they "swear by" on me, then I have no choice but to defend my liberty from their sickening violations of free choice.

Chrys Muirhead said...

I cannot agree with this criticism of Prof Szasz’s stance regarding the abolition of psychiatric coercion and the mental health act. For those of us who have been forcibly treated, grabbed and jagged by psychiatric nurses, then this very act is at the root of what’s wrong with the psychiatric system and the treatment of people in mental distress.

If the psychiatric ‘professionals’ were not allowed to forcibly treat then they would be forced to look for other ways in which to work with the mentally ill. Rather than a cart before the horse idea of changing the biomedical model. Which I agree with but think that the force has to stop first. It’s too easy to make people take their medication if there is a mental health act condoning it. Much more difficult to negotiate with people and try to find out what they want when they are in a distressed state.

But they need to start trying to find out, even if it takes a lot longer. I’ll never feel OK at being grabbed and jagged, it was an assault on my person and unacceptable. As a mother and grandmother it shouldn’t have happened to me, or to anyone else, male or female. Time for it to stop.

Anonymous said...

Psychiatry raping brains and raping consciousness through forced drugging is more than a mere physical assault. It is the most whole and total invasive assault conceivable. I'd rather by punched in the face thousands of times, sexually violated, rather be suffer spinal injuries, probably rather die, than EVER have these vicious rapists of the brain ever dare enter my brain ever again.

If they ever touch me again, they better make sure they kill me this time.

Dirk Steele said...

I'm for people taking heroin, crack, cocaine, or psychiatry's brain poisons if they want to.

I don't chastise them, and I don't see much chastisement going on."

You have not had a sentence of death for disributing 'drugs' then have you. Twat.

Dirk Steele said...

I cannot tell who is 'anonymous' from 'anonymous'. Be who you are. There are no guarantees.

Dirk Steele said...

"Szasz wanted to monopolise psychiatric criticism, restricting it merely to the abolition of psychiatric coercion. In my view, to do so undermines the critique of psychiatry."

That says it all. Misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Mostly called stupidity. Critical psychiatry equals critical creationism. Where do you stand Duncan?

Dirk Steele said...

Duncan. Where do you stand or fall (cognitive science). Your silence is deafening.

Duncan Double said...

I did post a comment to your question on a different blog entry about where I stand on the Mental Health Act. Is this what you mean? Haven't I been saying where I stand throughout this blog? Perhaps I need to have a summary manifesto like Szasz.

Chrys Muirhead said...

I think that as a practising psychiatrist Duncan then you will have to say that compulsion in some cases is justified. Because in some cases you will be forcing treatment on patients/people. (I say you but I mean nurses who have to do the deed)

But this doesn't make it the right thing to do.

The problem with having force/compulsion available under the mental health act means that some people or maybe even many people will use it inappropriately. I say people but I mean nurses, although doctors write the notes saying the drugs have to be given or the shock treatment inflicted.

Therefore nurses are the handmaidens of psychiatrists who are one step removed from having to wield a syringe with neuroleptics in it. Calling it rapid tranquilisation sounds like what they do to wild animals that have escaped from the zoo.

You can tell that I'm not happy about having been grabbed and jagged. It was a while ago, maybe in less enlightened times. And yet it happened recently to someone dear to me. So maybe the times we live in are not that enlightened?

Anonymous said...

..."if you need something, you don't take it by force from others, nor ask the government to take it by force from others"

Read this and learn:

http://www.dpac.uk.net/2012/04/a-tale-of-two-models-disabled-people-vs-unum-atos-government-and-disability-charities-debbie-jolly/

Dirk I'm anonymous to protect myself from recovery trolls who write off any debate as meaning you're a lazy feckless medical model idiot - and yes some of them do actually seek to hurt others

Anonymous said...

NO Dirk – it was unprovoked, the people questioning him included some of our most highly respected activists in Europe, he was not harassed.

I know the literal translation of Arbeit Macht Frei and it is not 'immature' to use Holocaust references read the British press and WAKE UP - we are in a right wing administration blaming sick and disabled people for the economy, sound familiar? Re-read the history yourself and stop it with your infantile argument techniques where you just call anyone you don't agree with stupid, immature, idiot - that is revealing of you. Noone has called you or him those things. Debate like an adult or go away

Anonymous said...

On second thoughts I'll go and not come back to comment.
I remember when debate used to be productive irrespective of difference [and even of anger or passion]. These days debate online ends up as name calling with varying degrees of threat [yes that really has happened], and character/moralistic assumptions without ever knowing the person, their experiences and what has led them to their views. You stay on your high horses,I'm done with online debate now because it feels like a point scoring game show. You throw insults and don't even consider there is human being reading them.

Angel said...

Yes Duncan, Szasz was an intellectual giant able to demolish many arguments. I have mentioned in before that the critical psychiatry reading list does not contain one book by Szasz. An oversight perhaps? (Ironic statement alert!)The fact that he laughed at you in his speech (critical psychiatry is the equivalent of 'critical creationism') must have peeved you somewhat eh?