Monday, August 31, 2015

Italian critical psychiatry

I mentioned John Foot's new book The man who closed the asylums: Franco Basaglia and the revolution in mental health care in a previous post before it was published in english. There has been very little published in english about Basaglia, which makes John's book very welcome. He tells the story of Basaglia's move from academia to direct the asylum at Gorizia in 1961, leading up to the passing in Italy in 1978 of law 180, which prevented new admissions to existing mental hospitals and shifted the perspective from segregation and control in the asylum to treatment and rehabilitation in society. Despite the opposition at the time, psychiatric hospitals have closed anyway over most of the Western world, as they became increasingly irrelevant to modern mental health services.

This story is interesting because, as Basaglia said in his own words, he became famous "because I 'opened up' a psychiatric hospital". He was charged twice with criminal liability following serious patient homicides because he was the "man that freed the mad".

However, what most interested me about the book was how little I know about Italian critical psychiatry, particularly the writing of Giovanni Jervis, who worked for a few years with Basaglia at Gorizia. From there he went to Reggio Emilia to develop community services.  His Manuale critico di psichiatria was reprinted continuously from 1975-97. With Gilberto Corbellini, he wrote La razionalit√† negata. Psichiatria e antipsichiatria in Italia (2008). It would be nice to be able to read both these books (and other related books) in english.

Jervis was not in total agreement with Basaglia. He accepted the social role of psychiatry, but still tried to expose the "margins of dissent and dysfunctionality in the system". Within the Centre for Mental Hygiene in Reggio Emilia, there was a split between Jervis and Giorgio Antonucci, who was more anti-psychiatry, in that he "aimed to destroy psychiatry as a separate technique". Within english language 'anti-psychiatry' there was a similar tension between Laing and Szsaz. I think modern critical psychiatry may well benefit from understanding the Italian historical tradition better.

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