‘Anti-psychiatry’ was a term originally used by David Cooper (see my book chapter). It was also used by mainstream psychiatrists, such as Martin Roth, to denote what he considered to be an international movement against psychiatry (see another previous post). Anti-psychiatry came to be most associated with R.D. Laing and Thomas Szasz, who actually had very different views. It is generally seen as a passing phase in the history of psychiatry, although Bonnie Burstow tried to resurrect the term ‘antipsychiatry’ without the hyphen (see previous post). If the term now means anything, I think it should be reserved for the abolition of psychiatry, which is the sense in which Burstow meant it. Cooper’s anti-psychiatry became a rather bizarre mixture of family, sexual and revolutionary politics, which even R.D. Laing found embarrassing (see my Lancet Psychiatry letter). Laing himself was taken up by the counter-culture of the 1960/70s and ultimately became more interested in personal growth and authenticity than changing psychiatry.
The trouble with Roth’s use of the term is that anti-psychiatry wasn’t merely a negative contribution to psychiatry. There were excesses but the extent to which anti-psychiatry provided a critique of reductionism and positivism in psychiatry was of value. There are problems with a mechanistic approach to mental illness. I have been trying to get this message across by using the term ‘critical psychiatry’. But I think we now need to move on from an outdated physical disease model of mental illness to a more relational mental health practice (see previous post).
I’ve always emphasised the continuities of critical and relational psychiatry with mainstream psychiatry. I also do not agree with the approach of the ‘drop the disorder’ movement, which is leading to too much polarisation and misunderstanding (see eg. previous post). Recent developments from anti-cognitivist phenomenological and enactive accounts of psychopathology may well help relational psychiatry to come afresh at the modern crisis in psychiatry (see previous post).