Current Psychology

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 79–101 | Cite as

Debunking Antipsychiatry: Laing, Law, and Largactil

  • Thomas SzaszEmail author


The term “psychiatry” refers to two radically different ideas and practices: curing–healing “souls” and coercing–controlling persons. It is important that critics of psychiatry clarify whether they object to the former or the latter or both, and why. Because I believe coerced psychiatric relations are like coerced labor relations called “slavery,” and like coerced sexual relations called “rape,” I spent the better part of my professional life criticizing involuntary-institutional psychiatry and the insanity defense. In 1967, my effort to undermine the medical-political legitimacy of the term “mental illness” and the moral-legal legitimacy of depriving individuals of liberty by means of psychiatric rationalizations suffered a serious blow: the creation of the antipsychiatry movement. Despite their claims, “antipsychiatrists” rejected neither the idea of mental illness nor coercion practiced in the name of “treating” mental illness. Sensational claims about managing “schizophrenia” and pretentious pseudophilosophical pronouncements diverted attention from the crucial role of the psychiatrist as an agent of the state and as an adversary of the denominated patient. The legacy of the antipsychiatry movement is the creation of a catchall term used to delegitimize and dismiss critics of psychiatric fraud and force by labeling them “antipsychiatrists.”


Antipsychiatry Ronald D. Laing David Cooper Clancy Sigal LSD Psychiatric coercions Psychiatric excuses 



I am greatly indebted to Anthony Stadlen for generously sharing with me his encyclopedic knowledge of psychoanalysis, existential analysis, and the history of the cure of souls. I am responsible for errors of fact and other flaws.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychiatry EmeritusManliusUSA

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