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Anti-Psychiatry: The End of the Road?

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Psychoanalysis, Politics and the Postmodern University

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Abstract

The term “anti-psychiatry” was coined in 1912, but was popularized only in 1967 by psychiatrist David Cooper. The anti-psychiatry movement focused on the dangers and abuses of involuntary hospitalization and treatment, the pitfalls of labeling and diagnosis, and psychiatry’s narrow focus on the biomedical aspects of mental disorder. It deemed psychiatry’s primary task to be to punish or sequester deviants, rather than heal the fractured psyche, and called for its total abolition. When Cooper faded into obscurity, self-styled “anti-psychiatrists” continued to hail R.D. Laing, Michel Foucault, and Thomas Szasz as their preceptors. However, all three men rejected this label, and despite important similarities, differed starkly from one another on a variety of key issues. Moreover, today’s “anti-psychiatrists” seldom dismiss the medical model of mental disorder, but bemoan the total debasement of the medical model, as Big Pharma medicates the general (outpatient) population for the sake of corporate profits.

Note: Portions of this chapter are reproduced with permission from Eidos: A Journal for Philosophy and Culture, “Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry: Myth, Rhetoric and Reality”, Vol. 2, 2 (4), 2018 and Psychotherapy and Politics International, “Psychiatry, anti-psychiatry, and anti-anti-psychiatry: Rhetoric and reality”. Psychother Politics Int. 2018; 16: e1439. https://doi.org/10.1002/ppi.1439

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Notes

  1. 1.

    From a historian’s point of view, one of Thomas Szasz’s most useful books is entitled The Age of Madness: The History of Involuntary Mental Hospitalization (New York: Jason Aronson, 1974.) Szasz wrote the book’s Introduction and Afterword, but basically, it is a compendium of startling testimony and reflections by other, earlier authors from Europe and America who wrote about the political uses and abuses of involuntary mental hospitalization, much of which appeared before the term “anti-psychiatry” was even coined. Part One covers the period from 1650–1865, while Part Two covers the period from 1865–1920.

  2. 2.

    For a detailed discussion of Laing and Esterson’s methods and findings, and their relevance to contemporary debates about madness, please see chapter 4 of my book The Crucible of Experience: R.D. Laing and the Crisis of Psychotherapy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).

  3. 3.

    For more on the rupture between R.D. Laing and David Cooper, please see chapters 3–7 of my book The Wing of Madness: The Life and Work of R.D. Laing (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).

  4. 4.

    Though he did not credit or cite him, unfortunately, Laing’s reflections on normalcy and alienation in the Cold War era obviously invite comparison with Erich Fromm’s earlier ideas about “the pathology of normalcy” in The Sane Society (Fromm 1955) For a fuller discussion of this issue, see my article entitled “Cyborgs, Zombies and Planetary Death: Alienation in the 21st Century” (The Humanistic Psychologist, 42, 3, pp. 283–291).

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Burston, D. (2020). Anti-Psychiatry: The End of the Road?. In: Psychoanalysis, Politics and the Postmodern University. Critical Political Theory and Radical Practice. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-34921-9_8

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