By Phil Barker and Poppy Buchanan-Barker
August 4, 2010
And you thought Tom Szasz was yesterday’s hero? This paper brings us up to date.
Future historians may well cast Thomas Szasz as an intrepid campaigner for the blindingly obvious: people do not have “mental illnesses” but experience a wide range of moral, interpersonal, social and political “problems in living.” All such problems concern, or have an impact on, our sense of who and what we are and could just as easily be called spiritual crises. However, despite his prodigious scholarly output, Szasz might well be written out of history, as punishment for his single-handed and persistent exposure of the greatest hoax of the modern age – the construction of the “myth of mental illness” and psychiatry’s ludicrous attempts to “treat” it.
In the best Socratic tradition Szasz has been, for over 50 years, the gadfly of psychiatry. In his classic book, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct (Szasz, 1961), he contended that, contrary to the professional and public opinion of the time (the late 1950s) the mind – an abstract concept – could only be considered “sick” in the same sense that a joke or a building might similarly be described. This mind metaphor functions as a powerful myth, like many fictions, offering comfort to all who embrace the idea as a way of explaining the “inexplicable.”
At the end of the 20th century religion, especially Christianity, was furiously debunked by radical secularists like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens. They exposed not just its mythical nature but the harm and injustice associated with its practice down the ages. Ironically, their glaring sin of omission was to ignore psychiatry – by far the most potent and influential religion of the past two hundred years.
Psychiatrists might feign offense at their portrayal as “high priests,” believing that they offer a complex and compassionate form of psychological medicine, worshipping at the same altar as scientists like Dawkins. Historically, the facts tell a very different story, as Szasz’s works have vividly illustrated.
Traditional religions can hold sway over large sections of any population, and may be considered a force for good or evil. However, such “myths” are, at the very least, embraced by the faithful; who gain socially, culturally or spiritually from their allegiance; and are free to rejoin secular society whenever they wish. The same could never be said of “psychiatric patients.” The open secret of the 20th century was that modern psychiatry became a “church” founded on hocus-pocus masquerading as science, and promoted a range of means of detaining and restraining its “patient” flock. Today, as psychiatry rebrands itself as a branch of neuroscience, it seeks to colonize “developing nations,” despite its near-bankrupt status in its Western world of origin. Parallels with the Christian missionaries seem wholly apposite.
Over the past 60 years Thomas Szasz has published over 30 books and around 700 papers and articles, all focused on exposing the logical weaknesses of psychiatric thought, and the moral bankruptcy of its practice. Heidegger proposed that every great thinker thinks but one thought. Szasz’s singular, original thought concerns the moral bankruptcy of expecting (far less forcing) people to see psychiatrists; to be admitted to so-called “mental hospitals”; to take psychiatric drugs; and otherwise to comply with the capricious fashions of psychiatric religion. His diverse and remarkably accessible writings around this single proposition have led many to view him as the foremost, contemporary moral and existential philosopher of psychiatry and psychotherapy: the psychiatric equivalent of the boy obligated to point out the Emperor’s nakedness. In his 90th year, the uncompromising fury of Szasz’s scholarship shows no sign of waning as three of his latest books attest.
Coercion as Cure (Szasz 2007) has a “classic” feel providing, as its subtitle makes clear, a much-needed “critical history of psychiatry.” Szasz acknowledges that, from his first day in medical school in the early 1940s, his understanding of the physician’s role was to try to relieve the suffering of individuals who asked for, and accepted, medical help. He quickly formed the view that psychiatrists were committing a grave moral wrong by imprisoning and coercing people who neither sought nor wanted their “help.” This simple, yet profoundly humanist view became, and remains, his raison d’être.
Read entire article here: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig10/szasz5.1.1.html
Dr. Thomas Szasz is also the co-founder of CCHR. For more on Thomas Szasz, including his CV, quotes, video, accolades and his relationship with CCHR, click here: http://www.cchrint.org/about-us/co-founder-dr-thomas-szasz/