Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thomas Szasz critic of psychiatry dead at 92


Dr. Thomas Szasz is dead at 92. He died at his home in Manlius N.Y. He was born in Budapest Hungary in 1920. His 1961 book "The Myth of Mental Illness" was a ground-breaking critique of the entire basis of psychiatry.
Szasz is famous or perhaps infamous for his view that mental illness or disorder is not usually a disease but what he calls problems of living. In spite of the fact that Szasz has many similar criticisms of psychiatry to many in the anti-psychiatry group he disassociated himself from them because he was individualist and libertarian whereas many in the anti-psychiatry group such as David Cooper who coined the term "anti-psychiatry" were often leftist and even Marxists. Another main figure in the movement R.D. Laing was influenced by existentialism. He also distanced himself from the anti-psychiatry movement even though he was also a strong influence on it.
Szasz claimed :
Laing, Cooper and all of anti-psychiatry consisted of "self-declared socialists, communists, or at least anti-capitalists and collectivists". While saying he shared some of their critique of the psychiatric system, Szasz compared their views on the social causes of distress/deviance to those of anti-capitalist anti-colonialists who claimed that Chilean poverty was due to plundering by American companies, a comment Szasz made not long after a CIA-backed coup had deposed the democratically elected Chilean president and replaced him with Pinochet.
Szasz on the other hand believed that much of what were called mental illnesses were simply problems of living and due to failures within the individual rather than the social order. However he saw the social order as giving power to psychiatrists over individuals with problems of living that they should not have. The relationship of treatment and definition of insanity to power was explored in great detail in the work of the philosopher Michel Foucault who also influenced the anti-psychiatry movement.
For Szasz a genuine disease will involve some malfunction of the body and should be physically identifiable as such:
While people behave and think in ways that are very disturbing, and that may resemble a disease process (pain, deterioration, response to various interventions), this does not mean they actually have a disease. To Szasz, disease can only mean something people "have," while behavior is what people "do". Diseases are "malfunctions of the human body, of the heart, the liver, the kidney, the brain" while "no behavior or misbehavior is a disease or can be a disease. That's not what diseases are"
This view did not sit well with the psychiatric establishment especially when he also made statements such as this:
A genuine disease must also be found on the autopsy table (not merely in the living person) and meet pathological definition instead of being voted into existence by members of the American Psychiatric Association. "Mental illnesses" are really problems in living.
Szasz also saw the dangers of psychiatry being used by the state to control behavior. He coined the term the Therapeutic State:
The collaboration between psychiatry and government leads to what Szasz calls the “therapeutic state”, a system in which disapproved actions, thoughts, and emotions are repressed ("cured") through pseudomedical interventions.[18][19]:17 Thus suicide, unconventional religious beliefs, racial bigotry, unhappiness, anxiety, shyness, sexual promiscuity, shoplifting, gambling, overeating, smoking, and illegal drug use are all considered symptoms or illnesses that need to be cured.
Szasz sees what he calls the nanny state which tried to control behavior through moralizing as being replaced by the therapeutic state that describes undesirable behaviors as illnesses to be treated. Szasz along along with others in the anti-psychiatry movement were pioneers in emphasizing the rights of those with mental problems and exposing psychiatrists misuse of their power.


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