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A Psychiatrist Against Psychiatry?

Psychiatry | Hope Counseling

Thomas Szaz’s book The Myth Of Mental Illness, published in 1961, was a spearhead for the “Antipsychiatry” movement and created a coalition whose voice is still loud today.

 

Essentially the antipsychiatry movement believed that psychiatry was being used to control, label and stigmatize people who exhibited what society might call “deviant” behavior, but were no threat to themselves or others. They thought that traditional psychiatrists were in league with the pharmaceutical companies, whose main goal was to over-medicate those who simply did not “fit in”, to make them manageable. They did not believe in the concept of “mental illness”, abhorred the term, and thought that psychiatry was not based on empirical evidence and fact and could not prove real “brain illness” in most people.

 

The “nature vs nurture” argument was not a quandary for those against psychiatry. Nurture and environment were responsible for unacceptable and self-destructive behaviors in their opinions, and they thought that counseling and education could eradicate the issue. “Problems in living” was the phrase Szaz used. They even believed that the use of psychiatric diagnoses in the legal system was unconstitutional. A lot of social activists jumped on the bandwagon.

 

At the time this movement was at its height, psychiatry was going through a major transition. Freud was being debunked, and the foundations of traditional psychiatry were cracked. According to Benedict Carey, writer for the New York Times, in his obituary of Thomas Szaz, “Dr. Szaz argues against the use of coercive treatments, like involuntary confinement, and the use of psychiatric diagnoses in the courts, calling both practices unscientific and unethical.”

 

Szaz was a professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, and while there he wrote hundreds of articles, books and essays including Ideology and Insanity: Essays on the Psychiatric Dehumanization of Man.

 

Thomas Szaz allied himself with the Church of Scientology in 1969 to found the Citizens Commission on Human Rights which, Carey goes on to say, “portrays the field (of psychiatry) as abusive, and regularly pickets psychiatric meetings.” This move for Dr. Szaz damaged his credibility and he eventually put some distance between himself and Scientologists. But, as a result, he was denied a position in a teaching hospital which trained psychiatric residents.

 

Unfortunately for Dr. Szaz, his soapbox has been all but eclipsed by the practices of modern psychiatry, with advanced technologies providing the bases for diagnostics, and more effective medications with fewer side effects. While mental illness still carries a stigma with it, more and more sufferers are living full, happy, and healthy lives because of the advances in psychiatry. The vast majority of psychiatrists are caring and ethical professionals, who do not over-prescribe, and are interested in giving a mentally ill person more than just maintenance.

 

Written by Kevin West

Kevin West