November 27, 2006

Thomas Szasz

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,Politics,Psychiatry — Biella @ 3:41 pm

I just finished a pretty good article The Myth of Thomas Szasz, about the man who most famously attacked the psychiatric profession in part by claiming mental illness was manufactured, a myth. In a nutshell here is the point of the article:

“It is hard to doubt the reality of mental illness, especially when the suffering of affected individuals is so complete and the impairment so extreme, when psyche and identity are crippled almost beyond repair. But it is also remarkable how much of modern psychiatry is still theoretical rather than empirical, and how many of the supposed mental illnesses that appear (and multiply) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have no known biological underpinnings or explanations. Although Szasz’s critique often became a caricature, his intuition about the limits and deformations of modern psychiatry cannot be ignored. Many sick people have surely benefited from psychiatric treatment, both “talk therapy” and pharmacotherapy. But psychiatry’s long history of error—from snake pits to ice baths to spinning chairs to electroshock to lobotomy—should give us pause. Skepticism is not backwardness, even if Szasz often took his skepticism to rhetorical extreme”

The part I found most interesting (and now I must read it):

A piece in The New York Times Magazine[by Szasz] titled “Mental Illness Is a Myth” reportedly induced more reader response than any article in the magazine’s history. If he had preached from the pulpit with The Myth of Mental Illness, he had now nailed his thesis to the church’s front door.

I must must check out the reader response!

For those who know little about what came to be known as anti-psychiatry, this article is worth reading. It is written well and presents the virtue of skepticism, even if extreme, which is what Thomas Szasz, was all about. My only complaint is that if you know nothing of anti-psychiatry or the visible and patient-led challenge to psychiatry that followed in the 1970s, you would think that Thomas Szasz was entirely in a class of his own. While he may be the most famous figure, and may have certainly led the charge in many resepcts, there were others (that is critical psychiatrists like him (and not just in the US) not to mention wide spread critique from various social quarters. But a great great article otherwise.

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