Thomas Szasz

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Dr. Thomas Szasz (1920-2012)[1] was a Hungarian-born psychiatrist, libertarian, and, along with L. Ron Hubbard, the grandaddy of mental illness denial (though it must be confessed that Szasz scored over Hubbard in one respect. Szasz was subject to the Stopped Clock Rule; the Fraud was too strong with Hubbard to permit this).

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[edit] Anti-psychiatry crankiness

Szasz[2] had a rather strange relationship with the mentally ill due to his position. He viewed most who had been diagnosed with mental disorders as people who were simply different and had been violated by state force. However, he was horrified by the insanity defense and seemed to harbor some fear or grudge against the severely mentally ill who were prone to violent acts. He advocated allowing psychiatric patients to commit suicide if that was their wish. He disavowed any sustained interest in psychiatry, saying he was more concerned with history, philosophy, and society. He undertook a very short medical residence and then transferred to a psychiatric residence where he stayed away from the severely mentally ill at all costs. When his supervisor told him he should spend more time with those who had severe illness, he left the institution he worked at.[3]

At this point, Szasz launched his attack on psychiatry in the early 1960s by publishing articles on the abolition of the insanity defense in law journals as well as his first book, The Myth of Mental Illness. Szasz blasted psychiatry as a pseudoscience and denied the reality of mental illness. He also co-founded the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), the Scientology front group, along with Hubbard.

As psychiatry relegated its more barbaric practices to the dustbin of history, Szasz faded from relevance. Many of his earlier works specifically criticized Freudian psychoanalysis, which has been relegated to the fringes of the psychological sciences today. However, he refused to budge from his denialist position and continued to churn out the same crap over and over again. Most of his books are about either the same basic argument of mental illness denial applied to some disorder or therapy or libertarian tracts about the legalization of drugs.

While Szasz disavowed the label of "anti-psychiatry," he is generally seen as a major figure within the loosely knit "movement." Although he was never a Scientologist (indeed, an outspoken atheist), he acted as an enabler for their bullshit during his time at CCHR.

[edit] Stopped clock

While Szasz did write a few paranoid things about psychiatric dystopias, he never descended into the really cranky conspiracies that the Scientologists did. He also had some positive influence on psychiatry, as he called for the end of execrable practices like unnecessary lobotomies and misuse of electroconvulsive therapy. While his science might have been largely bunk, he attacked and ultimately contributed to the demise or limitation of some of the worst abuses surrounding forced institutionalization and the mental health system. He was also a strong proponent of gay rights at a time when homosexuality was still listed as a mental disorder in the DSM.

He was heavily critical of a number of other anti-psychiatric figures, though for some reason he had no problem with the Scientologists.[4]

[edit] Libertarianism

He has also held some influence within the libertarian movement. He was listed as an "adjunct scholar" at the Cato Institute and formerly wrote for The Freeman. The US Libertarian Party at one time incorporated some of Szasz's views into its platform.[5] This (along with the fact that the Soviet Union classified political dissidents as having mental disorders in order to imprison them[6]) has created a small strain of mental illness denial within the libertarian movement, especially those who still see Reds under every bed.

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  • Szasz Under Fire, ed. Jeffrey Schaler

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Szasz's obituary at the New York Times
  2. Thomas Szasz should not be confused with Batman villain Victor Zsasz[wp], who is just as scary but for very different reasons
  3. Robert Michels. Book Review: Szasz Under Fire. N Engl J Med 2005; 352:1273-1274
  4. Szasz. Debunking Antipsychiatry: Laing, Law, and Largactil. CURRENT PSYCHOLOGY Volume 27, Number 2, 79-101
  5. Szasz as Theoretician, Jan Pols
  6. They were diagnosed with "sluggish paranoid schizophrenia" a disorder made up to achieve this, and were put in "mental hospitals" that in the West are often erroneously called "Gulags".
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