Antipsychiatry is a diverse movement, and it is therefore hard to characterize it fairly.

One thing that most antipsychiatrist writers have in common is that they seem to be not that smart, or at least not nearly as smart as they think they are. Szasz, in his The Myth of Mental Illness argues that there is a clear distinction between physical and mental illness, and that mental “illness” should not even be called that at all. Szasz is a hardcore materialist (even if he didn’t think of himself as such) and a liberal (or “libertarian” as the Usanians like to say)—two viewpoints that are typical of people who are highly committed to seeming smart but actually have no idea what they’re talking about. Szasz comes across as obnoxious at best. He considers many forms of mental illness to be moral problems, and he says that the idea of treating these deviances as brain disorders is a thoroughly modern view; at least the latter claim is blatantly false—see for example the Ebers Papyrus.1 He thinks psychotic patients belong either on the streets or in prisons, not in treatment facilities, and he justifies this viewpoint with reference to the personal rights and responsibilities of the patients—a typical liberal justification for removing social services in order to finance tax reductions for the rich. It is in part due to people such as these that access to psychiatric services is so limited today. Of course, I will not claim that none of their observations were without merit. Use of force should be limited as much as possible, and antipsychotics are probably overprescribed. It would be better to have a more spiritual or philosophical approach to treating psychosis as well as many other disorders. However, on the whole, antipsychiatry should not be taken seriously; indeed, most of its serious criticisms have been already been raised by much more serious people.

I like Laing’s The Divided Self, though. There are others too that have a positive opinion of antipsychiatry but whom I respect.

Further reading

  1. Translation of the Ebers Papyrus E.g.: “As to 'his mind is dark (melancholic?), and he tastes his heart': this means that his mind is contracted, there being darkness in his, interior (lit. belly) through dnwd, and he makes the deed to consume his mind (i.e. he repents).” Indeed, for the vast majority of human history, medical experts have made no distinction between diseases of the soul and diseases of the body, if they even distinguished between the soul and the body at all.