Dr. Thomas Szasz was a Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at the State University of New York Health Science Center, Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute and a Lifetime Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is perhaps the world’s leading social critic of the moral and scientific foundations of psychiatry, having authored more than 35 books on the subject, starting with The Myth of Mental Illness, a book which rocked the world of psychiatry upon its release more than 50 years ago.
Szasz would later state, “My great, unforgivable sin in The Myth of Mental Illness was calling public attention to the linguistic pretensions of psychiatry and its preemptive rhetoric. Who can be against ‘helping suffering patients’ or ‘treating treatable diseases’? Who can be for ‘ignoring sick people’ or, worse, ‘refusing patients life-saving treatment’? Rejecting that jargon, I insisted that mental hospitals are like prisons not hospitals, that involuntary mental hospitalisation is a type of imprisonment not medical care, and that coercive psychiatrists function as judges and jailers not physicians and healers, and suggested that we view and understand ‘mental illnesses’ and psychiatric responses to them as matters of law and rhetoric, not matters of medicine or science.”
Since that time, Szasz authored more than 35 books exposing the psychiatric profession, and its complete lack of moral and scientific foundations including the Manufacture of Madness and The Therapeutic State. Leaders in medicine, law, and the social sciences regard his works among the most influential in the 20th and 21st centuries. His work continues to have a profound impact on how we view disease, behaviour, liberty, justice and responsibility. According to The Journal of Psychiatry & Law, Szasz “has had more impact on the actual practice of psychiatry in this country than anyone since Freud.”
In 1969, Dr. Szasz co-founded the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), and has said of the organisation, “We should all honour CCHR because it is really the only organisation that for the first time in human history has organised a politically, socially, internationally significant voice to combat psychiatry. This has never been done in human history before.”
Of his association with CCHR, Szasz said, “I got affiliated with an organisation long after I was established as a critic of psychiatry, called Citizens Commission for Human Rights, because they were then the only organisation and they still are the only organisation who were active in trying to free mental patients who were incarcerated in mental hospitals with whom there was nothing wrong, who had committed no crimes, who wanted to get out of the hospital. And that to me was a very worthwhile cause; it’s still a very worthwhile cause. I no more believe in their religion or their beliefs than I believe in the beliefs of any other religion. I am an atheist.”
When asked by a reporter, “How do you work therapeutically then with your clients?” Szasz responded, “Somebody would call me and say I have a problem, and I would talk on the phone before making an appointment. What is your problem? And they would tell me whatever it is—they want to get married, they want to get divorced, you know, the usual problems of life. I would say okay, we’ll make an appointment. And I would ask the person, how can I help you? Then we’d have a discussion. It used to be called counselling, I mean why did people go to ministers and rabbis for thousands of years—to talk about their lives.”