Dr. Thomas Szasz was a Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at the State University of New York, Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute and a Lifetime Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Considered by many scholars and academics to be psychiatry’s most authoritative critic, Szasz has authored more than 35 books on the subject, the first being The Myth of Mental Illness, a book which rocked the foundations of psychiatry upon its release more than 50 years ago.
Arguably, Szasz has had more impact on the actual practice of psychiatry in this country than anyone since Freud.The Journal of Psychiatry & Law
No one attacks loose-thinking and folly with half the precision and zest of Thomas Szasz.John Leo, social science editor for U.S. News & World Report
Szasz is a brilliant debater…. He can turn a topic as somber as insanity and its social context into a book that is extraordinarily entertaining.The New York Times Book Review
Thomas S. Szasz has steadfastly defended the values of humanism and personal autonomy against all who would constrain human freedom with shackles formed out of conceptual confusion, error, and willful deception.
Szasz on Psychiatry
On Psychiatry as a Human Rights Abuse
Psychiatry does not commit human rights abuse. It is a human rights abuse.
It’s not science. It’s politics and economics. That’s what psychiatry is: politics and economics. Behavior control, it is not science, it is not medicine.
It’s an epidemic of psychiatry that we are dealing with. We don’t have an epidemic of mental illness, we have an epidemic of psychiatry.
When will we recognize and publicly identify the medical criminals among us? Or is it the very possibility of perceiving many of our leading psychiatrists and psychiatric institutions in this way precluded by the fact that they represent the officially ‘correct’ views and practices. Is it precluded because they have the ears of our lawyers and legislators, journalists and judges? Or is it precluded because they control the vast funds, collected by the state through taxing the citizens, which finance an enterprise whose basic moral legitimacy we should call into question?
The Therapeutic State—Alliance Between Government & Psychiatry
Although we may not know it, we have, in our day, witnessed the birth of the Therapeutic State. This is perhaps the major implication of psychiatry as an institution of social control.
When I use the term therapeutic state, I use it ironically, it’s therapeutic for the people who are doing the locking up, who are doing the therapy, it’s not therapeutic for the victims, for the patients.
In the therapeutic state, treatment is contingent on, and justified by, the diagnosis of the patient’s illness and the physician’s prescription of the proper remedy for it…. Today, the therapeutic state exercises authority and uses force in the name of health.” The Founding Fathers “could not have anticipated…that an alliance between medicine and the state would then threaten personal liberty and responsibility exactly as they had been threatened by an alliance between church and state.
In as much as we have words to describe medicine as a healing art, but have none to describe it as a method of social control or political rule, we must first give it a name. I propose that we call it pharmacracy, from the Greek roots pharmakon, for ‘medicine’ or ‘drug,’ and kratein, for ‘to rule’ or ‘to control.’
Formerly, people rushed to embrace totalitarian states. Now they rush to embrace the therapeutic state. When they discover that the therapeutic state is about tyranny, not therapy, it will be too late.
On the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
The primary function and goal of the DSMs is to lend credibility to the claim that certain behaviors, or more correctly, misbehaviors, are mental disorders and that such disorders are, therefore, medical diseases. Thus, pathological gambling enjoys the same status as myocardial infarction (blood clot in heart artery). In effect, the APA [American Psychiatric Association] maintains that betting is something the patient cannot control; and that, generally, all psychiatric ‘symptoms’ or ‘disorders’ are outside the patient’s control. I reject that claim as patently false.
The ostensible validity of the DSM is reinforced by psychiatry’s claim that mental illnesses are brain diseases—a claim supposedly based on recent discoveries in neuroscience, made possible by imaging techniques for diagnosis and pharmacological agents for treatment. This is not true. There are no objective diagnostic tests to confirm or disconfirm the diagnosis of depression; the diagnosis can and must be made solely on the basis of the patient’s appearance and behavior and the reports of others about his behavior.
The problem with psychiatric diagnoses is not that they are meaningless, but that they may be, and often are, swung as semantic blackjacks: cracking the subject’s dignity and respectability destroys him just as effectively as cracking his skull. The difference is that the man who wields a blackjack is recognized by everyone as a thug, but one who wields a psychiatric diagnosis is not.
On Psychiatry as a Pseudo-Science
The discovery that all mental diseases are brain diseases would mean the disappearance of psychiatry into neurology.
No behavior or misbehavior is a disease or can be a disease. There is no mental disease. Period.
I don’t deny the existence of brain diseases; on the contrary, my point is that if mental illnesses are brain diseases, we ought to call them brain diseases and treat them as brain diseases—and not call them mental illnesses and treat them as such. In the 19th century, madhouses were full of people who were ‘crazy’; more than half of them, as it turned out, had brain diseases—mainly neurosyphilis, or brain injuries, intoxications, or infections. Once that was understood, neurosyphilis ceased to be a mental illness and became a brain disease. The same thing happened with epilepsy.
On Child Psychiatry
Labeling a child as mentally ill is stigmatization, not diagnosis. Giving a child a psychiatric drug is poisoning, not treatment.
I have long maintained that the child psychiatrist is one of the most dangerous enemies not only of children, but also of adults who care for the two most precious and most vulnerable things in life—children and liberty.
Child psychologists and psychiatrists “rob the child of his most important possession, himself….
How can parents protect their children from the therapeutic state, that is, from the alliance of government and psychiatry? They can do so only by disabusing themselves of the idea that what ails an unhappy or misbehaving child is a mental illness, and that so-called psychiatric treatment can help him.
On His Book, The Myth of Mental Illness
My argument was limited to the proposition that mental illness is a myth, whose function it is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations.
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 hospitalization 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.
On Schizophrenia as a Disease
If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is defined so vaguely that, in actuality, it is a term often applied to almost any kind of behavior of which the speaker disapproves.
If schizophrenia…turns out to have a biochemical cause and cure, schizophrenia would no longer be one of the diseases for which a person would be involuntarily committed. In fact, it would then be treated by neurologists, and psychiatrists then have no more to do with it than they do with Glioblastoma [malignant tumor], Parkinsonism, and other diseases of the brain.
‘Mental illness’ is an expression, a metaphor that describes an offending, disturbing, shocking, or vexing conduct, action, or pattern of behavior, such as schizophrenia, as an ‘illness’ or disease.
On Involuntary Commitment
Involuntary mental hospitalization is like slavery. Refining the standards for commitment is like prettifying the slave plantations. The problem is not how to improve commitment, but how to abolish it.
In my view, involuntary hospitalization and the insanity defense ought to be abolished, exactly as slavery was abolished, or the disfranchisement of women was abolished, or the persecution of homosexuals was abolished. Only then could we begin to examine so-called ‘mental illnesses’ as forms of behavior, like other behaviors.
The most important deprivation of human and constitutional rights inflicted upon persons said to be mentally ill is involuntary mental hospitalization….
For centuries, involuntary psychiatric interventions were regarded as things done for the so-called patient rather than as things done to him…increasing numbers of persons, both in the mental-health professions and in public life, have come to acknowledge that involuntary psychiatric intervention are methods of social control. On both moral and practical grounds, I advocate the abolition of all involuntary psychiatry.
On Psychiatry in Our Justice System
It is unlikely that toxicologists would be tolerated in courts of law if one would observe that he found a large quantity of arsenic in the body of a deceased person, and another stated that he found by the same operation none. Yet this sorry spectacle is commonplace in regard to psychiatric findings.
The introduction of psychiatric considerations into the administration of the criminal law—for example, the insanity plea and verdict, diagnoses of mental incompetence to stand trial, and so forth—corrupt the law and victimize the subject on whose behalf they are employed.
All criminal behavior should be controlled by means of the criminal law, from the administration of which psychiatrists ought to be excluded.
On Free Will & Personal Responsibility
We have to restore the idea of responsibility, which is corrupted and confused by psychiatry, by the idea that something happened to you when you were a child and therefore you are not responsible thirty years later.
Modern psychiatry dehumanizes man by denying …the existence, or even the possibility, of personal; responsibility of man as a moral agent… (the psychiatric mandate) is precisely to obscure, and indeed deny, the ethical dilemmas of life, and to transform these into medicalized and technicalized problems susceptible to ‘professional solutions.’
Psychiatrists and other behavioral scientists continue to pour out an uninterrupted stream of articles and books allegedly demonstrating that man has no free will. By debunking free will and responsibility, professionals in the mental health discipline seek to legitimize themselves as bona fide scientists; at the same time, they also try to endear themselves to the politicians and the public by promising to control crime, which they call excessive violence….
The materialistic interpretation of nature, as the term implies, entails viewing all signs as the manifestations of physiochemical processes, such as human beings observe when they look at nature. Joy and sadness, fear and elation, anger, greed—all human aspirations and passions—are thus interpreted as the manifestations of unintentional, amoral, biochemical processes. In such a world, nothing is willed; everything happens.
Men love liberty because it protects them from control and humiliation by others, thus affording them the possibility of dignity; they loathe liberty because it throws them back on their own abilities and resources, thus confronting them with the possibility of insignificance.
On Abolishing Coercive Psychiatry
Mental patients do not need mental hospitals; they need asylums—places of refuge where they would be protected from coercion by persecutors posing as protectors.
of the professional support of medicine and the social justification of treatment, behavior therapists would have to sell their services in the open market; there they could not coerce involuntary clients to do things they did not want to do, and they could not con the public and the state into supporting them at the taxpayer’s expense.
When people do not know ‘what else’ to do with, say, a lethargic, withdrawn adolescent, a petty criminal, an exhibitionist, or a difficult grandparent—our society tells them, in effect, to put the ‘offender’ in a mental hospital. To overcome this, we shall have to create an increasing number of humane and rational alternatives to involuntary mental hospitalization. Old-age homes, workshops, temporary homes for indigent persons whose family ties have been disintegrated, progressive prison communities— these and many other facilities will be needed to assume the tasks now entrusted to mental hospitals.
If involuntary psychiatry had been abolished, people “would have been free to leave, and they would have been free to stay. They could have simply got room and board. That option was never given to anyone. I wouldn’t give that to anyone except those who have already been victimized. They should be given every chance to get out insofar as they want to get out.
We should honour CCHR because it is really the organisation that for the first time in human history has organised a politically, socially, internationally significant voice to combat psychiatry. This has never happened in human history before.