Professor Thomas Szasz, iconic champion for liberty, pioneer in the fight against coercive psychiatry and co-founder of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) has passed away at the age of 92. Considered by many scholars and academics to be psychiatry’s most authoritative critic, Dr. Szasz authored hundreds of articles and more than 35 books on the subject, the first being The Myth of Mental Illness, a book which rocked the very foundations of psychiatry when published more than 50 years ago. Szasz was Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at the State University of New York, Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute, Lifetime Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Fellow of the International Academy of Forensic Psychology, whose long list of educational accomplishments, credentials, honours, biographical listings and awards speak for themselves.
To the world, he was the foremost critic on psychiatry and its abusive practices, a brilliant debater and orator. To those who had the privilege of working alongside him he was witty, charming, charismatic and fearless. But above all else he was a defender of personal liberty. As Professor Richard E. Vatz of Towson University stated, “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 wilful deception.”
Szasz had long criticized the use of psychiatry as a means of social and political control stating, “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.”
Dr. Szasz’s alliance with CCHR was formed out of this fundamental philosophy. He didn’t just write and speak about the use of coercive psychiatry, he personally represented the victims of it. In 1969 he spoke on behalf of a Hungarian refugee, Victor Gyory, who had been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution, stripped naked, held in isolation against his will, and forced to undergo electroshock. Szasz established that it was solely due to Gyory’s inability to speak English that had resulted in psychiatrists labelling him schizophrenic. Szasz’s testimony led to the hospital director discharging Gyory, a precedent-setting victory against involuntary commitment and coercive psychiatry, and his co-founding of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights with the Church of Scientology in 1969 as a mental health watchdog.
Of his alliance with CCHR, Szasz stated, “They were then the only organization, and they still are the only organization, 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. We should honour CCHR because it is really the organization that for the first time in human history has organized a politically, socially, internationally significant voice to combat psychiatry. This has never happened in human history before.”
Since its formation more than 43 years ago, CCHR has helped enact more than 150 laws and reforms protecting individuals from abusive or coercive practices. CCHR is honoured and privileged to have worked alongside Dr. Thomas Szasz for more than 43 years and will continue his legacy of fighting against abusive and coercive psychiatric practices until personal liberty and human rights in the field of mental health are established for all.
What Others Have Said About Thomas Szasz
Dr. Szasz makes a real contribution by alerting us to the abuses—existing and potential—of human rights inherent in enlightened mental health programs and procedures. He points out, with telling examples, shortcomings in commitment procedures, inadequacies in the protections afforded patients in mental institutions and the dangers of over-reliance on psychiatric expert opinion by judges and juries.Arthur J. Goldberg, Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
It is no exaggeration to state that Szasz’s work raises major social issues which deserve the attention of policy-makers and indeed of all informed and socially conscious Americans…. Quite probably he has done more than any other man to alert the American public to the potential dangers of an excessively psychiatrized society.Edwin M. Schur, The Atlantic
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 sombre as insanity and its social context into a book that is extraordinarily entertaining.
Throughout his distinguished career…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 wilful deception.Dr. Richard E. Vatz, Professor, Towson State University, and Lee S. Weinberg, Professor of Legal Studies, University of Pittsburgh
Thomas Szasz remains unique among contemporary observers of the social, ethical, and political implications of psychiatry: every argument he makes, and each word he chooses, are deserving of our closest attention.Paul Roazen, author of Encountering Freud
For decades, Thomas Szasz has publicly challenged the excesses that obscure reason. The Medicalization of Everyday Life offers a no-nonsense perspective on prevailing dogma. It is only through clear vision that intelligent choices can be made. Required reading for all professionals in health care fields, and all those who are subject to their unwitting prejudices.Jeffrey K. Zeig, Ph.D., Director, The Milton Erickson Foundation