Thomas Szasz,, Psychiatrist author of 30 books, wrote 45 years ago his ground-breaking book, The Myth of Mental Illness. In 1961 Szasz gave testimony before a United States Senate committee in which he argued that the use of mental hospitals to incarcerate people defined as insane violated the general assumptions of patient- and doctor-relationships and turned the doctor into a warden and a keeper of a prison.
Szasz’s main arguments
As Szasz said, having become convinced of the fictitious character of mental disorders, the frequent injuriousness of psychiatric treatments, the immorality of psychiatric coercions and excuses, he set himself a task to delegitimize the legitimating agencies and authorities and their vast powers, enforced by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, mental health laws, mental health courts, and mental health sentences.
Szasz is a critic of the influence of modern medicine on society, which he considers to be the secularisation of religion’s hold on humankind. Criticizing scientism, he targets in particular psychiatry, its use of medical imagery and language to describe misbehavior, its reliance on involuntary mental hospitalization to protect society, or the use of lobotomy and other interventions to treat psychosis. To sum up his description of the political influence of medicine in modern societies imbued by faith in sciences, he declared:
Over the past four decades Professor Szasz, an MD, argued passionately and knowledgeably against involuntary commitment of the mentally ill, against the insanity defense, against the use of medications to “cure all ails” And it is important that every psychologist, social worker, family therapist, counselor and psychiatrist at least becomes familiar with his critical views. Because many of us can relate to Szasz’s own famous words:
“If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.
If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; If God talks to you, you are a schizophrenic.”
Psychoanalysis is a moral dialog, not a medical treatment.
- Emotional and psychological symptoms do not reflect diseases of the brain and, therefore, are not indicators of mental illness.
- Involuntary psychiatric intervention is likened to imprisonment and is “unethical” and “immoral”
- The general public believes that if all human problems are defined as symptoms of disease, they become maladies remediable by medical measures and are easily resolved.
- In many ways public health projects have the potential to impact many lives, but guarantee little to each individual.