“Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death.” R D Laing, 1927 - 1989
Yesterday morning I heard the Scottish psychiatrist’s son, Adrian Laing, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live programme (about 30 minutes in if you listen again). He recalled life with his father, a bittersweet combination of experiences also documented recently in The Daily Telegraph, and then outlined his participation in one of Laing’s more unconventional therapies – a “rebirthing”.
The story reminded me of a comment in Laura’s recent post on Thomas Szasz, where a reader made the link between Szasz and Laing. The Anti-Psychiatry page on Wikipedia pulls them both into the same camp, but as Laura pointed out – Szasz was not anti-psychiatry, it was the coercive nature of psychiatry as practised that he opposed. Nevertheless, the two psychiatrists are often lumped together in the political debate over psychiatry, and in pushing the view “that psychiatric treatments are ultimately more damaging than helpful to patients”.
The debate, which was particularly vocal in the 60s and 70s, is regarded by some to have been “of its time” and no longer relevant. After all, mainstream psychiatry (relying heavily on drugs in its attempts to treat what are regarded as medical problems) seems to rule the roost, certainly in the developed world. However, it appears as if the debate is gaining renewed momentum of late...
I unexpectedly discovered a copy of Laing’s “The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise” on a bookshelf here at home. (It’s not mine – G is also more well-read than me!) Yesterday after listening to Adrian I read the chapter on “The Schizophrenic Experience.” Here are a couple of, what I believe, are relevant quotes:
“It seems to us that without exception the experience and behaviour that gets labelled schizophrenic is a special strategy that a person invents in order to live in an unlivable situation.” (Following research studies made by Laing and two colleagues. His emphasis).
“’Schizophrenia’ is a diagnosis, a label applied by some people to others. This does not prove that the labelled person is subject to an essentially pathological process, of unknown nature and origin, going on in his or her body.”
Dr Joanna Moncrieff, a practising psychiatrist and critic of pharmaceutical drugs, said that “I was reading Thomas Szasz and R.D. Laing when I was at medical school – they were the only ray of interest I could find in the subject area.” With like-minded colleagues she set up the Critical Psychiatry Network which aims to debate issues such as “scepticism towards the evidence base, the biological basis to psychiatry, the efficacy of biological treatments, and an objection to the emphasis on coercion and medicalisation and the issues of social control.”
So... the debate does seem to be very much out there and current. What do you think?
PS: You can watch an intriguing 1989 Channel 4 documentary on R D Laing here. It’s 1.5 hours long (but absolutely worth it), so make sure you are sitting comfortably...