Search Results for Szasz Thomas
Szasz, Thomas (1920 – )
Hungarian psychiatrist and author of many books, including his best known work, The Myth of Mental Illness (1960).
Almost a decade before collaborating with The Church of Scientology, Szasz argued that the science behind psychiatry provides an example of scientism.
For Szasz, the term mental illness is a socially constructed myth rather than an actual fact. He believes that the concept of mental illness is generated within, not above, other historically positioned truth claims.
Written before Henri Ellenberger’s The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) and Michel Foucault‘s poststructural analysis, Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961), Szasz’s work is often on the reading list for undergraduate courses in the Humanities at liberal-democratic universities.
Critics of Szasz’s perspective point out that psychiatry like any other science is in a constant state of development. Depending on factors like the patient’s actual condition, the competency of the psychiatrist and the political climate of the country in which assessments are made, it may be used for good or ill.
Szasz continues to be prolific, however. His latest publications contain some sociological and philosophical insights but seem to represent the unrealistically polarized views of a somewhat isolated but well-meaning humanitarian (e.g Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry, 1988; Psychiatry: The Science of Lies, 2008).
Most recognized psychiatric associations have rejected his ideas, a situation which some say resembles an orthodox Church marginalizing heresies.
The polarization of anti-psychiatry vs. psychiatry is a sad state of affairs because it probably makes otherwise intelligent figures like Szasz more uncompromising and extreme, lessening their ability to see other perspectives.
When someone is convinced they’re right and the other is entirely wrong, constructive dialogue usually disappears.
» DSM-IV-TR, Madness, Postmodernism, Unconscious
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In her book Illness as Metaphor (1978), Susan Sontag argued, not unlike Michel Foucault, that contemporary ways of approaching and understanding illness are intricately linked to societal norms. Huston Smith, in Beyond the Postmodern Mind (1982), also contends that current views about illness are culture-bound.
Other cultures, particularly those located in different historical periods, would probably regard as abnormal some contemporary beliefs, ideas and practices which many today see as normal.
This kind of argument is often used in relation to mental illness (and an inverse argument is often used with regard to homosexuality and polygamy¹), but Sontag (and Foucault) point out that it also applies to physical illness.
As with mental illness, bias with physical illness is evident in the way the issue is construed—i.e. the apparent causes, the best course of treatment, and what an illness supposedly signifies about a sick person’s moral character.
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¹ That is, other cultures, particularly those located in different historical periods, would probably regard as normal some contemporary beliefs, ideas and practices which many today see as abnormal. For instance, many in the ancient world believed that illness was caused by spiritual attack. Today, this belief would probably be uncritically dismissed by medical science.
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- U.S. Adult Mental Illness Surveillance Report (cdc.gov)
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Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French social and historical thinker best known for his contribution to (what has been called) poststructuralism.
Foucault was a homosexual and experienced some friction over this. Succumbing to AIDS, his cultural and intellectual legacy is considerable.
Some argue that Foucault’s view is too bleak, placing undue emphasis on social power as the sole force which creates socially relative discourses and discursive practices. There isn’t too much room for “love and compassion” as a driving social force in Foucault’s analyses, although he does address this and related ideas from the perspective of deconstruction.
He read voraciously. Legend has it that each day he would return home from the library carrying a stack of books that he’d pour over that very night.
Foucault’s major works are Madness and Civilization (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), The Order of Things (1966), Discipline and Punish (1975) and History of Sexuality (1976).
His later views about the creative power of discourse are perhaps best summed up in a series of interviews, published the book Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 (1980). And as Shaheryar Ali suggests, he had a profound influence on what was to become the ‘New Historicism’ » See in context
Foucault’s ideas are too numerous and comlicated to cover in a short entry. But searching within this site, using any of the following keywords will help to demonstrate the depth and breadth of his thought: Archaeology, Athleticism, Bourdieu (Pierre), Counter-Discourse, Deviance, Discourse, DSM-IV-TR, False Consciousness, Hegel (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich), History, Hobbes (Thomas), Illness, Language, Madness, Marx (Karl), Meme, Myth, Postmodernism, Sign, Szasz (Thomas)
On the World Wide Web:
- Michel Foucault: Free Lectures on Truth, Discourse & The Self (downes.ca)
- Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Volume I: Re-reading its Reproduction (2012) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- Foucault’s 1968 (2012) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- False Consciousness (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Revisiting Michel Foucault and His Contributions to Social Theory (2010) (stanfordgirlusa.wordpress.com)
- Foucault and Familial Power (2012) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- The Identity Game: Michel Foucault’s Discourse-Mediated Identity as an Effective Tool for Achieving a Narrative-Based Ethic (2011) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- Magnus Opium’s Note on the Madness and Metaphysics Debate (magnusopium.wordpress.com)
Some contemporary discourse about so-called mental illness arguably simplifies this complex physiological, psychological, sociological, spiritual and perhaps evolutionary issue.
Undoubtedly, individuals suffer who find themselves significantly different from the cultural norms in which they live. And sometimes this suffering escalates or develops into behavior patterns that their society deems deviant, in the negative sense, and not just different, in the non-judgmental sense.
In addition, the afflicted individuals, themselves, often see it this way. But several questions remain open to interpretation and debate:
- Why are these individuals different?
- Why do they suffer?
- What does it mean?
Spiritually based answers from various world traditions tend to focus on ideas of sin, taking another’s sins, intercession, impurity, spiritual attack (or ‘spiritual warfare’), obsession, possession, evil, ignorance, deception, curses, spiritual pollution, karma and karma transfer.
Sociological perspectives include factors such as cross-cultural norms, economic disparity, gender, race, violence, hypocrisy, corruption and the role of social power in defining so-called mental illness as an illness, per se.
Psychological studies tend to focus on a person’s genetic predisposition (nature) and his or her social conditioning (nurture).
Biological accounts emphasize factors like genetics, physiology, diet, environmental pollution and possible substance abuse.
The Catholic view tends to outline a combination of current scientific and traditionally understood spiritual beliefs. In fact, Catholics try to distinguish among redemptive suffering, avoidable suffering and suffering due to mental illness. Whether or not they’re always successful in getting it right here is a matter open to debate.
The Catholic catechism also defines certain lifestyle choices and their related behaviors as “grave disorders” and sometimes as “perversions,” which may include the concepts of sin, nature, nurture, as well as negative spiritual influences–that is, the invisible influence of Satan. Two good examples of this are homosexuality and masturbation, which for the Vatican are both unacceptable.
In actual practice, which arguably is not always the same as an official teaching, it seems that some priests and Catholic writers lean toward their spiritual tradition by emphasizing the idea of ‘spiritual warfare,’ while other Catholics emphasize a biogenetic or developmental aetiology for so-called mental illness.
Other leading figures combine several approaches, which seems most sensible.
More recently, the importance of the idea of mental injury in contrast to mental illness has arisen. The notion of ‘injury’ seems to connote a greater possibility for full recovery, while the sociologist Erving Goffman says that the tag ‘illness’ stigmatizes individuals. Moreover, Goffman says institutionalized treatments may involve not just a potential cure but, on the down side, a “destruction of life chances.”¹
Futurists and visionaries tend to focus on the interpretive aspect of the phenomenon of mental illness. If someone, for example, really does receive other people’s thoughts but grows up in a culture that doesn’t understand nor accept this ability, they might feel unhappy and perhaps develop of full-fledged mental illness.
But what if, the theory goes, in a thousand years time humanity has evolved to a point where mind-reading is a cultural norm? In this scenario, the person who doesn’t read minds might be seen as mentally ill. And 31C historians would possibly look back at some of today’s so-called mentally ill as tragic pioneers, treading along a thorny path strewn with cultural bias and ignorance.
In short, the idea of mental illness is probably best seen as a complex and ever-changing issue, one that involves nature, nurture, community, ideology and belief.
¹ Erving Goffman, Asylums, New York: Anchor Books, 1961, p. 344.
Search Think Free » Athleticism, Demons, DSM-IV-TR, Foucault (Michel), Illness, Laing (R. D.), Madness, Occam’s razor, Shaman, Suffering, Szasz (Thomas)
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- You: Stigma for Mental Illness High, Possibly Worsening – PsychCentral.com (news.google.com)
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Scientism has two meanings. One is the almost religious belief that science may eventually understand and solve all natural and human problems. This kind of scientism has also been called “scientific fundamentalism.”
The second meaning refers to the partial or deceptive use of methods generally recognized as scientific.
Indeed, there are situations where people actively deceive and try to appear scientific for some kind of personal, economic or political gain. For examples of this see Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Hall of Science by W. Broad and N. Wade (1982).
Also related to the second meaning, a specious argument may be given a scientific gloss so as to seem legitimate. We find this in so many TV ads where professional actors wear white lab coats, trying to look like authoritative scientists or doctors while selling products ranging from automobiles to toothpaste.
Likewise, statistics may be disproportionally represented in bloated or extended bar graphs to make results look more significant than they really are, another common advertising trick that could rightly be called scientism.
Because the entire definition of science is problematic, one could say that the idea of scientism, itself, is also fraught with difficulty.
» Advertising, Athleticism, Chance, Marx, Politics, Power, Religion, Science, Szasz (Thomas)
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Black’s Medical Dictionary (39th edition) defines the unconscious as “a description of mental activities of which an individual is unaware” (p. 567).
In the West, the idea of the unconscious has an interesting history. It is found in the ancient Greek literature of Sophocles, with related concepts such as hubris, and in Shakespeare and more recent writers like James Joyce.
Philosophical debates about its character flourished in the 18th century among thinkers such as John Locke and David Hume.
More recently, Freud, Pierre Janet, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung and others have made important contributions.
Arthur Koestler says the idea of the unconscious was already known before the actual word ‘unconscious’ was coined. Koestler cites several examples where the notion of the unconscious is implied in the arts and philosophy-e.g. Dante, Kepler and Kant.
Koestler also says that consciousness and unconsciousness are not discrete states but exist along a continuum.†
From Koestler it seems reasonable to suggest that the range and character of this experiential continuum varies from person to person. In other words, some individuals consciously access different thoughts and emotions than others.
Perhaps most important is to remember that the unconscious is just a concept.
All too often it’s reified. Reification occurs when ideas are assumed to represent some real entity or thing–for instance, the sociological idea of ‘the state.’ Reified concepts may even point to detailed legal entities.
But the question remains as to whether the thing written and talked about exists as described.
A common mistake among contemporary writers is to say that Freud sees the unconscious as uniquely personal while his former protege Carl Jung sees it as collective. In actual fact both theorist recognize personal and collective aspects within their respective theories of the unconscious.
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† Koestler, Arthur. The Act of Creation. New York: Penguin [Arkana], 1989: 147-177.
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Psychiatry A branch of medicine specializing in the assessment, treatment and prevention of unhealthy psychological suffering. » Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (The Strange Case of ), Jung (Carl Gustav), Leary (Timothy), Madness, Mental Illness, Ram Dass, Psychosis, Syntonic Counter-Transference, Szasz (Thomas)
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