The Illegitimacy of the "Psychiatric Bible"

By Szasz, Thomas | Freeman, December 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Illegitimacy of the "Psychiatric Bible"


Szasz, Thomas, Freeman


Mental health experts ask: Will anyone be normal?" So read the title of a July 27 Reuters report. The "experts" warned that the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), scheduled for publication in 2013, "could mean that soon no-one will be classed as normal. . . . [M]any people previously seen as perfectly healthy could in future be told they are ill."

This is not news. More than 200 hundred years ago Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) warned: "I believe that in the end humanitarianism will triumph, but I fear that, at the same time, the world will become a big hospital, each person acting as the other's humane nurse."

Moreover, Goethe foresaw the moral hollowness of the "humanitarian science" on which such therapeutic tyranny would rest: "I could never have known so well how paltry men are, and how little they care for really high aims, if I had not tested them by my scientific researches. Thus I saw that most men only care for science so far as they get a living by it, and that they worship even error when it affords them a subsistence.

The depths to which such men would happily sink when worshiping error brings them fame and fortune became obvious only in the twentieth century.

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908), the great Brazilian novelist and playwright, advanced the prescient literary satirization of the dark art of psychiatric diagnosis and the engine that drives it: the phony expert's insatiable vanity and thirst for controlling his fellow man. His short story "O alienista" (1882, "The psychiatrist") is a fable of a celebrated doctor retiring to a small town to pursue his scientific investigation of the human mind, gradually finding more and more of the townsfolk insane and needing to be incarcerated in his private asylum. Eventually he alone is left at liberty. As soon as modern psychiatry became a legitimate branch of medicine, Machado de Assis recognized and exposed its quintessentially unscientific-sadistic character.

It remained for the French playwright Jules Romains (1885-1972) to call public attention to the corruption of modern medicine by political power. "It's a matter of principle with me," declares his protagonist, "Dr. Knock" (1923), "to regard the entire population as our patients. . . . 'Health' is a word we could just as well erase from our vocabularies. ... If you think it over, you'll be struck by its relation to the admirable concept of the nation in arms, a concept from which our modern states derive their strength."

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), too, has played an important part in persuading people that health is an abnormal state. This old joke is illustrative: "If the patient is early for his appointment, he is anxious; if he is on time, he is obsessive-compulsive; if he is late, he is hostile."

Particular psychiatric diagnoses have not escaped professional criticism. Wishing to make a name for themselves as psychiatrists, "critics" object to one or another diagnosis (homosexuality) - or to "overdiagnosis" (ADHD) - but continue to respect the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as a scientific organization and regard the various incarnations of the DSM as respectable legitimating documents. This is dishonest. Confronted with the DSM, the challenge we face is to delegitimize the authenticators, the APA and DSM, not distract attention from their fundamental phoniness by ridiculing one or another "diagnosis" and trying to remove it from the magical list.

I have consistently rejected this piecemeal approach. In my essay "The Myth of Mental Illness," published in 1960, and in my book with the same title that appeared a year later, I stated my view forthrightly. I proposed that we view the phenomena conventionally called "mental diseases" as behaviors that disturb others (or sometimes the self), reject the image of "mental patients" as helpless victims of patho-biological events outside their control, and refuse to participate in coercive psychiatric practices as incompatible with the foundational moral ideals of free societies.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Illegitimacy of the "Psychiatric Bible"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.