Szasz under Fire: A Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics

Szasz under Fire: A Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics

Szasz under Fire: A Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics

Szasz under Fire: A Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics


"In Szasz Under Fire, thirteen outstanding writers criticize Szasz's ideas on specific issues such as the reality of mental illness, physician-assisted suicide, addiction, and the insanity defense. Szasz replies to each criticism in detail, with his famous clarity, forcefulness, and occasional acerbity. Szasz Under Fire includes the first published autobiographical essay by Szasz and a complete bibliography of his writings." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Jeffrey A. Schaler

Thomas Stephen Szasz has challenged conventional thinking about freedom, responsibility, madness, sexuality, medicine, and disease. He has come to be regarded by psychiatrists and psychoanalysts as the most controversial living psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. As Arnold Rogow has put it,

Of all critics of psychiatry in recent years, Thomas S. Szasz is undoubtedly
the best known and he has aroused the most controversy…. Szasz has
attacked psychoanalysis and psychiatry at their roots by arguing, in a num
ber of books and articles, that mental illness, with the exception of certain
organic diseases, is itself a myth, and that therefore psychiatry is more
related to moral philosophy and social theory than to medicine.

Szasz is best known for his insistence that “mental illness” is a metaphor, and that we go astray if we take the metaphor literally. Yet belief in mental illness is not his main target. in Szasz’s view, people are free to believe in mental illness, exactly as they are free to believe in God, witchcraft, alien abductions, or psychokinetic spoon-bending, to mention a few of the other common beliefs about which Szasz is skeptical.

Szasz is certainly concerned to expose the false beliefs of psychiatrists, but what drives him is the conviction that people should be free to engage—or not engage—in the ceremonies and rituals involved in going to a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist, just as people are free to partake of Easter communion or a Passover seder. Indeed, Szasz holds that there

Hungarian is a phonetic language with an alphabet containing forty letters, many of them compounds of what would be two letters in English, for example “cs,” “gy,” and “ly.” “Sz” is such a compound letter. It is prounounced as a sharp “s,” as in “sand.” the letter “á,” with the accent, is prounounced as a long “a,” as in “father.”

Arnold A. Rogow, The Psychiatrists (New York: Putnam’s, 1970), p. 28.

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