Thomas Szasz and the War against Coercive Psychiatry
Psychiatrists are, in fact, crypto-priests, and . . . their job is to bless and to damn. Holywater is holy not because of the kind of water it is, but because a priest has blessed it. A schizophrenic patient is schizophrenic not because of the sort of person he is but because a psychiatrist has damned him.1
As a polemicist, Szasz has no peer. He has succeeded in focusing attention on the loose and easy quality of psychiatric definitions, on the destructive and indelible stigma that often accompanies psychiatric diagnosis, and on the unique and easily corrupted power that psychiatry has been granted. He has spawned an entire movement of anti-psychiatry.2
Szasz attains his role as proxy spokesperson for the rights of the mental patient by ignoring, simply, what it is to be a mental patient.3
In 1971 a journalist preparing a profile of Thomas Szasz caught in one small moment the essence of this controversial psychiatrist's work. Szasz and twelve students were engaged in a diagnostic interview with a patient at the Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York. The person seeking help was a heavyset woman in her fifties, complaining through periodic bursts of tears of a "pulling in her head." Szasz thoughtfully took notes on his yellow legal pad while his clutch of future therapists listened and looked on. It was a routine interview.