Is the antipsychiatry movement helping us?

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The role of Thomas Szasz

Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz was a prominent critic of mainstream psychiatry, although he did not identify as being part of the antipsychiatry movement. In his 1961 book Myth of Mental Illness, he argued that what was referred to as “mental illness” was not actually a biological disease but rather a pattern of behaviour that was viewed by society as problematic. He accused mental hospitals of being more like prisons than hospitals.

The Church of Scientology

In 1969 the Church of Scientology established a Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which was co-founded by Thomas Szasz. According to its website, the group “works to expose psychiatric violations of human rights and clean up the field of mental healing.” It accuses the field of psychiatry of “wholesale drugging of children for obscene profits”. The group has established a museum called Psychiatry: An Industry of Death.

Modern anti-psychiatry groups

Aside from Scientology, various organized groups have advocated against psychiatry. One,, specifies that it wants no affiliation with Scientology, and members of the Church of Scientology are not permitted to become members of their organization. MindFreedom‘s stated goal is “a nonviolent revolution in mental health care”, and they oppose “coerced, forced, and fraudulent medical procedures”.

Criticism of the anti-psychiatry movement

Controversy persists, and perhaps unsurprisingly the Wikipedia pages on anti-psychiatry as well as Scientology and psychiatry have multiple flags for such issues as disputed neutrality, limited worldview, and lack of solid references.


My biggest question is whether the antipsychiatry movement has brought about any sort of positive change for those of us with mental illness. If so, I’m not seeing it. Are there problems within the field of psychiatry? Absolutely, but those issues are likely best addressed by narrowing the divide between patient and professional, us and them. The antipsychiatry movement’s polarizing approach is more likely to shut down dialogue rather than promote it, and this extremist stance actually makes it less likely that the psychiatric establishment will listen to the voices of people dealing with mental illness every day.

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Mental health blogger | MH Nurse | Living with depression | Author of 3 books, latest is Managing the Depression Puzzle |

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