Sunday, 1 January 2017

Thomas Szasz: 65 years of writing: 1947-2012. Schaler and Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 234 (12 March 2017)

Thomas Szasz
1970s

Thomas Szasz    Jeffrey Schaler
Szasz
s garden, Manlius, NY
July 2002

Photograph copyright www.szasz.com
Not to be used without permission

Thomas Szasz   Anthony Stadlen   Jeffrey Schaler
Manhattan, 2003
Photograph copyright www.szasz.com
Not to be used without permission

Anthony Stadlen    Thomas Szasz
Szasz
s 90th-birthday seminar
Inner Circle Seminar No. 153
London, 13 June 2010
Photograph copyright jennyphotos.com
Not to be used without permission
Thomas Szasz
Szasz
s 90th-birthday seminar

Inner Circle Seminar No. 153
London, 13 June 2010
Photograph copyright jennyphotos.com
Not to be used without permission
Thomas Szasz
65 years of writing
From his first papers (1947)
through his first book (1957)
to his last paper (2012)

Jeffrey Schaler  Anthony Stadlen
conduct
Inner Circle Seminar No. 234
Sunday 12 March 2017
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


We shall examine five of Szasz’s key texts, from the beginning to the end of his astonishing creative journey. His very first paper, a straightforward medical account of how a man who had been given the last rites because of his extreme congestive heart failure was apparently saved by simply increasing his water intake from 1.5 to 6 litres a day, and his second, a psychosomatic study of the role of hostility in peptic ulcer, were published in 1947, 70 years ago. Ten years later, in 1957, his first book Pain and Pleasure: A Study of Bodily Feelings duels with dualism and points forward to The Myth of Mental Illness (1961), while his key paper ‘Commitment of the mentally ill’ announces his lifelong struggle against compulsory psychiatry. His last publication known to me is the paper Varieties of psychiatric criticism which he sent me unformatted in an email on 16 August 2012 twenty-three days before his death. Kierkegaard said purity of heart is to will one thing. Szasz’s ‘one thing’ was justice, whether for pope, prince, slave, or ‘mental patient’. Here at the end of his life the 92-year-old Szasz contemplates with passionate dispassionate lack of illusion: psychiatry, ‘antipsychiatry’, ‘Laingian’ psychiatry, ‘Critical Psychiatry’. He condemns them all.

But we shall see how this shaking of the foundations and clearing of the rubble is only the prelude to something profoundly positive. Szasz loved the insufficiently explored potential of true psychotherapy (care for the soul); of decent democracy; and of the accusatorial, adversarial, non-inquisitorial method in law and in a possible new discipline which would replace psychiatry.

Already, as a teenager in Hungary before the second world war, Thomas Szasz had no illusions about either ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental hospitals’. He had concluded that these terms were euphemisms, motivated category mistakes, mystifications intended to invalidate inconvenient or embarrassing people and to justify their incarceration and compulsory ‘treatment’ in psychiatric prisons. As an immigrant to the United States, he developed this position in hundreds of papers and in thirty-five books, including The Myth of Mental Illness (1961) and Law, Liberty and Psychiatry (1963), many of which we have studied in Inner Circle Seminars. We have been privileged to have Szasz himself conduct three of these seminars, including one for his ninetieth birthday in 2010.

People have denounced Szasz ever since they began vaguely to register that he was serious when he said he did not believe in ‘mental illness’ or in the so-called ‘commitment’ of the so-called ‘mentally ill’. Psychiatrists say he ‘walked away from’ suffering; psychoanalysts say he was unconscious of the ‘unconscious’; existential therapists say he was a ‘Cartesian dualist’; and all say he discounted the psychological problems of ‘schizophrenics’ and the real threat to society of dangerous ‘mental patients’.

However, these criticisms are not, to put it mildly, soundly based in study of Szasz’s writings. The critics usually have little idea of what Szasz was actually saying or of where he was ‘coming from’. (It must be said that this is true not only of virtually all his adversaries but of virtually all his self-styled admirers and advocates as well.)

Where he was ‘coming from’ is what we shall explore and expound in today’s seminar.

This seminar complements the Inner Circle Seminars on Laing and Esterson’s Sanity, Madness and the Family (1964) and on Heidegger’s and Boss’s Zollikon Seminars (1959-1969). Szasz’s 1961 book The Myth of Mental Illness was the first work referenced in the Laing and Esterson book. All five workers were, during the crucial decade of the 1960s, radically questioning the pseudo-medical concepts of ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’, and in particular the concept of ‘schizophrenia’, though Heidegger and Boss clung to the view that psychotherapy was part of medicine.

This is what ‘professionals’, at least as much as ‘lay’ people, find hard to understand. They often seem to think this is all merely a matter of using politically correct language. They argue, for example, that they themselves do not use the ‘stigmatising’ term ‘mental illness’; or, even if they do, they do not believe in ‘pathologising’ patients or clients. They have, they say, a ‘biopsychosocial’ model of ‘mental health’. They do not see that Szasz’s is a fundamental critique of the concepts of ‘mental illness’ and ‘mental health’ as inseparable components of a mystifying and invalidating metaphor. The attempt to cling to the clinical-psychiatric approach while signalling that one has in some unspecified way progressed beyond it was exemplified when President Obama spoke of ‘mental health illnesses’.

The most advanced psychiatric conferences perpetuate this confusion. Well-meaning, hardworking professionals show charts of the waiting times from ‘time of referral’ for ‘service users’ who are said to be ‘experiencing psychosis’ or a ‘mental health crisis’. They report the provision of ‘secure service’ for certain of those so-called ‘service users’: i.e., locking them up and forcibly ‘treating’ them. It is striking that even so-called Open Dialogue advocates often use the same passive jargon of ‘referral’ by others and the attribution that the ‘referred’ person is ‘experiencing psychosis’ rather than having ‘psychosis’ attributed by others.

You may not agree with this assessment, but the heart of these seminars is dialogue, and you will be listened to (and no doubt argued with!) with respect and courtesy if you maintain, to adapt the words of one professor of psychiatry, that Szasz was popular as a sixties kind of guy, an anti-establishment rebel where the facts he distorted were not a problem for the political force of his claims; any smidgin of value he could have had is long eclipsed, and, except as a trip down memory lane, I can see no reason whatsoever why he deserves a [seminar] like this, even a mixed one with opposing views. Dr. Szasz is simply no longer worth it.’

Today’s seminar is conducted by Jeffrey Schaler and Anthony Stadlen, both close friends and colleagues of Thomas Szasz and both recipients of the Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties.

Professor Jeffrey A. Schaler is author of Addiction is a Choice (2000), editor of Szasz under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces his Critics (2004), and co-editor of Thomas S. Szasz: The Man and His Ideas (to be published on 31 May 2017).

Jeffrey Schaler conducted Inner Circle Seminar No. 132, Addiction is a Choice, on 12 October 2008, one of the best attended of all Inner Circle Seminars so far. He co-conducted Inner Circle Seminar No. 188, Thomas Szasz: In Memoriam, on 3 March 2013.

Your contribution to the dialogue will be warmly welcomed.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £120, others £150, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, Durrants rock, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  +44 (0) 7809 433 250
E-mail: stadlen@aol.com, stadlenanthony@gmail.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

No comments: