Monday 1 January 2024

Mystification: Double Bind: Praxis and Process. The second seminar of the third (60th anniversary) subseries on Laing and Esterson’s Sanity, Madness and the Family: Families of Schizophrenics (1964). Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 291 (19 May 2024)


Mystification: Double Bind: Praxis and Process


The second seminar of the third (60th anniversary) subseries on  

R. D. Laing and Aaron Esterson

Sanity, Madness and the Family:

Families of Schizophrenics

(April 1964)

2. Further exploration of why this book is still not understood

Anthony Stadlen

conducts by Zoom

Inner Circle Seminar No. 291

Sunday 19 May 2024

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Karl Marx
5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883


Gregory Bateson
9 May 1904
 – 4 July 1980

Jean-Paul Sartre
21 June 1905
 – 15 April 1980

Thomas Szasz
15 April 1920
 – 8 September 2012

R. D. Laing
7 October 1927
 – 23 August 1989

Aaron Esterson
23 September 1923 – 15 April 1999  

Because Marx by experiencing estrangement [Entfremdung, alienation] attains an essential dimension of history, the Marxist view of history is superior to that of other historical accounts. 
Martin Heidegger, Letter on Humanism’ (1949)  

This is the second seminar in a new subseries of fifteen seminars to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the publication in April 1964 of Sanity, Madness and the Family, Volume 1: Families of Schizophrenics by R. D. Laing and Aaron Esterson. We continue to ask why for sixty years readers have so spectacularly failed to understand this book. It should be emphasised that this does not mean they think they fail to understand it. On the contrary, almost all readers think there is no problem in understanding what the book is about: obviously, they explain, in this book Laing and Esterson are making the claim, and claiming to show, that families cause schizophrenia. Such readers will usually go on to say that this claim has long been discredited by the advance of scientific biological psychiatry. This radical misunderstanding will be the subject of the first seminar in the new subseries, on 21 April 2004. We shall discuss how the misunderstanding is primarily due to peoples failure to read what Laing and Esterson say, in plain English, they are doing in the book. We may suppose that readers do not expect the authors to say what they are in fact saying, and so, even if they begin to notice what the authors are in fact saying, they will dismiss the possibility that the authors might really be saying it.

But in todays second seminar in the subseries we shall consider more technical or theoretical points in which Laing and Esterson themselves may have contributed to readers’ confusion and misunderstanding.  

In March 1964, a month before the publication of Sanity, Madness and the Familythe book Reason and Violence: A Decade of Sartres Philosophy, 1950-1960, by R. D. Laing and David Cooper, was published. It expounded Jean-Paul Sartre’s Question de Méthode and Saint Genet, and contained Laing’s précis of Sartre’s recently published, as yet untranslated, Critique de la Raison Dialectique, Tome 1 (1960), of which Sartre in an enthusiastic Foreword to Reason and Violence praised Laings parfaite intelligence’. Sartre also commended Laings studies of the family as ‘series and groupin the sense of the Critique; presumably Laing had sent him his important paper ‘Series and Nexus in the Family(New Left Review, May 1962: 1-15). Sartre wrote that he looked forward to a time when psychiatry would become humaine.

The following month, April 1964, saw the publication of Sanity, Madness and the Family. This book – and also Estersons  book The Leaves of Spring: A Study in the Dialectics of Madness (1970), which develops to book-length one of the eleven family studies (Chapter 4, the Danzigs) in Sanity, Madness and the Family – acknowledge general indebtedness to the dialectical tradition of HegelMarx, and Sartre; and specifically to SartreCritique de la Raison Dialectique.

Laing and Esterson, in these books and elsewhere, employ the term mystification’ and its cognates, sometimes in a relatively colloquial sense, and sometimes implicitly in the more specific sense intended by Karl Marxthough this is only once actually stated, by Laing, in his little-known paper ‘Mystification, confusion, and conflict(1965). Laing there attempts to explain Marxs use of the word mystification’ and to adapt it to the study of family interactions,  comparing and contrasting it with Gregory Bateson’s (1956) concept of the double bind’; but his account of Marxs usage is misleading. Laing also has a chapter ‘The mystification of experience’ in The Politics of Experience (1967). He writes: Marx described mystification and showed its function in his day.’ But he does not say what Marx said.

The first occurrence of any form of the word mystify in Sanity, Madness and the Family (1964: 8) is admirably faithful to Marxs meaning:

Phenomenologically, a group can feel to its members to be an organism; to those outside it, it can appear to act like one. But to go beyond this, and to maintain that, ontologically, it is an organism, is to become completely mystified.

Mystification, for Marx, is the seduction, the insinuation, the misrepresentation, the lie that relationships between human beings are relationships between thingsMystification, therefore, is by definition also reification and alienation.

This may be seen from the following quotations from Das Kapital. 1, 2, and 3 do not contain the word mystificationbut exemplify what Marx meant by it. In 5 he means that Hegel mystifies through reifying the human as Spirit.

1. ‘... das bestimmte gesellschaftliche Verhältnis der Menschen selbst, welches hier für sie die phantasmagorische Form eines Verhältnisses von Dingen annimmt
[‘... the specific social relationship of the human beings themselves which here assumes for them the phantasmagoric form of a relationship between things.]

Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Volume 1, Chapter 1

2.Im Fortgang der kapitalistischen Produktion entwickelt sich eine Arbeiterklasse, die aus Erziehung, Tradition, Gewohnheit die Anforderungen jener Produktionsweise als selbstverständliche Naturgesetze anerkennt.
[‘In the advance of capitalist production there develops a working class which by education, tradition, habit accepts the demands of that mode of production as self-evident laws of nature.]

Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Volume 1, Chapter 28

3. ‘... daB das Kapital nicht eine Sache ist, sondern ein durch Sachen vermitteltes gesellschaftliches Verhältnis zwischen Personen.

[‘... that capital is not a thing (Sache), but a societal relationship between persons mediated by things (Sachen).’]

   Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Volume 1, Chapter 33

4.... die Mystifikation der kapitalistischen Produktionsweise, die Verdinglichung der gesellschaftlichen Verhältnisse ... die verzauberte, verkehrte und auf den Kopf gestellte Welt, wo Monsieur le Capital und Madame la Terre als soziale Charaktere und zugleich unmittelbar als bloße Dinge ihren Spuk treiben. 
[‘... the mystification of the capitalist mode of production, the reification of social relationships ... the enchanted, inverted and stood-on-its-head world where Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre are up to their spookery as social characters and at the same time directly as mere things.]
Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Volume 3, Chapter 48
5.Die mystifizierende Seite der Hegelschen Dialektik habe ich vor beinah 30 Jahren, zu einer Zeit kritisiert, wo sie noch Tagesmode war. [...] Die Mystifikation, welche die Dialektik in Hegels Händen erleidet, verhindert in keiner Weise, daß er ihre allgemeinen Bewegungsformen zuerst in umfassender und bewußter Weise dargestellt hat. Sie steht bei ihm auf dem Kopf. Man muß sie umstülpen, um den rationellen Kern in der mystischen Hülle zu entdecken. [...] In ihrer mystifizierten Form ward die Dialektik deutsche Mode, weil sie das Bestehende zu verklären schien.
[‘The mystifying side of the Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion of the day. [...] The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegels hands in no way precludes him from being the first to represent its general forms of movement in a comprehensive and conscious way. With him it stands on its head. One must turn it the right way up, to discover the rational kernel in the mystical shell. [...] In its mystified form the dialectic became German fashion, because it seemed to transfigure what exists.]               
Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Afterword to second German edition
Translations by A. Stadlen

It may be seen from these examples that Laing and Esterson could have chosen, not merely to give, as they did, specific occurrences of what they saw as mystification (sometimes corresponding to Marxs meaning, sometimes not) in the family interviews; they could also have stated their fundamental thesis, hypothesis, or suspicion quite precisely as: The very concept of schizophrenia is a mystification in Marxs original sense. In so far as a family accepts the psychiatric diagnosis of a daughter, it is not just isolated exchanges to be detected in the family interactions that are mystifying, but the relationship of psychiatry and of the family to the daughter that is mystifying as a whole. It is precisely as Marx said, though in a different context: the relations between persons (primarily in the family) are mystified by being seen as a relation between things (the illness of one daughter, the imbalance of her mind or brain).

This had also been the central argument, though not expressed in these terms, of Thomas Szaszs The Myth of Mental Illness (1961), the first reference, even before Sartre, in Sanity, Madness and the Family (1964: 4, n.1).

Laing and Esterson could also have argued, with good reason, not in a loose, but in a precise, rigorous sense, that this central mystification itself functions, in addition, as a double bind.

Laing discusses the double bind in The Self and Others (1961) and in the much revised second edition Self and Others (1969). It is mentioned on the dust covers of the two hard-back editions of Sanity, Madness and the Family (1964, 1970) but only once in the text, although there are instances in the family interactions where it could be applied with accuracy. It is often used loosely and erroneously (though not by Laing or Esterson) to mean any kind of mixed message or contradictory attribution or injunction; but it has a precise meaning defined by Gregory Bateson (1956) in terms of Bertrand Russells theory of Logical Types in his and Alfred North Whiteheads Principia Mathematica Vol. 1, Chapter 2 (1910). We shall explain this today.

Both Laing and Esterson also repeatedly use and place great stress on the terms praxis’ and process’ which they claim they are using in Sartres sense in Critique de la Raison Dialectiquebut their purported explanations and applications of Sartres term process’ (processus) are seriously misleading and self-contradictory.

Sartre in the Critique uses both praxis’ and ‘processus’ (‘process’) to refer to human (not natural) events. He states explicitly (1960: 542; English translation 1976: 549) that neither praxis nor processus is deterministic. Laing made an excellent English précis of this section in Reason and Violence (1964: 153-4), of exemplary clarity, but seems subsequently to have forgotten or ignored it.

Laing and Esterson (1964: 8) define the term ‘process’, misleadingly, to mean ‘a continuous series of operations that have no agent as their author’. They use it in practice, confusingly, to mean both natural events and what Sartre actually means by ‘processus’, namely, human (usually group) events which only appear (before dialectical investigation) to be natural events, not socially intelligible’, having no author. Esterson (1970: xii) explicitly defines ‘process’ as referring to natural events as does Laing in his much later confused presentation in 1985 to the first Evolution of Psychotherapy conference (1987: 203-4) when Szasz was a justifiably exasperated respondent (1987: 210). Esterson (ibid.) even gives an alleged defining example of ‘process’ which he asserts is deterministic’, clearly without realising that this contradicts Sartres definition.   

It is difficult to see why Sartre would have required to use special terminology (praxis, processus), or why Laing would have needed to make and publish a difficult translation and précis of the entire, excruciatingly difficult Critique, if it were merely a question of what their in no way less sophisticated contemporaries Heidegger and Szasz were content to refer to in rough and ready ordinary language, without implying the reification of a Cartesian dualism, as human events (with reasons) and natural events (with causes). No mountain need have laboured to bring forth this pair of mice.  

The greatness of these books transcends these errors; but it may well be that the errors have contributed to the almost universal misunderstanding of Sanity, Madness and the Family and, on the rare occasions it is noticed, The Leaves of Spring. We shall try to remedy this today. Your questions and contributions will be warmly welcomed.

This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £140, others £175; reductions for combinations of seminars; some bursaries; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled

Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250  

For further information on seminars, visit:

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.

60 years since Laing & Esterson’s ‘Sanity, Madness and the Family’ (April 1964). 1. Why is this book still not understood? Anthony Stadlen and Yaara Sumeruk conduct Inner Circle Seminar 290 (21 April 2024)

R. D. Laing and Aaron Esterson

Sanity, Madness and the Family:

Families of Schizophrenics

(April 1964)

Sixtieth anniversary reflections

In memoriam Hilary Mantel:

The simple words the people speak

A third subseries (fifteen seminars) on Laing and Esterson’s eleven families

researched by Anthony Stadlen and explored in film by Yaara Sumeruk

1. Introductory seminar

Why is this book still not understood?

Anthony Stadlen   Yaara Sumeruk 

conduct by Zoom

Inner Circle Seminar No. 290

Sunday 21 April 2024

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

R. D. Laing
7 October 1927 – 23 August 1989

Aaron Esterson
23 September 1923 – 15 April 1999

Adrian Laing  Anthony Stadlen  Hilary Mantel
Inner Circle Seminar No. 205
Sanity, Madness and the Family: Families of Schizophrenics
1. Maya Abbott and the Abbotts
50 years on
(Durrants Hotel, London, Sunday 6 July 2014.)

Deborah Fosbrook  Adrian Laing  Anthony Stadlen  Hilary Mantel
Inner Circle Seminar No. 205
Sanity, Madness and the Family: Families of Schizophrenics
1. Maya Abbott and the Abbotts
50 years on
(Durrants Hotel, London, Sunday 6 July 2014.)

Hilary Mantel and Anthony Stadlen conducted Inner Circle Seminar No. 205, Laing and Esterson, Sanity, Madness and the Family: Families of Schizophrenics. 1. Maya Abbott and the Abbotts, 50 years on, at Durrants Hotel, London, Sunday 6 July 2014.
Hilary Mantel had just been made a Dame in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. The date of the seminar, 6 July, was also her own birthday. The message on the cake reads: ‘Happy Birthday Dame Hilary’.
For more information:
This seemingly straightforward book is still not understood today, especially by ‘professionals’. 
But the late Dame Hilary Mantel, who gained courage to become a novelist through reading it when she was nearly twenty-one, understood it. She urged readers: ‘Just read the simple words the people speak.’
In a series of twelve seminars starting ten years ago in 2014 we had a unique opportunity actually to hear and discuss with Hilary Mantel herself ‘the simple words the people speak’, from Dr Aaron Estersons tape-recordings of his conversations with the families in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and from Anthony Stadlen’s reports and recordings of his 21st-century conversations with surviving members of the family.
In her first Reith lecture of 2017 Hilary Mantel discussed the relation between the historical novelist and the historian.

She brought to our seminars the unique genius of an historical novelist who saw far more profoundly than the rest of us the implications of the known historical facts but did not present invention as history. Each seminar began with her wonderful reflections on what is given in the text of the book. She had no privileged access to the cases. She learned what Stadlen had discovered as an historian only as did the other seminar participants, when he reported or played recordings of his interviews with five of the supposedly schizophrenic women and many of their surviving relatives in the twenty-first century, and explored Estersons original library of tape-recordings on which the book is based.
Nine of the original eleven women diagnosed schizophrenic are now dead; but Mantel recalled W. H. Auden:
... the crack in the teacup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.
She could have also have quoted T. S. Eliot:
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Why is this nowadays rarely read or even referenced book of 1964 so important? It is, after all, absent from almost all discussions either of the family or of schizophreniaThe extremely rare discussions of it patronise it, as if they had long passed beyond it; but without having begun to understand it, let alone catch up with it.

And yet it is so simple.

It is true that R. D. Laing and Aaron Estersons research, reported in this masterpiece of 1964 and continued by Esterson in his profound The Leaves of Spring: A Study in the Dialectics of Madness (1970), was a concrete embodiment of the complex theoretical work of their most advanced and radical contemporaries of the 1960s: Jean-Paul SartreCritique of Dialectical Reason and The Question of MethodThomas SzaszThe Myth of Mental Illness; and Martin Heidegger and Medard BossZollikon Seminars (although these were only published much later, and Laing and Esterson knew only Bosss and Heideggers earlier work).

Sartre wrote in praise of Laing’s work on families. Szasz respected Esterson and thought Stadlens research following up the eleven families important. Heidegger would probably have liked the book, though it is unlikely he knew it. It embodies that straightforward openness and humanity he tried to convey in his Zollikon seminars, though he might have asked: Why drag in Sartre?’ But almost all self-styled Daseinsanalysts and existential therapists ignore and even disparage Laing and Esterson’s quintessentially existential and phenomenological pioneering work.

The book is essentially simple. What did Laing and Esterson say that was so simple: too simple for ‘professionals’ to understand?
‘We believe that the shift of point of view that these descriptions both embody and demand has an historical significance no less radical than the shift from a demonological to a clinical viewpoint three hundred years ago.
Thus they introduced their great phenomenological descriptions of eleven families of ‘schizophrenics’. But, sixty years on, the ‘clinical viewpoint’ still reigns supreme. ‘Existential’, ‘Freudian’, ‘Jungian’, ‘Lacanian’, ‘Laingian’, ‘humanist’, ‘person-centred’ therapists and a galaxy of similarly impressively titled psychoanalysts and psychotherapists love to call themselves ‘clinicians’.

Today people demand ‘parity’ for ‘physical’ and ‘mental health’. This is well-intentioned but mystifying, pseudo-scientific language.

Have Laing and Esterson been proved wrong? They wrote:
Nobody can deny us the right to disbelieve in schizophrenia.’
Why, then, do most psychiatrists and psychotherapists claim Laing and Esterson said ‘families cause schizophrenia’? They can not have understood, if they have ever remembered, if they have ever read, the first sentences of the second edition (1970) of the book:
There have been many studies of mental illness and the family. This book is not of them, at least in our opinion.’
Hilary Mantel wrote that ‘the simple words the people speak’ in Laing and Esterson’s book gave her, when twenty years old, the courage to write her own books, which have been internationally acclaimed. Her introductions to the seminars in our previous series that started ten years ago enthralled participants with their sensitive understanding of, and deeply perceptive insight into, each family in turn.

As she wrote:
Some of us need a little push, before we recognise we have the right to pick up a pen. In my case it came from a book by the psychiatrists R. D. Laing and Aaron EstersonSanity, Madness and the Family... The people in it seemed close enough to touch... Each interview is a novel or play in miniature. So many of these family conversations seemed familiar to me: their swerves and evasions, their doubleness... For most of my life I had been told that I didn't know how the world worked. That afternoon I decided I did know, after all. In the course of my twenty-one years I'd noticed quite a lot. If I wanted to be a writer, I didn't have to worry about inventing material, I'd already got it. The next stage was just to find some words.
Mantelat least, had no difficulty understanding what Laing and Esterson were talking about:
All the patients profiled in the book are young women. I know their names are pseudonyms, but over the years I've wondered desperately what happened to them, and if there's anyone alive who knows, and whether any of them ever cut free from the choking knotweed of miscommunication and flourished on ground of their own: Ruth, who was thought odd because she wore coloured stockings; Jean, who wanted a baby though her whole family told her she didn't; and Sarah, whose breakdown, according to her family, was caused by too much thinking.

Anthony Stadlen, through his historical research, is able to answer some of Hilary Mantels questions.

Laing and Esterson wrote:
Surely, if we are wrong, it would be easy to show that we are, by studying a few families and revealing that schizophrenics really are talking a lot of nonsense after all.
Stadlen accepted this challenge. He studied the very same families they studied. In this third subseries of Inner Circle Seminars devoted to them he will consider each family briefly in turn, focussing on two points:

(1) Is there evidence for the view of the families and the diagnosing psychiatrists (not Laing and Esterson) that the daughters were ill, though most of the daughters disputed this?

(2) Were the daughters really talking a lot of nonsense after all’?

Stadlen’s findings in these respects were negative. But the first text referenced in Sanity, Madness and the Family is Thomas Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness (1961). This – and even more, Szasz’s next book, Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry (1963), the subject of our Inner Circle Seminar No. 289 on 17 March – raises a third question:

(3) Would the diagnosing psychiatrists (that is, not Laing or Estersonhave had the moral (as opposed to legal) right to treat these young women compulsorily (as they did) even if they had been ill, or to lock them up (as they did) even if they had talked nonsense?

We shall also see the 1972 80-minute BBC TV film The Space Between Words: Family, directed by Roger Graef, showing Esterson working with one family.

This will provide an opportunity for the film director Yaara Sumeruk to explain the film she is currently creating and directing, based on Sanity, Madness and the Family and The Leaves of Spring. She had a similar revelation to Hilary Mantels when, a few years ago, she too discovered a dog-eared copy of the paperback of the former book, which changed her life.

Your contribution to the dialogue will be warmly welcomed.

This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £140, others £175; reductions for combinations of seminars; some bursaries; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250  

For further information on seminars, visit:

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.

60 years since Thomas Szasz’s ‘Law, Liberty, and Society’ (1963). Keith Hoeller and Anthony Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 289 (17 March 2024)


Thomas Szasz

Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry (1963)

Sixtieth anniversary reflections 

Keith Hoeller   Anthony Stadlen

conduct by Zoom

Inner Circle Seminar No. 289

Sunday 17 March 2024

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thomas Szasz

Thomas Szasz

Thomas Szasz
Thomas Szasz

Thomas Szasz
15 April 1920 – 8 September 2012
at his 90th-birthday seminar
13 June 2010 (Inner Circle Seminar No. 153)
Photograph copyright
Not to be used without permission

Thomas Szasz published his first book, Pain and Pleasure: A Study of Bodily Feelings, in 1957. The philosopher Susanne Langer in her book Philosophical Sketches (1962) praised Szaszbook as an attempt to resolve ‘the mind-and-body problem’. (This alone shows the folly of those self-styled existential therapists and others who ignorantly claim Szasz was a ‘Cartesian dualist’.)
Szasz had already written a number of what he called cautiously phrased articles’, but in 1960 he published a brief, more controversial, paper, The Myth of Mental Illness’. This was noticed with some consternation in psychiatric circles.
In 1961 battle commenced. He published his second book, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct. It developed the thesis of the similarly named paper, as well as of the earlier book. In Szasz’s words, all hell broke loose’.
Even The Myth of Mental Illness, shocking and scandalous as it was to the psychiatric establishment, could still (just about) be read (or misread) as a relatively academic logical and scientific analysis of the prevailing theory of the phenomena which, in Szaszs view, were wrongly classified as mental illnesses’. The books full implications for practice were, for almost all readers, still unclear, even though psychiatrists understood well enough, without quite understanding why, that he was claiming that the foundations of their theory were delusory.
In fact, as Szasz wrote in his book Faith in Freedom (2004):
The Myth of Mental Illneswas intended to be more than just an academic exercise in semantics. It was also intended to be a denunciation of the moral legitimacy of the most violent method that the modern state possesses and wields in its perpetual effort to domesticate and control people, namely, depriving innocent individuals – with the full support of physicians and lawyers – not only of liberty but of virtually all their constitutional rights, in the name of helping them.
And with his third book, Law, Liberty and Psychiatry: An Inquiry into the Social Uses of Mental Health Practices (1963), there could be no more doubt. Szasz now turned his attention unequivocally to the psychiatric practices, ‘taking place outside the privacy of the consulting room’, consequent on what he called the ‘dangerous deception and self-deception’ of the presumption of ‘mental illness’.
Szasz identified the two paradigmatic psychiatric practices as: (1) involuntary hospitalisation and treatment; and (2) the insanity defence. This was no mere academic study. His denunciation of these practices was ethical and political.
Szasz had crossed the brink. This was more than the psychiatric authorities could stand. A quarter of a century later, in his Preface to the 1989 Syracuse edition of this 1963 book, he wrote that, with his rejection of these paradigmatic practices, and of the assumptions about human beings that they incarnated,
my excommunication from psychiatry became complete and irreversible.
Unfortunately, the book was not published in the United Kingdom until 1974, so that British readers did not, for the most part, know during the 1960s Szasz’s attack on psychiatric practice or appreciate how directly and logically it followed from his attack on mental illness’. (The Manufacture of Madness was published in the UK in 1971). However, David Cooper, in his Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry (1967), cited an argument about schizophrenia’ as a panchreston (explain-allfrom Szasz’s 1963 American book, without specifying the book.
In his Preface to that 1974 British edition Szasz wrote:
Among [my] books, I consider Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry, first published in 1963, especially important because it is in this book that I most fully describe and document the precise legal status of the mental hospital patient – as an innocent person incarcerated in a psychiatric prison; most clearly articulate my objections to institutional psychiatry – as an extra-legal system of penology and punishments; and first demonstrate what, in a free society, I consider the only morally proper aim with respect to so-called psychiatric abuses – namely, the complete abolition of all involuntary psychiatric interventions.  
The best-known sentence of this revolutionary book of 1963 must be:
Although we may not know it, we have, in our day, witnessed the birth of the Therapeutic State.
Sixty years on, the Therapeutic State shows no sign of dying. It has grown monstrous.
The book is rich in detailed case studies of people who fall foul of the law, either being coerced or excused, because they are allegedly ‘mentally ill’. A crucial case is the poet Ezra Pound, who was incarcerated for years in St Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, DC as too ‘insane’ to be tried as legally responsible for his fascist wartime broadcasts from Italy.
Today we shall explore both Szasz’s argument and some of his case studies in Law, Liberty and Psychiatry.
The argument and case studies were both of a new kind.
The argument (as developed by Szasz in this book and many more over the next half-century) was expounded by Professors Jeffrey Schaler and Richard Vatz in Inner Circle Seminar No. 276 on 30 October 2022. They explained Szasz’s view that compulsory psychiatry and the insanity defence are two sides of the same coin: Siamese twins’. They described the MNaghten (1843, England) and Durham (1954, USA) Rules for whether and when a mental disease’ absolves from criminal responsibility. Today Professor Keith Hoeller will recapitulate and continue to explain.
The case studies were not the conventional kind intended to illustrate and boast about how the insight and healing powers of the therapist-author led to the patientcure. Rather, they illustrated the catastrophic encounters of the patients with, and torture by, psychiatry.
Szasz did, in fact, before publishing The Myth of Mental Illness (1961), publish case studies of a relatively conventional kind, notably The Case of Prisoner ‘K.’ (1959 – he also at that time tolerated a pile-up of quotation marks he would have abhorred later), showing how he worked as an autonomous psychotherapist’ with people who had, in his words, problems in living’, psychosomatic illnesses, and so on. But he refrained from publishing more case studies of this kind for the remaining half-century of his life.
Stadlen asked Szasz (after a searching conversation in 2007 on the nature of psychotherapywhether – having demystified the myth of mental illness, and defined authentic psychoanalysis and psychotherapy simply as conversation, in some ways analogous to the conversation between mother and child, though of course without infantilising the client – he had felt it was a betrayal of his relationships with his clients to continue to write case histories’ of this conventional kind. Szasz confirmed this.
But in Law, Liberty and Psychiatry he pioneered a new kind of case history, exemplified by his studies of, among others, King Ludwig II of BavariaMiss Edith L. HoughJim CooperMichael L. Chomentowski (further recounted as Louis Perroni’ in Psychiatric Justice (1965)), Victor RosarioMrs Betty Kowalski, Mrs Isola Ware Curry, and Ezra PoundWe shall explore some of these pioneering case histories of Szasz’s, from this first book of them, today.
It is remarkable that, the year after Szasz published his book with its metastudies (as they might be called), R. D. Laing and Aaron Esterson published their incomparable set of eleven such metastudies in Sanity, Madness and the Family: Families of Schizophrenics (1964). The problem was, and remains (after sixty years), that readers do not read them as metastudies, but as case studies pure and simple: clinical’ studies of schizophrenics’ and their families of precisely the kind that SzaszLaing, and Esterson were rejecting.
Todays seminar therefore is, in addition, an introduction to, and clarification of, next month’s seminar, and the following seminar subseries, on the Laing and Esterson book.
It is notable, and profoundly regrettable, that these developments were totally ignored by Martin Heidegger and Medard Boss in their contemporary Zollikon seminars (1959-69), as they have continued to be ignored by Daseinsanalysts to this day.

Your contribution will be warmly welcomed.

Professor Keith Hoeller, who has already co-conducted a number of important Inner Circle Seminars on Szasz and Heidegger, will join us from Seattle, USA, where he was Professor of Philosophy for many years. He edited the Review of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy from 1978. He received the Thomas S. Szasz Award in 2002. He is one of the very few authorities on both Szasz and Heidegger. He edited Thomas Szasz: Moral Philosopher of Psychiatry (1997), translated Heidegger’s Elucidation of Hölderlin’s Poetry (2001), and contributed a chapter on Szasz to Existential Therapy (ed. Barnett, L. and Madison, G., 2012).

NB. We devoted an earlier Inner Circle Seminar, No. 70, on 20 July 2003, to a study of Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry in recognition of its fortieth anniversary. See:
This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £140, others £175; reductions for combinations of seminars; some bursaries; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250  

For further information on seminars, visit:

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.