Laing, Esterson, ‘Schizophrenia’. Letter in The Guardian (6 September 2011)

Laing, Esterson, Schizophrenia 

Anthony Stadlen

Copyright © Anthony Stadlen 2011, 2020
[Letter in The Guardian, 6 September 2011]

[Note by Anthony Stadlen, 2020:

I wrote this letter in response to an editorial: 

I telephoned The Guardian the day my letter was printed, to ask why the misleading title Schizophrenia Denial had been placed above it. A junior editor apologised and explained that he had been very pressed for time before the publication deadline and had not been able to think of any remotely relevant word of six letters to fit into the available space, other than ‘denial’. I sympathised.]

[Note by Anthony Stadlen, 2023:

It occurs to me now that a wholly relevant six-letter word would give the fine title Schizophrenia Muddle’.]

You claim (Unthinkable? Rehabilitating RD Laing, 27 August) Laing and Esterson’s Sanity, Madness and the Family ‘set out [Laing’s] most controversial idea: that family life plays an important part in the development of schizophrenia’. But that is just what they said they were not asserting. They wrote in the 1970 edition: ‘There have been many studies of mental illness and the family. This book is not of them, at least in our opinion. But it has been taken to be so by many people.’

Laing and Esterson had moved on from Laing’s The Divided Self (1960). They were now, with Thomas Szasz, questioning the existence of ‘schizophrenia’. They wrote: ‘Our question is: are the experience and behaviour that psychiatrists take as [my italics] signs and symptoms of schizophrenia more socially intelligible than has come to be supposed?’ But, for nearly 50 years, they have been misread as if they had left out the words that I have italicised. This isn’t an obscure detail. It is the heart of their argument. But it is so simple that almost all readers somehow manage not to see it.

Anthony Stadlen
Existential and psychoanalytic psychotherapist

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