Also found in: Dictionary.
antipsychiatrya movement of opposition against both the practice and theory of conventional psychiatry, influential especially in the 1960s and early 1970s. Associated with the work of R. D. LAING (1959) in Britain and Thomas SZASZ in the US, antipsychiatry attacks the general concept of MENTAL ILLNESS as well as the therapeutic techniques employed in treating this. Both Laing and Szasz were themselves psychotherapists. In Laing's view, ‘mental illness’ is a concept with little or no scientific foundation; the causation of ‘mental illness’ is not biological. His suggestion was that the mental and behavioural states so described would be better seen as a meaningful response to the stresses and strains and disrupted communications of family life. Such mental states ‘make sense’ once the social situation of the person concerned is fully considered. Doctors and the patient's family often collude, Laing proposes, in labelling a person ‘mad’. The argument of Szasz was similar in key respects, though different in detail. In The Myth of Mental Illness (1961), he pointed out that psychiatrists rarely agreed in diagnosing SCHIZOPHRENIA. It was on this basis that he concluded that schizophrenia is not an illness. The implication of this, according to Szasz, is that patients are people who must be held responsible for their actions and treated accordingly Both Laing and Szasz regarded the involuntary incarceration of patients in mental hospitals and the use of techniques of treatment such as electroconvulsive therapy, leucotomy, and even tranquilizing drugs, as of uncertain value and repressive, a denial of individual autonomy without good reason. Sociologists who have also exerted an influence on the antipsychiatry movement (although the overall influence of their work is much wider) are FOUCAULT and GOFFMAN – see also MADNESS, TOTAL INSTITUTION, LABELLING THEORY.
The late 1970s and 1980s have seen a great reduction in the numbers of people in mental hospitals, partly as the result of movements such as antipsychiatry. Ironically however, the dismantling of the old apparatus of mental institutions and custodial care has given way to COMMUNITY CARE partly because mental illness has proved controllable by drugs. There are many who claim that this demonstrates that mental illness is at least in part a medical condition.