Laing RonaldDavid

Laing RonaldDavid

(1927-89) Scottish psychiatrist and critic of orthodox psychiatry His ‘radical’ critique (see ANTIPSYCHIATRY) grew from varied experience and interests. His initial clinical experience was with psychotic (see PSYCHOSIS) long-stay patients in a large mental hospital, and he subsequently undertook psychoanalytic (see PSYCHOANALYSIS) work with neurotic (see NEUROSIS) patients and their families at the Tavistock Clinic in London. He became interested in EXISTENTIALISM and the phenomenological experience of the person (see PHENOMENOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY).

He developed the view that mental illness must be understood as individual experience within a social context, and particularly the family context, as perceived by the individual. In his view, mental illness may be seen as a valid response to this phenomenological experience, and treatment can be effected by understanding this and assisting the mentally-ill person to grow through it. His own practical application of the theory can be seen in the therapeutic community Kingsley Hall, which he set up and worked in.

Laing developed his ideas during the 1950s and 60s, publishing The Divided Self (1959), about the schizophrenic experience, The Self and Others (1961) and Sanity Madness and the Family with Esterson (1964), both concerned with family dynamics, and The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise (1967). His radical views on mental illness and its treatment and his refusal to label people as 'S ane’ or ‘insane’, but as making different responses to different phenomenological experience, have had significant influence on the orthodox view, substantially ‘humanizing’ it. However, with the perspective of a quarter of a century, his ideas are not regarded as being of central theoretical importance in the treatment of schizophrenia, but only as offering a useful perspective in some cases. The importance of family dynamics in the etiology of mental illness generally, and its treatment, is recognized in the development of FAMILY THERAPY.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000