Thomas Szasz on The Myth of Mental Illness
by Thomas Szasz
Psychiatrist and social critic Thomas Szasz unsettled the psychiatric establishment in the 1960’s, challenging its foundational notions around normalcy, mental illness and treatment. By watching this pair of riveting interviews, Dr. Szasz will challenge you to explore and question your own cherished beliefs around diagnosis, psychotherapy and freedom; deepening your empathy for even the most challenging clients.
Thomas Szasz (1920-2012) maintained that, unlike true diseases of the brain and body, mental illness is a destructive social construct that medicalizes living and deprives people of their dignity. According to Szasz, medication, hospitalization and mandated psychotherapy are little more than coercive, dignity-reducing forms of clinical practice. You will be jarred away from comfortable notions to embrace deeper psychiatric and social justice issues underscoring your clinical practice.

Many people value security and submission over uncertainty and responsibility. For our clients, this means abdicating control over their lives to the authority of their symptoms and doctors; while for clinicians it compels belief in mental illness as a disease to be cured. Dr. Szasz will challenge you to open deeper conversations with your clients around freedom and to question the potentially coercive nature inherent in psychotherapy and psychopharmacology.

True freedom means taking control of and responsibility for our choices and their consequences. Neither psychotherapy, drugs, nor the power of our techniques will restore a client’s personal sense of agency. Szasz will cause you to feel uncomfortable enough to think differently about everything you do clinically, from diagnosis to treatment planning, especially with the most vulnerable—children, the imprisoned and the so-called mentally ill. Szasz’s ideas were highly controversial during his lifetime, and they continue to fuel critical discourse around topics as seemingly divergent as the DSM and legalization of drugs.      

What therapists are saying…

“These films are the next best thing to being with him in person. They reveal his deep commitment to helping students, members of mental health professions, as well as the public, to understand the important relationship between liberty and personal responsibility. For we cannot allow people to be free of coercion without insisting they be held accountable for their behaviors—and vice versa: When we insist on holding people accountable for their behaviors, criminal or otherwise, we must remove the state barriers to free expression. In my opinion, this is the core of Professor Szasz’s writings since 1961 until his death. These interviews are excellent and they provide a rare and valuable glimpse of this master in action. I heartily endorse them.”

—Jeffrey A. Schaler, PhD, Editor of Thomas Szasz: The Man and His Ideas; Founder of
In Depth
In the first interview, Thomas Szasz and Randy Wyatt deconstruct the long-cherished notion of mental illness, differentiating it from true medical disease. They then turn a critical lens toward the conspiratorial way physicians and the federal government have created a medical state in order to subjugate the citizenry through pharmacracy.

In the second interview Szasz and Wyatt and explore the many faces of coercion, the tension between internal and external control, and the way that psychiatry, psychotherapy and pharmacology collude to strip people of personal freedom. They even challenge our cherished belief that multiculturalism will bring people together.
Together, these unsettling conversations will challenge your core beliefs about the helping profession and move you to deeper levels of reflection on how best to truly serve your patients, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.   

Length of video: 1:19:50

English subtitles available

Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-559-9

Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-559-5

Thomas S. Szasz received his M.D. degree from the University of Cincinnati. He is currently professor of psychiatry emeritus at SUNY Health Science Center in Syracuse, New York, where he has taught since 1956. Dr. Szasz is the author of over 600 articles, book chapters, book reviews, and newspaper columns. His classic The Myth of Mental Illness (1961) made him a figure of international fame and controversy. Many of his works--such as Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Ceremonial Chemistry, and Our Right to Drugs are regarded as among the most influential in the 20th century by leaders in medicine, law, and the social sciences.
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