Antipsychiatry and Forced Mental Health Treatment?

I recently read, for the first time, the long out of print Psychiatry and Antipsychiatry authored by David G. Cooper. The question I had, in dipping into this slender volume, it’s only 148 pages long, was could there be any credence to Thomas Szasz’s accusations that some of the leading proponents of so called antipsychiatry were actually, if not favoring forced mental health treatment, soft on forced treatment?

The book bears a copyright for the year 1967, the same year co-hort R. D. Laing came out with The Politics of Experience. Between the two books, Laing’s is the stronger work, and to bear this point out, it is still in print. I had read Laing’s book years and years ago, and I had little desire to return there. However I was curious about this other book which had introduced the world to a strange new word, antipsychiatry.

I had gotten the idea from what I was reading that this idea of antipsychiatry was still relatively rudimentary, and I was surprised to get out of the book, rather than simply a diatribe against psychiatry, more psychiatry. David Cooper simply contrasts what we call biological psychiatry with his own psycho-dynamic brand of psychiatry, dubbed antipsychiatry. The arguments used, if more fully developed, are still around today.

What goes to the point of the question I was posing is the fact that David Cooper’s experiment, Villa 21, took place on an inpatient ward in Shenley psychiatric Hospital. This means that the people, males in the case of Villa 21, were not allowed to come and go as they pleased. They were literally prisoners. Cooper in fact dismissively refers in his book to a 1959 law under which they were held. You can only do so much on a locked ward at an inpatient facility, even if you are a psychiatrist wishing to implement changes.

The term Cooper used for what conventional psychiatry did was “quasi-medical”. This is a big difference between his view and my own. Psychiatry is simply not medicine, as far as I am concerned, despite the educational training of its practitioners and the pretence.  I’ve got another term for what this sort of conventional psychiatry is all about, and that term is quasi-legal. You’ve got a law for locking up innocent people, who have broken no law, on medical pretences. Generally the law exists to protect people from just such a consequence, making mental health law very murky territory indeed.

Much of his critique is subtle. The state is left off the hook, mostly, while he goes after one small unit for the implementation of the state’s will, the family. He begins his book by making violence a central issue, but this violence boils down to an invalidation on the part of parents and siblings of a family member. The state, the school, and the communities role in this depersonalization and invalidation is downplayed. He, as a therapist, is working to resolve issues that come up within this relatively circumscribed context.

I have always thought that R. D. Laing’s experiment at Kingsley Hall would have been much preferable to what I experienced. Such is the kind of an option that I wish I had had when I was imprisoned and forcibly drugged in a psychiatric hospital that I didn’t have. R. D. Laing had earlier worked in a psychiatric ward run by the military to loosen restrictions there. The problem with developing alternatives to conventional psychiatry, a problem that Dr. Szasz, restricting himself to private practice, didn’t have, is that doing so is going to mean a relationship to conventional psychiatry, and perhaps, as such, compromising with principle.

When this compromise is allowed to swerve into hypocrisy, we’ve got a problem. There has been some suggestion that the stance of R. D. Laing in the 80’s was not quite so adamant as the stance of the Laing of the 60s and 70s had been. As Thomas Szasz put it in his Reply to [Tristram] Englehardt in Szasz Under Fire, Edited by Jeffrey A. Schaler:

Even the “antipsychiatrist” Ronald Laing recoiled from denying the reality of mental illness, rejected my opposition to psychiatric coercions, and reasserted his loyalty to psychiatry as medicine.

Of course, it should be said to his credit that this same Ronald Laing may have had reasons for being deceptive as he was fighting a losing battle to save his license to practice towards the end of his life.

I think the case against is probably overstated in Antipsychiatry: Quackery Squared, a book authored by Szasz, that I have no desire to read. All the same, I’d like to see more psychiatrists take a position, as Dr. Szasz did, unreservedly in support of the abolition of forced mental health treatment. Many of the psychiatrists associated with what was termed the antipsychiatry movement didn’t take such a strong and unwavering stand, and for that I would fault them. If their credibility has suffered as a result, it should come as a surprise to no one.

Forced Mental Health Treatment–The Elephant In The Room

Not that long ago I left a comment on a Huffington Post blog. The blog was that of an East Anglia University student, Beth Seward, in the UK. The post was entitled The Elephant in the Room: The Stigma Around Mental Health. My comment, and I stand by it, was as follows:

The elephant in the room is not “stigma”. The elephant in the room is forced mental health treatment. If it were otherwise people wouldn’t be pretending, very intently in fact, to ignore it. Want to do something about prejudice and discrimination? Repeal mental health law. When you’ve gotten rid of forced treatment, you’ve gotten rid of much of the rationale for prejudicial mistreatment. Forced treatment outside of the mental health system is assault.

I will always admire the late Dr. Thomas Szasz for his dedication to the abolition of forced mental health treatment. I think all doctors of psychiatry should oppose forced mental health treatment, and I would like to see more psychiatrists express their doubts as to its effectiveness. I feel the same way about patients and former patients. I have heard the view expressed by some folks that the forced treatment he or she endured did him or her some good. This was never my experience.

Out of forced treatment we get two castes of citizens. Citizens with full citizenship rights, citizens who have not known forced treatment, and citizens with a portion of their citizenship rights violated, denied and ignored, citizens who have known forced treatment. Mental health law is that law that allows for the detention, and prejudicial maltreatment, of people who have broken no law. From this detention come permanent records that will follow that person around to the end of his or her days, and beyond.

Mental health law should be repealed. There should not be a law for locking up non-law breakers. I don’t think a person can be adamant enough on this point. Mental health law is a very real threat to the freedoms that Americans hold so dear. Nobody is immune from the diagnostic labeling bestowed by well, nor not so well, intentioned meddlers. To deprive the rights to some that we allow for others should be considered, and this is my point, criminal. By doing so, we’ve just made a rift between those citizens we consider worthy and those citizens we consider less worthy based entirely upon prejudice.

To quote from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Forced mental health treatment jeopardizes people’s right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. When a person is detained in a prison masquerading as a hospital that person’s right to liberty is being violated. When a person is subjected to life threatening treatments in that prison that persons right to life is being violated. When a person’s opportunities are diminished due to such an experience, that person’s right to the pursuit of happiness is being violated.

The elephant in the room has been doing much damage, and yet so many people are pretending that everything is fine. Everything is not fine. We had the same problem when people were mistreated on account of their skin color. Now people are being mistreated on account of the psychiatric labels and the mental health treatment they have received. Forced treatment is mistreatment, now and always. Forced treatment involves depriving a person of his or her liberty. All the harm that comes to people in the mental health system comes from this one little exception to the laws that govern our land.  I think it about time we got rid of this loophole in the rule of law.