Szasz and Shirley MacLaine
Now some will tell me that it is neither the psychiatrists nor the psychologists nor the psychoanalysts, but the critics of the mental health professions with whom I should have tried to communicate.
Another myth. At the beginning of the century, the activist Carmen Ávila directed me to investigate Mexican psychiatry. Although she praised my Letter, she advised me the same as Dr. García: to rewrite it with pseudonyms. Ávila repeatedly insisted on this advice without realising that caring for the interests of a family that, without repenting, will take their sin to the grave offends the victim of that family. Anyone who has not been educated in poisonous pedagogy doesn’t object to denouncing a case of abusive parenting in the public light (although I admit that understanding it cost me long agonies).
Mrs. Ávila specialises in the abuses of the medical profession with children and campaigns against the psychiatric drugging of those labelled as ADHD kids. Unlike García, Ávila has enthusiastically celebrated my public denunciation of Dr. Amara, who has persistently been promoting the drugging of children on the radio. Since we have both battled psychiatry, Ávila holds me in high regard. However, like the rest of humanity, the will to denounce the figure of the mother frightens her.
You might think that Ávila advised me to rewrite my book because she is a grandmother—literally—who sometimes takes on the role of a mother. But when you take note of what the most eminent critics of psychiatry write, worse attitudes remain to be seen.
In his book Cruel Compassion and at a conference in Los Angeles that Ávila attended, Thomas Szasz denounced the collusion between abusive parents and psychiatrists. However, the dean in the civil war against psychiatry omits the fact that these parents can drive a child mad. The omission is evident throughout his work, and the reason is exposed in The Meaning of Mind. In that book, Szasz states that adult misconduct cannot be traced ‘to child abuse or sexual abuse’. In contrast to that statement, for Richard Rhodes and his biographee, the criminologist Lonnie Athens, every criminal had a harrowing childhood or adolescence (which does not mean that all the abused automatically become criminals, since some of them had helping witnesses, or developed neurotic defence mechanisms). But Szasz goes further. Speaking as if he were a typical American Calvinist he writes that the poor are guilty of their poverty, and as if that weren’t enough, at the end of his book he quotes one of Sartre’s stupidest remarks: that one deserves his own destiny. Sartre’s statement isn’t only ideological madness: it is perverse for having been uttered in a century as genocidal as the 20th century. Reading Szasz’s book motivated me to part ways with a book review that the thoughtpolice on Amazon Books deleted, but which I would like to rescue, edit it and incorporate it within these pages:
Tom Szasz was a mentor in absentia for a long time. He made me see what involuntary psychiatry and so-called free societies are. His analysis of the psychiatric newspeak, his concept of the Therapeutic State, his stance against both psychiatric bio-reductionism and Freud, and especially his moral calibre and love of freedom, have made their mark on my thinking. Anyone who wants to meet a dissident of the system should read Szasz. The Manufacture of Madness is a good starting point.
But my dear mentor has gone astray in some passages of The Meaning of Mind. Szasz simply doesn’t understand what goes on in the heads of those who have gone through psychotic breakdowns. He makes the same mistake as psychiatrists: ‘Don’t listen to them!’ There is a way to understand people who have been through a crisis: read what they have written. For example, How to Become a Schizophrenic by John Modrow is a window into the author’s mind and the dynamics of abuse that temporarily drove him mad. As Modrow sent the manuscript of his book to Szasz, and as he read it, there is no excuse for those passages in The Meaning of Mind where Szasz blames the victims for his hallucinations, delusions of grandeur and other ravings. Szasz even blames poor Virginia Woolf for the voices she heard!
Szasz is unconcerned about what a person feels when she has a panic attack and loses her sanity. He approaches the process of going mad as if it were an everyday experience that can be understood with the most common of the senses. But Szasz has never had a psychotic break. Modrow has had it. Modrow holds the key to understanding the world of madmen. Szasz doesn’t have it.
Anyone who really wants to know something on the subject should read not only Modrow’s study but also the writings of Alice Miller. The trauma model of mental disorders is the only rational alternative to the psychiatrists’ medical model. Amazingly, hardly anyone has heard of it. Parental abuse, conscious or not, is the primary cause of disorders in human beings, even in the neurotic adult. Szasz makes the incredible pronouncement that ‘child abuse, sex abuse, ignorance, poverty’ are not causative factors (p. 37). Furthermore, Szasz states that ‘autism is a poorly understood (perhaps genetically caused) condition’ (p. 56). This is an incredible claim to have come from the pen of one of the greatest enemies of biological psychiatry (autism is a condition likely caused by a mother without empathy with the baby).* Here is another statement from Szasz that I find incredible: ‘However, many hallucinating persons refuse to take antipsychotic drugs voluntarily, preferring the company of their “voices”…’ (p. 131).
Wow! Was this written by the great Tom Szasz or is it an advertising slogan of Big Pharma? ‘As I already suggested, the schizophrenic patient who “hallucinates” or has “delusions” is profoundly dishonest with himself’ (pp. 129f). It is unnecessary to continue to quote these incredibly stupid pronouncements. Suffice it to say, Szasz is absolutely ignorant about what mental hell is. I never tire of repeating that, since the process of going mad is a subjective experience, both Szasz and his enemy, the orthodox psychiatrist, have no right to interpret what is going on in the minds of those who suffer from it. Let those who have gone through these crises speak! Let us read, for example, page 23 of Modrow’s book, whose abusive parents were internalised in the poor boy he was: ‘After each assault by these “internal persecutors”, the individual’s ego retreats more and more behind a fortress that becomes increasingly empty, until at last, in the words of C. Peter Rosenbaum, “The moat is empty; the bridge is down; the sentinels fail to stand guard. The unconscious storms into the consciousness, and the walking dreamer of Jung is to be seen”.’
As for many years Szasz used to be a therapist, if Modrow had come to see him, perhaps Szasz would have offended him like those New Age folk who preach that you must blame yourself for what happens to you. The fact that Szasz has quoted Sartre, that in capitalist America he has blamed the poor, and the disturbed persons for their condition, is alarming. The pronouncements of the most serious philosophers are often indistinguishable from the silliest claims of the New Age. The stance of Szasz and the above-mentioned Elsié, identical to Shirley MacLaine’s nonsense (‘You create your own reality’), may seem laughable. But as we are about to see, other critics of psychiatry who don’t make these kinds of pronouncements are also blind to the psychic toll that family violence causes.
(*) I have corresponded with Dr. Jay Joseph, a critic of the fashion of blaming genes for various psychiatric disorders. This fashion is immensely popular precisely because it exonerates the mothers of autistic children. In 2006 Joseph published The Missing Gene: Psychiatry, Heredity, and the Fruitless Search for Genes in which he refutes the genetic theories of autism.