Coercion as Cure: A Critical History of Psychiatry

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Nonspecific Binding
  • Copyright: 2009-08-15
  • Publisher: Routledge

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Understanding the history of psychiatry requires an accurateview of its function and purpose. In this provocativenew study, Szasz challenges conventional beliefs aboutpsychiatry. He asserts that, in fact, psychiatrists are notconcerned with the diagnosis and treatment of bona fi deillnesses. Psychiatric tradition, social expectation, andthe law make it clear that coercion is the profession’sdetermining characteristic.Psychiatrists may "diagnose" or "treat" people withouttheir consent or even against their clearly expressed wishes,and these involuntary psychiatric interventions are asdifferent as are sexual relations between consenting adultsand the sexual violence we call "rape." But the point is notmerely the difference between coerced and consensualpsychiatry, but to contrast them. The term "psychiatry"ought to be applied to one or the other, but not both. Aslong as psychiatrists and society refuse to recognize this,there can be no real psychiatric historiography.The coercive character of psychiatry was more apparentin the past than it is now. Then, insanity was synonymouswith unfitness for liberty. Toward the end of thenineteenth century, a new type of psychiatric relationshipdeveloped, when people experiencing so-called "nervoussymptoms," sought help. This led to a distinction betweentwo kinds of mental diseases: neuroses and psychoses.Persons who complained about their own behavior wereclassified as neurotic, whereas persons about whose behaviorothers complained were classified as psychotic. Thelegal, medical, psychiatric, and social denial of this simpledistinction and its far-reaching implications undergirdsthe house of cards that is modern psychiatry. Coercionas Cure is the most important book by Szasz since hislandmark The Myth of Mental Illness.

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