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Thomas Szasz

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 17 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7011
  1. Ned Stafford, journalist, Hamburg, Germany
  1. ns{at}

Psychiatrist who criticised his specialty and opposed forced treatment

In 1964, Szasz had the honour of being invited to speak at the 120th annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Los Angeles. It was his first invitation to speak to the group—and his last.

Szasz was not on good terms with the association. In 1961 he had published a book attacking the specialty, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct. He argued that so called mental illnesses are not diseases but instead are simply “problems in living” that might include “undesirable thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.” He called psychiatry a pseudoscience “in the company of alchemy and astrology.”

Not amused

The psychiatry establishment was not amused, viewing the book and Szasz’s subsequent attacks as a declaration of war. At the 1964 meeting, Szasz outlined his controversial ideas. But six other psychiatrists had been invited to read papers denouncing Szasz’s ideas, including Henry Davidson, whose paper was entitled “The New War on Psychiatry.”1 Some felt the proceedings had the feel of a public heresy trial.

“Tom …

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