Psychology and Psychiatry
Some past and present critics of established psychology and psychiatry. The social context of distress.
Literature and links
Part 1: Seminal figures of the Twentieth Century
The whole tendency of the so-called treatment of so-called mental disorder, whether medical (psychiatric) or psychological (psychoanalytic, psychotherapeutic or 'cognitive-behavioural'), has been to cast emotional distress as an individual, personal problem.
However, there have throughout been prominent dissenters. Most regarded with suspicion by the orthodoxy of their day, all have remained more or less marginal ever since.
Alfred Adler (1870-1937)
First of Freud's followers to break away from psychoanalysis and set up his own 'brand name' (Individual Psychology). Adler was quick to see the centrality of social power and the importance to the individual of getting as much as possible.
Best known books
Understanding Human Nature
The Science of Living
The Education of Children
What Life Should Mean to You
The Neurotic Constitution
The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology
Problems of Neurosis
The Pattern of Life
Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind
American psychoanalyst who departed a long way from the orthodoxy of her training in her native Germany and wrote brilliantly on the effects of social organization on the individual's 'neurotic' difficulties.
|Best known books
The Neurotic Personality of Our Time
New Ways in Psychoanalysis
Our Inner Conflicts
Neurosis and Human Growth
Stack Sullivan (1892-1949)
Psychoanalytically trained American psychiatrist, influential in his day but rarely referred to in the mainstream now. Located the phenomena of 'mental illness' (including 'psychotic' disorders) in the person's social context: personality and 'symptoms' stem from the individual's experience of growing up in a social world. Brilliantly insightful and still well worth reading.
|Best known books
The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry
Clinical Studies in Psychiatry
|Erich Fromm (1900-1980) Another German emigré who departed a long way from his orthodox psychoanalytic roots. Heavily influenced by Marx's thought, he elaborated the ways in which individual personality and symptomatology are shaped by socio-economic conditions.||Best known books
The Fear of Freedom
Man for Himself
The Sane Society
The Art of Loving
Beyond the Chains of Illusion
The Heart of Man
To Have or to Be
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness
|Thomas Szasz (1920- ) Libertarian American psychiatrist and most radical critic of the notion of 'mental illness', considered as the principal founder of 'anti-psychiatry'. Implacable and trenchant critic of all the nonsense resorted to by psychiatrists in trying to present their discipline as about anything other than social control.||Best known books
The Myth of Mental Illness
Law, Liberty and Psychiatry
The Ethics of Psychoanalysis
The Manufacture of Madness
Ideology and Insanity
The Second Sin
The Myth of Psychotherapy
Sex: Facts, Frauds and Follies
|R.D. Laing (1927-1989) Only British psychiatrist of any real intellectual stature, heavily influenced by Sartrian existentialism. Frequently dismissed by the psychiatric establishment as a 1960s hippy and drunk, Laing was an original 'anti-psychiatrist' who wrote profoundly and sometimes poetically of the influence on the individual of his or her, often tormented, social experience. Often and wrongly accused of 'blaming' parents for their children's 'schizophrenia', he did much to explicate the role of family life in the generation of madness.||Best known books
The Divided Self
The Self and Others
Sanity, Madness, and the Family (with Aaron Esterson)
The Politics of Experience
The Politics ofthe Family (essays)
The Facts of Life
The Voice of Experience
Wisdom, Madness, and Folly (Autobiography)
This section could go on for ever. In making what is a very personal selection, my principal criterion has been accessibility. Though not all the writings I indicate are easy, they are at least not, like so many in this area, so enmired in academic convention that they amount to little more than obscure squabbles between people needing to gain a secure perch in the university industry. In other words, these are people who care about what they're saying and deserve to have their voices heard in a wider world than the merely academic.
Breggin is about
the most fearless of the newer generation of critics of psychiatry
and the pharmaceutical industry which supports it. See his website
Rowe's widely read books maintain a a constant, scathing exposure
of the inadequacy of psychiatry to deal with the phenomena of distress,
in particular 'depression'. See
her website for a comprehensive introduction to
Craig Newnes, Guy Holmes and Cailzie Dunn have edited two books that contain a wide-ranging critique of psychiatry, particularly though not exclusively in Britain: This is Madness and This is Madness Too, 1999 and 2001 respectively, PCCS Books. See their associated website.
Mary Boyle expertly deconstructs the whole notion of 'schizophrenia' in Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion?, 2002, Routledge.
Lynch is an Irish GP and psychotherapist
whose book Beyond Prozac, originally
published in Ireland in 2001 but now available (2004) through PCCS
Books, is in my opinion far and away the best of its kind so far.
An unflagging and remorseless critic of drug- and biology-based
psychiatry, Terry Lynch uses his extensive experience as a doctor
and therapist to demonstrate how a balanced approach to emotional
distress of all kinds - including the most severe - should look.
His approach is deeply humane, utterly without pomposity or conceit,
and yet informing it is a razor-sharp critical mind and, in view
of his uncompromising rejection of the medical establishment, not
a little courage. This book cannot in my view be recommended too
highly; every GP in the land should read it, and many sufferers
and survivors in and of the psychiatric system will draw comfort
from it. Obtainable
from the PCCS
Gail Hornstein's Agnes's Jacket (2012, PCCS Books) is an extremely radable, intelligent and thought-provoking enquiry into madness from the perspective of people who have at one time or another fallen into the hands of psychiatrists and been diagnosed as psychotic. She pursues her researches in Europe as well as the USA and is very appreciative of and informative about "survivors'" organizations, in particular the Hearing Voices Network. Thoughtful, critical, scholarly and sympathetic, she has succeeded in writing a book that many people - reflective professionals as well as sufferers - will find at least illuminating and often positively helpful.
Steven Coles, Sarah Keenan and Bob Diamond have put together a useful edited volume of thought-provoking and trenchant crtiques of conventional psychiatry: Madness Contested. Power and Practice, 2013, PCCS Books. Many of the foremost contemporary critics of psychiatric practice feature as contributors to this volume.
Critics of psychology
Hansen, Alec McHoul and Mark Rapley: Beyond Help. A Consumers'
guide to psychology, (PCCS Books, 2003). An intelligent,
deeply thoughtful book swimming powerfully and courageously against
the flood of marketed psychology that pollutes our culture. The
picture laid bare is of a rampant 'psy complex' so unscrupulously
saturated with self-interest as to have become simply shameful.
Insights and arguments are, however, put forward to support a reconstruction
of intellectual and ethical integrity in the field.
Windy Dryden and Colin Feltham edited an excellent collection of contributions from various critics as well as proponents of psychotherapy which illustrates very clearly many of the principal critical issues: Psychotherapy and its Discontents, Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1992.
Alex Howard's book Challenges to Counselling and Psychotherapy(Macmillan, 1996) is the best, and most balanced, critique I know of the whole counselling field. His latest book, Philosophy for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Macmillan, 2000), is a truly excellent account of Western philosophy from the broadly psychotherapeutic perspective, and one which goes a long way to counter the superficiality of so much writing in this area. His latest book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) is Counselling and Identity - again an extremely rewarding read. His website gives information as well as offering professional advice.
Jeffrey Masson is probably the best known scourge of psychotherapy (in particular psychoanalysis) in recent times, though these days he appears to have other targets in his sights. His book Against Therapy is a classic. His website contains a list of all his books.
Richard Webster's compendious Why Freud was Wrong (Fontana, 1996) marshalls all the arguments against psychoanalysis and adds a few of its own. Just about the last word in the critique of Freud and his followers. Webster maintains a refreshingly critical website.
Anna Sands provides a critique of psychotherapy from the client's point of view in Falling for Therapy (Macmillan, 2000). Her experience of, in particular, psychoanalytic psychotherapy forms the basis of an account which is at least as intelligent, penetrating and instructive as any of the professional literature, and more so than most.
William Epstein has for quite a while been a trenchant critic of the scientific pretensions of psychotherapy, and his most recent book Psychotherapy as Religion. The Civil Divine in America (Univ. Nevada Press, 2006) is a tour de force. If I had to single out one book to represent the critical literature on psychotherapy, this would be it. Not only does Epstein demolish the more recent so-called scientific research supporting therapeutic practice, but he also offers a masterly critique of the theoretical bases and principal assumptions of the main approaches. His argument that therapy is first and foremost a cultural phenomenon - a central plank of US commitment to 'heroic individualism' - is constructed with such force as to be very nearly unanswerable. But of course, as Epstein well recognizes, it will hardly dent the sublime self-confidence of psychotherapy's researchers and practitioners, as their world is built on self-deception and interest, not reason - much more akin to magic and religion than to scientific truth.
Paul Moloney's The Therapy Industry (Pluto Press, 2013) is a masterly marshalling of the extensive critical literature surrounding psychotherapy in all its aspects: the most comprehensive and accessible critique available thus far of the whole theory and practice of psychological therapy. The flow of his argument leaves behind the stale individualism and political sterility of the 'talking cure' and carries forward the the possibilities offered by a social materialist approach to distress.
- the social context
Wilkinson (1996) Unhealthy Societies.
The Afflictions of Inequality. London & New York:
This page last updated 17/6/13
Psychiatry in a Nutshell
Read Rich Winkel's definitive attack on psychiatry
publish a series of works under the heading Critical Psychology, edited by Craig Newnes and Guy Holmes, several of which feature on this website. They are all obtainable from the PCCS website.
Midlands Psychology Group
We are a group of clinical, counselling and academic psychologists who believe that psychology—particularly but not only clinical psychology—has served ideologically to detach people from the world we live in, to make us individually responsible for our own misery and to discourage us from trying to change the world rather than just ‘understanding’ our selves. What are too often seen as private predicaments are in fact best understood as arising out of the public structures of society. See our website.
A brief evaluation of the literature