Psychiatry has not always been a controversial area of work, but what is clear is that it has always had a direct effect on the lives of many people. That is why, especially in the first half of the 20th century, the way in which health care institutions handled the treatment of people with mental disorders began to be strongly questioned.
One of the representatives of this stream of demands was Ronald David Laing, a controversial Scottish psychiatrist who has devoted much of his life to questioning the limits of psychiatry and insanity as a concept.
Who was RD Laing? brief biography
RD Laing was born in Glasgow in 1927. He studied medicine in the same city, then worked as a psychiatrist in the British Army, where he became interested in research on the role of stress in mental health.
In 1965. RD Laing opened the Philadelphia Association, An institution that provides training for mental health professionals and, at the same time, treatment for patients. In addition, he opened a project in which therapists and patients coexisted.
The goal set by Laing was to push psychiatry to adopt a much more humanistic approach in which the cultural and psychosocial aspects of the experience of mental disorders were also taken into account. However, when proposing alternatives, he could only point out the directions in which progress could be made, without developing them.
RD Laing’s Theory of Madness
Laing believed that there is no categorical frontier that separates common sense from madness. This principle was opposed to the psychiatric practice of the timeWhich, until the twentieth century, consisted in part of cramming patients into psychiatric centers with little means; basically it was an attempt to isolate people with mental disorders from the rest of the population, a way to hide a social problem, while treating them to deal in a simple way with problems which it was understood, were individual and not collectives.
On the other hand, this idea that madness and normalcy are part of the same spectrum he married well with the theoretical proposition of psychoanalysis. However, the current initiated by Sigmund Freud also presented ideas which in the eyes of supporters of anti-psychiatry are limiting, as it establishes a strong determinism in which the environmental influence of the past conditions us and virtually obliges us to protect our consciousness from thoughts and memories that can cause our entire mental life to go through severe crises on a regular basis.
Thus, DR Laing’s theory of the limits of madness was different from both hegemonic psychiatry and psychoanalysis.
Against the stigma of the disease
Laing noted that while mental illness has always generated stigma, the way psychiatry treats patients can also fuel and perpetuate this depersonalization and contempt.
For this psychiatrist, for example, schizophrenia, being the serious mental illness that we all know, is not so much an internal problem of the person as it is youn an understandable reaction to facts that cannot be accepted, Which are too disturbing. In this way, to know the disorder well, it is necessary to know the cultural filter through which the person lives his life.
In other words, according to Laing’s theory, mental disorder is nothing more than an expression of anxiety, something related to one’s own experiences and not to failures that can only be explained by examining the brain. That is why it is necessary to study the social and cultural dynamics, the way in which the environment affects the person.
Laing’s ideas suggest that psychosis is actually an attempt to express oneself of the person with schizophrenic type disorders, which is therefore not in itself a bad thing, which deserves to be excluded by the rest of society.
As for RD Laing, the disorder has no original cause in the brain, but in the interaction, it makes no sense to base therapeutic interventions on medication and the use of psychotropic drugs. It was a widespread idea among supporters of anti-psychiatry, and he vehemently defended it. As a substitute, Laing attempted to take initiatives to understand the symbolisms that are expressed through the symptoms of mental disorder.
This approach was controversial because this would mean leaving many patients without relief in exchange for postponing their solution until the internal logic of his problem is understood.
On the other hand, Laing’s ideas are still seriously questioned today, for there is no evidence that in mental disorders there are causes that operate symbolically. However, the pressure that he and his colleagues in antipsychiatry have exerted to improve the living conditions of patients has paid off and psychiatry is now offering much better treatment to these people.