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Author Biography
Thomas Szasz, renigade psychiatrist
Thomas Stephen Szasz
Born: 1920, Budapest, Hungary

Nationality: Hungarian

Genre(s): Philosophy, Law, Psychology, Psychiatry

Surname is pronounced Sass; born April 15, 1920, in Budapest, Hungary; came to United States in 1938, naturalized in 1944; son of Julius (a businessman) and Lily (Wellisch) Szasz; married Rosine Loshkajian, October 19, 1951 (divorced, 1970); children: Margot, Susan.

University of Cincinnati, A.B. (with honors), 1941, M.D., 1944; Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, certificate, 1950.

Diplomate, National Board of Medical Examiners, 1945, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, 1951; Boston City Hospital, Boston, Mass., intern, 1944-45; Cincinnati General Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio, assistant resident, 1945-46, clinician, 1946; University of Chicago Clinics, Chicago, Ill., assistant resident in psychiatry, 1946-48; Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, Chicago, Ill., staff member, 1951-56; State University of New York, Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, professor of psychiatry, 1956--; private practice of psychology and psychiatry in Chicago, Ill., 1949-54, Bethesda, Md., 1954-56, Syracuse, N.Y., 1956--. Fellow, Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, 1962; visiting professor, University of Wisconsin-Mad 1962, Marquette University, 1968, University of New Mexico, 1981; senior scholar, Eli Lilly Foundation, 1966--; Civil Liberties Carey Lecturer, Cornell University Law School, 1968; C. P. Snow Lecturer, Ithaca University, 1970; Root Tilden Lecturer, New York University School of Law, 1971; Noel Buxton Lectureship, University of Essex, 1975; Robert S. Marx Lectureship, University of Cincinnati College of Law, 1976; Hardy Chair Lectureship, Hartwick College, 1976; E. S. Meyer Memorial Lecturer, University of Queensland Medical School, 1977; delivered Lambie-Dew Oration, Sydney University, 1977. Honorary president, International Commission for Human Rights, London, 1974. Member of board of directors, National Council on Crime and Delinquency; member of research advisory panel, Institute for the Study of Drug Addiction; member of national advisory committee, Living Libraries, Inc.; member of advisory board, corporation for Economic Education, 1977--.

U.S. Naval Reserve, 1954-56, became commander.

International Psychoanalytic Association, International Academy of Forensic Psychology (fellow), American Psychiatric Association (fellow), American Psychoanalytic Association, Mark Twain Society (honorary member), Alpha Omega Alpha.

Several critics believe that Thomas Szasz has, in effect, started a war on psychiatry as it is currently practiced in the United States. In his book The Myth of Mental Illness, Szasz argues, notes Edwin M. Schur in Atlantic, "that both our uses of the term 'mental illness' and the activities of the psychiatric profession are often scientifically untenable and morally and socially indefensible." Szasz believes that mental illness differs from organic illness, and he calls the former "problems of living." He believes psychiatrists have glossed over these differences and continue to treat mental disturbances as medical problems. They impose the definition "mentally ill" on a person instead of treating the illness as an objective fact.

Szasz further believes that anyone brought to trial for a criminal offense should be allowed to stand trial instead of, as sometimes happens, being submitted to a pretrial psychiatric examination and then being committed to a mental institution. In fact, he would have the plea of insanity abolished. Nor does he accept dangerousness to oneself as a legitimate basis for institutionalization. He writes: "In a free society, a person must have the right to injure or kill himself." As for dangerousness to others, Schur notes that Szasz expounds on those not incarcerated who are equally as dangerous to others, and cites drunken drivers as one example. Schur writes: "A person's 'dangerousness' becomes a matter for legitimate public control, Szasz argues, only when he actually commits a dangerous act. Then he can be dealt with in accordance with regular criminal law."

Other psychiatrists have called his work "reckless iconoclasm," "reprehensible," and "dangerous." Lawyers, including Arthur Goldberg, praise him. His sole concern, says Schur, is the protection of the individual. Szasz believes that "the poor need jobs and money, not psychoanalysis. The uneducated need knowledge and skills, not psychoanalysis." Though his arguments are often stated in their extreme forms, Schur believes that Szasz "quite probably . . . has done more than any other man to alert the American public to the potential dangers of an excessively psychiatrized society."

Of his own work Szasz says: "I have tried to make two separate and yet connected points. The first point is that not only is mental illness not 'like any other illness,' as conventional wisdom now has it, but that mental illness does not exist: the term is a metaphor and belief in it and its implications is a mythology - indeed, it is the central mythology of psychiatry. The second point is that as a profession and as a social enterprise, psychiatry is neither a science nor a healing art but is rather a powerful arm of the modern nation state. The paradigmatic functions of the psychiatrist are inculpating and imprisoning innocent persons, called 'civil commitment,' and exculpating guilty persons and then often imprisoning them too (ostensibly for the 'treatment' of the illness that 'caused' their criminal conduct), called the 'insanity defense' and 'insanity verdict.'

"On conceptual, moral and political grounds I oppose these and all other coercive uses of psychiatry. Involuntary psychiatry is an enemy of liberty and responsibility. Morally and legally the only sexual relations we now regard as legitimate are those between consenting adults. Similarly, we should regard only psychiatric relations between consenting adults as morally and legally legitimate."

Additional Info:

Liberty and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. No policy - public or private - can increase or decrease one without increasing or decreasing the other. Human behavior has reasons, not causes.

Who is Thomas Szasz? He is Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse, New York, Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute, Washington, D.C., author and lecturer. His classic The Myth of Mental Illness (1961) made him a figure of international fame and controversy. Many of his works - such as Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, - are regarded as among the most influential in the 20th century by leaders in medicine, law, and the social sciences.

Reviewing Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry in the American Bar Association Journal, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Arthur J. Goldberg wrote: "Dr. Szasz makes a real contribution by alerting us to the abuses - existing and potential - of human rights inherent in enlightened mental health programs and procedures. He points out, with telling examples, shortcomings in commitment procedures, inadequacies in the protections afforded patients in mental institutions and the dangers of over-reliance on psychiatric expert opinion by judges and juries." Charles D. Aring, M.D., Professor of Neurology, University of Cincinnati, praised the book in these words: "One of the most important statements since the publications of Freud. Law, Liberty and Psychiatry is likely to rank among the classics of psychiatry." In an introduction to his writings and thought, Professors Richard E. Vatz and Lee S. Weinberg wrote (1983) "Throughout his distinguished career . . . Thomas S. Szasz has steadfastly defended the values of humanism and personal autonomy against all who would constrain human freedom with shackles formed out of conceptual confusion, error, and willful deception."

John Leo, social science editor for U.S. News & World Report, wrote in 1993 that "No one attacks loose-thinking and folly with half the precision and zest of Thomas Szasz." Paul Roazen, author of Encountering Freud, wrote in 1993 that "Thomas Szasz remains unique among contemporary observers of the social, ethical, and political implications of psychiatry: every argument he makes, and each word he chooses, are deserving of our closest attention."

See the entire catalog of books online by Thomas Szasz.

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