On Szasz, Breggin and Oaks


Thomas Szasz’s Anti-Freud, where he views Freud as a quack, is a treat. But like other critics of psychiatry Szasz simply cannot break away from society’s most potent taboo: the devastating effects of parental abuse on children, as I argue below:


Critics of psychiatry:
blindness in their midst of vision

Thomas Szasz: The meaning of mind (Praeger, 1996)

Tom Szasz has been an intellectual guide for a long time. His analysis of the psychiatric Newspeak; his stance against both psychiatry and psychoanalysis, and especially his moral caliber and love for liberty have had tremendous impact on my thought and worldview. Anyone willing to know a dissident of our system should read Szasz’s classics. Pharmacracy: Medicine and Politics in America is a good starting point.

But Szasz went astray in some passages of The Meaning of Mind. He just doesn’t understand what is going on inside the heads of those who have been through psychotic crises. Szasz commits the same psychiatric mistake of his colleagues: “Don’t listen to them!”

John Modrow’s How to Become a Schizophrenic is a window into the mind of the author and the family abuse dynamics that drove him temporarily mad. Since Modrow sent the manuscript of his book to Szasz there is no excuse for those passages in The Meaning of Mind where Szasz blames the victims for their hallucinations, delusions of grandeur and hearing voices. Szasz does not even mention Modrow’s seminal work, which was published since 1992; and he blames poor Virginia Woolf for the voices she heard.

Szasz is not concerned about what it feels, from the insider’s subjective self, to have the severest form of panic attack that drives people to lose their mind. He approaches the subject of going mad objectively as if it was a normal, everyday experience that can be understood with plain common sense. But Szasz has never had a psychotic breakdown. Modrow has. Modrow has the key to understand the mad world. Szasz doesn’t.

Anyone who really wants to know something about the subject is advised to read not only Modrow’s autobiographical account, but also Silvano Arieti’s classic Interpretation of Schizophrenia or, more recently, Schizophrenia by Colin Ross. The trauma model is the only rational alternative to the psychiatrist’s medical model.

Parental abuse is the cause of most mental disorders even in the grown up neurotic adult (see e.g., Susan Forward’s bestseller Toxic Parents). Szasz makes the incredible statement that “child abuse, sex abuse” is no causative factor (page 37). Even worse, Szasz states that “autism is a poorly understood, perhaps genetically caused, condition” (page 56). This is an incredible statement from the one who has been psychiatry’s main foe (autism might be a psychogenic condition caused by non-loving mothers who treat their babies like objects—see Peter Breggin’s Toxic Psychiatry, pages 287ff).

Here there is another Szasz statement that I find incredible: “If, on balance, the voices would perturb him [the so-called schizophrenic] more than they please him, he would stop producing them” (pages 130f). This is a rather silly remark. Obsessive thoughts, in the sense of involuntary mentation, exist. Everybody knows it. I for one know what an obsessive thought is (no less than falling in love!), and I know that I never had the slightest chance to kick the damned thought out of my head. Szasz continues: “However, hallucinating persons refuse to take antipsychotic drugs voluntarily, preferring the company of their voices.”

Oops! Has the great Tom Szasz written this statement, or is it a slogan of that Orwellian association, NAMI?

“As I already suggested, the schizophrenic patient who hallucinates or has delusions is profoundly dishonest with himself” (page 130).

It is unnecessary continuing to quote these silly blame-the-victim pronunciations. It is enough to say that Szasz is absolutely ignorant of what mental hell is. I insist that since the process of going mad is a thoroughly subjective experience both Szasz and his foe, the orthodox psychiatrist, have no right to interpret what is going on inside the minds of these people.

Let’s give the true insiders a chance to speak out the tragedies that drove them mad by ending this review with words not from Szasz’s book, but a quotation in Modrow’s, whose abusive parents were internalized in the poor boy he was:

“After each assault by these internal persecutors, the individual’s ego retreats more and more behind a fortress that becomes increasingly empty, until at last, in words of Peter Rosenbaum, the moat is empty; the bridge is down; the sentinels fail to stand guard. The unconscious storms into consciousness, and the walking dreamer of Jung is to be seen.”


Peter Breggin

Toxic Psychiatry is one of the best books that debunk biological psychiatry. I recommend Peter Breggin’s manifesto to anyone interested in mental health.

Breggin valiantly opposed lobotomy and electroshock in the 1970s. He also opposed the psychiatric drugging of children in the 1980s, 90s and in this century. But I am perplexed about his policy as founder and editor of the journal Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry (EHPP).

Breggin’s journal, which I subscribe, didn’t publish a tribute or even an obituary to Theodore Lidz, one of the foremost specialists of the trauma model of “schizophrenia” in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s who died at ninety in 2001. In those now bygone decades Lidz and his colleagues blamed parents for the psychoses of their offspring: one of the greatest heresies in today’s culture. The second chapter of Toxic Psychiatry valiantly endorses Lidz and his colleague’s view about psychologically abusive parents that destroy their children’s mind.

Alas, due to cowardice before the massive anti-blaming culture of today, Breggin betrayed what he wrote in his book. See my letter that Breggin didn’t respond.

His silence is no mystery. Alice Miller’s work focuses on abusive parents: what Simon et al fear the most. Miller’s Breaking Down the Wall of Silence is a good introduction to her ideas. I quote from the dust jacket: “Dr. Miller convincingly demonstrates how psychoanalysts from Freud onward, as well as teachers, clergy, politicians, and members of the media, have shrunk from recognizing the enormous extent and devastating effects of child abuse.”

I am afraid to say that, like his shrink colleagues, since Breggin wrote the second chapter of Toxic Psychiatry he has miserably shrunk from recognizing the psychotic effects of child abuse.


E-mail exchange with David Oaks of MindFreedom:

Dear David:

We are on the same front combating psychiatry: you in the States and I in Mexico. So don’t misunderstand me! One thing that bothers me of your webpage, as well as Szasz’s and Breggin’s, is that none of you talk about what causes neuroses and even psychoses: parental abuse. (Curiously, the antipsychiatrists of the 1960s had more guts than today’s critics: all of them blamed parents.)

Respectfully,

C.T.

David Oaks responds:

A lot of groups work on the issue of trauma and how trauma leads to mental and emotional problems. A lot of groups have material on that, and our Mad Market of books has information about that too. However, as a human rights group, we are focusing on human rights issues.
Best wishes,

David.

12 December 2005

Dear David:

Yes: I remember that issue of MindFreedom magazine with a big picture of Peter Breggin on the cover. The issue lists lots of books, some dealing with trauma as the causative factor. However, even that issue’s abstract of John Modrow’s How to Become a Schizophrenic doesn’t mention a single word about schizophrenogenic parents: the main subject of Modrow’s book!

If I am wrong about your organization, please indicate me a single page within your large website that specifically deals with the subject that some parents drive their children mad.

Respectfully,

C.T.

*   *   *

David Oaks did not respond to this e-mail and his former response misses the point. If his organization focuses on human rights issues, why aren’t they saying anything about the most heinous violation of such rights: schizophrenogenic child abuse?

The cause of this taboo among psychiatrists, anti-psychiatrists and the society in general can be glimpsed in the following quote from Alice Miller’s Breaking Down the Wall of Silence:

If one day the secret of childhood were to become no longer a secret, the state would be able to save immense sums that it spends on hospitals, psychiatric clinics, and prisons maintaining our blindness. That this might deliberately happen is almost too incredible a thought.

Thanks Mrs. Miller! You have seen what Freud, Szasz, Breggin’s epigones and even psychiatric survivors didn’t want to see. When you say “psychiatric clinics and prisons maintaining our blindness” I can only think of their blindness in their midst of vision.