Thomas Szasz: Hello.
René Talbot: Hello Thomas, this is René.
Thank you very much for the time you want to spend for this interview.
R.T.: I have prepared some questions. The first
question is: What
is distinctive about your new book "Coercion
as cure – A critical
of psychiatry", which came out this year?
is distinctive about it is that no one has ever written
a history of psychiatry based on the premise that there is no mental
All histories of psychiatry rest on the unquestioned belief that mental
exists the same way that bodily illness exists and that doctors are
diagnose and cure it. This is nonsense. We ought to ask: What does the
of psychiatry look like if there is no mental illness?
This is like asking, What does the history of
(a monotheistic) religion look like if there is no God?
The answer then is that there are people who
worship or do
not worship God, there are churches, there are priests, and there is of
religious belief and religious disbelief and religious persecution. The
for psychiatry is similar. There is voluntary psychiatry for people who
got to psychiatrists and “worship” mental illnesses and cures; and they
drugs, or electroshock, or psychoanalysis, or whatever the “soul
permitted to give them; and then there are people who reject psychiatry
and on whom
so-called “services” are imposed by force.
Today, neither psychiatrists nor the media
distinguish – are
allowed to distinguish! -- these diametrically opposite phenomena. I
that until society – the legal system – makes this distinction, the
situation will remain unchanged. And once the distinction is made,
psychiatry will be, will have to be, abolished – just as coercive
R.T.: Yes, there is a history of atrocities and
course. That goes for any system of ideology based on a
fiction plus force. The point is, there is the fiction of mental
there are psychiatrists who are agents of the state – just as there
is, the fiction of god and there are priests who used to be agents of
but no longer are!
R.T.: The history of psychiatry and it's
interpretation is always
also connected with evaluations, questions of good and bad.
R.T.: Thus it also directly concerns the
interests in contemporary
psychiatric practice. What reactions have you had to your book?
has been only one review, which is very hostile, in a
conservative, right-wing magazine called The Weekly Standard, I can
send you a
R.T.: And what was your opinion on this reaction?
expected this or no reviews at all. What else can
psychiatrists do with my book except dismiss it?
R.T.: A new question: In the preface to the
German translation of
"The Myth of Mental Illness" you write: "Of all academic
sciences is perhaps none deeper rooted in the German language and
psychiatry. Kahlbaum, Kraepelin and Bleuler, Freud, Adler and Jung and
other founders of modern psychiatry wrote in German. Even if German has
overtaken by English since the nineteen-thirties as an idiom of
nevertheless remains the native language of this profession." What
specifically do you see in the history of German psychiatry?
I had in mind is an interesting difference between
German and English. In English, we have the word “mind,” used both as
verb. We speak of “mental illness.” In German, there is no word
“mind.” There is Geist = spirit, and Seele = soul. This, I think, is
one of the
reasons why German psychiatry has been closer to philosophy, to
the spiritual aspects of man, than has Anglo-American psychiatry, which
aspired to be materialistic, scientific, medical in the technical sense.
R.T.: So from the language-difference developed
a different kind
of history of psychiatry in Germany, do you think?
not. It is not different at all. The history of
psychiatry is the same all over the world.. Everywhere it rests, first,
fiction of mental illness (undefined as a disease, in fact used as a
of misbehavior, unwanted behavior, like homosexuality or drunkenness);
second, it rests on coercion, the power of the psychiatrist to lock up
patient. In medicine, patients are treated with their consent. In
persons – who often do not want to be patients
– are treated without their consent. These simple facts are
denied, obscured, evaded.
R.T.: They change the bottle but it is always
the same wine.
Correct! That is why I titled my book
as Cure": because the crucial issue and term is coercion,
the use of force authorized by the state.
R.T.: That is the central issue.
is the central issue in my work and that's why it
doesn't matter whether the state is a communist state, a Nazi state, an
American state, a British state, all use psychiatry as an arm of the
apparatus of the state
R.T.: …that legitimates this coercion and
It is always a state in the modern world. Again, note
the analogy to religion: In the premodern world religion legitimated
the use of
force. In the modern world, the secular state does so.
R.T.: Two chapters of your book "Coercion
dedicated to drugs, whose introduction and dominance in psychiatry
during your professional career. You distinguish between drugs
and drugs individuals do not want, between drugs the state permits and
the state prohibits. Is there, in your opinion, besides the side
effect at all of the psychotropic – so-called therapeutic – drugs?
this connection, we should not use the word
"side-effect." Drugs have certain biological and behavioral effects.
Some effects are desired by patients or doctors or politicians, and
effects are not desired. We have to be
very clear about this. “Desirable” and “undesirable” are not medical
They are terms that refer to cultural, social, medical contexts,
preferences, political considerations, and so forth. Is morphine a good
a bad drug? If a patient is dying of cancer and is in pain, then it’s a
drug. If he is an ambitious politician who wants a bigger job, then he
the “war on drugs” and declares opium poppies to be “enemies” that must
destroyed. Meanwhile, he or some member of his family may be secretly
R.T.: In other words, are there no side-effects
are simply unwanted effects. In war, the death
of enemy soldiers is an effect. The death of our soldiers is a side
One of points I make in “Coercion as Cure” is that, in the case of all mind-altering drugs we must distinguish between the drugs that some people want to take and that some people do not want to take. Also, we must keep mind that many of the drugs people want to take are all illegal and if you buy or sell them you go to prison.
R.T.: Not all, alcohol is not forbidden.
alcohol now! But there was a
time, not so long ago, when
alcohol was prohibited in the United States. It is still prohibited in
states. I was referring to opiates, the war against drugs, the war in
Afghanistan – and contrasting it with the “war for psychiatric drugs,”
drugs many people don’t want to take and are forced to take!
R.T.: Can you tell us something about the next
projects you are
I can tell you, but the issues I address are too
complicated for an interview. The title of my next book sums up what I
tried to do for more than fifty years: "Psychiatry: The Science of
Lies". "Die Wissenschaft der
Lüge". Mental illness is deception,
self-deception, a lie. Psychiatry as a medical specialty is a lie.
Psychotherapy is a lie. Again, there is the analogy, for an atheist,
religion as fable or myth or repression, or lie.
R.T.: I hope very much that your book "Coercion
will be translated.
you. I hope so too, but I don’t count on it. Our
western culture has grown increasingly uncritical of psychiatry during
fifty years. “The Myth of Mental Illness” was translated into German.
“Insanity” was not. “Liberation by Oppression” was not. The advent of
of drugs for supposedly treating so-called mental illnesses has made
look like medicine.
R.T.: Yes, because it is a typical method in
medicine to use drugs
to treat diseases.
If you go to a doctor, he gives you drugs. Now the
same thing happens: you go to a doctor, you say you are nervous and he
you a drug and then it's called psychiatric treatment. This didn't
exist when I
went to medical school.