Monthly Archives: October 2018


By Dr David Laing Dawson

As a personal addendum to Marvin’s piece:

In the years before I studied medicine and then entered psychiatry, the mental hospitals, the Asylums, were full. I believe the largest in North America housed about 13,000 patients. There were no effective treatments (with the exception of ECT) though many things were tried, from field work and prayer to cold baths, spinning chairs, and insulin coma. These Asylums themselves grew from an increasing social awareness, acceptance of social responsibility, and recognition of the need for the state to look after the intellectually, cognitively, emotionally, and socially disabled among us. (roughly 1850 to 1990)

The doctors, the Alienists, and then the psychiatrists were given wide latitude to hold, to keep, and to treat.

Curiously I do not recall any active anti-psychiatry movement then or through the years 1960 to 2000 (with the exception of Scientology). And it was through those years that actually effective treatments were developed. And by effective I mean scientifically proven to be effective.

I can now prescribe something that quells mania in a few days, that pulls someone from a stuporous depression in two weeks, that reduces panic attacks, that eliminates the excruciating pain of agitated depression, that tempers debilitating obsessions and compulsions and that gradually returns the insane to a state of sanity – if my patient will let me.

And it is now, again curiously, at a time when psychiatrists do have effective tools to treat mental illness and when they are very restricted in any use of these treatments without explicit consent and when those Asylums have been reduced to a tenth the capacity they once had, that an anti-psychiatry movement has developed.

I have to conclude that the motivation for this anti-psychiatry movement is not the welfare of others but of professional rivalry and fear. And like some other attitudes today (anti-vaccination, anti-global alliances, pro-alternative medicine, anti-fluoridation), it has to be based on memory loss – that is, a profound memory loss of childhood death from diphtheria, WWI & II, the crippling polio epidemics of the 1950’s, the rotten teeth of the average kid in 1930, and the wards of catatonic or raving and tormented souls in the lunatic Asylums, and, before that, in the jails and stockades, tied to poles, or expelled from villages.

Of course there is much to discuss in the liberal arts and social sciences about how societies have defined normal and abnormal, and all the forces at play in each Era, and about the uses and abuses of power, and about the benefits of capitalism (all effective modern medicines have been developed within capitalist systems) and the horrors of unregulated capitalism.

And these (along with the philosophy of science and the successes and limitations of the disease model of human ailments) can all be discussed and investigated within schools of social work and medicine in an academic fashion without prejudice. In fact, a really good academic question to ask would be: Why is there now a strong anti-psychiatry, anti-vaccination movement? Is it related to the anti-science zeitgeist of Trump world? Is it a failure to teach real history? Is it fear of a loss of the sense of a perfect God-made homunculous within each of us? Is it the fault of the internet? Have our entertainments (think Dr. House, Hannibal Lecter, and Jack Nicholson receiving ECT) overwhelmed our perception of reality?

Or is it just some social workers and psychologists wanting more power and status?