Psychology and Psychiatry
Some past and present critics of established psychology and psychiatry. The social context of distress.
Literature and links
               
Part 1: Seminal figures of the Twentieth Century
The whole tendency of the so-called treatment of so-called mental disorder, whether medical (psychiatric) or psychological (psychoanalytic, psychotherapeutic or 'cognitive-behavioural'), has been to cast emotional distress as an individual, personal problem.
However, there have throughout been prominent dissenters. Most regarded with suspicion by the orthodoxy of their day, all have remained more or less marginal ever since.
 
Alfred AdlerAlfred Adler (1870-1937)
First of Freud's followers to break away from psychoanalysis and set up his own 'brand name' (Individual Psychology). Adler was quick to see the centrality of social power and the importance to the individual of getting as much as possible.

 
Best known books
Understanding Human Nature
The Science of Living
The Education of Children
What Life Should Mean to You
The Neurotic Constitution

The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology
Problems of Neurosis
The Pattern of Life
Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind
Karen HorneyKaren Horney (1870-1937) 
American psychoanalyst who departed a long way from the orthodoxy of her training in her native Germany and wrote brilliantly on the effects of social organization on the individual's 'neurotic' difficulties.
Best known books
The Neurotic Personality of Our Time
New Ways in Psychoanalysis
Self-Analysis

Our Inner Conflicts
Neurosis and Human Growth
H.S.SullivanHarry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949)
Psychoanalytically trained American psychiatrist, influential in his day but rarely referred to in the mainstream now. Located the phenomena of 'mental illness' (including 'psychotic' disorders) in the person's social context: personality and 'symptoms' stem from the individual's experience of growing up in a social world. Brilliantly insightful and still well worth reading.
Best known books
The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry
Clinical Studies in Psychiatry
Erich FrommErich Fromm (1900-1980)  Another German emigré who departed a long way from his orthodox psychoanalytic roots. Heavily influenced by Marx's thought, he elaborated the ways in which individual personality and symptomatology are shaped by socio-economic conditions. Best known books
The Fear of Freedom
Man for Himself
The Sane Society
The Art of Loving

Beyond the Chains of Illusion
The Heart of Man
To Have or to Be
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness
 
Thomas SzaszThomas Szasz (1920- ) Libertarian American psychiatrist and most radical critic of the notion of 'mental illness', considered as the principal founder of 'anti-psychiatry'. Implacable and trenchant critic of all the nonsense resorted to by psychiatrists in trying to present their discipline as about anything other than social control. Best known books
The Myth of Mental Illness
Law, Liberty and Psychiatry
The Ethics of Psychoanalysis
The Manufacture of Madness
Ideology and Insanity
The Second Sin
The Myth of Psychotherapy
Sex: Facts, Frauds and Follies
Cruel Compassion
R.D.LaingR.D. Laing (1927-1989) Only British psychiatrist of any real intellectual stature, heavily influenced by Sartrian existentialism. Frequently dismissed by the psychiatric establishment as a 1960s hippy and drunk, Laing was an original 'anti-psychiatrist' who wrote profoundly and sometimes poetically of the influence on the individual of his or her, often tormented, social experience. Often and wrongly accused of 'blaming' parents for their children's 'schizophrenia', he did much to explicate the role of family life in the generation of madness. Best known books
The Divided Self
The Self and Others
Sanity, Madness, and the Family (with Aaron Esterson)
The Politics of Experience

The Politics ofthe Family (essays)
The Facts of Life
The Voice of Experience
Wisdom, Madness, and Folly (Autobiography)
 
Part 2: Current critiques
This section could go on for ever. In making what is a very personal selection, my principal criterion has been accessibility. Though not all the writings I indicate are easy, they are at least not, like so many in this area, so enmired in academic convention that they amount to little more than obscure squabbles between people needing to gain a secure perch in the university industry. In other words, these are people who care about what they're saying and deserve to have their voices heard in a wider world than the merely academic.
           

Critics of psychiatry

Peter Breggin is about the most fearless of the newer generation of critics of psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry which supports it. See his website

Lucy Johnstone's
classic book Users and Abusers of Psychiatry (Routledge, 1989), one of the best and most readable critiques of orthodox psychiatry, has recently (2000) been published in a new edition.

Dorothy Rowe's widely read books maintain a a constant, scathing exposure of the inadequacy of psychiatry to deal with the phenomena of distress, in particular 'depression'. See her website for a comprehensive introduction to her work.

Herb Kutchins and Stuart A. Kirk provide a trenchant critique of the 'psychiatric bible' DSM - the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which psychiatrists use almost exclusively in the US and widely elsewhere to establish their diagnoses. In their book Making Us Crazy (Simon & Schuster, 1997; Constable, 1999) Kutchins and Kirk lay bare the scientifically bankrupt nature of psychiatry and itsinextricable involvement with politics, drug companies and pragmatic social control.

Craig Newnes, Guy Holmes and Cailzie Dunn have edited two books that contain a wide-ranging critique of psychiatry, particularly though not exclusively in Britain: This is Madness and This is Madness Too, 1999 and 2001 respectively, PCCS Books. See their associated website.

Mary Boyle expertly deconstructs the whole notion of 'schizophrenia' in Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion?, 2002, Routledge.

Terry Lynch is an Irish GP and psychotherapist whose book Beyond Prozac, originally published in Ireland in 2001 but now available (2004) through PCCS Books, is in my opinion far and away the best of its kind so far. An unflagging and remorseless critic of drug- and biology-based psychiatry, Terry Lynch uses his extensive experience as a doctor and therapist to demonstrate how a balanced approach to emotional distress of all kinds - including the most severe - should look. His approach is deeply humane, utterly without pomposity or conceit, and yet informing it is a razor-sharp critical mind and, in view of his uncompromising rejection of the medical establishment, not a little courage. This book cannot in my view be recommended too highly; every GP in the land should read it, and many sufferers and survivors in and of the psychiatric system will draw comfort from it. Obtainable from the PCCS website.

Mark Rapley, Joanna Moncrieff & Jacqui Dillon edit a useful collection of essays critically questioning many aspects of the psychiatric enterprise: De-Medicalizing Misery, 2011, Palgrave Macmillan.

Gail Hornstein's Agnes's Jacket (2012, PCCS Books) is an extremely radable, intelligent and thought-provoking enquiry into madness from the perspective of people who have at one time or another fallen into the hands of psychiatrists and been diagnosed as psychotic. She pursues her researches in Europe as well as the USA and is very appreciative of and informative about "survivors'" organizations, in particular the Hearing Voices Network. Thoughtful, critical, scholarly and sympathetic, she has succeeded in writing a book that many people - reflective professionals as well as sufferers - will find at least illuminating and often positively helpful.

Steven Coles, Sarah Keenan and Bob Diamond have put together a useful edited volume of thought-provoking and trenchant crtiques of conventional psychiatry: Madness Contested. Power and Practice, 2013, PCCS Books. Many of the foremost contemporary critics of psychiatric practice feature as contributors to this volume.


Critics of psychology

Tana Dineen's book Manufacturing Victims (1996) is the most radical critique available of the entire psychology industry. She has also assembled a very informative website.

Susan Hansen, Alec McHoul and Mark Rapley: Beyond Help. A Consumers' guide to psychology, (PCCS Books, 2003). An intelligent, deeply thoughtful book swimming powerfully and courageously against the flood of marketed psychology that pollutes our culture. The picture laid bare is of a rampant 'psy complex' so unscrupulously saturated with self-interest as to have become simply shameful. Insights and arguments are, however, put forward to support a reconstruction of intellectual and ethical integrity in the field.

Critics of psychotherapy

Ernest Gellner's
The Psychoanalytic Movement (Paladin, 1985) probably does the most effective intellectual demolition job extant on Freud's creation

Windy Dryden and Colin Feltham edited an excellent collection of contributions from various critics as well as proponents of psychotherapy which illustrates very clearly many of the principal critical issues: Psychotherapy and its Discontents, Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1992.

Alex Howard's book Challenges to Counselling and Psychotherapy(Macmillan, 1996) is the best, and most balanced, critique I know of the whole counselling field. His latest book, Philosophy for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Macmillan, 2000), is a truly excellent account of Western philosophy from the broadly psychotherapeutic perspective, and one which goes a long way to counter the superficiality of so much writing in this area. His latest book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) is Counselling and Identity - again an extremely rewarding read. His website gives information as well as offering professional advice.

Jeffrey Masson is probably the best known scourge of psychotherapy (in particular psychoanalysis) in recent times, though these days he appears to have other targets in his sights. His book Against Therapy is a classic. His website contains a list of all his books.

Richard Webster's compendious Why Freud was Wrong (Fontana, 1996) marshalls all the arguments against psychoanalysis and adds a few of its own. Just about the last word in the critique of Freud and his followers. Webster maintains a refreshingly critical website.

Anna Sands provides a critique of psychotherapy from the client's point of view in Falling for Therapy (Macmillan, 2000). Her experience of, in particular, psychoanalytic psychotherapy forms the basis of an account which is at least as intelligent, penetrating and instructive as any of the professional literature, and more so than most.

William Epstein has for quite a while been a trenchant critic of the scientific pretensions of psychotherapy, and his most recent book Psychotherapy as Religion. The Civil Divine in America (Univ. Nevada Press, 2006) is a tour de force. If I had to single out one book to represent the critical literature on psychotherapy, this would be it. Not only does Epstein demolish the more recent so-called scientific research supporting therapeutic practice, but he also offers a masterly critique of the theoretical bases and principal assumptions of the main approaches. His argument that therapy is first and foremost a cultural phenomenon - a central plank of US commitment to 'heroic individualism' - is constructed with such force as to be very nearly unanswerable. But of course, as Epstein well recognizes, it will hardly dent the sublime self-confidence of psychotherapy's researchers and practitioners, as their world is built on self-deception and interest, not reason - much more akin to magic and religion than to scientific truth.

Paul Moloney's The Therapy Industry (Pluto Press, 2013) is a masterly marshalling of the extensive critical literature surrounding psychotherapy in all its aspects: the most comprehensive and accessible critique available thus far of the whole theory and practice of psychological therapy. The flow of his argument leaves behind the stale individualism and political sterility of the 'talking cure' and carries forward the the possibilities offered by a social materialist approach to distress.

Alternative - the social context
Apart from my own modest contribution, most of the writing in this area is restricted to the relatively inaccessible academic field. Not that there isn't a lot of it (the field of 'community clinical psychology', for example, has an extensive literature on the social causes of distress). Though for the most part still reflecting this academic flavour, the following works are well worth reading, and will provide a useful introduction to the wider field:-

John Mirowsky and Catherine E. Ross
(1989), Social Causes of Psychological Distress. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Philip Cushman
(1995) Constructing the Self, Constructing America. Addison-Wesley PublishingCompany, Inc.

Richard Wilkinson (1996) Unhealthy Societies. The Afflictions of Inequality. London & New York: Routledge.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009) The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. Allen Lane. Accessibly written and extremely persuasive, this book marshalls the scientific evidence showing how material inequality damages social and individual health and well-being. The political implications are obvious (what the authors suggest could be seen as 'evidence-based politics').
A website advocating equality has been founded on the book.

David Pilgrim (1997), Psychotherapy and Society. London, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Nick Davies's (1998) Dark Heart. The Shocking Truth About Hidden Britain, Vintage, is in a class all of its own. Journalism at its very best, this book is all about poverty in Britain and its destructive effects on the lives, health and souls of those it affects. One emerges from reading it as near shaken to the core as one can get from a book - God knows what it took to write it. Not only does Davies get on intimate terms with the effects of poverty in a way no academic or politician ever would, he is also extremely well informed about its causes and deeply reflecive about the nature of the society which gives rise to it.

It was Davies's work at The Guardian that was largely responsible for unmasking the phone-hacking scandal at The News of the World in 2011.

Lynne Friedli
(2009), Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities. World Health Organization Europe. This important WHO report draws together much of the evidence to date for the destructive socio-psychological effects of material inequality. Useful companion reading with Wilkinson and Pickett's The Spirit Level (see above).

This page last updated 17/6/13

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We are a group of clinical, counselling and academic psychologists who believe that psychology—particularly but not only clinical psychology—has served ideologically to detach people from the world we live in, to make us individually responsible for our own misery and to discourage us from trying to change the world rather than just ‘understanding’ our selves. What are too often seen as private predicaments are in fact best understood as arising out of the public structures of society. See our website.

   
 
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