Letter: Laing right on psychiatrists

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: As one who entered psychiatry in the early 1970s, I have always felt that R D Laing ("The man who abolished madness", 13 May) offered a way of making sense of madness instead of just observing and labelling it from the outside.

Some of what he wrote about the causes and treatment of schizophrenia is questionable, but what he said about psychiatrists was spot on. I have watched as a whole new generation of biological psychiatrists have swept in and swept away the heresy of questioning what madness is. Their premise that equates "mental illness" with "malfunction of the brain" (Letters, 14 May) is a political position which is supported by a powerful professional establishment.

Biological explanations of schizophrenia are not only unconvincing, they miss the point. Psychiatry will remain a confused discipline as long as it continues to suck up to biomedical science. Exciting developments in the study of "complex" systems suggest there is a limit to empirical science. Not only is schizophrenia a rat-bag diagnosis that explains nothing; it may be that at a biomedical level there is nothing out there to be discovered. We may have to think again, hard.

In my clinical practice within the NHS I am increasingly the agent of society, operating on guidelines and policies issued by health authorities or trust boards. The mission statement is not to understand people but to control them, with increasing coercive methods. Laing may have been wrong about the mothers, but that wasn't why his ideas had to be disappeared. "Let wisdom guide" remains the motto of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.


Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry

University College London