Letter: Laing was wrong about madness

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The Independent Online
Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith ("The man who abolished madness", 13 May) suggests that the outcome of R D Laing's approach to treating schizophrenia was "as good or better" than a more medical approach and that "no malfunctioning of the brain has yet been detected that explains mental illness". He is misinformed on both counts.

It was the introduction of chlorpromazine in the 1950s which did more to "abolish madness" than de-medicalising schizophrenia. Scans of the working brain now consistently show the physical basis of hallucinations in people who suffer from schizophrenia.

In his book Sanity, Madness and the Family Laing suggested that a woman's psychotic symptoms were "the outcome of her ... interaction with her parents", falsely condemning a generation of parents to the belief that they were responsible for their children's schizophrenia. Community care has many problems, but let us not go back 40 years in the hope that a charismatic but misguided psychotherapist had the solutions.


Consultant psychiatrist

St Bartholomew's Hospital

London EC1