Laing, R. D.
R. D. Laing 1927–1989
(Full name Ronald David Laing) Scottish-born English psychiatrist, essayist, poet, and autobiographer.
The following entry presents an overview of Laing's life and career.
Laing was an internationally known Scottish psychiatrist best-known for his controversial interpretation and treatment of schizophrenia. In his first work on the subject, The Divided Self (1960), he maintains that schizophrenia is not a pathological disease, that the development of schizophrenic personalities is created and promoted by society and the family, and that present-day psychotherapeutic tactics fail to realistically address the needs of the schizophrenic. Since Laing's psychotherapeutic theories challenged the approach of mainstream psychotherapy, many of his colleagues condemned or ignored his insights.
Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Laing received his M. D. from the University of Glasgow in 1951 and entered the British Army as a psychiatrist. In 1953 he returned to the University of Glasgow as an instructor in psychological medicine, after which he worked as a psychiatrist at the Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital. Following the publication of The Divided Self, he became a family therapist at London's Tavistock Institute of Human Relations and the director of the Langham Clinic for Psychotherapy in 1962. In 1967, he opened a private psychotherapy practice in London, and founded Kingsley Hall, a psychotherapeutic community, while continuing to write and lecture. Laing died in St. Tropez, France, in 1989.
Laing proposed a new psychotherapeutic approach to schizophrenia and analyzed the contributions of society and the family in the development of the human psyche. The Divided Self sets forth Laing's thesis that schizophrenia is not a pathological disease. He argues that schizophrenics, who use their own system of logic and understanding to deal with the exigencies of their lives, require an experientially-based psychotherapeutic approach in order to help them adjust to their social and familial environments. While The Self and Others (1961) focuses more on the role of fantasy and interpersonal relationships in the development of the schizophrenic personality, Sanity, Madness, and the Family (1964) examines the lives of eleven families in order to illustrate the ways in which collective insensitivities, pathological fantasies, and anxiety affect the psychological development of family members. In The Politics of Experience (1967) Laing details his "phe-nomenological" psychotherapeutic method, emphasizing the importance of personal experience and scientific training in the assessment of an individual's psychological makeup. The Politics of the Family, and Other Essays (1971), on the other hand, is a collection of radio talks and essays that focus on the intervention of the therapist in family crises. This work examines such themes as schizophrenia, victimization, and psychological liberation within the family setting. Among Laing's poetic works are Knots (1970) and Do You Love Me? (1976), which address such psychological themes as human communications and feelings, and interpersonal, familial, and societal relationships. In Conversations with Adam and Natasha (1977) and Conversations with Children (1978), Laing uses recordings of his own children as the basis for an examination of the values and ideas of all children. Laing's final work is his autobiography, entitled Wisdom, Madness and Folly (1985), which traces his personal, intellectual, and professional development from 1927 to 1957 and the publication of The Divided Self.
Critical reception of Laing's works has generally been harsh. While most critics agree that his approach to the treatment of schizophrenia is intriguing and original, the majority reject and ignore his theories and his psychotherapeutic insights. Critics are also divided on the value of his poetry; some describe it as "dense and difficult" with "a surface brilliance," while others charge that it is "ugly" and full of "unbearable bathos." Regarding his prose style, many commentators admit that Laing can tell a good story, whether it is about his own life in Wisdom, Madness and Folly or about the case histories of schizophrenic patients. However, in the books about his children's conversations, several critics dismiss them as ordinary and unenlightened, but pleasant reading. Finally, several commentators note a significant change in Laing's writing style. Whereas his earlier works, such as The Divided Self, employed rigorous research, well-developed ideas, and a disciplined literary style, these elements appear to be lacking in his later works. Nevertheless, while many commentators are loathe to accept all of his ideas, they readily admit that his theories about schizophrenia, society, and the family remain a challenge to the thought and practice of contemporary psychiatry.
The Divided Self: A Study of Sanity and Madness (essays) 1960
The Self and Others: Further Studies in Sanity and Madness (essays) 1961
Reason and Violence: A Decade of Sartre's Philosophy, 1950–60 [with David G. Cooper] (essays) 1964
Sanity, Madness, and the Family [with A. Esterson] (essays) 1964; also published as The Families of Schizophrenics
Interpersonal Perception: A Theory and a Method of Research [with A. R. Lee and H. Phillipson] (essays) 1964
The Politics of Experience (essays, poetry) 1967
Knots (poetry) 1970
The Politics of the Family, and Other Essays (essays) 1971
Do you Love Me? An Entertainment in Conversation and Verse (poetry) 1976
The Facts of Life: An Essay in Feelings, Facts, and Fantasy (essay) 1976
Conversations with Adam and Natasha (nonfiction) 1977
Conversations with Children (nonfiction) 1978
Sonnets (poetry) 1980
The Voice of Experience (essays) 1982
Wisdom, Madness, and Folly: The Making of a Psychiatrist (autobiography) 1985
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SOURCE: A review of Reason and Violence, in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LXIII, No. 1, January 6, 1966, pp. 26-8.
[In the following review of Reason and Violence, Williams maintains that, while Laing's summaries of Jean-Paul Sartre's Saint Genet: Comédien et martyr (Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr; 1952), Questions de méthode (Search for a Method; 1963), and Critique de la raison dialectique (Critique of Dialectical Reason; 1960) are accurate and succinct, the book fails to make Sartre's ideas accessible to the reader unfamiliar with his philosophical terminology.]
Reason and Violence is a résumé of the three major works written by Jean-Paul Sartre in the fifties. In a brief foreword, Sartre himself praises the book of R. D. Laing and D. G. Cooper as "a very clear and faithful exposition." There can be no question, indeed, of the economy and accuracy of their summaries of Saint Genet, Questions de méthode, and volume I of Critique de la raison dialeclique, "Théorie des ensembles pratiques." But precisely because these are entirely faithful condensations, one is hard put to conceive the Anglo-American reader to whom the book will be useful. Sartre's philosophic prose is among the most ungrateful in the twentieth century, and a faithfully miniaturized version in English can be of little help to the uninitiated. The two shorter sections,...
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SOURCE: "Life's Madness," in The New Republic, Vol. 156, No. 19, May 13, 1967, pp. 24-8, 30.
[Coles is an American psychiatrist, educator, nonfiction writer, essayist, and poet whose particular area of interest is the psychological development of children; he is the author of, among other works, The Spiritual Life of Children (1990). In the following review of The Politics of Experience, he praises Laing's literary skills and the ways in which he articulates his views regarding "the demonic and chaotic in man" and modern psychotherapy's approach to madness.]
One of the ways psychiatrists have sorted themselves out in recent years has to do with the importance they give to concepts like "the normal," or "maturity" or "mental health." Some are dead serious about letting their patients and the public know what is abnormal or immature. On television they urge me to "fight mental illness," and though I am not exactly sure how to go about doing it, I am certainly left with the idea that there is such a thing as mental illness, that there is such a thing as its presumed opposite, mental health.
In contrast stand those psychiatrists who question the entire practice of calling one or another variation in human behavior "sick" or evidence of "disease." Thomas Szasz in this country has made his position quite clear by the title, let alone the content, of his book The Myth...
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SOURCE: "The Frontiers of Being Human," in Saturday Review, Vol. L, No. 20, May 20, 1967, pp. 37-9.
[May was an internationally known American psychiatrist, minister, and educator who wrote many books on psychology for lay readers. Regarded as the father of existential psychotherapy in the United States, May eschewed many of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic principals and focused on anxiety and its impact on human behavior. In the following favorable review of The Politics of Experience, he applauds Laing's challenge to conventional psychiatric theories and contends that, by emphasizing the importance of life experiences, Laing "humanizes" schizophrenia and takes "important steps toward a science of interpersonal relationship."]
Arguing in this book that psychotherapy does not need to become a pseudo-esoteric cult, Ronald Laing writes:
We must continue to struggle through our confusion, to insist on being human. Existence is a flame which constantly melts and recasts our theories…. We hope to share the experience of a relationship, but the only honest beginning, or even end, may be to share the experience of its absence.
That the whole field of psychotherapy has been and is now in confusion no one can doubt. All over the country one is being asked, "Is psychoanalysis dead? Is Freud dead?" Generally the question arises from...
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SOURCE: A review of The Divided Self and The Self and Others, in The New York Times Book Review, February 22, 1970, p. 1-2, 44.
[Berman is an American professor of political science, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following review of The Divided Self and The Self and Others, he favorably assesses the development of Laing's theory and method for the treatment of schizophrenia, contrasting it with "the prophetic, evangelical (some would say, messianic) tone" of The Politics of Experience.]
For a great many Americans, particularly young Americans, the 1960's were a time in which two of the deepest streams of consciousness—self-consciousness and social consciousness—converged. The radical vision and energy of the sixties aimed at a fusion of ideas and experiences which the fifties had found either unrelated or incompatible: political freedom and personal ecstasy, activism and mysticism, voter-registration drives and mind-expanding drugs, sit-ins and love-ins.
This fusion animated much of the most powerful literature of the decade: in the work of Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer, Eldridge Cleaver, for example, Americans learned to look harder and deeper at once into themselves and into the institutions and environment they lived in. They sought both to expand the self and open it up, and to create a society in which the self could survive....
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SOURCE: A review of Knots, in The New York Times Book Review, December 13, 1970, p. 6.
[In the following favorable review of Knots, Gordon discusses how Laing uses the themes of communication and interpersonal relationships as "patterns … of human bondage" in his poetry.]
At the beginning of his first book, The Divided Self, R. D. Laing quoted the French psychiatrist Minkowski: "This is a subjective work which tries with all its might to be objective."
For the last 12 years, in eight books and numerous articles, Laing has, to the dismay of much of orthodox psychiatry, pushed his own subjectivity to its limits. He has returned with observations, insights and formulations which seem quite pertinent to the lives of thousands of devoted readers. Like Freud 40 years ago, Laing is read as psychiatric theoretician, political philosopher and personal guru.
In Knots, his most recent book, Laing continues to explore some of the themes that have been prominent in his work since 1958. The emphasis is on disorders of human communications and feelings, their origins in the family, and their tortured, mutually unsatisfactory elaboration in later relationships. But in Knots, Laing has abandoned his ordinarily graceful prose for highly condensed poems, the knots of the title. Poetry, the most personal of the literary arts, is used as a medium for...
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SOURCE: "Homage to Catatonia," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XVI, No. 2, February 11, 1971, pp. 3-4, 6.
[Tyson is a Scottish psychiatrist, musicologist, and author of several studies on Beethoven. In the following review, in which he examines seven of Laing's major works, he discusses such themes as the role of the family and society in the development of an individual's pathologies, the influence of fantasy and spirituality in the development of self-identity, and Laing's abiding effort "to make madness, and the process of going mad, comprehensible."]
In theory the publication of a substantially revised edition of R. D. Laing's The Self and Others, and the reissue of his first and I suppose still most celebrated book The Divided Self, now more than ten years old, should provide as good an occasion as any for a retrospective survey of his work and an attempt at a critical assessment. But in practice this seems both difficult and discouraging.
Why is that? It is not as though reading Laing is discouraging or uncongenial. He is an attractive, even seductive writer—a point to which I shall return, since it calls for closer examination. In England The Divided Self must be counted as the most widely known of all recent psychiatric writing, popular or specialist; and although paperback psychiatry—I use the phrase as a loose categorization, not as a...
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SOURCE: A review of The Politics of the Family, and Other Essays, in The New York Times Book Review, October 3, 1971, pp. 2-3, 40-41
[Sennett is an American sociologist and educator. In the following unfavorable review of The Politics of the Family, he charges that Laing's "thought has disintegrated dramatically" and that he "has lost that capacity to dream which is necessary in any enduring radical vision."]
In a moment of anger in his new book, R. D. Laing writes, "Our own cities are our own animal factories; families, schools, churches, are the slaughterhouses of our children; colleges and other places are the kitchens. As adults in marriages and business we eat the product." These charges may all be true, but they are tiresome, written in such a way that the reader turns them off. The strongest impression I have after reading The Politics of the Family and Other Essays is that Laing has substituted an easy rhetoric of accusation and condemnation for the struggle to understand people's feelings that dignified his earlier work.
In the dullness of his attacks on an inhumane society, Laing is, of course, not alone. Many of those who took fire during the recent years of turbulence are now passing through a moment when a great number of painfully acquired ideas threaten to enter the comfortable landscape of cliché. I don't mean that radical rhetoric is out of date,...
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SOURCE: "R. D. Laing," in The New Left, edited by Maurice Cranston, The Library Press, 1971, pp. 179-208.
[In the following excerpt, Martin summarizes Laing's views on society and the family and his theory and method for the treatment of schizophrenia. He also argues that Laing's work is characterized by generalities, exaggerations, and undeveloped ideas, stating: "(Laing is) on the fringes of the irrationalist Left which stigmatizes and condemns all aspects of socialization and civilization as injurious to truth and the individual's being."]
Ronald Laing must be accounted one of the main contributors to the theoretical and rhetorical armoury of the contemporary Left. By the contemporary left is meant that soft variant of the utopian urge which has jettisoned the Marx of Capital for the spiritual exploration of alienation, which acknowledges that capitalism 'delivers the goods to an ever increasing part of the population' and therefore concentrates its attention on the salvation of the all-too-common man from what Marcuse calls 'one dimensionality' [see The Dialectics of Liberation, edited by D. Cooper, 1968].
With the erosion of a proletarian communism, its confinement to institutional rigidity or its continuing commitment to Stalinoid deformations, one is left with a salon communism, whereby the Ortega y Gassets of the Left join forces with their conservative...
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SOURCE: "Me Doctor, You Patient," in Encounter, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2, February, 1972, pp. 71-6.
[In the following review of The Politics of the Family, Martin argues that while Laing's subject matter is fascinating and his style is compelling, he is polemical and defensive regarding his theories about madness and the family/society relationship.]
This latest collection of Dr Laing's sermons will appeal to all those who follow the publications of the North London Pulpit. The rhetoric [in The Politics of the Family] is brilliant, the expository style persuasive, the content intriguing. Unlike Dr. Cooper, his fellow preacher, Ronald Laing is not so much a prophet of the death of the family as a student of its present reality. Like the preachers of the seventeenth century he provides an analysis of the soul on its way to the Light. His text is the dominical injunction against family piety, "Let the dead bury their dead", and his metaphors are those of awakening and rebirth.
His work is hortatory in style and content. In one sense it is—as I have written before [in "R. D. Laing," The New Left, edited by Maurice Cranston, 1971]—gnomic and testamental, but in another it is most cunningly structured in the manner of the conventional sermon. For one thing it makes its impact by slight variations on constantly repeated themes. In the first essay one finds the following....
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SOURCE: "The Laingian Family," in Partisan Review, Vol. XLI, No. 1, Winter, 1974, pp. 109-18.
[Boyers is an American psychologist and educator whose written works include Psychological Man: Approaches to an Emergent Social Type (1974). In the following excerpt, he discusses the influence of Wilhelm Reich on Laing's work and explores the development of Laing's notion that madness is comprehensible and that the family plays a pivotal role in the creation of a schizophrenic personality.]
The attack on the nuclear family will probably turn out to be the most important development of our period, a phenomenon beside which other militancies, of whatever character, will eventually seem ephemeral and even somewhat parochial. What we confront is the general loss of faith in the efficacy of the family unit to nurture the kind of people most of us apparently think we ought to be. With this particular erosion a whole variety of alternate faiths have been intermittently promoted—faith in the extended family, in the communal mode, faith in the necessary breakdown of sex-role distinctions and the consequent emergence of unisexual experience, faith in life without children—the list can be indefinitely extended. Most of these alternate faiths have been promoted, bought, and largely forgotten in a spirit of casual abandon the likes of which many of us could not have imagined. Especially where the front men and...
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SOURCE: "Over the Edge," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXIII, No. 13, August 5, 1976, pp. 38-9.
[In the following excerpt from a review of Laing's The Facts of Life and David Reed's Anna, Dinnage negatively compares the former book to The Divided Self.]
Laing's new book [The Facts of Life] is more about the factlessness of life than about its facts. It has a chill air of slackness and confusion. Laing begins with a short—too short—autobiographical sketch, which gives us a few devastating glimpses of his early life: the only child of estranged parents, his mother ill after his birth, his care at the hands of a "drunken slut"; he and his mother sleeping in one bedroom of a Glasgow tenement, his father in the other; his mother fainting when, at fifteen, he used the phrase "fuckin' well" without knowing what it meant; and at sixteen, still without any idea of the facts of life—hence the book's title.
He continues, it seems here, to be bewildered, in search of facts and meaning. But whereas in his earlier books, and notably The Divided Self, Laing used his acquaintance with ontological borderlands, the mind's cliffs of fall, to reveal the structure of pathological states of consciousness as lucidly as a microscope enlarges a crystal, here he seems lost in those borderlands, all intellectual vitality spent. "Who knows if life is not death and death...
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SOURCE: "But Is It Art?," in Books and Bookmen, Vol. 23, No. 1, October, 1977, p. 41.
[Eysenck is a German psychologist, educator, and author of several books, including Personality and Individual Differences: A Natural Science Approach (1985). In the following negative review of Do You Love Me?, Eysenck charges that the poetry has the characteristics of an "undergraduate joke" and that Laing's "undisciplined verbal ability" has produced "ugly" poetry of "unbearable bathos."]
Laing's Autobiography, [Wisdom, Madness and Folly,] which I reviewed in these pages a few months ago, already departed considerably from his usual style of writing; this book [Do You Love Me?] does so even more. The blurb promises much. 'These verses and conversations which go straight to some of our deepest worries, aggressions and puzzles are written in the tradition of the music-hall and cabaret. Reading them is like going to an intimate review. Each scene, each number is complete in itself but compels us to read the next'. It is also claimed that '… the forms of this allusive writing derive from jazz, from nursery rhymes, from popular songs and from writers like Johnny Mercer, Thomas Wyatt, Dorothy Parker and Robert Burns'. We are also told that the book '… is funny, savage and sometimes even scurrilous, but it successfully avoids flippancy, callousness and sentimentality'. Any book would have...
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SOURCE: "From the Mouths of Babes," in The New York Times Book Review, February 12, 1978, p. 8.
[Storr is an English psychiatrist and educator whose written works include The Dynamics of Creation (1972), C. G. Jung (1973), and The Art of Psychotherapy (1980). In the following review of Conversations with Adam and Natasha, Storr contends that, while the book's subject matter—transcriptions of conversations between Laing's young children—holds a certain fascination, the work is ultimately insubstantial.]
Admirers of R. D. Laing will enjoy this book. I liked it better than any book of his that I have read since his first two, The Divided Self and The Self and Others. Laing is evidently a compulsive writer who, in addition to his regular production of books (and his psychoanalytic practice), keeps a journal. In this, over a period of six years, he has recorded conversations with Adam and Natasha, the two elder children of his second marriage. Adam was born in September 1967, Natasha in April 1970; but Natasha easily wins out, in that far more of her remarks are recorded than those of Adam. What effect this has had on Adam, we are not told. It may be that, like many fathers, Laing prefers his daughter; but it is equally likely to be the effect of age. The stunning spontaneity of small children tends to decline as they get older, and most of these conversations...
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SOURCE: "Knuts," in New Statesman, Vol. 96, No. 2469, July 14, 1978, pp. 55-6.
[In the following review of Conversations with Children, Dinnage contends that, while the transcribed conversations between Laing's children are interesting at times, and may in fact raise serious "theoretical considerations." Laing is simply wrong to claim that this kind of material has never before been published.]
R. D. Laing has protested against being considered a gloomy fellow who sees no hope for the human race, and wants to show that he has another side; also he has a writing problem ('Natasha: why are you feeling sad?… Ronnie: I want to write things but I don't seem able to. Natasha: why are you not able to? Ronnie: I don't know'). So he has cribbed from a couple of non-alienated, un-mystified human beings and presents, without comment, scraps of conversation he has recorded over six years with his youngest children [in Conversations with Children].
Laing is into communication. He has always enjoyed repartee and dialogue, he says, and has spent much of his life studying miscommunication, the deadly nuances of 'this division of hell'; now he wants to reproduce the interlace of dialogue, rather than the knots: 'the free and open space between us where we can play with reality together, where we question and answer, inquire into what is the case and what is...
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SOURCE: "In Place of the Placenta," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4144, September 3, 1982, p. 939.
[In the following mixed review of The Voice of Experience, Ingleby examines Laing's theory of the mind and suggests that his thinking has undergone a change, even a "regression," taking up positions he had dismissed in earlier works.]
No merely human author could have lived up to the leg-end which R. D. Laing generated in the 1960s: yet this was not the only reason why his recent publications have come as a disappointment to many. One sometimes suspected that the promptings of the publisher had been louder than those of the muse. A burnt-out case? On the evidence of The Voice of Experience, far from it; here, finally, is a book both coherent in its design and sustained in its intensity. If, at the end of the day, Laing's argument seems almost to invite its own rejection, we will have lost a few comfortable certainties by the time we get this far.
The kernel of the book is a set of wildly "unscientific" ideas about the human mind, and Laing starts out with a pre-emptive strike against science itself. His concern is with human experience: science has nothing to say about this worth listening to, since
… the methods used to investigate the objective world, applied to us, are blind to our experience, necessarily so, and cannot relate...
(The entire section is 1762 words.)
SOURCE: "R. D. Laing: The Radical Trip," in Psycho Politics: Laing, Foucault, Goffman, Szasz, and the Future of Mass Psychiatry, Harper & Row, 1982, pp. 66-101.
[Sedgwick was an English political scientist and translator best known for his socialist critiques of the treatment of the mentally ill. In the following essay, he outlines Laing's early career; the philosophical, psychological, and theological sources for some of his ideas; and the evolution of his theories about schizophrenia, the family, and society.]
The anti-psychiatry movement required a whole train of concurrent, convergent influences before it could gather force. Some of these factors lay in the changing age structure of Western societies, as the prolongation and intensification of active life span, extending back into the teen-years as well as onward into maturity, encouraged unprecedented strains at the boundaries of dependency, both in youth and old age. The expansion of welfare facilities as part of the price of working-class consensus in all the capitalist democracies had encouraged a flow of expectations, mingled with rising disappointments, in matters affecting the public health—and, within this complex of recently assembled social rights, the standing of psychiatric provision was due for some serious challenge and scrutiny. Mental illness became an urgent source of welfare politics, but at the same time touched on deeper,...
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SOURCE: "The Politics of Dialogue: Ronald Laing," in Contemporary Psychology: Revealing and Obscuring the Human, Duquesne University Press, 1984, pp. 107-16.
[Friedman is an American educator who has written extensively on philosophy, religion, and psychology, including several books about the Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber. In the following excerpt, he examines Laing's views on the relation of the individual to the "other," comparing them with similar ideas found in the writings of Buber, Rollo May, and other psychologists, philosophers, and theologians.]
"More significant than the issue between atheist and theological existentialists," I have written in my chapter on "The Existentialist of Dialogue" in To Deny Our Nothingness, "is the issue between those existentialists who see existence as grounded in the self and those who see it as grounded in the dialogue between person and person." Existential and humanistic psychotherapists may also be roughly divided along these lines. Except for Kierkegaard, all existentialists recognize the importance of intersubjectivity. There is, nonetheless, an important difference between those existentialists who regard the relations between subjects as an additional dimension of self but see existence primarily in terms of the self, and those who see the relations between selves as central to human existence. Among existentialist...
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SOURCE: "Two Ronnies," in London Review of Books, Vol. 7, No. 12, July 4, 1985, p. 12.
[In the following review of Wisdom, Madness and Folly, Barham disputes many of Laing's assertions about his work and the state of modern psychiatry. He also negatively assesses the quality of the writing in this and much of Laing's later work.]
Schizophrenia is now held to be one of the major illnesses of mankind, but its recognition as a clinical syndrome is of relatively recent origin. There is something very odd about the sudden arrival of the chronic schizophrenic on the stage of history at the end of the 19th century. One hypothesis which has been canvassed recently is that schizophrenia was a novel condition, unknown before the end of the 18th century, which spread as a slow, possibly viral epidemic across Europe and the United States in the 19th century, contributing in large measure to the vast increase in the population of asylums, and culminating in its recognition, under the name dementia praecox, as a definite syndrome by Emil Kraepelin in 1899. But a more historically-minded reading delivers a rather different interpretation of the coincidence between the identification of the chronic schizophrenic as a progressively deteriorating type and the transformation of the asylum into a custodial institution for the socially unproductive. On this view, the formulation of schizophrenia as a chronic condition...
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SOURCE: "Things We Don't Talk About," in The New York Times Book Review, September 8, 1985, p. 9.
[Tavris is an American psychologist. In the following review of Wisdom, Madness and Folly, she contends that the book is an appealing account of the first part of Laing's career.]
The second sweetest set of three words in English is "I don't known," and it is to R. D. Laing's credit that he uses it often. For psychiatry really does not know much about madness. It cannot explain why an American catatonic schizophrenic, crouched in apparently mindless rigidity in front of a television set for a month, can later recite every detail of the World Series he has seen. It cannot explain why Scottish catatonic schizophrenics "come out" on New Year's Eve to smile, laugh, shake hands, and dance, only to revert to apathy the next day. "If any drug had this effect," Dr. Laing says, "for a few hours, even minutes, it would be world famous," hailed as a medico-psychiatric, biochemical, scientific breakthrough of the first order.
This appealing book is Dr. Laing's account of his first 30 years, from 1927 to 1957: his childhood, education, early training in psychiatry, the observations and decisions that led him to break from traditional psychiatry. The reader unacquainted with Dr. Laing's work and writings will have no inkling that he was the charismatic leader of the English "antipsychiatry"...
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SOURCE: "Precocious and Alone," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4306, October 11, 1985, p. 1130.
[In the following review of Wisdom, Madness and Folly, Ingleby contends that, while Laing's autobiography "is absorbing and enjoyable as a story," it fails as a document of his intellectual development because of its exclusive presentation of his own point of view: his life "is presented as a solitary journey, and we hear little … about the fellowship that must surely have sustained it."]
As everybody knows, R. D. Laing is a psychiatrist who sees things very differently from his colleagues, many of whom indeed believe him to be crazy. How did he get that way? Here [in Wisdom, Madness and Folly] he sets out to answer this question, by telling us about some of his experiences up to the point when, as a thirty-year-old Senior Registrar, he left Glasgow for London to embark on his controversial career.
Laing begins by recapitulating what his views on psychiatry are—and what, despite the exaggerations put about by his colleagues, they are not. Yes, of course some people are mentally very deranged—perhaps even brain-diseased; no, they don't usually enjoy this. Yes, they may be impossible for their nearest and dearest to put up with; and if psychiatrists didn't take them off our hands, somebody else would probably have to—not necessarily with better consequences. Yet for...
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Bettelheim, Bruno. Review of The Facts of Life, by R. D. Laing. The New York Times Book Review (30 May 1976): 5, 12.
Compares the psychotherapeutic methodologies presented in Laing's The Facts of Life with those of Thomas Szasz in his book Heresies (1976).
Cioffi, Frank. "Honours for Craziness." London Review of Books (17-30 June 1982): 10-11.
Discusses The Voice of Experience and Peter Sedgwick's Psycho Politics (1982).
Raksin, Alex. Review of Wisdom, Madness and Folly: The Making of a Psychiatrist, by R. D. Laing. Los Angeles Times Book Review (14 December 1986): 10.
Comments on Laing's psychotherapeutic approach to the doctor-patient relationship as it is presented in Wisdom, Madness and Folly.
Solotaroff, Theodore. "The Uses of Madness." Washington Post Book Week (9 July 1967): 3, 12.
Mixed review of The Politics of Experience.
Warren, Neil. "Freudians & Laingians: The Naturalisation of False Consciousness." Encounter 1, No. 3 (March 1978): 56-63.
Compares the psychotherapeutic approaches of Sigmund...
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