Therapeutic States

To contextualise this series about psychiatry, see: here. Below, an abridged translation of a chapter of one of my books:

The empire of psychiatric power is more than three hundred years old and grows daily more all-encompassing. But we have not yet begun to acknowledge its existence, much less to understand its role in our society. [1]

Thomas Szasz has also said that the social institutions involved in psychiatric violence are the family, the medical institution and the state.

In political theory, one of the definitions of state is ‘the monopoly of violence’. A common civilian cannot exercise violence on another civilian under the law, but the executive power of a state, safeguarded by the legislative and judicial powers, can. The executive power doesn’t only count on an army to protect his (or attack another) nation, but through the police it can exercise violence against its own citizens in those cases stipulated by the law.

If psychiatrists were normal and common citizens they could never exercise, or threat to exercise, any violence. But psychiatrists represent a privileged class of citizens: society allows them to exercise violence on some citizens. Furthermore, they possess special jails for these ends that they call ‘psychiatric hospitals’, which are outside the jurisdiction of the common penal system. This is apparent in the laws of a nation like England and the international law on human rights.

The English laws of mental health are a means by which the right to liberty of a citizen is moved to the side, a right warranted by both the common jurisprudence of that nation and the Article 5.1 of the European Convention of Human Rights. In the quotation of the English brochure I had already mentioned that the Mental Health Law of 1983 permits the compulsory admission to the psychiatric ward, and that similar dispositions in other countries exist.

This means no less than an exception within the law: the right to liberty is warranted between civilians except if the he is a psychiatrist. Just as the state, the psychiatrist has special powers to send another citizen to a prison. This can be proved by pointing out how the constitutional rights of an individual whom a psychiatrist has decided call him ‘insane’ become automatically annulled. If we take now as a paradigm the constitutional right of the United States, this individual is deprived from his right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury (Sixth Amendment), the right to bail (Eight Amendment), and the right that no person be deprived from liberty without due process of law (Fourteenth Amendment).

The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and many other countries are Therapeutic States, as Szasz calls nations that claim to be free but that through the medical and psychiatric institution have totalitarian traits. If in one of these States the accused of mentally ill doesn’t agrees with the legal exception of his country in favour of psychiatry, he cannot appeal to international law either. The Article 5 of the European Convention begins:

Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty,

However, the article continues:

save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law… the lawful detention of persons for the prevention of spreading of infectious diseases, of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts, or vagrants. [2]

We can agree with the statement regarding the prevention of infections and epidemics: the power to decide who is infected falls on scientists who can detect in their labs the existence of biological diseases. But just what the other group means, persons of ‘unsound mind’, is something that only the psychiatrist of a Therapeutic State has the power to decide because in these cases lab tests are not performed. The second part of the European Convention article of international law invalidates the first one: it leaves to the psychiatrist’s discretion to decide who has a ‘sound mind’ and who has an ‘unsound mind’.

To stamp someone with the label of insanity means that the first political step to his imprisonment has been undertaken (for instance, in the 1960s more Americans lost their liberty accused of unsound mind than the accused of a crime). [3] In short, psychiatrists have the powers to incarcerate an innocent citizen who has not broken any law.

This means that the psychiatrists have the power to derogate the civil status of a citizen to a lower level than that of the common criminal. Just remember how they wanted to commit George Lincoln Rockwell.

If we take as an example the bank assailant who killed a cop and some clients during the skirmish, after being caught he has the right to an impartial trial and to a lawyer, as well as the right to not being tormented or mutilated. On the other hand, the individual who has been identified by a psychiatrist automatically loses these rights: he is incarcerated without a trial and without a lawyer who can make an appeal. Moreover, he can be tormented with electroshock or even psychologically destroyed with neuroleptics or lobotomy.

For a teenager in conflict with his parents, his rights fall into an inferior level compared to those of the assailant or common criminal: he lacks any institution or state lawyer who could possible defended him. As we have seen, in generational conflicts of parents with their children the ‘identification’ invariably falls on the latter. Ronald Laing, the most popular anti-psychiatrist in the 1960s, stated in an interview of 1988:

Economics controls politics, so the pivotal issue is an economic one. To see what is happening, look at the textbook or manual called DSM-III, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, third edition. Translated into economic and political terms, mental disorder means undesired mental states and attitudes and behaviour […].

The criteria in the manual are very useful for controlling the population because you can bring them to bear on practically anyone if the occasion seems to demand it. Look at this: ‘Oppositional disorder’ is a very good one. (Laing reads from the DSM-III:)

The essential feature is a pattern of disobedient negativistic and provocative opposition to authority figures. For example, if there is a rule, it is usually violated. If a suggestion is made, the individual is against it. If asked to do something, the individual refuses or becomes argumentative. If asked to refrain from an act, the child or the adolescent feels obliged to carry it out. […].

These are not exceptional examples out of DSM-III. The overall drift is what contemporary modern psychiatry, epitomized by this DSM manual translated into eighteen languages, is imposing all over the world—a mandate to strip anyone of their civil liberties […] to homogenize people who are out of line. Presented as a medical exercise, it is an undercover operation. [4]

That this is the disposition in modern psychiatry is observed in the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, Parham vs. J.R. of 1979. This decision gives carte blanche to the States to enact laws that permit minors to be hospitalized if the parents and a psychiatrist want it without any right for the child or adolescent to a hearing or trial. [5] Let’s give the floor to one of these victims of the Therapeutic State. Following next I quote a letter sent on 12 December 1999 to a lawyer who fights for human rights within the United States:

I’m a 16 year old girl who has just gotten out of a ‘psychiatric treatment center’. I was there for over 4 months because I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder and Manic Depression. Borderline Personality Disorder is the biggest f— joke I have heard of. All it is a description of an immature teenager. Haha. I am also not Manic Depressive. The psych people there somehow managed to convince everyone that I was, including my parents. (‘She has severe highs and lows. And she’s impulsive too!’) They put me on lots of medication.

During the first 2 months of my stay at the hospital I refused to take it. My behavior, thinking, and stability were fine, but since I wasn’t taking the medication I was ‘noncompliant and not ready for discharge’. So I decided to cheek the medication. Just so I could get out of the damn place. They found out that I was cheeking it though. Of course.

I haven’t been discharged yet. I won’t be. Ever. Instead my parents have decided to sign me out of the place AMA [against medical advice]. They finally realized I do not need to be in that place, nor did I ever.

Perfectly normal people are kept in treatment centers. Perfectly normal teenagers. Nobody was crazy there. Not even one person. They were just teenagers with divorced parents. Or teenagers who did a few drugs. Or teenagers who got suspended from school. Suddenly we were all Borderlines, Schizophrenics, and Manic Depressives who ‘needed’ long term hospitalization. We also ‘needed’ medication. They put us on heavy doses of anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, anti-whatevers. I was the only patient who didn’t take the medication. I will never take psychiatric medication. I’ve tried it before. It does nothing except for turn me into a zombie. It dulls me out. Makes it so I can’t think straight. Everyone else took it though. [6]

There cannot be a clearer example of the alliance between parents and psychiatrists. In the United States, the sole will of the parents was enough to incarcerate or liberate a child. It’s noteworthy that Rachel, who wrote the above letter at sixteen, had a good grasp of what psychiatric diagnoses really are. In the dawn of the 21st century the diagnoses that were used against her and her mates (‘borderlines’, ‘schizophrenics’, ‘manic depressives’) are as fraudulent as the diagnoses that the psychiatrists used in the 19th century (‘moral insanity’, ‘folie lucide’, ‘nymphomania’). All this is camouflaged in medical language.

It was Lenin who said that dictatorship is a power not limited by law. How psychiatry could not be corrupted if the way they label a girl with the DSM to strip her from her civil rights has no law that supervises it in our societies? Psychiatry is a profession that regulates itself. It is a state within the State that carries out the function of control of the unwanted.

Unlike George Lincoln Rockwell, Ezra Pound was no so lucky. He was committed in a psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years. His supposed insanity was due to the fact that he had moved to Italy in 1924 and throughout the 1930s and 40s embraced Benito Mussolini’s fascism, expressed support for Adolf Hitler, and wrote for publications owned by the British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley.

How to know if a modern society is a Therapeutic State? This is a state that searches for medical or therapeutical solutions for family and social problems; in the Western past, or in the Soviet Union, even for political dissidence. It is a society that can afford an extra legal system of penalties—the undercover operation of which Laing talked above—with the aim of sparing the dirty job on the constitution of a country. For legislators it would be too embarrassing to enact laws against women in disputes with their husbands, or against teenagers in disputes with their parents. Psychiatrists do the dirty job (‘moral insanity’, ‘dementia praecox’) that society in general, and legislators in particular, do not dare to do directly.

Szasz’s dream was to reform society to separate the state from the medical institution, just as the First Amendment of the United States Constitution separates church and state. Alas, although the Soviet Union and the psychiatric abuse of political dissidents is gone, in the West the inquisitorial power of physicians is well rooted, and civil society is doing very little to question it.


[1] Last words of a lecture by Thomas Szasz presented in the Foucault Symposium in Berlin University, May 1998.

[2] Tom Heller et al., Mental health and distress: module 3 (The Open University, 1997), p. 43.

[3] The manufacture of madness (op. cit.), p. 65.

[4] Ronald Laing, Interview (OMNI, April 1988), pp. 60f.

[5] Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584 (United States Reports, volume 442, p. 584), quoted in The antipsychiatry forum, section ‘Compliments’, answer of Douglas Smith to Lolobenchik ( This website provides legal assistance in so-called psychiatric cases.

[6] Ibid. (, section ‘Physical restraints’. Rachel signs her letter as ‘Rach’.

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One Comment

  1. You have made my case for political anarchy – abolishing of all centralized, government functions.

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