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The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  655 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
A classic work that has revolutionized thinking throughout the Western world about the nature of the psychiatric profession and the moral implications of its practices. "Bold and often brilliant."-- "Science" "Bold and often brilliant." "--Science" "It is no exaggeration to state that Szasz's work raises major social issues which deserve the attention of policy makers and ...more
Paperback, 297 pages
Published November 10th 1984 by Harper (first published 1961)
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Feb 07, 2016 Owlseyes marked it as to-read

This, for sure , will ever be a must-read. I know some of the strong arguments [points] of doctor Szasz:

1-Diagnosis is a tool used by psychiatrists to control and stigmatize people.

2-Hysteria and misbehavior and attention deficit disorder...are not diseases; thyphoid fever is,....spring fever is not.

3-Labeling is a stigmatization; treating with drugs is poisoning.

4-Mental disease is a metaphor,...a fable, a mythology.The DSM* is a joke.

5-"Psychiatrists are more and more away from human tou
Thom Dunn
Roy Porter discusses Szasz in the opening pages of his "Madness: A Brief History". Amazon has NO hardcover in stock. Zero. Zip.

For my part ? "He jests at scars that never felt a wound." @ Szasz : Here is my curse on you, Thomas: May you suffer ten minutes of acute clinical depression. Ten minutes in that "over-heated room", that "bell-jar", that "bed of nails" which we sufferers know when the nerve synapses in the basal ganglia are leeched of neurotransmitters through a too-rapid re-uptake of s
Nov 23, 2009 Tucker rated it liked it
Shelves: finished
Seen in the best possible light, this is a well-read, illuminating presentation of a relativistic theory of cultural norms. The author says that those who break these norms, the "mentally ill," do so for certain reasons, usually because it benefits them to do so. Classifying them as "mentally ill" creates a model in which it is easier for them to continue being "sick". Instead, they should be treated as competent adults who can change their lives for the better. By way of illustration, the autho ...more
Jun 02, 2012 Alo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you think this book is dangerous then I'm not sure you understood it.
May 15, 2010 Leabelle rated it did not like it
I find this book extremely troubling and somewhat irresponsible.
Nov 20, 2007 Elyssa rated it it was ok
Shelves: psychology, science
I read this in college for "Human Health and Behavior" class. The seminar that ensued was lively! The author makes some valid points, but they are enshrined in an extreme and fundamentalist tone, which was alienating and made it difficult to fully endorse his ideas. In addition, he is not a very skilled writer, so it takes a lot of effort to uncover his points. I hope to re-read this soon and revise this review, but for now I can only give the book 2 stars.
Apr 21, 2009 Nick rated it it was amazing
Incredibly eye opening book. Shows how the majority of "mental illnesses", except those of clear neurological basis, are not illnesses at all. Mental illness is a metaphor. This isn't to say that what we normally refer to as "mental illness" doesn't exist, clearly these many psychological experiences do exist...but they are not genuine illnesses and when they are assumed to be this can lead to profound misunderstanding.
Michael Burnam-fink
Dec 05, 2011 Michael Burnam-fink rated it liked it
Shelves: academic, medicine, 2011
Szasz makes a frontal assault on the power of psychiatry, arguing that mental illness is a myth and that the power accorded to psychiatrists to decide if people are legally responsible for their actions, have them committed to hospitals, and prescribe various psychotropic medications is fundamentally misfounded. The basic premise of his argument is that only organs can be sick, and the mind is not an organ. Rather, what we see as mental illness are the results of rule-breaking behavior by "menta ...more
Sep 14, 2014 Zora rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I've read three of Szasz's books and will limit myself to commenting about this one, which is both outdated at some points and still far too radically ahead of its time to be considered fairly today by many (particularly including those whose income depends on perpetuating these very myths or whose sense of self-worth is somehow tied up in them).

To simplify some of Dr. Szasz's ideas that I find appealing:

1) We need to be very skeptical about the entire concept of "mental illness" and the practic
Andre Graham
Nov 30, 2015 Andre Graham rated it it was ok
I don't think that I can add anything that other reviewers have written more eloquently than I about this book. However there are a few points I'd like to make:
Modern psychiatry is a minefield of mixed positive and negative motives, methods and outcomes. To be totally for or against it ( as szas is against) seems to be incredibly naive. Szas seems to be trapped in asserting and repeating his view that medical illness doesn't exist and whereas he does point out compelling facts such as the arbit
Jul 13, 2010 Brent rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
I think Thomas Szasz is a brilliant person. He's written lots of books during his career, but this one started it all. He questions and criticizes our society's perception and treatment of mental illness with no reservations. I believe his work has been a positive force in reforming psychiatry, but there's still plenty left that can be improved. I plan to re-read this book someday, and I'd like to read more of his books too.

I remember very clearly finding this book in the BYU library and how cap
May 01, 2007 Greg rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
This is essentially two different books. The first half is dedicated to an indictment to the medical model of psychiatry. He believes that by medicalizing psychiatry, it has removed the moral component of behavior. The second half, he develops a theory of hysteria that assumes that the symptoms that hysterics exhibit are a form of non-verbal communication and can be analyzed as a form of communication like dreams. That is the interesting part of the book.
Lucas Johnson
Jan 30, 2016 Lucas Johnson rated it really liked it
It goes something like this:

The discipline of psychiatry is committed to the self-image of being a serious scientific/medical profession. As a result, the behaviors and life problems which psychiatrists study must (by definition) be viewed as true medical diseases with organic causes. Any contrary view would take psychiatry out of the realm of medicine. It would mean that drugs and other medical interventions in a hospital setting are not the correct treatments. This can never be acknowledged by
Nov 27, 2011 Ringo rated it liked it
I'm reading a chapter from 1960 edition, it bothered me so much as Szasz put forward those "self-evident" justifications. He made his point in regarding mental illness as "problems in living". But I doubted the practicability of an argument over the concept itself and the implication of his idea to clinical settings at all.
Jan 18, 2012 Kari rated it liked it
Heavy going and a challenging read but definitely worth it. Very interesting though naturally somewhat dated in its propositions. It was originally published in 1961 so things have of course moved on since then! He was one of the first to start questioning the status quo and it is therefore still an important text.
Jan 29, 2012 Bibliovixen rated it it was ok
This book had just a few items that weren't completely out of date. Interesting book if you're looking for past work regarding mental health and therapy.
Sep 02, 2012 D. rated it it was amazing
Szasz presents an interesting idea, the extension of which I embrace - that mental illness is not merely a biological phenomenon.
Jul 16, 2009 Bridget rated it really liked it
Game-changer for psychology---another classic book for the field.
Jan 05, 2009 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
A classic, must read.
Vannessa Anderson
From the Book

Psychiatry is conventionally defined as a medical specially concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mental diseases … places psychiatry in the company of alchemy and astrology and commits it to the category of pseudoscience. The reason for this is that there is no such thing as “mental illness.”

…physicians are trained to treat bodily ills—…and in turn are expected by their patients, to treat bodily diseases, not envy and rage, fear and folly, poverty and stupidity,…. Strictly
Nov 27, 2013 Jen rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the dickens out of this book. It reads fast, and is an easy skim if you are not interested in all of the historical french medical literature. This is a lucidly written critique of medical and psychological authority from a practicing physician. There is a lot to take away here about the social construction of mental illness, the nature of authority, and the way in which medical authority operates to produce knowledge about human health and illness. One of my favorite observations is f ...more
Jonathan Norton
Dec 12, 2012 Jonathan Norton rated it liked it
Szasz's original act of dissent, published in the late 50s, in which he brought together a variety of strands of criticism of psychoanalysis and psychiatry generally, as well attempting to sketch a constructive alternative in terms of games theory. He has many different arguments, not all equally compelling. In particular he doesn't do much to show that his sceptical interpretation of hysteria can be easily generalised to schizophrenia or other conditions. Perhaps he just wants to rely on a mast ...more
David Tenemaza kramaley
Apr 30, 2016 David Tenemaza kramaley rated it really liked it
Szasz offers many interesting points making for an interesting read at times, however, he falls extremely short in covering all the complex cases of 'problems in living' that may be encountered (and their potential reasons!). Still, I think he offers an interesting new approach that may perhaps hold some of the answers we are looking for.
Jan 09, 2014 David rated it it was amazing
Szasz had a profound effect on my basic understanding of the mentally ill, especially how they can reveal what is wrong with them through physical actions or sayings, trying to convey to the world what their pain is all about. That's when I started observing more keenly everyone's actions and what they convey, since now I believe that we are all mentally ill. It is a masterpiece of understanding oneself.
Jun 24, 2014 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rare insights on a greatly misunderstood problem: http://psychiatricsurvivors.wordpress...
May 09, 2009 Wylie rated it liked it
This made a lot of interesting though controversial points, most of which I thought were good and valuable, but it was written (I think) before any brain disorders were known to be caused by lesions on the brain or chemical imbalances such as clinical depression. I've ALWAYS been of the school that believes in "mind over matter" nearly to the crazy-person level of 'you can even overcome cancer or AIDS if you have a strong enough will' which is one reason why I find his points valuable, even thou ...more
Feb 04, 2014 Melsinyork rated it it was amazing
An important book.
Fiona Naylor
Oct 09, 2012 Fiona Naylor rated it really liked it
Having read this 20 years ago as a set text on a Social Work course, I was minded to re-read it following the announcement of Dr Szasz's death recently. Just as relevant today as when it was first published, although from an american viewpoint. Interesting read for anyone involved in the mental health or caring professions. Challenging and important contribution to the medical (caring) and legal (enforcing) debate.
Jan 21, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it
Very 70s. But worth a read for all that.
Sep 09, 2013 Cyberpope rated it it was amazing
Excellent reasd for anyone going into psychology/psychotherapy/counselling.

His thesis is the title, that "mental illness," is a myth. Illness is when the body is sick. He goes through the various bases for the creation of the mental illness industry, including simply locking away people we don't like who have done nothing illegal.

Definitely an eye-opener!
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Thomas Stephen Szasz (pronounced /sas/; born April 15, 1920 in Budapest, Hungary) was a psychiatrist and academic. He was Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse, New York. He was a prominent figure in the antipsychiatry movement, a well-known social critic of the moral and scientific foundations of psychiatry, and of the social contro ...more
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“It taught me, at an early age, that being wrong can be dangerous, but being right, when society regards the majority’s falsehood as truth, could be fatal.” 23 likes
“It seems to me that-at least in our scientific theories of behavior-we have failed to accept the simple fact that human relations are inherently fraught with difficulties and that to make them even relatively harmonious requires much patience and hard work.” 11 likes
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