Thomas Szasz

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Thomas Szasz (2010)

Thomas Stephen Szasz [ sɑːs ] (born April 15, 1920 as Tamás István Szász in Budapest , † September 8, 2012 in Manlius , New York ) was an American psychiatrist of Hungarian origin. Szasz became known for his criticism of the moral and scientific foundations of psychiatry. He is partly attributed to the so-called antipsychiatry and is considered to be a co-founder of this movement, but himself vehemently opposed this classification.


After Szász emigrated to the USA in 1938, he studied physics and medicine at the University of Cincinnati . In 1944 he made his doctorate in medicine and began training as a psychoanalyst at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. In 1948 he opened a psychoanalytic practice. From 1956 until his retirement in 1990, Szasz was Professor of Psychiatry at the State University of New York in Syracuse. He died in 2012 as a result of a fall. Thomas Szasz was a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a lifelong member of the American Psychoanalytic Association.

Szász also founded the American Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) together with the Scientology organization , but distanced himself from the impression that this collaboration was more than an alliance of convenience and that he himself was a Scientologist. Mike Gormez , a prominent Scientology critic, considers this collaboration to be naive, thoughtless and ethically questionable and accused Szasz of allowing himself to be instrumentalized.


Szasz established his reputation as a vehement opponent of forced psychiatry primarily with his main work The Myth of Mental Illness , in which he put forward the theory in 1961 that concepts such as psychological normality and madness are arbitrary definitions. In contrast to diseases that are based on physical causes, no clear causes could be found for most of the psychiatrically defined diseases. The diagnosis of a mental disorder is based on subjective evaluations instead of objective, empirically verifiable criteria. The demarcation of normality and madness only serves to force social conformity and carries the risk of being abused as a means of power to exclude those who think differently. Based on these considerations, Szasz advocated a strict separation of psychiatry and the state. He condemned forced admission to psychiatric clinics as a violation of human rights. Another important demand made by Szasz repeatedly since the early 1970s is the release of all drugs to adults: the right to self-medication.

Szasz's reputation was damaged by his book Cruel Compassion , at least in parts of the German anti-psychiatry movement. In 1998 the Association for Protection against Psychiatric Violence accused him of “primitive capitalism”, the exclusion of socially disadvantaged people and advocacy for the abolition of the welfare state - expressly without prejudice to Thomas Szasz's historical merits in criticizing psychiatry.

Szasz on the term antipsychiatry

  • Szasz: I strongly oppose antipsychiatry. My criticism is directed exclusively against psychiatric coercion. The self-stigmatizing “Antipsychiatry” label was a joint product of Ronald D. Laing and David Cooper. For example, it would be complete nonsense to call a doctor who criticizes compulsory treatment in the field of dermatology an "antidermatologist" or a critic of oncology "anti-ioncologist" or a critical ophthalmologist an "anti-ophthalmologist". It is just as nonsensical to call a critic of coercive psychiatric treatment an "anti-psychiatrist". This term actually only shows that psychiatry defines itself exclusively through coercion, not through the intention to cure.


Fonts (selection)

  • The myth of mental illness. In: American psychologist. Vol. 15 (1960), H. 2, pp. 113-118, DOI: 10.1037 / h0046535 ( PDF ).
  • Mental Illness - A Modern Myth? Outline of a theory of personal behavior. Olten / Freiburg im Breisgau 1972 (Orig .: The Myth of Mental Illness. Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct. New York 1961.)
  • The fabrication of madness. Olten / Freiburg im Breisgau 1974 (Orig .: The manufacture of madness. A comparative study of the inquisition and the Mental Health Movement. New York 1970.)
  • Psychiatry, the veiled power , Olten / Freiburg im Breisgau 1975
  • Law, Freedom and Psychiatry. On the way to the therapeutic state ?. Vienna / Munich / Zurich 1978. Fischer Taschenbuch 6722 ISBN 3-596-26722-6 (Orig .: Law, Liberty, and Psychiatry. An Inquiry into the Social Uses of Mental Health Practices. New York 1963)
  • The ritual of drugs. Vienna, Munich, Zurich 1978 (Orig .: Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers. London 1974).
  • Schizophrenia. The sacred symbol of psychiatry. Frankfurt am Main 1979 (Orig .: Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry. New York 1976).
  • Theology of medicine. Europaverlag, Vienna 1980
  • The myth of psychotherapy. Europaverlag, Vienna 1982
  • The Psychiatric Testament - A new legal mechanism to protect people from "psychosis" and from psychiatry. Antipsychiatrieverlag, Berlin 1987, ISBN 3-925931-02-3 .
  • Cruel compassion. About weeding out unwanted people. Frankfurt am Main 1997 (Orig .: Cruel Compassion: Psychiatric Control of Society's Unwanted. New York 1994.).
  • "My madness saved me". The madness and marriage of Virginia Woolf. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ, ISBN 0765803216 .


  • Josef Rattner : Thomas Szasz. In: J. Rattner: Classics of Psychoanalysis. 2nd Edition. Beltz, Weinheim 1995, pp. 800–829, ISBN 3-621-27276-3 (former title: Klassiker der Tiefenpsychologie ), pp. 800–829.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Benedict Carey: Dr. Thomas Szasz, Psychiatrist Who Led Movement Against His Field, Dies at 92. In: The New York Times . September 11, 2012, accessed September 19, 2012 .
  2. ^ Burkhart Brückner, Robin Pape (2015): Szasz, Thomas Stephen. In: Biographical Archive of Psychiatry. Biographical Archive of Psychiatry (BIAPSY)
  3. Brückner / Pape ibid.
  4. ^ Thomas S. Szasz: For the Record. February 11, 2003, accessed January 3, 2019 .
  5. Mike Gormez: Scientology hatred of psychiatry and psychology // CCHR. In: November 5, 2006, archived from the original on June 29, 2007 ; accessed on January 3, 2019 .
  6. ^ Thomas Szasz: The Right to Drugs: A Matter of Freedom . In: Newsday . October 21, 1970 (English).
  7. Thomas Szasz: The ethics of addiction . In: Psychiatry the veiled power . Walter-Verlag, Olten 1975.
  8. ^ Ideology and Insanity . Dubleday, New York 1970 (English).
  9. ^ Thomas Szasz: The Morality of Drug Controls . In: R. Hamowy (Ed.): Dealing With Drugs: Consequences of Government Control . Lexington Books / DC Heath, Lexington 1987, pp. 329-345 . (English, [PDF; 1.5 MB ]).
  10. ^ Kerstin Kempker: Press release on the invitation of the politically obscure psychiatrist Thomas Szasz to the Foucault Tribunal. (PDF; 106 kB) In: May 1, 1998, accessed January 3, 2019 .
  11. ^ Marianne Kestler: Abolition of psychiatry. Equality or social misery? An interview with Prof. em. Thomas S. Szasz by Marianne Kestler. In: April 11, 2003, archived from the original on September 17, 2003 ; accessed on January 3, 2019 .
  12. Speech in honor of Thomas Szasz at the award ceremony of the Freedom Prize of the Insane Offensive, the "Golden Torch", on Nov. 9, 2002 in Syracuse, USA. In: November 9, 2002, accessed January 3, 2019 .