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The evolving nature of the recovery/liberation movement

Posted Nov 22 2012 12:00am
Seth Farber has written a brilliant Op-Ed post today at the Mad in America site. Szasz and Beyond: The spiritual promise of the Mad Pride Movement  

It's a very long read, but well-worth the time for anyone interested in the history and theories of madness and its movements, and the great names  i.e. Thomas Szasz, R.D. Laing who have contributed, often by the force of their own personalities, to shaping our beliefs about sanity . According to Farber, we are in the second phase of the movement, the phase where the movement no longer cares to strive towards socially sanctioned "normal."

The Politics of Experience was in effect the first Mad Pride manifesto of the 20th century. But it was 35 years ahead of its time. There was no mad pride movement then that invited Laing to become the theoretician of a mad revolution. The mental patients liberation movement that emerged in the 1970s was focused on gaining equal rights and on ending coercive treatment. Laing did not take much interest in this. What was the point of integrating schizophrenics into an insane and self-destructive society? As Laing became a new age speaker, pioneer of innovative therapy and advocate of the individual mad person, Szasz accepted graciously the role of the theoretician of mental patients’ liberation, a movement that demanded equal rights for the psychiatrically labeled—and reform of the mental health system– but did not seek to otherwise change society. Szasz’s libertarian capitalism was tolerated grudgingly by patients’ who tended to be left-wing and who often remained, at least temporarily, dependent on the government’s financial help of which Szasz disapproved. Although many patients had been influenced by Laing, his ideas were not incorporated into the movement. Why? In this initial phase of the movement the emphasis was on the similarity between so-called schizophrenics and normal people. Laing’s emphasis on their distinctive albeit admirable traits was only an obstacle to the movement. Former patients wanted to demonstrate that they were as rational as “normal” people. (This was similar to the black and gay movements for equal rights which in their initial phases tried to be as conventional as possible.) One of the former leaders of the patients’ liberation movement whose story was recounted in my first book became enraged with me when I told him I was writing a book about Mad pride. “If you call us mad they will view us as irrational” he protested. But by then the younger generation was ready for mad pride, and tired of trying to seem normal.

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