Cruel Compassion: Psychiatric Control of Society's Unwanted / Edition 1

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Cruel Compassion is the capstone of Thomas Szasz's critique of psychiatric practices. Reexamining psychiatric interventions from a cultural-historical and political-economic perspective, Szasz demonstrates that the main problem that faces mental health policy makers today is adult dependency. Millions of Americans, diagnosed as mentally ill, are drugged and confined by doctors for noncriminal conduct, go legally unpunished for the crimes they commit, and are supported by the state - not because they are sick, but because they are unproductive and unwanted. Obsessed with the twin beliefs that misbehavior is a medical disorder and that the duty of the state is to protect adults from themselves, we have replaced criminal-punitive sentences with civil-therapeutic 'programs.' The result is the relentless loss of individual liberty, erosion of personal responsibility, and destruction of the security of persons and property - symptoms of the transformation of a Constitutional Republic into a Therapeutic State, unconstrained by the rule of law. Szasz shows convincingly that not until we separate therapy from coercion - much as the founders separated theology from coercion - shall we be able to get a handle on our seemingly intractable psychiatric and social problems. No contemporary thinker has done more than Thomas Szasz to expose the myths and misconceptions surrounding insanity and the practice of psychiatry. Now, in Cruel Compassion, he gives us a sobering look at some of our most cherished notions about our humane treatment of society's unwanted, and perhaps more importantly, about ourselves as a compassionate and democratic people.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815605102
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/1998
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Pt. 1 Storing the Unwanted 13
1 The Indigent 15
2 The Debtor 27
3 The Epileptic 43
4 The Child 63
5 The Homeless 86
Pt. 2 The Political Economy of Psychiatry 101
6 The Origin of Psychiatry 103
7 Economics and Psychiatry 123
8 Adult Dependency: Idleness as Illness 140
9 The New Psychiatric Deal 150
10 Re-Storing the Mental Patient 169
11 The Futility of Psychiatric Reform 187
Epilogue 201
References 207
Bibliography 235
Name Index 253
Subject Index 257
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2004

    Cruel Compassion: Szasz┬┐s Oxymoron Underlying Psychiatric Control

    Capitalism is the hallmark of the American economy. Americans embrace the notion of producing and distributing goods and services in a free market, which undergoes minimal government regulation. This type of economic trade works for and satisfies most people in democratic society, particularly those with adequate financial stability. For some unfortunate individuals, however, the market is not entirely ¿free,¿ and government regulation is all but minimal. These individuals are forced to be consumers of government-provided goods and services against their will. Although those found guilty of criminal acts are deprived of liberty, denied certain legal rights, and subjected to government coercion, these hapless individuals are not criminals. In most instances, these individuals have neither performed criminal acts, posed as threats to anyone or anything, nor been accused of any wrongdoing per se. The only accusation made against these individuals is that they are ¿insane;¿ furthermore, coercing these individuals to adhere to government regulation is justifiable in a court of law. American society and economy has a deleterious system of subjecting insane, or ¿mentally ill,¿ individuals to psychiatric control. This theme pervades Thomas Szasz¿s book, Cruel Compassion: Psychiatric Control of America¿s Unwanted. According to Szasz, there exists an age-old process of storing and coercing society¿s unwanted individuals (viz., indigents, debtors, epileptics, children, homeless individuals, and the mentally ill). The beginning of this process can be traced back to the early 17th century English Poor Laws, which were enacted to punish economically unproductive indigents. Since then, debtors, or insolvents, were contractually bound to serve time in debtor¿s prisons; epileptics were medicated (i.e., given neuroleptic, or antipsychotic, drugs), sterilized, and stored in colonies; troublesome children were given arbitrary psychiatric diagnoses and sentenced to psychiatric hospitals, or ¿madhouses;¿ and homeless individuals were housed in economically lucrative, government-provided domiciles. As for the mentally ill, they were originally placed in asylums and madhouses (i.e., were institutionalized) under the coercion of a psychiatrist, and as a result of an anti-psychiatric movement and Szasz himself, they are currently coerced into deinstitutionalization and ingestion of psychiatric mediation. While many of these acts may appear to be compassionate and altruistic methods performed by self-righteous mental health professionals in order to help or correct the ¿less fortunate,¿ Szasz asserts that this facade is far from the truth. These motives underlying these acts are often economic (e.g., The Supplemental Security Income program made being a hospitalized mental patient a profitable occupation.). Another popular motive for psychiatric institutionalization derived from the phenomenon of caregivers no longer wanting to care for their mentally ill family members. These caregivers basically used the system to pawn off unwanted, embarrassing, and/or interfering friends and relatives to well-paid, government-employed psychiatrists. Psychiatric institutionalization was masked as a system using medicine to treat ¿real¿ illness. Psychiatry attempted to mirror and mimic medicine by making absurd claims about the success and recovery rate of their often iatrogenic procedures. Some of these procedures include the infamous lobotomy, electric shock, the dissemination of neuroleptic drugs (historically for epileptics and often inducing tardive dyskinesia), and insulin shock and coma. Additionally, psychiatric patients were belittled, deprived of dignity through their role in the therapist-patient relationship, and institutionalized, becoming dependent on the institution for survival. Following the institutionalization era, patients were then deinstitutionalized (i.e., funneled out of the hospitals into nursing homes, halfw

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