Asylum 20.4 – Winter 2013


The asylum. Early 15c, from Latin asylum ‘sanctuary’, from Greek asylon ‘refuge’. Noun use of asylos: ‘inviolable, safe from
violence’; especially of persons seeking protection. From a- ‘without’ + syle ‘right of seizure’. So, literally: ‘an inviolable place’.

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Asylum 21.2 – Summer 2014


Four of the last five issues were given over to one particular theme or another, and they were usually put together by a group of people who wanted to highlight a particular aspect of psychiatry or their response to it.

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Asylum 21.1 – Spring 2014


This issue of Asylum has a focus on creative responses to difficult times and has been guest edited by Paul Atkinson and Janet Haney for the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy.


Creative responses to difficult times – Editorial Paul Atkinson and Janet Haney
Creating a Community The Bridge Collective
Three Poems: Stoddart House, Stoddart House – (Bird, Beast, Man, Mouse); Le père sans merci (Merciless
Father); The house that ‘Dad’ built  Rob Cunliffe
Then Play OnJennifer Maidman
Getting it down on Paper – Michel Syrett and Suzy Johnston
Sage community arts Andrea Heath
Three Poems: Last stand – one time friend; St Pancras
International; Raw truth Kaz Reeves
The PsyCommons Denis Postle
Does No One Remember A S Neill ?Ros Kane
Messerschmidt & Me Scott Farlow
Names, a short play Simon McCormack
Some reflections on Theatre , Psychoanalysis and Verse as medicine Stephen Gee
‘The Spirit of Utopia ’ & ‘Sanatorium’: Who are we? Where are we going? What are we waiting for? Isobel Urquhart
Start 2: live life more creatively Tamzin Foster
Asylum News
Letter to the Editor : Struggling for community – A letter in response to Meg Kelly’s article criticising a PA house Paul Gordon

To read the latest issue, SUBSCRIBE to Asylum magazine.

Creative Responses to Difficult Times by Paul Atkinson and Janet Haney

The idea of this issue of the magazine arose from a conference on the future of counselling and psychotherapy, organised by the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and held in London in December 2012.

As members of the Alliance, we have been campaigning against the state’s co-option of the psychological therapies as a healthcare profession. In our work around psychological life and its difficulties, we also want to prioritise the ordinary resources and creativity that people bring to the task of making meaning of their experience.

One speaker at the conference suggested seeing if we could produce a special issue for Asylum, so we contacted the collective and they accepted our offer to produce an edition around the broad idea of ‘creativity’.

We then set about asking people – near and far, users and practitioners – if they would like to submit something that testified to their efforts at being-in-the-world. We invited them to use their particular talents to say something about their world-view.

As a result individuals and groups have contributed. Offerings include direct works of artistic creation, including original paintings by John Joseph and members of the Sage Arts project; poetry from Rob Cunliffe, Ros Kane and Kaz Reeves; a short play by Simon McCormack (which we have produced as a live recording and posted on the web); an original work of art from Scott Farlow, who also writes about his relationship with Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, an artist from the past; and, included in a longer piece reflecting on the central importance of music in her life, song lyrics from Jennifer Maidman.

Other contributors wrote about how they were using their own creativity to make spaces for others to use creatively – the Sage Arts project, the Bridge Collective and Start2. Stephen Gee writes about his experience of running a theatre project, Isobel Urquhart writes about art exhibitions in Sanatorium and Utopia; and Michel Syrett and Suzy Johnston write about the experience of writing itself. Denis Postle gives us an article on what he calls ‘the psyCommons’; this is part of a lifetime’s work in which he argues for a re-visioning of psychological life as something to be held in common. We are also very grateful to Alex Widdowson (of Sage Arts) who volunteered to design this issue as a creative act reflecting his own appreciation of the overall project; and of course thanks to the Asylum Collective for letting us make this issue.

You will see that we wanted to extend the idea of creativity beyond the core notion of art and literature, so as to include the kinds of organisations that have been set up to support the creative endeavour. We have tried to reach a little beyond our own usual networks, and have made some new links with projects up and down the country. We don’t pretend to present an objective survey of what’s going on, and we’re sure there are many more amazing projects and people out there who could bear witnessing and celebration.

We hope that this necessarily short selection of work will act as an inspiration and point of reference to sustain and inspire your own efforts, in spite of the difficult economic and ideological climate that currently prevails.

Asylum 21.4 – Winter 2014


The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and the majority of these prisoners suffer from mental health conditions.  This issue has a focus on US prisons.

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Asylum 20.1 – Spring 2013


Dr Thomas Stephen Szasz 15 April 1920 (Budapest) – 8 September 2012 (Manlius, NY)

With the death of Thomas Szasz, at the age of 92, psychiatry has lost its most vociferous critic. Asylum 19:4 began with an appreciation by Ron Roberts. Having called for contributions, we now mark the event with a collection of different perspectives on Szasz’s work and ideas.

Of course, Szasz was critical of one of the historical roots of this magazine. In 2010, when asked to comment in support of the magazine’s relaunch, he said: I regret that I cannot support the idea of a ‘democratic psychiatry’. For me, the issue is coercion versus non-coercion. (Democratic Psychiatry is a term associated with Basaglia’s Italian version of locking up mental patients. See my book, Antipsychiatry: Quackery Squared.) Good luck with your… relaunching of Asylum.

Since this magazine is meant as a forum for debate, we decided to include not only pieces broadly in support but also those more nuanced or critical of Szasz.

Alec Jenner and Morton Schatzman are closest to being Szasz’s contemporaries. Jeffrey Schaler runs www.szasz. com. Richard Vatz and Irish survivor Mary Maddock both offer warm tributes, whilst Joanna Moncrieff summarises Szasz’s contribution to debates about psychiatry.

People are often unaware that Szasz did not oppose consensual psychotherapy. His views on this and other issues are discussed by Anthony Stadlen, who was his London host when Szasz conducted a one-day seminar in the UK in 2010. Szasz was a prolific writer, and Phil Barker and Poppy Buchanan-Barker review three of his last books. Ron Roberts writes about Szasz’s views on responsibility, morality and politics, while Dave Harper reviews his legacy.

Although many psychiatrists may dismiss the psychiatric survivor movement as simply an offshoot of ‘anti-psychiatry’, the reality is more complex. For example, in 1978, in her seminal book On Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System, American self-identified ‘expatient’ Judi Chamberlin (who sadly died in 2010: see Asylum 17:3) noted the relevance of Szasz’s critique. However, by 1990, in an article in the Journal of Mind and Behavior, she observed: ‘Anti-psychiatry’ is largely an intellectual exercise of academics and dissident mental health professionals. There has been little attempt within anti-psychiatry to reach out to struggling expatients or to include their perspective.

The articles in this issue by survivors Peter Lehmann and Anne Plumb reflect this more nuanced approach to Szasz’s work and ideas. Pat Bracken, Phil Thomas, David Pilgrim and Anthony Morgan also take issue with some of Szasz’s assumptions.

As we prepared this issue, the Inquiry into the ‘Schizophrenia’ Label published its interim report. Since Thomas Szasz was such a critic of the notion of schizophrenia, it seemed fitting to include it.

Given the debate about Szasz’s relationship with Scientology, overleaf is a letter by him on this topic (courtesy of Peter Lehmann).


Editorial – Dave Harper & Ron Roberts
Letter to Church of Scientology
Thomas Szasz: An obituary by Dr Morton Schatzman
Thomas Steven Szasz: Psychiatrist and Writer by Anthony Stadlen
Thomas Szasz by Professor Alec Jenner
Remembering Thomas Szasz by Joanna Moncrieff
Szasz, Reason & Responsibility by Ron Roberts
R.I.P. Thomas Szasz by Richard E. Vatz & Jeffrey A. Schaler
Three Strategies of Psychiatric Coercion: In honour of Thomas Szasz by Jeffrey A. Schaler
No excuses: The reality cure of Thomas Szasz by Phil Barker & Poppy Buchanan-Parker
Dr Thomas Szasz: A life of controversy
Thomas Szasz: author of ‘the myth of mental illness’ by Dave Harper
Mary Maddock writes
We’ll Miss Him, I Guess by Anthony Morgan
Me & Thomas Szasz: Contrary Approaches To Anti-Psychiatry by Peter Lehmann
Dualisms & Thomas Szasz by Philip Thomas And Pat Bracken
Szasz’s Unsettling Legacy by Anne Plumb
Szasz And The Case Of The Curate’s Egg by David Pilgrim

DLA and PIP: a comment by Penny Stenhouse
News and comments
Nurses Not Prosecuted For Overdose Death
Actual Sickness Often Overlooked With The ‘Mentally Ill’
CBT Helps With Depression?
Help Depression With A CBT Self-Help Book?
Paracetamol Law Prevents Overdose Deaths
‘Schizophrenia’ – Time To Discard The Diagnosis?

Sample Articles

We’ll Miss Him, I Guess by Anthony Morgan

Szasz’s Unsettling Legacy by Anne Plumb

To read the latest issue, SUBSCRIBE to Asylum magazine.

We’ll miss him I guess by Anthony Morgan

You always got the impression with Thomas Szasz that had he lived to the age of 1000 or 100,000 he still would not have changed his mind one bit. There is something slightly unsettling about this, as it suggests a fanatical or absolutist position that does not sit easily in our post-modern age. Nietzsche wrote that the snake that cannot shed its skin perishes. Szasz would seem to be a prime counter-example. For him, freedom of the mind and personal responsibility were absolutes beyond any compromise. Derived from the natural sciences, when medicine and its methods impose a causal, deterministic structure onto human behaviour so that we ‘mechanomorphise’ or ‘thingify’ persons and thereby come to see man as ‘a defective machine’, then “individual freedom, Western man’s most cherished value, becomes a ‘denial of reality’, a veritable ‘psychotic delusion’ to endow man with a grandeur he does not in fact possess” (Szasz, 1973, p.11).

While many may welcome such a position, so as to defend us from the increasing medicalisation of what were traditionally seen as moral problems (for example, addictions), few would be willing to take it as far as did Szasz. If you feel that you are being controlled by voices in your head, Szasz would dismiss this as a disowned self-conversation; if you feel that your thoughts are being broadcast through television sets, Szasz would dismiss this as a stubborn error or a lie. Symptoms like these are created by patients and can be stopped by them, says Szasz (Schaler, 2004, p.324).

As for the anti-capitalist leanings favoured by Asylum magazine, Szasz would surely be amongst the least sympathetic of all psychiatrists. In fact, for the psychiatric critic to cite Szasz’s ‘myth of mental illness’ slogan whilst also railing against the ways in which capitalism undermines our autonomy and mental well-being is, in no small way, I would contend, to have one’s cake and eat it. Or at least to ignore everything that Szasz actually meant when he made this famous statement back in 1960.

One of the ironies of Szasz’s position is that it may actually precipitate the need for sufferers to obtain an illness label, and so to view their experiences as ‘just like diabetes’ (Arpaly, 2005) simply in order to convince those around them that their suffering is not simply a wilful, perverse charade. This desperate need to have one’s problems recognised as in some way ‘real’ was of little concern to Szasz’s ideological project. He thrived on rather simplistic binary oppositions (e.g., mind vs. body; mental illness vs. physical illness; natural science vs. human science, and so on). These are totally insufficient for navigating the extremely complex world of mental distress, for example, the extent to which certain behaviours are intentional, meaningful, rational, and so on. Of course as a polemicist, subtlety was never going to be at the heart of his position.

Someone like Szasz always needs to exist – to push an extreme, uncompromising line of thinking against which actual lived realities can be negotiated. He was, and remains, an important thinker. His is seen as a no nonsense, no excuses approach. No excuses, for sure – but also no sympathy.

My concern remains that the lived realities of the psychiatric patients about whom Szasz was writing seemed far less relevant to him than those more abstract notions of freedom and responsibility which it was his life’s work to defend. As the empire of biological psychiatry continues to crumble, we can be sure that Szaszian questions around agency, autonomy and responsibility in psychiatry will come increasingly to the forefront of our thinking, but perhaps, one hopes, in a more sensitive and nuanced way. A good example of this is the work of the philosopher and therapist, Hanna Pickard (see, for example, Pearce & Pickard, 2010). Psychiatry, for all its endless controversies, seems an inappropriate field for a polemicist, even one as skilful as Szasz.


Arpaly, N. (2005). How it is not ‘just like diabetes’: Mental disorders and the moral psychologist. Philosophical Issues, 15(1), 282–98.

Pearce, S. & Pickard, H. (2010). Finding the will to recover: philosophical perspectives on agency and the sick role. Journal of Medical Ethics, 36, 831–3.

Schaler, J. A. (Ed.). (2004). Szasz under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics. Chicago: Open Court.

Szasz, T. S. (1973). Ideology and Insanity: Essays on the Psychiatric Dehumanization of Man. London: Marion Boyars.

Anthony Morgan works as an assistant psychologist in Newcastle upon Tyne. He is currently doing a Masters in the philosophy of mental health. Email: [email protected]