What is Antipsychiatry?

The antipsychiatry is a concept introduced in 1967 by the philosopher David Cooper (1931-1986). It arises as an anti-institutional and reforming movement that questions psychiatry as a discipline, and the role of the psychiatrist, criticizing strongly its foundations and working methods used.

The antipsychiatry tries to break with the stereotypes related to the concept of mental illness, understanding it as a mental illness of social origin. He considers that it is through psychiatry that subjective problems and psychic illnesses of social origin have tried to be resolved through the medicalization of the problems of cultural malaise.


The critical antipsychiatry that labels are assigned to the mentally ill, depriving them of a total description of their person, generating serious consequences, depriving them of their rights and sentencing them from a non-objective reality.


It is also considered an antimedicalization movement. It makes a strong criticism to the pharmaceutical industry in relation to the opportunism and capitalism inherent in commerce, in relation to the medication proposed as necessary from psychiatry, for the treatment of mental pathologies.

It is shown against the use of medication for such treatments, which produce side effects and to a greater extent a strong dependence.

In this way, antipsychiatry questions the foundations and methods of psychiatry, criticizes its treatment and asks about the rights of patients. It proposes a new perspective regarding mental illnesses and their treatment, since for this movement the description or assignment of a psychiatric term of a mental illness, it pigeonholes the subject and limits him in different aspects of his life.

Brief historical review of Antipsychiatry

It is in the 60’s that antipsychiatry emerges as an alternative therapeutic option. His main references are the English David Cooper and the psychiatrist Ronald D. Laing (1927-1989), who from a new perspective proposed a humanization of psychiatric institutions, considering the concept of mental illness as a problem of education.

In the 1960s, the term antipsychiatry was used to refer to a doctrinal trend in the area of ​​mental health, which called into question the validity of medicine to solve psychiatric problems and promoted the closure of psychiatric facilities.

However, the first antecedents of antipsychiatry go back to the 18th century, where the hospital function began to be seriously questioned, mainly that of asylums and the role of psychiatrists and mental health doctors.

In the nineteenth century madness was conceived as an alteration in behavior, in the way of acting, of feeling and deciding and no longer as a disturbance in judgment. The hospitals were the place where the diagnosis and classification of patients was made, which were distributed according to the same in different pavilions, being subject to the policies and rules of the place.

It was the doctor of those institutions who had the power to speak about the disease and its truth, who could produce it and subject it to reality in terms of the power it exercised over the patient.

In other words, these institutions were a place where, instead of curing the patient, they presented themselves as a means of concealment, which could even enhance the disease itself.

From the perspective of the anti-psychiatry, these institutions reject the subject instead of acting according to their needs. In addition, this theory emphasizes the family, as a social institution par excellence, referring to it as the cause and basis of mental pathologies.

Adjudicating then the family the responsibility of the suffering of the subject who, from this approach, has lived in an environment that provokes this pathology, facilitated by their parents.

For this then, antipsychiatry also criticizes the procedures carried out by asylums in their dealings with the patient. Among them the isolation, the regime of rewards and punishments, the exaggerated discipline, the obligatory work and mainly the doctor-patient relationship.

They understood that the doctor, taking into account his knowledge, was the only one with the power to assess the truth of the disease, being able to produce a subjection of the patient, managing his will, controlling him and treating the disease according to his own criteria and benefit.

Once diagnosed as “crazy”, the subject lost much of his human condition, his freedom, his rights and, he became a mental patient who had to undergo the indicated treatment, regardless of whether he had the will or not to do it.

Psychiatry argued to have the therapeutic tools to treat them, even when these methods of work were confinements, submissions and a coercive discipline.

It is at the end of the nineteenth century that, since antipsychiatry, it has focused on the image of the doctor, in relation to his authority, which is strongly questioned in the truth about the disease, the power he had and the effect that generated on the patient.

Thus, antipsychiatry proposed as a premise to conduct more humanized therapies that took into account the rights of patients residing in asylums, considering the social factor as the cause of diseases of the mind, being the social space in which it moves the subject who is disturbed and not the subject itself.

The antipsychiatry then moves away from the conventionality of psychiatry, being the central topics of discussion, from criticism to the psychiatric system, to the denial of mental illness, understanding it as a tool of domination and imposition of stereotypes.

It has treated as a revolutionary movement against psychiatry to transform the relationships between doctors and patients, eliminating the notion of mental illness and madness, attributing the pathogen to society and the family of the subject that has been labeled as crazy .

Main criticisms of antipsychiatry for psychiatry

For antipiquiatry, psychiatric doctors are an invention of science as this doctrine considers mental illness as something that has no existence. For this movement, the indisposition of the mind corresponds to normal situations developed by the subjects to defend themselves from a social environment, understanding it as a producer in itself, of a disturbance of stability.

By denying the clinical existence of mental illness, antipsychiatry strongly criticizes the pharmaceutical industry, suggesting that pharmacological treatments are those that cause damage to the brain and the organism of the subjects. 

It makes psychiatry responsible for the conditions of hospitals that operate as insane asylums. At the same time, criticism also focuses on the subject’s notion of the subject, leaving him affected by illness, disqualifying him from being treated as a madman, for which he is also stripped of all power, knowledge about his illness and all their rights, inherent to all human beings.

Repudiates the power relationship of the psychiatrist about his patient, pretending to assign the subject the right to live his life dominated, submitting and manipulating it around a classification or label that questions his reason or normality. It also goes against their unhurt treatment with the patient and against their exaggerated criteria when diagnosing.

Antipsychiatry calls into question the veracity of psychiatry as a science, since from its perspective, it pathologizes the normal variations of human behavior, as well as its thoughts and / or emotions. They try to be accomplices to the psychiatrists who prescribe medicines in the eagerness to maintain their contract or commission to the pharmaceutical industry.

It inculcates the family as a social institution and the education provided by it, considering it a provocative factor of the subsequent mental alterations of the adult stage of the subject.

In this way, the disease is not inherent to the individual, but a manifestation of an anomaly in the system of relationships and bonds that are put into play in the family. The antipsychiatry then locates the problem in a network of personal interactions, starting with the family, this being the origin of a disorder in the field of social relations, which causes the cause of emotional suffering of the subject.

From his perspective and criticism with psychiatry, the antipsychiatry condemns it since he considers that he has used the definition of mental illness to medicalize social problems, not of origin or of a medical nature.

Therefore, he questions the diagnoses made by it, through which, by qualifying a subject as a mental patient and imputation of an incurable disease, forces him to take medication for life, affecting his quality of life. lifetime.

They understand that they steal hope and incite them to settle for a life full of medicines to which they will become dependent. Therefore, it considers that the treatments proposed by psychiatry are destructive and harmful in the short and long term.

The antipsychiatry aims in this way to break with the allocation that is given to people with diseases of the mind, stripping them of that label conferred by a diagnosis which they consider not very objective.

They free the patient and confer the power to live and exercise their rights, which had been taken away from them when they were assigned the pathological status from which the antipsychiatry intends to deprive them.

It proclaims the struggles concerning mental health, against social and political forces, with the aim of defending health and transforming society. 

Antipsychiatry today

Nowadays, psychiatry is the only discipline or medical specialty that has an anti-movement: antipsychiatry.

Many of its criticisms have been considered as exaggerated or disproportionate, but the formulations made by this movement have broken with political-social paradigms prior to its emergence. Antipsychiatry has been a concrete theoretical and practical experience that has obtained unquestionable achievements.

Far from renouncing their proposals, which have shown an important value, we must know how to interpret the rethinking and renewal of their premises, according to each specific circumstance of the current era.

At the same time, focusing on antipsychiatry as something past is @nalogous to the thought it had about stripping the patient of all their rights, submitting it to the will of others, resigning himself to live a life imposed and not exercising his own will.

In this way, by leaving behind the proposals of antipsychiatry, the belief is fostered that nothing can be done with social or cultural malaise, an idea that bears despair and inhibits the search for the changes needed to live in a better society.

Also Read: What is Emotional Diabetes and What are Its Causes?

Currently looking at the practices carried out in mental health institutions such as the use of psychotropic drugs, the trade inherent in social works or consumerism, it is not unreasonable to think that antipsychiatry exposes a series of reasons why the current health system should be evaluated. about mental health.

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