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Defining Psychiatry

How Can Psychiatry Be Practiced When It Can't Be Defined?

JULY 01, 2007 by THOMAS S. SZASZ

In the United States today everyone considers himself an expert on psychiatry, especially in the aftermath of a mass murder by a “deranged madman.” Yet academically and legally qualified experts in the field keep telling us that they cannot even define psychiatry.

In 1886 Emil Kraepelin, the undisputed founder of modern psychiatry as a medical specialty and science, declared: “Our science has not arrived at a consensus on even its most fundamental principles, let alone on appropriate ends or even on the means to those ends.” Eighty years later, the encyclopedic American Handbook of Psychiatry opened with this statement: “Perhaps no other field of human endeavor is so . . . difficult to define as that of psychiatry.” Two years ago, Andrew Lakoff, a professor of sociology at the University of California in San Diego , airily opined: “Two centuries after its invention, psychiatry’s illnesses have neither known causes nor definitive treatments.” This did not prevent him from writing a book about the diagnosis and treatment of a particular mental illness in a particular country: “bipolar illness” in Argentina.

This article will be posted in full in January 2008.

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

July/August 2007

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