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14 October 2009

Thomas Szasz (1920 - 2012) psychiatry professor.

Thomas Szasz was born in Budapest. He earned  a degree in physics from the University of Cincinnati in 1941, and a medical degree from the same university in 1944. His residency was in psychiatry. He was professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York, and Professor Emeritus after retirement.

He is a prominent theorist in the anti-psychiatry movement and a critic of medicine as social control. His best known books are The Myth of Mental Illness, 1960, and The Manufacture of Madness, 1970.

Szasz has gained a reputation as a libertarian critic of psychiatric practice. He speaks against the coercive psychiatric practice which he calls 'the Therapeutic State', although many critics while not defending the abuses in mental hospitals, regard his attack as on a straw man. While his attack on the state's interference in addiction, suicide and homosexuality can easily be accepted, there is an enormous area of psychiatry which he does not discuss.

Sedgwick says: 'Phobics, depressives, manics, schizophrenics and anxiety neurotics - in short, the general run of psychiatric patients who, in addition to having 'life problems' do happen to feel distinctly unwell, rarely if ever enter Dr Szasz's casebook'.

Szasz’ solution of Contractual Psychotherapy is not available to those of limited means. Nor does he attack those of his colleagues who keep a patient in therapy for decades.

In 1969 he co-founded, with the Church of Scientology, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR).

In 1973, the American Humanist Association named Szasz, Humanist of the Year.   Note that not even one GLBT person has been so named.

Szasz's attack on psychiatry's invention of homosexuality as a disease was congruent with the rise of gay activism in the 1970s leading to the removal of homosexuality from the DSM III in 1974.

However he has come out strongly against the right of people to change their sex. He refers to trans women as ‘he’ etc; compares the operation to clitorectomy: sees sex change as a fraud, accepts uncritically the study that justified the ending of surgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, ignoring all the methodological problems that have been raised, but does not respect the decision made by the individual transsexual. He embraces Janice Raymond's pretence that sex changes are anti-feminist, and his review of her book is quoted on both its front and back pages. He has said “If a man cuts off his own penis psychiatrists call him a schizophrenic, but it he can persuade a surgeon to cut it off for him, then they call him a transsexual”.

Charlotte Goiar is a member of CCHR, and features a 90 minute CCHR video on her HBS home page.  I have yet to find any pro-transsexual or pro-HBS material from CCHR, the Church of Scientology or Thomas Szasz.


  1. I have never understood how someone can call himself a libertarian and be so hostile to people who "change" sexes.

    Were it not for that, Szasz would probably be one of my heroes.

    1. Szasz didn’t agree that surgery could make a man into a woman, anymore than it can make an old person young, but he supported the right to have surgery.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Anonymous17/1/12 16:56

    He has said “If a man cuts off his own penis psychiatrists call him a schizophrenic, but it he can persuade a surgeon to cut it off for him, then they call him a transsexual”.

    ^ when are these people going to realise that vaginoplasty does not ever constitute cutting a penis off?! Transwomen are usually capable of achieving orgasm when they're post-op.


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