RD Laing’s Theory Of The Limits Of Madness

Psychiatry has not always been a controversial field of work, but what is clear is that it has always had a direct effect on the lives of many people. That is why, especially in the first half of the 20th century, the way in which health institutions managed the treatment of people with mental disorders began to be vigorously questioned.

One of the representatives of this current of demands was Ronald David Laing, a controversial Scottish psychiatrist who dedicated a good part of his life to questioning the limits of psychiatry and madness as a concept.

    Who was RD Laing? Short biography

    RD Laing was born in Glasgow in 1927. He studied medicine in the same city and later worked as a psychiatrist in the British Army, where he became interested in researching the role of stress in mental health.

    In the year 1965. RD Laing opened the Philadelphia Association, an institution that offers training to mental health professionals and, at the same time, treatment to patients. In addition, he opened a project in which therapists and patients lived together.

    Laing’s goal was to push for psychiatry to adopt a much more humanistic approach that also considered the cultural and psychosocial aspects of the experience of mental disorder. However, when proposing alternatives, he could only indicate the directions in which progress could be made, without actually developing them.

    RD Laing’s theory of madness

    Laing believed that there is no categorical boundary separating sanity from madness. This principle was opposed to psychiatric practice of the time, which until well into the 20th century consisted in part of overcrowding patients in psychiatric centers with few resources; Fundamentally, an attempt was made to isolate people with mental disorders from the rest of the population, a way of hiding a social problem, while at the same time they were medicated to simply treat problems that, as it was understood, were individual and not collective.

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    On the other hand, this idea according to which madness and normality are part of the same spectrum It matched well with the theoretical proposal of psychoanalysis. However, the current initiated by Sigmund Freud also presented ideas that in the eyes of the defenders of antipsychiatry are limiting, since it establishes a strong determinism in which the environmental influence of the past conditions us and practically forces us to protect our consciousness from thoughts. and memories that can cause our entire mental life to periodically enter into severe crises.

    Thus, RD Laing’s theory of the limits of madness was different from both hegemonic psychiatry and psychoanalysis.

    Against the stigmatization of the disease

    Laing noted that although mental illness has always generated stigmatization, the way psychiatry treats patients can also feed and perpetuate that depersonalization and contempt.

    For this psychiatrist, for example, schizophrenia, being the serious mental illness that we all know, is not so much an internal problem of the person as oran understandable reaction to facts that cannot be accepted, which are too disturbing. Thus, to understand the disorder well, one must know the cultural filter through which the person experiences their life.

    That is to say, according to Laing’s theory, mental disorder is nothing more than an expression of anguish, something linked to one’s own experiences and not to failures that can only be explained by examining the brain. That is why it is necessary to study social and cultural dynamics, the way in which the environment affects the person.

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    Laing’s ideas lead us to think that psychosis is, in reality, attempts to express oneself of the person with schizophrenic-type disorders, and therefore they are not in themselves something bad, something that deserves the exclusion of that person from the rest of society.

    Psychotherapy without drugs

    Since for RD Laing the disorder does not have an original cause in the brain, but rather in interaction, it does not make sense to base therapeutic interventions on medication and the use of psychotropic drugs. This was a widespread idea among anti-psychiatry advocates, and he defended it vehemently. As a substitute, Laing attempted to undertake initiatives to understand the symbolism that is expressed through the symptoms of mental disorder.

    This approach was controversial, since would mean leaving many patients without relief in exchange for postponing their solution until the internal logic of his problem was understood.

    On the other hand, Laing’s ideas continue to be seriously questioned today, since there is no evidence that mental disorders have causes that operate in a symbolic way. However, the pressure that he and his anti-psychiatry colleagues exerted to improve the living conditions of patients has borne fruit, and psychiatry currently provides much better treatment to these people.