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BJPsych Bull. 2017 April; 41(2): 120.
PMCID: PMC5376730

The writings of Thomas Szasz

Dr Benning1 nicely summarises some of the major conceptual errors in the writings of the late Dr Thomas Szasz.

Dr Szasz, who was one of my professors during residency, had important things to say about protecting the civil liberties of people with mental illness. However, his view of schizophrenia as a self-inflicted form of lying has done great injury to those who have this devastating illness. For example, in his 1996 book The Meaning of Mind, Szasz wrote:

‘I believe viewing the schizophrenic as a liar would advance our understanding of schizophrenia. What does he lie about? Principally about his own anxieties, bewilderments, confusions, deficiencies and self-deception’2 (p. 130).

In recent years Szasz's position has been undermined by scores of studies showing that individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia show brain abnormalities at a significantly higher frequency than healthy controls.35 More important, however, is the recognition that disease (dis-ease) is best understood as an enduring state of suffering and incapacity – not, as Szasz argued, as the presence of lesions or abnormal physiology.6


1. Benning TB. No such thing as mental illness? Critical reflections on the major ideas and legacy of Thomas Szasz. BJPsych Bull 2016; 40: 292–95.
2. Szasz TS. The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality and Neuroscience. Praeger, 1996.
3. Bakhshi K, Chance SA. The neuropathology of schizophrenia: a selective review of past studies and emerging themes in brain structure and cytoarchitecture. Neuroscience 2015; 303: 82–102. [PubMed]
4. Woo TU. Neurobiology of schizophrenia onset. Curr Top Behav Neurosci 2014; 16: 267–95. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
5. Iritani S. What happens in the brain of schizophrenia patients? An investigation from the viewpoint of neuropathology. Nagoya J Med Sci 2013; 75: 11–28. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
6. Pies R. On myths and countermyths: more on Szaszian fallacies. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1979; 36: 139–44. [PubMed]

Articles from BJPsych Bulletin are provided here courtesy of Royal College of Psychiatrists