In the 1960’s anti-psychiatry challenged the inhumane and experimental therapies of traditional psychiatry. According to this movement, mental illness was not a medical issue, but rather the result of living in a sick society.
Joseph Guislain regarded the authority and power of psychiatrists and nurses as essential. This way of thinking remained a foundation of psychiatry for many years, but was criticised in the 1960s. And back then there was more to be critical about in the care provided to the mentally ill. Overcrowded dormitories without any privacy whatsoever, the labelling of patients, all sorts of experimental therapies with no regard for the dignity of the patient, and abuse of power by psychiatrists and nurses.
Anti-psychiatry did help to shape contemporary psychiatry, by looking beyond purely medical solutions.
This led to countless new initiatives, designed to put an end to these evils of traditional psychiatry. The starting point of the anti-psychiatry movement was the assumption that mental illness was not a medical issue: rather, they thought, madness had its roots in sick social relationships in a sick society. Psychiatric hospitals were tools for social control. The anti-psychiatrists set up therapeutic communities where patients and carers lived together as equally as possible. Any form of coercion was largely avoided. Psychosis was regarded as positive – a sort of healing process they linked to trances.
Most of these experiments were fairly radical and ultimately failed. However, anti-psychiatry did help to shape contemporary psychiatry, by looking beyond purely medical solutions. Welfare workers, occupational therapists and psychologists took on a more important role in the treatment of the mentally ill. And that treatment ceased to be provided solely behind the closed doors of the traditional psychiatric hospital, but instead in a more diverse way that was tailored to the individual patient.