ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Madness as a Break-Through: R.D. Laing

Updated on September 24, 2012


At the end of the 19th century, it was coming to view that mental illness was different in degree from the psychological suffering of normal people. Freud suggested that neurosis and normality are part of the same scale. With this in play, anyone is capable of succumbing to mental disturbance in extreme circumstances.

Biology and Behavior

Like Freud, Laing thought against the fundamental values of psychiatry. He rejected the focus on mental illness as a biological factor and highlighted the significance of the social, cultural, and familial influences that shape personal experience. He never denied the grim reality of mental illness, his perspective was in contrast to the accepted medical basis and practice of psychiatry. Laing's work doubts the validity of psychiatric diagnosis saying the accepted process of diagnosing mental disorders does not follow the traditional medical model. Doctors provide examinations and tests to diagnose physical illness, where psychiatric diagnosis is based on behavior. In his perspective, there is also a problem in diagnosing mental illness based on conduct, but treating it biologically with drugs. If a diagnosis is based on behavior, then so should the treatment. He argues that drugs hinder the ability to think and result with the natural process of true recovery.


Laing's main work focuses on the understanding and treatment of schizophrenia and on explaining it to the normal society. This is a serious mental disorder characterized by severe distruptions in psychological functioning. He says schizophrenia is not inherited yet is an understandable reaction to unlivable situations. He used Gregory Bateson's theory called "double bind" which focused on a person is put into situations where he or she faces conflicting expectations. Using that theory, he believed resulting in extreme mental distress.

Illness as a Breakthrough

Laing was revolutionary in observing the abnormal behavior and confused speech of schizophrenics as valid proof of distress. In his eyes, psychotic episodes represent attempts to communicate concerns that should be seen as cathartic and transformative experiences that lead to personal insights. Laing accepted that these episodes are difficult to comprehend yet claims this is because the patients are only focusing on the language of personal symbolism that is only meaningful from within. Laing's psychotherapy is drug-free and tries to make sense of a patient's symbolism by listening in as an attentive and empathetic spirit. This theory is based on the belief that people are healthy in their natural state and that mental illness is an attempt to return to that healthy state.

R.D. Laing

Ronald David Laing, born in Scotland, studying medicine at Glasgow University. He became a psychiatrist in the British Army after he developed an interest in working with the mentally distressed. Later, he trained at the Travistock Clinic in London, England. The Philadelphia Association was started by Laing and a group of colleagues in 1965. Then they also started a psychiatric project at Kingsley Hall where patients and therapists lived together.

His behavior would best be described as erratic and his spiritual preoccupations later in his life led to a decline in his reputation. When he was unable to develop a possible alternative to conventional medical treatment, his ideas were not and are not accepted by the psychiatric establishment. Even so, his contributions to the anti-psychiatry movement, specifically in family therapy, had a lasting impact. In 1989, he died of a heart attack.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Highvoltagewriter profile image

      William Benner 4 years ago from Savannah GA.

      Very insightful article, I am surprised that I am the first to comment on it!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: ""

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)