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Laing, R.D. Szasz, T. (2004). “Knowing What Ain't So”. Psychoanal. Rev., 91(3):331-346.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Review, 91(3):331-346

“Knowing What Ain't So”

R. D. Laing and Thomas Szasz, Ph.D.


“The trouble with people,” observed Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw, 1818-1885), the great nineteenth-century American humorist, “is not what they don't know but that they know so much that ain't so.”

Psychiatrists and people interested in psychiatry “know” that Ronald D. (David) Laing (1927-1989), the Scottish psychiatrist, and I share the same ideas about mental illness and involuntary mental hospitalization. We are lumped together as the cofounders and coleaders of the “antipsychiatry” movement. My aim in this brief essay is to show that it “ain't so.”


Regarding the management of mental illness, these are some of the opinions Laing expressed and some of the actions he engaged in:

When I certify someone insane, I am not equivocating when I write that he is of unsound mind, may be dangerous to himself and others, and requires care and attention in a mental hospital. (1960, p. 27)

To say that a locked ward functioned as a prison for non-criminal transgressors is not to say that it should not be so. Our society may continue to “need” some such prisons for unacceptable persons. As our society functions at present such places are indispensable. This is not the fault of psychiatrists, nor necessarily the fault of anyone. (1985, p.

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