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Miller, J. (1961). The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of A Theory of Personal Conduct. Thomas S. Szasz, M.D. Harper, New York, 1961. $7.50.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 21(2):302-308.

(1961). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 21(2):302-308

The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of A Theory of Personal Conduct. Thomas S. Szasz, M.D. Harper, New York, 1961. $7.50.

Review by:
Jason Miller, M.D.

Dr. Szasz's audacious work is a compound of strong elements of iconoclasm in Book I (The Myth of Mental Illness) and a novel and constructive approach to living in Book II (Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct). Concentrated, full of details, and showing evidence of much scholarly research and information, this book is stimulating and provocative throughout.

About a decade ago, Szasz became increasingly dissatisfied with the concept of mental illness, and now concludes that “today this concept is scientifically worthless and socially harmful.” He states that the answer to the question, “Who is mentally ill?” is a silly one; it is “those who are confined to mental hospitals or consult psychiatrists in their offices.” The question, “Is mental illness an illness?” in his view can be answered better only when goals are focused on understanding human beings rather than understanding mental illness.

Book I is designed to present an essentially “destructive” account of the concept of mental illness and of psychiatry as a “pseudo-medical enterprise.” Book II attempts to offer a “constructive” theory to replace the “myth of mental illness” by presenting a systematic theory of personal conduct. Szasz states that he has endeavored to correct the omission from psychiatric theory of moral issues and normative standards by postulating a game theory of human living which enables us to combine ethical, political, and social considerations with the more traditional concerns of psychiatry and medicine.


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