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Following the Thought Process in Detail

(Page 28) Witches were identified in three ways: confession, witch marks, and the water test. Each way is considered separately and compared to psychiatric identification methods.

Witchcraft was considered proven when the accused woman confessed. The way in which the confession was extracted, such as by torture, and the fact that such torture was so cruel and sadistic as to uniformly lead to confession, were not relevant. (Page 29) The psychiatric parallel is the psychiatric forensic evaluation, by way of which the psychiatrist “demonstrates” that a criminal is mentally ill based on what the defendant said or was purported to have said. In my opinion these phenomena are incomparable except inasmuch as witches through their confessions and defendants through their expressions incriminate(d) themselves. Finding symptoms could possibly be compared to finding witch marks, but a parallel between the self-accusation of being a witch and whatever psychiatric procedure is not to be found. On the contrary, it makes no veritable difference to the diagnoses whether the person being diagnosed considers himself ill or normal and healthy.

“When reading accounts of ‘the confessions’ of witches and of the ‘symptoms’ of mental patients, we must always keep in mind that we are presented with documents written by victimizers purporting to describe their victims.” This statement holds true for witch-hunters, but for psychiatrists it is pure circular reasoning. (See 3.2 paragraph 6.) It remains to be proven that psychiatrists are “victimizers” whereas the book was written to prove exactly that! There is another instance of circular reasoning in the same paragraph. “The records of the witch-hunts were kept by the inquisitors, not the witches … similarly, the records of psychiatric examinations are kept by the physicians, not the patients; the psychiatrist thus controls the language of clinical description, which is but a rhetoric for invalidating a person as a normal individual and defining him as mental patient.” (my italics -J.P.) This, too, is exactly what Szasz is supposed to be proving. (Page 30) Szasz concludes: “This is why the inquisitor was, and the institutional psychiatrist is, free to interpret any behavior as a sign of witchcraft or mental illness.” Here Szasz refers to two important themes, namely, the poor description and demarcation of psychiatric disorders and the nearly endless expansion of what is considered included in the concept of psychiatric disorder. However these problems have little to do with the witch’s “confession.” Szasz implies that the commonality between these two situations is that the accuser is infallible and the accused always winds up holding the shortest straw. (Here, too, the reasoning is circular). (Page 31) Here Szasz elaborates.

(Page 32) The inquisitors intimidated and isolated their victims and generally confused them. The secret police in the modern, totalitarian state also do so, but institutional psychiatry has refined the system. Psychiatrists pose as friends and therapists whereas they are in fact adversaries. Why? Szasz repeats, regardless of whether you concede, you are mentally ill, but does not elucidate his contention, making it yet another instance of circular reasoning.

Next witch marks are compared with hysterical stigmata and with the results of projection tests. Instead of the latter, it would be more correct to compare witch marks (“symptoms”) exclusively with symptoms of mental illness, such as delusions or conversion phenomena. A test is a kind of experiment, and thus not comparable with an attribute but with an experiment, such as the water test. (Page 33) Szasz returns to a comparison of inquisitors and psychiatrists in terminology which suggests that the latter are not only accused but already convicted, so without a trial. A report on the blood-curdlingly cruel pricking of witches ensues.

The next paragraph begins with “The fundamental similarity, then, between the methods of witchfinders and psychopathologists is that each perpetrates a cruel hoax on his victim and deceives his audience.” But no information that could justify this “similarity” precedes it. So here again the reasoning is circular.

(Page 34) The water test is compared with modern psychodiagnostic methods, such as the projection test. According to Szasz the projection test always “incriminates” whereas the water test gave the witch a tiny chance: if she sank, she was not a witch, but usually drowned. (Page 35) Szasz contends that he has never experienced that the result of the projection test was that the person is normal and mentally healthy. As far as I know, a projection test can never render such a result because its construction does not allow that. Peculiarities in the person’s associations can be observed that signify something (or nothing), no more and no less. However, the water test rendered a definite “proof,” and that is a major difference.

(Page 36) Szasz discusses economic aspects. Not only was the property of an identified witch transferred to the witch-hunters and their institutions, mostly the Church, but the witch-hunter also earned a premium for every witch he found. Psychiatrists, too are benefited by the frequent occurrence of mental illness, but they do their utmost to socially suppress that idea. However, Szasz does not clarify what “Social suppression” is, how it is done, and according to what can be observed that psychiatrists do this. Therefore in my opinion this accusation does not have a leg to stand on.

(Page 37) After Szasz makes another parallel – the inquisitors have assistants, and so do the psychiatrists – which seems to me to clarify little, he returns to the economy. Psychiatrists are not paid by their patients but by the community. Then he returns to the assistants, and posits that psychiatrists and psychologists rival each other in diagnosing mental illness. But in 1965, five years earlier, the behavioral faction in psychology had already clearly distanced itself from the “medical model.” The publication in which, according to Szasz, behavioral therapists factually maintain a medical model, even if they themselves deny it, has yet to appear. Certainly the psychologist-behavioral therapist of that day presented himself more as the psychiatrist’s competitor than as his “accomplice” by vehemently opposing the conceptualization of delusions as mental illness.

(Page 38) Szasz dedicates one paragraph to the fact that not only the deceivers should be faulted. Witch hunters and psychiatrists could/can do what they do because the majority of people believe(d) in, respectively, witchcraft and mental illness. Then Szasz discusses William Menninger’s work during World War II. Menninger developed a new system of classification for psychiatric disorders resulting in more citizens being declared unfit for military service, more soldiers being declared ill, and more veterans receiving a pension and being treated for psychiatric reasons than ever before. (Pages 39 and 40) Here Szasz elaborates on this.

(Page 41) Unrelated to the preceding text Szasz comments: “But, whether physicians like it or not, the stubborn fact remains that psychiatric training is, above all else, a ritualized indoctrination into the theory and practice of psychiatric violence.” Up to this point in the book not a single word about psychiatric training was mentioned and this position is not defended in any way. Yet this “fact” does have a consequence: in the United States, the percentage of suicide is higher among psychiatrists than any other sector of the population whatsoever. The reason, according to Szasz, is that same psychiatric violence. But no effort is made to convince the reader, argumentation is not presented in any way, and it has nothing to do with finding and identifying witches and psychiatric patients.
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