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Views on Certain Types of Mental Illness

Szasz elaborated on his insights into mental illness in several books and articles. On the one hand, these could be viewed as tests as to whether his most important theories apply to specific mental illnesses. On the other hand, they are an answer to the criticism that in The Myth of Mental Illness he chose hysteria, an example that seems to fit his theory exceptionally well. After all, hysteria, if it is a fake illness, is one that imitates somatic illness. Afterwards Szasz wrote in succession about addiction (5.1), schizophrenia (5.2), and sexual dysfunction (5.3).

Here we may pause to consider that the term mental illness is becoming obsolete in the Dutch language, including in Dutch professional jargon. Except for theoretical discussions about the concept of illness in psychiatry, the term is rarely used. The term suggests the existence of separate, clearly circumscribed entities that can be interpreted as illness or even as units of illness. It is noteworthy that Szasz fairly continually uses the nosological entity as focus of his views, while exactly that has been so criticized. Neither the multi-conditional nor the poly-interpretable character of the symptoms and syndromes that are encountered in psychiatry is adequately reflected in the study of nosological entities. In my opinion it is preferable to speak of psychiatric disorders rather than mental illness. I will return to this issue in Chapter V, 2.4.

To Szasz the use of nosological entities seems to imply a certain distance between work in the field and dealing daily with patients. The writings discussed below contain general views on the implications of concepts such as addiction and schizophrenia. Szasz almost exclusively studies what other authors have written on the subject, and almost never refers to his own experiences with such patients.

One will search in vain for a preoccupation with what is wrong with the so-labeled patients. Symptomatology and phenomenology are completely absent as subject of further study. Specific cases are not even presented as illustrations. This prompted critics like Cancro and White to note that Szasz seems to be so far removed from actual practice that one wonders whether he knows what he is writing about. Be that as it may, the books and articles discussed below are about psychiatry as a social institution and about psychiatrists, but hardly at all about patients.
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