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The Myth of Psychotherapy (1978)

Szasz describes psychotherapy unusually broadly. Psychotherapy is what two or more people do with, for, and against each other using verbal and non-verbal messages. It implies a relationship that is comparable to friendship, marriage, education, etc. (p. 1) So his description encompasses all possible interactions except those that utilize a physical or chemical influence.

A different way of describing psychotherapy is: talking to people. It is: trying to convince people to view things differently, and trying to convince people of certain matters. In that sense it is rhetoric. It is also: talking about the value and purpose of life. In that sense it is, in Szasz’s terminology, religion. The conventional view of psychotherapists as benevolent helpers is idealized. Often therapists punish, confine, humiliate, or coerce.

This book is largely about the history of psychotherapy. Interestingly, it is more about personages than about therapies. Mesmer, Erb, Heinroth, Freud and Jung are discussed thoroughly. Szasz considers psychotherapy as having originated from religion (the “cure of souls”) on the one hand, and traces its roots in Judaism, the classic Greek spiritual treatments, and Christianity. On the other hand it originated from rhetoric as it was described and practiced in ancient Greece. Accordingly, psychotherapy is closer to art than to science.

It is not so easy to answer the question what exactly is the myth of psychotherapy to Szasz. My impression is that in this book he means the same as in The Myth of Mental Illness. Psychotherapy is therapy only in a metaphoric sense, just as mental illness is illness only in a metaphoric sense. Furthermore, psychotherapy is actually a moral influence whereas it pretends to be a medical-scientific treatment. These claims were formulated by him previously, so in this sense the book offers few new ideas. It does, however, include fascinating information about several important personages in the history of psychiatry and psychotherapy.
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